Isaiah 61:1-4
The Gospel To The Poor

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. When we look at Luke chapter four, we find the conditions at the time the Lord Jesus preached at his hometown in Nazareth there in the text.  The Lord entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and then read aloud from the scroll of Isaiah which they had handed over to him.  The scripture passage from which he had read aloud back then is from Isaiah chapter sixty-one, which we read today.  When the Lord Jesus read up to verse one and the beginning of verse two, he began to say, "These words of scripture are fulfilled, today, when you heard them."  By his saying that, we realize that today's passage of scripture, insofar as we understand what the message of the Lord Jesus is, is a very important passage.  So then, what might the words recorded in Isaiah, the message that was fulfilled in the Lord's sermon mean for us?

To The Poor

2.  I suppose, then, that I would like for us to first of all consider together what the prophecy in Isaiah meant originally.

3.  In the passage we read today, it looks like the words in verse four show best the specifics of the situation at the background to this prophecy.  It reads like this from it, "They will rebuild the eternal ruins and raise up the remains of the ancient demolition.  They will make the cities of ruins, the remains of the generations of wreckage new," (verse four).  The prophet describes the ruins and the wreckage.  It is believed that because the phrase "those lamenting because of Zion" appears in verse three, it is probably first of all Zion, alias Jerusalem.  Also, because it has "cities of ruins" in the text, the other cities of Judah come into the picture.  Based on the evidence, it is about the cities that were destroyed by Babylonia in the sixth century before Christ.

4.  In it there are people lamenting over Zion's having been destroyed.  There are those in it lamenting that Jerusalem, the capital city of God lies in ruins.  It is ruins that the Babylonian army caused.  But, at the same time it was a ruins that the sin of Israel caused in that they stubbornly refused the word of God and rebelled against God.  Therefore, their lamentations are not simply a lamenting over a sorrowful destiny.  It is a lamentation over their sin and its effects.

5.  In verse one they are called "the poor."  When the word, "the poor," appears in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, it does not just mean economic deprivation.  What that word means more than anything else is those who are overpowered, squashed down, and suffer because of various different forces of this world.  They had no authority whatsoever, nor would they ever.  Therefore, they cried out to God.  Because they knew very deeply within of their own personal powerlessness and poverty, they placed their hopes in God alone and cried out to him.

6.  So, the word for "the poor" often times stands for believers living with more faith during hardships.  Such a poor person, for example, is alluded to in many passages of the Psalms.  I am repeating myself, but this does not merely speak of an economic state.  Because if it were just speaking of economics, there is the possibility for a poor person to be in the position of overpowering someone poorer than he.  An overpowered and suffering person is not necessarily always limited to experiencing the weaknesses and poverty of humanity, placing his or her hopes in God, and crying out seeking for God's deliverance and judgment.  Instead, it is possible that he or she goes the way of defiance against God.  It doesn't go so far as to say that "the poor," which are spoken about here, are not that kind of persons.

7.  Therefore, the word here for "the poor," as I noticed right away, appears along with the phrase "broken heart."  These two are not unrelated.  The word "broken," for example, appears in Psalm fifty-one.  The words of the songwriter go like this in that [passage]: "If you took pleasure in sacrifices and burnt offerings suited your will, I would offer them up to you.  But, the sacrifice that God seeks for is a broken spirit.  A broken and remorseful heart, O God, you will not scorn," (Psalm 51:18-19).  In the passage of this Psalm, it says that "a broken heart" is "a remorseful heart."  If we read this entire Psalm we will understand quite well what a "broken and remorseful heart" is.  It is a heart that prays confessing one's sins, "Wash all my sins and cleanse me from sin, (Psalm 51:4).  In other words, "the broken heart" mentioned in this passage is not the heart of someone who just puts himself on the side of the injured party, considering himself righteous and others only as evil doers, and then miserably bemoans his destiny.  [It is a repentant heart.]

Good News

8. So then, the substance of this passage is that the gospel is preached to such a poor person, a broken hearted person. The prophets were sent to the poor. The prophets spoke as follows in regard to their mission. "The Lord anointed me with oil, the Spirit of the Lord God has taken me. He has sent me to make me proclaim the good news to the poor," (verse one). To anoint with oil means to be ordained by God. In the Old Testament we can read the story, for example, of when David was anointed by Samuel and became king. (First Samuel 16:13). Although it is not necessary to regard this anointing as having taken place in actual visible form. You might see it as a symbolical expression to show forth the fact that he has been ordained by God.

9. At any rate, the poor and the person who calls out to God from his or her poverty hears the gospel. It means that the Spirit of the Lord God seizes the prophet and the gospel does not originate with humankind but is good news from God. God cares for the poor. God gives good news to them. When the gospel is preached and heard, salvation by God takes place. Then the broken heart is treated and healed. And then perfect freedom and release are announced.

10. It is not necessary to think that when it says "captives" here in the text it always literally stands for those who were held captives in Babylon. Many scholars think instead that this prophecy was talking about the time period when the people were set free from Babylon and repatriated to Jerusalem. Thus, they were no longer captives in the sense of detained slaves of Babylon. But, even though freed from one captivity, it is possible they were captives in another sense. It is not for sure if the persons spoken about here are in physical or mental captivity. But, either way they are not free. Freedom and liberation by God is announced to those who are not free.

