Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Isaiah 61 Initiative, pt 2: Vengeance

Few people like to talk about vengeance. As good Christians, we are to forgive, and let God repay. We would rather speak of justice. However, so many people's idea of justice is self-centered. Justice for whom, from whom, upon whom? Is justice having things fair for yourself? Is justice receiving the punishment for your sins? Is justice grace? Is your idea of justice the same as God's?

We are continuing our discussion of Isaiah chapter 61, which has inspired the Isaiah 61 Initiative, the name we've given to the work God has led us to in America's inner cities. Let's look now at verse two:

“[He has sent me] to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God.”

So even though we might not like the word vengeance, here God is anointing people to go proclaim it. Jesus stops short of this line when He quotes the verse in Luke chapter 4. Is Jesus shying away from vengeance? A quick reading of His teachings would say no, He doesn't. So why stop? Maybe it wasn't time then. His work was the favorable year, the culmination of the ages when the Holy Spirit was returning to man, and anointing and empowering them to go and do the works of ministry found here in Isaiah 61. The NLT translation gives a little clarity:

“He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the LORD's favor has come, and with it, the day of God's anger against their enemies.”

So this isn't just blanket vengeance, it is upon the enemies of the mourners. This is a part of Isaiah 61 that we didn't understand until recently. God's heart is continuously for the afflicted, poor, brokenhearted, aliens, neglected. The Law of the Old Testament had numerous instruction for how to care for these people. In the New Testament, there is ample exhortation concerning loving our neighbors and enemies. This hasn't changed. The whole point of Isaiah 61, and therefore Jesus' mission (since He quoted it, saying, “today this scripture has been fulfilled), is to bring good news to the afflicted, to heal them, and set them free.

This continues to this very day. God is looking to the oppressed and marginalized, sending His Spirit upon people to go and care for them, and bringing vengeance upon their enemies.

Let's back up. The year of favor is easier to take in and discuss. All the good works of Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit, this new life, forgiveness of sins, the Kingdom here, now, in our midst. And a way for all the people of the earth to come and know God. However, further than that, it is this mission that Isaiah 61 is presenting. “Fear not, afflicted, poor, and imprisoned. I am sending My Spirit to you, through my servants, to heal and set free.” These are all good and commendable things.  We like them.

So how does a minister of the mission of Isaiah 61 proclaim the day of vengeance of our God?

This is where things get uncomfortable.

Race. Class. Xenophobia. Pride. Comfort. Division. Standard of living. Escapism. Neglect. Insulation. Apathy. Corruption. Abuse of power. Faith without works.

God is shining light on dark, neglected and abused places. In doing so, He is tearing open long-hidden wounds and revealing secret sins. He is calling His people to live by the customs of the Kingdom, not the ways of the world. And one does this by laying down one's life, denying one's rights, and ridding oneself of expectations. And then going to the afflicted and serving. This is exactly what Jesus did. It is what He calls us to do. It is the mission of Isaiah 61.

Do not be mistaken. This is not a trendy call to social justice. Remember, your definition of justice may not be God's, and may have more in common with the world's definition. In being separate from the world, we have to realign our values with God's. Also, notice to whom the servant should be proclaiming: to those who mourn. “Take heart! God's favor is coming! And He is bringing vengeance upon your enemies!” And yet this isn't a vague, empty promise. As priests, we should be testifying to the works of God, and teaching people the difference between the holy and the profane. As we are serving and ministering, and watching God working, we should be communicating this to people, so they will know who God is and what He is like.

Have you witnessed this work of God in your own life? Have you witnessed it in the world around you?

Isaiah 61 is about good news and good works. Proclaim.   

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