Thoughts on Isaiah 61:1-4

This morning I read Isaiah 61, which contains the famous verses (1-2a) which Christ quotes in Luke 4:18-19. I’ve seen both passages (well, the one passage) quoted quite a bit recently, but I haven’t looked at the larger context in some time, so it was great to do that this morning:

Is. 61:1(A) The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has(B) anointed me to bring good news to the poor;[a] he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and(C) the opening of the prison to those who are bound;[b]
2(D) to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,(E) and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—(F) to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,(G) the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; (H) that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD,(I) that he may be glorified.[c]
4(J) 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. (ESV)

(The rest of the chapter is great, too – but I just want to concentrate on these verses in this post….) Because Christ applied these verses to Himself, we know that Isaiah was looking forward in time to Christ setting all who come to Him for salvation free from bondage to sin, and not just God delivering Israel in his own day and age. Notice verse 3, which is surely a continuation of the thought in verses 1 and 2: turning sorrow to joy – what sorrow? For Israel, sorrow and mourning over captivity; for us, sorrow and mourning over our sin! For the unbeliever in the process of turning his or her life over to Christ, or for the believer struggling with a besetting sin, this is sorrow over captivity to sin and the effects of that sin on our relationship with God. This is the godly sorrow Paul talks about here:

2 Cor 7:10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (NKJV)

And of course, why was Israel captive? Because of their sin – their idolatrous relationships with other gods… Is 61:4 continues with the good news – it speaks of God rebuilding what was devastated…. Israel had been devastated by conquering armies effecting God’s discipline – sometimes the devastation in our lives is the result of God’s discipline; more often than not, though, I think it’s simply the result of our own sin.

In a recent discussion on godly sorrow, a good friend and I also talked about Matthew 5:3-6:

3(D) “Blessed are(E) the poor in spirit, for(F) theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are(G) those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5“Blessed are the(H) meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and(I) thirst(J) for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (ESV)

The first few verses of the Sermon on the Mount are sometimes not seen as a continuous thought, but as disjointed thoughts addressing both physical (material) poverty and physical troubles, as well as spiritual issues. But that is simply not the case. The focus of these verses is consistently a poverty of spirit, an awareness of one’s utter dependence upon God — not only for salvation, but for day-to-day living, regardless of one’s material possessions! Why is it easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven? Because the rich man doesn’t have a sense of his need – he’s distracted by physical, material, temporal comfort and doesn’t realize his true poverty. Why is the person who is hungering and thirsting after righteousness blessed? Because he knows that he has no innate righteousness – that he must seek living water! These verses all speak of someone who has begun to see their “righteousness” in contrast with the righteousness of a Holy God, the Almighty Creator of the universe, the sovereign God who is a Consuming Fire, before Whom nothing is hidden, and Who, in spite of that, loves us.

Lord, this is an area in which I need much growth; may I yearn to understand and clearly see my poverty, my need before you. I certainly did nothing to earn my salvation – and I clearly can do nothing on my own to kill sin and live a Christ-like life. Please grow humility in my heart and strike down the pride that so easily and quickly grows there.

Here’s a tiny bit of what Matthew Henry has to say about Matt 5:3-12:
Do we ask then who are happy? It is answered, I. The poor in spirit are happy, v. 3. There is a poor-spiritedness that is so far from making men blessed that it is a sin and a snare—cowardice and base fear, and a willing subjection to the lusts of men. But this poverty of spirit is a gracious disposition of soul, by which we are emptied of self, in order to our being filled with Jesus Christ. To be poor in spirit is, 1. To be contentedly poor, willing to be emptied of worldly wealth, if God orders that to be our lot; to bring our mind to our condition, when it is a low condition. Many are poor in the world, but high in spirit, poor and proud, murmuring and complaining, and blaming their lot, but we must accommodate ourselves to our poverty, must know how to be abased, Phil. 4:12. Acknowledging the wisdom of God in appointing us to poverty, we must be easy in it, patiently bear the inconveniences of it, be thankful for what we have, and make the best of that which is. It is to sit loose to all worldly wealth, and not set our hearts upon it, but cheerfully to bear losses and disappointments which may befal us in the most prosperous state. It is not, in pride or pretence, to make ourselves poor, by throwing away what God has given us, especially as those in the church of Rome, who vow poverty, and yet engross the wealth of the nations; but if we be rich in the world we must be poor in spirit, that is, we must condescend to the poor and sympathize with them, as being touched with the feeling of their infirmities; we must expect and prepare for poverty; must not inordinately fear or shun it, but must bid it welcome, especially when it comes upon us for keeping a good conscience, Heb. 10:34. Job was poor in spirit, when he blessed God in taking away, as well as giving. 2. It is to be humble and lowly in our own eyes. To be poor in spirit, is to think meanly of ourselves, of what we are, and have, and do; the poor are often taken in the Old Testament for the humble and self-denying, as opposed to those that are at ease, and the proud; it is to be as little children in our opinion of ourselves, weak, foolish, and insignificant, ch. 18:4; 19:14. Laodicea was poor in spirituals, wretchedly and miserably poor, and yet rich in spirit, so well increased with goods, as to have need of nothing, Rev. 3:17. On the other hand, Paul was rich in spirituals, excelling most in gifts and graces, and yet poor in spirit, the least of the apostles, less than the least of all saints, and nothing in his own account. It is to look with a holy contempt upon ourselves, to value others and undervalue ourselves in comparison of them. It is to be willing to make ourselves cheap, and mean, and little, to do good; to become all things to all men. It is to acknowledge that God is great, and we are mean; that he is holy and we are sinful; that he is all and we are nothing, less than nothing, worse than nothing; and to humble ourselves before him, and under his mighty hand. 3. It is to come off from all confidence in our own righteousness and strength, that we may depend only upon the merit of Christ for our justification, and the spirit and grace of Christ for our sanctification. That broken and contrite spirit with which the publican cried for mercy to a poor sinner, is that poverty of spirit. We must call ourselves poor, because always in want of God’s grace, always begging at God’s door, always hanging on in his house. Now, (1.) This poverty in spirit is put first among the Christian graces. The philosophers did not reckon humility among their moral virtues, but Christ puts it first. Self-denial is the first lesson to be learned in his school, and poverty of spirit entitled to the first beatitude. The foundation of all other graces is laid in humility. Those who would build high must begin low; and it is an excellent preparative for the entrance of gospel-grace into the soul; it fits the soil to receive the seed. Those who are weary and heavy laden, are the poor in spirit, and they shall find rest with Christ.

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