START WITH THE PAST
- Isaiah prophesies about 700 years before the arrival of Jesus. The people of Israel had broken God’s covenant. Isaiah prophesies that the people will be captured and carried away into Babylonian exile and Jerusalem will be destroyed. But the hope for the people is not over and God’s plan to save the world and draw people to him has not been thwarted. Hope is being pictured.
- Rather than trusting and obeying God, they had become entangled in political struggles for power, and they had paid the price. Their cities had been destroyed, their temple had been demolished, and their people had been carried away into captivity. Generations had come and gone. Many of them had given up hope of ever seeing the land of Israel.
- The mourning in Isaiah 61 rises out of frustration and humiliation over the failure to rebuild the city and the temple to match its former economic and social glory.
Isaiah 61:1-4 NIV
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, a to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 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. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
- The original audience for this prophetic scripture was a group of exiles who had returned to Jerusalem after many years in Babylon. The temple was still in ruins, and the walls of the once-great city of Jerusalem were piles of broken stone.
- However, upon their return, the former exiles find that God, who made possible their return, has not seen fit to make their task easy.
- But history moves and the people of Israel found themselves once again in bondage to Rome, enslaved by sin, and separated from God. It was then that the echo of Isaiah came to rest in Jesus of Nazareth.
- Today we may not see the devastation of ancient Jerusalem but can see “the devastations of many generations” in the world today
- He didn’t come to lift us out of the darkness, but he came to help us shine his light in the darkness. In Jesus’ first coming, he gives us hope and changes our perceptions of our situations. What looked like a mountain can now be seen as nothing but an anthill.
- It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed at the thought of how a city can ever change. I so quickly forget that the city is people. God looks and sees people. I need to return to Isaiah 61 constantly, to pull myself back to see that God’s plan has always been and always will be relational and salvific.
- Reforming cities is about both the Spirit and the Word, and it is a deeply spiritual thing. Social change starts with the Holy Spirit, who then personally enables us and partners with us in seeing people’s lives radically turned around from sin.
- Unless we acknowledge our sin, we will be trying to live our present from the future — a little bit like expecting to be at the 10th rung of a ladder while your foot is still on the first. Our identity is made up of our past and our present. To make sense of our future, they have to have an understanding of our past.
- The words of Isaiah 61:1-4 echo throughout history to announce the Lord’s favor to people in the midst of oppression. God does see. God does care. These words of Isaiah give hope of deliverance to us. Here, between the expectation of heaven’s peace and this world’s pain, these words of Isaiah proclaim that God is poised to do something about the strife of his people. Ashes will be turned to joy and mourning will be turned to praise as God’s Anointed One, the one upon whom his spirit rests, announces the year of the Lord’s favor.