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Bruised Reeds and Smoking Flax

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Contrary to expectations, Jesus will not break a bruised reed or snuff-out a smoldering wick. Instead, with tenderness and compassion, He restores, strengthens, encourages, and heals.

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Introduction: Unexpected

Jesus was full of surprises. He often did things that people did not expect, and He refused to do things that everyone thought He would.

A woman caught in adultery was cast before the feet of Jesus, and everyone expected Him to give some sort of response to the charge. But instead, He did the unexpected: He ignored the question and wrote in the sand. When the accusers realized that they didn’t have the right to condemn, then the One who did showed unexpected grace, saying, “Go and sin no more" (John 8:1-11).

When asked about paying tribute to Rome, Jesus gave an answer that no one anticipated, turning a cleverly-crafted trap into a sermon on honoring God (Matthew 22:15-22). No one expected that!

Jesus showed up at Lazarus’ tomb and ordered the stone to be rolled away. Everyone thought He would come and pay His respects and offer comfort to His friends. But instead, He stood at the open tomb and yelled, “Lazarus, come forth!” To the surprise and astonishment of everyone, a man who had been dead four days came stumbling out of the tomb (John 11:1-44).

Jesus was constantly doing the unexpected. He provided tax money from a fish’s mouth (Matthew 17:24-27). He purposefully went through Samaria – a place all the other Jews intentionally avoided (John 4:4). He fed thousands with a little boy’s lunch (Matthew 14:13-21). He walked on water, showing up in the middle of the night – in the middle of the sea – to the shock and amazement of His disciples (Matthew 14:22-33).

Matthew 12:14-21

A passage from Matthew's gospel reveals yet another way in which Jesus surprised everyone:

Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him. But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust” (Matthew 12:14-21).

Matthew tells us that the Pharisees held a council to see how they might destroy Jesus. As tensions were rising between the Pharisees (who represented the religious establishment) and the followers of Jesus, many expected a showdown. Jesus had demonstrated that He was powerful in word and deed, and that no one would be His equal in a show of force. But, rather than getting into it with the Pharisees, Jesus withdrew. He could have easily crushed His opposition with His words, His wisdom, and a demonstration of His miraculous power… But, He didn’t.

Matthew goes on to tell us that great crowds followed Jesus, and that He healed them all. Try to image the scene: Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people pressing in to see Jesus, to hear Him teach, and to be healed by Him. There would have been those with fevers, others who were crippled or lame. Some may have been swollen with dropsy, and others may have suffered with leprosy or skin sores. Some were paralyzed, and others had internal diseases. Some were deaf and others were blind. Some were lunatic and others were demon-possessed. And Jesus took time to heal them all!

And then He told them not to tell anyone. That’s unexpected!

Jesus was the Messiah no one expected. He was doing miraculous works, bringing the hope of the ages to the nation of Israel. That was the kind of news everyone expected to be published far and wide. That was the photo-op of the ages! That was exactly the kind of news that could rally the nation to rise up and throw off the chains of Rome, and—with Jesus as their warrior king—reestablish the glory of David’s kingdom.

But Jesus had not come only as Israel’s Messiah—He was the hope of the nations! He did not come to deliver the oppressed from the tyranny of Rome—He came to deliver all mankind from the tyranny of sin. He did not come to simply reestablish David’s kingdom—He came to inaugurate the Kingdom of Heaven, in which He would forever reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.

And in order to accomplish this greater purpose, Jesus did the unexpected: He took on the form of a servant. He did not overwhelm or crush His enemies. He did not broadcast or proclaim His identity as Messiah. He did not bring immediate judgment, but rather He came as a servant reaching out to the needy, the rejected, and the sinner

And when Matthew reflected back on the unexpected ways in which Jesus ministered, it became clear that He was exactly the servant pictured in the ancient prophecy of Isaiah:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice (Isaiah 42:1-3).

When Matthew remembered the scene of Jesus ministering tenderly to the sick, healing them all and telling them to keep the secret, he saw the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. These multitudes had come to Jesus as bruised reeds and smoking flax, and He did the unexpected: He cared for them. Others may have passed them by, or trampled them under foot, but Jesus took time, and in compassion He healed them all.

Bruised Reeds

Reeds are gigantic grasses that commonly grew in the shallow water or salty sand at the edge of rivers and lakes in Palestine. They could grow anywhere from 3 to 20 feet in height, and had long, narrow leaves. Reeds were used in various ways. They could be made into walking sticks, fishing poles, musical instruments, and pens. They were also used them for weaving baskets, mats, and for making paper.

The stem of the reed is hollow, and if it becomes bruised (crushed or bent), the reed can no longer stand upright, and is therefore useless. The tendency was to simply break-off a crushed reed, because it was good for nothing. But, Isaiah envisioned a servant of the Lord who would do the unexpected – He would not break a bruised reed.

The people that came to Jesus were a lot like bruised reeds. They were diseased, sick, wounded and broken. They could no longer stand upright, and they had been rendered useless. Most everyone would have passed them by, or considered them worthless… but not Jesus! He would not break a bruised reed. Instead, He did what nobody else could do: He healed them.

