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Good News In Troubling Times: Jesus – God’s Anointed One, Isaiah 61:1-11

Jesus: God’s Anointed One
Isaiah 61:1-11
As a pastor I’ve had the opportunity to preside over many, many
weddings and funerals. They’re significant moments, watershed
moments in the lives of the people involved. And they really are
quite similar. Both represent the beginning of a new life for both
those being celebrated and their friends and family. Both
usually involve a mix of laughter and tears, joy and sadness.
Both involve first steps into the unknown. One represents the
birth of a new family. The other a birth into new life.
Of course, there are differences too. I found this humorous take
on the similarities and differences between weddings and
funerals on a funeral home’s web site.
“The differences are be subtle but they are there nonetheless.
The biggest is probably that people do not usually do the
“chicken dance” at a funeral, and even if someone does, it rarely
catches on. At a funeral, depressed people cry and scream in
pain, this does not happen until months after a wedding. At a
funeral, teary eyed mourners step up to the podium to eulogize
the departed. At a wedding reception a drunken idiot stands at
the podium and makes an inappropriate toast.
After a funeral the guest of honor leaves in a long black
limousine, while the guests of honor at a wedding leave in a
puke green Honda Civic with a crumpled fender and tin cans
dragging behind them. No one writes cute little sayings in soap
on the rear window of the hearse either. When funeral services
end, people go home and reflect on the life of a lost friend or
relative. When weddings end, people end up in all sort of places,
some vomit uncontrollably in a holding cell.
The gifts are usually better at weddings. Re-gifting for funerals
is just not cool. It’s considered tacky to do the “hokey pokey” at a
funeral but at a wedding …. well, never mind. Bands have a
hard time booking gigs at funerals but have no problem turning
a wedding into a wake. Yes, the music is better at funerals, and
no one is jealous of the attention the guest of honor receives.
Weddings require months of planning and cost a small fortune
to pull off. Funeral Planning takes a few days and is usually
more entertaining. Funerals don’t have after parties, just after
At a woman’s funeral, her friends are not forced to wear hideous
dresses so they don’t upstage the corpse. Weddings are blessed
affairs in which two lovers are united forever in the eyes of God,
and their families become one, sharing holidays, breaking bread,
loaning money, and opening their homes to each other. A funeral
finally puts an end to all of that.
At a wedding single women scramble to catch the bride’s garter,
signaling that they will be next. The tradition isn’t nearly as
popular at funerals.
Falling in love and getting married makes the couple feel like
they were struck by lightning, a corpse just feels like it was
struck by a bus. People attending a funeral come to show their
respect to a dearly departed loved one. People only go to
weddings for the open bar. Weddings have an adorable ring
bearer. Funerals just have pallbearers, and they aren’t usually
that adorable either. An Elvis impersonator can perform a
wedding at a drive through chapel. Try the same thing at a
funeral and everyone acts like you are some kind of jerk. A
funeral marks the end of a person’s life. A wedding marks the
end of two lives. When a funeral ends guests leave the church
and move to the cemetery, after a wedding guests move to the
banquet room of the Motel 6. And the deceased’s make-up is
usually better than the bride’s.
The gospels record Jesus attending both weddings and funerals.
At the wedding, the host ran out of wine (I guess the bar was a
little too “open” at this particular wedding!) so Jesus turned
ordinary water into extraordinary wine – better wine than the
finest wine the host had served. It was the first miracle he
performed. He actually missed the funeral of his close friend
Lazarus, but when he did come to visit the family and pay his
respects, he brought the deceased Lazarus back from the dead to
pay his respects to him directly. Jesus significantly transformed
both the wedding and the funeral. He infused both with joy, in
the case of the wedding, a joy deeper than the joy already being
That’s interesting because in the Bible, marriage is actually the
most common symbol used to depict in human terms the kind of
relationship God desires with us. A marriage, at its best, is a
relationship of deep, deep intimacy – a level of love and knowing
not known or shared in other relationships. One of St. Paul’s
favorite ways of describing the church is as the bride of Christ.
Jesus often used marriage imagery in his teaching about the
coming of God’s reign in and through his life and ministry.
