Good News For The Oppressed

Isaiah 61.

Jesus quoted a part of this well-known Messianic passage from the Book of Isaiah at the commencement of His public ministry in a Galilean synagogue (Isa 6:1-2; Luke 4:17-21). Purposefully chosen, it was indicative of God’s lovingkindness towards Jewish society’s disadvantaged in the year of Jubilee (i.e., every 50th year of the Jewish calendar), where historically all debts were to be forgiven, and all servants and slaves set free (Lev 25). The basis for a new beginning in this prophetic interlude in Isaiah was primarily due to the prevalence of man’s sinfulness alluded to by the Prophet and Yahweh’s undeniable desire for reconciliation with man. To grasp a sense of God’s broken heart is to appreciate the lengths He went to in responding with unfathomable compassion over humanity’s suffering, whether they be on a corporate or national scale, in a community or at a personal level, encompassing physical, social, economic, or emotional despair. And in the midst of inevitable judgment, lavish grace and mercy are to be extended to those who belong to Him (Isa 61:1-3). God would justify the righteous, He calls them ‘His ministers,’ transforming them as His witnesses to the nations. Their ruined cities would be rebuilt. Strangers and foreigners will gratefully labour for them. Poverty and humiliation will no longer haunt them. And like a couple to be married, the occasion will be filled with joy, gladness, praises, and glory (Isa 61:4-11).

In the context of Isaiah’s prophetic utterances, it is the Messiah who is going to accomplish the restoration of God’s creation (c.f., Eph 1:8-10), where He was variously portrayed as ‘the Righteous Davidic King,’ ‘the Servant’ and ‘the Saviour’ (Isa 11; Isa 42; Isa 49; Isa 50). However, it was as a ‘Suffering Servant’ that His nondescript self-characterisation on earth remained the most poignant and compelling in our recollection (Isa 53); as Someone who had “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isa 53:2), contrary to the usual good-looking pictorial representations of Jesus that we have today. God’s unostentatious self-effacing personalisation as a carpenter’s son was intentional – to immediately identify with the ordinary in human society, where His divine credibility, unhindered by wealth, status or appearance, is entirely dependent on His hidden wisdom and spirituality. It is what is on the ‘inside’ that matters to Him! And like anything that has to do with God, it is His Spirit that elucidates spiritual discernment to those who seek after Him (c.f., 1 Cor 2:10-13). Isaiah described this ‘Servant’ posture aptly, when he clarified that God’s substitutionary purpose was to fill His people with His inward beauty and strength as He took on their sinful ugliness at the cross (Isa 53:3-12), where He exchanged a garland for ashes, the oil of gladness for mourning, the mantle of praise for a spirit of fainting (Isa 61:3). Jesus’ objective in the Galilean synagogue was to declare that He was the fulfilment of this prophecy, inaugurating a new era in the earthly realm, where we can make a clean break with our past by choosing to follow Him. The process of recovering God’s creation had begun, but its completion will be when Jesus Christ comes again.

The Suffering Servant is the Servant King, and He seeks our response! Isaiah proffered a seminal reaction throughout this segment of his prophetic narrative. When the Good News is fully embraced with our submission to Him in salvation (c.f., Matt 16:25-27), the transformation by the Spirit of Christ will awaken us to God’s ultimate redemptive purpose for His people. His gracious forgiveness and restoration is reflective of the joy and blessing during the Year of Jubilee not restricted to within the community but will one day extend to international reconciliation when He comes again (Isa 61:4-11). Come, Lord Jesus, Come.