12/13/20 – Advent 3 – “The Essence of the Gospel” – Isaiah 61:1-3

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our text for the morning is the Old Testament reading from Isaiah 61, we’ll specifically be focusing on verses 1-3. And I have to be honest, every time this Scripture reading comes up, whether in the lectionary or as a suggestion for a special service, I circle it. I actually preached my very first sermon on this text (which, unfortunately, probably exists somewhere on the internet—I wouldn’t go try to find it if I were you). But also, if you participated in the live stream of my ordination service back in May, you might recall that these first three verses of Isaiah 61 were the Old Testament reading that I selected for that day…

There’s something about this text from Isaiah 61 that has captivated me since I first read it closely. And I can tell you exactly what it is about this text that has captivated me: It’s that line right in the middle of verse 2: the day of vengeance of our God. This line sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise beautiful and comforting passage. But my contention to you this morning, as strange as it may sound, is that it is in this line, the day of vengeance of our God, that the Lord reveals to us the essence of the Gospel. Let me read our text one more time, and then I’ll show you what I mean:
1The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because he 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 prisons to those who are bound;
2to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3to 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.

2. What’s going on here? Well, if we take the prophet seriously and we look at his words carefully, we see that he speaks of God’s “Anointed One” who has received the Holy Spirit. And this “Anointed One” has come to “bring good news to the poor.” If we take this statement seriously, then everything that follows is a part of that “good news”—binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives, comforting those who mourn, making them like oaks of righteousness—these are all inherently “good news,” right? But how is it “good news” that the Lord’s “Anointed One” comes to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God? In his commentary on Isaiah, Dr. Reed Lessing suggests that the year of grace and the day of vengeance are not two separate times, but are, in fact, two separate outcomes of the same event. When this event comes, some will experience the day of vengeance of our God, others will experience the Lord’s favor. What makes these two groups different? Nothing—at least nothing inherently. All humans are sinners who deserve the day of vengeance of our God, not the Lord’s favor—and that includes you and me. So, what makes these two groups different? For those of us who put our trust in Jesus, everything is different. We’re not different because of what we’ve done. We’re different because of what Jesus has done for us. On that fateful Friday 2,000 years ago, Jesus suffered the day of vengeance of our God so that the year of the Lord’s favor might be yours. On Golgotha, Jesus drank to the dregs the cup of divine wrath, taking upon himself the sin of the world, so that he might give the cup of blessing bought with his blood to you and to me. This is the essence of the Gospel: Christ suffered the day of vengeance so that the year of favor might be yours.

3. Rev. Francis Rossow, an influential Homiletics professor many years ago at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, famously said: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than the death and resurrection of Jesus, but never less. What he meant by those words is this. The Gospel is never less than the death and resurrection of Jesus in that the message of Gospel is grounded in the historical events of Jesus death and resurrection—those events cannot be taken out of the Gospel message. But the Gospel is more than the death and resurrection of Jesus in that it’s not simply a nice historical event that happened a long time ago. It’s a world-altering, life-changing reality. Its benefits come to us in many ways, but at its core, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a world-altering, life-changing reality.

4. My question to you this morning is this: how has the Gospel of Jesus Christ changed your life? Or has it? Does this “good news” that Jesus has suffered the day of vengeance so that the year of favor might be yours change the way that you live on a daily basis? Or is it a nice side-benefit—an eternal insurance policy, so to speak? The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than the death and resurrection of Jesus, but never less. The Gospel is more than a historical event. Jesus died to change your life here and now—not only your eternal destiny. And I love you enough to want you to experience the world-altering, life-changing benefits of the Gospel of Jesus Christ here and now. The fact that Jesus has suffered the day of vengeance so that the year of favor might be mine has incredible implications on just for me, but for all of those around me because this same message is for them as well! When you begin to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this way, it changes the way that you think. It changes the way that you spend your time. It changes the way that you spend your money. It changes everything. Yes, you and I fail to love God’s Gospel gifts above all things. We fail to allow this Gospel of Jesus Christ to transform our lives. But Jesus died on the cross to bring you his Gospel forgiveness. Jesus comes to you today to offer you the cup of blessing in his supper for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Jesus invites you to treasure the gift of the Gospel in your life and to allow his Spirit to transform your life by the power of this Gospel for your good and his glory.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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