Last Sunday evening we began to consider what Isaiah had to say about what lay ahead of the people of as he gazed into the future. His thinking was to a certain extent conditioned by the predicament in which Israel would shortly find herself – exile in Babylon. That exile wouldn't be final, it didn't mark the end of the road for Israel but was rather the low point to which the nation would sink before her fortunes could be restored.
Isaiah and the other prophets that the LORD inspired had their role to play in this as they declared powerfully the Word of God. And yet as Isaiah looked forward his horizon was not restricted to a simple return of his nation to the Promised Land. As Isaiah looked forward he saw a much greater deliverance with a much wider effect securing much greater blessings and brought about by a person who was far, far more exalted than was Isaiah or any of the other OT prophets.
When Isaiah looked ahead he saw the coming of the Messiah himself. It was this Messiah who would secure all those blessings of which Isaiah had been enabled to catch the glimpse which he passed on in ch.60.
The Messiah Identified and Described vv.1-
And yet although there are some elements of this prophecy that find at least a partial fulfilment in the ministry of these OT prophets their complete fulfilment is to be found in another and we do not have a hard task identifying just who that is!
When Jesus spoke on a Sabbath day in the synagogue of his home town he took the words that we find here in Isaiah and having read them he solemnly declared that they were fulfilled that day in the hearing of his listeners. In other words Jesus was identifying himself as the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah in ch.61:1-
All this glorious future that Isaiah has spoken about is then secured by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. His ministry and his ministry alone has secured and guaranteed a wonderful future for the redeemed, the world-
The way in which the Messiah carries out his extensive and effective ministry is further detailed for us by Isaiah in these opening verses of ch.61. Let's consider what he has to say:
The Messiah will be a preacher – his task involves bringing good news to the poor, that is he has something wonderful to say to those who are in real need. He hasn't come to tell them that they will all individually be made rich according to the values of this world – after all he would ask in his preaching:
Mk.8:36 "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
No, but he would teach that it was indeed possible to lay up treasures in heaven!
The Messiah will be a comforter – he will bind up the broken-
The Messiah will be a liberator – he will set the captives free – and while this had a particular relevance for those Jews who would suffer exile in Babylon the liberation picture that Isaiah paints goes well beyond that including as it did allusions to the Jubilee as he also proclaims the year of the Lord's favour!
We should not miss this link to the idea of the Jubilee – so let me explain just a little of it to you.
In Jewish religious life the calendar was punctuated with periodic activities that served both as reminders of blessing and as blessings in and of themselves.
In the Temple there were the morning and evening sacrifices
There were the regular weekly Sabbaths
There were the various annual feasts and festivals
There was the septennial Sabbath year
There was, finally, after a succession of seven Sabbath years, the celebration of the Year of Jubilee of which we read in Lev.25.
This year of Jubilee was a glorious reminder of what the LORD had done for his people and how he continued to regard them!
Lev.25:55 "For (the year of Jubilee) is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."
In the Jewish calendar the year of Jubilee was a special year for the remission of sins and for a universal pardon to be enjoyed. It was a year of great blessing and joy and provided a wonderful model by which to describe all that the Messiah would secure for his people. The benefits of the Jubilee would spread way beyond the confines of the nation of Israel and the pardon offered would indeed be a universal one as Jesus was made the Saviour of the World!
When Jesus read from this Scripture at Nazareth Luke ends his quotation at that point and commentators have frequently underlined the importance of this.
Jesus at his first coming came to bring salvation but not to usher in judgment. And that is indeed the situation in which we live today – we live in the in-
But this must not be pressed so far as to separate Jesus from any thought of judgment. While his first coming was to secure salvation he did nevertheless speak clearly of the judgment to come, a judgment which was already hanging over the unbeliever. Indeed when we read through the teaching of the NT we find that the most numerous and the most graphic descriptions of hell and the realities of judgment are found falling from the lips of gentle Jesus meek and mild. At his second coming all judgment will be placed in his hands and vengeance will be wrought upon the enemies of God.
