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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Year of God's Favour and Our Freedom
Text:Isaiah 61:1-3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-10-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 107:1,2                                                                                      

Ps 25:10         

Reading – Leviticus 25:8-17; Luke 4:16-30

Ps 85:1,2

Sermon – Isaiah 61:1-3

Ps 116:1,4,9,10

Hy 81:1,4,5,6,7

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, when a young man first enters the ministry, he feels some pressure to go home. Family and friends want him to preach in the home congregation, so everyone can see how he’s turned out. And truth be told, it can be an uncomfortable experience.

It was no different for our Lord Jesus, for Nazareth is one of the first places that He goes to preach. In Luke 4, Jesus goes home, but not for sentimental reasons. Neither was He looking for approval. Rather, Jesus has hard words to say to his community. And in response to his inaugural sermon, they chase him out, even try to kill him. Some homecoming this was!

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The occasion for his sermon was typical enough: “As his custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:16). It was the day of rest, a time to drop your work, to gather with God’s people and to hear his Word. And as the service gets underway, Jesus is asked to take part. The locals want to hear a word from him, because already He was getting quite the reputation as preacher. Jesus is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he opens it up to chapter 61.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18). What a text for him to choose! For this was one of the tallest mountain peaks in that big range of prophecies about the Messiah. “What will the Christ do when He finally comes?” the people asked. And Isaiah told them, “This is what He’ll do: He’ll heal the brokenhearted and proclaim liberty to the captives!” 

In the mouth of Jesus, these old words suddenly ring with a new power. Isaiah had foreseen someone who’d declare God’s salvation in the mighty strength of the Spirit. And if the people of Nazareth were paying attention, it couldn’t be more obvious who it was! For who had just received a public anointing from heaven, had God’s Spirit rest upon him like a dove? Back in Luke 3, Jesus is standing at the Jordan, the Spirit of the LORD upon him! So He is more than a homegrown preacher, but He is God’s Anointed One, to bring healing and freedom. I preach God’s Word to you from Isaiah 61:1-3 on this theme,

God’s Anointed One proclaims the year of His favour:

  1. when it happens
  2. what it means
  3. and what comes next

 

1) when it happens: Isaiah’s prophecy is about an important moment in history, a time when things are finally put right after so long being wrong. We don’t find out when this happens until verse 2, when the Lord’s servant mentions “a year” and “a day,” speaking of “the acceptable year of the LORD” and “the day of vengeance” (v 2).

Especially that first phrase was loaded with meaning. For Israel, the “acceptable year of the LORD” could mean only one thing: it meant the Year of Jubilee. Jubilee was one of seven Jewish festivals, but one that was celebrated only once every fifty years. So it was a pretty special occasion!

The name “jubilee” is taken from the Hebrew word for trumpet, yubel—in this case, the horn of a ram. This trumpet was blown at the beginning of the Jubilee to announce it far and wide. And Leviticus 25 tells us that this festival had a few different features. In the first place, the land was not to be farmed for the whole year—which meant that for the whole year, the people were given rest from the burden of their toil. A sabbatical for everyone!

Second, in that year all property would be restored to those who had originally received it as their inheritance. If you’d sold your family plot of land because of being in debt, on the fiftieth year you got it back.

And third, everyone who’d sold himself into slavery over the past years was set free. His obligation to serve his master was lifted. In short, Jubilee was a year of rest, a year of release, and a year of restoration. We would say that the “clock was set back.” Everything owed was forgiven, everything lost was regained.

It’s hard to fathom how great a gift this was. But just think how crippling it could be in that time to be in debt, owing a heap of money. For the Israelites, debt was often caused by circumstances beyond their control. Say you had all your fields planted, but then the rains don’t come. Now you can’t pay for the seed you purchased, or pay your workers, or feed your family. Or locusts invaded, stripping your vineyards bare. Or there’s a sudden death—a family might have to go without the wages of a husband and father.

