Isaiah 61, Luke 4
Some of Jesus’ most profound teaching came not in the Temple or Synagogue but when he sat down among the people. That’s just what we did last Wednesday night. Caroling. Hayride. Jingle bell ringing. Laughter. Eating candy and cookies together. Tonight we get to enjoy the Christmas Cantata. Again, we proclaim with a joyful noise unto the Lord in the midst of the people that Christ came to save his people from their sins. The sounds of our songs must go out beyond the walls of this church to reach the heart of the people in our community.
Those who have been forgotten or isolated by their health need to hear the story of Jesus. Those who have been suffering because of poverty need to hear the story of Jesus. Those who have been cut off from God because of generational forgetfulness – perhaps they have forgotten God – they need to hear the story of Jesus, too. The sounds of proclamation echo through the pages of history, and we can read about these proclamations of joy throughout the stories of the Bible.
But the story of the Bible has a bit of a painful twist. And, perhaps it is spoken best through the eyes of a young child. This week one of the children asked me several questions that she really didn’t want any answers to. She began… Why is Christianity so different? And, the whole crowd of kids gathered around her questions. What about all those other people who don’t believe? Won’t they get go to Heaven, too? They believe in their God, why can’t they go to heaven with us? It doesn’t matter what God they believe in. We should all go to heaven. Well, I believe they will go to heaven. In that moment I realized that Christianity seemed like a club to these kids. They just assumed that God was kicking people out of heaven because he didn’t like them. And, I guess it can seem that way to just about anyone if you allow yourself to doubt and disbelieve the Gospel Story. What you or I might hear as Good News, others might hear as Exclusive News.
The truth is we Christians believe in a very jealous God. A God who would do anything for us. A God who would send himself to earth to die for each one of us. A God who would clean up our mistakes if we let him. A God whose got our backs when we’re in a tough spot. A God who created us from the very beginning of all time and space then set out to captivate your heart as if you and I were a child’s best friend or a teenagers’ most romantic dream.
What captivates me most about this God I love so much – is the curious way he makes himself known. For Isaiah the Prophet God made himself known through a vision of himself as a servant. Isaiah believed that it is the servant’s work to preach good tidings to the poor (Matthew 5.1-12). Isaiah knew that called people were supernaturally enabled to perform their ministry duties. Isaiah imagined that the called out ones would bring hope and good news to the afflicted. Isaiah expected the servant to heal the brokenhearted. Isaiah believed that the servant would proclaim freedom to captives and set prisoners free.
Isaiah understood that when the servant came that would be a year of favor, a year when debts were forgiven and inheritances restored. God’s anointed servant would announce a day of justice, and comfort to those who mourn. Beauty, happiness, and a glad heart would be the gift of the servant. The servant would provide a way to praise God’s name, and worship him alone. The servant would point the way to worshiping the One True God, and not our selves or others or creation itself. All of our focus would be placed in worshiping God alone.
And, this servant would be filled with God’s Spirit. For out of moral and ethical confusion God brings right order, truth, and justice. Through the Spirit, God announces his plans. God’s rule over history is evident to those who believe, but to those who do not believe anything will do. For those who don’t believe speaking their own thoughts as if they were God’s thoughts seems reasonable. Our personal opinions are important to us. And, if we were honest with ourselves we like getting our own way.
But when we speak our own mind and opinions in the context of being a Christian, we really have to watch what we say. As Christians we need to be mindful that we are called as disciples who speak the word of God to the people around us.
The important point of this sermon is that we are called to be Christians 24-7-365 … 100% of the time. And, when others hear us they need to hear Jesus in us, and not just us. The Word of God should be the guiding force of all our conversations. Now that’s a pretty tall order, isn’t it. Imagine a world when all the professing Christians used the Word of God as the guide to all their conversations with others.
