Isaiah 61:1-3, 10, 11
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
“The Messiah’s Joyful Exchange”
Dear fellow redeemed who have joy in the Lord,
What kinds of Christmas gift exchanges do you participate in? You have probably participated in a variety of them over the years. Perhaps you have exchanged gifts of great value, either monetary or sentimental. Perhaps you have exchanged gifts with a low price limit requiring creativity to express your love. Perhaps you have exchanged gifts as part of a gathering wherein the emphasis was on the tradition of seeing friends or family at a particular time and the gifts were a small afterthought. Perhaps you have been at Christmas parties where no gifts at all were exchanged and instead the gift was the presence of the people there. Physical gift, sentimental gift, or simply the presence of others – they all can bring us joy. On this third Sunday of Advent, the prophet Isaiah records for us that the Messiah works a joyful exchange for us, the most joyful exchange there would ever be.
The book of Isaiah has sometimes been called “the fifth Gospel” because it contains so many descriptions of the promised coming Messiah. “Messiah” is a Hebrew word which means “anointed one.” “Christ” is the Greek word which means “anointed one.” This is the title for the promised Savior. Depending on translation and transliteration, you may read any three of those as a title for Jesus in our English Bibles. All have the same meaning.
So, in our Gospel Lesson (John 1) when John the Baptizer says he is not the “Christ,” he is saying he is not the promised Savior. Rather, he tells them, he is the one who prepares the way for the Christ and points to the Christ. Later in that same chapter, John describes the work of the Christ by pointing at Jesus and saying, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29) Still later in that same chapter, Andrew, who heard John say these things, identifies Jesus as the “Messiah” (1:41).
Isaiah lived some 700 years before the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, but in faith he looked ahead to His coming and the Holy Spirit inspired him to write of that Messiah. Isaiah wrote that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (7:14), would be God Himself (9:6), and was to bear our sins and pay the price for us (52:13-53:12). There are four particular sections of this book, in chapters 42, 49, 50, and 52, which contain songs or poems about the Messiah which describe Him as the “Servant” of the LORD and give us beautiful descriptions of His Person and work.
Our text today is not one of those songs, but it is very similar to them. It continues the description of the Messiah and shows us that the Messiah engages in a joyful exchange with us. The Messiah’s purpose in coming is to impart gifts to us. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.” The Messiah is speaking in these verses and He announces His role. Before we examine that, note that we have one of the Old Testament references to the Trinity in this verse. The Father anoints the Son with the Holy Spirit. Three persons are referenced. The Old Testament believers believed in the Triune God just as we do.
So, what does it mean that Jesus is the “anointed one,” the “Messiah,” the “Christ”? Recall that at His baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus. John witnessed this anointing with the Holy Spirit. This anointing was both a public acknowledgement of who Jesus is, the Christ – this is how John recognized Jesus to be the Christ – and it was the Father’s act of publicly laying a charge upon Jesus. Jesus was “anointed,” that is, set apart, for His work. The Messiah has a specific work to do: He is the gift and the gift-giver.
Look at how the Messiah describes His work. He says He was anointed “to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” To understand and appreciate the joyful exchange of the Messiah and the gifts He won for us, we must first understand what we bring to this exchange.
He told us what we bring to this exchange. We bring our poverty, our broken heartedness, and our captivity. We are “poor.” We are subject to spiritual misery. Think of how we confess in our prayers that we are “poor miserable sinners.” Our hearts are corrupted by sin. We are “brokenhearted.” Our sins leaves our hearts in distress. We are “captives.” By nature we are bound to sin, death, and hell. Our hearts by nature are captive to sin.
That’s what we bring to this gift exchange: a miserable, wretched, sinful heart. The prophet Jeremiah describes our hearts with these words: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9) Your sinful heart is deceitful. It longs for sin and follows sin to great harm. Your sinful heart is desperately sick. An ailment that leads to eternal death afflicts it.
