Isaiah 61: 1-3 (December 18, 2013)
Advent Messages from Isaiah:
"The Savior Has Important Work to Do"
Jesus in Nazareth
It was a common custom in the synagogue to have a few of the men read from assigned sections of the Old Testament scrolls and then mention a few words of instruction and encouragement. That custom was really the beginning of what we now know as sermons. Jesus had been anointed by the Holy Spirit at his Baptism. He had begun to spread the message of the Gospel in the hill top villages of Galilee. Then he came home. He went to the synagogue in Nazareth, as was his custom. The scroll was handed to him. It was from the prophet Isaiah, the first few verses of chapter 61 ... "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor."
After the reading of the lesson, his commentary was no more than a few words: "Today the Scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus was claiming to be the Servant of the Lord that Isaiah had foretold. He was claiming to be the Messiah, the Son of God. He was specifically telling them that Isaiah's prophecy in chapter 61 was happening right before their very eyes. The Savior who was born in of a Virgin in Bethlehem, the Savior who was given the Name Jesus, the man who grew up at a carpenter's son in Nazareth, had work to do. He had not returned to his home town to pick up a hammer and saw. He had not come to start up the company "Joseph and Son."
The Captives are Freed
He had work to do. He had come to preach and teach the Gospel. He had come to reveal himself as the Christ, the only Son from heaven. What was the message? "Good news to the poor; bind up the broken hearted; freedom for the captives; release for darkness for prisoners; the year of the Lord's favor." This was captivity language. It was already a foregone conclusion in God's mind that his people were going to be dragged into Persia and live under the rule of tyrant empires. We can read about it now in the book of Daniel: about four generations of godless kings, punishing furnaces, lions' dens, and foreign conspiracies. Daniel's life became a cross section of the captives in Persia. Daniel's life also became another cross section of God's faithfulness to his faithful. He kept the remnant protected. He kept the message of the Messiah alive and burning in the hearts of a group that would return to rebuild the ancient ruins Judah.
In that rebuilt city, with rebuilt walls and temple, with surrounding villages and farms, the setting would be set for the much greater fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. To that land where the faithful had returned the Messiah was to come. He was born in the shepherd village of Bethlehem because of the taxing of the people. He moved to Egypt because of the deadly murderous threats of Herod. But eventually he would grow up in the hometown of his mother. In Nazareth he grew up as the carpenter's son. He likely learned the trade. He met boyhood friends. He learned and obeyed the ways of Israel's patterns for worship and life. He lived out a righteous life before God and his fellow townspeople. Then, one day, the time came to let the people of his town know who he truly was.
His boyhood town didn't much care for that message. He pressed them on it a bit more. He knew he would be without honor in his hometown. He knew they would mock him and become jealous of his time spent in northern Galilee. He knew that getting forced out of his childhood town was just the beginning of the work he had to do.
The Preacher Begins His Work
God's people were poor and broken once again. They were living in spiritual poverty because of bad temple leadership. They were living in captivity because of Roman imperialism and tyranny. They were living in spiritual darkness, a fog created by the lack of preparation for his coming. God sent John to peel away the darkness. God sent John to preach repentance and to baptize. Jesus was baptized too, and pointed to by John as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Upon his baptism Jesus set out to do much work. He traveled countless miles on foot. He chose a group of seminary trainee's. He visited towns and villages. He preached sermons to crowds. He spent individual counseling time with the hurting. He taught and trained church leaders. He spent countless hours in prayer, public and private. He defended the truths of his Father in the face of false leaders and teachers. He healed people whose bodies were broken, physically and spiritually. He was on call 24/ 7 for his closest of friends, and to strangers he would only meet once in this life. He was willing to drop everything, including his own personal time, if it meant serving others with the peace of the gospel and the evidence that he was their Savior.
In doing so he was planting oaks of righteousness. In doing so he was trading peoples suffering and pain and giving them crowns of beauty and gladness in its place. He was strengthening the believers with the clear teachings of his Word and was regaining the lost with the same.
The Preacher Completes His Work
Then the preacher would set out to do the most difficult, the most strenuous work of all. He would set out to face his enemies. He would set out to trade our shame for his glory. He would take upon himself every ounce of suffering, every fabric of our sin and every sting that death could muster. In his boyhood town of Nazareth a mob drove him out to a cliff. The stirring of that mob eventually made its way into the crowded courtyard of Pilate's rule. The man who had worked so hard to preach, teach, heal, help, serve, regain, restore, was led to a hilltop outside of Jerusalem, not far from where he was born, for his execution by crucifixion. The baby of Bethlehem's stable, the boy named Jesus, hung on a cross for you and for me. He had work to do. He preached the good news. He bound up the broken hearted. He released the prisoners from darkness. And when it was all done he announced: "It is finished" and he breathed last for you. Amen.