My Favorite Description of Jesus
by Nathan Brown
Of all the descriptions of Jesus found in the gospels and beyond, my favorite—out of so many profound, beautiful, and challenging descriptions—is probably one of the least quoted, most skipped over of the Jesus pictures. It’s found in Matthew 12:17–21:
“This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah concerning him: ‘Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world’” (NLT*).
[Feel free to pause and read it again, slowly and meditatively. Let the words echo in your heart and mind. Have you spent much time with this description in the past? How does this description fit with the Jesus you know? Does it change any of your imaginings of Jesus and His ministry?]
If you checked it out in your Bible, you would likely have noticed the cross-reference to Isaiah 42:1–4 that Matthew quoted to try to explain Jesus’ healing miracles—and the variations between these two quotes.
These verses are a significant point in the prophecies of Isaiah. We are more familiar with Isaiah’s description of the “suffering Servant” in chapter 53, for example: “He was despised and rejected . . .” (verse 3), and “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (verse 7), and readily identify them as prophecies of the coming Messiah and His death for our salvation. But these few verses in Isaiah 42 are the first description of this “Servant,” and explain the mission of this Savior in much broader terms than in the following chapters.
These verses are also significant in Matthew’s gospel narrative. They accompany Matthew’s first reference to the plotted death of Jesus (see Matt. 12:14), linking these words to the culmination of Jesus’ ministry in His death and resurrection. This is an important turning point. A sense of foreboding begins to grow at the same time we are reminded of Jesus’ ministry for justice and hope for all.
Yet, as important as the narrative placement of these verses is to their respective stories, it is the description itself that touches my heart and catches my imagination. In a world with so much injustice—both in Jesus’ world and in ours—to find this proclamation at the core of Jesus’ mission reminds us of the present and ultimate purposes of the kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate.
But this kingdom impulse for justice comes in unexpected ways. It comes with a gentle compassion that we can be tempted to think of as weakness. The mission of Jesus has a particular regard for the weakest and most vulnerable, gently tending the bruised reed and those who can only just maintain a smoulder. It is a kingdom of the “least of these,” bringing good news for the poor, freedom for the oppressed, food for the hungry, and healing for the broken (compare Luke 4:18, 19, also quoting from Isaiah).
Somehow, counter-intuitively, this preference for the least and the weakest has the power to change the world, to make justice victorious to all the nations; something, we are told, Jesus would not stop until this mission is complete. These words might sound sentimental, pretentious, or even fanciful, until we remember this is about Jesus. The resurrected Jesus. “This same Jesus . . .” (see Acts 1:11).
So this isn’t only a poetic and beautiful description of Jesus. We are called to live with the transformative weakness of Jesus, with the gentleness of the Servant, with the compassion and justice of the One whose “name will be the hope of all the world.” And in doing so, we play a part in the ongoing mission prophesied and identified by Isaiah and Matthew, lifting up His name as that ultimate hope.
Working for justice, seeking justice, doing justice, is a practical proclamation of Jesus, His mission, and the hope we claim.
*Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.