The Third Sunday in Advent
December 17, 2017
Isaiah 61:1-3, 10, 11
Come, Lord Jesus…to Set Us Free!
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 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 gladness 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. 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 righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 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. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Have you ever heard of the Innocence Project? The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld. The purpose of the Innocence Project is to “assist prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing.” As they celebrate their 25th Anniversary, the Innocence Project is happy to announce that they have exonerated 350 people— some of whom have served time on death row. The California Innocence Project was founded in 1999. It is based at the California Western School of Law in San Diego. On average, the California Innocence Project reviews more than 2,000 claims of innocence from California inmates each year. Since it opened the California Innocence Project has exonerated 23 people. Currently they are actively investigating 16 cases.
Personally, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be sent to prison— perhaps even sentenced to death— for a crime that I knew in my heart I did not commit. I do, however, know what it is like to be set free from a sentence that would most certainly end in death. How can I say that, my friends? As we will see today, I can say that for the same reason you can say that!
The sermon text that we have before us today proclaims to us a glorious message of freedom. For that reason we will study this text under the theme: Come, Lord Jesus— to Set Us Free! Let’s see how these prophetic picturesque words of our God teach us two truths. First, let’s see how these words teach us that Jesus came into this world to set us free— free from sin. Then let’s see how these words teach us that Jesus came into this world to set us free— free to rejoice!
Since these words are indeed a prophecy concerning what the Lord God was going to do for His Old Testament children we would be remiss if we did not look at these words in the context in which they were originally written. So let’s take a moment to do just that.
As you may recall from last Sunday’s sermon God had told His people that because of their sin and because of their unfaithfulness He was going to allow first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians to conquer them. While the Northern Kingdom was never allowed to return home (they are now called the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel”), God promised the people of Judah and Jerusalem that after 70 years of captivity in Babylon they would be allowed to return home once again. Our text for today gives God’s people the opportunity to peer into the future and picture in their minds what it was going to be like when they were given the freedom to leave Babylon and go home.
While the return from Babylonian Captivity was indeed the first fulfillment of these prophetic words, I would like us to focus our attention on the fact that the ultimate fulfillment of these prophetic words is found in none other than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. How do we know this? In Luke chapter four we are given the account of Jesus returning to His hometown of Nazareth. On the Sabbath Day He went to the synagogue. As a visiting Rabbi Jesus was asked to deliver the message for that day. He was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus unrolled the scroll, read the opening verses of our text and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21; See also Luke 7:22). Approximately 700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah was given these inspired words of our text to describe who Jesus is and what Jesus would do for you, for me, and for the entire human race.
Look at the opening verse of our text. Jesus is the “Anointed One”— which in Hebrew is the title “Messiah” and in Greek is the title “Christ.” Jesus was “anointed” with the Holy Spirit at the time of His baptism (See Matthew 3:13-17). As the “Anointed One,” Jesus’ ministry centered on “preaching good news to the poor.” Without a doubt Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of these prophetic words of Isaiah.
As we look at the pictures that the good Lord gave to Isaiah here in our text and as we look at the ministry of Jesus the Christ it is so very clear that the reason Jesus came into this world was to set us free— free from our sin. Just look at the two pictures contained in this opening verse. The first picture is found in the words, “He sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.” Whether it is our own sins or the sins that others commit, sin leaves God’s children “brokenhearted,” doesn’t it? Think of the woman who was caught committing adultery and then publicly dragged to Jesus for justice. (John 8) Think of the apostle Peter who denied even knowing who Jesus of Nazareth is. (See Matthew 26:69ff & John 21:15ff). Think of the women as they went to Jesus’ tomb early on that first Easter Sunday. Think of Jesus’ disciples as they locked themselves in a room somewhere in Jerusalem. (See John 20-21). Think of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (See Luke 24:13ff). Think of— yourself! You know exactly what it is like to be “broken” by sin. You know exactly what it is like to be “brokenhearted” either when you realize the sins that you have committed or when you find out that someone you love has sinned against God or against you.
As the Lord’s “Anointed One” Jesus came to “bind up the brokenhearted” by proclaiming to them the “good news.” What is the “good news”? That’s an easy question to answer, isn’t it! The “good news” is found in Jesus’ words to the paralytic: “Take heart…your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). The “good news” is found in the very first words that the risen Christ spoke to His “brokenhearted” disciples on Easter Sunday: “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19). The “good news” is that through faith in Jesus as the Lord’s “Anointed One” our “broken hearts” now have the “peace” that comes from knowing that all of our sins are forgiven!
