Isaiah 61: 1-3, 10, 11 (Advent 3 - 2014)
“Anointed for Words”
Israel needed some good news. They were about to be routed and hauled away into decades of a growing Persian Empire as refugees and slaves. Their homeland and worship space would lie in ruins. Their families would be ripped apart. Their religious customs would diminish into foreign policies. They needed some good news. Isaiah spoke of a time when a preserved group of faithful people would return to Jerusalem. They would reconstruct a faint replica of Solomon’s Temple. They would plant farms and build cities once again. They would do that for one main reason: Messiah was to arrive in the Homeland. Jesus speaks through Isaiah about himself. He is the Messiah, the Anointed One, whom God would send into the world for salvation. But he will also be a Preacher, a man anointed with power from the Spirit to speak words of good news. He was anointed for words … words of freedom & release; comfort and gladness, beauty and strength.
Words of Freedom and Release
He was sent to “bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners.”
The refugees, God called them “The Remnant”, that returned came back to a land of ruins. But they were free! They were no longer in the bondage of Persian kings. They were home. They had the freedom to build a worship space and speak the LORD’s Name openly without persecution. The land was their land. They were free to build homes and farms, shops and fishing villages, begin commerce, speak and travel among like minded people. They no longer had to look over their shoulder or give homage to foreigners. God wanted it that way. This Land was to be the setting for his Son to arrive as the Anointed One.
The Messiah’s words of freedom and release speak to us as well. We are all born as captives to the tyrants Devil and Sin. Jesus told his fellow Jewish people: “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34) Since the day we were born, we are slaves in the dark dungeon of unbelief. The king of that empire is the Devil himself and he desires that we bow to his control and pay homage to his empire. Each day we look over our shoulder and know that our own selfish desires want to chain us back up again into the devil’s prison of lies.
Jesus says, “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed” (John 8: 36). Jesus, the Preacher, has been anointed for words of freedom and release. He has spoken words that bind up our broken hearts of repentance. He has healed our wounded hearts by announcing our freedom from Satan’s lire. He has given us freedom from our slavery to sin by ushering us into the home of his Kingdom of righteousness and faith in his blood. As Paul wrote: “Sin shall not be your master, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Christ’s the preacher speaks the word “forgiven” from the cross where he spills his righteous blood, freeing us from the captivity of our guilt for ever.
Words of Comfort and Gladness
Jesus was anointed for good words. He was sent to “proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion.”
The imagery would not be lost on the faithful ones. The Israelite faith was calendar driven. Each week the seventh day marked a day Spiritual Rest (Sabbath). Every seven years completed another cycle of Messianic pictures, prophecies, and celebrations. They all pointed them to Messiah. But the big one came every 49 years (7 x 7): the Year of Jubilee! The 50th year was a year of canceling debts, family reunions, homecomings, and festivals. This celebration dwarfed Passover and the weekly Sabbaths. Their religious calendar was flipping through an organized search for Messiah. Every 49 years the people sensed the end of something deeper that hung over their heads: death! Another generation has gone that will not live to see Messiah. Death was the one enemy that no Sabbath could snuff out. Death was the one debt that no Jubilee could seem to cancel out. Grandpa’s absence from homecoming brought them a step closer to the Anointed who alone could bring lasting comfort and gladness to their grief.
The Temple they rebuilt was not the one their forefathers saw in Solomon’s glory. The only thing that could overcome the sorrow would be Messiah, who brings life, and lasting joy.
So it is with us generations later. We will flip another calendar and wonder “How long will this temporal life continue?” Who will not join us in the celebrations of 2015? Who is already missing from the table and the church pew this year? When will the LORD call me from this human clockwork? The Messiah has been anointed with words of comfort and gladness. The result of sin is death. Death has a way of putting a wet blanket on Christmas card letters and even our time in worship. We know that Christ did away with our sin through the cross. But with the reality of grief burned so deeply, where is lasting good news of joy for all the people who grieve the loss of life or even face their own?
The Preacher Jesus has been anointed with those words. They are not empty words. They are words the Spirit has sent out through his Servant. The year of our LORD’s favor has been completed. Death has been stamped on by Messiah. He left a stony grave behind and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He has returned from this world to a place where death does not exist. His good news shines through the gloom of natural tears and gloom of death. “I was dead but now am alive forever and ever!” (Revelation 1:18). His words comfort the hurting and the lonely and the dying and those who mourn death.
Words of Beauty and Strength
Jesus has been anointed for words of good news which bring heavenly gifts: “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord.”
The returning people would naturally wonder: “If we rebuild again, what will prevent the same thing from happening again?” They might have been tempted to hesitate. But Isaiah reassured them the coming of Messiah would be the very reason that the LORD had preserved them and brought them home. His words held power to give them a new appearance. He was going to swap them bad for good. He was going to trade in their ash heap of ruins and give them the crown of his beautiful love. He was going to trade in their deadly mourning cries for shouts of joyful gladness. He was going to trade in their clothes of depression and disparity and dress them up in garments of praise. He traded them sin for his righteousness through his sacrifice. And then he was going to plant them solidly in this land as a strong landmark of his splendor!
As the first Psalm reminds us “Blessed is the man who meditates on the Law of God day and night … he is like a tree planted by streams of water. Whatever he does prospers” (Psalm 1: 2, 3). God’s people today – you included – entertain doubtful thoughts. How will we ever endure the wickedness of this decreasing generation! How shall we stand up under such persecution and pressure from atheism and Biblical ignorance! Our faith and Christianity is under attack on all side. We see the barrage more fully now that the celebration of his birth in back in full swing.
The Preacher’s words have beauty and strength. He has traded our ash heap of doubts with faithful confidence. He has traded our ugly sins for the beauty of his crown of righteousness. Like Noah standing on the Ark, like an oak tree standing near the flood waters, Christ has planted us where he will keep us. In his eyes we are wearing the beautiful clothes of our Baptisms. In his strength we have the force of Angelic armies to withstand the future enemies of his News. Paul encouraged Timothy: “fan into the flame the gift of God which is in you ... for God did not give us a Spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1: 6-7).
Jesus was anointed for words of good news. These words of freedom and release, comfort and gladness, beauty and strength, are words for you! Amen.