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Disappointed in Jerusalem

(Evan Edwards)

Isaiah 61

Isaiah 61

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
5 Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
6 And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
and in their riches you will boast.

7 Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.

8 “For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.

The Israelites had been overrun and taken captive. Stripped of their communal identity, ripped from the promised land that had been their home for so long, and marched across the middle passage toward Babylon. Abandoned. Lost. Alone. I can imagine the thought at the front of every person’s mind, “Where are you God?” These people had faced turmoil before, including war, famine, and disorder, but the land of Israel was forever supposed to be theirs forever, right? “Hadn’t God promised us great things and to be a great nation?”, they ask one another. But they found themselves in a new land, with a new ruler, a new language, new food, new drink. Hope of ever returning to their beloved Israel was fading fast.

 

A prophet named Isaiah appeared amongst them and he proclaimed a new message. A message of hope that the people would be given release. Isaiah chapter 40 says that they were given hope that the Lord would come with might and that they would be gathered into God’s arms (Isaiah 40:10-11). He promised that there would be a servant who would bring forth justice upon the earth, who would open blind eyes, and set free those who were incarcerated (Isaiah 42:1-7). Promised that they would go out in joy and be led back in peace, that mountains and hills would burst into song. Instead of thorns, they would be given a cypress tree. Instead of a brier, a myrtle (Isaiah 55:12-13). Little did they know; it would be many years before they saw these things come true.

 

They were finally given that release from Babylon. The promises of God were coming true! Imagine with me the mass of people celebrating as they marched back to their homeland. Hear those mountains and hills singing to them as they marched that long 800-mile journey back home where they would surely see those promises of the prophet come to fruition. You see, most of these people had never been to that promised land. This was a new generation full of wonder and hope. I can hear the words of the prophet ringing in their ears as they walked, “The Lord is the everlasting God! The creator of the ends of the Earth! He does not faint nor grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable! He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless! Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint!” They had waited upon the Lord for 70 long and challenging years and they were ready to receive their reward.

 

Then they arrived. Desolation. They looked around at this land that was supposed to bring prosperity and promise. Destruction. The land in which they arrived was in economic and environmental depression. Where was their promise? Where was their justice? Where were their cypress trees and myrtles? Their singing mountains and joyous hills God Where?! They’d marched back home, full of hope, but they were left disappointed. Perhaps those promises might not come true.

 

Maybe you find yourself in a similar place of disappointment. Perhaps as you look back on your life you’ve found that things have not turned out the way you once thought they would and time seems to of passed you by. Maybe you, too, once marched in the streets, hoping for a future where refugees would be safe and our oppressed brothers and sisters would find justice, but things have only gotten worse. Maybe you or someone you love has struggled with an illness for as long as you can remember and it has yet to let up despite your hopes, prayers, and promises for relief. Or maybe the word disappointment brings something else to mind and it just won’t let you go.

But here you are. Your journey filled with the thought of singing mountains and beautiful trees has ended up here. This place that was supposed to be filled with hope, but no matter how much you march, inequality persists. This place where God was supposed to save and bring justice, but black bodies are still bleeding in the streets. You’ve marched to a place where your dreams were supposed to come true, but millions still do not have access to the care that they need so they suffer another day. Disappointed, unfulfilled, and depressed. This is the Jerusalem where the Israelites arrived.

 

Nearly 20 years after they arrived a new prophet emerged, claiming to be from the same tradition of the great Isaiah Ben Amoz, and he called to them, reminding them of the promises of God. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me” (Isaiah 61:1). The air is sucked out of the room and all eyes immediately turn upon him. The anointing of a person always signaled an announcement from God that something new was happening. The prophet continues, stating that he has come to “bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the incarcerated” (Isaiah 61:1). The people had been drowning in a pool of disappointment and hopelessness, but all of the sudden a prophet emerges and declares that those who mourn will be provided for. They shall be given a mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will display God’s glory as oaks of righteousness, building up their ruinous cities that were devastated by former generations (Isaiah 61:3-4). All at once, this community so wrought with despair is given hope once again for future promises that are perhaps not so far off.

 

Those who the people were once at war with, the “other” or “the foreigner”, will now be partners in taking care of their land and animals (Isaiah 61:6A). All the while there will no longer be desolation but the people shall “enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches they shall glory” (Isaiah 61:6B). The promised everlasting joy will finally be theirs (Isaiah 61:7). As the prophet proclaims hope for people lost in devastation, the Lord speaks. “For I the Lord Love Justice” (Isaiah 61:8a). The room again falls silent. The Lord then continues to promise reparations and reward for the suffering that the people have experienced and God promises that they will be blessed and their story will be told amongst the nations (Isaiah 61:8-9).

 

The prophet’s message in Isaiah 61 offered hope to people who were disappointed. How do you deal with disappointment? I bet there are many of you in this room who are mourning, who are grieving. We sit with you in that grief. But along with your grief is probably disappointment that a hoped for future might not come. What is the process for disappointment? Where is the manual that shows you the 5 steps of how to get through it?

The first thing that the prophet says he has been sent to do is to bring good news to the oppressed and bind up the broken hearted. Another interpretation of the word “oppressed” in verse 1 is poor in spirit. Those who are mourning. Those who are disappointed. I think it’s important that the first things the prophet intends to accomplish are bringing good news to those who are disappointed and broken hearted. He brings hope. Of course, in the midst of such disappointment, hope seems to be just so far away. When all around is desolation, death, and grief, how can we hope?

 

You see, most of the people living Israel continued to live in desolation for the rest their lives, never seeing their hope fulfilled. The great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed that he’d been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land and yet just one day later he was murdered. For many of us here we may not see our hope realized, but I think that may just be the craziest thing about hope. Hope is meant to propel us forward into action so that we might just see what’s on the other side even if we don’t. Hope is not a platitude to please those who would rather do nothing, no, Hope is that which gives way to marches. Hope is that which leads to action and change. Hope gives us something worth fighting for, even in the face of certain death because we believe that things not only can be different but they WILL be different. So when the prophet says that God has sent him to bring good news to those who are disappointed. We hope. When the prophet says that all those who are incarcerated will be set free. We hope. When the prophet says that we shall live peaceably with those who are not like us. We hope. When the prophet says that Justice shall come to those who have yet to receive it. We hold onto hope and because of that hope we work, even if we are not promised to see it.

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