the weblog of Alan Knox

He will not break a bruised reed

Posted by on Nov 10, 2008 in discipleship, edification, gathering | 13 comments

Sunday, I had to opportunity to teach the church. Since we’re studying through the Book of Matthew, I taught on Matthew 12:15-21. Part of that passage reads as follows:

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench until he brings justice to victory. (Matthew 12:20 ESV; a quotation from Isaiah 42:3)

The reed would be used for measurement or support. When the reed was bruised or damaged, it would not be good for measuring or supporting anymore. Therefore, it would be broken and tossed into the fire. When a wick in an oil lamp begins to smoke or smolder, the wick is about used up. The old wick is removed and replaced with a new wick.

But, when the Lord’s Servant comes, Isaiah says that he would not break a bruised reed, nor would he quench a smoldering wick. Instead, Isaiah promised that the Servant would bring justice to victory. Matthew applies this prophetic passage to Jesus. He is telling his readers – and us – that Jesus did not come to judge the damaged and used up people, but instead he was bringing them justice which would lead to victory.

I encouraged others to consider the damaged, bruised, broken, and used up people that they come across from day to day. Jesus desires to bring those people justice which leads to victory; he does not desire to bring judgment and condemnation; he does not desire to break them or throw them out. Our responsibility as followers and representatives of Jesus is to offer them love and mercy as God has offered it to us.

While this was only a small part of my teaching on this passage, it apparently struck a nerve. Several people shared about the damaged and broken people that God had brought into their lives.

One young lady shared about a cafe owner that she had met recently. She had intentionally spent time in this cafe to get to know this man and a woman who works there as well. It turns out that the man is from France. After my friend got to know him and shared the good news of Jesus Christ with him, he told her that he had had a hard time meeting people in this small Southern town. Many of the Christians would not talk to him because he served wine. Then, when they did talk to him, they simply asked him where he went to church and invited him to their church. He said he felt like they were trying to sell him something. After my friend explained the good news, the man said, “If only it could really be like that…”

A couple of other people told about young men and young women that God had brought into their lives. Some were dealing with marital issues, some were being abused, some were struggling with illnesses or poverty or addiction. In every case, my friends expressed a desire to demonstrate the love of God to these broken, bruised, and damaged people.

Then, a man shared a modern day parable with us. He said that a dog showed up on their front porch a couple of days earlier. The dog looked malnourished, so they decided to feed him, recognizing that the dog would probably stay if they started taking care of him. They have since bought the dog a collar (he didn’t have one) and gave him a bath. The dog probably belongs to someone who will show up one day to take him back home.

After sharing this story, my friend asked: Why is it so easy to take care of a dog that is in need, but so difficult to take care of a person who is in need. I think my friend’s simple story taught us much more about sharing the love of God than my teaching did. I thank God that my friend had the opportunity to speak to the church – even though he was not scheduled to teach or preach – and I thank God that my friend took advantage of that opportunity in order to edify us and to stir us all up toward love and good works.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 11-10-2008

    “Why is it so easy to take care of a dog that is in need, but so difficult to take care of a person who is in need.”

    It may be that the dog knows better than we humans how to accept help in a gracious fashion, accepting it for what it is.

    I wonder if part of our unwillingness to help others is that stuck in our minds are the thoughts of how we would accept loving help. We let what we think are their thoughts begin to affect ours.

    When we give love, we also want love in return. We help, but it is still about us. We need to turn to Jesus to help us give as He gave, selfless and freely. While He wanted our love, he did not let the feelings of others stop Him from doing what He wanted to do for others.

  2. 11-10-2008

    You know, Andy C is right, it is about us. It reminds me of the book, A Man Called Norman. He wanted thanked, he wanted recognised for helping Norman, but God just wanted him to help Norman. But in the end, it was him who was profoundly changed, even more so than Norman. Once we cease to see oursleves as the fairest in the land, perhaps all those “unloveable” people will seem more “worthy” of our help. Not that I am judging, I am no different.

    they shunned him because he served wine? Sound slike a drunkard and a glutton to me 😉

  3. 11-10-2008

    I was trying to share the Lord a few months ago with a couple from England and they had a similar sentiment as the guy from France. They said so many people had invited them to church, but nobody wants to do anything else with them. Perhaps we should break out of the mold of looking at people as candidates for “church guests”, and seek to bring the church to them- the love of God first and the gospel message as the Holy Spirit leads later. Jesus- a friend of sinners.

  4. 11-10-2008

    This is what I am living right now. It seems the church is to good to go out. So we try to get sinners into the building. That’s not the way things are set up in the bible. We the church are to go to the sinners. Jesus went out with sinners. He was and always will be our example of how we as Christians are to be. We must go out to the highways and byways to reach the lost without shame. We must stop holding “revivals” for the church and start evangelizing the lost. We sometimes forget that before Christ we were once drunkards, perverted, and homeless. We are to not be conformed to the world, but not stop going out to the world. This is a hot button issue for me as this is what I do is go out and evangelize to the lost at a run down mobile home park every Thursday and Sunday. Under some pine trees. We must be the church and go out. Not continually become social elitest who are to good to hang out with those we once were. Sinners!

