Lesson Focus: God works through us to change the world when we understand what is important to Him and realign our values with His values.
God Values All People: Isaiah 61:1-7.
 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;  to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;  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.  They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.  Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers;  but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast.  Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy. [ESV]
[1-4] The first testimony of the Anointed One: transformed people. This is the passage the Lord Jesus deliberately sought out as the starting point of his public ministry [Luke 4:16-22]. His action validates authoritatively the understanding we have reached without appeal to the gospels, that Isaiah displays here a Messianic figure. In His reading, the Lord Jesus stopped at the words the Lord’s favor and did not proceed to the day of vengeance. Thus He expressed His own understanding of His mission at that point, not to condemn but to save the world [John 3:17]. He was also aware, however, of a coming day when He would execute the judgment committed to Him [John 5:22-29]. In other words, what Isaiah sees as a double-faceted ministry the Lord Jesus apportions respectively to His first and second comings, the work of the Servant and of the Anointed Conqueror. The passage is a unity of three movements, opening with the enduement of the Anointed One with the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord. Next, the purpose of this anointing and its accompanying commission [sent] is elaborated in seven infinitives (bind, proclaim, opening, proclaim, comfort, grant, give), and the poem concludes with the result of the work of the Anointed One (that they may be).  The Sovereign Lord is the same divine title as in 50:4-5,7,9. It signifies the attribution of sovereignty to Yahweh, the exodus God, who saves His people and avenges Himself on His enemies. It is the Spirit of this God – Sovereign, Savior, Judge – which rests on the Anointed One so that He can work the works of God. Thus His career of salvation and vengeance is signalized. The poor are the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, those held back from progress and enrichment by people or circumstances. Bind up expresses personal attention, soothing, healing and restoring to wholeness. Brokenhearted covers any and every human breakdown, from emotional prostration to conviction of sin. The good news embraces personal renewal and restoration release from restrictions imposed by people and the rectification of circumstances.  The repetition of the verb proclaim signals that what follows recapitulates what has preceded from a new point of view. What is coming is a year of favor, a day of vengeance. The Anointed One proclaims that this year of favor has now come, in contrast to year, day expresses the sharp and quickly accomplished work of vengeance. Again, what the Lord purposes to do, the Anointed One proclaims. All those who mourn will be comforted. Once more, a divine intention is accomplished by the Anointed One. The thought of vengeance is put to one side and the focus falls on favor. First the removal of every cause of sorrow, and then the positive work of transformation. Mourning covers all the sadnesses of life, but the contextual link with 57:18 makes mourning over sin the primary thought and the means of entering into the following blessings.  Repentance brings transformations. First, a beautiful headdress instead of ashes. The Lord exactly replaces the hurt with the remedy, and, since the ashes of mourning were smeared on the head, he applies His cure precisely to the point of need. Oil was for times of gladness not of sorrow. The Anointed One replaces mourning with fresh life. Garment is an all-enveloping mantle or wrap. Despair refers to what is dull and listless. The infusion of new life expresses itself in responsive praise, replacing depression and low-spiritedness. The motif of clothing signifies the outward expression of an inner reality. The all-covering wrap indicates total personal renewal. With they may be called, the construction changes from the infinitives which express the aims of the Anointed One to a statement of what He has achieved. First, there is a new name and status. A new name signifies a new nature with new potentialities. Oaks of righteousness is that which gives them status and acceptance before God. Because they are the planting of the Lord, their place and character is entirely due to divine action.  The second achievement of the Anointed One is repossession and restoration. They shall build matches they may be called, linking the two results: new people and fresh possession of the ministry of the Anointed One. As has been the case from 49:1 onwards, the picture of the return from Babylon into a desolated country is a motif for a greater recovery, i.e. entrance into the true kingdom of God, the land of spiritual inheritance in which every breakdown of the past is mended no matter how longstanding. This involves things that seem to have been ruined forever (ancient ruins), things that came as an inheritance from earlier days (former devastations) and things that the passing generations had been unable to mend. Through the Anointed One, all this longstanding and inherited brokenness will be restored.
