Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 172

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 172

We move on into Chapter 61 this morning, titled "The Year Of The Lord's Favor". It begins with a passage that will be very familiar to us, for the Lord Jesus quoted a portion of it on the day He began His public ministry in Nazareth.

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon 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." (Isaiah 61:1-3a) 

Following His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus went to His hometown of Nazareth and was in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He stood up and read verses 1 and 2, ending with the announcement that He was proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor. Then He sat down and said, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:21) The year of the Lord's favor began with the advent of Christ. This "Anointed One" preached the good news to the poor. He healed the brokenhearted. He set free those who were held captive by sin. The message of His gospel led out of darkness into light those who were immersed in idolatry and did not know the God of Israel. At His first advent He fulfilled the portion of scripture that He quoted in Nazareth. But the year of the Lord's favor will continue on until the remainder of the prophecy is fulfilled. The Lord will avenge His people against their enemies and will transform Zion into all He ever wanted her to be. The "Anointed One" who speaks in this passage, the Messiah, will return and reign. He will comfort all who mourn, providing for those who trust in Him, and will exchange sorrow and despair for a new life of blessing and joy.

"They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord, for the display of His splendor." (Isaiah 61:3b) No one but God can uproot what God has planted. He brought the children of Israel out of Egypt into the promised land and told them they would remain there as long as they held fast to Him. When they broke their end of the bargain, the Lord cast them out of the land, but not for good. When this prophecy is fulfilled the people of Zion need never fear being cast out again. They will never turn from God and He will never remove them from the land. They are planted forever to the praise of His name.

"They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast." (Isaiah 61:4-6) The people completed some rebuilding when they were set free from Babylon and it was a long and difficult process, as we learn from the book of Nehemiah. This was the beginning of renewed hope for the people, but it was not the last time Jerusalem would be destroyed and rebuilt. According to some information I studied about the city, in addition to being destroyed twice, it has been besieged twenty-three times, attacked fifty-two times, and has been captured and recaptured forty-four times. But a day is coming in which it will be fully rebuilt as never before and no enemy will ever attack it again. The entire world will look to Zion for an example of how to serve the Lord. They will preach the gospel of peace to the nations, the nations who will in return flock to them with their wealth and honor. 

The nations are not slaves of Israel, but will voluntarily minister to Zion in order to free these priests to fully devote themselves to the work of the Lord. In the book of Deuteronomy the Lord cautioned the people never to muzzle the ox while he was treading the grain, because the ox was entitled to eat while he worked. The Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul both applied the passage from Deuteronomy to those who preach the gospel by saying that the worker is worthy of his wages. (Luke 10:7, 1 Timothy 5:18) Paul added, "Don't you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar?" (1 Corinthians 9:13) When the nations bring their wealth into Zion to the Lord's altar, these priests will be sustained by the offerings, enabling them to use all their time to preach the word of the Lord and to minister to others. If at at possible, every church ought to provide a living wage to its pastor so he will be free to devote all his time to studying and preaching the word of God and ministering to the flock. A good shepherd should be able to concentrate fully on his sheep. 

Zion's day of trouble is past and the Lord says, "Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours" (Isaiah 61:7) This verse always reminds me of a beautiful promise the Lord makes to His people through the prophet Joel, "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten---the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm---My great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will My people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed." (Joel 2:25-27)

The locusts ate many years of my life. I have little to show for the days when I was living far from God. As the Apostle Paul said, "What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!" (Romans 6:21) But in Christ we receive a double portion in place of our shame. He grants upon us what is His: the double portion that belongs to a firstborn son, for now we are joint-heirs with Christ and share in all that belongs to Him. (Romans 8:17) We receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit the Lord poured out in a double portion upon the prophet Elijah. We are also graced with the double portion of joy that belongs to God's people. 

Only the Lord can do such great things for Israel and for the church. He alone can redeem and restore, giving us beauty for ashes, crowning us with righteousness, and making us the children of God. 

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