Summary: It is the Year of the Ram's Horn. The acceptable year of the LORD. A young man in Nazareth preaches the good news.
THE TIME OF FAVOUR
Imagine yourself in ancient Israel celebrating that most solemn of feasts, the day of Atonement. This, however, is not just any old Yom Kippur: it is the fiftieth year, and on this day a musical instrument formed out of a ram’s horn is sounded in order to herald the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-10). It is a year of release, when indentured servants are restored to their inheritance, families are reunited, and an opportunity is given to start again.
Now “fast forward” to a synagogue in Nazareth, where a young man is reading out loud from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He chooses a section which seems to touch upon just such a time (Luke 4:18-19), but stops mid-sentence at “the acceptable year of the LORD” without mentioning “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2). As He sits down to preach, all eyes are upon Him (Luke 4:20): whatever is He going to say?
His voice echoes forth as clear as any trumpet: “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.” There is a stir in the congregation. We know this young man, He is the son of the carpenter (or so they think): whatever is He saying (Luke 4:21-22)?
They wonder at the gracious words that fall from His mouth. Those same words pierce their own hearts, but they cannot bring themselves to accept His message. They attempt instead to cast Him headlong down the hill upon which their city was built (Luke 4:23-30)!
In the first instance, of course, Isaiah himself may have been the one anointed to proclaim good news. The prophet’s commissioning took place when the live coal was placed upon his lips (Isaiah 6:6-8). Both in his own day, and at the time of the exile, Zion needed the comfort of his words (Isaiah 61:2).
There was a word of encouragement for those who would later rebuild Jerusalem (Isaiah 61:4). This was, however, a prophecy of restoration and of the establishment of righteousness which surely reaches forward to Jesus Himself (Isaiah 61:3). Much of the language used of the addressees of the first three verses might be applied to those who first heard the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and from them the Jubilee blessings pass to us (Luke 24:45-47).
It is the decided opinion of Peter that the “anointed one” of the passage before us, the “Messiah” (Hebrew) or “Christ” (Greek), is none other than our Lord Jesus (Acts 10:38). The “spirit of the LORD God” (Isaiah 61:1) came upon Him at His baptism (Luke 3:21-22). He was described as “full of the holy Ghost” even as He was led by the Spirit to be tempted in the wilderness, and He returned from that encounter “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:1; Luke 4:14).
Isaiah’s “acceptable year” began when Jesus preached that sermon, not long after His baptism. It is the year of the LORD’s favour, and stands for the whole Christian era right through to the coming of the Lord in judgement at the end of the age. What Israel had failed to grasp was that Messiah was first coming to wash away the sins of His people, then at a later date would return to judge: the time in between is a day of opportunity for sinners to repent (2 Corinthians 6:2).
The seeming delay in the Lord’s “second coming” is a token of His longsuffering, or patience (2 Peter 3:9). However, the sands of time will eventually pass through the hourglass, and the season of grace will be over. What lies beyond for those who fail to take advantage of the offered salvation is unthinkable (Hebrews 2:3).
The church has also been anointed to proclaim a message of good news, and all believers have something to say to the meek, the broken-hearted, the captives and the bound of our own generation. We have a word of comfort for those who mourn, and good tidings of great joy for those who will lay it all down at the feet of Jesus. Part of rebuilding the waste places (Isaiah 58:12) involves being priests of the LORD, interceding on behalf of a troubled world; and being ministers to the people (Isaiah 61:6), serving their best interests for the glory of His name.
In Isaiah 61:7, incidentally, Israel is promised a double portion of blessing: this is perhaps the counterpart of the “double” which she had already received from the LORD on account of her sins (Isaiah 40:2). Mercifully, the LORD renews His covenant with Israel, and this is not without impact upon the nations (Isaiah 61:8-9). Isaiah / Israel / the believer/ the church all respond with a hymn of joy at the grace of God which clothes us with salvation, and robes us in His righteousness (Isaiah 61:10-11).