The Third Sunday After Epiphany January 23, 2005
1 Corinthians 12:12-21,26-27
1, 488, 477, 309
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.
In the name of Jesus, our Messiah, dear fellow redeemed:
In this Epiphany season we speak of the different ways in which our Savior is revealed to us. One way is through His first miracle—changing water into wine—the first of many signs which verified that He was indeed the Son of God. Today we hear of another way in which He is revealed as the promised Messiah. This has nothing to do with healings or raising the dead. It is simply a proclamation. Today’s Gospel reading reported how Jesus read the words of our text in the synagogue and stated: “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus was fulfilling the proclamations which the Messiah would make: You are free! You have joy! You are a tree of righteousness!
Obviously anyone can make proclamations or grand predictions, but Jesus could make them come true. He is the substance of the Gospel (Good News) and He proclaimed the Gospel. He still proclaims it today in His Word through you and me. Incredibly enough the effect is the same. Still today, there is great power in that Good News of Christ.
We find the effects of the Gospel Proclamation in these words of Isaiah: I. Release II. Relief and III. Reflection. May the Holy Spirit open our hearts to receive this gracious news and may He continue to work in our hearts.
As a nation and as individuals it is hard for us to fully imagine what captivity is. We may sometimes think that we are chained to a job when we have to be there at a certain times and certain days, but that is far from slavery. If we don’t like a job we have the option of quitting and moving on to something different. True captivity and slavery is not being able to make even the simplest decisions.
Prison life is the closest example to true slavery in America today. Prisoners have to get up at a certain time, eat at a certain time, and even the times that you may go to the bathroom may be regulated. The bottom line is that if you are in captivity you are always answering to a master.
The nation of Israel had experience in this. They were enslaved in Egypt. Their country was invaded numerous times. Eventually the northern tribes were carried away never to return and the southern tribes were carted off to Babylon. The first readers of Isaiah’s words would certainly relate to the despair of captivity and the joy of freedom. In our text the release from that Babylonian captivity is the immediate fulfillment, but there’s much more than that. Jesus said that only when He came and redeemed the world was this saying completely fulfilled.
Jesus came to release people from the captivity of sin. You and I have been enslaved. Millions today continue to be enslaved, but are not aware of it. This slavery is not in the headlines, though the effects of the slavery produces the evil that is in the headlines. The United Nations isn’t addressing this slavery. The ACLU is silent on the matter. Yet more people are affected by this slavery then any other, and with much more devastating results. If you are a slave of sin, the Devil himself is your master. If you die as a slave of sin, there is an eternity of imprisonment awaiting you in Hell.
This is an unseen slavery because there is an illusion of freedom. The illusion is that Christianity is what ties you down and restricts you, and if you set that aside then you are truly free. Many define Christianity by what you cannot do. Not so. When you give yourself over to sin you shackle yourself to Satan and his destiny as an eternal prisoner. Picture being on a boat and an anchor is thrown overboard with the other of the chain attached to your foot. The result is inevitable. The same is true if you are not connected to Jesus through faith. Your fate is chained to your master.
Jesus came proclaiming FREEDOM. You do not have to be a slave of sin bound for Hell. Jesus comes proclaiming liberty to the captives. Because Jesus paid for sin He cuts the chain that binds you to the Devil. Jesus embraces you, declaring you as His brother or His sister. Only Jesus can back up a statement declaring that you are free from sin. Only Jesus could stop the accusation of sin against you by taking your guilt and punishment upon Himself.
This is the same Gospel proclamation that we are to make, and it will have the same effect as when Jesus made it. Jesus directs you in His name to announce the same forgiveness, the same freedom that comes through His redemptive work. The effects are as powerful as in the original proclamation because they are backed up by Jesus’ blood.
Jesus’ proclamation of good news also promises relief. Normally when we talk about relief we are speaking of the removal of discomfort in order that we may get back to normal. If you have a sliver in your finger, or a cankersore, and it finally stops bothering you what a great feeling that is! When I had my wisdom teeth removed several years ago I had what is called a dry socket. For a weekend every time air passed over that spot there was pain. When the dentist put on a drop or two of medicine there was instant relief! That was just getting back to normal. Jesus promises relief that takes us beyond getting back to normal—relief that can turn grief into joy.
Jesus proclaims the “acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God.” [v.2] The first phrase refers to the Year of Jubilee which in the Old Testament was a relief from debt. The second phrase refers to God’s Day of Judgment which has occurred in smaller doses over time and will be made permanent on Judgment Day. The comfort in God’s Day of Judgment is in the permanent removal of our enemies.
Further pictures are given to us in verse 3. Notice how Jesus describes a complete flip-flop. The oil of joy traded for mourning. The spirit of heaviness exchanged for the garment of praise, etc. In the forgiveness of sins you and I are taken beyond a relief from guilt and given joy in the promise and reality of heaven. The same God who searches the heart and knows of every single one of your mistakes has absolved you. He has removed your sin from you as far as the East is from the West.
Consider what problems you have and find relief in Christ: Physical, emotional, financial problems? There is no ailment that God cannot remedy. Even more comforting is the fact that He can take even the most hideous evil and turn it around for good for the believer. Even if you do not feel an instantaneous relief, for example, from physical pain, you know it is coming. You are assured that heaven is in your future as a child of God.
The peace and relief of the Messiah is not the roller coaster ride of relief in this life. Physical health is momentary. Eventually all the forms of relief in this world either wear off, or are replaced by a different sort of discomfort. But the Gospel of Christ provides permanent relief. Sin is the cause of every kind of pain, and it is sin that Jesus has taken away.
The reason for this relief is given to us in the final verse of our text: “That they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord that He may be glorified.” Years ago Barbara Walters asked Katherine Hepburn the infamous question: “If you were a tree what kind of tree would you be?” Here God tells us what kind of trees we actually are—trees of righteousness. God pictures us as vibrant, alive, and having enduring strength. This is a picture of you as a Christian standing up and standing out in an evil and corrupt world. This is the effect of the good news of Jesus in you.
God has restored His image of righteousness in you. When a person becomes a Christian he does not necessarily feel any different. He doesn’t look any different, but he is different. He is righteous in God’s sight. The image of God that is intended for everyone has been implanted in you. God declares you righteous and holy, completely acceptable in His sight. That righteousness you will attain completely in heaven, but even now it is engrafted in you and gives you the will to fight against your sinful flesh.
The result of being a tree of righteousness is even further Gospel proclamation and even further righteousness. The Lord produces fruits of faith in you, His trees of righteousness. You are reflectors of God’s glory. Indeed, how could a person be untouched and unmoved fully knowing the release and the relief that God has brought. And yet it happens. How often do we shrug off our Savior as unimportant?
You are a reflection of the Messiah. You also are a proclaimer of the good news of Him and His work. That Word of God has been fulfilled, but is still effective. There will still be results. Proclaim that release and relief. Meditate on that release and relief and enjoy the same. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
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.