Now and Not Yet
Lord, we rejoice that God incarnated as a human and lived among us.
Read ISAIAH 61:1–11
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
5 Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
6 And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
and in their riches you will boast.
7 Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.
8 “For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free. From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee” (Charles Wesley, 1707–1788).
These verses must be among the most familiar of Isaiah’s prophecies. Quoting them, Jesus announces his ministry: finally, it is the year of the Lord’s favor; the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, has come (Luke 4:16–21). His healing tours will inaugurate a new kingdom—the glorious one which Isaiah and the other prophets have been anticipating.
Different strands of understanding who Christ is and what he does come together in these word pictures. They provide a template for the church in carrying on the Messiah’s ministry. In Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster has identified six streams of the Christian faith through which the church has understood its practice and mission, and at least four of them find encouragement in this prophecy. The social justice tradition leads to siding with the poor in the Messiah’s kingdom, to proclaim freedom and bring justice (8), all reminiscent of the freedom proclaimed in the year of jubilee (Lev. 25:8–55). The charismatic tradition celebrates the work and power of the Spirit (1), the energizing presence of God (cf. Isa. 11:2–16; 42:1). The incarnational tradition welcomes the priestly role of the God-Man (6) and the holiness tradition rejoices in the removal of shame and disgrace (7) through Christ’s work on the cross.
Why, though, when Jesus uses this prophecy to open his ministry, does he stop before the ominous words (2b) about vengeance? He often later speaks of judgment, especially through his parables. Isaiah also does so in chapters 63, 65 and 66. Perhaps Jesus wants to emphasize only the first phase of his kingdom’s inauguration as he begins, emphasizing teaching and healing. The necessary topic of a day of reckoning he defers to later in his ministry. Isaiah
responds to this picture of the Coming One with a song of wonder and gratitude (10,11). As believers, we rejoice in his first advent and long for his second.
When Luke records how Jesus inaugurated his ministry by citing this passage (Luke 4:16-21), he notes that Jesus found the place on the scroll where this passage was located (17). Do you also know your way around the Bible?
Lord, we are in awe of Your spectacular ministry on earth and how You helped the poor and downtrodden. Help us to minister similarly.