Our theme for 2018 that we are going to focus our attention on this year is Called. The scriptures are full of pictures describing our purpose before God. It is easy to slide into a mentality that all that God has called us to do is come to church and sit in pews. But the scriptures are full of rich imagery describing who we are and what we have been called to be and do. The banners are in the back to help remind us of our calling throughout this year as we enter and exit the building each week. Many of the lessons we have done over the past couple years had a focus on who we are and what our purpose is. But this year we want to pay careful attention to this idea so that we can grow toward the purposes God has given to us. I would like for you to turn in your copies of God’s word to Isaiah 61.
Introducing Jesus (Isaiah 61:1-2)
Listen to what Isaiah prophesies:
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. (Isaiah 61:1–2 ESV)
Isaiah prophesies about 700 years before the arrival of Jesus. Providing context to this prophecy, Isaiah is proclaiming a message of restoration and hope. The people of Israel had broken God’s covenant. Therefore, Isaiah prophesies that the people will be captured and carried away into Babylonian exile and Jerusalem will be destroyed. But the hope for the people is not over and God’s plan to save the world and draw people to him has not been thwarted. Hope is being pictured. If you have grown up in the pews this text may sound familiar. In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus reads this part of Isaiah’s scroll in the synagogue and declares that it has been fulfilled through him. Jesus is the picture of Isaiah 61:1-2. The Spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus, for he was anointed to bring the good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and to proclaim the day of vengeance. These are pictures of what Jesus would do when we came. It is easy to stop the reading of Isaiah at this point since this is part of the text that Luke quotes to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s coming anointed one. But notice that we are stopping in the middle of the sentence of this prophecy. We need to continue reading because Isaiah is going to describe our purpose and what we will do when Christ comes.
What Christ’s Work Means For Us (Isaiah 61:3-6)
Notice in verse 3 the radical change that has occurred in Jesus. Verse 3 describes great comfort that we are able to have in Christ. The oil of gladness has replaced mourning. The garment of praise has replaced the faint spirit. Here we are crushed by our sins and separated from God. But Jesus comes and solves our sin problem. The faint spirit from the weight of our sins and mourning from our sinfulness has been replaced with praise and gladness. What Jesus has done in the cross changes our circumstances from doom to praise and hope.
We fail to see the devastation that we do ourselves because of our sins. Isaiah’s prophecy opened with this picture of weakness and doom to help us see our condition before God. Listen to the picture:
But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed. For they shall be ashamed of the oaks that you desired; and you shall blush for the gardens that you have chosen. For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water. And the strong shall become tinder, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them. (Isaiah 1:28–31 ESV)
Do you hear the pictures of doom and emptiness? Our rebellion against God makes us like an oak with withered leaves and like a garden without water. The strong become tinder. We are devastated by our sins. But Jesus comes and listen to what changes about us in Isaiah 61:3. “They may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” The corrupted people now are righteous. We were trees with withered leaves but now are the planting of the Lord. The imagery is very similar to Psalm 1 where we are planted trees sitting by the waters, yielding fruit and not withering. Notice that God has rescued us from our sins so that he would be glorified. The transformation that occurs in us brings God glory. The sinners who disregarded and rebelled against God have changed hearts that turn toward God and desire him. God is glorified as those faint spirits who are crushed by sins enjoy gladness and joy as they come to the Lord, receiving mercy and salvation. Our primary is calling is the glorification of God. We are displaying the splendor of God to the world.
We Are Builders
I want to see that there are two pictures given here about who we are in Christ that reflect our purpose as followers of Jesus. Isaiah 61:4-6 gives us these three pictures and through these three pictures we bring glory to God. The first picture is in verse 4.
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. (Isaiah 61:4 ESV)
Notice we are pictured as builders. We are pictured as restoring the kingdom in the world. Christ has given us a new status and a new name so that we can enter into a new activity. We are pictured as restoring the broken. I want us to think about how this idea changes our world view and how we view ourselves in this world. Christ has saved you. Christ has transformed you. Christ has given you a purpose: build. We are pictured as workers building in the kingdom of God. We sing songs from our songbook where we describe ourselves wanting to be workers for the Lord. These ideas come from the scriptures. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 3 you may remember that the apostle Paul describes himself as a skilled master builder building on top of the foundation of Jesus.
I want us to conceptualize this idea for a moment. I want you to visualize Palm Beach County as if it were a great city. Think of it in terms of like it was a millennium ago where we would have had walls around the city like a fortress. Now as you picture this city I want you to picture its walls and fortress in its spiritual condition. Think about the spiritual condition of this area and visualize its spiritual condition in terms of its wall. How does it look? It is a city ruined by sins. The area is devastated because of all of its continuing sinfulness. We are to have a vision of the world that pictures it as being destroyed and broken down because of sins. What we are doing is going into the world and rebuilding the walls. We are taking the gospel to people to restore their broken lives through the message of Jesus.
You see, we cannot look at our community and think, “What a mess” without doing something about it. When the hurricane hit us this last September, what did you go do in your yard, in the streets, and in your neighbor’s yards? Did you just look around and say, “What a mess?” We saw the messes and we cleaned it up. We restored the things that had been broken down. We put life back together again. This is the picture God is giving us. We are not allowed to look around spiritually at our community and declare it to be a mess, all the while huddled up within this building. We do not come here to worship so that we can simply point out what a mess the city is. We do not come here and look at the spiritual condition and shrug our shoulders. We are pictured as people who will rebuild the ruins, repairing it and raising it up.
We Are Priests
The second picture highlights this role even further. Look at verses 5-6.
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; (Isaiah 61:5–6 ESV)
Now we need to understand the picture given to us. Remember that under the Law of Moses the priests were released from laboring in the fields because they were given a distinctive work of service before God. The rest of the tribes of Israel worked the land while the priests of the tribe of Levi worked daily in ministry to God. This is what is now being pictured of us as followers of Christ. We are set apart to operate as priests of God. The outsiders are supposed to speak of us as ministers of our God.
When we think about the role of priests in Israel’s history we can see the picture clearly. The purpose of the priesthood was to serve God and serve the people of Israel. The priests functioned between God and the people. The priests were to know the laws of God and teach them to the people. This is the first role we see ourselves in as priests of God. We are to bring the knowledge of God to the world. We look at the spiritually broken down walls of the people and we bring them the knowledge of God. Not only this, though, the priests represented the people before God. In this way the priests brought the people closer to God. The priests were to bring the people nearer to God. So we go into the world, bringing the world the knowledge of God. Then we help people come near to God. We serve God and we serve the world in this very important spiritual capacity.
We live in a nation that needs restoration. Our nation is deep in spiritual decay. We are not called to perfect church attendance. We are not called to make sure you take the Lord’s Supper once a week. Your purpose as a follower of Jesus is not to sit here for the last hour in worship. You are the planting of the Lord. You are an oak of righteousness, a monument for God’s glory. You are priests, for you are to take God to the people and bring the people to God. As we begin this series and we begin this new year, look around and think about what you are doing and will do to build the kingdom of God. What will you contribute to the work of restoring people to God and bringing God to the people?