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Catastrophic events such as we have seen over this last year, give us pause and challenge us to see life with new eyes. While Covid has dominated the news, volcanoes and earthquakes, wild-fires and devastating tornadoes have also wrought havoc. Nations have looked to their leaders to chart a course to preserve life and secure livelihoods. Leaders who worked at this won our respect.
Good and upright leaders are rare. That said, because no leader is perfect, most people – as every election shows – long for someone who will use their position to provide for the security and welfare of the nation. In a fallen world the freedom to elect leaders is important and very precious.
When we read the history of Israel in the Old Testament we learn that the prophets spoke of a special leader whom God would send. Isaiah 1 – 39 reveal God’s condemnation of his people for their 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 and lasting that God planned to do through a very 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 Luke 4:17-19 tells us 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, but went on to comment: “Today these words are being fulfilled in your midst”.
By putting a period/full stop to Isaiah’s words, Jesus reveals that there are two stages to the ‘Day of the Lord’ – the day of favor, and the day of justice. His first coming inaugurates the time of God’s favor, or mercy – the era of God’s rescue operation. His return will be the time of God’s judgment and the establishment of Jesus’ rule in all its perfection and glory. Everyone will see it and feel it.
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 he 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? He has a bigger plan.
Words such as poor, blind, captive and mourn in Isaiah and the Old Testament as a whole, are often used as metaphors. The poor is often a reference to the spiritually poor, the blind, to the spiritually blind, and the captives, to those who are captive to self, sin and death. Those who mourn are aware of their own broken relationship with God as well as the brokenness of the world 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 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 life and view political power and their own world-view as the solution to the world’s ills – of which there are many. But the reality is that 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 favor – 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? It’s a key reason we are encouraging everyone to check out The Word One-to-One an annotated version of John’s Gospel to share with family and friends. You can find it at www.TheWord121.com.
A prayer. Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of your holy word. May it be a lantern to our feet, a light to our paths, and strength to our lives. Take us and use us to love and serve all people in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
© John G. Mason
If you have not checked out the Word on Wednesday podcast this week you may want to listen to the Getty Music, In Christ Alone.