In situations like these, an Israelite would fall into debt, just to keep food on the table, just to stay alive. And being in debt had some very real perils. If your debts were too much, we said, your portion in the land might have to be given up. Or because of debt, you might have to sell yourself into slavery. A heavy debt could mean total ruin.

So to see all this turned back and re-set was incredible. No wonder the Jubilee was announced with trumpets, the sound of great joy! For this at last was a gracious way out. Instead of being crushed by financial strain, instead of seeing a family torn apart, there was hope. It was nothing less than a life-changing event: burdens taken away, relationships restored, and redemption from suffering!

And all this carried a deeper lesson for God’s people. Jubilee wasn’t just about preserving equality. The Year of Jubilee taught a most memorable and tangible lesson about God’s grace. This was an experience of his undeserved kindness, even for the most needy, the most lowly. The lesson is that there’s no debt too big to be forgiven. There’s no burden too heavy to be lifted away.

Jubilee taught the Israelites about the kind of God they worship, that his character is merciful and compassionate. The LORD is the God who thinks of his people in our trouble; He is the God who rescues us from our brokenness and makes possible a new beginning.

So it’s remarkable that when Isaiah talks about the day of salvation in our text, he connects it directly to the Jubilee. In verse 1, God’s Servant says that He’s come “to proclaim liberty.” And that’s exactly what Leviticus says the Jubilee is all about: “You shall consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout all the land” (Lev 25:10). This was God’s “acceptable year,” or better, “the year of his favour.” The anointed One is going to usher in a new age, a time of God’s amazing grace and freedom.

For those in Judah first hearing Isaiah’s message, we can well imagine what they would’ve been thinking about. Their world was firmly under the thumb of their enemies. They had lost much of their land already, and there was a coming exile to dread. So when God’s Servant proclaims “liberty,” they hear him say “release from exile,” or when they hear him say, “restoration of property,” they think of a Jubilee for the earthly Jerusalem. That was a start, but only a small start. So let’s consider…

 

2) what it means: We just said that the Year of Jubilee wasn’t just about economics, cancelling debts and redistributing wealth. This becomes clear when we see the work that God’s Servant must do at this momentous time: He must preach, He must heal, He must comfort and console. His message goes to the heart of the human problem.

The Servant comes, verse 1 says, “to preach good tidings to the poor.” Who are the poor? We may like to interpret that in a figurative way, that Isaiah really means “the poor in spirit.” Yet Jesus’s ministry indicates something different. So often Jesus reached out to those who were physically and financially poor. He ministered to the down and out, to those of little means; He helped the kind of people who sleep rough on the streets today. He didn’t spend much time among the wealthy and elite in Jerusalem but was most often in out-of-the-way towns and villages. There He helped those of little worth and lowly place. He preached to the poor.

It doesn’t mean there’s something inherently good about being poor. Those in poverty can be just as ungodly as those who have wealth. Yet Jesus knew something about the poor, that they’re often more receptive to God and his Word—because they’ve already been humbled. They’ve probably recognized how little they have in themselves, how much they need outside help. The poor have understood that they can only hope for grace.

And that’s the attitude God wants us all to have. No matter the height of our earthly position, no matter the number of our worldly goods, we must be humbled. We hold nothing of true value in our hands—we’ve got only the guilt of our sin. Beloved, do you see that apart from God’s kindness toward you, you’d be utterly destitute, the most miserable slave? Whatever our condition outwardly, without Christ we are burdened and oppressed, with no way out. Your only hope is the grace that comes through Jesus, who preaches good tidings to the poor!

God’s Servant comes to do something else too, “to heal the brokenhearted” (v 1). The word for healing describes a careful binding up of wounds. Like when a young child hurts himself on his bike, and he comes inside crying. Mom gives the kind of care that makes it feel better: the right band-aid, the right touch, the right words. Healing for the brokenhearted!

Once again, this describes so well the ministry of Christ. For He found the broken, the wounded and oppressed wherever He went: people with withered muscles, and feeble limbs, and infected skin. And by his touch and his word, He healed them.

