Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 12:20b (Holman) . . .and He will not put out a smoldering wick,. . .
We are examining with Matthew a prediction by Isaiah of what Messiah would be like. The picture being drawn is much more like what we saw in gentle Jesus than what the crowds expected in a conquering war hero.
Jesus’ image here was based on wicks used in oil lamps. When the lamp oil supply ran low, the flame began to flicker. As the wick burned out, smoke was emitted that smelled bad and hurt the eyes. If this happened, the tendency was to snuff out the wick, the very act Jesus promised He would not do to His followers.
We all sometimes feel like wicks barely burning. Saddened by trials and troubles, our flame of life often flickers. We feel resilience leaking out, the last small ounces of our weak faith failing, but Jesus buoys us with patient tenderness.
We may feel we have forfeited our usefulness, our oil supply is running low, comfort is scant. But in the very instant we think our light is going out, when we are spiritually powerless, He intervenes to make the least promising life promising.
If in our wick of life all we have left is a spark, Jesus would love to have it. He can use it to start a prairie fire in us. Jesus can jumpstart and rejuvenate our lives.
After denying Christ, Peter’s wick was barely lit, nearly snuffed out, almost totally blown out, but Jesus gave him a new start. The smoking wick of Peter’s usefulness was lit again by one look from his Master. Peter did run, weep bitterly, and convulse in agony, but he did not commit suicide, quit, or give up. He instead repented, and rose to preach at Pentecost one of history’s most important sermons.
George W. Truett, longtime Pastor at First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, killed his best friend, J. C. Arnold, Dallas Chief of Police, in a hunting accident. Truett went down mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, and almost quit, but was not done. He had decided to leave the ministry, but heard Jesus say, “You are my man.” It is said he never laughed out loud again, but he did not quit, and his best years of service for Jesus were yet to come. Dear smoldering wick, hear Jesus saying, “You are mine.” He bought us and wants us, our best days are ahead of us.
Gary Taylor, Pastor at First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, Missouri, is one of my dearest friends in the ministry. I call him a modern day Job. When young, he went through years of mean church trouble, but refused to turn bitter. He survived a head-on crash that should have killed him instantly, and required months of recovery, but Gary did not give up. He then commenced a multi-year battle with cancer. He stayed faithful. His wife Joyce fought cancer for years. Near the end, Gary waited on her hand and foot. He refused to quit. She’s gone now. Gary is a widower, gentle and sweet as ever. Some days the wick of his ministry smolders, but it has never gone out. If anything, Gary is burning brighter than ever for Jesus.
Pondering the riches in our text caused me to remember a song of my youth. In those days I thought of it solely as a fun song. Now I see gravity in it.
Give me oil in my lamp; keep me burning, burning, burning.
Give me oil in my lamp I pray.
Give me oil in my lamp; keep me burning, burning, burning.
Keep me burning till the break of day.
Oh! A “break of day” there will be. Smoldering will not continue forever.
Matthew 12:20c . . .until He has led justice to victory.
How long will Jesus not break a broken reed and not put out a smoldering wick? “Until He has led justice to victory,” till His justice triumphs completely. He will nurse His bruised reeds and smoldering wicks until all is well, till each bruised reed is bruised no more, till each smoldering wick never smolders again.
Our text is good news for believers, bad news for unbelievers. The day of leniency does end. Jesus patiently holds off judgment hoping the day of mercy will not be wasted, but there is a limit, an end. Jesus waits long, but not forever.
For people who refuse to follow Jesus, judgment does come at last. Our text, “He will not put out a smoldering wick,” has a sharply worded counterpart written also by Isaiah. “The strong one will become tinder, and his work a spark; both will burn together, with no one to quench the flames” (Isaiah 1:31).
No sight will ever be more alarming to unbelievers than when they open their eyes in death and see Jesus on the throne of the Universe. Not even seeing the flames of perdition will paralyze the lost with worse dismay.
Jesus’ critics can challenge Him, confront Him, and refuse Him, but they cannot escape Him. They will meet Him face to face either when they die or when He returns to Earth as King of kings and Lord of lords. He left His last footprint on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem and will make His next footprint there.
With sighs growing deeper every day, we echo John, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20b). For unbelievers, the future is dim. For believers, the best is always yet to come. For Christ-followers, our final moment on Earth, whether it be death or meeting Jesus in the air, will be our finest. Each bruised reed will be made well. Each smoking flax will flame.
We fight throughout life, buoyed in knowing our victory has already been won. Even the most bruised and worst smoldering warrior should be cheered by our assurance of ultimate victory.
Admiral Lord Nelson, mortally wounded at Trafalgar, lived long enough to know his men had won the battle. His last words were, “Thank God I have done my duty.” Being confident about victory comforted the smoldering wick.
At the battle of Quebec in 1759, General Wolfe was wounded twice, but continued in command until a third bullet pierced his lung. He died as enemy troops broke rank and began to flee. Hearing the victory shout, “They run! They run!” Wolfe’s last words were, “I die happy.” Victory cheered the bruised reed.
Dear bruised reed and smoldering wick, rejoice in the victory already won and announced by Jesus. Our Captain won the battle. Away from His cross our enemies flee, “They run! They run!” Time will make our victory conspicuous.
The struggle will end. Faith will become sight. The weak shall be made strong. The stumbling will run. No bruised reed or smoldering wick will be forgotten or left behind. We’re marching to Zion, let’s enter it singing.
In the meantime, some might say Jesus could get more for His money if He invested in the strong instead of in bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. No no a thousand times no! Love does not discriminate, measure value, or calculate worth in the beloved; otherwise it ceases to be love.
Love gives freely, seeking nothing in return, and yet, this having been said, there is a return. The bruised reeds He does not break, and the smoldering wicks He does not put out, gratefully bind their hearts with undying love to their Savior, and stand to testify on His behalf with confidence before an unbelieving world, “We are living evidence and proof that ours is a loving Savior worth knowing.”