Sermon on Isaiah 61:1-6
Text: The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy 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 for the display of his splendor.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. 5 Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. 6 And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.
When a person is sworn in as president of the United States, he swears to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States. As president he has many duties to perform. Today, as we study this prophecy from Isaiah, we hear the Servant of the Lord speaking. He, too, had many duties to perform. As we study this section, we see that GOD’S MAN IS ANOINTED BY THE SPIRIT. 1. His Preaching Brings Comfort and 2. His Preaching Builds The Church.
Just like the president, the Servant of the Lord did not take the office by his own choosing. He was chosen for the office. We hear of this choosing in verse 1, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me.” In the Old Testament, a person was anointed by having sweet-smelling oil poured upon their heads, thus signifying that they were set apart for a particular task. Men were anointed in the Old Testament to be a prophet, priest or king. The person speaking in our text was also anointed, but he didn’t have sweet-smelling oil poured upon his head. Rather, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me.” This one was anointed by the Holy Spirit.
Who is this servant that is speaking here? As we heard in our Gospel Lesson, Jesus spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth. After reading from this section of Isaiah from the scroll, he said to the assembly, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) In other words, Jesus was saying that who he was and what he was doing was in fulfillment of this prophecy from the book of Isaiah. His anointing by the Holy Spirit came at his baptism. After Jesus was baptized, the Father spoke from heaven, and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, came to rest upon him. At this time he was anointed, set aside for the threefold task of being prophet, priest and king.
Today, we focus especially on the last of these three roles, that being “prophet.” A prophet was one who spoke God’s Word to the people. That is exactly what is being spoken of in our text, “The LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” He was sent to preach the good news, or the gospel, to God’s people.
Listen to the things he will do in verses 1-3, “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 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 — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy 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 for the display of his splendor.”
Not only was this fulfilled by Christ’s spreading good news to the people, but also by God’s comforting his people in their trials at the time. We recall that part of the message of Isaiah was to tell the people that they would be conquered and carried off into exile by Babylon. No doubt, there were many people who felt that God had completely turned his back on them. Many tears were shed as the people made their way from their beloved homeland to exile in Babylon. God wanted to comfort his people, “to bind up the brokenhearted.” So he also promised them that they would return to their homeland. He would “proclaim freedom for the captives,” as they made their way back home. In these words, God was telling his Old Testament people that he was still there with them and cared for them.
However, as we said earlier, this is Jesus speaking to his people, the Church. In what way does he bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom, comfort the mourning, etc. ? How do the terms, “brokenhearted” and the rest apply to us? They do apply after we take a long, hard look at our lives and compare them with God’s Law. We ask ourselves, ‘How does God want me to act and how do I act?’ Let’s take a look at one statement of how God wants us to act and see how we measure up. Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesus in 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” That’s a relatively short sentence. There are no hard words to figure out. God wants me to be kind to other people, to have compassion or mercy on them. That seems easy enough to do. However, as we honestly look at our lives, would we say that it always describes us? Never mind others. How about you? Have there been times when you have been selfish in your helping? You just didn’t want to be bothered. Being kind or helpful to others is what God wants us to do. But, are we so willing to help out, or is it easier to sit back and let everyone else do the job? Be kind. However, when someone upsets us, being kind is the last thing we want to do. This is just one command of God: “Be kind.” How often haven’t we failed to do so? Because of our acts of unkindness, we deserve to spend an eternity in hell. You see, it’s not just the big sins that condemn us. All sins condemn us. You see how we so easily fit the picture of brokenhearted, as we mourn our inability to please God. We fit the picture of a captive, because we are caught in the clutches of sin and the devil.
But, Jesus came to “proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Not only does Jesus proclaim it, he actually does it. By his coming to the earth as a human being, the Son of God worked out our freedom by the perfect life that was lived for us. His perfect life was credited to our account. Then, to pay our debt of sin, Jesus was put to death. As he suffered on the cross, he was suffering all the torments of hell. In this way, the Servant of the Lord, Jesus, came to set us free. When Jesus rose from the dead, he showed us, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he had won the victory. We have been set free. To further illustrate this point, the Servant of the Lord says that he has been anointed to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This was a special time in the Old Testament ceremonial law. It was called “The Year of Jubilee.” Every fifty years all slaves were released and all of the land that had been sold during the previous forty-nine years was returned to the original owner. Do you see how this is a picture of what Jesus came to do? Just as the slaves were released, so all people have been released from the bondage of sin. Just as the land was returned to its original owner, so all believers are returned to their owner, God. Every time we read about or hear about what Jesus Christ did for us, Jesus continues to proclaim the good news. God’s Man was anointed by the Spirit to bring comfort to his people by his preaching.
However, this preaching was not just to one small, select group. His prophecy would build up the Church. This building is spoken of in verse 4, “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Again remember that this is a word of comfort to those who are leaving their homeland, after it had been devastated, to go off into exile. Their land, especially their beloved Jerusalem, would be rebuilt.
However, there must be more to it than that, for it speaks of “ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Seventy years is not generations. This is speaking of building the Holy Christian Church, that is, the believers who have ever lived or would ever live on this earth. Piece by piece, as they are brought to faith, the Church grows.
We further learn of this restoration in verse 5, “Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.” This is not talking about how the Babylonians were going to come in and take over Israel’s resources. Again, remember this is in the section in which God is speaking to comfort and bind up. Here the Servant of the Lord is prophesying the fact that there will be people involved in this building process who are not Jews, but are Gentiles. They, too, are hard at work to support the Church, to fill its needs, whether they be financial or physical or whatever needs there may be. Doing these physical tasks are activities representing all the forms of labor necessary for the physical support of the Lord’s congregation on earth.
As a further testimony to the building of the Church, the Lord says in verse 6, “You will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God.” This looks back to a promise of God found in Exodus 19:6, “You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” It also looks forward to Peter’s declaration in his first epistle, 2:9, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood.” In the Old Testament, the priest was vital, because only he could offer the sacrifices and intercede for the people. But, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can approach God in prayer on our own. We don’t need someone else to do it for us. We don’t need to have a priest forgive our sins. Any Christian can forgive the sins of others. This priesthood of all believers, which Moses, Peter and Isaiah speak of, is one of the doctrines Dr. Martin Luther restored in the Reformation. You, because you have been brought to faith, are not only built into the church of God, but are also a royal priest with the ability to come to God in prayer and to forgive the sins of others. This opportunity is yours because the Holy Spirit created faith in your heart. Through the message of the Lord’s Christ, you have been brought into the Building of God.
Every year, the president gives his State of the Union address. In addition to speaking about the accomplishments of the past, he also outlines his plans and what he hopes to accomplish. Unfortunately, due to certain circumstances, not all of his plans and hopes will come to pass. What we have studied here this morning in Isaiah is, in effect, a speech from God’s chosen one, the Christ. In it, he tells us all that he will do. But, unlike the speech of the president, all the Christ says has and will come to pass. Because of his work, as we hear about it, we receive comfort from his preaching of the gospel, for there we hear of the forgiveness of sins. As we hear his message, we are built up in our faith and in our love for one another. We thank the Father that he sent his Son, anointed by the Spirit, to be our Savior. Strengthened by his message, we live for him. Amen.
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