The Second Sunday After Epiphany January 19, 2003
543, 134, 353(1-5), 353(6-7)
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the foreigner shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But you shall be named the priests of the Lord, they shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory you shall boast.
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to God and His Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!
Dear Fellow-redeemed in Jesus, the Anointed One of God:
How did we get to be in this church? How did it come about that we, Americans of European descent living 6000 miles from Jerusalem and nearly 3000 years removed from the days of Isaiah, come to be reading the words of an ancient Hebrew prophet, worshipping as God a person who was regarded by many as merely a Jewish rabbi, and proclaiming His name to others around us?
How did we come to be here? Who could have anticipated that people so far away and so far removed in time would have such an impact in our lives?
There are as many different answers to the question as we have worshipers here today. But the simpler, shorter answer—the answer brought out in our text—is that our presence here and our coming together in Jesus’ name today, has all been according to plan. It is a plan that is brought out when we hear The promised Savior foretell His mission. I. He announces its joyous purpose II. He foretells its surprising results
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me.” Isaiah’s readers might have had some question about who was saying these words. Was it Isaiah Himself? Was it a prophet who was to come later? A unique servant of God?
The answer for us, today, is easy to determine because in the Gospel account of Luke, we hear Jesus of Nazareth read this text and then declare to everyone present: “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). This Scripture, written seven hundred years before Christ, foretold the ministry of Jesus Himself.
The text not only foretells Jesus’ ministry, it has Jesus, the promised Savior, speaking personally through the prophet. This Savior, the Messiah, appears very often in the pages of Isaiah.
While speaking the Savior’s words, Isaiah was speaking to people who would ask themselves: “How did we wind up here?” How did we wind up with our nation destroyed and our temple in ruins? Why have we been carried off to Babylon? Why does it seem that the Lord God of our ancestors is now angry with us, or has forgotten us?
In answer, the Lord, through Isaiah, came again and again to reiterate the promise of a Savior to come. It was the promise of a Servant of the Lord who would save God’s people, deliver them from their sins, and restore them as a nation. This time, the promised Savior speaks for Himself. He announces the joyous purpose of His mission.
The Servant of the Lord begins by declaring that He is specially anointed for this purpose. Whereas many kings, prophets, and priests were anointed with oil, signifying that they were chosen and set apart for their assigned mission, this Servant was to be anointed with the Holy Spirit. He would carry out His work under the mantle of God’s divine power and authority.
So you remember when Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the form of a dove? This was His anointing. God specially commissioned Him for His task—a task no one else on all the earth could ever do!
So what is the task that the Servant of the Lord was assigned to do? That really is the substance of this lesson. Jesus would carry out a prophetic ministry bringing “good news” to bear on the hearts of “the poor.” By “poor,” God is not talking about people who live below a certain income level. The poor whom He would cheer are found on both sides of the poverty level. They would be “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), those who looked within themselves and saw only failure and hopelessness and helplessness. Their arrogance and pride are broken down and they realize that they could not dare to stand before the Holy God in the filthy rags of their own righteousness.
Jesus’ mission would be to bring good tidings to sinful people. He would speak as a prophet, laying God’s message before such people. That message is “repent, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).
In our lesson, the Gospel’s good news is called “the acceptable year of the Lord.” Jesus was to proclaim the sinner’s free acceptance by the God of Israel. To the Hebrew reader this was a very rich term. It called to mind a practice, commanded by the Lord at Sinai, but quickly abandoned by the Israelites, called “Jubilee” — an event that was to occur every 49 years. The Jubilee was a general amnesty for all the enslaved and the indebted Israelites. Whoever had sold himself to his neighbor, or who had been forced to give up his ancestral land to pay for debts had all of his liberty and land restored. Debts were forgiven. Everything was reset to the way it had started.
The Promised Savior was to proclaim such a year; such a period of time when all the debts of our sins against God were wiped off the books, and we were to receive a fresh start, as God’s people. That time is now!
