God of Justice Week 2

If you were to come up with a mission statement that drove the life of Jesus what would you come up with?  Would you come up with the Great Commission from Matthew 28:16-20 about making disciples of all nations?  Would you share the Great Commandment to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself?  Would you vote for John 10:10 that Jesus came to to give us life and life to the fullest?  Or would you turn to Luke 4 and recall the words that Jesus read in the Synagogue from Isaiah 61?  

I believe that you could probably answer any one of these Scriptures as Jesus mission statement.  But for our conversation today we are going to look at one of the Messianic texts in the Old Testament that points to what the role of the Messiah was to be in the world, and then what I believe those of us who seek to follow Jesus should be about, and how we should spend ourselves for the sake of the world. 

Let’s turn to the text that Jesus quoted from when he stood up in the Synagogue in Luke 4:14-21 and let’s look at how this text from Isaiah I believe directed how Jesus saw himself and his calling upon his life as Savior and Messiah.  Let’s look at Isaiah 61:1-9 together.  

“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, 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. Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. 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. 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. “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. 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.”

So what we see at the beginning of this text is this statement, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me”  The word anointed here is the word that we get the word Messiah from.  And so from the days of this writing this text was considered a Messianic text, as I mentioned before, and was what people would expect the future Messiah to be all about.  What the Messiah’s ministry and life would revolve around.  Now the beginning of this text in Isaiah is about the Messiah.  He is the true Anointed One, which is what the word Messiah means.   But in a very real way, each of us, if we are followers of Jesus are also anointed.  We aren’t THE anointed one.  But we are anointed, as we’ll look at in a bit, to be about the same thing that the anointed one was all about.  So let’s see what the Anointed One was anointed to do, and then by definition what things we are supposed to be about as followers.

The first thing the Messiah was anointed to do was to proclaim good news to the poor.  The word good news used here is the word from which we derive the word Gospel from.  Now as we talked about last week I believe there are two sides to this concept.  I believe that all of us are spiritually poor and are in need of the Gospel and so there is that spiritual side of things if you will.  Just like what we find in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 which says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  But I think we do a disservice, if not an outright mishandling of the text if we just limit it to the idea that Isaiah is talking about spiritual poverty.  And that we are supposed to proclaim the gospel to the spiritually poor.  No, this text speaks more primarily to the reality of poverty, lack of resources.  There is the hard reality of actual poverty in our world.  In our world there are 2.2 billion people live on less than 2 dollars a day.   

Is the church being good news for the poor?  Are we siding, like Jesus, with the poor?   If the message of good news is not good news to the poor, than it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It reminds me of the statement that was made famous by Karl Marx, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”  What he was saying and getting at is the problem of making the gospel all about an end destination and not this life, and then you can treat people however you want, just giving them hope for a better eternity.  But this is not the gospel, especially if it isn’t good news to those who are in poverty.  

Next the Messiah was anointed to bind up the brokenhearted.  We get the picture of a heart that is broken, defeated, joyless, and hopeless and we get the picture of someone coming and putting the broken heart back together.  To get this heart wholeness, healing, victory, joy, and probably one of the biggest needs, the need of hope.  A picture of people, coming alongside others, walking with them, fighting for them, praying for them, advocating for them, and helping them reclaim hope.  And probably the biggest way of doing that is not to look at people as projects, but look at them as people.  People created in the image of God and loved by our Creator.  I think we would go along way and that justice would go along way if we would just remember this and put it into practice.  

Next the Messiah was anointed to “proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  This part of Isaiah 61 was related to the practice of Jubilee and definitely points back to Leviticus 25:8-12 which says, “Count off seven sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.  The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines.  For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.”  Jubilee was about restoring the land and possession to people who had lost them every 50 years.  Debts were forgiven  and ancestral land was return.  Jubilee was about justice…the vision that makes things right again.  

