There are so many things in life we either tend to ignore or simply take for granted – leaders, for example. We may not always respect leaders at a personal level, but Paul in his First Letter to Timothy writes: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high places, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way… (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
Good and upright leaders are rare. We need to pray for wisdom and discernment when it comes to elections. 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.
Isaiah. When we look back to the history of Israel we learn that the prophets spoke of a special leader whom God would send. For example, in Isaiah 1-39, we read of God’s condemnation of the 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).
Jesus. It is in 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 was indicating 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 God’s rescue operation. His second coming would be the time of God’s judgment.
It’s important 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 did not provide food and clothing for all the needy around him; he did not release any prisoners, not even John the Baptist.
In exploring the use of words like 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, those who are spiritually blind, and the captives, 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.
However, 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.
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. How important it is that we 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.
For now we have a part to play, testifying through the integrity of our lives and the words of our lips to what we believe. At the same time we have Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:1-4: I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high places, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
© John G. Mason, Anglican Connection