Sermon / Dec. 14th, 2014 / A Messiah's Job Description / Is. 61:1-2 / Pastor Terry Defoe
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God… (N.I.V.)
This morning, as you can tell from the three candles burning on our Advent wreath, we have come to the third Sunday in Advent. Advent is the season that Christians set aside as a time to prepare for the coming of the Savior. At this time of year, Christmas is near – the arrival of the Babe of Bethlehem is close at hand. This morning, we turn our attention to the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament. Isaiah predicted the coming of the Messiah. He told the people of Israel what the Messiah would do when he arrived. This morning, we'll see how Isaiah's predictions were fulfilled. We'll hear Isaiah’s advice as to how we might best prepare for the Messiah's coming. This morning, we’ll consider the Messiah’s "job description." I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Holy Word this day!
Isaiah was one of God’s prophets. Isaiah – like the prophets before and after him –wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah had much to say about the Messiah – much more than the other prophets. Isaiah's words were intended to prepare Israel for the coming of their Messiah – whenever that might be. Isaiah's words help us prepare for the Messiah’s second coming.
Bible scholars tell us that the book of Isaiah was written between 700 and 680 B.C. As I mentioned a moment ago, scholars tell us that Isaiah said more about the coming Messiah than any other prophet. Isaiah told Israel what the Messiah would be like – in remarkable detail. He predicted that the Messiah would be anointed with the Holy Spirit – that the Messiah would preach the good news of salvation. Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would pay humanity’s sin debt in full. There’s more. He predicted that the Messiah would bring freedom from sin’s bondage. He would give sight to blind eyes. He would set prisoners free.
In ancient Israel, the people looked forward to a very special year – once in every 50 years – that was called the "Jubilee." In the Jubilee year, slaves were granted freedom. The Jubilee year, as you would expect, was a time of great rejoicing. But it was soon over, and things got back to normal. When the Jubilee year was over, slaves would have to wait another generation for their freedom. In a sense, Isaiah was telling the people of Israel – and us today, that when the Messiah arrived – EVERY YEAR would be a Jublilee year! When the Messiah arrived, slaves to sin would enjoy permanent freedom. Sin debts would be cancelled – once and for all!
The Gospel-writer Luke has much to say about the Messiah, including details about the Messiah’s birth. In the first three chapters of Luke, we hear about the birth of two very special people – individuals born within six months of each other. One, as we heard from Pastor Ted last week, was John the Baptist. And the other, of course, was the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Luke tells us that Jesus was baptized – by John – at the river Jordan. Not long after that, Jesus headed northwards – about 70 miles – to an area of Israel called Galilee. The people of Israel were interested in Jesus. He was the topic of many a conversation. At that time, Jesus was often invited to speak in Jewish synagogues. The people considered him to be a prophet and a rabbi – a teacher sent from God.
As I mentioned a moment ago, Bible scholars tell us that the Old Testament prophet Isaiah is quoted more often in the New Testament than any other prophet. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find that it is Isaiah’s words that are quoted in the 4th chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Luke refers back to Isaiah to help people understand what the Messiah had come to do. Luke tells us that one day esus went to Nazareth, his home town. On the Sabbath Day – the day of worship for Jewish people – Jesus went, as was His custom, to the Jewish worship place, the synagogue. And when it came time for a Scripture reading from one of the prophets, Jesus stood up to indicate that he would like to read. It was a custom back then to invite someone from the gathered assembly to read the Scripture and afterwards, offer a word of interpretation.
Jewish synagogue worship had a definite order to it, just as our worship does today. Included in a typical synagogue worship service were specific Bible readings for the day – something we are used to. The synagogue assistant handed Jesus the scroll with the day’s reading, which just happened to be from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus read the words of our text this morning. Normally, the Scripture reader stood to read and then sat down to give the interpretation. Everyone in the synagogue that morning waited to hear what Jesus had to say. After all, these people knew Jesus. Nazareth was his hometown.
After a moment's silence, Jesus spoke. Luke records his words in chapter 4, verse 21. Jesus said:
"Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing". (N.I.V.)
The people couldn't believe what they were hearing. Was he telling them that He was the Messiah? That couldn’t be! They knew Him. He had grown up in their town. Carefully consider what happened that day. In the Jewish synagogue in Nazareth – in God’s own house – a man by the name of Jesus proclaimed that words normally attributed to the Messiah were fulfilled in Him. More than that, He claimed that the words of the text He had just read in their hearing laid out what he would be doing in His ministry. That would allow them to compare what He said with what He was able to accomplish in the years to come. That day, Jesus proclaimed what you might want to think of as His divine "Call Document." That day, in a very real sense, he read them his job description. It was as if he was saying,
"Feel free to judge me – and my ministry – on the basis of the words I have just read for you – words from Isaiah the prophet. Check and see if I measure up to these words. Then you'll know whether I am the Messiah or not."
So then, let’s take up the challenge. Let’s pause and consider Jesus’ ministry for a moment. How well did He measure up to this job description he had just read for the people of His hometown? What do you think?
Did Jesus preach good news to the poor – to those beaten down by life’s difficulties, those who struggled with life's burdens and trials?
Did Jesus bind up the brokenhearted – those who wanted to give up in despair?
Did he proclaim freedom to those who lived in captivity to sin?
Did He give sight to blind eyes – physically blind and spiritually blind as well?
Did He have words of comfort for the grieving?
The answer to all these questions is the same: “Yes, absolutely yes!” Jesus fulfilled His sacred job description to the letter! Thanks be to God!
