June 29: Isaiah 61

Gerald Bray
The Year of the Lord's Favor

v. 2 "To proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn"

The opening words of this chapter are familiar to us because this was the text that Jesus chose to preach on when he went back to minister in the synagogue at Nazareth. It was not a successful visit, because although the people of his home town were delighted that he had become a rabbi, they were not at all happy about the way in which he applied this passage to himself. They had known him all his earthly life, and as far as they could tell, he had never shown any signs of being that special. In the end they chased him away and he never went back, because a prophet is without honor in his own home.

So impressed are we with that momentous event that we tend to overlook what he actually said. The words of Isaiah were clearly prophetic and he probably had little or no idea of how precisely they would be fulfilled. Certainly, many centuries were to pass before these words revealed their full meaning, but in essence they are clear from the start. First of all, we are told that the anointed one who is to come will proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, the time when the wrongs of the past would be put right and the failures of the present would be rectified. The coming of the Lord would be a time of great blessing for his people, and God's presence among us must be sought and valued for that reason. When he is with us, who can be against us? When he is protecting us, what have we got to be afraid of?

But the joy of God's presence is also a time of vengeance and retribution. God knows how his people have suffered, and he has promised to bring justice to those who have been victimized. He has specifically told his people not to seek revenge for the wrongs that have been done to them, not because those wrongs do not matter, but because vengeance is his, and he will repay it in ways that go far beyond anything we could ever attempt. The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind extremely finely and nothing will escape his notice. His coming, which will be such a joy to those who believe, will strike terror into the hearts of those who do not, because then the righteousness of God will be revealed to all.

Standing in the middle here are those who mourn. They are not full of the joy of the Lord, eagerly awaiting his return in triumph, because their sufferings have overwhelmed them. All they can see is their loss, which can never be made good. For them, the day of the Lord's vengeance is not one of terror or of rejoicing, but one of comfort. When God comes to put right the wrongs that have been done, they will be vindicated and their mourning will come to an end.

As Christians we are called to weep with those who weep, because in its own way, mourning is a witness to the goodness and power of God. He allows us to fell our loss because he wants us to understand that it matters to him as well. Those who lose out in this world will be rewarded a hundred times over in the next life. When that time comes, those who eat, drink and are merry today will weep and clench their teeth, while those who mourn now will exchange their sackcloth and ashes for the robes of heavenly glory. As we listen to the words of Isaiah, let us hear the call of Jesus, and rejoice that our weeping will soon be turned to joy.