MATTHEW 12:20a (part two)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 12:20a (part two) He will not break a bruised reed,. . .
This passage has been a huge consolation to me through much of my adult life. Many times this bruised reed has reminded the Lord He would not break me.
Since a text out of context is a pretext, let’s place our text in the middle of its original setting. “Bruised reed” may refer to the Pharisees, and/or the man with the paralyzed hand, and/or the people who followed Jesus to be healed by Him. Each gives their own special nuance to help us see what Matthew saw in our text.
Viewed through our text, the Pharisees give hope for the hardhearted. Jesus could have crushed these callused evil men immediately, but chose not to. He was willing to wait, to grant time for even the worst sinners to change their minds.
Many believers bear the burden of lost loved ones in danger of spending an eternity separated from God. The pain is made worse when these unbelieving family and friends show absolutely no inclination whatsoever for things of God. Parents, spouses, children, friends–not only lost, but to the eye doubly lost.
Dear believer, never give up hope. Jesus still woos people. The context of our text reminds us He is patient with the most hardened. He could have easily broken and squelched the Pharisees, but instead gave them ample time to repent.
We have to confess, most Pharisees and leaders remained bitter enemies to Jesus, but some did believe, including Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. In Jerusalem, “a large group of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7b).
This comforts us not only for the sake of loved ones, but also for ourselves. His being slow to squelch the obnoxious bodes well for the mild God was patient with enemies; He’ll be patient with friends. If patient with belligerents, He won’t squelch the humble. Jesus didn’t crush the snarling beast; He won’t slay the lamb.
Viewed through our text, the crowd and the man with a paralyzed hand give hope to the brokenhearted, to those who feel overlooked, neglected, and unwanted. In the thinking of their day, the sick were obviously terrible sinners. They carried with them always, in their own bodies, proof of their sinfulness and God’s dislike.
We reject the notion that suffering is always the direct result of a particular sin. We do believe suffering is the lot of all believers. The road to paradise often bends close to the gate of perdition. When the curve in the road stretches farther than we had expected, our text can be a great source of comfort.
We believers often find ourselves trembling and weak, bending before the howling winds of life, barely able to stand erect. When too weak to stay upright any longer, fall into the precious tender arms of Jesus. He will not break us.
God’s ancient promise to Israel remains ours today. “The God of old is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27a).
This is one of Moses’ last phrases. He saved the best till last. God is our safety above, before, beside, and beneath us–roof, vanguard, flank, foundation.
If able to flee to Jesus for refuge, do so. If too weak to flee, simply fall on His everlasting arms. In “Pilgrims Progress,” Christian enters the river of death, crying out to Hopeful, “I sink in deep waters, billows go over my head, waves go over me.” Hopeful sent back encouraging news, “Be of good cheer, my brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good.” Thus it is in all our dark moments. Be of good cheer. We have felt the bottom, it is good. Underneath are the everlasting arms.
Our text is good news for the weak. A reed is not an oak tree. Reeds are frail to begin with, bruised reeds weaker still. Jesus was not talking about survival of the fittest, where the strong succeed, and Nature ruthlessly crushes the weak.
He instead promoted survival of the weakest. Jesus is the physician seeking the sick, the Shepherd leaning over the precipice to save the wayward sheep, the Friend of sinners, running down paths into lostness to find the straying ones.
God is not obligated to do this for bruised reeds. He does not owe us. God does not have to condescend to sinners who have rebelled against Him, yet does.
Jesus is gentle toward the brokenhearted and weak. His servants must be, too. Nothing proves us closer to God’s heart than gentleness of heart and hand.
We humans tend to be impatient with the weak. It is easy to smile on the strong. It is a tragedy when the religious get more and more religion while the irreligious get less and less. To our shame, sinners too often get left alone in sin.
There’s little value in a reed. Growing by the millions in marshes and rivers, they are common and insignificant. They are at best lowly, producing no flowers, no food, no timber, no weapon. There’s little reason to value a reed.
We often feel this way about ourselves, thinking we are worthless, not deserving God’s kindness. We sometimes feel He loses our address. We know He loves us, but does He like us? “No one values me” – and yet Jesus does value us.
Why does He value us? If I knew, I could fathom God. The mystery is too deep. If the story of His love for us were not true, someone would need to write the tale. It truly is the greatest story ever told, a story humans cannot live without.
A bruised reed was neglected and unwanted. Scribes wrote with reeds dipped in ink. When the hollow cylinder softened and its tip could no longer stay erect, the reed was useless and would be thrown away. Not much value here!
Shepherds played musical instruments, made from reeds, to pass time and calm sheep. When the reed broke, it no longer made music and was thrown away.
Many people, somewhere along life’s journey, lost the music in their spirit. Beat up by life, burdened down, wounded in spirit, brokenhearted–many feel neglected and unwanted. With Jesus’ gentle healing touch, even the worst bruised reed can once again bring forth the music of God.
Kevin Richmond has given me permission to share his story. For years he worked in nightclubs, his life spinning downward in a destructive spiral. He grew disillusioned with his music. It changed no one, and people he saw, including himself, needed change. One day the music in him died. He gave it up entirely.
He met some Christians and, long story short, became a Christ-follower. The music inside him began playing again. Realizing he could use it for God’s glory and help change people for good, Kevin picked up his instrument, and began making important, meaningful music. Kevin is a music and worship pastor. Every song he sings has purpose because songs about Jesus contain the words of life.
Kevin felt bruised in his music. Others of us feel bruised elsewhere. Wherever the hurt, Jesus wants to heal it. The image of a bruised reed speaks to all of us at some painful spot in our lives. It is said every reed has a blemish; there is no such thing as a perfect reed. We all relate to this, for the same is true of us.
Fortunately, God constructs His beautiful temples out of ruins. He builds from leftovers of collapses in the past. Broken hearts disintegrate into Humpty Dumpty fragments perfectly suited for the Lord to put together again. The broken-ness makes them the perfect shape to enable Him to do His best handiwork. If broken, battered, and bruised, don’t quit. We are now finally moldable, usable.