Isaiah 61 - Reasons for Rejoicing

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The Messiah in Isaiah Bible Study

Isaiah 61 - Reasons for Rejoicing

by I Gordon

Last time we looked at 'Rise and Shine!' We looked at the prophetic passage which spoke of deep darkness coming upon the earth in the last days. And yet the command was to arise and shine for the glory of Lord has risen upon us! In this study we've moved on from Isaiah 60. We've left it far behind and moved all the way up to 61. Now Isaiah 61 may not initially ring any bells inside your head but hopefully when we read it you'll get that old 'I know that passage... is that where that is!' type of feeling. Let's see. Could be wrong.

I know that verse!

Isa 61:1-2 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn...

Familiar words I'm sure you will agree. Familiar to us, I hope, but if you were reading them in Old Testament times you may wonder who the 'me' in this passage is. Whoever 'me' is, the Spirit of the Lord God is upon Him (or her). Alright, it's a 'him'. What's more, Yahweh has anointed him. And what a life he would lead - the afflicted would hear news that would be like music to their ears! The broken-hearted would have their wounds bound and healed. And the captives, in all walks of life, and in all manner of prisons, would be set free. Needless to say, prizes are not on offer for knowing who the 'me' is in this passage. There is only one person in all of human history who qualifies.

In this study I wanted to focus on the reasons to rejoice as a Christian. I probably gave that away by giving this study the title of 'Reasons to rejoice'. It does us good to just take a little time out to remember these things! So... Isaiah 61 - it sounds familiar, or should sound familiar, because this is a Messianic prophecy that is quoted directly by Jesus in the New Testament. Let's have a look:

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing... 

Luke 4:14-20 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. (15) He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. (16) He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. (17) The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: (18) The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, (19) to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (20) Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him...

Jesus, at the start of His public ministry, went to his own hometown and entered His synagogue. And he was called upon to read from the scripture as was the custom of the Jews. Nothing out of the ordinary so far! The scripture that He chose was the one before us this morning - Isaiah 61. He read it out saying
 'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  Great words... enjoyed by all who heard them no doubt. Having finished the reading he sat down. Again... nothing out of the ordinary so far. Yet there was something in the way that Jesus read these words that made all who were there to sit with their eyes transfixed on Him even after He had finished and sat down.

Luke 4:21-22 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (22) All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked.

Now things were definitely out of the ordinary! The members of the synagogue thought they were going along to a normal Saturday meeting... but they got oh so much more than that! Jesus said 'today this scripture has been fulfilled.' It was a prophecy given by Isaiah that had sat unfulfilled for the previous 700 years. But that morning it was fulfilled. Jesus was saying 'I am the one it speaks of. I am the one who has been anointed to heal the broken-hearted and set the captives free.' He wasn't just quoting Isaiah. He was quoting what Isaiah had heard from Him, and about Him, 700 years ago! The people couldn't believe what they were hearing! Yet they were puzzled - Isn't this Joseph's son? Isn't this the carpenter?  'Jeziel, didn't Jesus do that extension on your home and build that fence?' 'Zachias, didn't Jesus build that cart for you?' 'He can't be the Messiah could He?' 'And yet, no one has spoken like this before. How gracious are His words!' 

The truth is that there has been and will be, no one like Jesus Christ. From His birth to His life, to His death, to His resurrection... there is no one like Jesus. Let me read you some quotes in the footnotes  [1]  - see if you can tell me who said them! Great prizes are on offer if you can get them all and I'll even provide clues. So let's look at some reasons for rejoicing from Isaiah 61.

The God of grace 

Isaiah 61:1-2 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; (2) To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD

Before Jesus came, people had been wondering what God is really like... There had been 400 years of silence in terms of no recognised prophet declaring the will of God. You can imagine what the people thought. Does He hate us? Is He sick of us? Will He come to judge? Does He care about what we go through down here on earth? And then God became a man. And He came. And we could see what He was like. He came for the poor... the afflicted... the broken-hearted... the captive, the sinners. He came to set them free. God became a man... we could see what He was like... and He was, quite frankly, far better and amazing than we had thought! We have joy and thanksgiving due to the character of the one we serve. Sometimes you see yourself and you see your sin and you see that you have failed God and think that God must be getting to the end of His rope with me! And yet you find yourself blessed... and all you can think and say is 'who is this God?'

The God of Comfort 

Isaiah 61:2 To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn...

When Jesus quoted this passage in the synagogue, He stopped mid sentence! He stopped after saying it was the 'favourable year of the LORD' and didn't mention the day of vengeance. Yes, there is a day of vengeance. The signs of the Lord's return seem to be with us in this day. But the day of vengeance has not come yet. Note that it mentions 'a year of the Lord's favour' and only ' a day of vengeance'. We are still in that period known as the year of the Lord's favour. But I want to make mention of the last part of the verse which is a reason to rejoice. He comforts those who mourn! We think of comfort as an old man patting a young boy on the head saying 'there, there, there... you'll be ok.' But it is far more than that  [2]  . God comes along side. He is with us. His presence and companionship strengthens us. I hope, and am sure, that you can think of times in your life when you have experienced this.  [3] 

The God of the great exchange

Isaiah 61:3 To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

The gospel, the good news is all about the great exchange. It's not about a self improvement trip. It isn't about you trying to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It is about exchanging what God is, for what you are not. The greatest of all exchanges is given in the verse:

 2 Corinthians 5:21 God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 

Our verse here in Isaiah has three exchanges mentioned that govern a person's emotional and mental well-being: Garland for ashes, gladness for mourning and praise instead of heaviness. The figures suggest the difference between a funeral and a wedding. At a funeral service Jews put ashes upon their heads and mourn and lament; at a wedding, they wear beautiful bridal wreaths and garments of praise. They would also put on oil.

