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I invite you to turn to our first lesson for today, Isaiah chapter 61 where we see the work of the Messiah in us and through us.
Isaiah records someone saying, The Spirit of the Lord the LORD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. I think you know who that someone is. We heard about him last week. When he was baptized by John in the Jordan the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove, and the Father spoke from heaven declaring that this was his beloved Son with whom he was well pleased. Jesus is speaking. He is the one God has anointed. He is the Messiah. But for what purpose has the Lord, Jehovah, anointed him? To preach the good news to the afflicted.
The absolute confirmation that it is Jesus, the Messiah, speaking through the prophet Isaiah is the fact that, after reading these words in the Synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus rolled up the scroll and proclaimed, today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. That statement should have brought shouts of Amen and Halleluiah from those who heard it. But if you remember, that good news brought grumbling instead, which led to a group from that Synagogue dragging Jesus out to a cliff intending to throw him off.
Why did they have such a reaction? Why don’t people today rejoice that Jesus is the promised Messiah who has come to proclaim good news? Because they don’t realize or think that they need him.
Jesus came to preach good news to the afflicted. If you don’t feel that you are afflicted, you ignore the good news he has to bring. You don’t think it’s for you. Jesus came to bind up the broken hearted, but if your heart isn’t broken, you don’t think you need what he offers. He came to proclaim freedom to the captives, and release for those who are bound, but if you are convinced that you are free already why would you look for someone to set you free? He came to provide comfort for those who mourn, but if your aren’t in mourning, why would you be interested in the comfort he gives?
It took a lot to bring the Israelites of Isaiah’s day to the realization that they were afflicted and imprisoned. God tried to convince them through the words of his prophets, but the ignored and persecuted his prophets. It took defeat at the hands of their enemies, and destruction of their cities to get them to realize the truth. The fact that they were God’s chosen people didn’t mean that they could ignore God and sin without consequences. God used physical troubles, defeat in battle, the loss of property, the death of loved ones, to help them see the truth. They had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. They were bound, held captive by sin, death and Satan. They were in great danger of losing not only their earthly homes, but their heavenly home.
Hopefully God doesn’t have to get our attention by sending trouble into our lives. Hopefully, as we compare our lives to the commandments of God, the law afflicts our consciences and moves us to realize that we are no better than the worst sinner. We deserve God’s wrath and punishment. We deserve to be held captive by Satan in the prison of Hell forever. Like those who heard Peter preach on Pentecost and point out to them that God sent them the Messiah they said they were waiting for, but they killed him, we need to be cut to the heart by God’s law. Our hearts are broken as we realize that we didn’t do the good we intended to do, but rather the evil we tried to avoid. We disappointed our loving God who has given us everything. God’s law moves us to sorrow over our sinfulness and mourn our inability to please God. It terrifies us as we think about the eternal consequences that should be coming our way. Only when our consciences are afflicted, our hearts are broken, and we mourn over our sins are we ready and able to shout Amen and Halleluiah when Jesus proclaims the good news that these words of Isaiah are fulfilled in him.
Jesus binds up our broken hearts with the promise that, because of his life and death in our place, our sins have been forgiven, no strings attached, no questions asked. He unlocks the prison that is the guilt of sin and frees us from the bonds of Satan’s accusations. He lets us see that doing your own thing isn’t really freedom at all, but bondage to sin and Satan. Though we mourn in dust and ashes because of our sin, he says, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven. Wash away the dust and ashes in the waters of Baptism. Put on the crown of victory I have won for you. Rub on the oil of joy the Spirit provides in the Gospel so that you respond as Isaiah did later in this chapter, I rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul rejoices in God my savior, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.
Jesus proclaims to us the year of the Lord’s favor, a time of jubilee when debts are forgiven, and slaves are set free. Because of what he has done for us we have received the Lord’s favor. We have escaped the day of vengeance that is coming on all those who reject what Jesus has done for them, the comfort, freedom and healing that he wants to give them. He reminds us that God is loving and patient. He holds his arms out all day long to those who are disobedient. He wants to gather people under his wings to protect them from the coming wrath. But there is a day coming when, suddenly, in a flash, before you can blink an eye, the end will come, the year of God’s favor will end, everyone will stand before the judgment seat, and the enemies of God and his people will be sent off to eternal punishment.
Jesus came to proclaim the good news of forgiveness and peace; to proclaim the patient love of God. He came to proclaim that in Him we are free from the power of sin, the accusations of Satan and the fear of death. That was God’s purpose for him. God also has a purpose for us. He gives us a cloak of praise instead of a faint spirit. He makes us oaks of righteousness. He plants us where he wants us to be for the purpose of displaying his beauty, his splendor.
He hasn’t made us some little scrub tree that blends in with the undergrowth of the forest. He has made us like that large, majestic tree that just commands your attention as you drive by. It’s that tree that, when you see it, you say, “Wow! Isn’t that beautiful!” You can’t help but marvel at its beauty and strength. That’s the purpose for which God has planted us where we are. He wants people to notice us. He wants people to look at us and be able to say, “Look at how strong God has made them!” When the storms of life beat against us and we stand firm and unmoving in the Lord, he wants people to notice and to ask, “How can you stand so strong?” He gives us a cloak of praise instead of a faint spirit so that we can answer, “Because the Lord is my strength and my song, he has become my salvation.” He wants people to look at us as group of Christians and be able to say, “Isn’t that beautiful, just look at their love for one another!” for all people will know that we are his disciples if we love one another. He has planted us where we are for this purpose, so that we might display his splendor; so that people might see our good deeds and glorify our father in heaven.
All too often we are probably more like sagebrush than a mighty oak. All too often we have a faint spirit because we rely on ourselves instead of the Lord and his promise to be with us. We sin. We fail to be the oaks he planted us to be. But praise be to God he still comes to us with the good news of the gospel. He reminds us that Jesus always clothed himself in a cloak of praise. He always did everything to the glory of God, to display his splendor, even at twelve when he was in the temple courts. He showed himself to be the oak of righteousness, The Lord Our Righteousness, who paid for all our unrighteousness on the cross. He rose and ascended to the right hand of the Father where he keeps his promise to be with us always. In his mercy, if we are uprooted by the storms of life, he replants us. He lovingly provides us with the water of his word and the fertilizer of his sacraments so that we can grow into the kind of tree he wants us to be, a mighty oak that displays his glory.
Jesus came to proclaim the good news of healing, comfort and true freedom that only the gospel can give, to all who are broken hearted and who mourn over their sins. He came to make us oaks, people who offer themselves to God as living sacrifices each day; people who see that their greatest purpose in life is to display the beauty and splendor of their savior.