Leviticus 25:8-12; Isaiah 61:1-11 (text); Luke 4:16-30
January 4, 2014 • Download this sermon (PDF)
ongregation of Christ: Isaiah 61 is the proclamation by God of “the year of the Lord’s favor” in which God will send the long-awaited Messiah “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (verse 1). This verse was read by Jesus when he went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath day after he overcame Satan’s temptations in the wilderness for forty days.
Jesus declared to his hometown neighbors that he came “to proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18, 19). In the last century, all kinds of people, including pastors, have claimed these words as the basis for advocating various liberal social, political and economic agenda. So-called liberation theologians teach that since Jesus came to end the oppression of the poor and powerless, the church should also work for the same goals.
Today we will study Isaiah 61 and how Jesus interprets the passage in Luke 4. Isaiah prophesied that the good news of the coming of “the year of the Lord’s favor” will be ushered in by the Messiah. Seven hundred years later, Jesus announces the arrival of that year of good news. We will focus on three things: (1) The Bearer of the Lord‘s Favor; (2) The Recipients of the Lord’s Favor; and (3) The Reaction to the Lord’s Favor.
The Bearer of the Lord’s Favor
Who speaks in Isaiah 61 who proclaims, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me.” The speaker is the Shoot from the stump of Jesse, on whom the Spirit of the the Lord rests, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse… And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him” (Isa 11:1-2). He is the Servant sent by the Lord God, “Behold my servant… I have put my Spirit upon him” (Isa 42:1; 48:16).
This Servant is anointed by the Lord for his mission. In Hebrew, the word for “anointed,” mashach, is translated as “Messiah.” The Greek word used to translate mashach is Christos. Jesus says the Spirit is upon him because he has been anointed by the Lord, and therefore, he is the Servant of the Lord, the Christ.
Throughout the Old Testament, prophets, priests and kings were anointed by God to their office. In the New Testament, Jesus, having been anointed by the Spirit at his baptism as the Great Prophet, Priest and King (Luke 3:22), was full of the Holy Spirit. Because of the good report about him that traveled throughout Galilee, he was welcomed there as a hometown hero, being known as the son of one of their own, Joseph the carpenter. As he read Isaiah 61 and explained God’s word, “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:14, 22). But his popularity was short-lived.
Jesus discerns the hometown people’s thoughts that if he could supernaturally heal people in other places, he should do the same in the sight of his own people (verse 23). To answer their thoughts, he explains to them who the poor are: they are not merely the economically poor, but the unclean, specifically Gentile widows and lepers. He reminds them that he is like the prophets Elijah and Elisha who were rejected by Israel, concluding, “No prophet is acceptable in his hometown” (verses 24-27). When the Nazarenes heard Jesus’s words of indictment, they were filled with rage and wanted to kill him.
This near-tragic event at the beginning of his public ministry is a foreboding of the shame, rejection and opposition he would suffer all his life leading to his crucifixion. Isaiah foretold the rejection and suffering of this coming Messiah, the Servant of the Lord, “He was despised and rejected by men… He was oppressed, and he was afflicted” (Isa 53:5, 7).
For whom was he obeying the Lord as a servant? Throughout his ministry, he spoke of his servanthood, suffering and death at the hands of men. In the end, the Jews in Jerusalem accomplished what his hometown wanted to do with him at the beginning of his ministry: kill him. All of these to fulfill his mission: to save his people—the recipients of good news—from sin (Luke 9:22, 43-45; 18:32-33).
The Recipients of the Lord’s Favor
Isaiah’s prophecy was one of comfort for Israel. After their seventy years of hard labor in the Babylonian captivity, the Lord will finally pardon their sins, release them from captivity, and restore them back to the Promised Land. They will rebuild the ruins of the wall, the city and the temple. Indeed, this will be the beginning of the fulfillment of good news for the poor, brokenhearted people of Israel.
The Servant was anointed with the Spirit for this purpose: “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” the arrival of good news for brokenhearted captives (verse 2). This is the same jubilee, the 50th year, that the Lord consecrates to “proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants” (Lev 25:10). The Hebrew festal calendar calls for every seventh year as a sabbatical year, when all agricultural activities are to cease. Reflecting God’s Sabbath rest, both land and people are to rest on the seventh year. After seven weeks of years (or 7×7=49 years), the 50th year following will be another sabbatical year, which is called the jubilee year.
The Hebrew word yobel is related to a word for “ram’s horn,” (or trumpet), which is to be sounded throughout Israel on the Day of Atonement of the 50th year. The regulations of the Jubilee are the same as for the sabbatical year: the land and the people are to rest. In addition, people are to return to their ancestral property, and those who have become slaves are also to be released, and all debts are forgiven. Instead of working, the people were to spend the year resting from their labors and thanking God for giving them rest and liberty. The jubilee, then, is a year of worship and rest. God wanted the people to fully trust and depend on him who would provide for them for the next two years of not working their fields.
