Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Fulfilled in Your Hearing
One day in a tiny village in a backwater region known as Galilee a man stood up in the synagogue and read from the Holy Scriptures. According to St. Luke’s Gospel this is what He read: “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 favour.”1 Then he rolled up the scroll, sat down, and told them something incredible about what He had just read to them. The man was Jesus Christ. The tiny village was Nazareth. The scripture He read to them came from what we heard for our Old Testament reading this morning from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus then preached a very short sermon about this text, so that the people could understand its meaning. This is what He told them: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”2
Consider how this would have landed among those who were gathered there for the usual service in the synagogue. What did he just say? Isn’t this Joseph’s son, the carpenter? Listen again, this time from the words of the prophet: “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.”3 The One that Isaiah foretells is made King and priest for He is “the anointed one” – here we have the Hebrew word “mah-sah,” which is where we get “Messiah” and is translated in Greek as “Christ.” So Jesus stands up in the synagogue and reads this prophecy of the Messiah which was foretold many hundreds of years earlier, and when He does this, He is speaking about Himself, the Anointed One of God, the Messiah, the Christ. He is the One for whom the world waits in hopeful expectation. He is the One promised by the prophets of God.
So Jesus basically is saying, “You know how the prophets spoke about the Messiah, the One who is coming to restore God’s people to righteousness? Well, take a look, He is standing right here in front of you.” How do you think they greeted Him that day? He was not adorned with gold of silver or leading a mighty army, but in the eyes of that village, and in the eyes of that entire region of Galilee, and indeed in the eyes of most people today, He was just a nobody from nowhere, now claiming the greatest office in the history of the universe for Himself. They were not inclined to believe that this was possible. But it is true. The Spirit of the Lord is on the Messiah, and He comes not with earthly riches and powerful armies, not with political power and media fame, but with the most powerful instrument of all: the Word that proceeds from His mouth. For that Word is a Word of transformation and blessing.
The coming of God’s Spirit upon the earth is always connected to transformation and blessing, it is always connected to great change upon the earth and God’s bringing about of his Kingdom. The Anointed One that Isaiah tells us about is sent by God to do just that. The tasks He will set about to accomplish are from God. What are they? Isaiah tells us quite clearly. The overarching assignment is to bring the good news, a message of hope to those who are presently afflicted, poor, broken-hearted, captives, prisoners. We heard the same thing last week: “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”4 The Good News is the Gospel, the message that the Kingdom of God is at hand in the forgiveness of sins unto eternal life. The Messiah comes, He is sent by God. Who then receives Him? Those who are broken by life and sin, those who have given up and have no more heart to try, those who are in such bondage that they can only think of liberty and release as a cruel mirage.They are sinners in needs of a Word of a Savior, a Word of release from captivity. But notice who is not mentioned…the righteous, the proud, the haughty. For Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”5 The transformation and blessing of the Gospel comes to those who repent and believe, those who in faith look to the Son of God, for Christ came in behalf of sinners, to heal and to bandage, to offer the medicine only He can bring.
So Jesus identifies Himself as the Anointed One of Isaiah, the suffering servant of Israel who will die for the sins of His people. In doing so Jesus also declares that He is the companion of the afflicted and the poor in spirit, andHe announces liberty. He is sent to proclaim “the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God.”6 How does that work? The year of favour, the day of vengeance. Aren’t these complete opposites? Well, not really, think about them as two sides of the same coin. The coin is the advent of our Lord. His appearance at His Nativity is the pronouncement of God’s favour. Isaiah makes reference here to the book of Leviticus where God gives the people a year of jubilee. This was like a year long sabbath that occurred every fifty years. Can you imagine? The people were to rest not just for the one day, but for an entire year. It was to be done in anticipation of the eternal rest which God would bring to his people. This year of rest points us to Christ. The Messiah has come and now He fulfills that rest, He is the year of jubilee: “Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”7 This is the time for repentance, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. But what about the other side of the coin, what about his vengeance? How does that fit with the pronouncement of his favour? Well, it is a source of comfort for anyone who is being oppressed that the source of that oppression should be lifted once and for all. I’m sure if you asked the people who were listening to Jesus speak and preach on Isaiah in the synagogue that day in Nazareth they would have been perfectly happy to see the back of the Roman empire. But the Messiah brings much more than relief from earthly oppressors. He brings deliverance from sin, death, and hell. Do you see how this goes hand in hand with the favour of the Lord? All those powers of darkness that seek to harm you, their days are numbered, and one day, when Jesus returns, their power will be ended forever, and all mourning will end forever.
And once the Anointed One of God has accomplished all that He has been sent to accomplish, the people of Zion have a completely different identity. It’s like a makeover. Once they wore ashes of mourning, but now that have a beautiful headdress, says the prophet. They have the oil of gladness, a garment of praise. All of this “that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”8 Yes, God is glorified in the sending of his Son, because the Son glorifies the Father. And according to St. John Jesus says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”9 The transformation that is brought about in forgiveness and blessing bears fruit in the live of his people! “For this is the glory before God, whereby God, and not humankind, is glorified, when man is justified, not by works, but by faith, so that even his doing well is imparted to him by God.”10 Christ wishes to say: “I want to extol your Christian life still more. By means of it you will be able not only to do all kinds of good and to overcome and avert every misfortune through prayer; but you are also the people through whom My Father is honored. You are priests and servants of God who offer holy and acceptable sacrifices to My Father without ceasing.” How many people on earth would like to have the distinction and the glory of being called servants of God through whom He is honored and praised!
“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” When Jesus said those words to His home town synagogue service many people couldn’t believe it. How is it possible? The prophet Isaiah lays it all out clearly, for Jesus is the Anointed Son of God, the Word made flesh who will dwell with His people. Today the same Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, as it was fulfilled in your Baptism, as it is fulfilled in this Sacrament of the Altar, this table which is set for you. Christ has clothed you with the garments of salvation; he has covered you with the robe of righteousness.11 In this time of His advent we rejoice that He has come, and that He is coming again, and the “Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.”12 The eternally fruitful righteousness of God is ours because he sends the anointed one of God, Jesus Christ, and He has the grace and the power to save us, to lighten the darkness of our hearts. So lift up your heads and rejoice! Let us begin to climb up step by step from the Infant lying in a manger all the way to His Passion, His death and resurrection, and His ascension to Glory where today He reigns in majesty until he comes again. Amen, come Lord Jesus.
1 Lk 4:18–19.
2 Lk 4:21.
3 Is 61:1.
4 Is 40:9.
5 Lk 5:31–32.
6 Is 61:2.
7 2 Co 6:2.
8 Is 61:3.
9 Jn 15:8.
11 Is 61:10.
12 Is 61:11.