“Good News in the Year of the Lord’s Favor”

When Christ first came preaching good news, he inaugurated “the year of the Lord’s favor.” When will this “year” end? When he returns from heaven to usher in the eternal Sabbath rest, the eternal jubilee of rest.

Leviticus 25:8-12; Isaiah 61:1-11 (text); Luke 4:16-30
January 22, 2012
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"Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue" by James Tissot, 1894 (click to enlarge)

"Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue" by James Tissot, 1894 (click to enlarge)

In the early morning of January 1, 2010, I received a text message from someone saying that the “Jubilee of Jubilees” has finally arrived in the Philippines!

Curious, I searched the Internet about this idea, and easily found out that an evangelical group, according to their hex-egesis, has calculated that 2010 would be the beginning of the outpouring of God’s blessings on the country. They calculated that 2010 was the 490th year since Ferdinand Magellan planted the Roman Catholic cross on the Philippine islands in 1521. It also happened that 490 years figure prominently in the prophecy of the 70 weeks in Daniel 9:24-27. Somehow, Israel’s Jubilee Year, the year after after 7 sets of 7 years—49 years—is also connected to this prophecy.

So, according to this group, Israel’s Jubilee commemoration is actually only a foreshadow of God’s plan for the Philippines! And Daniel’s prophecy about Israel, Christ and the church is actually God’s prophecy for the Philippines as a blessed country!

Isaiah 61, our text, is connected to the proclamation by God of “the year of the Lord’s favor” in which God will send the long-awaited Messiah “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (verse 1). This verse was read by Jesus when he went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath day after he overcame Satan’s temptations in the wilderness for forty days.

In reading verses 1-2 of our text, Jesus declared to his hometown neighbors that he came “to proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18, 19). In the last century, all kinds of people have claimed these words as the basis for advocating various liberal social, political and economic agenda.

So-called liberation theologians teach that since Jesus came to end the oppression of the poor and powerless, the church should also work for the same goal. Since the fall of communism, liberation theology has fallen out of grace, but has since been replaced by new liberal causes: black, feminist and gay rights movements.

Feminists claim that Jesus came to abolish a patriarchal culture that oppress women and install an egalitarian society, so even churches should have women pastors, elders and deacons. Gay activists work against a society they perceive as homophobic and to assert gay rights, including the right of gays and lesbians to be ordained as church officebearers. Black liberalism seeks to free people of color from all forms of political, social, economic, and religious oppression, noting that Christianity was associated with racism and even supported slavery of black people in the past.

Did Isaiah and Jesus in the Scripture readings speak of the Messiah’s mission as the liberation of the poor and marginalized in society from poverty and oppression? Such liberal agenda briefly summarized above are at best ridiculous, but there are many pastors—and not only in liberal mainline churches—that seem to focus on social, political and economic issues.

Today we will study Isaiah 61 and how Jesus interprets the passage in Luke 4. Isaiah prophesied that the good news of the coming of “the year of the Lord’s favor” will be ushered in by the Messiah. Seven hundred years later, Jesus announces the arrival of that year of good news. We will focus on three things: (1) The Bearer of Good News; (2) The Recipients of Good News; and (3) The Reaction to Good News.

The Bearer of Good News

"The Jews in Babylonian captivity" by Antonio Puccinelli, 1851 (click to enlarge)

"The Jews in Babylonian captivity" by Antonio Puccinelli, 1851 (click to enlarge)

Who speaks in Isaiah 61? How the chapter is interpreted largely depends on who speaks which verses. In the opening verses, the speaker is one upon whom the Spirit of the Lord God is poured. Certainly it is not Yahweh because it is his Spirit who is upon the speaker. It could not be Isaiah since the prophet is not capable of doing the works listed in verses 1-3. The clue is found in the speaker’s proclamation, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me.”

The speaker here could only be the Shoot from the stump of Jesse, on whom the Spirit of the the Lord rests, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse… And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him” (Isa 11:1-2). He is the Servant sent by the Lord God, “Behold my servant… I have put my Spirit upon him” (Isa 42:1; 48:16).

This Servant is anointed by the Lord for his mission. In Hebrew, the word for “anointed,” mashach, is translated as “Messiah.” The Greek word used to translate mashach is Christos. Jesus says the Spirit is upon him because he has been anointed by the Lord, and therefore, he is the Servant of the Lord, the Christ.

Throughout the Old Testament, prophets, priests and kings were anointed by God to their office. Prophets were anointed for the purpose of proclaiming both God’s coming judgment and gracious salvation. With holy oil they were anointed to office, as when Elijah was commanded by God to anoint Elisha as the prophet after him (1 Kings 19:16; see also Psa 105:15).

Priests as well were ordained by anointing them with precious holy oil, as when Aaron and his sons were ordained by God, “You shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him… Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons… as priests” (Exod 29:7, 9; 30:30; see also Psa 133:2). Lastly, all of Israel’s kings anointed with oil at their appointment by God, as we can see in Psalm 45, a psalm celebrating the coronation of their king, “God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Psa 45:7). Both King Saul and King David were anointed by the prophet Samuel as kings of Israel (1 Sam 10:1; 16:13). It is striking that David, like the Servant of the Lord, was well-equipped by the Spirit of the Lord for his task, “And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward” (1 Sam 16:13).

