Today’s reading: Isaiah 59-63.
Jesus never shrank back from a challenge. The religious authorities of his day constantly challenged him, but you could also say that his entire life was a challenge to the Jewish people. “Here I am,” he was saying. “I’m your Messiah. Believe in me, and God will usher in your heaven on earth.” That was never more true than on a Sabbath day in the synagogue at Nazareth, shortly after Jesus returned from his temptation in the wilderness. He was given the scroll to read, and it was today’s passage from Isaiah.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach 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…” Isaiah 61:1-2
Jesus put down the scroll at that point and began to preach, starting with the proclamation, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He was telling them that he was their Messiah. Isaiah had declared the miraculous things the Messiah would do, and Jesus was saying to them, “I am doing those things.” He knew their hearts, and he knew they wanted to see proof of the miracles he had done elsewhere, but he told them he could do no miracles in Nazareth because of their lack of faith. His own people rejected his claim to be their Messiah, and their response was typical of most of the Jewish nation. Paul later wrote, in Romans 9, that the Jews stumbled and fell over the stumbling stone of Jesus because they thought they could earn righteousness through works rather than faith.
Jesus closed the scroll before finishing the passage in Isaiah, but if he had read on they would have heard of all the blessings God planned for them:
- a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair
- rebuilding of the ancient ruins and restoration of the places long devastated; renewal of the ruined cities that had been devastated for generations
- They would feed on the wealth of nations, and boast in their riches.
- Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed.
The promise of those blessings still remains in effect for the Jewish people. God does not forget his promises. There are more and greater promises in the previous chapter of Isaiah, about which one commentator said, “the language is too glorious to apply to anything that as yet has happened.” Paul talked about the future fulfillment of God’s blessing the Jews in Romans 11:
I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”
Isaiah foresees a blessed future for the Jewish people. Most rejected Jesus’ initial offer, but the time is coming when the offer, still in effect, will be fully accepted, by faith.
Image by MTSOfan on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0