Catastrophic events such as we have seen this year give us pause and challenge us to see life with new eyes. This year nations have looked to their leaders to chart a course to preserve life and secure livelihoods. Leaders who worked at this won our respect.
Throughout the ages people have expressed their desire for leaders they can respect. Plato wrote about this theme with the notion of a philosopher king in his Republic. In recent times Tolkein addressed the longing people have for a trustworthy leader in the Lord of the Rings.
Good and upright leaders are rare. That said, because no leader is perfect, most people (as every election shows) long for a leader who will use their position to provide for the security and welfare of the nation.
When we look back to the history of Israel we learn that the prophets spoke of a special leader whom God would send. In Isaiah 1-39 we read of God’s condemnation of his people’s self-worship and their disregard of him. Isaiah had warned of God’s judgement and in 586BC the Babylonians demolished Jerusalem and took its people captive. But Isaiah is not all negative, for he opens a window on something new God planned to do – through a special king.
In Isaiah 61 we read: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me;… Isaiah 61 continues by telling us what this Spirit-led figure will do: He has come to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; And the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn… (61:1b-2).
It is not until we come to the New Testament that we see the real significance of these words. For in Luke 4:17-19 we read that Jesus, as guest speaker in the synagogue in Nazareth, opened the scroll of the book of Isaiah at chapter 61. He read: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me,… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Period. Full stop.
Jesus didn’t complete Isaiah’s words, “…and the day of vengeance of our God.” Significantly he went on to comment: “Today these words are being fulfilled in your midst”.
By putting a period/full stop to Isaiah’s words, Jesus indicated that there would be two stages to the ‘Day of the Lord’ – the day of favor, and the day of justice. His first coming was the time of favor, of mercy – of God’s rescue operation. His return would be the time of God’s judgment and the establishment of his rule in all its glory for all to see.
It’s important that we notice how Jesus applies Isaiah’s words in his public ministry: he says he has come to the aid of the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.
When did Jesus do this? After all he didn’t provide food and clothing for all the needy around him; he didn’t release any prisoners, not even John the Baptist. Why?
When we explore words such as poor, blind, captive and mourn in the pages of Isaiah and the Old Testament as a whole, we see that these words are often used as metaphors. The poor is often a reference to those who are spiritually poor, the blind, to those who are spiritually blind, and the captives, to those who are captive to self, sin and death. Those who mourn are aware of their broken relationship with God as well as the brokenness of the nation in its relationship with God.
That said, there were times when Jesus literally fulfilled Isaiah’s words. He did feed people who were hungry; he did give sight to some who were blind; and he did release people who were captive to the powers of evil. In each instance the miracle is a picture of God’s compassion and his ultimate purpose to provide life in all its fullness and freedom for his people. The events pointed to the beauty and perfection of the rule of God’s king.
By reading from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue in Nazareth that day, Jesus assumed the mantle of the anointed servant-king of Isaiah’s vision. He was announcing that the final great era of God’s mercy had dawned.
Yes, he introduced a tension between the is and the yet to be of God’s rule, but it is a tension we need to work with, for it is God’s plan. It’s so important for us to see this: for we need to live with this tension in our lives. Many around us have thrown God out of the equation of life and see political power and their world-view as the solution to the world’s ills – of which there are many. The day will come when Jesus Christ will return in all his kingly glory.
Before he departed from his followers, Jesus commissioned them with the primary task of proclamation – announcing God’s good news of release to all nations. What’s more, he continues to raise up men and women to carry on this task, to give people everywhere the chance to turn to God. Isaiah tells us and Jesus repeats: ‘Now is the time of God’s favour – the era of God’s grace’. The opportunity to respond to God’s good news won’t last forever.
Now is the time to listen up and to respond. In Jesus we find the leader we long for: God’s king who will come in all might, majesty, dominion and power.
Do you believe this? Are you prepared? And are you keen to help others to be ready for the Advent, the return of the King?