Jesus, having been anointed by the Spirit at his baptism (Luke 3:22), was full of the Holy Spirit who led him first to the wilderness where the devil tempted him for forty days (Luke 4:1). He then “returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” to his hometown Nazareth (Luke 4:14, 16). Because of the good report about him that traveled throughout Galilee, he was welcomed there as a hometown hero, being known as the son of one of their own, Joseph the carpenter. As he read Isaiah 61 and explained God’s word, “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:14, 22). But his popularity was short-lived.

Jesus discerns the hometown people’s thoughts that if he could supernaturally heal people in other places, he should do the same in the sight of his own people (verse 23). To answer their thoughts, he explains to them who the poor are: they are not merely the economically poor, but the unclean, specifically Gentile widows and lepers. He reminds them that he is like the prophets Elijah and Elisha who were rejected by Israel, but received by a Gentile widow and a Gentile leper, concluding, “No prophet is acceptable in his hometown” (verses 24-27). When the Nazarenes heard Jesus’s words of indictment, they were filled with rage and wanted to kill him.

This near-tragic event at the beginning of his public ministry is a foreboding of the shame, rejection and opposition he would suffer all his life leading to his crucifixion. Before he was born, he was already designated as “the Son of the Most High,” the Messiah’s title (Luke 1:32; Psa 2:7). Isaiah foretold the rejection and suffering of this Messiah, the Servant of the Lord, “He was despised and rejected by men… He was oppressed, and he was afflicted” (Isa 53:5, 7).

For whom was he obeying the Lord as a servant? Throughout his ministry, he spoke of his servanthood, suffering and death at the hands of men. In the end, the Jews in Jerusalem accomplished what his hometown wanted to do with him at the beginning of his ministry: kill him. All of these to fulfill his mission: to save his people—the recipients of good news—from sin (Luke 9:22, 43-45; 18:32-33).

The Recipients of Good News

"Jesus Sits by the Seashore and Preaches" by James Tissot, 1886-94

"Jesus Sits by the Seashore and Preaches" by James Tissot, 1886-94 (click to enlarge)

Isaiah’s prophecy was one of great comfort for Israel. After their seventy years of hard labor in the Babylonian captivity, the Lord will finally pardon their sins, release them from captivity, and restore them back to the Promised Land. They will rebuild the ruins of the wall, the city and the temple. Indeed, this will be the beginning of the fulfillment of good news for the poor, brokenhearted people of Israel.

The Servant was anointed with the Spirit for this purpose: “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” the arrival of good news for brokenhearted captives (verse 2). This is the same jubilee, the 50th year, that the Lord consecrates to “proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants” (Lev 25:10). The Hebrew festal calendar calls for every seventh year as a sabbatical year, when all agricultural activities are to cease. Reflecting God’s Sabbath rest, both land and people are to rest on the seventh year. After seven weeks of years (or 7×7=49 years), the 50th year following will be another sabbatical year, which is called the jubilee year.

The Hebrew word yobel is related to a word that means “ram’s horn,” (or trumpet), which is to be sounded throughout Israel on the Day of Atonement of the 50th year. The regulations of the Jubilee are the same as for the sabbatical year: the land and the people are to rest. In addition, people are to return to their ancestral property, and those who have become slaves are also to be released, and all debts are forgiven.

Instead of working, the people were to spend the year resting from their labors and thanking God for giving them rest and liberty. The jubilee, then, is a year of worship and rest. God wanted the people to fully trust and depend on him who would provide for them for the next two years of not working their fields.

For God’s people who will be in captivity and exile for seventy years, this is indeed good news! The “year of the Lord’s favor” for them means liberty to the captives and comfort for the brokenhearted and those who mourn. Instead of the ashes of mourning, they will be given a beautiful headdress, a crown of glory, and oil of gladness poured on them. Instead of being faint in spirit, they will be given a garment of praise (verse 3; see also Isa 28:5).

It is not only because of their release from captivity that they rejoice, but also because they will be able to rebuild the ruins of their devastated cities: walls, houses, fields, streets, and most of all, the temple. With the temple, the priesthood will be restored and they will again be able to offer morning and evening sacrifices for their sins.

After Jesus’s baptism and temptation, he went up a mountain and proclaimed the blessedness of the kingdom of heaven whose citizens are the people of God. The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for his name’s sake: they will inherit the kingdom of heaven, receive comfort and mercy, and be called children of God (Matt 5:2-9).

Jesus was not talking about feeding programs, homeless shelters and orphanages, but about spiritual comfort. The Nazarenes did not understand that the Messiah came not to bring a revolution against the Roman oppressors, but to bring blessings, comfort and joy to sinners: those who are poor in spirit, slaves to sin, blind to the light of the Messiah, and those who are oppressed by Satan’s temptations.

