The Lord has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary (Isaiah 50:4).
The Servant motif from Isaiah chapters 49-53 is mostly known for the prophet’s spiritual appraisal of what we would come to know as the passion and crucifixion of Jesus. Chapter 53 is a veritable jewel in that regard. However, the Servant passage begins much earlier. The passage cited above from chapter 50 may not get as much attention but it is every bit as extraordinary and illuminating as the more well-known statements from chapter 53.
Isaiah foresaw that the Servant to come would speak extremely powerful words which would be more beneficial than the most skilled doctor or the most potent medicine. They would not merely function to boost low morale or increase one's perception of self-worth. No, His words would far exceed subjective psychological improvements within individuals the value of which would be open for debate.
Before I get to the astonishing power that leapt from the lips of Jesus, let’s first consider what Jesus’ own understanding of His speech was. In Matt. 24:35 Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” He knew His words were eternal. He perceived they would last forever. That can only mean that He knew His words were infused with divinity. Consider, then, what seems to follow from that reality.
Jesus never uttered a misspoken word. He never spoke a rash word. He never voiced a falsehood. He never misapplied a concept in speech (mixing apples and oranges as we are all wont to do). Perhaps most frightening is when it dawns on you that He never embellished or exaggerated the truth just to make a point (the beam in the eye is not an overstatement of how our hypocrisy looks to God). So when He said in the Sermon on the Mount that it would be better to tear out your eye if it is always looking with lust (Matt. 5:29) in order to avoid the eternal consequence…He meant it.
No one has ever lived who spoke words so vital, necessary, productive, and eternal.
Consider this, according to the earliest gospel (Mark) before anyone was mesmerized or astounded by any miracle Jesus did they were first “astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority…” (1:22). Matthew seemed to want to implicitly suggest that the words of Christ were filled with something intangibly otherworldly powerful when he told of the calling of the first disciples. He says Jesus simply walked up to Peter and his brother while they were fishing and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Immediately they left their nets and followed him” and then virtually the same thing was repeated with the calling of fishermen James and John (Matt. 4:18-22). Who walks away from both family and vocation when a stranger strolls up and simply says to follow? No one, unless Matthew is implying that those words carried unseen weight, power, and authority.
As John starts to tell the story of the passion of Christ, he begins with the arrest in Gethsemane. Roman soldiers and Jewish temple guards accompanied by Judas have come to arrest Jesus. He steps forward asking, “Whom do you seek?” They tell Him they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am he.’…When Jesus said to them ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:4-6). Three words. An entire cohort of soldiers and guards fall helplessly to the ground!
Mark said it only took three words from Jesus to calm a storm so vicious it had professional fishermen who had spent their lives on that sea fearful of death: “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39). Three words called a man who had been dead for four days out of his own tomb: “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43).
It doesn’t seem that the eternally sovereign nature of His words was totally lost on the apostles either. In John 6 Jesus goes into a very graphic oration about His divine nature. He went so far as to say, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:56). This caused such an uproar that John says, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” Jesus then inquired if the twelve were still of a mind to stick with Him and Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” (John 6:68). They knew it. He wasn’t just speaking wise words. He was speaking everlasting words.
And so early on in His ministry He laid out for all to hear, exactly what He expected of everyone who would come to know what He had spoken. The conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount is a little story about what happens to people who hear the words of Christ and act upon them and those who hear those same words and do not act upon them (Matt. 7:24-27). That wasn’t the last time Jesus spoke about the eternal significance of His words. In John 12:48 He said, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” Then again, in John 14:24 “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”
There is a lot of talk about Jesus and love today. Many are taking His words about love and twisting them so that love is proven not in sacrifice but in accommodation. But look again at that last quote. “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” His words actually are judging us.
Perhaps the most overwhelming statement in the Bible on this matter is what the author of Hebrews said in 1:3 about Jesus the Son:
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
The glue that holds the entire universe together is but a word from the mouth of Jesus!
The word(s) of Jesus is not a trifling matter. His words have power beyond our comprehension. We play an extremely dangerous game when we either use His words to justify our sin or ignore them altogether thinking we cannot be held accountable to what we don’t know. Nor is it wise to pay heed to His word about one thing while ignoring another of His words that you don’t understand or like. For instance, it’s fine to embrace “Judge not that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1) as long as you find a way to obey “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). Don’t embrace and live by Mark 12:31 where Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself and then find yourself guilty of Matt. 5:46 which says “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”
Isaiah said that the Servant would know how to sustain with a word. That lets you know His will. He wants His words to sustain, heal, and bring relief. But whatever else Jesus’ words are they are primarily righteous. They will not be twisted, ignored, or disobeyed without consequence.
He upholds the entire universe (Heb. 1:3), heals the sick (Matt. 8:16), saves to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25), calls the dead from their graves (John 5:28), and sends the lawless eternally away from God (Matt. 7:23)…with a word.