Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1330
Dr. Ed Pettus December 17, 2017 Isaiah 61.1-11
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“The Advent of Jesus Christ”
The Year of the Lord’s Favor
As we celebrate this Advent and anticipate the celebration of the coming of Jesus into the world, this may be one of the most poignant texts of the Messiah’s mission. Isaiah’s writing, his voice through this passage, would have been one of great hope for Israel. It is a passage of mystery at the time of its context and proclamation. Who is the one anointed? Whose voice is this? Is it Isaiah himself or another one anointed by God for the purpose of proclaiming the news of God’s deeds among the people? Isaiah is the main prophet who reveals the coming of the Messiah, mostly in the form of the suffering servant. But Isaiah also speaks of the birth of the Messiah, which we will see next Sunday.
We now, in our context, look back to Isaiah 61 through the lens of Luke 4 when Jesus reads Isaiah 61in the synagogue and then, in a stunning short “sermon”, proclaims that the scripture reading has been fulfilled in their hearing. Jesus is announcing that He is the anointed One. The Spirit is upon Him to do all that is revealed in Isaiah.
I want to focus this section of today’s message on one phrase Isaiah uses and it is the phrase where Jesus ends His reading, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Some scholars and interpreters believe this to be a reference to the year of Jubilee from Leviticus 25. In that Jubilee year, which would come every 50 years, all property would be returned to the original owners, all slaves released from service, in essence, it was a year of freedom, restoration, and celebration. We don’t have any evidence that Israel ever put this Jubilee command into practice, but what is amazing is that they at least imagined it possible. It is recorded in the sacred text as a command of God. So when Isaiah and Jesus speak of the year of the Lord’s favor, it may be that Jesus is once again offering a time of celebration and redemption, the Lord’s favor expressed through God’s love and grace in the person and work of His only Son.
Jesus embodies the Jubilee year. He reminds us that all property belongs to God, that all people belong to God, that all possessions belong to God. He embodies the proclamation that all things will be redeemed through Christ. Jesus Himself is our celebration of freedom, redemption, and jubilation. In His Advent we have the coming of the Lord’s favor. All around that phrase of the Lord’s favor are all the things ushered in through God’s Advent.
What Advent Brings
Isaiah has the comprehensive list and Jesus may have read more of Isaiah than what we have recorded in Luke, but let’s consider that Advent has brought all that Isaiah reveals, and Advent brings these things through Jesus Christ whom the Spirit has come upon.
1. Good News is brought to the poor. Whether we are poor in material goods or poor in spiritual matters, we need the good news that brings us the riches of Jesus. Jesus fulfills this prophecy.
2. The brokenhearted are mended. Whether we are broken in relationship on a human level or broken in our relationship with God, we need those relationships healed. Jesus fulfills this prophecy.
3. Captives are set free. Whether we are captive to outside influences or something within our being, we need the freedom that only Christ can give. Jesus fulfills this prophecy.
4. Those in prison are released. Whether we are imprisoned behind bars or in the sufferings of our own making of emotion or spirit, we need release from our bondage. Jesus fulfills this prophecy.
5. The mournful are comforted. Whether we are mourning our losses of this life or something of spiritual dimensions, we need the comfort of God. Jesus fulfills this prophecy.
6. Restoration is known to those who have suffered. Whether we have goods and possessions restored or the building up of spirit or faith or love, we beed God’s restoration of it all. Jesus fulfills this prophecy.
The list could be viewed in two ways, as a physical list of people being set free or hearing the gospel, or as a spiritual realm of freedom and restoration. We are set free from the prison as the doors to the prison open or we are set free from the prison of sin and bondage to our passions. It may also be viewed as a combination of physical and spiritual.
Jesus has brought all of this, and more, and He has brought it through his life, death, and resurrection. This is what Advent brings.
The Joy of Advent
Isaiah’s prophecy speaks of great joy and exultation at what God has done. While this may be the rejoicing and exultation of the speaker alone, I think we can also see ourselves in the same joy and praise. See again verses 10-11, 10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.
The Lord will bring forth righteousness and praise to all nations, to all peoples, to all the world. It is the promise of Advent in these passages that do indeed bring us joy. We rejoice because Jesus has come and Jesus promises to come again, and we rejoice that everything we read about in Isaiah, that has been fulfilled in Jesus, is given for our sake, to restore us to God.
The birth of Christ is joyful both for the good news of the Christ child and also for the reasons we read this morning. With all that comes in the Advent of God, we have deep incredible reasons to rejoice. As we look closer to the content of Isaiah 61, we may see more reasons than we once imagined for our joy in this season. We see more reasons for celebrating Christmas. We also see more and more reasons why the good news of Christmas needs to be proclaimed to the world. The world needs to know the Lord’s favor. The world needs to know the Jubilee that brings restoration and celebration to our lives. Just imagine what it would be like to have a Jubilee year enacted all over the world – all our debts forgiven, all our lands restored, all our lives redeemed. It reminds me that when sins are forgiven those who have had the greatest sins are those who are the most grateful.
We would remember, for instance, the forgiveness offered the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. Jesus forgave her sin which was great and thus her love for Jesus was great (Luke 7.36-50). Our joy will also be in direct proportion to our understanding of how much Jesus has forgiven us. This is why we celebrate so much around Advent and Christmas, because the Savior of the world is born and the salvation he brings causes us great joy and thanks and love.
The Advent of Jesus Christ
When Jesus appears on the scene in Nazareth, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. It was apparently his turn to be the liturgist for the day because they gave him Isaiah to read. He turned to Isaiah 61, and read the first verse and a portion of the second. Imagine those words being read in worship “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 liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
Then imagine the powerful moment as Jesus rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant, and sits down. Everybody is looking at him. Were they expecting a sermon or at least some kind of interpretation? Were they astonished at the way He read? Were they waiting on something else? Then Jesus says, “Today” I would like to imagine a long pause here… “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus is the one who fits Isaiah 61, the one on whom the Spirit has landed, the one who will do this list of things for redemption, proclamation, liberation, and so forth. It may not have registered in their hearing right away, but Jesus is essentially saying that Isaiah’s prophetic word has become fulfilled in Him. In fact everyone spoke well of him at first. Then they ask about his background. Joseph’s son? Is that him? They knew Joseph. They knew Jesus, probably watched him grow up from childhood. When you know someone’s past, even if it is the one who never sinned, you do not expect him to be the Messiah. He is too familiar; to them he is just a normal guy, so how could he be the Messiah?
But Jesus is truly the fulfillment of God’s prophetic word found in Isaiah. He is the anointed one. He is the suffering servant. He is the one proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. In this we rejoice. In this we are saved.
There will come another Advent someday soon, and Jesus will be fulfilling even more prophetic words and keeping His promises. These are the stories of Advent, prophetic words of hope, birth narratives, submission to the word of God, fulfillment of God’s will and favor. Yes, there is much about which we can pray and be thankful. This is a joyful time of hope and fulfillment, a time to celebrate the Advent of Jesus Christ. Amen.