Monday, March 25: The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me

Written by Grace Han, Pastor, Trinity United Methodist Church, Alexandria, VA

Trees with light coming through. A Voice in the Wilderness

Isaiah 61: 1-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
   to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks; foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines,
but you shall be called priests of the Lord; you shall be named ministers of our God;
you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory.
Because their shame was double and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot,
therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs.
For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my whole being shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

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In the gospel of Luke, after Jesus was baptized and tempted in the wilderness, he returned to Nazareth, his hometown and went to the synagogue, as was his custom. While there, he stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. And he unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”

And after reading, he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and said to them:

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

(Luke 4:16-21, paraphrased)

This is no coincidence that Jesus read from Isaiah 61 that fateful day. It wasn’t an accident or pure good luck that the attendant handed him this particular scroll. There’s something happening here we must pay attention to. As Jesus preaches for the first time in his earthly ministry, Jesus is making a proclamation about who he is and what he came to do. As Jesus declared: today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Here’s what’s important to know. This passage from Isaiah was written in the post-exilic period. It was written after many years of frustration and deep suffering when the Israelites were driven from their homes into exile in Babylon. They were defeated and humiliated and everything seemed to be crumbling around them. And just as they were on the verge of giving up completely, God spoke to Isaiah about what is to come: The spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me… to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.

And finally we see the promise that God makes: hope is not lost, good news is coming, healing and liberty are upon us, restoration awaits God’s people. It was the long awaited good news the Israelites had been waiting for.

So when Jesus stood up to read at the synagogue in Nazareth, he knew exactly what he was reading. Reading Isaiah 61 not only recalled the promise of hope and restoration, it proclaimed that Jesus himself is the fulfillment of that promise. That Jesus is the Spirit of the Lord, and that in his very being, we find the fulfillment of the promise proclaimed in Isaiah 61. In Jesus, we find restoration, healing, rest, and celebration, a year of the Lord’s favor.

And the best news is that Jesus came not only for the rich or the powerful or the mighty, but for all of us–the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. If you keep reading in Isaiah 61, that list keeps growing: comfort to all who mourn, strangers and foreigners. And God invites us all into an everlasting covenant, pulling us out of exile into communion with God.

This season of Lent, we know all too well the pain of exile, the humiliation of failure, the weight of suffering. We see war and violence and destruction all around us. And yet, just as we are on the verge of giving up, we see that the promise is not forgotten. Jesus stood up and fulfilled this promise. 

Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

A Voice in the Wilderness: Lent 2024

Find all entries from A Voice in the Wilderness online here: haymarketchurch.org/lent24