So we’ve talked about the depth and the breadth of God’s love, and we know God keeps His promises. This week, the week of Christmas, I will answer the question of how Jesus fits into this freedom puzzle.
In the second post of the series, I wrote about how a lot of Isaiah’s prophecies were about Jesus. A lot of these prophecies were encouraging to the people of Israel; they spoke about a new era of freedom, a day of vengeance against their enemies, a day they would win a victory the bad guys couldn’t take away. In some ways, they sound a lot like battle songs.
These prophecies include a lot of vivid imagery. Isaiah painted some really beautiful pictures so that the Israelites had something they could see in their minds and believe in. This imagery made it easier for God’s people to trust in them.
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;
To 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.
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.
Isaiah 61:1-4 (ESV)
Favor and vengeance go hand-in-hand in verse two, along with comfort to those who are in mourning. What a distinct difference. I think, in this passage, God did not mean vengeance against the peoples of earth but against the sorrow within it. His agenda in this prophecy is to declare war, not on an “evil” person, but on evil itself.
How does He do that? With love, of course. It is who He is, after all.
God declares war on evil, not with swords or guns, but with tender, loving care, by placing crowns on the heads of the poor and by building up ruins and replacing shattered dreams with new life.
By the time Jesus actually arrived on this planet, the Israelites had suffered 70 years of slavery in Babylon and exile in other surrounding areas, and while they were allowed to return to their land, they still lacked their own king. Even more, for the 500 years or so before Jesus was born, God was completely silent; there were no prophets to speak to the Israelites on God’s behalf. At this point, they were not expecting a baby in a manger, a child who would become a carpenter for the majority of his adult life. They were expecting a warlord who would lead them into battle and righteous victory over each of their enemies, as King David had.
They were not looking for a man who lived his life guided by love and compassion for others before anything else. Raised on stories about the God who sent plagues that destroyed Egypt just to free them from slavery, their expectations of the Messiah prophesied about in Isaiah became corrupted. Their hope was in the God who destroyed their adversaries, God incarnate who was indestructible and would not lose a single battle, stomping every single enemy to the ground.
But God knew better. He knew something different was needed. After the way the animal sacrifices failed to cover the sins of His people, and even before He created Adam, He knew there would need to be a better answer, one that would end humanity’s striving for perfection and inevitably falling short each and every time.
Enter stage left: Jesus.
Instead of a militant champion, the Israelites received God in the form of a human, who lived three decades as a normal human being in a normal human life. That, followed by Jesus’ healing and deliverance ministry, led solely out of compassion for the people in His vicinity, was enough to make the Pharisees seethe with hatred. They didn’t get the five-star general they wanted; they got what their thirsty souls needed: a shepherd who would guide their perfection-hardened souls home.
As it turns out, Jesus actually read the passage I posted above in the synagogue one day:
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to [Jesus]. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written,
“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.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4:17-21 (ESV)
Wow. I need a moment to let that sink in.
I kind of love that Jesus stopped right before the part about vengeance. It’s almost as though He didn’t want the people listening to focus on that singular aspect of the passage. There is so much kindness in the verse Jesus chose to read, so much compassion and generosity. These characteristics are defining traits of who God is, and I love that they are showcased in the one passage Jesus chose to read out of the entire book of Isaiah. Jesus knew His mission in life was to provide that Good News I wrote about last week, and He made sure to lead His sheep home well, in everything He said and did.
Jesus followed every letter of the Law until the day He died…but then He beat death itself and came back to life, and those rules that bound us to unattainable perfection lost their power. We should still follow the Law, but we can rest soundly, knowing that Jesus paid our debt. He carries our burdens for us. We can stop striving for perfection; stop trying so hard to be what we can never be. In Jesus’ name, through His life, we are free to be who we are and to know that identity deeply, truly, and fully.
Our freedom rests on Jesus’ shoulders alone, and what strong, sound shoulders they are to carry us home.