Summary: Hear the servant-Messiah speak
Isaiah 61:1,2 (Cornhill Gobbet, 9/12/03)
"Isaiah is like a miniature Bible. The first 39 chapters are filled with judgement upon immoral and idolatrous men. Judah has sinned; the surrounding nations have sinned; the whole earth has sinned. Judgement must come, for God cannot allow such blatant sin to go unpunished forever. But the final 27 chapters (like the 27 books of the NT) declare a message of hope. The Messiah is coming as a Saviour and a Sovereign to bear a cross and wear a crown.
"Isaiah’s prophetic ministry, spanning the reigns of four kings of Judah, covers at least 40 years. [His name means] ’YHWH is Salvation’ [and is] an excellent summary of the contents of the book" (NKJV Wide-margin, centre-column reference edition!).
William Dumbrell identifies the chief theme of the book to be "YHWH’s interest in and devotion to the city of Jerusalem." He is adamant that chapter 1, which is a "very thorough indictment of the failure of Israel to be the people of God and a rejection of Jerusalem, the political and cult centre", is the key to the whole book. The year is 740 BC and King Uzziah has just died. His long reign of 42 years had "marked for the south a return to Davidic and Solomonic greatness" and in the north Jeroboam II had been a forceful king, restoring the boundaries of Israel. According to J.Ridderbos, "Both Judah and Israel enjoyed a position of power such as they had not known since the splitting up of the kingdom.." But 18 years later, as Isaiah predicts in chapters 8 and 9, in 722BC the Assyrians overrun the northern capital Samaria, though the LORD goes on to predict judgement on the Assyrians too in chapter 10. In 701, the Assyrian armies reach Jerusalem and besiege it, but are destroyed by the angel of the LORD. Though his life is extended, King Hezekiah’s folly leads to the prophecy that Babylon will come and capture Judah in chapter 39, the final note to a tragic opening half of this book. The exile takes place at the end of Jeremiah’s ministry in 586 BC.
The second half of the book comforts Israel that God will send help and redeem them from Babylon, using his instrument, the Persian king Cyrus, predicted by name in chapter 45, though he wasn’t to appear until 559 BC, some two centuries after Isaiah! But the real Redeemer Israel is to be looking out for is the suffering servant of Isaiah 50-53, and this is someone who will actually bring salvation to the Gentiles too in chapters 56 and 60, and will bring a time of unprecedented blessing with a universally righteous people, dwelling in a land of eternal light and joy (60:19-21)
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn" (Isaiah 61:1,2).
1. Hear the Servant-Messiah speak
Barry Webb (BST) identifies the speaker as both the Servant of chapters 40- 55 and the anointed Messiah of 1-35. Webb says that this is "the great theological breakthrough of Isaiah’s vision and the heart of his gospel"- that the Messiah must suffer for His people and rise again. It’s no surprise therefore that Jesus began His ministry in Nazareth by reading this very passage, in Luke 4:16-21.
2. Seek the Lord as Saviour now
It has been noted many times that Jesus closes the book and sits down before finishing the second verse. His first coming was to "proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD". Jesus entirely fulfilled the detail of these verses in
• preaching to the poor (most of his disciples were humble tradesmen, and in His Sermon on the Mount he speaks of the poor in spirit inheriting the kingdom of heaven)
• healing the broken-hearted (think of his raising of the widow’s son or Lazarus, or healing the woman with the flow of blood, or the woman bent double)
• proclaiming liberty to the captives (all of Israel was under the iron fist of Rome, but all the world was blinded and in the grip of sin)
But more than this, Jesus came to preach the Gospel, calling people to "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). John 3:17 says, "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." Paul affirms this in 2 Corinthians 6:2 when he says "now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." Thus, we can say with Isaiah that we should "seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near."