Isaiah 16:1-4, 8-11 After Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove and his heavenly Father said: You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.
The Bible says that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and was led by that same Spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil for forty days, defeating Satan each step of the way.
Then the Bible says that Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit and traveled to his home town of Nazareth where he attended worship services on the Sabbath Day in his home town synagogue. While he was there, the ruler of the synagogue handed him the scroll of Isaiah and Jesus read these verses:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
After reading these verses he hand the scroll back to the attendant and he sat down and began to teach the people saying: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
All of us know that it is one thing to talk a good talk and something altogether different to walk the walk. The people in the synagogue that day knew the same. They said: Isn’t this Joseph’s son?
In other words: “We know this man. We watched him grow up. He took our orders in his Father’s carpentry shop. How is it possible that this Jesus of Nazareth is the one Isaiah was speaking of all those years ago? What is the evidence?”
In the presences and by the power of Jesus the blind received their sight. The lame were made to walk. Those imprisoned under the power of the devil were set free. The dead were raised and the sick were healed. The poor and the outcast were welcomed and befriended. And all of those who were bowed down under grief and sorrow and loss were filled with joy and peace and hope for the future.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news. It would be the worst kind of religious deception to claim these words for yourself—unless it were true. The words and deeds of Jesus show that he was no liar, no lunatic—but that he was the Lord who fulfilled these words. He was sent by God:
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
In the worship life of the Israelites, there were a number of different God-given occasions for worship. The Sabbath was observed each week. There were harvest festivals. The Passover and the Day of Atonement were observed each year.
But once every fifty years there was to be a Year of Jubilee—a year of the Lord’s favor. During this year, ancestral land that had been sold was returned to its original owner. Debts were wiped away. And all those who had fallen on such hard times that they had to sell themselves into slavery, were be set free.
In other words, this Jubilee year, this year of the Lord’s favor would once again make Israel what God intended it to be—a land of free and happy people, each with their own part in the Holy Land, each of them blessed with their own share of God’s abundant goodness.
What a blessing from God this year was! What an occasion for joy! The loss and pain and poverty of the past was taken away by a gracious God who wanted to bless his people from the least to the greatest.
That is exactly what Jesus came to do-- not just for the Israelites-- but for all people. The Year of Jubilee—that year of the Lord’s favor—was a sign pointing to the saving, renewing work of the Messiah. It is what Jesus was anointed by the Spirit to do.
He paid our sin debt by his death on the cross. He defeated our enemies of death and the devil by rising from the dead. He opened heaven to us and promised that he would prepare a place for each of us in that everlasting Promised Land.
All that we, by our sins and Satan’s work have lost, has been restored to us by a gracious Savior so that all of God’s children may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
The Israelites knew what it meant to live in a broken world. Over their history they were tossed back and forth by some of the greatest earthly empires that ever existed. They suffered from devastating natural disasters. They were all too aware of their own sinful disobedience that led to God’s judgment. Their own prophets told them that their earthly lives were like grass that withers and dies.
And yet the Lord called them “oaks of righteousness”—sturdy and lasting, strong and enduring—not because of what they had done, not because of who they were—but because of his glorious work in their lives.
So it is for us. The Bible says that our lives are like a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. And yet God has planned for us to live with him forever. He has sown the seed of his eternal Word in our lives. He has caused us to be born again by the power of that same Word. He is the one who will cause us to stand the test of time and endure unto the end and be saved so that it may be clearly seen that he alone is God and he alone receives the glory in the lives of his people. Isaiah says that God’s people:
shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. . . .For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense,
As we have talked about in our previous midweek services, the prophet Isaiah spoke these words in the midst of very dark days for the people of God. The great empires of Assyria and Babylon would overtake Israel and destroy the temple and take the people away into exile.
It seemed that their life as a people was over—that like so many others they would lost to the pages of history—and how could it not be?! What were they compared to the might of empires many times their size?
And that is true—except for just one thing: they were the Lord’s people, they belonged to him, and he would set them free and bring them home and restore what they had lost. And so he did. That story is told in the Bible. It is the story of…
How God raised up a deliverer who set them free and paid the price from his own treasury for the temple to be rebuilt. How they returned to the Promised Land to rebuild everything that their enemies had been destroyed. How they would carry forth the worship and knowledge of the true God and bear witness to the true Messiah to come.
The story of the return of the Israelites from exile is something that a Hollywood writer could never have conceived and yet it was promised by a gracious God who always comes to the aid of his people and always keeps his promises. The Lord said:
I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.
The Lord did make an everlasting covenant with his people—a promise that from them another deliverer would come—one who would accomplish the salvation of the world—one who pay the price to set us free from our enemies and bring us to our heavenly home.
The return of the exiles from Babylon is a sign of that promise which was kept in Jesus Christ. He has done for us what we were powerless to do. He has freed us from our captivity to sin and death. He has paid the price in his own blood to rebuild what sin has destroyed. And he has promised to lead us to heaven. For that mighty work of salvation we serve and praise God:
I 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. For 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.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, God has clothed us with salvation, bringing us to faith in Jesus Christ and covered us with the righteousness of that is his. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord God has caused a people to come forth where before there were only slaves. It is by the gracious work of the Triune God that we can count ourselves as God’s people.
But that identity gives a direction and purpose to our lives. The Bible says that we are
a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people of God’s own possessions that we may declare the glory of the one who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
The return of the people of Israel from exile and the rebuilding of the temple was a witness to the world that they served the true God.
So it is for us as we gather for worship and do good work in our vocations and act with love towards our neighbor and tell forth the goodness of the Lord to those who don’t know him. Our work and our words and our witness serve God’s mission to make righteousness and praise sprout up in all nations as they come to Jesus Christ who was anointed by the Spirit to speak good news.
May that same Spirit fill our hearts with joy and empower our lives to bear true witness to our Savior. Amen.