When Jesus reads from the scroll in his local synagogue, he is exegeting the opening lines from Isaiah 61. The book of Isaiah is huge and it basically breaks into two halves – a prophecy about judgment and a prophecy and comfort. Isaiah 61 comes right in the middle of this comfort section.
The whole portion of scripture sounds like this:
The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.
Isaiah’s prophecy is about a new King and a new Kingdom, it is about renewal and rebirth, it is about hope and restoration. It sounds a lot like Christ’s message and his beatitudes doesn’t it? It’s a passage about optimism, about building up, about healing and giving people a strong foundation to stand on and encouragement for their future.
Jesus takes this ancient text and he says – “This is me. This is what I am going to do.”
“The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor…”
You can just picture Jesus reading this and pointing to himself while he does it.
“…to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners…”
To bind up, would mean to “heal” this is a foreshadowing of all of Jesus’ healing miracles – releasing the captives looks forward to all the times Jesus will tell someone that their “sins are forgiven” and liberation of the prisoners – will be Jesus’ ultimate mission – to be a sacrifice for sin and to release the world from the curse of darkness.
And then Jesus says that his mission includes “…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and a day of vindication for our God.”
What is that?
Well the year of the Lord, or the Sabbath year was something that the Jews were supposed to observe. Every 7th year they would not reap or harvest or prune the fields, it was a year of rest for crops. And then every 50th year was to be a Year of Jubilee or the Year of the Lord’s favor. In short it was a year to cancel all debts, return leveraged land to their rightful owners and to free slaves. It was a clean slate – it was a fresh start – it was a year of do-over.
And that’s a pretty tall order, cancel all debts? Free all slaves, return borrowed land? Can you imagine? Not surprisingly, historians can find no evidence that the year of the Lord’s favor was ever put into practice. It’s a hard thing to do, looks great on paper, but I doubt people were excited about it.
But Jesus steps onto the scene and he says, “the year of freedom – the year of cancelled debts” starts with me and it starts right now.
Wouldn’t that be gospel to your ears if you were poor? Wouldn’t that be good news if you were a slave? So, obviously, the gospel needs to be something that Jesus preached, it was a message – and it had something to do with debt cancellation, the year of jubilee, slaves being set free and the healing of infirmities. Right?
Think of it like this, when Jesus preached the gospel, there was no New Testament, and so there were no gospel writings. In fact, at the time that Jesus preached, there was no cross. So the gospel of Jesus existed before the cross and before the bible. So it had to be “good news” to the people who lived then, right?
And all of this starts with the scroll of Isaiah, which for us, is the Old Testament. So we could say that the Gospel begins there – the gospel begins with the Old Testament, it begins with those hopes and those promises and those dreams.
The Book of Genesis, the very first book of the bible begins, “In the beginning” and it is there in those pages that the gospel begins, because it is there in those pages that the waiting begins. God makes his creation, and he gives it to the inhabitants – us – people. But those people rebel, they fail their tests and the relationship between God and humanity is broken. So then the bible takes a new turn, it becomes a book about waiting – about hoping – about the coming King who will one day restore the world BACK to the way it should be.
The same book of Isaiah contains the passage we read at Christmas time:
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. ”
This is who everyone was waiting for.
This Messiah will be a wonderful governor, a King on a throne – with a Kingdom; and not just any Kingdom, but a Kingdom of God that has no end.
That’s ‘good news.’