Morning Musing: Isaiah 61:1-3

“The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the Lord to glorify him.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Who did Jesus come to save? I know the “right” answer to that question is everyone. But let’s actually think about it for a minute. Who did Jesus come to save? Here’s an answer that’s just as correct but isn’t in terms we usually use. Jesus came to save people who are in need of saving. Now, if that seems tautologous, it is, but that doesn’t make it any less important to understand. In this prophecy from Isaiah that Jesus claimed for Himself, we get a better sense of just what this means.

What Isaiah and Jesus were talking about here were some of the reasons Jesus came. These are the things that lay at the heart of His mission. And, if they were at the heart of His mission then, they should still be at the heart of the church’s mission now. After all, are we not His body? If His body is not doing the things He would be doing if He were here physically, can it still be called His body?

So then, what things lay at the heart of Jesus’ mission? He came, Isaiah said, to first and foremost bring good news to the poor. This, of course, raises two important questions. Number one, who exactly are the poor; and number two, what good news might they need to hear? I don’t think we can escape the conclusion here that Isaiah is talking about the economically and materially poor. Throughout the Scriptures God has a clear soft spot in His heart for the have-nots of the world. Sin-tainted economies naturally lend themselves to economic disparities. Some people wind up with a lot, and some wind up with barely enough to survive. That matters to God, and He expects those who have a lot to help those who don’t. If as a church we are not doing anything to address economic disparities in at least our own neighborhoods, then we aren’t being faithful to the message and mission of Jesus. As for the good news, is this not the news that God is moving to do something about their situation, so they are not suffering any longer?

What else is here? Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted. Sin causes destruction and devastation everywhere it is unleashed on the world and in individual lives. This invariably causes broken hearts. If your heart is broken because of the tragedies and travails of life, Jesus came for you. He came to heal up the wounds sin has caused, and to restore you to wholeness.

Jesus came for those who are held captive. This certainly goes for literal prisoners, but it also applies to those who are held captive by life. Maybe you are in a situation from which you need escape, but you are powerless to remove yourself from it. Jesus came for you. Now, this doesn’t mean someone who has committed a crime is going to be given a get-out-jail-free card without being held accountable for his actions. But it surely means those who are held unjustly have the God of the universe on their side. It means that those who are locked in sin’s dark cells will be given a key that unlocks the doors and grants them access to the freedom of God’s kingdom.

Jesus came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. In context, Isaiah’s and Jesus’ audiences would have heard this and immediately thought about the Year of Jubilee in the Law of Moses. This was supposed to be a festival held every 50 years during which time land rights were restored, all slaves were set free, debts and burdens were cancelled, the land was given rest, and so on and so forth. It was a reset year when everything was to be put back like it should have been in the first place. What Isaiah and Jesus both envisioned, though was something even grander than that. They imagined a cosmic reversal when everything would be put back like it was supposed to be. There is a day coming when all things will be restored.

On the other side of this, though, is the “day of our God’s vengeance.” There is a day coming – Jesus came to announce it – when God will move against those who have been the perpetrators of the world’s injustice. Those who have been the cause of the pain and suffering of the innocent will be held accountable for it. Those who have been steeped in sin and unrepentant of it will be punished. Part of making all things right again is that the guilty will finally be pronounced guilty and given their just sentence.

Jesus came as well to bring comfort to those who mourn. Sin brings loss. That’s simply what it does. If you have experienced loss because of sin, Jesus came to comfort you. He will replace all your accoutrements of mourning with garments of praise. Your mourning will be turned into dancing. Every tear will be wiped away. Death, crying, and pain will be no more. The old order of things will pass away at the coming of the new.

Now, on its face, this doesn’t seem like a prophecy that has anything to do with the Advent season. After all, when Jesus claimed this for Himself, it was at the beginning of His ministry. That was about 30 years after His grand arrival into the world in Bethlehem. That doesn’t mean this passage isn’t still of vital importance to understanding Jesus’ message and mission, but why talk about it now?

Jesus has come once, yes, but He’s coming again. His mission was completed on the cross and His victory was announced by the empty tomb, but the full extent of that completion and victory will arrive when He returns on the clouds at the trumpet’s blast in glory and power. Our forebears in the faith may have lived through a long season of Advent waiting on Christ’s first coming, but so we are for His second. We look forward to the fulfillment of these things Isaiah first prophesied and Jesus confirmed just as much as they did. The difference is that we have Christ here with us helping us work actively toward their fulfillment here and now. In other words, as the church, we can be a part of these things happening in the world around us.

As we continue to move forward in this season of Advent, let us who are a part of Christ’s body ask ourselves an important question: Are we playing our part in the fulfillment of this prophecy? Are we working to bring good news to the poor and freedom to the captives and justice to the marginalized and comfort to those who mourn? If so, we are preparing for His second Advent in the ways that matter most. We’ll demonstrate ourselves to be among the saved (meaning we have accepted that we once needed saving) and working to minister to the very people Jesus came to love. Let’s make sure we are on task.

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