[5-7] Confirmation: transformation indeed! This conclusion falls into two parts. The first notes the subservience of the nations [5-6] and the second the covenant of the Lord with His people . [5-6] The picture is not of a slave-state or of second-class citizenship but of glad cooperation, of former strangers or foreigners taking their place in the life of the people. Stand suggests taking responsibility and exercising oversight as well as continuing in the work. The existing people of God have ministered His truth to these foreigners, introduced them to the Lord and brought them into the community of faith. They in turn recognize the special privileged position of those through whom they have been blessed and regard them as priests mediating divine blessings and ministers acting on their behalf in the things of God as true Levites or priests.  Instead of points to the exchange that is made: shame and dishonor exchanged for true joy. Shame is more than embarrassment and includes reaping shame, being disappointed of hope and exposed as fraudulent. The same applies to dishonor. The meaning of double is fully or abundantly. Therefore points out the change that has been effected, they will be openly seen to be heirs of Yahweh in their land, the land of promise. As a result of the messianic provision, they shall have everlasting joy.
God Loves Justice: Isaiah 61:8-9.
 For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.  Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed. [ESV]
The Lord has promised an abundant recompense for His people in verse 7, but it is not because anything they have done. It arises from the justice to which the Lord is devoted. In bringing this relief, the year of favor and the day of vengeance, the Lord acts with total justice and in the interests of His justice. His salvation is as just as His vengeance. The For with which verse 8 begins is theologically vital. The Lord required unreserved commitment from His people, and anything less was robbery. He now recalls this in order to illustrate the fact that in His faithfulness He will Himself hold nothing back when He recompenses His people. He will live up to His own standards. Hence He says I will faithfully give them their recompense. In the end, therefore, the double , the faithful gift of what is due , turns out to be an everlasting covenant. The Anointed One is the mediator of the blessings of the divine Spirit and Word to the Lord’s penitent people. Verse 9 is the capstone of the transformation described in verses 5-9. So transformed will the Lord’s people be that world-wide they will be quite distinct because of a quality discerned in them which can be explained only as an act of divine blessing. To what is Isaiah looking forward? Ultimately, it is to the new Zion of chapter 60. But, of course, when that arrives there will be no other nations or peoples. In other words, Isaiah is once more allowing the motif of the rebuilt city and restored people to control his forecast. What Isaiah saw as the work of the Anointed One, the people of God have already begun to experience in its first stage. In a world wracked by insecurity and fears, the covenant provision of Yahweh provides what is reliable and enduring. He does not cheat or defraud those who work for Him, but gives them their inheritance as their reward because He always acts in a manner that is true to the commitments He has entered into. What He bestows never loses its luster and is never withdrawn.
God Desires Righteousness: Isaiah 61:10-11.
 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. [ESV]
The speaker in verse 10 cannot be the Messiah, for never in Scripture is the Messiah said to be clothed with the garments of salvation. The one who here praises God has received righteousness and salvation from the Lord. The Messiah on the other hand brings salvation; he does not receive it. Hence it is the Church of God, the elect, the true Israel, that here rejoices in the God of its salvation. My soul points out the inwardness of the joy. The source of the rejoicing is the Lord and my God. These words express the heartfelt devotion of the covenant-conscious person, who realizes what the great God of the covenant has done for him in clothing him with the garments of salvation. The garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness are practically synonymous expressions. Salvation is righteousness, for in the salvation of man the righteousness of God is revealed; salvation is a state of being right with God. In the cloak of this righteousness God has clothed the exultant believer. The last half of verse 10 points out how God envelops the Church in salvation. Just as the bridegroom and bride are beautifully adorned for their wedding so God places the heavenly robe of righteousness upon His people. Isaiah’s purpose in verse 11 is to attest the sureness of the coming salvation, and to do this he compares the sprouting forth of this salvation with that of growth from the earth. Just as the earth causes plants to grow so too will the Lord cause righteousness and praise to grow before all the nations. In this verse we see that the Church’s fruitfulness in God’s service is divinely determined. Yahweh is viewed here as a gardener, and more than a gardener in that He not only plants, but also gives the growth [see 1 Cor. 3:6-7]. The Church is God’s field, and what He wishes to grow in it is righteousness and praise. The scene is one of vitality and fruitfulness. Before all the nations looks beyond mere acknowledgement of His provision and skill on the part of the nations and implies attraction to the people of God and a desire to share in their blessing.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Why did the Lord anoint the Messiah? Who are the poor in this context?
2. What are the seven things mentioned in verses 1-3 that the Messiah was sent to accomplish? How does all this result in God being glorified in verse 3?
3. Repentance brings transformations. What transformations do you see happening in God’s people in verse 1-7? Who is the cause of these transformations?
4. Describe the everlasting covenant that God makes with His people in verses 8-11. What does God do in the covenant? What does He require of His covenant people?
Isaiah, Volume 2, John L. Mackay, Evangelical Press.
The Prophecy of Isaiah, Alec Motyer, Inter Varsity Press.
The Book of Isaiah, Volume III, Edward Young, Eerdmans