Good News

Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-4 & 8-11

Title: Good news


  • Introduction
  • Messiah – jubilee
  • Yahweh – justice
  • Redeemed – joy
  • Conclusion


This morning’s sermon is based on the lectionary reading for today, Isaiah 61, verses 1-4 and verses 8-11. In today’s reading we hear three voices:

–         The voice of the Messiah, proclaiming jubilee, in verses 1-4

–         The voice of Yahweh, affirming his justice, in verses 8-9

–         And the voice of the redeemed, expressing their joy, in verses 10-11

–         Jubilee, justice and joy. From Isaiah 61 we read…


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 broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour 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 splendour. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. 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.” 10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us


Good news is a relative term – what passes as good news for one person can be bad news for someone else

–         It depends on your perspective and on where your loyalties lie


The Black Caps’ recent test series win over West Indies was good news if you are a Black Caps supporter, but not good news if you support the West Indies

–         If house prices go down then that’s good news if you are a first home buyer but bad news if you’ve only just bought a new home

–         We could go on but you get the point, generally in our society today, one person’s good news is another person’s bad news


The other thing to say here is that sometimes what appears to be bad news at first, actually turns out to be good news in the long run

–         Maybe you miss out on a promotion at work and it feels like bad news at the time

–         But then 6 months later the organisation gets a new CEO and she restructures everything so the job you missed out on gets disestablished – had you got the job you’d be out of work now

–         Or maybe you have an overseas holiday planned but for some reason you are prevented from going

–         It seems like bad news at the time until a few days later you learn that the resort you had booked to stay in was flattened by a Tsunami

–         Sometimes what seems like bad news at first, turns out to be good news


The message of Isaiah 61 is good news for the righteous poor – but is it good news for anyone else? We’ll have to see


Messiah – jubilee:

Verses 1-4 are the voice of the Messiah proclaiming jubilee


Messiah is a Hebrew word which literally means ‘anointed one’

–         Priests in Old Testament times would be anointed with oil as a sign of their consecration and commissioning as priests

–         Likewise when a king was chosen to lead the nation God would send his prophet to pour oil on the king’s head as a sign that the one being anointed was God’s choice to lead Israel

–         (The prophet Samuel anointed Saul to be king and then later David)


We know it is the voice of the Messiah speaking in the opening verses of Isaiah 61 because he says…

–         The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour


The ‘year of the Lord’s favour’ is most likely a reference to the year of Jubilee

–         Under Jewish Law every 50 years was a special anniversary when everyone returned to their ancestral land

–         It was a sabbatical year – which means the people didn’t sow or reap crops, they simply ate what grew by itself in the fields and had a holiday for 12 months – sounds fantastic doesn’t it

–         Slaves were set free, debts were forgiven and land was redistributed so that any gap between the rich and poor was eliminated – everyone went back to an even footing


The year of Jubilee was good news if you were poor because it meant redemption and restoration – you got the family farm back with a fresh start and a clean slate

–         Obviously if you were rich it meant giving back some of the wealth you had accumulated during the past 50 years

–         It’s not that the rich became poor – they just went back to being like everyone else again


Now that might seem unfair to us, because we are immersed in a capitalist society where price is driven by demand & supply

–         House prices have gone up in NZ because the demand for houses is greater than the supply

–         But in ancient Israel the value of land wasn’t driven by demand

–         In ancient Israel the value of land was determined by the number of years remaining to Jubilee, when the land would return to its original owner

–         So, if there were 5 years left to Jubilee you only paid half as much as you would 10 years out from Jubilee

–         In effect this means you weren’t buying land to own forever, you were leasing it for a fixed period of time

–         Price was determined by time (not demand) – a much fairer system


So was the year of Jubilee bad news then if you were rich?

