The Unexpected Servant

By Mark D. Roberts

November 2, 2017

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness…

Isaiah 52:13-14


A murky reflection in a puddle with debris.God works in amazing and surprising ways. Given God’s glory and power, we might well expect that his Servant would be equally glorious and powerful. Wouldn’t God’s chosen representative on earth reflect God’s own glory and power? In a sense, the answer is yes. But Isaiah testifies to the surprising character and experience of God’s Servant. The one who will be “highly exalted” is not beautiful, but rather “so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness” (52:14). Something very unexpected is going on here!

Of course, when Christians read this passage, we understand it in light of Jesus, the true Servant of God. We know that his birth was about as humble as it could have been (visiting angels notwithstanding!). His human life was relatively ordinary. He spent the majority of his adult years working as a craftsman. His public ministry was certainly unusual, but his death was as horrible and humiliating as any death could be. Jesus was literally so disfigured that many were appalled at him. Yet Jesus was indeed the Servant of God, the one through whom God was bringing salvation to the world by ushering in his kingdom.

The example of God’s Servant challenges me to look at many things, not with human eyes, but with divine insight. I can be easily impressed by power, fame, beauty, and wealth. I, along with most human beings, tend to look for leaders—even Christian leaders—who shine with human glory. Thus, we can easily miss the genuine work of God in today’s world, a work that comes through those who are humble, unimpressive, even invisible. Isaiah reminds us to look, not for glitz, but for the gospel.

Moreover, the stunning servanthood of Jesus challenges me in my own leadership. If I intend to follow Jesus—which I do—then I need to imitate his servant leadership. Remember what Jesus said about his mission as the Son of Man, a mission infused with the perspective of Isaiah’s Servant, and how this mission should inspire us: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).


What impresses you most in people: beauty, fame, wealth, or power? Or is it something else?

Have you ever met someone who was used by God in profound ways even though that person had no earthly glory?

Are you willing to put aside dreams of your own glory in order to walk the road of servanthood?

How can you serve the people who are entrusted to your care today?


Lord Jesus, you are indeed glorious. You rightly receive the worship that belongs to God alone, because you are God. Yet, in your matchless mercy, you did not grasp your glory, but emptied yourself, taking the form of a slave, becoming human, and even dying on a cross. You were not what people expected of a god, not to mention God.

Because you were disfigured on the cross, you have brought salvation to this world. Moreover, you have been highly exalted, hailed as the one true Lord, worshiped as God. Today we join that worship, amazed by who you are and what you have done.

Help us, Lord, to see with your eyes. Help us not to be blinded by human glory, but to see how you are working even today in those who are humble. May we serve you and others in humility, imitating your self-giving love and servanthood. Show us, Lord, how to serve those around us today. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentaryHow to Lead in the Kingdom of God, Part 2

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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