Now look at the second picture. It is found in the words, “He sent me…to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” By nature we are all born prisoners of war, aren’t we. By nature we have been taken captive by our three most powerful enemies: sin, death and the devil. Can we defeat any one of these enemies on our own? Absolutely not! By nature we don’t have either the strength or the desire to even fight our enemies much less defeat them. Left on our own we would all hear the Judge of the living and the dead pronounce this “sentence” upon us, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
Is that what our heavenly Father wants for us, my friends? Of course not! His love for us— His love for you— is so great that as we heard last week, He sent His own Son to fight and defeat our enemies for us! Think of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Think of John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Think of John 19:30, “It is finished.” Think of 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” The war against our spiritual enemies is over and our Brother Jesus won! (Pointing to the cross)
Through the work of the Lord’s “Anointed One” you are free, my friends. But you know as well as I that because of the sinful nature that lives inside of us we still need to hear and we still need to heed God’s warning, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.” We are so fickle and we are so weak that sometimes we find ourselves completely engulfed by sin even before we realize what’s happening. We are so fickle and we are so weak that sometimes we jump into the deep end of the sea of sin knowing full well what we are doing. If/when we find ourselves in either one of those situations now is the time to turn to our God and say, “Come, Lord Jesus to set me free!” If we find that for one reason or another we have taken our eyes off of Jesus and His cross and now find ourselves sinking deeper into a sea of sin, now is the time to say along with Peter, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30). And as you have heard me say on more than one occasion— whenever a repentant child of God turns to the Lord and asks Him for help, will He ever say “No!”? Absolutely not! Jesus is always there to help us. Jesus is always there to forgive us. Jesus is always there to set us free— even from the foolishness of our own sin!
Once again we have spent most of our time discussing the first portion of our text. But, we understand the freedom that the Lord’s “Anointed One” has secured for us it is not difficult for us to see that because of what Jesus had done for us (pointing to the cross) you and I are indeed free to rejoice! Look at verses two and three of our text. Using pictures that were very common for God’s Old Testament children Isaiah describes our “freedom to rejoice”!
The “year of the LORD’s favor” in verse two is a reference to the Old Testament Year of Jubilee. God commanded that every fiftieth year be declared a Year of Jubilee. This meant that if you fell on hard times and had to sell your family property, during the Year of Jubilee— you got it back “free and clear.” This meant that during the Year of Jubilee all slaves were to be set free. (See Leviticus 25) We can only imagine the freedom to rejoice that the Year of Jubilee automatically brought to God’s people.
Now look at verse three of our text. It dove-tails perfectly with verse one! Set free from captivity by the Lord’s “Anointed One” God’s people would rejoice by wearing “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.” Again, we can only imagine the joy that God’s people felt when they were set free from their Babylonian Captivity and were allowed to return home once again!
But what I would like you to especially take note of, my friends, is the next picture that Isaiah uses and how that picture applies to you. Isaiah writes, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” In the eyes of God you are an “oak of righteousness.” In the eyes of God you are a “display of his splendor.” Why? Because you have been so “good”? No. Because you are so “good looking”? No. You are an “oak of righteousness,” you are a “display of his splendor” because of what Isaiah says in verse ten of our text, “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 righteousness.”
When God the Holy Spirit created the gift of saving faith in your heart— either through the power of Holy Baptism or through the power of His holy Word— He “arrayed” you in a “robe of righteousness.” You now have the joy of knowing that when the God of heaven looks at you He sees one of His dearly beloved children dressed in a beautiful white robe of perfect righteousness— the robe of righteousness that His own Son won for you right there on the cross of Calvary’s hill. You now have the joy of knowing that when you die and find yourself standing at the entrance to your heavenly Father’s Home that beautiful white robe of righteousness guarantees that you will hear the Owner of the House say to you, “Welcome home, My child! Welcome home!” (See Matthew 25:21; Matthew 25:34; Revelation 7:13-17)
Yes, my friends. No matter what difficulties you could possibly face in your life here on this earth, the “robe of righteousness” that the good Lord has given to you means that you always have both a reason and the freedom to rejoice!
Personally, I think we are to be very thankful for the people who are involved in the Innocence Project and the work which they are doing. Sometimes our system of human justice does indeed fail— even here in our great country. At the same time, as Christians you and I realize that the work of the Innocence Project will always pale in comparison to the work done by the Lord’s “Anointed One,” our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Son of God didn’t come into this world as our true Brother to prove that we are innocent. From all of eternity He knew that we are guilty— “guilty as sin.” No rather, the Son of God came into this world as our true Brother so that as the Lord’s “Anointed One” He could set us free from the “sentence” we deserved to receive by enduring that “sentence” for us! (Pointing to the cross) Through faith in Jesus we now have the joy of knowing that we have been “Declared: Not Guilty!” by the living God Himself!
May God grant that as we continue preparing our hearts and our lives to once again celebrate the birth of the Lord’s “Anointed One” that in both humility and in confidence we will kneel before the Lord our God and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus to set us free!” Set us free from our sin. Set us free to rejoice!
To God be the glory!