Is 61:1-2 “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD 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 prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor....”
We see here clearly the role of the prophet, Isaiah, and also the role of every true prophet, culminating in the work of Christ himself. In this we learn that the primary tool of the prophet is the preaching of the word and not politics. For what was the prophet anointed to do?
1. The prophet is sent to bring good news to the poor! We might think that it would say to bring good soup to the poor. But here the poor are those afflicted in captivity and Babylon and the good news is not a sandwich, but that God will deliver them to freedom.
Calvin writes: “‘To the afflicted.’ Some render it, ‘To the meek’; and both ideas are conveyed by the word ענוים (gnanavim). But I preferred to adhere to the former signification, because the Prophet is speaking of captives and prisoners. Yet I think that he includes both; for he means those who, while they are altogether forsaken and abandoned, are also wretched in themselves. Christ is promised to none but those who have been humbled and overwhelmed by a conviction of their distresses, who have no lofty pretensions, but keep themselves in humility and modesty. And hence we infer that Isaiah speaks literally of the Gospel; for the Law was given for the purpose of abasing proud hearts which swelled with vain confidence, but the Gospel is intended for "the afflicted," that is, for those who know that they are destitute of everything good, that they may gather courage and support. For what purpose were prophets, and apostles, and other ministers, anointed and sent, but to cheer and comfort the afflicted by the doctrine of grace?”
“To cheer and comfort the afflicted by the doctrine of grace,” how beautiful and simply that is said.
2. The prophet is sent to bind up the broken-hearted. We might think, aha, he gives out bandages and medical supplies. But what salve can we apply to a broken heart? It is again the gospel balm of God's love.
Calvin writes: “By ‘binding up,’ he means nothing else than ‘healing,’ but now he expresses something more than in the preceding clause; for he shows that. the preaching of the word is not an empty sound, but a powerful medicine, the effect of which is felt, not by obdurate and hard-hearted men, but by wounded consciences.”
We heal the broken-hearted not with physical remedies but with spiritual ones. We bring the word of God as a powerful medicine to heal the broken-hearted. Whatever other service we may render it must only follow and flow from this primary remedy, Christ himself.
3. The prophet is sent to proclaim liberty to captives and the opening of the prisons to those who are bound. Again, note the prophet’s role. His was not to storm the prison or to pass laws, but to proclaim liberty. To proclaim good news. This meant that Isaiah was to tell the people wrongly imprisoned and captive in Babylon that they would be set free. Not that Isaiah would lead an army to storm Babylon but the God himself would release them. Nor did Christ come to free Jerusalem from Roman rule, but Satan’s. This is no promise that every criminal who rightly serves time in civil prison for their crimes, that they will be set free. But that any who will become God’s people, are no longer prisoners of their own sin, the world, and Satan but are liberated. “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:13-14)
Calvin writes. “To proclaim liberty to the captives. This also is the end of the Gospel, that they who are captives may be set at liberty. We are prisoners and captives, therefore, till we are set free (John 8:36) through the grace of Christ; and when Christ wishes to break asunder our chains, let us not refuse the grace that is offered to us. It ought to be observed in general, that the blessings which are here enumerated are bestowed upon us by heavenly doctrine, and that none are fit for the enjoyment of them but those who, conscious of their poverty, eagerly desire the assistance of Christ, as he himself says, ‘Come to me all ye that labor and are heavy laden ,and I will relieve you.’ (Matthew 11:28)."
We proclaim Christ for only he can lead prisoners of sin and Satan to freedom. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Tim. 2:25-26).
4. The prophet is sent to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Notice again that the prophet does not produce the year of the Lord’s favor, he proclaims it. We tell everyone that a new day has dawned on Earth. Christ has come to set them free, to liberate them from their captivity of sin and Satan and the world. To usher them into his freedom and light. That when he sets us free, we are free indeed. As his people come to embrace the offer of the gospel—Christ and his redemption—they are released from captivity and set free fully.
While a Christian may rightly and well serve within politics or in bringing physical and social relief in our world, and while our churches rightly do mercy, the call of the prophet is to proclaim the gospel and to continually proclaim it. Lord let me, let Christ Presbyterian Church, be faithful to proclaim your good news to all, and never tire of proclaiming it or lose this sacred priority of proclaiming you good news!
This is the job of the faithful gospel minister. This is the job of every Christian, too, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. To bring good news to those who are afflicted. Lord, will you help us to be true prophets, those of us who preach your word? To proclaim and proclaim and proclaim what Jesus has told us to proclaim.