Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
I know this passage was recorded hundreds of years before Jesus. It was written for Israel in Exile. But right from the first words, this passage reminds me of Jesus. You remember the story. Jesus enters the synagogue and opens the scroll to Isaiah and this specific passage.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to preach 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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour… (Isaiah 61:1-2a)
Then He rolls up the scroll and sits down to a quiet congregation and says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Yes, it was originally written for an audience in Isaiah’s time when Israel struggled under Exile. The people in Isaiah’s time wouldn’t have been thinking of the time Jesus read it in the synagogue. No, they would have been wondering who the anointed rescuer would be. They would be looking forward to the part talking about rebuilding the ancient ruins; the ones devastated for generations (v.4). Maybe a few years from then, when they would be home again sleeping in their own beds; Nehemiah would be project managing the wall reconstruction… they might stop and think back to this passage.
But for me sitting in my comfy couch, opening my Bible around this advent season, it reminds me of Jesus. Every part of this passage makes me think of Him…
I read about, “good news being preached to the poor,” and I see Jesus in the back of the synagogue. A poor widow is letting her life savings slips down her fingers into the offering box (Mk. 12:42). I think about the good news He has for her in her poverty.
I read, “binding the broken-hearted,” and I think about Peter’s guilt-stricken heart after his denials. I see Jesus finding him there on the shores of the sea of Galilee and mending the broken pieces over breakfast of fish (Jn. 21:7-8).
I read, “freedom for the captives,” I think about the woman who was bent over by a spirit for 18 years she walked into that synagogue where Jesus was, and he freed her (Lk. 13:11). I think of her first big, deep, lung-filling breath of freedom.
I read, “release from darkness for the prisoner,” and I think about the blind men that have never seen the light of day. They could only feel its warmth on their face. I think of Jesus asking them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” And I think about how they believed he could (Mt. 9:27-34). I think about them squinting through the light for a first peek at His face.
I read, “comfort for those who mourn,” and I think about Mary and Martha and their pain after their brother died. I think about the tears that Jesus shed in front of them. I wonder if His tears made people pause for a bit. I wonder whether His tears eased their pain, if only for a moment, and brought a little bit of comfort (Jn. 11:35).
I read, “a crown of beauty instead of ashes,” and I think of the woman caught in adultery, paraded in front of a crowd: feeling exposed and stripped of her dignity; her crown of beauty knocked off her head. I think of how He restored dignity, humanity and restored that crown from ashes (Jn. 8:1-11).
I read, “the oil of joy instead of mourning,” and I think of the rollercoaster of emotions it was for Jairus to switch from mourning to joy when Jesus hands him back his daughter from the dead (Mk. 5:40-43). I think of joy when I think of leprosy stricken, when Jesus dared to touch their skin and healed them (Mt. 8:1-4).
I read, “the garment of praise instead of despair,” and I think of the Canaanite woman’s despair when she came to Jesus about her demon possessed daughter. I think about her last-ditch effort to see Jesus and how He turned her despair to praise (Mt. 15:28). I think of the demoniac when I think of garment of praise. I think of him going throughout the Decapolis telling people about Jesus who healed him (Mk. 5:18-20). I think of the crippled, the lame, the blind who sought after Jesus and were healed. They went away praising God (Mt. 15:29-31). When I think of despair turning to praise, I think of the women who came to His tomb with a great weight on their chest and left feeling lighter than air.
I read how He loves justice and hates robbery and I think of Zacchaeus. I think of how Jesus’ visit helped a thief learn justice.
I read, “in my faithfulness I will reward,” and I think of the centurion’s faith. I think of how Jesus rewarded it with the healing of a dear servant who He brought back from death’s door.
I read, “all the descendants will be known among the nations and that they will be blessed,” and I think of all those who sat on a mountainside to listen to Jesus’ sermon. “Blessed are you,” He kept saying. All the poor, all those who mourned, all those who hungered… and I think of them hearing those words and feeling blessed (Mt. 5:1-12).
I read Isaiah’s saying that God “clothed him with salvation,” and I think of the sinful woman that Jesus clothed with salvation. The one who heard the words, “Daughter, your faith has saved [healed] you.” (Mt. 9:22) I think of the blind men who heard the same words: “Your faith has saved you.” I read that He arrays us in “robes of righteousness and I think of Jesus forgiving the paralytic being lowered down by his friends. All his sins washed away and replaced with righteousness. I think of how He took a wretch like me and wrapped me in righteousness so clean I worried I would soil it somehow.
I read that righteousness and praise will spring out of the ground like a sprouting seed and I think of Jesus making motions with his arms as he talks about the sower scattering seeds of His word all over (Lk. 8). I think of Jesus talking about faith like a mustard seed: small and hidden in the ground. It’s all but buried, dead… but one day it will emerge as if resurrected. It will break through the soil one day. What is dead will be alive again. That righteousness and praise that was buried will emerge…
Maybe, in his day, when Jesus opened the scroll and read, it reminded the people of Isaiah and the relief that was coming after Exile. But when I read Isaiah’s words, it makes me want to tell him, “It’s funny, I know you might get this a lot, but your words remind me of someone else…”
What brings me comfort in these trying times is when I read, “The Spirit of the sovereign Lord…” and I think,
“This has been fulfilled in our hearing.”