Year of the Lord's favor

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
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God, – Isaiah 61:1-2a


Last week, we spent time talking about the promise of good news for the poor, healing for those who are brokenhearted, etc.  We talked about freedom for those who are captive, even to sin.  We talked about how dark it can be when there is no hope of freedom and that some of the most devastating predicaments are those when freedom has been proclaimed but the darkness is so complete that it is hard to believe that freedom is even possible.  However, as we read through this passage of hope, an ominous phrase appears that some may not know what to do with.  Isaiah says that the coming anointed one will also proclaim a day of vengeance.

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…

Jesus stood up in the synagogue on the Sabbath and was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  He read this very text.  Then, when he had ready “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” he rolled up the scroll and sat down.  He then proclaimed that this scripture was fulfilled ‘today’ in their hearing.  We can make a lot of assumptions about this.  Many of us would like to assume that Jesus stopped at this phrase because He had not come to proclaim vengeance.  Rather, he had come to proclaim a new and gracious era in the dealings between God and man.  However, Matthew 24:42-46, tells us that Jesus talked about a coming day as he taught the people.

…and the day of vengeance of our God

In fact, this teaching must have featured prominently in Jesus’ teaching because 1 Thessalonians 5 and 2 Peter 3 feature the same teaching, even with very similar phrasing and illustration.  The Christian church from early on understood that Jesus had taught that there would be a day when he would return and on that day he must find us ready.

How do we reconcile these two phrases?

Many scholars read these two phrases as a declaration of two comings of the same messenger.  Jesus stood in the synagogue to proclaim that those who were listening to his words were experiencing the first coming.   This is a time when all of the past is wiped away.  This is a year of favor.  The debt that was owed is forgiven and it is no longer held against us.  However, there will be a day when Jesus comes again.  On that day, judgment will come on the living and the dead and we will be called to account for what was done in this world.  In fact, 2 Peter 3 says the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.  Jesus’ teaching about the importance of the master finding his servants doing what he has asked is one way for us to hear this.  The past is washed away, but when he returns, it will be a day of judgment.

Looking Forward

Just because that day in Luke 4 was not the day, does not mean that the day is not coming.  Let us not receive the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1).  Rather, let us respond to the year of the Lord’s favor by putting the past behind us and turning to the call of God, that He might find us doing His will when he returns.

Pastor Pete