Ancient Prophecy

Isaiah 61:1-3
1The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
3to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

In the heart of the Old Testament we find a remarkable passage of Scripture that should perhaps be read and pondered far more often than it is. Isaiah is an intriguing and rich book, as well as long, repetitive, and sometimes obscure. But here in chapter 61 we find an unexpected feast of spiritual food. It is no surprise then, that Jesus should use this passage to refer to Himself 700 year later. (See the next devotional for further thought about that section of Luke.)

This passage opens with the Trinity. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me …“ In this brief phrase, we find Father (Lord God), Son (me), and Holy Spirit (The Spirit). Isaiah is merely writing down the words that Jesus Himself is speaking – 700 years before He was born! In Luke 4, we find Him reading those words aloud to the people in the Temple and proclaiming Himself to be their fulfillment. That alone will give you something to think about for the rest of the day.

Yahweh’s King, who will reign over His kingdom, is the Messiah, who now speaks in 61:1–3. Accenting the power of his Word, “to announce, proclaim, call” appears one time in each of these three verses. The Messiah not only describes the new kingdom, but as performative speech, his Word also brings the promises to pass.
Lessing, R. R. (2014). Isaiah 56–66. (p. 258). Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

In verse 1 we find the Messiah using the word liberty to describe what He will proclaim to His people. The idea of being freed from slavery (or even over use) is one born in the Old Testament. “The word “liberty,” in Is 61:1 is associated with the Jubilee Year. On the fiftieth year all Israelites under oppression and in bondage were set free. Confiscated land was returned to the clan who had originally inherited it. All Israelite slaves were released, and all Israelite debts were erased; everyone who was bankrupt was forgiven. God’s people were given a new beginning.”
Lessing, R. R. (2014). Isaiah 56–66. (p. 270). Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Paul takes up the idea that we are freed from slavery to sin throughout his Epistles, particularly the Book of Romans. The Anointed Servant (the Messiah) does not simply throw words at the faithful. Rather, his described actions accomplish what his words announce. The concept of exchange is signaled through the threefold use of “instead.”

“…give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit…”

Last Wednesday, we put the ashes of repentance upon our foreheads in remembrance of our own sin and need for a Savior. Now, instead of ashes, mourning and a faint spirit, we possess a beautiful headdress, gladness, and the garment of praise. Our minds, hearts, and bodies are dressed in joy and gladness because the Savior has come. Imagine hearing those words spoken by Jesus in the flesh 700 years later!