Revelation describes the intimacy with God and deep joy of
eternity in God’s kingdom as a cosmic wedding feast. And the
Old Testament prophet Isaiah borrows imagery from ancient
Jewish marriage customs to describe what God is doing in the
world in Christ. Turn with me to Isaiah 61. We’re going look at
this whole chapter, and we’re starting with verses 1-3.
In Luke 4, right after Jesus was tempted by Satan in the
wilderness, he returned to his hometown of Nazareth and when
the next sabbath rolled around, he went to the synagogue there
to worship. And he volunteered to choose a Scripture to read. So
he stood, asked for the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, turned to this
passage, read the first two verses, sat down, and said, “Today
this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:21). In
other words, Jesus stood up in the Jewish house of worship in
his hometown, among people who all knew him well, read this
passage, and said, “I’m the one this passage is talking about.”
Talk about a gutsy move. By this time the Jews knew that the
Holy Spirit anointed servant of God that Isaiah was talking
about here and in the other passages from Isaiah we’re looking
at this Advent season was the messiah God would send to rescue
his people. And to be honest, in his depiction of the messiah as a
suffering servant, he actually made things pretty clear. But they
completely missed the point, as we humans so often do. They
expected a grand entry by a mighty warrior who would lead
them to victory over their oppressors and become their
triumphant king. And this boy, now a young man, who they had
watched grow up running around in their streets, and probably
in and out of their houses, playing with his brothers and friends,
was just so … ordinary. He was so unkinglike. They all lived in
Nazareth together, and everyone knew that nothing good ever
came from Nazareth. There were even some rumors about Mary
and Joseph not being fully married when Mary got pregnant. In
fact, after Jesus made his gutsy, bold proclamation, that he was
the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, Luke records their reaction.
It was, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Lk. 4:22).

Who does Jesus think he is? He’s just the son of one of our local
carpenters. Is he crazy or what? Yeah, it was definitely gutsy.
And possibly insane. Unless what Jesus said was true – that he
really was, and is, the fulfillment of this prophecy, and all of
Isaiah’s (and the other prophets too) prophecies of a coming
So what is it that Jesus was claiming about himself? What is
that that Jesus was claiming to be doing? The first thing he said
is that he was, and is, anointed by the Holy Spirit to do
something special for God, and for us. That means that he came
with supernatural wisdom and strength. Not special human
strength, but the grit and determination to do what God was
asking him to do – to bring justice and righteousness to earth.
Jesus was bringing God’s just and righteous reign to earth. Now,
for justice to be present, wrongdoing has to be punished and
those who have been wronged must be restored. Jesus took the
punishment for our sin upon himself, so wrongdoing has been
punished. And what did he spend his time doing? Healing the
sick. Driving out demons. Spending time with outcasts. He was
restoring those who had been wrongly hurt by the sin of others.
He was both doing it for them, and modeling the behavior that
he asks of us as his people – restoring the outcast and the
Righteousness is the quality of being right in the eyes of God. In
other words, our character, our conscience, our conduct, and our
words are in alignment with the character of God. And we all
know that none of us can do that perfectly. Not all the time. The
best that the best among us, saints like Joann and Cheryl and
Ruth, can manage on our own is a general approximation some
of the time. But before he was sacrificed for us, before he died in
our place, Jesus lived rightly before God FOR US. And now the
Holy Spirit is at work IN US, shaping us, helping us to live like
Jesus lived, strengthening us, because we can’t do it on our own.
And Jesus brings this good news to the poor. Who are the poor?
He isn’t just talking about those who are poor financially, in
material terms, although they’re certainly included. Psalm 25
depicts an Old Testament view of poverty. It says, “Turn to me
and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles
of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.
Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred
they hate me. Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be
put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and
uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you” (Ps. 25:16-21). The
poor are any and all who are distressed and in trouble for any
reason, including their own sin. Jesus is good news, not for those
who think they’re comfortable and in control. No, Jesus is good
news for those who know they are in trouble.
And not only is Jesus anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring God’s
justice and righteousness, to establish God’s reign on earth, he is
also sent by God to do something. To bandage the
brokenhearted. Sin wounds our souls. It creates oozing wounds
that will lead to spiritual death. Jesus bandages those wounds.
He brings his healing into the dark and sinful places in our
lives. And that hurts. It’s kind of like pouring alcohol on a
wound. It really hurts. But it heals. He proclaims liberty to
captives. We are captive to sin. Sin rules in our lives. Jesus sets
us free from sin’s rule. He makes it possible, through the Holy
Spirit’s presence in our lives, for us NOT to sin. To choose
righteousness. None of us will ever be perfect, but we are to be
growing in goodness and righteousness. Growing in our ability
to actually live the way God wants his people to live. Jesus
proclaims the year of God’s favor.
He’s talking about the year of Jubilee, which Israel was
supposed to celebrate once every 50 years. It was a year in
which those who had entered slavery because of their debts were
set free to return home, along with any family members born in
slavery. It was a year in which the land, in slavery to human
ambition and the human need to grow food, was allowed to rest.
It was a regular celebration, about once every generation, of
liberty and rest. In proclaiming liberty to the captives – imagine
a king issuing a decree that all prisoners be set free and all
slaves restored to freedom, regardless of the reason why they
were imprisoned or enslaved – Jesus came to bring God’s
freedom and restoration. And Jesus comforts those who mourn
by turning their morning into celebration. The mourners here
are those who are afraid. They’re afraid that they have fallen so
far from God that God cannot pardon or save them. To these
mourners Jesus brings comfort by offering salvation to those
who never in a million years imagined that God would ever want
to save someone like them.
And then things get really interesting. Look at the imagery of v.
3. Sackcloth on the body, ashes on the head, a spirit of crushed
despair? These are the clothes and mentality of someone going
to a funeral. But Jesus takes that and replaces it with a
beautiful headdress, and sweet smelling perfume (or cologne),
and beautiful garments. These are wedding garments!
Jesus turns our funeral into a wedding. We are lost, hopelessly
overcome by sin. All we have to look forward to in that state is
death … physical death and spiritual death – separation from
God. But Jesus lives a righteous life in our place, for us, and
then, carrying our sin, he dies in our place. And that makes
possible a relationship and intimacy with God unheard of before.
Our death sentence and funeral becomes a wedding celebration
and a new life.
You see, if we are the bride of Christ, we are desperately in need
of a makeover. We need to become a new kind of people. And
that’s exactly what Jesus does. He makes us a new kind of
people. Look at the last part of v. 3 – v. 7. In a Jewish wedding
in the days of Isaiah, the women would celebrate with the bride
and the men would celebrate with the groom for a week leading
up to the final ceremony. And these celebrations happened in
completely different places. And then, on the day on which the
bride was to make her way across town to the home the groom
had prepared for him and her, he would send her a beautiful
garment to wear, a wedding dress that he had made just for her.
And wearing that beautiful garment, she would make her way
across town with the women she had been celebrating with, and
she would join her groom in a ceremony that included everyone
before they made their way together to the wedding chamber
while everyone else partied.
Jesus takes us from dead in our sin, separated from God, and
turns us into oaks of righteousness planted by God. Prophets
love metaphor and analogy and imagery. In Isaiah 1, the
prophet compares us, when we are dead in our sin, to dying
oaks. “For they shall be ashamed of the oaks that you desired;
and you shall blush for the gardens that you have chosen.” In
other words, the things you are choosing, turning away from
God, are leading you to death. “For you shall be like an oak
whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water. And the
strong shall become tinder, and his work a spark, and both of
them shall burn together, with none to quench them” (Is. 1:29-
31). Without Jesus, separated from God, we are nothing but
dead wood suitable for nothing but building a fire.
Now, in Isaiah 61, the prophet comes back to the same image of
an oak tree, but now we are flourishing, planted by God. What
has changed? Jesus. The work that Jesus did, and continues to
do in our lives, changes who, and what, we are. And we then join
in his work – building up, raising up, and repairing all that sin
has destroyed in the lives of those around us. We actually
become conduits of God’s grace, of Jesus’ love to the world
around us. The power of the Holy Spirit begins to course through
us like sap runs through a tree and it transforms us from the
inside out. Jesus binds up the wounds created by sin in our lives,
he grants us freedom from the chains of sin in our lives – a
return from our slavery to sin, and he comforts us with the truth
that no matter how far we have fallen short of his goodness and
righteousness, we are never, ever so far gone that he cannot
reach us with forgiveness and grace and mercy and with his
transforming power.
And then he begins his transforming work, changing us from
dead wood suited for nothing but a fire into living, breathing,
towering oaks of righteousness, and he does it before the eyes of
the watching world. And that draws them, not so much to us,
but to him. We are transformed by grace, from death to life, from
a corpse to a bride. The funeral is transformed into a wedding
celebration. Again, this is imagery. This is what Jesus does in
our lives. It’s okay to cry at a funeral. We should. He isn’t
talking about how to handle funerals themselves. He’s creating a
powerful image of what happens when Jesus begins his
transforming work in our lives. We become a new kind of people
who live a new kind of life. And that new life flows from the
inside out.
Red oak trees have an incredible property to them. In the fall,
the leaves on most trees will slowly change colors and eventually
fall to the ground. But red oak trees will retain many of their
leaves throughout the winter. In the spring, as the tree’s sap
causes buds to form on the exterior, they push the dead leaves
off the branches. The new life pushes out the old. The same is
often true of humans – these two sets of behaviors are
contrasted with each other not necessarily as two “choices,” but
as two stages. The first is the death and destruction that sin
produces. The second is the new life that Christ offers, and this
new life will push out the results of sin in the lives of believers.
Now, this isn’t wishful thinking or false hope. It is real and it is
based on the character of God. It is based on who God is. Look at
Vv. 8-11. This isn’t something we can only hope will happen. It
is money in the bank. It is already there. It is already
happening. And what God has begun, God will finish, just as
surely as seeds properly planted produce a crop. It WILL
happen. It isn’t a wish. It is a guarantee. We are secure. And
that is good news. That is the good news of Christmas. Jesus
wasn’t conceived by the Holy Spirit, born to a virgin in
Bethlehem, visited by shepherds and magi for nothing.
Shepherds who represent the down and outs. The mourners
headed to a funeral. Magi representing those outside the people
of Israel, God’s global mission to save all who will accept his gift
of grace. No, he was born to live the righteous life that we
cannot, and then to die a horrible death in our place, carrying
our sin. Do you realize that? Your sin has already been
punished. All that’s left for you to do is accept the gift. We show
up expecting death – a funeral, and we find life and a wedding
instead. We simply need to accept the gift of his wedding
garment that he has had specially prepared for us, taking of our
funeral clothes, our clothes of death, and putting on what he has
given us, clothes of righteousness suitable for a wedding
celebration. That’s good news.
In a video on YouTube, Pastor Tim Keller says: Dorothy Sayers
wrote a series of detective novels focused her fictional character
Lord Peter Wimsey. Sayers’ creation Whimsey was an aristocrat
detective from the 1930s who solved all kinds of crimes. She
wrote a whole series of stories and novels about Lord Peter.
Then about halfway through her Wimsey detective series, a
woman suddenly shows up in the novels. Sayers new character
is named Harriet Vane, a female mystery writer and one of the
very first women to get through Oxford. Harriet and Peter fall in
love. Until that point in the series, Whimsey was an unhappy,
broken bachelor, until Harriet Vane shows up and her love
starts to heal his broken soul.
It’s interesting because Dorothy Sayers, like her fictional
creation, was one of the first women to graduate from Oxford.
Like Harriet Vane, Dorothy Sayers was a writer of mystery
novels. Dorothy Sayers looked at her character, Lord Peter
Wimsey, and saw that he needed someone to help him out. So
who did she put in there? A detective novelist, a woman, and one
of the first women to go through Oxford. Who was that? She put
herself into her own stories. She looked into the world that she
had created and she fell in love with the chief character, Peter
Wimsey, and she wrote herself into that story so she could heal
In Jesus, God has written us into the story. He created us, he
loves us, he longs for relationship with us, and he wants to save
us from the sin we introduced into the story. And he does that by
writing himself into the story and transforming our funeral into
a wedding celebration. Let’s pray.