Sent To Make Us Righteous

Isaiah 61:1-3

Rev. Bryn MacPhail

There was a time, not too many years ago, when you might have heard someone described as 'so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good'. Have you ever heard that phrase?

I suspect for every person who is, today, described as so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good, there are ten thousand people who are so earthly minded that they are no heavenly good!

The accepted creed of our society is, 'Life is short. Play hard'. Life is indeed short, but the Bible teaches that an eternity awaits us. An eternity awaits us, yet, it is clear that our society is far more concerned with the few years we spend on earth than with the eternal nature of heaven and hell. I find this strange. I find it strange that we spend so much emotional and physical energy on the here and now when it represents only a minuscule amount of our life.

I remember once visiting a friend in a fairly new condominium complex. If you have ever been inside some of these newly built condos you will have noticed that, quite often, all of the doors look the same inside the condo. As I was leaving my friend's condo, I opened a door thinking that it was the exit, only to discover that I had stepped into his hall closet! Quite embarrassed, I stepped out of the closet and closed the door. I was probably in there no more than a second or two. Now wouldn't it be odd if I were to spend the rest of my life talking about that little closet?

Since it is true that we will spend 99.9999% of our lives in heaven, or wherever it is we are going, then why do we spend all of our time talking about this 'little closet' which will be but a moment passing compared to eternity?!

When the Son of God was born two thousand years ago, He came with the purpose of setting us free from our 'little closet'. Yet, we have His purpose for coming all mixed up. We think that Jesus came to make our 'little closet' more comfortable. It is a terrible twist of irony that, while the purpose of Christmas was to incline our hearts heavenward--to a God who loves us, cares for us, and calls for our obedience--Christmas has, instead, become a very worldly celebration. Christmas in North America has become a celebration that centres around commercialism; around the buying and exchanging of presents, decorating our homes, and hosting turkey dinners for family and friends.

The way we live our lives betrays our beliefs. By the way we live our lives, we demonstrate that we think Jesus came to help us get along in this world as opposed to getting along in the next. This certainly describes our society, but I pray that this will not describe you and I. I pray that you will prove me wrong this Christmas season by putting Jesus first.

On the one side of salvation, Jesus came to bear and take away our sins. On the other side of salvation, Jesus came to make us righteous and to prepare us for our heavenly existence. While Isaiah 53 describes the Messiah's role in bearing our sins, Isaiah 61 describes the Messiah's role in making us righteous.

We rightly refer to Isaiah 61 as a 'messianic text' because it is the passage which Jesus chose to read in Nazareth as recorded in Luke 4:16-22. The passage begins with a very significant statement, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me "(v.1). In that single statement, the 3 persons of the Holy Trinity function together, "Spirit . . . Lord God . . . Me ".

This buttresses what Isaiah has said earlier about the Messiah--that God is coming (Isa. 53:1b). What then, is God the Messiah, coming to do? "He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour, and the vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion--to give them a head-dress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit "(v.1-3).

We must keep in mind that a prophecy in Scripture will have a component that will be fulfilled in the immediate context and a component that is fulfilled much later. To the Israelites of Isaiah's day, this was an announcement that Babylonian captivity would soon come to an end. To the Israelites of Isaiah's day, this prophecy was a promise of temporal freedom from literal bondage.

There is a danger, however, of reading Christ's fulfillment of this prophecy in the same way. Jesus did not come to free the Jews from Roman control. Jesus spent His time condemning religious authorities, not political authorities. If Jesus sought to accomplish temporal freedom, His mission was a failure. The Jewish temple was burned to the ground in 70 AD.

Jesus did not come to earth to provide us with temporal freedom; He came to provide us with spiritual freedom . The good news Jesus proclaimed was that our oppression from sin was coming to an end. The "year of the Lord's favour " is not 'health, wealth, and prosperity', but rather, divinely bestowed forgiveness and righteousness.

In Isaiah 61:1-3, notice all of the actions the Messiah is engaged in, "He has sent me to bring . . . to bind up . . . to proclaim . . . to comfort . . . to provide . . . to give them ". What for? For what purpose does the Messiah "bind up ", "proclaim ", "comfort ", and "provide " for the people of Israel? The answer comes at the end of verse 3: "that they may be called trees of righteousness ".

The Son of God came to earth 2000 years ago to do a number of things and, in accomplishing these things, His goal was create a people characterized by "righteousness ".

As I said last week, Jesus did not simply come to give us a 'Get out of hell for free' card--He came to shepherd His flock; He came to make us righteous .

The apostle Paul states this purpose in the clearest of terms in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8 to 10: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works , which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them ".

What Paul is saying here is that we are not saved by our works, but we are saved for the purpose of doing good works. We owe our salvation to "grace " through "faith ", which "is the gift of God ". At the same time, the purpose of our salvation is "good works " and that "we would walk in them ".

By "binding up the brokenhearted ", by giving "liberty to the captives ", by releasing those imprisoned by sin, the Messiah--Jesus Christ--purposed to make us "trees of righteousness ".

And as "the planting of the Lord " why is our righteousness so important? Why does it matter whether we are rehabilitated from our sin if we are already pardoned from it? Our righteousness is important because God has chosen it as the means of "displaying His glory ".

Let me ask the question, how are we doing? How visible is God's presence in the world? How visible is God's presence in Beeton/Tottenham? If God is not visible, we are to blame. We have been charged with the blessed responsibility of displaying God's glory.

In the sermon on the mount Jesus says, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven "(Mt. 5:16). When people see your good works, do they praise you or do they praise our heavenly Father? It should be clear to everyone around us that our righteousness comes from God. Isaiah reminds us that we were made "trees of righteousness " in order to "display (God's) glory ". Jesus says that we should "let our light shine " so that others would "glorify (our) Father who is in heaven ".

A minister once said, 'Don't worry about what your neighbours think about you. Worry about what your neighbours think about God because of you'. What do they think about Him because of you?

I don't know too many Christians who are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good, but I do know that most Christians I encounter are so earthly minded that they are no heavenly good. This should not be. This should not describe us, but I'm afraid it often does.

I often hear Christians talk about knowing God's will. Christians want to know if it is God's will to take a particular job. Christians want to know if it is God's will to marry a particular person. Christians want to know if it is God's will to undergo a particular medical procedure. For all of the eagerness I see from Christians who want to know God's will, I'm sad to say that I find little enthusiasm for the aspects of God's will that are so clearly revealed to us.

It is God's will for you to be righteous . There you have it. You now know God's will. He does not want you to continue in sin. He wants you to "display His glory ".

The good news is that the Lord does not expect us to accomplish righteousness on our own. Jesus, before He gave the instruction to "let your light shine ", said "blessed are the poor in spirit "(Mt. 5:3). 'Blessed are those who recognize their spiritual poverty'. The psalmist simply exhorts us to ask for help, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me "(Ps. 50:15).

The Giver gets the glory. God is glorified when we turn to Him for help. This is what it means to live righteously. Living righteously is not about self-generated perfection, living righteously is about depending on God's perfection .

Jesus instructs us to "let our light shine ", yet He promises to be our power source. The question is, are you plugged in?