  5. 11-10-2008


    I must recount an encouraging, true story:
    One Sunday in the “Bible Belt” in Sydney a very large, very full Baptist church was half way through their “service” when a very unkempt hippy walked in.
    As there was no where to sit, he walked to the front and sat on the floor in front of the front pew.

    A hush fell as a well dressed elderly deacon, who was seated at the back, stood up and walked the long aisle to the front. The congregation, from this rather upmarket suburb,had an expectation. Didn’t happen!

    The elderly man sat on the floor beside the hippy!

    I don’t have any idea of what was spoken to the deacon later.

    I do know, in another Baptist church, that my wife and I were censured by deacons for, on two separate occasions, taking in a prostitute for whom my wife prepared a bath, washed her clothes, fed her and gave her a bed, and later, for giving sustenance and a bed to a Motor Cycle gang member.

  6. 11-10-2008


    I think that may be part of the problem. We only want to love others when we know we will be loved in return. I think that also shows that we don’t really understand what love is.


    Yes, once we recognized that there is nothing in us to cause God to love us – that we are unloveable ourselves – perhaps we will begin to think differntly about others that we may have considered unloveable.


    That’s what this man said. He felt like they wanted to sell him something (church membership) instead of wanting to get to know him.


    Thanks for your example! We need to see many, many, many more examples like this.

    Aussie John,

    I’ve heard the story of the old deacon and the hippie over here, so it may be an urban legend. I do hope there’s a kernel of truth there though.

    But, on the other hand, there is nothing like the stories that you tell from your own experiences. The story of you and your wife being censured for caring for the exact same people that Jesus cared for… priceless, and, unfortunately, all too common, I think.


  7. 11-11-2008


    The story is true. I know the church in which it happened. I may have told it previously.

  8. 11-11-2008

    Aussie John,

    Thanks for letting me know that the story about the deacon and the hippie is true. Perhaps I did hear it from you.


  9. 11-11-2008

    I’ve been hearing that same story for years as well, goes around on the internet a lot. I always hoped it was true, but have little faith in what comes into my inbox lol

    This version was published in Chicken Soup for the Christian family Soul in 2000, but I have seen it in many forms

    A Guy Named Bill

    His name was Bill. He had wild hair, wore a T-shirt with holes in it, blue jeans and no shoes. In the entire time I knew him I never once saw Bill wear a pair of shoes. Rain, sleet or snow, Bill was barefoot. This was literally his wardrobe for his whole four years of college.
    He was brilliant and looked like he was always pondering the esoteric. He became a Christian while attending college. Across the street from the campus was a church full of well-dressed, middle-class people. They wanted to develop a ministry to the college students, but they were not sure how to go about it.
    One day, Bill decided to worship there. He walked into the church, complete with wild hair, T-shirt, blue jeans and bare feet. The church was completely packed, and the service had already begun. Bill started down the aisle to find a place to sit. By now the people were looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one said anything.
    As Bill moved closer and closer to the pulpit, he realized there were no empty seats. So he squatted and sat down on the carpet right up front. (Although such behavior would have been perfectly acceptable at a college fellowship, this was a scenario this particular congregation had never witnessed before!) By now, the people seemed uptight, and the tension in the air was thickening.
    Right about the time Bill took his “seat,” a deacon began slowly making his way down the aisle from the back of the sanctuary. The deacon was in his eighties, had silver-gray hair, a three-piece suit and a pocket watch. He was a godly man — very elegant, dignified and courtly. He walked with a cane and, as he neared the boy, the church members thought, “You can’t blame him for what he’s going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and background to understand some college kid on the floor?”
    It took a long time for the man to reach the boy. The church was utterly silent except for the clicking of his cane. You couldn’t even hear anyone breathing. All eyes were on the deacon.
    But then they saw the elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty, he sat down on the floor next to Bill and worshipped with him. Everyone in the congregation choked up with emotion. When the minister gained control, he told the people, “What I am about to preach, you will never remember. What you’ve just seen, you will never forget.”
    By Rebecca Manley Pippert
    from Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul
    Copyright 2000 by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen

  10. 11-12-2008

    Alan, I’m glad you preached on the ‘bruised reed’ verse. I wish more people would highlight it – this is the first time I remember ever reading or hearing that anyone preached on it! To me it’s so important to emphasize the care with which Jesus evidently handles broken people. It’s a level of care which sadly is often missing from the way Christians handle broken people.

  11. 11-12-2008

    I think it is not only vanity (per andy c) but fear. A dog is a dog and can only hurt you in doggish ways, if it is going to. A person is unpredictable and can hurt you in any imaginable way, plus many you can’t imagine before they happen to you.

    Not that the fear *excuses* us.

  12. 11-12-2008


    Yes, Jesus handles broken people with care. He saves his harsh words for those who think that they have a corner on God, that they have it all together, and that snub their noses at others.

    Mark K.,

    I think there are many reasons that people refuse to show grace and mercy to others. Vanity and fear are certainly two of those reasons.


  13. 8-10-2011

    Thanks for reminding me of this truth Alan (and thanks for posting links to past blog posts on Twitter). As someone who sometimes feels like a bruised reed or a smoldering wick, this encourages me. It reminds me of one of my favorite U2 lyrics from It’s a Beautiful Day:

    Touch me
    Take me to that Other Place
    Teach me
    I know I’m not a hopeless case