Suddenly, Thanksgiving and Black Friday are in the rearview mirror. Advent is upon us. This season of hope insists that we look for words of encouragement beyond the sobering headlines. As I wander through the hundreds of verses chosen for this particular study, the words of Isaiah grab my attention. Chapter 61 begins with these three sentences unevenly distributed across the first three verses. I encourage you to pause between each as you read these carefully scribed thoughts:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Luke records that Jesus used Isaiah’s words at the beginning of his earthly ministry. The significance of this reference might be difficult for us to appreciate. At this point in Jesus’ life on earth, he’s been baptized, then seemingly disappeared to be tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. The way Luke tells the story, Jesus comes back to Galilee being praised by everyone as he returns to the local Synagogue to teach. There was something electric about his demeanor now. It seems like he’s getting traction. His next stop is to his hometown of Nazareth, where we read these words from Jesus:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
The scroll of Isaiah contained words that were about 700 years old when Jesus read the words. Generations have heard the words repeated for years. Luke tells us, “the scroll of Isaiah was handed to him.” This would have been a pretty large scroll, probably a favorite of the Jews, especially toward the end. But this time, they heard the words spoken by Jesus, and something has changed.
…the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. Luke 4:20
There are probably times in your life when someone says something in a way that stops you in your tracks. Frozen. Imagine the scene. Pause. In my imagination, there are no sounds whatsoever. Not a bird, no cricket, not even a child stirring in the back. Complete silence. Then Jesus says the unthinkable:
He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ Luke 4:21
As you read the rest of Luke 4, you’ll see the story doesn’t end well. This might be difficult to appreciate if we overlook the beginning of the verse above, “He began.” Jesus had lots of things to say at that point, and he didn’t need to scroll as a prop.
Jesus taught them that the fulfillment of the scriptures is standing right in front of them. From this day forward, the captives can be freed, prisoners of their dark past can enter the light, mourning and grieving are a thing of the past! No more despair! Hear the good news!
Through Jesus Christ, all of these possibilities are a present reality. If you are captive, you are free through Christ. If you’re a prisoner, freedom is within your reach. Those lost in mourning, living without hope, shrouded in darkness are invited to bask in the glory of his light. His warm embrace awaits.
What has the Lord appointed you to proclaim? I’m confident that if you search for this answer, you will find something beautiful. One way to discover the goodness that lives inside of you is to serve the least, the lost, and the lonely in some way. You don’t need to dive in headfirst, though some have found success with this approach. If you’re already serving in some capacity, take another step into the unknown to grow your faith or invite someone else to begin their journey.
Those who have received Christ have the privilege of sharing this great news. Go out this day and show someone the love of Christ.
Thoughts about serving others
This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.
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Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.