A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia (after whom the airport is named), who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, was called by adoring New Yorkers ‘the Little Flower’ because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor.” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.” LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions–ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.” So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation. This is an example of pure grace. In our passage we see Jesus being extraordinarily generous. He healed everyone who came to Him with an illness. And the passage quoted says that He will not snuff out a smoldering wick, nor will He break a bruised reed. The grace of God is shown in this passage through Jesus, the Chosen Servant.
First of all, notice that Jesus was still healing on the Sabbath. He knew in His heart (supernaturally!) that the Pharisees were plotting to kill Him. And so, He left that place before they could imprison Him. It was not His time, after all, to face death just yet.
Many people followed Him in order to receive healing, and He healed them all. Jesus does not turn away those who are seeking Him. However, Jesus does tell them people He heals not to tell other people about Him. Why does He tell them this? He told them this because He did not want to be a Messiah that the people wanted, but a Messiah that God wanted. What kind of Messiah was that, exactly? The quotation from Isaiah tells us what kind of Messiah that Jesus was to be.
This quotation from Isaiah tells us about Jesus’ whole ministry, not just this one aspect of healing people and exercising grace. We learn eight things about Jesus in this quotation from Isaiah 42, which was read as our call to worship. The first is that Jesus was the chosen servant of God. God had decreed that Jesus would be the person to come to earth, be human, and take our sin upon Himself, that we might not suffer the pains of God’s wrath. There is no other name by which we can be saved. The second thing is that the Father loves the Son and is well-pleased with the Son. This is important to know, because we cannot know the depth of God’s love for us until we know how much love there was from the Father to the Son, which was turned aside at the cross. The third thing we learn is that the Holy Spirit was on Jesus. We learned that also from earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, where we saw the Holy Spirit descend from heaven like a dove and remain on Jesus. This is important because we do not have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, unless it first dwelt in Christ. The fourth thing we learn is that the Gentiles will be blessed through Jesus. Not only will justice be proclaimed to the nations, but also the nations will put their hope in Jesus. This fulfills the promise given to Abraham, wherein the seed of Abraham was promised to be a blessing to all nations. That is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in whom all Gentiles can find salvation and hope for the future. This hope is for us. The fifth thing we learn is that Jesus is not contentious. He will not quarrel or cry out (in defiance). Instead, Jesus is meek. This does not prevent Jesus from saying some rather harsh things to the Pharisees. However, He does not revile anyone. Instead He exercises grace. This can be illustrated by the following story. Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker both had churches in London in the 19th century. On one occasion, Parker commented on the poor condition of children admitted to Spurgeon’s orphanage. It was reported to Spurgeon however, that Parker had criticized the orphanage itself. Spurgeon blasted Parker the next week from the pulpit. The attack was printed in the newspapers and became the talk of the town. People flocked to Parker’s church the next Sunday to hear his rebuttal. Parker said, “I understand Dr. Spurgeon is not in his pulpit today, and this is the Sunday they use to take an offering for the orphanage. I suggest we take a love offering here instead.” The crowd was delighted. The ushers had to empty the collection plates 3 times. Later that week there was a knock at Parker’s study. It was Spurgeon. “You know Parker, you have practiced grace on me. You have given me not what I deserved, you have given me what I needed.” Parker did exactly what Christ did in turning the other cheek, offering to serve where he had been attacked. The sixth thing we learn about Jesus is that He is gracious to those who do not deserve grace. Reeds were exceedingly common in Judea during this time. The easiest thing in the world is to replace a bruised reed. That is exactly what I do when my bagpipe reed gets too old to use. I just throw it out and buy a new one. Well, you didn’t even have to buy a reed in those days. You just went to the bank of your local river and cut one for yourself for free. Nothing easier. However, Jesus does not do that with people. It would be so easy for Jesus to cut off those who so desperately need Him, and are just about to crack entirely. The world would certainly not have kept such a reed. But Jesus does. He nursing that reed back to health. A similar thing is true of the smoldering wick. A smoldering candle wick is annoying and useless. It cannot give light as it should. The logical thing to do is to snuff it out and get a new wick. But again, Jesus does not do that with people. If there is the faintest sign of grace in that person, Jesus will fan it into a flame until the wick burns brightly once more. Here we see one of the most encouraging passages in the entire Bible. The bruised nature of the reed and the smoldering nature of the wick stands for people who have only the smallest amount of grace. You can barely see it, and you would be tempted to discount it altogether. But Jesus does not. No matter how small your faith, no matter how small the grace you have, Jesus will not turn you away, or disregard you. Instead, He gently takes you in His hand, and nurses you back to health and spiritual vitality. What a Savior we have! Not only has He given Himself for us, but He is so gentle with hurting, needy people. May we take a hint from our Master and exercise the same kind of gentleness and grace. We also ought to have the same attitude toward those who obviously do not deserve grace. The seventh thing we learn about Christ is that His justice will triumph in the end. There is no escaping the conclusion that Jesus is the final judge, and will exercise true judgment on the Final Day. All those who have not exercised such grace to others (because they are devoid of it themselves!) will be judged according to God’s perfect standard. Justice will win finally. It is a certainty. It has all the finality of Jesus’ resurrection. We can hope in that victory of Christ. The eighth and final thing we learn about Jesus is that He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew has been keen on telling us this kind of thing all along. Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. By the way, this is the longest passage from the Old Testament that Matthew quotes in his entire Gospel. Matthew tells us before that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy about a virgin giving birth to a son. He tell us that Jesus fulfills the prophecy about the people living in darkness seeing a great light. He tells us that Jesus was sent to heal us from our diseases. Matthew’s quotations come most often from Isaiah, whose prophecies show us Jesus Christ more clearly than any other prophet of the Old Testament. In other words, when we read the Old Testament, we are supposed to see Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Indeed, Jesus is God’s chosen servant.