What was the meaning of his healings? They were about how Christ can fix what really needs to be fixed in a person: not just the body, but the spirit too. Christ puts right our heart. That’s why his healings always went together with the Word of God’s grace. For that’s the answer, the real cure we need—the sweet relief of the gospel.

And we might be very fit and healthy today, or maybe we are sick and tired, but the healing of Christ is what we all need. For we still live in a time of brokenness. This is what sin does: it wrecks the wholeness and beauty of what God made. It spoils his good gifts, tears apart what ought to be together. Because of sin, there are sick bodies—there is cancer and arthritis and diabetes. And because of sin, there are also sick minds, and sick relationships, and sick souls and spirits. All this brokenness cries out to heaven for healing, for restoring, for mending. We see it in the world and in the church; as Paul puts it in Romans 8, “There is groaning.”

But there is also gospel! For Jesus entered into this world’s pain and misery and He took it upon himself. He was broken for the brokenhearted. At the cross He was wounded for our transgressions, and “by his stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:5). For a while longer yet, the effects of sin remain—in fact, right now it doesn’t appear to be getting any better. But we know that the healing has started. Christ has already mended the most important thing: He has put us right with God. When you have faith in Christ, then you know that to be true.

Another key part of Jesus’s Jubilee message is that He came “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (v 1). If you look at the story of Scripture, you see that God has always been in the business of granting freedom. He gave liberty to the Israelites in Egypt, and liberty to the exiles in Babylon. And He set free those who were slaves, every fifty years in the Jubilee. He is the Lord of liberation!

And each of these liberations were previews of the real thing. For Christ delivers from the worst enslavement we’ll ever face: from our slavery to sin and bondage to the devil. For good reason, the Bible talks about “being held captive to Satan” (2 Tim 2:26). For the devil ensnares people. Have you noticed how Satan offers us great things by his subtle temptations? In the moment, Satan promises much, seems to demand so little. But when our hands are outstretched to receive, to take, to enjoy, Satan snaps on the chains. And he shackles us to do his will.

We probably know what this is like. Sin can be so powerful, so captivating, so strong in its grip. People talk a lot about addictions today—addiction to alcohol, or to drugs, to porn, even to the approval of other people. But the Bible calls it something else. The Bible calls it slavery, a slavery to the devil. The things we don’t want to do, those are the very things we do. Even when we want to stop, we find that we cannot. Even when we want to break free, we find that we’re stuck.

That’s slavery, and that is the true affliction of every person who will not serve the Lord. And even among those who wake up every morning wanting to serve Christ, sin can be enslaving. We just can’t seem to get out of a bad habit, to rise above the compulsion to do it again. It really can feel like a prison.

And that is just our (limited) experience of it, for the reality is far worse. I wonder how often we think about this, but in God’s sight our sins represent a debt that cannot be repaid. Mortgaged into eternity! Even if we sold everything we had, gave up our own children, toiled for eternity in hell, our debt would forever remain. Be clear: that’s not just true for the worst of sinners, but it’s true for all of us. So we are oppressed by the guilt of our sin. Being under the guilt of sin destroys our joy. Once in a while we get a taste of that, and the reality is even worse.

But Christ sets us free. He gives liberty to those who are oppressed. He has taken away every last one of our transgressions, canceled the high price of sin that weighed so heavy. Once crippled and hopeless in our debt, now we’ve been released!

It is the Jubilee gospel that Jesus declares in Matthew 11, “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (v 28). Beloved, if you can’t see your way out, you can still go to him for help. The answer is not to try harder to rise above your sin, but the answer is to go to Christ. If you have lost much, you can go to Christ for restoration. When we are stuck in our sins and guilt, we can go to Jesus for release.

This is the glorious gospel. There’s no debt that is too big to be forgiven. There’s no burden that is too heavy to be lifted off. This is the kind of God we worship and serve. He’s the God who takes thought for his troubled people, the God who rescues us from brokenness and misery. He’s the God who makes possible a new beginning.

