These are the wages. This is how it ends, because of sin. “The wages of sin is death.” The sad truth is we are all living in that dark night of death. Even now as we live we are dying. Walter Wangerin, a religious author, explains our lives like this: “When a bucket is being poured out, the last drop does not empty the bucket; it is simply the last step in a process that went on the entire time.”
So it is with our lives, we are already in that process of returning back to dust. Bodily it will happen, unless Judgment Day comes first. But in either case, if we know an end is coming, the question isn’t what will happen to our bodies, isn’t it, what will happen to our souls?
“Here is my servant” Here is the one. God wants to answer this question for us. He is greatly concerned with what will happen to our souls after we die. And he knows that we are all held, bound, prisoners to an eternal dark night of death. And so, through the prophet Isaiah, he shouts, “Behold! My servant. Chosen by me to be a covenant for you.”
And the way God sets this up for us in chapter forty-one of Isaiah shows his desire to make sure we understand the certainty of his promise and the reality of what he offers. We read already three verses from chapter forty-one and they spoke of a prophecy: “one from the north” has been “stirred up”. This person will call on God’s name and “tread on rulers as if they were mortar.”
Here Isaiah foretold the rise of Cyrus who would conquer Babylon and by a proclamation, found in Ezra chapter one, would speak of how “The LORD, the God of heaven” moved him to send the Israelites home to build a temple in Jerusalem. But why does Isaiah speak of this? What is its importance? It reaffirmed that Isaiah was God’s prophet. Those things which he prophesied would happen and the people would soon see it with their own eyes as they were sent home. And now God’s prophet spoke of something even greater, someone greater. “Here is my servant…my chosen one.”
God specifically chose this servant for a task. He put “his Spirit on him” marking him as his chosen. He “called him in righteousness” meaning unlike any other servant called by God this servant was rooted and grounded in righteousness, he could only do what is right. And, even more interesting, in such a tender way, God describes how he will sustain this servant through his work, he “will take hold of his hand.” In this way he will “keep him” safe, so that he can do what, so that he can be what? So that he can “be a covenant for the people.” “Here is my servant…a covenant for you”
This servant described by Isaiah wouldn’t set up a covenant but would himself be the covenant meaning all the blessings of the covenant are embodied in, have their root and origin in, and are dispensed by him. To receive him, then, is to receive the blessings of the covenant, without him no blessings are received. And parallel to this idea of this servant being a covenant we see that Isaiah also describes him as a “light for the gentiles” Here too he doesn’t just bring light, he himself is the light – the light of salvation!
And there, right there, we see the purpose of this servant’s coming. “Here is my servant” God says, and he comes “to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” This servant was to be the rising sun who would drive away that dark night of death and be a light of life to a world held captive to that unending darkness. Here is my servant God says, see him!
See him chosen for you. Chosen because look where you were, look at what state you were in – you were blind! Blind to any truth of salvation. We, all of us, were groping around, hoping to grasp something on this earth that could bring us comfort and peace and had we stayed that way we would’ve discovered on our death beds just how blind we were as our eyes opened not to the dawn of light but to the dim darkness of eternal fire.
How else does Isaiah describe us? We were captives in prison sitting in darkness. Did you know? Did you know this was how you were by nature? We were slaves to sin. Our fate was etched in darkness the moment we were conceived, born to die in that same darkness, born to die in sin.
It really puts everything in perspective, doesn’t it? Even as Isaiah describes God’s chosen servant we can’t help but see the truth of our situation laid bare. Where would we be with out God’s servant, a covenant just for us? How would we answer that question, “What will happen to your soul?” There would only be one answer, wouldn’t there? Lost! Lost forever in a darkness. Swallowed for all eternity to suffer in torment. There is no comfort there. There is no rejoicing. There is only death in it’s purest form, our soul bound and chained by sin in a place we deserve.
A death of a friend or family member itself is hard to deal with, but to then have that, to have no hope…one could only weep while waiting for one’s own end. It’s an ugly scene. And I pray it saddens all of us that, so many go about life either blind to this reality or hopelessly distraught by it’s certainty. Yet, the ugliest scene isn’t our eternal deaths or the deaths of others, no, it was the price that was paid to free us from such suffering.
“Here is my servant. Take him.” God said, and sin with all its horrors did. The covenant made was sealed by Christ’s blood. One death paid for all. One life, our Savior’s, was offered as Christ suffered the eternity of darkness that bound us. But out of that ugly scene of Christ’s crucifixion dawned a new light that broke the darkness and opened our eyes to the rising sun as he stood there, God’s servant, alive.
There, there is the most beautiful scene. A scene we all see with our own eyes as our Savior came down to wipe that darkness of sin away and stepping into the prison of death that held us he proclaimed, “Because I live, you also will live.” And with that he carried us in his arms out of the dungeon of despair and brought peace to our tortured souls.
The question then, “what will happen to your soul”. God gives us all the answer, “Here is my servant, here is Jesus, my chosen, your covenant. He walked through death for you and, emerging alive, he pushed open that door of death closed for centuries and left it open behind him. He gave you life ending the dark night of death for you, forever.”
This is what we hold on to throughout life, this is what we trust in, what we confess in our services, this is our faith. We believe in Jesus Christ and the resurrection to come. Therefore, we, right now, have conquered death. Those wages of sin that left us blind and imprisoned have no mastery over us we see clearly and live a new life, a free life in service to our God who in tender mercy had men like Isaiah share with us the hope of salvation.
So then, when you hear that bell of death ring, and you mourn the loss of a loved one who died in the arms of their Lord. Listen close for the comfort that God offers all believers fearful of death and what comes after, words of peace, Words of life: “Here is my servant…your rising sun, the light of life. Death shall reign no more” Amen.