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 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 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.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
The opening verses of Isaiah are some of the most significant among the Old Testament prophetic texts. Not only do they point to the future, when God will send his anointed one to restore the broken world and heal its broken people, but also these key verses were quoted by Jesus to explain the essence of his own messianic ministry (Luke 4:18-21).
We usually focus on the first three verses of Isaiah 61. They capture what God’s anointed one will do when he comes: proclaim good news, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom and release, proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, which brings both judgment and comfort. When the Messiah does his work, the people of God will be crowned with “beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning” (61:3). They will be called “oaks of righteousness” planted by the Lord (61:3). For good reason, we Christians focus on these verses, celebrating what God has done and will do through Jesus the Messiah.
Yet, in today’s devotion, I want to draw our attention to verse 4. It adds something crucial to Isaiah’s vision of God’s future, something that speaks incisively to our lives today. Notice what God’s people, his “oaks of righteousness” will do when God’s anointed one does his work: “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” How striking! Even surprising! When God brings his peace and justice to the world through the Messiah, God will not miraculously and instantaneously remake the broken world. Rather, the people who have been redeemed and set free by the Messiah will do this work. Specifically, we will “rebuild” and “restore” and “renew.” God doesn’t do everything for us. Instead, God does what God alone can do, and then invites us to partner with him in his work.
Of course, if we think back to the biblical account of creation, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. There, God created the world and human beings, who were given the task of filling the world and making it fruitful. God had work for us to do after he created all things. And God has work for us to do when he begins to renew all things through the Messiah.
This work surely includes passing on the good news of what God has done and is doing through Christ. Yet, if we take Isaiah 61:4 seriously, then our work also includes rebuilding, restoring, and renewing the world. As followers of the Messiah, we share in these aspects of his messianic work. We do this as part of God’s church when we are gathered for worship and ministry. But we also do this as part of God’s church when we are scattered into the world. In all that we do, whether as parents or artists or entrepreneurs or bankers or teachers or you-name-it, we participate in the rebuilding, restoring, and renewing of the world, even as we continue to work so that the world will be full and fruitful.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
In what ways do you participate in the rebuilding, restoring, and renewing of the broken world?
Do you see your daily work as connected to God’s work through Christ? Why or why not?
How might you work differently if you believed that what you do each day can be one way of sharing in God’s work in the world?
Gracious God, thank you for the promise of the coming of your anointed one. Thank you for all that will happen through him. Thank you for all that you have begun to do through Jesus the Messiah.
Help us, Lord, to share in your messianic work even as we celebrate it. As people who have received the good news, may we share it with others. As those whose broken hearts have been bound up, may we bind up the brokenness of others. As those who have been set free, may we work for the freedom of others. As those who have been released from darkness, may we seek the release of all who are imprisoned by evil and injustice.
And, dear Lord, may we be your “oaks of righteousness,” those who actively share in your work of rebuilding, restoring, and renewing. May our daily work be part of your work in the world. May we come to see all we do as for you and your purposes. Amen.