First off, I want to start this by saying that I’m just an undergraduate student studying a major that for all simplicity I will refer to as Psychology (even though it has other tracks besides psychology within the major) with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I have not gone to Seminary and though I have looked at one or two schools possibly for grad school, I doubt I will pursue further education at a Seminary school. My grandfather was a minister but most of the sermons of his I was present at I always dozed off because at the time they didn’t interest me. Even if I did stay awake through them, my familial relationship to a minister and everything else I’ve mentioned don’t really give me any authority in terms of actually preaching (and no, not because I’m female, but that’s a talk for another post). Despite all of this, I’m going to share some of my thoughts and reflections from when I read Isaiah 61 especially in relation to what I believe should be all followers of Christ mission in regards to social-justice.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, 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, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion — instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” – (Isaiah 61: 1-3)
For those of you who have read the New Testament, does this seem familiar? It should. Jesus read part of these lines in Luke 4:18-19 before he was rejected at Nazareth. After he read, he said “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,”. Long story short: Jesus was the good news they had been waiting many many many long years for and he had the power and authority to heal them physically but also spiritually of their sins.
Now you’re probably like, “Ok, cool. What does that have to do with anything happening now?” Well if you stay in Luke and go a little further to Luke 9, you’ll see how Jesus’ mission of being sent out is also other’s aka, our mission as well: “And he called the twelve [disciples] together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal…And they departed and went through the villages preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” (Luke 9:1-6).
If you’re calling yourself a disciple of Christ, a Jesus Follower, than this is your mission, no matter who you are, where you come from, or what your race/ethnicity is. You are called to bring the good news to those who haven’t heard it truly, to proclaim the Lord’s favor, and to comfort those who are mourning EVERYWHERE. Pretty cool, right? This is Jesus’ Ministry.
“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.” – (Isaiah 61:4)
What I really love about this verse is a simple observation of how many times the words “they shall” start to appear, starting with this verse.
It’s not, “they might” or “they sometimes will” but “THEY SHALL”. There’s no room for arguments with these two simple words. They not only mark things that will happen but things that must happen.
I don’t know if you have ever been to a ruin of what used to be a town/village or even a building but it can get really difficult to even remember what the ruin used to be before it was just a pile of rocks, let alone the grandeur it once had.
When I was abroad in Greece, for our first trip outside of the city of Athens, it took our class about half an hour to realize that we were standing on the site of what used to be several houses from around the 6th century B.C., and even longer to figure out where one house ended and the other began. Now imagine if our teacher had told us that we had to rebuild those houses. With only a vague outline created by what remained of the houses borders, that would definitely be something near impossible to do for college kids from different fields of study, even if we didn’t have to worry about expenses.
“Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.” – (Isaiah 61:5-7)
But here, in Isaiah, God’s people are being called to rebuild things like those houses that my Greek classes stood in, whether being figurative or not. A lot of times we may not initially understand how something has gotten to the state of ruin that it is in. Personally, going into a situation or place that I know nothing about scares the crap out of me. I like to know exactly what I’m getting myself into. However, where would I be if I didn’t listen to God and just trust and follow Him? I’m not giving myself, or anyone else for that matter, an excuse to stay ignorant. What I am saying is that if you keep using the excuse of not knowing enough than nothing will ever be fixed. How could we have ever learned anything if that was going to be our mentality? Sometimes, the best building plans come after trying something and making a mistake or two. Our fears and insecurities of not being adequate enough should not hold us back from being the rebuilders that we, as Followers of Christ, are being called to be in the places that He has put us in. We need to be a visible, loving, and understanding presence in places that may not be getting enough love.
I know a lot of Christians, myself included, struggle with what I’m going to call being “Comfy Christians”. We go to church on Sundays, maybe a Bible study or two throughout the week, but when the news comes on, when our newsfeed is filled with tragic stories, and cries for justice we shut down. We find it too uncomfortable. We disengage. But why is that?
The Lord is supposed to be our source of Joy (notice, I’m using a capital “J” and not a lowercase) and according to Isaiah, it’s supposed to be an “everlasting joy”. I don’t know about you but having “everlasting joy” seems like a pretty sweet deal. But how can someone have “everlasting joy” but still be put into situations of being uncomfortable? Well honestly, the subject of Joy (joy in the Lord) vs. joy (joy in earthly things) can be it’s own blog post – maybe even several if not more. However, for the sake of this post’s purpose and for the sake of the your attention span, I’ll just say we can have “everlasting joy” or Joy because of the Promises that God has made to us from the very beginning. The “everlasting joy” isn’t in response to anything earthly but knowing that your will aligns with the Lord’s. It’s a Joy that doesn’t easily go away even when you’re in situations that seem way out of your comfort zone.
“For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.” – (Isaiah 61:8-9)
I guess I could have just started this post with this verse and saved you and myself some time. It seems pretty straightforward right? God loves justice and hates robbing and wrong. Well, that’s true, but it goes slightly deeper. In some translations, “wrong” means “robbery with a burnt offering”. Now, if you know about offerings, especially offerings made in the Old Testament, one would make an offering in repentance after doing something bad or that went against a law of God’s. But what good is an offering when you don’t actually repent, when you’re not actually sorry for what you did?
I could have just easily used this verse and been like “BAM! God loves justice! So we have to love justice and social justice issues too,” but that would be taking away the beauty of this verse.
God is a god of justice. I doubt there’s anyone who has been on this Earth (except Jesus) who can say that they were completely 100% just. If anything, you would think that He would hate us because we have done wrong. There have probably been many times where we have said “we’re sorry” but didn’t really mean it. I know I have. In all honesty, God has every right to just strike me and you down right now. There’s countless reasons why. However, God made promises to us, promises that he has fulfilled and will continue to fulfill and it’s by his grace that those promises, or covenant, that He has blessed me and many others with. If we’re a truly blessed group, shouldn’t we want to share those blessings with others? Shouldn’t knowing that we, who didn’t deserve a second chance, be beyond excited to not only tell people about it but to aslo want to share it with others as well? Shouldn’t our hearts break for those who are in the midst of injustice? Shouldn’t we be among the front ranks of those crying for justice and peace?
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all nations.” – (Isaiah 61:10-11)
There are many terrible things happening in the world. And many times, we use the excuse of not being equipped or not having the authority to do anything about it. But that is not true. We as Followers of Christ have been equipped. We have been sent out with a mission. We are called to go into those hard places. We are called and reborn in Christ to bring justice and peace to ones who are suffering. To mourn when they mourn and be the ones who begin the rebuilding process even after years and years of destruction and hate.
Instead of being safe and comfortable in our clubhouse of Christianity, if we truly believe in the promises that God has made to us then we should and we shall stand against injustice rebuilding cities and creating a lighthouse for the poor, brokenhearted, and the captives.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, though Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” – (Hebrews 13:20-12)