October 11 – Isaiah 61:1-4
In Isaiah 61-62 an anointed speaker proclaims a message of good news. Isaiah 11:2 and 59:21 clue us in on who this speaker is: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse…and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.”(11:1-2) The rest of Isaiah gives even more shape to this speaker, who we come to understand is the suffering Servant (Isa. 53), the coming King (Isa. 9), the bringer of justice (Isa. 42), the light to the nations (Isa. 49), even God with us (Isa. 7). This is the Messiah who will bring salvation to all the world (49:6). This is Jesus.
Which is so fitting, because this is the exact passage Jesus read aloud in Luke 4:18-19 when he was visiting his hometown synagogue. In fact, this is the first of Jesus’ sermons recorded in Luke, which shows us just how much Luke wanted to emphasize this particular moment. Take a moment to read Luke 4:16-30 yourself—it’s pretty intense. Synagogues would often give visiting rabbi’s the opportunity to preach, so they did this for Jesus, and after he read Isaiah 61:1-2 “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.”(Luk. 6:20) Everyone in the synagogue was holding their breath, waiting for what Jesus would say next. That should clue us in on just how charged this passage is, so charged that, after Jesus said what they didn’t want to hear, they tried to stone him (sounds like 2020).
When we read Isaiah 61:1-4 we need to take it at face value. This speaker isn’t speaking figuratively; the good news for the poor, the liberty for the captive, the comfort for all who mourn, these are literal things the anointed Servant will do. Take “proclaim liberty to the captives” for example, and imagine how the Israelites in Isaiah’s time would have heard this. They would’ve thought back to the Exodus, the defining event for God’s people, in which they were literally freed from slavery. Then they would’ve looked at their current situation, which was either right before the Babylonian exile or during it, depending on how you date Isaiah’s writing. They would’ve anticipated this liberty literally, longing for the day when they would be released from exile and allowed to return to the Promised Land. For the Israelites, the work of the Messiah was liberating God’s people from earthly bondage forever.
But for Jesus, the work of the Messiah was a more manifold vision of liberation, one in which he would liberate his people from all forms of bondage, the first and foremost being bondage to sin. But, as I said earlier, this wasn’t the only thing he came to do. The Exodus is a good example of this truth: God is always interested in spiritual renewal breaking into human society. God saved his people from slavery in Egypt so that they could enter into covenant with him and worship him as a kingdom of priests before the nations (Exo. 19). Similarly, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, it was the Holy Spirit’s work of renewal among the new Christian community that led them to give whatever they had to anyone who had need (Act.4). The gospel doesn’t change our souls literally and our world figuratively—God is not limited to changing only internal realities.
This is the message Jesus proclaimed, the full gospel that is truly good news to all who hear it. And this presents the action point from which we approach justice.
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Isaiah 61:1-4 for us?
• What stands out to you from this passage?
• Who do you think this passage is addressed to?
• How does this good news affect these people? What do they do in response?
• Read Luke 4:16-22. Why do you think Jesus chose to teach from this specific passage?
• What do you think Jesus meant by “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing?”
• What do you think it means for Isaiah 61 to be fulfilled in our lives?