During the Spring and Summer of 2020, our nation watched as the world erupted in social protest. The killing of two black men earlier in the year—one by white vigilantes and the other by uniformed police officers—were sparks on the fuel-soaked fabric of our culture. In the American church, just like the larger society, divisions ran deep. But it was also an opportunity for Christians to re-ask fundamental questions: What is justice? Is justice even something Christians and churches should care about? How can I tell if injustice is occurring? Does the Bible talk about justice? Not everyone turned to Scripture for these answers—at least not with a careful attempt to understand the Bible on its own terms. Some Christians gravitated towards progressive or even Marxist conceptions of justice. Other Christians seemed to dismiss anyone concerned with racial or social justice as being “woke” or theologically suspect. But even with all the angry rhetoric, people were still asking questions.
While I had long considered returning to academia for a doctorate, during this period of turmoil I stumbled onto a quote from Isaiah in Matthew’s gospel. Tucked in the middle of a conflict Jesus was having with the Pharisees, Matthew wrote the following words in 12:17-21,
This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope.”
While I had read that passage many times before, I never made the connection to justice. Yet, here Matthew was clearly telling the entire world that Jesus is the one God has sent to bring His promised justice to the nations!
I instantly realized two things: First, those contemporary movements who sought to define and solve justice apart from Jesus were utterly doomed to failure. Second, those Evangelical voices that were denying racial injustice (among other forms) were clearly not speaking for Matthew or Jesus. God understood our world is full of injustice and that Jesus is the only solution. To deny that injustice exists is to deny one of the most significant reasons Jesus entered into our lives.
My dissertation is tentatively titled “Justice to Victory: Intertextual Considerations on a Matthean Theme.” My goal is to answer the question, “What is the purpose and function of Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 42:1-4?” My tentative thesis is that Matthew not only incorporates Isaiah 42:1-4 into his narrative but, more importantly, consciously sets his narrative within the overall text-plot of Isaiah. Specifically, Matthew sees his narrative as a then-contemporary outworking of Isaiah’s rebuke of Israel’s leaders for failing in their Covenantal mandate to pursue justice and the subsequent promise of God to send a divine son/servant who will fulfill this Covenantal obligation.
If this topic is of interest to you, please reach out to me.