The Third Sunday in Advent
December 17, 2023
Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11
The King Shall Come—
He is Bringing Perfect Peace!
1The 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,
2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3and 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.
10I 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.
11For 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,
While I will admit to being just a little bit biased, I think that Elijah has reached that stage in life where he is adorably cute. I say that because of some of the things he does and some of the things he says. For example, whether he’s at home or walking across the parking lot to come see me at church Elijah struts around like he owns the place. He has a deliberate gate to his steps and his arms are swingling like he is definitely “in charge.”
Then there are some of the things that he says. For example, not too long ago Elijah learned what it feels like to be “happy.” Sometimes he spontaneously says, “Elijah happy!” Sometimes he’ll look a me and ask, “Papa happy?” And sometimes if you ask him, “Elijah, are you happy?” he’ll get a big smile on his little face and say, “Happy!”
This is the time of the year when many people are “happy.” Whether it’s the Christmas decorations we see as we drive down the street or the Christmas songs we hear on the radio, whether it’s the Christmas presents we’ll soon be unwrapping or the Christmas food that we’ll soon be enjoying, whether it’s the Christmas services where we will gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ, or the family and friends we’ll gather together with in either their home or ours— there are any number of things that make us feel “happy”— especially at this time of the year!
While we thank the good Lord for all of the things that make us happy, we also realize that there are times that we do not feel happy. Those are the times that remind us that happiness is a feeling— a feeling that can wax or wane depending on our circumstances.
Our goal this morning is to recognize the difference between happiness and joy. While happiness is an emotion— joy is a condition. While happiness can be fleeting— joy is enduring. While happiness comes from our circumstances— joy comes from our King who comes to us as the Child of Bethlehem. With that distinction in mind, let’s study this portion of God’s holy Word under the theme: The King Shall Come— He is Bringing Perfect Joy!
Since I am the one who always emphasizes that the three most important things to remember whenever we are studying Scripture are: Context! Context! Context!, let’s take a moment to look at the context in which we find these words of Isaiah.
Through His servant Isaiah the Lord God revealed that because of their sin, because of their unfaithfulness to Him, the Lord was going to allow His Chosen People to be conquered by the Babylonians and carried off to Babylon as exiles. (See Isaiah 39) Life in captivity was not going to be easy for God’s people. Life in captivity would not provide God’s people many reasons to be happy. Life in captivity would remind God’s people that the LORD, the great “I AM,” is indeed the God of perfect justice, the God who punishes wickedness, rebellion and sin.
But through His servant Isaiah, the LORD, the great “I AM,” reassures His people that He is also the God of amazing grace and unlimited forgiveness! It is this grace and this forgiveness that gives God’s people joy— true joy, enduring joy, perfect joy! God the Holy Spirit led God’s people to embrace the joy that only the Lord their God could give to them by placing before them pictures— pictures that applied in a unique way to people who would be conquered and carried into exile. As we look at these pictures this morning we do not want to lose sight of the fact that this is the exact portion of Scripture that Jesus used when He preached in the synagogue of His hometown of Nazareth, the exact portion of Scripture which Jesus applied to Himself and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
The fact that Jesus applied these words to Himself gives us a proper and complete understanding of the opening words of our text, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” In the Old Testament era a person was “anointed” when they entered into the office of prophet, priest, or king. Jesus was “anointed” into all three of those offices at the time of His baptism by John in the Jordan River. You may recall that at Jesus’ baptism we’re told, “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him” (Matthew 3:16). This is when Jesus of Nazareth became Jesus the “Christ,” Jesus the “Anointed One.” Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, the One who was “anointed” to be our Prophet, our Priest and our King is the One who brings us perfect joy!
Joy— especially earthly joy— all too often eludes us, doesn’t it. You can tell when you are not focused on true joy when at this time of the year you define joy as the holiday elation you experience before the onset of the “January blues.” You can tell when you are not focused on true joy when your daily routine, when the people or events around you leave you feeling frustrated about your life or even doubtful about your faith.
That was the situation with God’s people in the days of Isiaah when they heard that they were going to be conquered by the Babylonians and carried off into exile. When their homes, their cities and their beloved Temple were destroyed, when their family and their friends were killed— they lost their joy. They lost their joy because they were too attached to the things of this world instead of remaining faithful to the Lord their God. This is a very good warning for us, my friends. If we base our joy on the temporary things of this world— a world that is passing away, a world that will one day be destroyed by fire— then we should not be surprised if we feel our joy slipping through our fingers! True joy, lasting joy, perfect joy can only be found when we stay focused on the One who has been “anointed” with the Holy Spirit to “preach good news to the poor”!
Jesus the Christ, Jesus the “Anointed One” is the One who brings true joy, perfect joy, into our hearts and our lives! Jesus brings this kind of joy to us poor, mortal, sinful human beings through the “good news” of the message of the Gospel, the Good News that through faith in what Jesus has done for us our sins are forgiven! Now that’s joy!