The Messiah will be a comforter of those who mourn – and as you know Jesus took up this declaration and repeated it in the Sermon on the Mount in what we know as the Beatitudes.
Mt.5:4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
This is the way in which Isaiah saw that the Messiah would exercise his ministry. His ministry thus exercised would have great effect and bring about many benefits and it is to these that Isaiah now turns.
The Effects and Benefits that Flow from Messiah's Ministry vv.4-
Mourning in OT times was not infrequently accompanied by outward signs: one of these signs was the putting of ashes upon one's head. With the coming of the Messiah not merely are the ashes removed but they are replaced with beauty/a beautiful headdress – there is something of a word play here which is difficult to reproduce in English. The picture is taken up again in v.10 where salvation is once more spoken of in terms of beautiful garments designed to bring satisfaction and pleasure.
The one who mourns or grieves is not full of joy but full of sadness and heaviness. The Messiah comes and ministers effectively and all this changes! When a person mourns there is little thought given to outward appearance and perfumes are left unapplied but now the oil of gladness, the perfumes and lotions that accompany and reflect joyous celebration, are the order of the day.
When we look at a person who is grieving we often see someone who is weighed down, someone for whom everything is an effort, a person who has no energy to do anything – their spirit has become weak and faint. Ah but what a transformation when Messiah ministers! Depression and heaviness must give way as praise now bursts out! Where only weakness was apparent before there is now the wonderful energy and strength of great oak trees!
And finally where there had only been ruins and scenes of utter desolation there is now a totally vista. Everywhere there are building projects of restoration and renovation. The NT parallel is of new creation, new birth and new life:
2Cor. 5:17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."
As these transformations are brought about the people of God, the church, are helped in their tasks by those who formerly were their enemies (v.5); they are recognized as having a true relationship and standing with God himself (v.6); they are even granted to enjoy the wealth of the nations (v6) – or as the NT puts it, the meek will inherit the earth (Mt.5:5).
The church's past too is dealt with finally and definitively! Yes, the church would have events in her past that were genuine causes of shame and dishonor – discipline and painful discipline at times would be the church's lot too but that would never be her final condition:
Is.40:2 "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins."
But because of Messiah and his ministry this shame and dishonor gives way to the great rejoicing of an everlasting joy!
Is.61:7 "Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy."
Indeed as the shame and dishonor are taken away the people of God are greatly blessed:
The LORD will reward them – how gracious he is! He gives them everything and then because he likes what he sees he rewards them for having what he has given them!!
The LORD makes an everlasting covenant with them – elsewhere described in the prophets as a new covenant that Jesus declares in the NT to have been sealed in his blood!
Luke 22:20 "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."
The LORD will so act that even their offspring, their descendants, are recognized universally as belonging to the LORD God and blessed by him!
The Church will Rejoice
In the light of all that the LORD does for his people through the effective ministry of the Messiah we are surely not surprised to see how Isaiah describes the reaction of the church.
In effect Isaiah declares that this prosperity and enlargement of the people of God is such that it is an occasion of joy, and should lead to thanksgiving and praise.
This joy and rejoicing is brought about as the church considers the faithfulness and the perfections of the LORD God as they are all manifested in the redemption of his people. All the wonderful beauty of the people of God has been provided for her and given to her by her LORD.
So let us ask ourselves whether we think about the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ in these terms.
Let us ask ourselves whether or not we respond to all he has so generously and graciously bestowed upon us in the salvation we currently enjoy and which we will continue to enjoy into all eternity with similar outbursts or determined joy.
The more we realize what our state was like before and what it has now become because of the cross work of Calvary the more ready we will be to rejoice and to ascribe all the honour and glory to him.
Amen! So let it be true of us!
May we be numbered amongst those who rejoice greatly in the Lord and exult in our God!