Isaiah 61:1-11 NET

Christmas is a time for us all to reflect on what it meant for Christ to come to earth, as a gift to humanity. The whole life of Jesus Christ was a gift to us. This year, I have been reflecting on some aspects of Christ as a gift that are not usually associated with Christmas. I think it is important for all of us to see that Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy did not end after his nativity. He was the Messiah his whole life, and he still is. So, now that Christmas day is past, I still want to talk about Jesus. That child whose miraculous birth we celebrated yesterday grew up to be the Messiah.

I want to talk about the prophecy in Isaiah 61 today. This was the passage that Jesus himself used to announce himself as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah. Isaiah was speaking to a people who had been humiliated by defeat and bondage. His prophecies referred specifically to what the Jewish Messiah would do for the Jewish people. But the words also speak to us – believers in Christ, no matter what our ethnic background is.

Isaiah predicted an encouraging Messiah (1-3)

1 The spirit of the sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has chosen me. He has commissioned me to encourage the poor, to help the brokenhearted, to decree the release of captives, and the freeing of prisoners, 2 to announce the year when the LORD will show his favor, the day when our God will seek vengeance, to console all who mourn, 3 to strengthen those who mourn in Zion, by giving them a turban, instead of ashes, oil symbolizing joy, instead of mourning, a garment symbolizing praise, instead of discouragement. They will be called oaks of righteousness, trees planted by the LORD to reveal his splendor.

Luke tells us that “Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read” (Luke 4:16-21).

Anyone can see that Jesus was reading from Isaiah 61 here. By saying that the scripture has been fulfilled is to say that he was the Messiah that the scripture predicted. Apparently, the copy of Isaiah that Jesus read from also contained the phrase “and the regaining of sight to the blind” – which was no problem for Jesus. But Jesus stopped before the place in Isaiah 61 where it says “the day when our God will seek vengeance.”

The reason he did not say that part is very important. The Messiah’s primary ministry when he first came was to encourage his own people. He was commissioned to encourage, console and strengthen his people. He was to proclaim the year when the LORD would show his favor. He did speak of the day of the LORD’s vengeance. It was the judgment day we talked about last week. But Jesus didn’t want to concentrate on that. He wanted to tell his own people that God had not given up on them.

Jesus’ message to you and me is also one of encouragement. He finds us in poverty, bondage, blindness, and oppression. We have lived our lives under the control of the devil and in mourning and deep depression. He comes to us with the good news of the gospel.

Isaiah predicted a rejuvenating Messiah (4-7)

4 They will rebuild the perpetual ruins and restore the places that were desolate; they will reestablish the ruined cities, the places that have been desolate since ancient times. 5 “Foreigners will take care of your sheep; foreigners will work in your fields and vineyards. 6 You will be called, ‘the LORD’s priests, servants of our God.’ You will enjoy the wealth of nations and boast about the riches you receive from them. 7 Instead of shame, you will get a double portion; instead of humiliation, they will rejoice over the land they receive. Yes, they will possess a double portion in their land and experience lasting joy.

Isaiah painted a picture of a nationwide rebuilding program under the Messiah. Cities would be rebuilt and reestablished. People from other nations would work in their fields and vineyards. That was the opposite of what was happening in Isaiah’s day. The Israelites had become slaves to foreigners. Isaiah predicted that God’s people would be rejuvenated. But for that to happen, the people would have to accept him as their Messiah. Some did, but most did not. “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). “But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children – children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God” (John 1:12-13).

So, instead of rebuilding the nation of Israel – at least right now – Jesus offers to rebuild our lives. The lasting joy he promises is to everyone who comes to him and says ‘Here, Jesus – here is my life. It has been in perpetual ruins. Please rebuild it. It is a desolate place. Please restore it. I have been a slave long enough. Here’s my life Lord. Make me your priest, your servant. Here’s my humiliation Lord. I will exchange it for your gift of lasting joy. Here’s my thirst Lord. Let me drink. Here’s my sore neck Lord. I’m ready for your easy yoke and your light burden.

Isaiah predicted a blessing Messiah (8-11)

8 For I, the LORD, love justice and hate robbery and sin. I will repay them because of my faithfulness; I will make a permanent covenant with them. 9 Their descendants will be known among the nations, their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will recognize that the LORD has blessed them.” 10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; I will be overjoyed because of my God. For he clothes me in garments of deliverance; he puts on me a robe symbolizing vindication. I look like a bridegroom when he wears a turban as a priest would; I look like a bride when she puts on her jewelry. 11 For just as the ground produces its crops and a garden yields its produce, so the sovereign LORD will cause deliverance to grow, and give his people reason to praise him in the sight of all the nations.

Isaiah predicted a new covenant – a permanent covenant to replace the temporary one. The temporary covenant was the one established on Sinai. The Israelites broke it and continued to break it. As a result, that old covenant became a curse. But the Messiah would come with a new covenant. All who see those who are under the new covenant will recognize that the LORD has blessed them.” The first blessing is the covenant itself. It was not a conditional covenant requiring faithfulness to the law. It was a declaration by God that he would bless believers because of his own faithfulness.

Jesus declared to his disciples that his blood was “the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). His righteous blood was shed so that God could forgive us for our unrighteous lives. Debt paid. We are now free.

But Isaiah predicted another blessing in today’s text beside the enormous blessing of forgiveness. He said that “just as the ground produces its crops and a garden yields its produce, so the sovereign LORD will cause deliverance to grow, and give his people reason to praise him in the sight of all the nations.” For the last two thousand years, God’s deliverance has been growing among the nations. Every hour, every day, more people stream into the household of our God because of this great deliverance. Missions was built into the DNA of the new covenant. Jesus commanded his church to make disciples of all nations, to proclaim the gospel to all nations, to offer repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. If the old covenant could be described as “come to us,” the new covenant is best described as “go to them.” In the Great Commission text, the participle “go” does not have the same weight as the imperative “make disciples.” However, the fact that Jesus was sending his disciples somewhere (in actuality, Jerusalem) was significant. It set the stage for a church that would always be going with the gospel.

That role of expanding ourselves through reaching new lands and cultures with the gospel is also described by Jesus in his “vine and branches” message. He told his disciples “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16) Jesus did not simply command us to stay where we are and bear fruit. He appointed us to “go” and “bear fruit.” The word translated “go” in that text is used for sending someone off in a particular direction for a particular purpose. The mission of reaching new lands, peoples, and cultures with the gospel is built into our new identity as branches of Christ’s vine, and as recipients of his new covenant.

The Messiah’s ministry was a ministry of encouragement, rejuvenation, and blessing. As representatives of Christ, our ministry should be that too. There are still some poor discouraged people who need the good news. There are still some broken-down lives that need rebuilding. There are still many whose lives are cursed, who need the blessing of the permanent covenant of forgiveness.

LORD, just as the Father sent you, now send us. Send us to encourage, rebuild, and bless others with your forgiveness.