–         Well, it depends on your perspective and where your loyalty lies

–         If you were the kind of rich person who loved God (more than money) and was generous toward your neighbour, then it was good news for you too, because you would be happy for your neighbour

–         But, if you were the kind of rich person who was greedy and loved accumulating wealth then the year of Jubilee would still be good news, only it would have felt like bad news at the time


You see, losing wealth might feel unpleasant at the time but is actually a form of redemption in the long run

–         Giving back to the community sets us free from slavery to greed

–         The year of the Lord’s favour (Jubilee) is good news for everyone because it’s about putting everything back in the right place

–         It’s about putting God in charge of our life (not money) and it’s about putting our neighbour beside us, not above us or below us


The Messiah of Isaiah 61 is speaking this message of good news to Jews who were returning to their homeland after being held captive in exile for 70 years

–         The Jewish refugees are the broken hearted receiving healing

–         They are the captives being redeemed (or set free) from exile

–         They are the poor and dispossessed being restored to their ancestral lands      


The year of the Lord’s favour is also the day of God’s vengeance

–         God’s favour and vengeance are two sides of the same coin

–         We don’t normally like thinking about God’s vengeance

–         We like God to be friendly & indulgent toward us like Santa Claus or a dotting grandparent, but vengeance belongs to the Lord

–         God is the only one who can be trusted with vengeance

–         He does not over punish as we are inclined to do


Jesus read these opening verses of Isaiah 61 in the synagogue at Nazareth near the beginning of his public ministry and he added that today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing [1]

–         In other words, I’m the Messiah that Isaiah talked about and I’ve come to bring Jubilee, to set the captives free and so forth

–         That’s a pretty big claim to make

–         For some reason though he left out the part about the day of vengeance

–         I don’t think that’s because there is no vengeance with God

–         I think God wanted to postpone the day vengeance in order to give Israel’s enemies the chance to be redeemed as well

–         Any way the people of Nazareth didn’t like that and they tried to throw Jesus over a cliff, but he escaped – it wasn’t his time to die


From verse 3 the Messiah continues his proclamation of good news saying he will comfort all who mourn in Zion

–         Zion is another name for Jerusalem

–         When the exiles returned to find their beloved Jerusalem in ruins and occupied by foreigners they were devastated

–         Put yourself in their shoes for a moment

–         They had been living in Mesopotamia (Babylonia) for 70 years.

–         Most of them would have only heard about Jerusalem from parents or grandparents

–         They finally get royal permission to return to their homeland and are filled with a great sense of anticipation & hope

–         But on arriving to the holy city they find the place is a mess

–         They’re tired, the kids are grumpy, there’s no McDonalds and there’s so much work to do

–         To make matters worse the people who moved in while they were away aren’t that welcoming or friendly – in fact they are a thorn in the returnees’ side.

–         What a huge disappointment – feels like bad news at first but actually they will discover the good news in the long run


Putting ashes on the head was a sign of grief and shame

–         The Messiah will bestow on 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

–         In other words he will reverse their circumstances & give them something to smile about


They will be called oaks of righteousness

–         Righteousness means right relationship – relating to others in a right way

–         Loving your neighbour as you love yourself – that sort of thing

–         An oak tree speaks of strength and being established, firmly rooted

–         It is oaks (plural) as in a forest of oak trees

–         The refugees may feel vulnerable and misplaced on first returning to their homeland but they will be called oaks of righteousness, meaning they will become an established long standing community, where people love their neighbour

–         Of course, it takes time for an oak tree to grow – this won’t happen overnight


Verse 4 says the people will rebuild, restore and renew ruined cities

–         Jerusalem had been laid waste but God will give his people the strength to rebuild

–         Their present may look bleak but their future is strong and hopeful


Yahweh – justice:

Okay, so that’s the voice of the Messiah proclaiming jubilee


The second voice we hear is that of the Lord God (Yahweh) affirming his justice, in verse 8…

–         “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. …”


This is a statement about the character of God – the Lord is just & fair


From our point of view in history it is easy to take the justice of God for granted

–         As Christians we worship God because he is good – he is just & merciful

–         But people in the ancient world (500 years before Christ) did not automatically associate the gods with justice

–         For most pagans in the ancient world the gods had little or no moral compass – so for Yahweh (the God of Israel) to say “I love justice” was a significant and shocking thing

–         ‘What? A God who loves justice. That’s unheard of”


This Jewish/Christian belief that God is just poses a problem for some people – because this life is not always fair

–         Sometimes bad things happen to good people

–         We might not always get what we deserve – we may suffer loss at the hands of others – but God has a way of compensating us for those losses

–         He has a way of evening things up – restoring our losses and making things right

–         The year of Jubilee was one of the ways God evened things up


Of course, some losses can’t be easily restored in our lifetime (even with Jubilee) – in those cases we trust God to make things right in eternity

