Isaiah, 61:1-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

   because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

   to bind up the broken-hearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

   and release to the prisoners;

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

   and the day of vengeance of our God;

   to comfort all who mourn;

to provide for those who mourn in Zion—

   to give them a garland instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

   the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

They shall build up the ancient ruins,

   they shall raise up the former devastations;

they shall repair the ruined cities,

   the devastations of many generations.

Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,

   foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;

but you shall be called priests of the Lord,

   you shall be named ministers of our God;

you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,

   and in their riches you shall glory.

Because their shame was double,

   and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot,

therefore they shall possess a double portion;

   everlasting joy shall be theirs.

For I the Lord love justice,

   I hate robbery and wrongdoing;

I will faithfully give them their recompense,

   and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

Their descendants shall be known among the nations,

   and their offspring among the peoples;

all who see them shall acknowledge

   that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,

   my whole being shall exult in my God;

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,

   he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,

   and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots,

   and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,

so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise

   to spring up before all the nations.


This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a big-city lawyer who was representing the railroad in a lawsuit filed by an old rancher. Apparently, the rancher’s prize bull was missing from the section through which the railroad passed and the rancher only wanted to be paid the fair value of the bull. The case was scheduled to be tried before the justice of the peace in the back room of the general store. The city-slicker attorney for the railroad immediately cornered the rancher and tried to get him to settle out of court. He did his best selling job, and finally the rancher agreed to take half of what he was asking. After the rancher had signed the release and took the check, the young lawyer couldn’t resist gloating a little over his success, telling the rancher, “You are really dumb, old man, I put one over on you in there. I couldn’t have won the case. The engineer was asleep and the fireman was in the caboose when the train went through your ranch that morning. I didn’t have one witness to put on the stand. I bluffed you!” The old rancher replied, “Well, I’ll tell you young feller, I was a little worried about winning that case myself, because that darned bull came home this morning.”

Sometimes the distribution of justice can be quite funny. Was that rancher justified in taking that attorney’s settlement check? You bet he was, especially after his shameful gloating! Not to mention his avoidance of going to trial knowing full well he didn’t have a case. If he had been true to his profession in serving justice, he would have allowed the case to go to trial. Sure, he would have come across as a buffoon with no defense but maybe the rancher would have fessed up to the return of the bull before the trial actually got underway. After all, the rancher also stood to look like a buffoon without a missing bull. If only true justice was given a chance to prevail, then the attorney and rancher would have simply walked away from the case altogether. That said, that attorney did deserve a little retribution for his shameful gloating. No one likes a gloater!

We’re closing out our 4-week sermon series on the book of Isaiah this week and the closing chapters are an excellent witness to the justice of God. We know that God’s justice is far more equitable than any justice reached by attorneys or ranchers alike. That’s because people are people. We all want to believe we’re right and justified in what we do. That attorney probably would argue he was doing right in settling out of court and saving everyone’s time. And that rancher would also claim he was doing right in teaching that prejudiced attorney an important lesson about rushing the due process. People are people…prideful, defensive, and clever at times. But God is not like us. No, God operates without pride and defensiveness and cleverness. God allows for justice to unfold as it ought to, when it ought to. God doesn’t expedite the process. God has all the time in the world to allow for justice to unfold! Time doesn’t affect God the way it does to us. 

The book of Isaiah was written over several hundred years. It recalls the story of God’s people doing what people do best and pulling away from God. God had Isaiah proclaim words of woe to his people: “You’re doing it again, you’re pulling away from me! You’re living sinful, selfish lives. You’re not living grateful, God-fearing lives.” And sure enough, God allowed for the Babylonian empire to march in and destroy their temple and send them into a 70-year exile. But God didn’t forget his people. God wasn’t without mercy for his people. God guided and protected his people in their exile until finally He called them home to begin the rebuilding process. The structure of Isaiah’s narrative can be divided into 3 parts-1st Isaiah, 2nd Isaiah, and 3rd Isaiah-with each part addressing the people before the exile, during the exile, and the return from exile. And in all three parts, God’s justice is being done. God’s people deserved Isaiah’s harsh words of rebuke. God’s people deserved to be conquered and sent into exile. God’s people deserved to be restored in their homeland. God’s justice is not our justice. God’s justice is far more fair and isn’t rushed by time. God’s justice unfolded over several generations.

God’s justice is about retribution and restoration. We here the prophet offer powerful words of restoration in the opening verses of our passage. “He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” Such powerful words that even Jesus would recite several years later as his ministry began to unfold. They’re powerful words of comfort and restoration to a downtrodden people. We all want to hear such words in our times of sorrow and misery. We all can feel oppressed, broken-hearted, enslaved, and mournful. We all need to hear the prophet’s words! Proverbs teaches us, “when justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but dismay to evildoers.” (21:15) God’s justice, true justice, is about both retribution to the oppressor and restoration to the oppressed. Two sides of the same coin. It was unfortunate that God’s people were their own oppressors for so many years. The Israelites had oppressed themselves by living sinful, selfish lives for too many years. But God patiently waited and consistently spoke through the prophet as we heard earlier in Isaiah, “therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (30:18)

Our God is a patient God. Our God is a just God. Unlike the attorney and rancher of our opening joke, our God doesn’t rush justice. As the psalmist says, “he loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.” (33:5) The book of Isaiah is a powerful witness to God’s love of justice and the love that comes from it. Our God is a good God and for that we give thanks. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.