Imagine having a day in which the telephone rings and the call turns out to be a financial representative informing you that your Visa account has been paid in full! Just then the doorbell rings. It is your banker dropping by to let you know that your car loan and house mortgage have all been paid in full. Pretty good day, huh? If we took our sins as seriously as we take our financial woes, if we were as aware of our spiritual debts as we are of our money debts, we would see that the announcement of the Lord’s grace would be a message that would fill us with unspeakable and unending joy.
The Savior goes on to explain the benefit of this message as it creates a great inward change of condition. He comes “to console those who mourn” by giving them “beauty for ashes.” Think of the miserable expression on the face of someone like Job, sitting in dust and scattering ashes on his forehead as a sign of his misery. Jesus, with His message of sins forgiven, exchanges that picture with one of someone smiling and peaceful, knowing that he has been forgiven and accepted by the Lord. Through the Gospel, the Lord lifts the weight of despair and anxiety from us and covers us with white robes of righteousness. In the end, we will stand in those righteous robes and praise our God forever. This is the glorious purpose of the Savior’s mission.
As astonishing as the Savior’s mission was, perhaps what is more surprising are its promised results. Remember that Isaiah was written with ideas and images that would strike home with the readers of his day. These would be people who associated the welfare of Israel as God’s people with the welfare of the nation and land and cities in which they lived. So after the Servant of the Lord — the Anointed One —finished speaking, the prophet continues to describe the results of His mission in concrete terms: “They (i.e. God’s people) shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, they shall repair the ruined cities.” [v. 4]
The result of the Anointed One’s ministry would be the rebuilding of Israel—Abraham’s descendants and God’s chosen people. This was the glorious picture that was set before people who would see Jerusalem invaded, the temple burned, and the land left desolate and bare.
This prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus came, finished His work, rose from the grave, and, through the Spirit of the Lord, created the Church—the body of all believers, headed by Christ Himself. It was not the buildings built by Solomon and David that would be rebuilt, but the souls and lives of people like Zacchaeus, the Samaritan Woman, and Saul the Pharisee that would be renewed and restored.
The Israel that is built through the Gospel of Christ is a spiritual building, just as Peter taught: “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).
The city that this Israel inhabits is, as the writer to the Hebrews points out, “Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22).
The picture continues and grows even more wonderful. Isaiah’s Israelite readers were used to seeing other peoples and other nations as the enemy. For centuries, nations and empires had repeatedly criss-crossed, ransacked, and harassed Israel. But another result of the Savior’s work would be to take people from the Gentile nations and bring them into their nation. Israel would be a focal point, the envy of all nations: “strangers shall stand and feed your flocks.” [v.5] These new initiates would have a role in this Messianic Israel. They would tend to the flocks, fields, and vineyards of Israel.
Strangers have come into Jesus Christ’s Church. People of every land and every race have been brought into Israel to share in her blessings and to labor with her members. In a very interesting sense this work goes on now when we see how people of German, Norwegian, Nigerian, and Indian descent have become pastors (i.e. ‘shepherds’) and teachers, tending to the flocks of Jesus Christ, His precious sheep and lambs. They labor in the Church’s vineyards, preaching the Good News and caring for the souls of church members so that they increase in faith and in the fruits of faith. In fact, we are all priests of the Lord because through our lives of faith we have free access to the true God and we offer up the spiritual sacrifices of thanks and praise toward God.
God has enriched this spiritual Israel with the incomparable treasures of the Gospel. Because of that, people from all the exotic lands of the world bring their gifts to the Lord, thank-offerings that glorify God in their support of the Gospel ministry.
How did we get here? How is it that we have come so far and so long in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It was according to plan. Long ago, God in His tender love and mercy ordained that we should come to Israel—the Israel of faith. So, now that we are here, let us hold fast to our Savior. Let us treasure His Word. Let us offer our gifts willingly and joyfully to His service. Amen
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.