We play a part in this though. If all we ever do is think about what is wrong and moan to God and others about our condition then it is quite likely that spirit of heaviness will remain. We need to put on the garment of praise. 'Thinking must be turned', Martin Luther said, 'so that you can say 'Christ lives.'' God will give comfort but He doesn't want us to be spiritual babies our whole life either. He was us to encourage ourselves in Him just as David had to learn and do.

1 Samuel 30:6 Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.

The spirit of heaviness is so prevalent in our age. So many are being weighed down, so many anxious. So many in depression and we are bombarded through increased pressure, increased busyness and increased stress. Again, King David knew of this spirit of heaviness and he experienced what it was like to be freed from this!

 Psalms 40:1-3 A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me and heard my cry. (2) He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. (3) He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear And will trust in the LORD. 

God gives new songs... Songs of praise. It is a reason for thankfulness.

The God of restoration and rebuilding

Isaiah 61:4-5 Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, They will raise up the former devastations; And they will repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations. (5) Strangers will stand and pasture your flocks, And foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers.

The immediate context of this verse is the restoration of Israel when Jesus returns. And I have spoken recently of how God will restore all things on this earth. Jesus spoke of the 'regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne...' And we saw that this word is pal-ing-ghen-es-ee'-ah - From two Greek words - Palin - meaning once more or again, and Genesis. So this word means 'Genesis Again' or 'Genesis Once More'. But thank God that He is a God who does this in the lives of men today. He does this in our lives. What we have ruined, He can rebuild. What we have wrecked, He can restore. That which we have broken, He can repair.  [4]  Now we may not have such a radical testimony, but God is in the restoration and rebuilding business today with us as well. We too may sing...

Something beautiful, something good.
All my confusion, He understood.
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife
 But He made something, beautiful out of my life.

Finally, He is...

The God of everlasting joy

 Isaiah 61:6-7 But you will be called the priests of the LORD; You will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, And in their riches you will boast. (7) Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, And instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, Everlasting joy will be theirs. 

Again, the context here is the coming kingdom. So we turn our thoughts of thankfulness now to what is to come. Lots of good things here - it speaks of being ministers of God and receiving wealth and a double portion... but note how it ends for this is the bit that grabbed me for obvious reasons! 'Everlasting joy will be theirs!' Everlasting joy? Is there such a thing? How does that work? Is it hyperbole? Exaggeration? Will our joy actually come to an end? Nope. It means what is says and says what it means. Everlasting joy. It could only come to an end if God did, for He is, and gives, this joy. David knew of this and said:

 Psalms 16:11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 

Conclusion - Our Response

Isaiah 61:10-11 I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (11) For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise To spring up before all the nations.

I read a story the other day about a man who visited a social club and was surprised to see 3 men and a dog playing cards. After watching for a while he asked, "Can that dog really play cards?" "Sure can" one of the players said. 'Wow' the man said, 'that's incredible!' 'Naaa, not really' the player replied. 'He's not very good. Whenever he gets a good hand, he can't help but wag his tail."

The writer went on to say 'Friends, you and I are holding a good hand. We are God's own elect. How can we not help but show our happiness and thankfulness?' We have a lot to be thankful for. As we see these things we should be wagging our tail so to speak. But I am also mindful that life is hard in this age - more so than ever before I believe. People are tired and weary and sometimes there is a 'spirit of heaviness' that weighs us down through prolonged hardship and difficulty, so we should also pray for those that are experiencing difficulties. But God, as we have read, can give us a new song - A song of praise to our God. And the garment of praise can replace the spirit of heaviness.

[1] ↩  'I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.' (A short Frenchman known for his military genius. Abba wrote a song about his defeat... at Waterloo.)

'As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene....No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.' (Fuzzy white hair. Super smart. Had a little theory about e=mc2. )

'Despite our efforts to keep him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: "a virgin's womb and an empty tomb". Jesus entered our world through a door marked, "No Entrance" and left through a door marked "No Exit." ' (Peter Larson - so much I could say about Peter Larson but I shall refrain from doing so given that I have never heard of him and everything i would say would be made up lies! But I will say that I really like this quote. Very clever!

'I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history. (Science fiction author, known for a time machine and War of the worlds - alright might be too hard... H.G Wells)

[2] ↩  H.A Ironside says: Our English word "comfort" is from two Latin roots, con, to be with, and fortis, strong. It literally means "to strengthen by companionship."

[3] ↩  I took kids church last week and we spoke about prayer and the verse 'be anxious for nothing...but in everything by prayer and petition present your requests to God and the peace of God that surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.' I told them about when I last went to hospital a couple of months back and though in pain all night, had prayed to God and had a peace that I was ok... a sense that nothing could happen to me unless God allowed it. Some of the kids then gave examples when they had prayed and God had comforted, helped and strengthened them. One had been troubled by having bad dreams and after praying with Mum and Dad, those bad dreams stopped and was able to sleep in peace. Another was being bullied at school and wasn't able to find the courage needed to stand up to them... And again after praying with her Mum that God would strengthen her, she was able to stand up to the bullies and the bullying stopped. It was great to hear of answered prayer where the kids were comforted and strengthened by God's presence, peace and answered prayer.

[4] ↩  I watched a great testimony this week of a man who was ruined. He had grown up under an abusive father and ran away from home and as a young man was always in trouble with the law. Later, after marrying, He was no better. In his own words he was a wretched father and he wrecked his marriage... everything was ruined. Later he got into a fight, was cut really badly and while dying in hospital God gave Him a vision of Hell. And he lived, gave His life to Jesus and there was a radical restoration in his life. And you could see it just by looking at him. If interested, it is here: