Friday, December 18, 2020

Biblical Background of 'The Augsburg Confession,' Part 23

Skip ahead to about the 7:46 mark. Up to that point the video quality is a hot mess. In the past, I would have downloaded the video from Facebook, edited out the "hot mess," uploaded it to YouTube, and embedded the edited video here. But for the past two days, I've been unable to download my own video presentations from Facebook. Hopefully, FB will resolve that problem soon.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Biblical Background of 'The Augsburg Confession,' Part 20

Joy from the Perfect Savior!

[This is the online worship service from yesterday of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Beneath the video of the service, you'll find the text of the message for the day. God bless you this week!]

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
In the Bible, seven is the number of completion, perfection, and fulfillment.

So, when lists of seven things crop up in Scripture--like the seven petitions Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, for example--it merits our close attention.

In such lists, God is telling us, “This is important! This is perfection!”

The first three verses of our first lesson for today, Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, contain seven statements of what God intended to do for His ancient Jewish people, by then returned to their homeland after long years of exile. God had forgiven their years of sin--in which they had unrepentanly engaged in idolatry and injustice, among other sins--and not forgotten them in their years of repentant exile.

Here, God uses the prophet Isaiah to tell His people how He intended to fulfill His perfect will for them.

But, as often happens with the words God gives to prophets, these seven statements of promise weren’t just for Isaiah’s time. They also prophesy what God would do centuries later.

About six-hundred years later Jesus, the Son of God, having begun His earthly ministry, returned to His hometown of Nazareth. He went to the local synagogue for worship. As was the custom for synagogue visitors, Jesus was asked to pick a passage of the Old Testament Scripture to read and explicate. Luke says, “...the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:17-19)

Part of what makes the seven statements Jesus read from Isaiah so completely perfect is that they describe not just what God did for an ancient people, they also describe what God does through His one and only Son, the crucified and risen Jesus for all people who believe in Him.

And they perfectly describe the mission of Jesus. That’s why, after reading the passage from Isaiah, Jesus turned to the Nazareth synagogue crowd and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:21)

So, how exactly does Jesus describe His ministry to us by applying the words of Isaiah 61 to Himself?

Jesus first claims the little prologue to our lesson for Himself: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me…” (Isaiah 61:1) Jesus claims to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He can do that because He was conceived in Mary’s womb, not by the usual means, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. And He was shown to be God’s anointed one--a phrase that’s translated as Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek--at the Jordan River when God the Father declared Jesus to be His Son. Isaiah’s words then explain why Jesus, both God and Christ, came into the world.

The Father has anointed Me, Jesus claimed at Nazareth, “to proclaim good news [or gospel] to the poor…” The poor here refers to the powerless and downtrodden, those who are helpless before the forces of socioeconomic power, political power, aging, illness, sin, death, and the devil. People like that--powerless, helpless people like you and me--need Jesus’ good news: the good news that the Sovereign God of all creation will not allow these things that render us helpless have the final say over our lives.

In Jesus, God’s help has come and all who trust in Jesus and His gospel are set free from our spiritual and economic poverty, set free, because of our faith in Jesus, even to lift up those around us from whatever poverty afflicts them. In this world, we can walk with our heads held high, no matter if we’re rich or poor, and we can dare to love the powerless and downtrodden, knowing that we belong to the King of kings. And in the next world, we know that all who have trusted in Christ will enjoy the infinite riches of God’s grace for all eternity!

Jesus also claims that He came “to bind up the brokenhearted…” (Isaiah 61:1). Jesus soothes and mends believers’ broken hearts, whether they’ve been broken by what the world has done to us or what we, through our sin, have done to ourselves.

Jesus says that He came “to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…” (Isaiah 61:1). Jesus here has in mind the year of Jubilee, a day appointed by God under His Old Testament law by which slaves and indentured servants would be freed, all prisoners set loose, no matter their crimes, all debts would be forgiven, and all property would revert back to their original owners.

Jesus wants to free us from all the slavery that holds us back--from our bondage to sin from which we can’t free ourselves to the psychological and emotional slavery in which we can be chained. He sets free all who believe in Him to “be the people of God.”

Jesus says also that He came “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God…” Notice the juxtaposition of year and day. A year of Yahweh’s favor is a way of speaking a prolonged time--like eternity--of walking in the favor God gives to all who daily turn in repentance and faith to Jesus. A day of God’s vengeance refers to the quickly administered condemnation God may mete out to us when believers stray from Him, the discipline a loving Father may mete out to those who deliberately walk away from Him. I know that in my life with Christ, God has disciplined me, always with the view of causing me to come to terms with my sin and my need to return to Him through Christ. This statement from Jesus’ lips also references the quickly-administered last judgment and consignment to hell of all who have turned away from faith in Christ that will happen on the day Jesus returns to the earth.

Jesus then says He comes “to comfort all who mourn…” (Isaiah 61:2). When we comfort friends who have lost loved ones, we come to them with listening hearts, comforting words, and loving deeds. Jesus comforts us in similar ways, but also in a much greater one. Just as God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, Jesus will, at the end of history, call all who have believed in Him from our graves to live with Him, in what Luther described as “everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”

Finally, Jesus says that He has invaded our lives “to bestow on [all who believe in Him] 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 splendor.” (Isaiah 61:3)

One day, I will die. Buried or cremated, my body will soon be reduced to ashes and dust in a short time. But because of the infinite goodness and eternal promises of Jesus Christ, I know that I won’t be forever confined to the ash heap. Like Job, I know that “that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes--I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27)

This, is what Jesus came into the world at Christmas to do: to call a people mired in sin and death to forgiveness and new and everlasting life through faith in Him. He sets us free to love God and neighbor today, and to know that He is with us always. And one day, because we have trusted in Him alone for our life and salvation, we will see Him with our own eyes. In this Advent, 2020, that’s especially good news! Amen