11. As it is already evident, that freedom is spoken of as something that is given not by the hand of a man but by the intervention of God. Therefore, the announcement being made there is recorded as "The year in which the Lord gives grace and the day in which our God will bring retribution," (verse two). Because it is speaking on freedom and release, we can understand the phrase "the year in which [the Lord] gives grace." But, why is "the day in which [our God] will bring retribution" put along side it?

12. There may be some who think this is odd. But, give it some thought. Such a thing isn't so odd whenever God intervenes as the living God. When the living God reveals himself as the true king, shows his power, and establishes his sovereignty, it is salvation and at the same time it is judgment. That is, that day becomes a day of judgment and a day of pay back for those who rebel against God and overpower and trample over others. A person will harvest the seeds he or she has sown. For those who have set up their own happiness upon the suffering of others and have set out to satisfy their lusts it will be judgment day in reparation for the others' grief.

13. But, for the poor it will be a day of salvation. As a poor person and as one who calls out to the Lord and waits upon him in hope, the time of God's intervention will truly be none but a time of liberation. God is coming and he will comfort those who lament. The comfort of God is different from the powerless words of comfort that so permeate this world. It is a power that is alive, at work, and at the business of restoration. The comfort from God is strength. Therefore, the comfort of God makes us put on crowns instead of ashes on our brows, it anoints us with joyous perfumed oil instead of with sighs and it makes us put on robes of praise instead of  hearts dark and despairing.

14. Also, when the comfort of God appears, it is clear that it has been determined what kind of person the poor who used to have pain and lamentations and the powerless who used to call out to God out of his or her poverty will turn into. They will in no wise be powerless or poor but they will be "oak trees of righteousness planted for the Lord to show forth his glory." That's what the scriptures say they will be called.

The Words Of These Scriptures, Today, Are Fulfilled

15. This is a part of the prophecy spoken originally in Isaiah. Before too long the ruins of Jerusalem were rebuilt. The remains of the old devastation was raised up. The other cities of ruins and generations of demolished remains were renewed. The conditions around the Israelites changed. But, this prophecy was not totally fulfilled by these things. This prophecy remained as a message still awaiting in hope for the future. It remained as a message awaiting the time when God would inaugurate his unmistakable works. And that time has come. On Jesus of Nazareth the Holy Spirit fell and a voice from heaven resounded. "You are my beloved son, you are in agreement with my will," (Luke 3:22).

16. Also, in the process of time Jesus when filled with the power of "the Spirit" returned home to Galilee and went into the synagogue at Nazareth where he was raised and read aloud from the beginning section of this prophecy.  This is what he proclaimed, "The words of these scriptures, today, are fulfilled when you heard them," (Luke 4:21).

17.  What does this tell us?  It announces to us that with the coming of the Lord Jesus the time had come for the poor to hear the gospel.  The Lord Jesus made the gospel known to them and came as the anointed one.  The time had come not only for the Israelites who first heard this prophecy but for all the poor who have been scrunched by the various powers of this world to hear the gospel.  No, it wasn't only [for] those under the different authorities of this world.  The time has come for the gospel to be preached to all those under the rule of the power of sin and death which enslave and separate all.  The time has come for the gospel to be preached to all those crying out from their suffering and sorrow placing their hopes in God alone.  Because the unmistakable work of God began in this one single person.  The scriptures put it like this, "The words of these scriptures, today, are fulfilled when you heard them."

18.  And the Lord is still announcing this news of joy through the church.  The Lord is proclaiming it even to this present period of time through the church.  He says, "The words of these scriptures, today, are fulfilled when you heard them."  As a result, we no longer need to live hopelessly in groaning and moaning.  We no longer need to live as captives.  Whenever Christ is with you, the gospel is preached and heard, then broken hearts are treated and healed.  Whenever Christ is with you, the gospel is preached and heard, the promise of God to release the captives is fulfilled.  Thus, no one any longer needs to wear ashes on their brows and lament.  Because instead of ashes on their heads he puts crowns.  Instead of lamentation he anoints them with a joyous fragrance.  There is no need to live together with dark and despairing hearts.  In place of dark hearts he makes us wear praise like robes.  And this work of proclamation is still heading for the time of completion at the end.  We are on the way there.

19.  Well, there is one more thing, we had better not overlook the next part to the story that Luke is telling us.  When the Lord gave out the gospel in Nazareth, the people had joy over his gracious words, but they did not recognize Jesus as a fulfillment of prophecy or as the expected messiah.  They said, "Isn't he a son of Joseph?"  Finally, they rejected the Lord Jesus and his gospel.  They stumbled over the poor figure of the messiah.  The ones happy that the messiah came as a poor person were only the poor.  It was only to the poor that the good news was really good news.  I think that the Jews in the time of the Lord Jesus were an oppressed people under the authority of Rome and many people were economically poor.  But, they stumbled over the poverty of the messiah as he came down upon a cross.

20.  As I mentioned earlier, divine intervention is salvation and at the same time it is also judgment.  I am repeating myself but, in a real sense it is only to the poor that the good news was truly good news.  It is the same today as well.  It is the same even here and now.  Here we are before these words of "in order to have me give the good news to the poor," it may be that [the Lord] is again asking this question to us, do we truly hear the gospel as poor persons?

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