There are three things that tend to bruise or damage people: sin, sickness and sorrow. Sin damages the soul; sickness bends the body, and sorrow crushes the spirit. All three bring people to a point of profound weakness, like a bruised reed.

But Jesus is in the business of healing bruised reeds! To those damaged by sin, He is a Savior – offering grace and pardon. To those bruised by sickness and disease, He is the Great Physician – bringing healing and health. To those crushed by sorrow and grief, He is the Prince of Peace – ministering comfort and hope. He will not break a bruised reed!

Smoking Flax

Isaiah envisioned a servant of the Lord whose ministry would be characterized by such tenderness that He would not break a bruised reed nor snuff out a smoldering wick. An oil lamp burns brightly, as long as there is oil. The flax wick soaks up the oil, and provides fuel for the flame. But, when the oil runs out, the wick begins to dry, and the flame is reduced to a smoldering ember before it is completely extinguished.

The tendency is to snuff out smoldering wicks. A lamp that is just smoking is not serving its purpose – it gives off no light. It can’t light a pathway, or brighten a room. A smoking wick is nothing more than a reminder of failed purpose or exhausted resource. But, Isaiah prophesied that Messiah would not snuff out a smoldering wick.

There were people in the multitude thronging Jesus who were just like smoldering wicks. They had just a little faith and hope. They had just enough spiritual resource to smolder, and they came that way to Jesus – week, feeble, doubting, and confused. And Jesus dealt with them in compassion, refusing to snuff out what little life they had.

As He healed the bruised reeds, Jesus also tended to the smoldering wicks. Where there was a little faith, He added to it. Where there was some hope, He catered to it. He poured life into people, like oil into empty lamps. Instead of snuffing-out smoldering wicks, Jesus cared for them and ministered to them until they could burn bright with faith, hope, and life.

Life can be difficult, and it can take its toll. Trouble, disappointments, and difficulties often leave people tired, disillusioned and cynical – spiritually smoldering. When we feel this way, we tend to look for relief in all kinds of places. It’s seems that the last place we turn is to the Lord. It’s as if we imagine that He only receives us when we are well. Somehow, we feel that He’ll deal harshly with us for our lack of faith, or for our spiritual weakness. But, just the opposite is true. He will not snuff-out a smoldering wick!

Contrary to what we may anticipate, Jesus dispenses unexpected grace. He will not break a bruised reed, and He will not snuff-out a smoldering wick. But, in tenderness and compassion, He pours life into empty people – like oil back into a lamp. He restores. He strengthens. He encourages. He heals.

The Transforming Power of Jesus’ Tenderness:

In the third century, there was a debate on Christianity between Celsus, an unbeliever, and Origen, a Christian. Celsus asserted in the debate, "When most teachers go forth to teach, they cry, 'Come to me, you who are clean and worthy,' and they are followed by the highest caliber of people available. But your silly master cries, 'Come to me, you who are down and beaten by life,' and so he accumulates around him the rag, tag and bobtail of humanity."

To this charge Origen replied: "Yes, they are the rag, tag and bobtail of humanity. But Jesus does not leave them that way. Out of material you would have thrown away as useless, he fashions men, giving them back their self-respect, enabling them to stand on their feet and look God in the eyes. They were cowed, cringing, broken things. But the Son has set them free."

Jesus doesn’t break bruised reeds and He will not snuff-out smoldering wicks. Not only does He not break the bruised reeds, but He won’t leave them bruised, either. He does the unexpected: He heals them! He will not leave a wick smoldering. He does the unexpected: He pours in oil, and lights the lamp again!

  • People come to Him hurting, but He doesn’t leave them that way. He heals them.
  • They come to Him damaged by sin, but He doesn’t leave them that way. He forgives them and restores them.
  • They come bent over with sorrow and grief, but He doesn’t leave them that way. He comforts and strengthens them.
  • They come to Him sick, but He doesn’t leave them that way. He heals them and makes them whole.
  • They come to Him doubting, but He doesn’t leave them that way. He give them something to believe – a reason to have faith.
  • They come to Him weak, but He doesn’t leave them that way. He pours life and strength into them.
  • They come to Him cynical and disappointed, but He doesn’t leave them that way. He gives them hope.
  • They come to Him as bruised reeds and smoldering wicks, be He doesn’t leave them that way. He heals, He saves, He restores.

Conclusion: Jesus Healed them All.

But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all (Matthew 12:15).

Matthew records that Jesus healed ALL the sick in the multitude that followed Him. He did not only heal a few. He did not pick favorites. He did heal only those who deserved it. He did not exclude anyone. He healed them all.

There was no sickness too serious. There was no wound too deep. They were no hopeless cases. There were no lost causes. There was no situation too difficult for Him. He healed them all.

That leaves the door wide open for you and me! You may feel like a bruised reed, or a smoking wick. Others may have passed you by, or written you off. You may have given up on yourself and imagined that God has given up on you, too.

But, Jesus does the unexpected! There is grace where you only imagined judgment. There is hope where you only imagined despair. There is life where you only saw emptiness. There is healing where you only imagined brokenness.

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