Often times, especially around Christmas time, you hear people talk about giving your heart to Jesus. They urge people to give their heart to Jesus, saying that’s how you become a Christian. They could not be more wrong. In his novel, the Hammer of God, Lutheran pastor Bo Giertz gave a powerful illustration of this. A young pastor was arguing with an older pastor. The young man said that you must give Jesus your heart to be saved. The wise older pastor responded, “it is one thing to choose Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, to give him one’s heart and commit oneself to him, and that he now accepts one into his little flock; it is a very different thing to believe on him as a Redeemer of sinners, of whom one is chief. One does not choose a Redeemer for oneself, you understand, nor give one’s heart to him. The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap. A fine birthday gift, indeed! But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks his walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with him. That is how it is.” What do you bring to the exchange? A sinful, wretched, “old can on a junk heap” of a heart.
What gifts does Jesus bring to this exchange? “Good news,” “binding up,” “liberty,” “opening,” “the year of the Lord’s favor,” the “day of vengeance of our God,” and “comfort.” These are the announcement of the gifts the Messiah won for you. The good news is that the Messiah came to rescue you from sin, death, and all spiritual misery. He gives healing to the broken and freedom to the captives. He gives comfort to His people. The day of vengeance, His return, will bring vindication of the righteous and condemnation of the wicked.
How are these things accomplished? Remember what John said? “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus has taken away your sin. He came in the flesh. His heart was not a sinful, wretched heart. It was a pure heart untainted by sin. His life was untainted by sin. He never fell prey to the sins which plague humanity’s sinful heart. Instead, He used that holy life to bear your sin. He took your sin upon Himself. He rose again in victory over sin. Jesus has taken your sin and He gives you gifts in exchange.
Look at how the gift exchange is described in the third verse. Jesus exchanged His crown of beauty in heaven for a crown of thorns on earth. The Messiah came into this world in the flesh to save you. The Messiah took upon Himself the penalty for your sin and died bearing it. Therefore, you have the “beautiful headdress” of membership in God’s kingdom instead of the “ashes” of the penalty for sin in hell. Jesus took away your ashes and gives to you the crown of life.
Instead of mourning and wasting away under the power of Satan, the Messiah gives you “the oil of gladness.” You have joy. This is not a feeling which changes due to circumstances. It is the joy of knowing that the Savior has taken your sin and given you His righteousness. It is the joy of knowing the perfect joy that awaits you in paradise.
A little later in this chapter, we learn of the “garment of salvation” and the “robe of righteousness” which clothes us. These are the perfection of Jesus that covers all our sin. Therefore, instead of a “faint spirit” of distress and uneasiness, the Messiah gives you “the garment of praise.” You have cause to praise the Lord. You have cause to declare God’s praise with your lips.
Jesus took your sin, death, and hell. He took them from you and in exchange gives to you His forgiveness, life, and heaven. He is the gift and the gift-giver. This is the Messiah’s joyful exchange.
The result is that you “may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.” Oaks are some of the sturdiest trees. Some have roots that are as deep as the tree is tall. We are firmly planted. You are righteous because you are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. You have the solid foundation because Christ is your foundation. You have strength to withstand adversity because Christ is your strength.
And now you bring forth fruit, the fruit of righteousness, the fruit of faith. You see, you have a renewed heart in the Lord. He has given you a heart which trusts in Him. He has given you a heart that desires to serve Him. He has given you a heart that desires to serve others. The Lord has renewed your heart. This brings glory to God.
Dear friends, today we will sing “Joy to the World” as our closing hymn. Many people would list that hymn as a favorite Christmas hymn. However, the hymn is not about Jesus’ birth. It’s about his return. That certainly is a major theme of Advent and of course it has a direct connection to Christmas. Jesus came that we might have joy now which will well up into only joy forever. When Jesus returns then no more will “sins and sorrows grow” or “thorns infest the ground.” When Jesus returns then the earth will “receive her King” and “heaven and nature sing.” In the Messiah’s exchange, our sin, death, and hell is taken away and we are given the gifts of joy that will culminate in everlasting joy in the new heavens and new earth. Amen.