From The Pastor At St. Paul's UCC, Freeburg, IL

Sunday December 11 – Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

This coming Sunday we’re reading the OT lectionary reading for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, again from Isaiah. In doing a little research I was surprised to see how often Isaiah is quoted, or referred to, in the New Testament. 20 of the 27 NT books quote or refer to Isaiah, including all four gospels, 8 letters of Paul, Hebrews, James, Acts, 1 and 2 Peter, and Revelation. I believe Isaiah is quoted more often in the NT than any other OT book. Seems that the NT writers saw Isaiah as a key to understanding Jesus. Apparently, as we’ll see, so did Jesus.

This Sunday’s reading, from Isaiah 61, is a promise of return and restoration to Exiles in Babylon; a promise of substitution of beauty for ugliness, gladness for mourning, homecoming for exile. It’s easy to see these promises fulfilled in Christ. But most interestingly to me, Jesus chooses Isaiah 61 as his text for his first public recorded sermon (see Luke 4:16-30). It’s as though Jesus was saying “here’s what I’m all about”. All these promises, he says, are fulfilled in his hearers’ listening – in other words, before their very eyes.

But notice, when you read Luke 4, where Jesus stops quoting Isaiah. Here’s Isaiah 61:1-2 (ESV)

The 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;  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

Here is Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:18-19 (ESV)

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

While His hearers, familiar with Isaiah, probably would have remembered the rest of the Isaiah passage, I think it’s of note that Jesus does not specifically mention the “vengeance of our God”. Did Jesus simply assume His hearers would recall this? Or did He mean something by rolling up the scroll where He did? Did He mean that He’s not about vengeance? Or that the vengeance promised would come on a later day?

Not to make too much of a small point, but I think it makes a difference as to the urgency, or lack of it, of His gospel promise of the Lord’s favor.

The season of Advent is about waiting – waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. There is time for that. But there’s also an end to that time, a day when He’ll say, in effect, “time’s up”. The waiting will not go on forever. And when it stops, there will be….

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