Obviously again this part of the Scripture brings spiritual freedom, spiritual darkness, spiritual captivity to mind.  That Jesus coming to this earth was about freeing people from sin, death, evil and hell.  That it was about deliverance from sin and death.  That these things that Jesus came to set right were all effects of sin.  God seeks to reverse the effects of sin and calls us as followers to do the same things.  But again if we limit these verses to only “spiritual things” and only talk about things like evangelism and sharing the good news without talking about freeing people from physical captivity (like in relation to Human Trafficking and sexual slavery) and giving to physical sight to the blind, then we are doing a disservice to this text, and are committing super flawed exegesis.  No, to truly live out the calling of being a follower of Jesus we do the work of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ (the gospel) both with our words and in our actions.  Yes we proclaim freedom and sight for the spiritually bond and blind.  But we also work for the physical freedom of prisoners who are unjustly punished and also physical sight for the blind.  

Jumping to verse 4 we revisit the picture of justice being like rebuilding a devastated town or city that we saw in Isaiah 58.  Verse 4 says, “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”  A few comments need to be mentioned here.  The word they is interesting.  It seems to be saying that those who have been freed, proclaimed the good news to, given sight, mourned and comforted, are now to go out and work for justice in the world.  They are the ones then to go work to proclaim the good news, bring freedom, comfort, hope, giving sight, etc..  That once you have experienced justice in your life, you are to work for justice for others and not just keep it to yourself.  This works, I believe, in proclaiming the gospel both in word and in deed.  

Also the work of justice is about rebuilding, raising up and repairing. If justice is about the ways that things should be, then the picture we get of people who are working for justice in the world is a town that is being rebuilt brick by brick, block by block, house by house.  It brings to mind, no doubt, the people of God coming back from Exile and finding their towns and cities in ruins, (Nehemiah comes to mind) and beginning the long hard work of putting their cities back together.  That is what Justice does.  It puts towns, cities, countries and the world back together the way that it should be.  

The work of justice.  The world of rebuilding, raising up and repairing isn’t just for those who work with justice non-profits.  It isn’t just for the young.  It isn’t just for those whose heart beats around the cries of injustice.  No, according to verse 6, the work of justice is for all those who follow after the anointed one.  “And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God”.  You see we are all Priests.  We are all Pastors.  We are all missionaries.  And the work of justice is for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, from the richest to the poorest, from the suburbs to the country to the cities.  

This work of justice doesn’t come from our own compassion for justice in the world  No, justice comes directly from the heart of God.  In verse 8 we read, “For I, the Lord, love justice;  I hate robbery and wrongdoing.”  God loves justice and his heart breaks because of the injustice that is happening in our world today.  Our prayers today and everyday should be God break my heart with the things that break yours.  When you begin to pray that your heart will break because of the injustice in the world.  Your heart will break just like God’s heart in relation to injustice.  

Lastly, Isaiah is calling the people of God back to their calling as a people.  The calling that has been on the people of Israel from the time of Abraham.  The Abrahamic covenant found in Genesis 12 is reiterated in verse 9 and calls the people to the work of justice in relation to why they exist in the world.  “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.”  And if they are the people that the Lord has blessed, then these people are blessed for the sole reason that they are blessed to be a blessing.  To use their blessings to be a blessing to others.  To use the power, position, education, etc.. to work for justice in the world.  That is God’s call on the church as well.  We are blessed to be a blessing and to use what we have been given (our time, talents, finances, position in life, education, etc..) to be a blessing by working for justice in the world and fighting against injustice.  You and I are anointed by the anointed one to be about the work of justice.  

The question then becomes what does verse 1 and 2 look like for each one of us.  How are you and I proclaiming good news to the poor, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom, and releasing people from darkness?  Also why did Jesus choose this passage as his manifesto, his mission statement, his campaign as King so to speak?  And how can we live out this type of justice in our world today.  Let’s talk more about ways to live Isaiah 61 as individuals and as a community. 

Discussion Questions:

1.  What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture (Isaiah 61:1-9) and/or the message?

2.  Why do you think Jesus chose this passage as his mission statement, manifesto, or for his campaign (if you will)?  How did he preach good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom, and give sight to the blind?

3.  How can you and I live out Jesus mission statement from Isaiah 61:1-9 in Lancaster and the world?  How are you currently living our his mission statement through your life?

4.  What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it?  What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?