So there you have it. Our text for this morning. Jesus began his ministry by telling the people of His hometown exactly what he had come to do. And then, he spent the next three years doing those very things. So, as I mentioned earlier, in a very real sense, Jesus came to proclaim a Jubilee, not just once every 50 years, but every year – as a matter of fact, every day of the year! Jesus came to set slaves free! He came to cancel sin debts. During Jesus' ministry, every word of Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled. Before Jesus got up to speak in the synagogue that day, He was nothing more than a teacher of God's Word. But the moment he spoke – the moment he publicly proclaimed himself to be the Messiah – everything changed.
It's been said that "familiarity breeds contempt." Jesus dropped a bombshell that day. He told the people who he was. They thought they knew him. But they were wrong. And after Jesus spoke up, they didn’t believe him. They thought he was a false prophet. The people of His hometown wanted proof that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. They did get proof. But it wasn’t the kind they were looking for. Jesus provided abundant “proof” in His ministry.
So, as I say, the people of Nazareth thought they knew Jesus. They thought they had him all figured out. After all, he'd grown up in their midst. But it turns out that there was another side to Jesus. Do you remember what happened to Jesus when he was twelve years old? He amazed the scholars with his knowledge of the Scriptures. He was no ordinary individual – even at twelve years of age. His life, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection – prove that, beyond a doubt.
Advent is the time of year when God's people prepare themselves to meet the Lord. As Christians, we believe that Jesus has already come in to this world. And as Christian people, we believe that he will return someday. We believe that Jesus is with us today, and will continue to be with us – in the future. We believe what Scripture says: that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. God’s Word assures us that where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name, He is present. He is with us in our worship. He is with us in his Word. He is with us at the altar when we receive Holy Communion. He is with us in the waters of Baptism.
During Advent, we look back to Jesus first coming. And we look forward to His return. You and I are Jesus’ disciples. At Mount Olive, we do our part to bring Christ to the nations. God spoke through His prophet Isaiah. He spoke to the world through His Son. And now, he speaks through his people in the church. God works through his people to accomplish his goals. Our service for the Lord is a solemn responsibility. But it’s also a source of great joy and satisfaction.
I believe with all my heart that the things people need the most are the things that Jesus Christ offers. People in despair over illness, or unemployment, or family break-up – need the hope that Christ provides. People who feel powerless to change their lives need the sense of purpose and hope that Christ gives. It's true. Advent is a time of preparation. It's a time to reconsider our place in God's scheme of things. It's a time to reassess our involvement in the Christian life and in the Christian church.
In our text this morning – in Isaiah chapter 61 – we heard of God's servant, the Messiah. And we realized that we, too, are God's servants. Christ works through us in this world. By the Lord's enabling, we carry on the work Jesus began there in that Jewish synagogue. Following His example, we preach the good news. We bring freedom to those imprisoned by sin. We give sight to the spiritually blind. We release the oppressed from the prison-house of sin. With the Lord’s help, we do what Jesus did. We proclaim the harshness of God’s Law, what we are to do for God – the fact that we can never hope to measure up to His high standards. And we also proclaim the sweet Gospel, the grace and forgiveness of God, in and through Jesus Christ, telling the world what God has done for us.
A woman by the name of Christine James tells the following story, and I’d like to conclude my sermon with it this morning . It’s a real-life example of what grace is all about and how we can live out that grace in our chosen vocation in life. She says:
“A little old man came into the store holding a torn, green, double vinyl picture frame with pictures of a young couple inside. The frame had been damaged and was torn down the middle. It looked like someone had tried to repair it by using stiff tape, which was unsuccessful.
In fear of causing more damage, the man brought it to the frame shop. The expert framer was not able to repair the frame. I could not help but overhear the request, and I asked if I might take a look at the frame. I was not really sure what I was going to do, but I asked him if I could keep the picture frame overnight. The man sighed and said yes. He bowed his head as he walked out the door.
I carefully removed the stiff tape and glued the fragments back together. Next, I applied an artificial binding and cosmetically repaired the outer surface with a little bias tape and DMC floss. The next day, the little old man came into the store and I handed him the frame.
As I looked at him, I said, “No Charge!” I paid for the supplies out of my own pocket.
He was impressed with the craftsmanship and he started to cry. The pictures were of him and his wife. He pointed to the picture and said,
“This is my wife, she has just passed away.”
“She put this frame together in the 1920’s and I was so afraid it was ruined.”
Tears came to my eyes, and I said,
“Well, you come back to see us anytime.”
As he walked out the door, he said, “I will never forget you, Christine.”
He walked into my life at a time when I was feeling uncertain about my job and I wanted to quit. He made me realize where I needed to be and what purpose my life really held. It is so much of a blessing to give from the heart.
What that little old man did for me meant more to me than I could ever express. Later that year, I was promoted. Sometimes, God brings people into our lives for a reason. I don’t even know his name, but I will never forget my little picture frame man.”
In these weeks of Advent – these short weeks before Christmas – may God increase our joy in serving him and others in whatever vocation He has called us to. In these weeks of Advent, may he prepare us to meet our Savior. Amen.
Let's Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – We thank you for the rich blessings you have given us through Your Son. We thank you for setting us free, for giving us good news, for allowing us to see what we couldn't see before. We thank you for Jesus, our gracious Savior. And we pray that you would work through us and that you would give us the joy of seeing others come to faith because of what You have done – through us. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.