For God’s people who will be in captivity and exile for seventy years, this is indeed good news! The “year of the Lord’s favor” for them means liberty to the captives and comfort for the brokenhearted and those who mourn. Instead of the ashes of mourning, they will be given a beautiful headdress, a crown of glory, and oil of gladness poured on them. Instead of being faint in spirit, they will be given a garment of praise (verse 3; see also Isa 28:5).
After Jesus’s baptism and temptation, he went up a mountain and proclaimed the blessedness of the kingdom of heaven whose citizens are the people of God. The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for his name’s sake: they will inherit the kingdom of heaven, receive comfort and mercy, and be called children of God (Matt 5:2-9).
Jesus was not talking about feeding programs, homeless shelters and orphanages, but about spiritual comfort. The Nazarenes did not understand that the Messiah came not to bring a revolution against the Roman oppressors, but to bring blessings, comfort and joy to sinners: those who are poor in spirit, slaves to sin, blind to the light of the Messiah, and those who are oppressed by Satan’s temptations.
Even today, many followers of Jesus do not understand that the good news that Jesus brought to the world was the release of those who are in captivity to Satan, sin and the unbelieving world. He came proclaiming our jubilee celebration because all our sins are forgiven and the chains of Satan’s captivity have fallen off from our hands and feet, inaugurating “the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Before he ascended into heaven, he commanded his disciples to preach the good news to all the poor in spirit throughout the world. When will the preaching end? When he returns from heaven to end the year of the Lord’s favor and usher in the eternal Sabbath rest, the eternal jubilee of rest.
As citizens of the kingdom of heaven, what are we to do while we wait for this year of the Lord’s favor to end? We are to continue rebuilding the ancient ruins of God’s temple. All the apostles who met in Jerusalem realized that Amos’ prophecy that God “will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen… its ruins, and I will restore it, that the [Gentiles] may seek the Lord” (Amos 9:11-12; see also Isa 58:12), is fulfilled in the preaching of the good news to all the nations of the earth (Acts 15:16-17).
On the day of Christ’s return, there will be a great reversal of fortunes. Instead of being slaves, they shall be masters; and will have a double inheritance like firstborn children (Isa 60; Heb 12:23). Instead of deprivation, they will be given wealth; glory instead of shame; joy instead of dishonor. And finally, they will attain the role for which the Lord originally created them: priests and servants of the Lord (Exod 19:5-6; 1 Pet 2:9).
How is a holy, righteous and just God able to bestow blessings on sinful people,Jews and Gentiles alike, you and I? He has made an everlasting covenant with his people through the Servant. He provides both the Priest who mediates between God and his people, and the Sacrifice whose body was broken and blood shed on the cross for his people’s sins. Since his sacrifice on the cross, Christ has redeemed an unbroken line of generations who have believed in him as the Lord’s Anointed One. Today, the whole world is amazed at the grace and might that God has displayed in the salvation of a multitude from every nation despite unceasing attempts to destroy God’s people.
How are God’s people to respond to this good news?
The Response to the Lord’s Favor
The last two verses are a demonstration of the response to good news brought by the Messiah. Praise and thanksgiving is the natural response to God’s grace and might works. The Servant of the Lord says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God.”
All of the good news is summarized in two things in verse 10. First, the good news is that God is the One who gives righteousness to his people, “he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” Sinners are unable to clothe themselves with righteousness. Our righteousness is outside of us, an “alien righteousness,” according to Martin Luther. The Messiah, the Righteous One, gives us his own perfect righteousness through faith. The Spirit of God that is upon him is also poured out on all those who believe the good news of his life, death and resurrection to atone for our sins.
Second, the good news is that we are the bride of Christ who “has clothed me with the garments of salvation.” Remember Joshua the high priest in Zechariah 3 who appeared before God’s throne in filthy, foul-smelling garments? God removed his filthy garments and clothed him with pure garments and a clean turban. He is a picture of all sinners before and after salvation: rags to riches, sinners to saints. His sin was removed from him, and he was clothed with pure vestments (Zech 3:1-5).
The people of the LORD God rejoice not only because of the beautiful garments of salvation and righteousness. We exult over the gracious and merciful God who has given undeserving and unlovable people like us these garments. His work in us does not end in releasing us from captivity to sin and Satan, but he also clothes us with righteousness, and enables us to live out our righteousness through the Spirit who indwells us.
ear Friends: Since God is faithful and trustworthy, we are assured that in the end, “righteousness and praise [will] sprout up before all the nations” (verse 11). A great harvest of righteous people from all nations is awaiting the Messiah’s return from heaven. As the earth brings forth sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown by the farmer to sprout up, so will a multitude of believers be harvested when Christ returns. This is another reason to rejoice and exult in the Lord God. The field is ripe and full, so e are to pray for many harvesters (Luke 10:2).
The good news is that Christ has released you from your bondage to sin and Satan, and even death. Because he has conquered sin and death, you too who believe have conquered sin through the Spirit of God. When Christ returns, you will conquer even death.
What is your response? Are you to be proud of your salvation? Yes, you can be proud, but not because you saved yourself, but because God has saved you by clothing you with the pure righteousness of Christ. More than that, you are to be grateful to God and offer praise and thanksgiving to him for such salvation.