Isaiah the prophet declared many great things and was used of God to communicate so much of the gospel message to us. Isaiah 61 is particularly significant as Jesus declared that these words had been fulfilled in him. It is important to see that this message covers a very broad theme of liberation from bondage. The passage reminds us of the year of Jubilee and thus the restoration of people to their land and freedom from slavery. We tend to rush to the spiritual implications and they certainly are present but the Prophet is talking not only spiritually but physically. He is talking about the captives taken into exile and those who are in debt to man. He knows that an oppressed nation needs to hear the good news of Yahweh’s salvation, a salvation that has implications for society and not only the individual. We tend in our individualistic culture to ignore the Bible’s call to justice and the implications of Scripture for society. It ios for that reason that we need to be active in helping people in our communities to real freedom.
Yet the temptation can be to go to the other extreme and ignore the spiritual implications of this message. We must not do this because it is the spiritual state of human beings that is fundamental to their being. Bondage to sin is the cause of all the injustice in the world and therefore dealing with sin leads to liberation in other areas. With these introductory comments in mind I want to look at the words of Isaiah.
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,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
We see here that good news is to be proclaimed to the poor and I believe that Isaiah was speaking here of the people who were impoverished by their society as well as those who know their spiritual poverty. The proclamation of the year of Jubilee would have meant the restoration of the family heritage, a cancelling of debt and thus a freedom to live a more fulfilling life. Now obviously we can also see the spiritual implications of this passage as well and we need to be constantly reminded of our spiritual poverty outside of Christ. We need to remember that salvation is purely an act of God’s grace and we see the spiritual and psychological implications spelt out as the prophet speaks of binding up the broken hearted and comforting those who mourn. The Spirit of God is the one who can bring healing into the deepest parts of our being. He knows how to heal the scars of disappointment, frustration, worry and a multitude of other things that afflict our spirit. It is God’s will to give us a garment of praise and to do this he needs to heal all the hurt and guilt of sin. God works at a very deep level in our being to bring about this healing. We are told that God will give us a garment of praise to replace the spirit of despair. But not only that God will transform us from being weak to being oaks of righteousness, incredible transformation is promised here. The believer who was scarred and ruined by sin is turned into an oak that displays the splendour of God.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
5 Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
6 And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
and in their riches you will boast.
7 Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours. (Isaiah 61:4-7)
These words expand on the promises given above, God’s people will be empowered to serve him and to see His kingdom be established. The theme also occurs that disgrace will be removed from them and they will rejoice in their inheritance, for the ancient Israelite that was the land but for us it is our inheritance in Christ. But notice how God lavishes his grace on his people, God is not mean and stingy, he is generous and loving.
8 “For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.” (Isaiah 61:8-9)
Notice how the prophet reminds God’s people that God loves justice, and his children we also should pursue justice. We are reminded of this in the negative statement that God hates robbery and injustice. There is no way that we can spiritualize this statement away, God is concerned about the state of our society and wants to see justice upheld in every way.
I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations. (Isaiah 61:10-11)
When we know that God has richly poured out his grace upon us, we will want to praise him. We will rejoice in our God and his greatness. We will want to give him all the glory for our salvation. This does not mean that we disappear from the sene and God only sees Jesus, notice that the robes of righteousness beautify the recipient, just as bride-groom or a bride are beautified on their wedding day. So often when people speak of the robe of righteousness they say that God only sees Jesus and not us. This is not true this passage shows that we are clothed in his righteousness so that we are transformed to become beautiful in God’s sight.