Even today, many of Jesus’s followers do not understand that the good news that Jesus brought to the world was the release of those who are in captivity to Satan, sin and the unbelieving world–”the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” (1 John 2:16). He came proclaiming our jubilee celebration because all our sins are forgiven and the chains of Satan’s captivity have fallen off from our hands and feet.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee (“And Can It Be” by Charles Wesley).

When Christ first came, he inaugurated the year of the Lord’s favor. Before he ascended into heaven, he commanded his disciples to preach the good news to all the poor in spirit throughout the world. When will the preaching end? When he returns from heaven to end the year of the Lord’s favor, and usher in the eternal Sabbath rest, the eternal jubilee of rest.

As citizens of the kingdom of heaven, what are we to do while we wait for this year of the Lord’s favor to end? We are to continue rebuilding the ancient ruins of God’s temple. All the apostles who met in Jerusalem realized that Amos’ prophecy that God “will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen… its ruins, and I will restore it, that the [Gentiles] may seek the Lord” (Amos 9:11-12; see also Isa 58:12), is fulfilled in the preaching of the good news to all the nations of the earth (Acts 15:16-17).

When the age to come finally arrives, Gentiles who have turned to the Lord will have a double inheritance of blessings since as believers, they are considered as firstborn children of God (Heb 12:23). As in Chapter 60, there will be a great reversal of fortunes. Instead of being slaves, they shall be masters; wealth instead of deprivation; glory instead of shame; joy instead of dishonor. And finally, they will attain the role for which the Lord originally created them: priests and servants of the Lord (Exod 19:5-6; 1 Pet 2:9).

How is a holy, righteous and just God able to bestow blessings on sinful people like the Jews and Gentiles, you and I? He will make an everlasting covenant with his people through the Servant. He provides both the Priest who mediates between God and his people, and the Sacrifice whose body was broken and blood shed on the cross for his people’s sins. Since his sacrifice on the cross, Christ has redeemed an unbroken line of generations and descendants who have believed in him as the Lord’s Anointed One. Today, the whole world is amazed at the grace and might that God has displayed in the salvation of a multitude from every nation despite unceasing attempts to annihilate God’s people.

Like Isaiah, we know that the Lord’s blessings and rewards are given to us not because of our own righteousness or good works, but merely by his grace and mercy in the Messiah. How are God’s people to respond to this good news?

The Response to Good News

“Friend, where is your wedding garment,” 14th century Russian icon of the Parable of the Wedding Feast. The man on the right bound and thrown out has no wedding garment. (click to enlarge)

“Friend, where is your wedding garment,” 14th century Russian icon of the Parable of the Wedding Feast. The man on the right bound and thrown out has no wedding garment. (click to enlarge)

The last two verses are a demonstration of the response to good news brought by the Messiah. It is not clear who speaks here—the Messiah, Isaiah, or the church itself—but praise and thanksgiving is the natural response to God’s grace and might works. It could be that the Messiah echoes verse 1, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me” in verse 10, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God.” But it is more likely that the congregation of Zion itself in worship are the ones rejoicing and praising the Lord God.

All of the good news is summarized in two things. First, the good news is that God is the One who gives righteousness and salvation to his people. Sinners are unable to clothe themselves with righteousness. Our righteousness is outside of us, an “alien righteousness,” according to Martin Luther. The Messiah, the Righteous One, gives us his own perfect righteousness through faith. The Spirit of God that is upon him is also poured out on all those who believe the good news of his life, death and resurrection to atone for our sins.

Second, the good news is that we are the bride of Christ decked in beautiful garments of salvation. Remember Joshua the high priest who appeared before God’s throne in filthy, foul-smelling garments? God clothe him with pure garments and a clean turban. He is a picture of all sinners before and after salvation, rags to riches, sinners to saints. His sin was removed from him, and he was clothed with pure vestments (Zech 3:1-5).

The people of the Lord God rejoice not because of the beautiful garments of salvation and righteousness. They exult over the gracious and merciful God who has given undeserving and unlovable people like them these garments. His work in us does not end in releasing us from captivity to sin and Satan, but he also clothes us with righteousness, and enables us to live out our righteousness through the Spirit who indwells us.

Since God is faithful and trustworthy, we are assured that in the end, “righteousness and praise [will] sprout up before all the nations” (verse 11). A great harvest of righteous people from all nations is awaiting the Messiah’s return from heaven. As the earth brings forth sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown by the farmer to sprout up, so will a multitude of believers be harvested when Christ returns. This is another reason to rejoice and exult in the Lord God.

Today, the field is ready to be harvested. It is ripe and full. Christ commands his people to bring in the harvest and to pray for many harvesters, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2).

Conclusion

Dear friends, Isaiah’s bringer of good news is none other than Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. In him rests the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord (11:2). The same Spirit is poured out on all of you who believe.

The good news is that he has released you from your bondage to sin and Satan, and even death. Because he has conquered sin and death, you too who believe is now conquering sin through the Spirit of God. When Christ returns, you will conquer even death.

What is your response? Are you to be proud of your salvation? Yes, you can be proud, but not because you saved yourself, but because God has saved you by clothing you with the pure righteousness of Christ. More than that, you are to be grateful to God and offer praise and thanksgiving to him for such salvation.

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