Jesus the Christ, Jesus the “Anointed One” brings this kind of joy to us when we are “broken hearted.” When we are overwhelmed with grief and with pain because of the damage our sin has caused in our relationship with God and in our relationship with others Jesus heals those wounds with the balm of His holy, precious, innocent blood.
Jesus the Christ, Jesus the “Anointed One” brings this kind of joy to us when He points us to the cross and proclaims to us what He has done to set us free from our captivity to sin, death and the devil and gives to us the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Jesus the Christ, Jesus the “Anointed One” brings us this perfect joy as He proclaims to us, “the year of the LORD’s favor.” This is a reference to the Old Testament Year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee was celebrated every fifty years. During the Year of Jubilee anyone who had sold their family property got it back. During the Year of Jubilee God’s people were not to do any planting or harvesting. They were to eat whatever grew by itself and God promised it would always be enough. During the Year of Jubilee slaves were set free and debts were canceled. It was the Year of Jubilee— a year of great joy!
It’s not difficult to take the Old Testament Year of Jubilee and apply it to us as the New Testament children of God. As the One who has been “anointed” with the Holy Spirit Jesus brings us the perfect joy of knowing that through His perfect life, through His innocent suffering and death, and through His victorious resurrection from the dead the “debt” of our sin has been canceled! Through Jesus we have been set free from our slavery to sin, death and the devil!
Closely connected to the “year of the LORD’s favor” is the “day of vengeance of our God.” When viewed together the “year of the LORD’s favor” and the “day of vengeance of our God” lead us to think of Judgment Day. On that day Jesus will bring us the perfect joy that comes from hearing Him say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). We will also hear Him say to all of the unbelievers, to everyone who literally or figuratively spit in His face by rejecting what He reveals to us in His holy inspired Word, to everyone who tried to damage and destroy His Church here on this earth, we will hear Him say to them, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). While the eternal condemnation of everyone who rejects and ridicules our dear Lord and Savior will not bring us any joy, we do and we will have the joy of knowing that our God is not only the God of perfect unbounded grace, but He is also the God of perfect consistent justice. He says what He means, and He means what He says.
As we look at verse three of our text we see three beautiful pictures of contrast that God the Holy Spirit had the prophet Isaiah place before God’s people. These three contrasting pictures help us to see, remember and appreciate the perfect joy that our King brings to us. Look at what the Holy Spirit promises that our King will do for us! Our King will give us “a crown of beauty instead of ashes,” “the oil of gladness instead of mourning,” a “garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” These three pictures highlight different aspects of the perfect joy that our King gives to us!
We have the joy of knowing that because our King endured the punishment of hell for us, what is waiting for us on the other side of the grave is “a crown of beauty.” In Revelation 2:10 Jesus describes this as “a crown of life.” We have the joy of knowing that with our King holding our hand as we journey through this world, even the things that cause us to mourn— such as sickness and pain, sadness and death— are “soothed” by His “oil of gladness.” We have the joy of knowing that our King has clothed us with a “garment of praise”— the “garment of praise” that enables us to overcome the “spirit of despair” that permeates this dying and decaying world.
All three of these pictures are like sparkling ornaments that serve to bring praise and glory to our King! The fact that our King deserves all the praise, and all the glory is brought out by the prophet Isaiah when he says concerning us, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” Think about what these words mean for us, my friends. Our joy is not based on anything we do. Our joy is not based on anything in this world. Our joy is based on what our King has done for us! Our joy is based on His power and His glory, His righteousness and His splendor!
That brings us to the closing verses of our text, verses ten and eleven. One of the most joyous occasions that we attend is a wedding. When it is our wedding that joy fills our hearts to overflowing. When we attend someone else’s wedding the joy that fills their hearts, the joy that is evident in their voice and on their face, is both powerful and beautiful!
Scripture says that our relationship with our King is like the relationship between a Groom and His bride. It is a beautiful relationship in which Jesus takes our hand and walks by our side. It is a joyous relationship in which we celebrate the love and the unity that binds us to our Bridegroom, the love and the unity that will last into all of eternity!
While I may be a little bit biased it is amazing to watch little Elijah strut across the parking lot swinging his arms like he is “in charge.” While I may be a little bit biased it is touching to see little Elijah smile and say, “Elijah happy!” The fact that this is not the case each and every day reminds us that “happiness” is based on how we feel at any given moment in time.
Praise God that while our happiness can wax and wane from one day to the next, our King brings us joy— perfect joy!— each and every day! This joy is based on what our King has done for us (Pointing to the cross) and what our King has transformed us to be— “oaks of righteousness…for the display of his splendor.”
What a wonderful reason to say with a heart that is filled with joy:
To God be the glory!