Good News Isaiah 61:1-3
When Adam fell, all mankind sinned in him and fell with him in that first transgression. The Fall brought the curse and plunged mankind into a state of sin, misery, and death. Every man is burdened with the guilt of that original sin, has lost any and every hint of righteousness, is absolutely corrupt in his whole nature, and lives in a way that exposes the stink of his spiritual death. Consequently, every man has lost communion with God and is under divine wrath, condemned, and liable to all the miseries of this life, to death, and the prospect of the pains of hell forever. The news could not be worse.
But God, who is rich in mercy, has made a way for man to escape the state of sin and to enter a state of eternal salvation. Immediately after man fell, God announced the Redeemer, the Seed of the woman, who would and could reverse the curse for His people. That Redeemer is the Lord Jesus Christ, who in the fullness of time came into the world as the Second Adam to restore what the first Adam had lost. The news could not be better. This good news message, the gospel, is the grand theme of all Scripture. The coming of Christ was the central event of all history, and there is no more important message for man than the simple yet profound truth that Jesus saves.
In Isaiah 61:1-3, this good news comes from the mouth of Christ Himself. This text is a climax to the many predictions of Messiah in Isaiah’s prophecy. Isaiah has taken us from Christ’s virgin birth to His vicarious suffering and death to His triumphant resurrection and exaltation to His return in glory. But here are words that no merely human prophet could claim; they are grand and wonderful words from the Savior. Jesus confirmed this at the synagogue in Nazareth. Having read the opening verses of Isaiah 61, He forthrightly declared, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:17-21). Since no man ever spoke like Him, it is imperative to listen well to His words. These are words of life and hope. This declaration highlights three thoughts about the work of Christ that sum up the good news: His mandate, message, and mission.
As the God-man, Jesus’ public ministry was marked by bold claims and wondrous deeds. It was necessary at the beginning of His preaching to establish His credentials, and His first sermon in the Nazareth synagogue was the opportunity. His pre-recorded message in Isaiah explained His right, authority, power, and ability; it was the ideal text to prove who He was. Verse 1 reveals two thoughts that authenticate His ministry.
First, His mandate is based on a divine commission: “the Lord hath anointed me.” The word “anointed” means “to smear with a liquid” (usually olive oil) and is the verbal form of the noun “Messiah.” Those anointed – typically prophets, priests, and kings – were set apart and consecrated for a particular purpose or function. Every component of service associated with those messianic offices reached ideal manifestation in the person of Jesus. God in eternity had set His Son apart to be the Mediator between God and men, the ideal Prophet, Priest, and King. Thus, His mandate was founded on the eternal purpose of the Trinity that the Son of God would become the Son of Man to be the only Redeemer of God’s elect. The good news He would declare was in reality the eternal purpose of the Godhead.
Second, His mandate was exercised by divine power: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me.” The spiritual empowering of the Messiah for service was a frequent, though mysterious, messianic theme (see Isa. 11:2). Any and all who do the work and will of God require this special infusion of power by the Holy Spirit. Although Jesus was the God-man, in His messianic office He experienced this enabling and empowering by the Spirit. In fact, the Spirit’s descending and remaining on Him was irrefutable evidence of His Messianic identity. The dove descended on Jesus at His baptism to portray symbolically and vividly that He was God’s beloved Son and would conduct His ministry in Heaven’s might. No mere man would ever experience such spiritual empowering: “for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him” (John 3:34).
As the ideal Prophet, Christ declared God’s will and way of salvation. His message was always in season, appropriate to the needs of man. This summary text highlights four themes that marked His preaching.
First was evangelization: “to preach good tidings unto the meek.” The meek refers specifically to those who are afflicted, oppressed, and burdened by sin and death. They are poor in the sense that they do not have the resources to deal with their affliction; they are helpless and hopeless. The term describes the condition of every sinner. But the good news is that there is hope. Christ preached the full pardon and deliverance of sin by His own atoning death and victorious resurrection. Significantly, when John the Baptist was in prison and wondered if Jesus was really the Christ after all, Christ simply said to tell John that the poor were having the gospel preached to them (Matt. 11:5). That settled it. It is not surprising that when Jesus linked Himself to this text at Nazareth, they “wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4:22). These good tidings were the best news that man could ever hear.
Second was consolation: “to bind up the brokenhearted.” This is the very thing the Lord does for His people (Ps. 147:3). Christ has a message of peace and comfort to those with broken and contrite hearts who are weighed down with the sense of guilt and shame. Every sinner who grieves over the state of his soul can take heart because Christ has the cure for the wounded heart; He is rest for those who labor and are heavy laden.
Third is liberation: “to proclaim liberty ... and the opening of the prison.” Here the reference is spiritual, not literal, and points to a new exodus for those captive in sin, bound by the fetters of iniquity, in a prison of spiritual darkness. Christ’s message is light in the darkness (John 8:12) and deliverance for those in captivity (Eph. 4:8). Deliverance from the bondage of corruption and liberty in Christ are common gospel themes – rightly so, for “if the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Fourth is admonition: “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God.” The warning is twofold. The acceptable year is literally “the year of favor or goodwill.” The language is that of the Jubilee when slaves were freed and land was restored. It was a great and glorious year, but it was just a year. The opportunity for deliverance was magnificent but temporary. Christ declares that the year of favor will transition to a day of vengeance. Messiah is Judge as well as Savior; He will conquer either by grace or the rod of iron. There is a time when God’s Spirit strives with man and a time when He will not. So sinners must heed Christ’s warning to seek the Lord while He permits Himself to be found (Isa. 55:6). The good news is urgent.
Verse 3 states three objectives that Christ will accomplish in His mission. First, His mission is to justify sinners. Those who receive His message are trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord. They are planted on the solid ground of His righteousness and cannot be uprooted (Matt. 15:13). Second, His mission is to transform lives. Life is different for those who “mourn in Zion.” Salvation transforms sinners to new creatures. They receive a crown of beauty to replace the ashes of penance, the oil of gladness to replace sorrow, a garment of praise to replace the burdens. All of these are figures that speak of transformation; grace never leaves men where they were or what they were. Third, His mission is to glorify God. Salvation is good news for the sinner but it is ultimately to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph. 1). Christ was able to say as His earthly mission was coming to a close,
I have glorified thee on earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.John 17:4
This passage has summarized the whole work of Christ for God’s glory and our good. Recorded first in the Old Testament and then declared at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry to affirm His identity as the Messiah, it still declares the good news. May we hear and heed.