Jesus’ Transformative Mission
During this time of Epiphany, of revealing who Jesus is, we look to his transformative mission as he comes to change hearts and lives. Isaiah 61:1-6 shows us that good news of God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness. Let’s learn about “Jesus’ Transformative Mission.” January 27, 2019.
Do you remember Christmas? It seems like it was forever ago, but we’re actually only about a month removed from it. The parties and trips to gatherings are done. The excitement of giving and receiving gifts is over. The preparations for special Christmas services are in the past. Now you’ve gone back to the regular routine with the same challenges, deadlines, to-do lists, and stresses. You’ve been dealing with bitter cold and sloppy weather. The news really hasn’t changed and politics are still politics.
How about those New Year’s resolutions that you made? How are you doing 27 days later? Have you achieved the change you were hoping for or are you on track to meet the goal you set? Or have you already forgotten about the changes and tossed them into the bucket of unfulfilled goals?
If you can so quickly forget and move on from the simple joys of Christmas, isn’t it just as easy and quick for you to move on from and to forget the tremendous joys of Jesus? If you are so prone to give up on important changes that you want to make in your life, isn’t it just as easy to look past the eternal life changes that Jesus has accomplished already for you?
This is the challenge of the Christian life. Too easily we lose sight of Jesus and his purpose. Today you are reminded, or maybe even hearing for the first time, the whole purpose of Jesus coming into this world. It’s an important reminder for us, because we all too often forget as we live in the regular routine of battling temptations and living in a less than perfect world. During this time of Epiphany, of revealing who Jesus is, we look to his transformative mission as he comes to change hearts and lives.
There was a TV show that aired in the late 60s and more recently was revitalized as a blockbuster movie series called Mission Impossible. The show or movie always started with the leader of the IMF – Impossible Missions Force – receiving a recorded message that went this way, “Good morning Mr. Briggs/Mr. Hunt. Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” Then the mission would be briefly explained and finally the recording would end with, “this message will self-destruct in 5 seconds.” The mission would be laid out for the hero to accomplish.
Isaiah 61 reminds me of that scene. God through Isaiah, lays out the mission of his chosen hero. Thankfully the rundown of this mission didn’t self-destruct but has been preserved for us to know and to reflect on. The mission is summarized as this, “to proclaim good news to the poor.” For those who are lost or hurting, depressed or uncertain, there is nothing that changes their hearts and lives more than a message of good news. For the patient who battles with cancer, the words, “you’re cancer free,” is a message to rejoice over. For the parent who is worried for their adult child caught in a natural disaster, there is no greater words than, “I’m ok.” For the federal worker, they wanted nothing but to hear the words, “the shutdown is over.” These are comforting and encouraging messages. We long to know that there is something different, a better situation than the one we often find ourselves in.
The mission that God sets out is to proclaim good news to the poor. Understand first who is meant by the poor. This isn’t the monetarily poor. This isn’t those who are poor in regards to finances or health, or things of this world. It’s the spiritually poor. It’s those who can have the joys of life so quickly swallowed up by overwhelming troubles. It’s you and me. It’s all humankind. It’s all people who are confronted with the demands of the perfect Lord and feel the stinging rod of God’s law. Those whose consciences are stricken and burdened by guilt. Isaiah describes the poor as sinners whose hearts are broken in their relationship with God and one another, captives who are hopelessly trapped in dungeons of immorality and unbreakable cycles of wickedness, prisoners who are bound by Satan’s controlling and damning influence. The poor are those whose lives are filled with lust, greed, jealousy, anger, and hatred and at the end of this life stands the inescapable reality of death.
I get it. This isn’t a pretty picture. It’s straight up hopeless and disappointing. You might have every good intention of trying to fix it, but you can’t. This sad truth is not one that you want to embrace. Neither does the Lord. So, to you, the poor in spirit, he sends his anointed Servant to proclaim good news that changes your life. Here’s the good news. The good news is that the Lord binds hearts that are broken with the peace of loving forgiveness. He eases burdened conscience with the good news that you are set free from your guilt. He breaks the chains of Satan’s lies that bind you, setting you free from being captive to sin. He “proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.” Yes, the Lord is still serious about sin and those who turn from him will be punished, but God’s grace and mercy, his favor is far more overwhelming.
So, when you mourn and grieve in this life find comfort in God’s certain promises. The good news of God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness transforms your life. You see that transformation in verse three. Instead of being covered in the ashes of sorrow, the Lord gives you a crown of beauty to wear in victory. Instead of mourning at the troubles of this life, the Lord pours on you the oil of celebration; you have eternal life with God to look forward to. Instead of having a spirit that despairs, the Lord wraps you in a garment of praise to rejoice even in troubles.
This message is the good news that God’s anointed comes to proclaim to you. But how can you be certain that this transformation from damned to saved, from despair to hope is truly yours? The message is so different than what the world and life can really look like. The answer? Look at who carries out this mission. The one who this good news in your midst is the one who secured the freedom, comfort, and joy of forgiveness.
The opening words of Isaiah chapter 61 are spoken by none other than the promised Savior, Jesus Christ. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me.” It was the Lord giving his people a glimpse of the Savior that he had promised to send and what that Savior would do. In today’s gospel we heard Jesus affirm that this prophecy was fulfilled in him. After reading these same verses from Isaiah that you heard today, Jesus said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” It was one of those mic drop moments. Here it is. The promises of a Savior fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Jesus was the anointed one, the Messiah, set aside for the mission of saving humankind. His life lived in place of yours. His death offered up to set you free from the death you deserve. Jesus comes to you through his holy word to proclaim the life changing message to you.
As this gospel message is planted in your heart, faith takes root and grows. Isaiah describes it in this way. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. See God takes this message of grace, this message of life and forgiveness because of Jesus, and he plants it in your heart. Then he gardens it. He tills the soil with his saving words, waters it as he pours the waters of baptism over it, and feeds and nourishes that faith with the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.
So what happens is that the more that you hear this good news in Word and sacrament, the more deeply your roots of faith go, grounded in God’s promises. And from faith grows a righteous life, solid and strong in Christ Jesus that can withstand the brutal climate of this world and the scorching rays of temptation. Just as a beautiful garden reflects the work of gardener, so too when you live a life transformed in Christ as an oak of righteousness, you display the splendor of God. And you stand strong in the faith that Jesus works in your heart.
Jesus came as God promised to carry out the mission that God had for rescuing you. Jesus came to proclaim that your life is changed in him. No longer are you a sinner, but a saint. No longer do you belong to Satan, but to God. No longer is this world all that there is to look forward to, but you have eternal life with the Lord. That message transforms the way you look at life and the way you live life. That’s why Jesus came. That’s what Jesus does and Jesus alone.
So when your life doesn’t go the way you expect, when you struggle with sin and troubles, when you try hard to be good, but fail, when you’re tired, stressed, worn out, remember the good news. Jesus gives you healing, freedom, comfort, joy, and victory. Jesus transforms your life. Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on January 27, 2019