–         We can count on God’s justice because it is fundamental to who he is

–         God can’t be unfair


In the second part of verse 8 the Lord (Yahweh) says…

–         In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them…


The ancestors of the returning exiles had broken God’s covenant – that’s why they were sent into exile in the first place (kind of a massive time out)

–         But God will make a new covenant with the descendants of these refugees

–         This covenant is based on God’s faithfulness to his people, not on the people’s worthiness

–         Once again we see that what God does, flows out of who he is

–         The Lord is making a covenant because he’s faithful and that’s what the refugees need – security & commitment from a higher power


People generally change countries to improve their lot

–         But coming to a new country and starting again can be challenging

–         Parents will put up with the hard ship though if they think it will ultimately mean a better quality of life for their kids

–         Yahweh’s words give the returning refugees the assurance they need

–         The Lord is basically saying, I know it is tough for you now but it will get better (easier) for your descendants


The band Imagine Dragons have a song called ‘Not Today’

–         The chorus reads…

–         “It’s gotta get easier and easier somehow but not today, not today”

–         The returning exiles had the hope of knowing God would make things easier somehow, but not today

–         It would be their descendants who would be called blessed


Jesus is the one through whom God established this everlasting covenant

–         Jesus is the Messiah through whom the blessing of God comes


We’ve heard the voice of Messiah proclaiming Jubilee

–         And we’ve heard the voice of Yahweh affirming his justice

–         Now let’s listen to the voice of the redeemed, expressing their joy in verses 10 & 11


Redeemed – joy:

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God… as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.


Delight, rejoicing, bride & groom on their wedding day – these are words and images of joy

–         And the reason for the joy is that the Lord (my God) has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness

–         God has covered our shame (our nakedness) and made us look good

–         He has made us publicly acceptable once more


There’s a movie called Central Intelligence, starring Dwayne Johnson, the Rock

–         It’s nothing too heavy – just feel good entertainment

–         In this film Dwayne Johnson plays a character named Bob Stone

–         Bob gets picked on and bullied in high school

–         As a prank some guys steal his clothes while he’s in the shower and when he chases them to get his clothes back they lead him into an assembly hall where the whole school sees him in his birthday suit

–         They don’t actually show you anything (thankfully) – they just leave it to your imagination


Anyway, everyone is laughing at Bob except for the most popular guy in school who takes off his jacket and gives it to Bob to cover himself

–         The jacket was Bob’s salvation – covering his embarrassment & shame

–         That simple act of kindness changes Bob’s life

–         Bob studies hard and goes to the gym and undergoes a remarkable renewal, becoming a buff undercover agent for the CIA


The refugees are a bit like Bob Stone in the movie – they have been publicly humiliated, shamed for all the world to see

–         But God has covered their shame – he has clothed them with his own jacket (his own righteousness) and this saves them, precipitating a renewal of their life


In verse 11 the redeemed of the Lord sound a note of hope…

–         For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.


There’s that word righteousness again, keeps coming up doesn’t it

–         This image of the soil making the sprout come up and seeds grow reminds us of the oaks of righteousness in verse 3

–         Righteousness and praise are compared to a sprout and seeds – living things that start out small but contain incredible potency

–         The sprouts and seeds then are an image of spiritual renewal

–         God is the one who grows righteousness & praise

–         The Lord is the one who brings renewal


The sprout and seeds of righteousness & praise are not like Jack’s bean stalk – they don’t grow to the sky overnight

–         They take time to grow – in due course it will get easier to do right and easier to praise God, even if it doesn’t feel like it today


So often we approach Christmas with this expectation that it will be perfect or complete – that it will be the fruit fully formed, ripe and ready to eat

–         But that kind of expectation usually leads to disappointment

–         We are better to think of Christmas as a seed or a sprout – the beginning of renewal, not it’s end


In the meantime, if we truly believe things will get better in the future, if we know Jubilee is coming, it gives us joy & strength to cope in the present



Isaiah 61 is a message of good news

–         The Messiah proclaims that a time of Jubilee is coming

–         The Lord (Yahweh) affirms his justice (his commitment) to the people

–         And those overdue for redemption are filled with hope & the joy it gives

[1] Luke 4: 21