Text – Isaiah 61:1-4:
61 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
Isaiah 61 was written by the person that scholars call Third Isaiah. The book of Isaiah covers three periods of Judah’s history: 1-39 was written by Isaiah the prophet, himself, and was the warning that was delivered to Judah because of the unrighteous way they were living, including the way that widows, the orphans, and aliens were treated.
Isaiah 40-55 picks up at the end of Babylonian Captivity when Judahites were taken away captive after the war that destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. It carries the message that their suffering is over and God is about to deliver them safely to their homeland. It is full of promise, comfort, and encouragement to the Jews living in exile about 550 BC.
Chapters 56-66 are the words of those inspired by Second Isaiah who actually made it to their homeland. It was written to inspire hope evidenced in passages such as Isaiah 60:1-3. “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Yet, it was darkness they experienced. “We look for light, and behold darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.” Isaiah 59:9-10.
Paul D. Hanson writes that Third Isaiah was written as a challenge to Israel to become the people God intended it to become within the divine plan aimed at the restoration of the entire creation to justice and peace, biblically known as shalom. As evidenced in the text for this devotional. Hanson says that though the people of God are to be healing agents in the world, but instead have become entirely passive and complacent.
The last verse of Isaiah witnesses to what happens to a community of people that abdicated their communal responsibility. “And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me, for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” Isaiah 66:24.
Jesus appropriated and quoted Isaiah 61 when he was speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth, and he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-30. He was, of course, referring to his ministry of bringing good news, proclaiming release, recovery of sight, and letting the oppressed go free. At Advent we wait with purpose for the coming of Jesus to complete his work.
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
by Charles Wesley 1735
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
Dear Father. When Isaiah first spoke the words of the text to the people of Judah, he was speaking to a dispirited, complacent people who did not recognize their calling from God. In Jesus’ ministry he reminded us again of what you desire in the world along with how he, Jesus, had come to accomplish that. We ask you to live in us and aliven us with your spirit of proclamation and healing. May we not give up on the coming of your kingdom and the restoration of this earth. In Jesus’ name I pray this. Amen.
What do you think God specifically wanted his people to DO when they returned home to Jerusalem? What do you think he wants us to do today? What can you do that God would smile at?