There are false prophets in the world, then and now. False prophets and gods were all about manipulating power through the use of scheming, lying, deceiving, seducing, and forcing others to side with them. False prophets speak their minds in a situation without ever reflecting on the Scriptures. When we think about false prophets, Balaam is the man that stands apart in the Bible as one who is repeatedly named for his manipulation of power (Number 22-24, 31.8, 31.16, Deuteronomy 23.4, Joshua 13.22, 24.9, Nehemiah 13.2, Micah 6.5, 2 Peter 2.15, Jude 11, Revelation 2.14). If you are looking for the line not to cross, then look to Balaam’s witness to all of us. False prophets like Balaam are committed to personal gain.
Bottomline: True prophets always point to God. And, last week I pointed out that Jesus gave all of us a directive to go into all the world to proclaim the Gospel, baptizing people in his name (Matthew 28). Because we are all called to proclaim the Good News, we are all called to be conformed to Christ’s likeness as a prophet who calls the people to repentance. Only a few are chosen to become leaders in this calling, but ALL are called to function in the gift.
It is important to understand that true prophets are not self-focused, and they share their power freely with others. True prophets draw out the leadership qualities in others, and enable others to shine brighter than they themselves do. True prophets provide ways for all people to participate in the life of the community. The true prophet has the promise from God that he will fulfill all the words that God gives to the prophet to utter. A true prophet could be confident that God was for him, even if it meant that people would take his life for God’s own sake. Isaiah’s God revealed and proclaimed his plans, announcing all his intentions beforehand. God brings his plans to pass in front of the whole world, without secret keeping.
The office of the prophet is best described as one who fosters obedience to God’s covenant among the people. Prophets were ones who could read the socio-economic world around them and speak to the human condition in that culture. Prophets grasped the difference between right living and culturally defined living or wickedness. Prophets understood God’s will and were able to speak to the community at large about how to redirect their path to align with God’s will.
The prophet’s mission is to lead the people to return to God in obedience. The prophet calls the people to come out from the culture around them and be separate, a holy people. The words of the prophets can only be judged by God alone as the words may not find their fulfillment in the present moment but in the distant future. Prophets aimed at casting a vision for the future with God at its center.
The Book of Isaiah is most likely three different prophets brought together to help the Israelite people understand the season of exile to Babylon, return to Israel, and hope for their future. Isaiah is divided into three prophetic texts – chapters 1-39 is the exile, chapters 40-55 is the return, and chapters 56-66 is the about the hope of their future. Isaiah addresses the basic issues in every season of a community’s spiritual journey – because of sin we have been band from our homeland… because of the King we are allowed to return to rebuilt the place of worship yet Israel forget their purpose and continued to suffer even in the homeland… once Israel realized her purpose was not rebuilding the community instead focusing on rebuilding their place of worship everything fell into place.
It was God who would restore the community – their socioeconomic well-being – but the Israelites forgot and took it upon themselves to develop the community without God’s guidance.
Israel’s situation is not unlike our own cultural problems today. Even though we don’t have a Babylonian nation taking us into captivity in a foreign land, sin remains our slave. Because of sin the Israelite community had seen devastation at the hands of their captors. Yet, the King is persuaded to allow the captives to return to their homeland and begin rebuilding their Temple. Only part of the exiled community chose to return to rebuild the Temple.
But the people soon lost their focus of restoring the Temple. They became distracted by rebuilding the businesses, restructuring the government, and reforming the institutions of the city. This distraction brought about devastation to the land and its people. However, the people discovered that when the Temple was rebuilt the land would once again flourish with goodness. The people remembered their God, and the land was made to prosper again.
When we read the call narrative in Isaiah 61 along side Jesus’ call narrative in Luke 4, it is easy to see how Jesus envisioned his calling and ministry with all of its challenges. Isaiah plainly portrays that true prophets would face challenges to their authority. And, Jesus anticipated those challenges. Jesus understood his calling would challenge people’s ways of thinking and that would mean trouble. It was not uncommon for a true prophet to be labeled “false” prophet, especially if theirs words were condemning and unpopular.