 

3) and what comes next: Approaching the end of Isaiah, the volume of joy and praise is slowly getting turned up. That is always the result of the gospel among those who believe, as God relieves our heavy burdens and sets the captives free. For the Lord has come “to comfort all who mourn” (v 2), and “to console those who mourn in Zion” (v 3).

Isaiah gives a striking image of this transformation, that God’s servant will “give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning” (v 3). When people in Israel were sad, they liked to douse themselves with ashes. The dirt and the grime was a picture of how they were feeling. But God replaces the ashes of sinners with a new joy, and in the place of their sadness gives them “the oil of joy.” When an Israelite was happy, he might celebrate with a splash of oil on his body, something to give a nice smell and a clean feel. Among those whom God sets free there is gladness and festivity. Rejoice in the Lord, again I say, rejoice in the Lord!

And the transformation is not done yet, for the Lord gives “the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (v 3). In the Bible, clothes so often reflect the person. You are what you wear! So Christ takes away “the spirit of heaviness,” the gloomy covering and black outfit that we wear because of sin and guilt. And instead He gives “the garment of praise,” the robes of worship. That’s the outward expression of the inner person.

The point is, being forgiven by Christ changes a person. Being set free gives you a new lease on life. You have a different purpose, and you accept a higher calling. Isaiah describes those whom the LORD has redeemed, “They may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified” (v 3). A forgiven sinner becomes like a tree planted by rivers of water, bringing forth fruit in season.

Back in Isaiah 5, the prophet shows us a pathetic picture of God’s vineyard. After everything the LORD had done, Judah was a vineyard of shrivelled vines and unproductive trees. They were slated to be uprooted, but God had something better in mind. By his grace and power, they will become trees of righteousness. They will be a planting that brings glory to God.

That is the higher purpose that God always gives his redeemed. God desires that we hear the gospel today, let it take root, and let it bring forth fruit in our lives. There is an opportunity here, a calling. And there is also warning.

Think again of the Jews sitting in the synagogue in Nazareth. Listening to Jesus read Isaiah 61 was nice, but it was nothing new. But then He hits them between the eyes. Better than any preacher could ever do, He grabs their attention with the opening words of his sermon: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). This wasn’t just another reading of a well-known text, but this was completely different: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled.”

It can mean only one thing: the Jubilee has arrived, and they’re looking at him, here in Nazareth. This Jesus embodies the gospel, fulfills God’s promise. He is the Jubilee. This is the one who has come to forgive debts and to set the captives free.

And suddenly the hometown crowd gets uneasy. Can this novice preacher really be the Anointed One? Does He really dare to call them to repent? And is He going to bring this same gospel to the Gentiles? The mood quickly turns, and Jesus finds himself chased outside the synagogue, his life in danger. The hometown prophet was not accepted among his own. It’s a sign of things to come.

So it has always been. Christ offers us immense hope, but Christ also causes offense. In a way, each of us should find his words uncomfortable. For they are uncomfortable and unsettling words! He calls us to unquestioning faith, to unwavering obedience, to a wholehearted and life-consuming commitment. He says that freedom and happiness will be found in Christ, or they will not be found at all! How does that message sit with us?

In Isaiah’s words, in Jesus’s sermon at Nazareth, and in all faithful preaching, the gospel comes with a warning. The Lord’s Servant brings a wonderful message of healing and freedom. He announces “the year of God’s favour,” but He also proclaims “the day of vengeance of our God” (v 2). Vengeance: the terrible and final punishment of those who will not accept his way of salvation in Christ.

This is the serious thing hanging in the balance whenever Christ’s Word is preached. Without true faith, your day for liberation can well become the day for vengeance. So how do we receive the Word of Jesus Christ? After the sermon, what comes next? God seeks a rich harvest. He has made us trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified!

And in this way, the Jubilee points us ahead to the restoration of all things. For one day the trumpet will sound again—this time blown by his holy angels—when Christ our Saviour returns on the clouds. Then it’s promised that He will make good our full release from Satan, He will restore his people, and He will transform this broken creation to be “a new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). May that be our sure comfort, our steadfast hope, and our daily motivation to live for him.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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