24 September 2012Isaiah 61:1-7
"The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news." (v. 1)
This part of Isaiah looks forward to the restoration of the people of Israel to their homeland following a long exile in Babylon. This is the second passage to refer to one who is anointed; the first is in 45:1 which names him as Cyrus, the Persian ruler at the time that Babylon fell to that nation's might, and who allowed captured peoples to return to their homes. This is also the second time (the first is 49:1-6) that words are placed by the prophet directly in the mouth of the anointed one. The opening words of the passage make clear that the anointing in view is accomplished by God's spirit.
The undertakings that the anointed one makes in today's passage go much further than anything Cyrus accomplished, and despite every sense in which he may have accomplished the Lord's purposes, he never adopted the Jewish religion. So the Jews' on-going hope for a truly God-anointed figure, a Messiah (which is the Hebrew word 'Anointed'), grew out of passages such as this one. According to Luke's Gospel (4:16-21) Jesus began his ministry by reading this passage in the synagogue and claiming to fulfil it.
Jesus terminated his reading with "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (Luke 4:21), omitting "and the day of vengeance of our God" (v. 2). Whilst the Jewish people expected the Messiah to restore all favour to them, and at the same time take vengeance on their Roman enemies, Jesus saw his ministry in much more spiritual terms, and specifically his role as one of salvation (John 3:17), in which necessary judgement would await his second coming (eg John 5:22-29).
The reference to ashes and mourning in verse 3 emphasise primarily sorrow over sin. In a similar way, whilst verse 4 clearly has relevance to the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, destroyed following the siege that led to the exile, it is also about restoring spiritual life patterns. This is why in verse 6 all the people of Israel are expected to act as priests and ministers - ie go-betweens or mediators between God and all the people who now live in the land, bringing knowledge and experience of God to them, and incidentally fulfilling a long-standing commission in Exodus 19:6.
- In the Old Testament only particular individuals were reckoned to be anointed with the Holy Spirit, but the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-29) made a promise which the Apostles of Jesus claimed had been fulfilled at Pentecost, that the anointing of the Spirit would be poured out on all believers. Has this been your experience, and if so, how do you know the Spirit is upon you?
- Which, if any, of the tasks of the Messiah in verses 1 or 3, have you personally experienced Jesus doing for you? And do you feel that any in particular are part of a commission he has placed upon you to help fulfil?
- With reference to verse 6, the 'priesthood of all believers' is an important dimension of Methodist understanding and of many other Churches. What do you understand by it?