When Isaiah received his call from God, it was to a prophetic ministry among his own people. The call came as a powerful vision of God seated in the heavenly realm surrounded by angels who cry out day and night, saying, “Holy!” This experience caused his whole life to be shaped around his believes about who God is as the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah knew that his people were called to be set apart as a holy people who would serve God alone.
But Isaiah also knew that his people were failing to be the holy people they were called to become. Isaiah could see the hearts of the people had become calloused and their understanding dull. The people no longer could perceive God’s word spoken by his holy prophets calling them to repentance. The people believed God to be powerless and uninvolved.
Isaiah knew God as a Holy One, Savior, Servant, Remnant, and Redeemer. Isaiah knew God to be a promise keeper. Isaiah knew God as the Father of Israel, and he knew the Israelites were his children. Isaiah knew God as the Kinsmen-Redeemer who would pay his way from slavery to freedom.
Isaiah knew that God had an inheritance waiting for him and his people, if only they would turn from their behavior and worship him. Isaiah believed God would provide a Remnant among the people who would remain faithful to him. Isaiah believed that God would weed out the false people, and purge them from the nation. But God would purify the faithful remnant and create through them a renewed chosen people.
Isaiah believed the servant of the Lord would experience the Spirit of the Lord. And, the Spirit of the Lord would cause the true prophet to stand strong in the mission. Anyone can claim to have a divine appointment, but the servant of the Lord would have the Spirit, as well as the resume to back it up. The true prophet would be able to connect the ministry mission with the passion to see God’s vision of redemption manifested in community.
The servant’s identity would be caught up in a commitment of relentlessly following God’s will. The servant’s heart would feel passion toward the brokenhearted, the oppressed, and the poor. The servant would feel strongly about justice and repentance. The servant’s emotions would be tender for prayer and personal devotion to God and neighbor. The servant’s aim would be to empower neighbors to love God whole-heartedly and serve God unreservedly. The servant’s aim would place the spiritual health of community above and beyond bricks and mortars. The servant knows the rebuilding of a community begins and ends with worshiping God. The servant would always remember to remain faithful to God, and steadfastness to the mission.
What Isaiah prophesied about a coming servant, Jesus believed to be fulfilled within him self. Imagine with me for just a moment about the little baby Jesus, born in a manger. A tiny little child whose parents taken him on a long journey to Egypt to protect his life. Growing up in a community of people who would have spoken a different language than his parents. He may even began to speak multiple languages at an early age. But when it came time for his parents to tuck him into bed at night, they would tell him the many stories about his concept, birth, and his cousin John.
They would tell of the shepherds who came to see him. And, they would tell him the story of the three kings who came to visit him and the mean ole’ king who was trying to harm him. All these stories became a part of his call. He knew he was called to become the Messiah even before he was old enough to take care of himself.
And, when he grows old enough to become a man at the age he would sit with the religious elders and discuss the Scriptures just as he had learned to do from his father’s knee. And, as a man Jesus announced this passage from Isaiah as his very own call statement knowing full well that the people of his own hometown would not accept him. They even treated him as a false prophet, taking him to the edge of the town on a cliff to cast him off to his death. Yet, because he was a true prophet no harm came to him until the appointed time of his crucifixion.
What Isaiah prophesied as the mission of One Servant of the Lord, the Messiah, Jesus now calls all his followers to the same mission. We are anointed with the Spirit of the Lord. We are called to preach good news to the poor. We are sent to the poor to liberate them.
We are to proclaim release to prisoners bound in sin, even behind bars. We are to proclaim the recovery of sight to the blind, both spiritual and physical sight. We are to liberate the oppressed in our communities by the way we live among the people, in service and in proclamation. We are to proclaim a year of favor to those who have been despised, the lowly among us, the sick and downhearted. We are to call people to repent, be baptized, and go forth to witness to the world about what God has done for you, even you.