One poignant passage in The Book of Consolation is Isaiah 61:1-3, which includes some of the most powerful prophetic statements in the Bible describing the healing ministry of the Lord,
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 heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s
favor, and the day of vengeance; to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown
of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called
righteous trees, planted by the Lord, to glorify him.
The spirit of this passage reveals that Jesus Christ came not only to save humans from their sin but to make them whole. In this prophecy, we see several promises of what the ministry of the Holy Spirit, accompanying the Lord Jesus, will do in the lives of people: an anointing outpoured, hope promised, healing given, freedom bought, favor extended, vengeance coming, comfort provided, and purpose realized.
a) Anointing outpoured
This text refers to the healing ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah 61:1 points to the Messiah. Ortlund writes, “These three verses are all one long sentence, because Jesus was given the greatest anointing in the history of the human race for one reason : to bring good news to the poor. . . . He defines his ministry as helping people in trouble, people in bondage, people whose hearts are broken.” Jesus will later declare his messianic authority in his hometown synagogue by reading this passage and stating, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The Scripture promises that the Holy Spirit will be poured out on the Messiah – the same Spirit that Isaiah earlier describes as the one of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord. This Spirit will be poured out on Jesus Christ at his baptism in the Jordan River, signifying the Father’s pleasure in the one he loves. The anointing of the Spirit upon Jesus enabled him on this earth to walk in the fulfillment of the functions mentioned in Isaiah 61:1-3. Walking in the freedom and healing of the Lord is the birthright of every child of God.
Brueggemann writes, “The act of anointing consists in being especially designated by God for a particular task through an anointing by oil, an act freighted with deep symbolic significance. The ‘anointed’ (= messiah) is the one designated in such sacramental fashion with special powers and authority for a special God-given task. . . . The act of anointing was recurring liturgical authorization and legitimation of royal power. Thus the act designated a member of the Davidic line, and, in the first instance, referred to a present-tense king.” Reverberations of Faith, 127.
Oswalt writes, “In Isaiah the Spirit is especially associated with the power to bring justice and righteousness on the earth, often through the spoken word (11:2; 32:15-16; 42:1; 44:3; 48:16; 59:21). . . . [H] is anointed by God for his task, and the Spirit filling is because of that anointing. Interestingly, the only places in the OT where Spirit filling and anointing are mentioned together are in connection with the establishment of the kingship.” The Book of Isaiah 40-66, 564.
Because of the oneness of God, for these Old Testament saints addressed by Isaiah, this promised hope and healing would come through Yaweh. Elwell writes,
In the OT Yahweh alone was the source for healing, just as he was
considered the same source for sickness. Summarizing the basic OT
attitude concerning sickness and healing, Deut. 32:29 portrays God
as the direct dispenser of sickness and disease as punishment for
man’s sin, . . . while healing is a reward for obedience, a manifestation
of God’s forgiveness, mercy, and love. This applied not only to
individuals but also to entire nations.
b) Hope promised
Christ is commissioned to preach good news to the poor. Inherent in this proclamation is certainly the gospel, the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sins. Every human of Adam’s race has sinned. They are poor spiritually. They need redemption. And Christ’s first commission here is to deliver that news of redemption. However, the context of that commission makes it clear that the scope of redemption is not limited only to having sins forgiven. The gospel is aimed at the entire person – making persons whole. The concept of redemption involves bringing someone back to his original state. When God created humanity in the garden of Eden, he made them to experience wholeness, completeness. The first man and woman experienced incredible union and communion with each other and God. Sin marred that wholeness, and the process of redemption today begins with the forgiveness of sins but continues in teaching persons how to walk again in wholeness. Relating the gospel of Christ to the Babylonian captivity, Elwell writes,
[T]he basic concept [of the gospel] has its rightful origin in the
religious aspirations of the nation Israel. Some seven centuries
before Christ the prophet Isaiah had delivered a series of prophetic
utterances. With vivid imagery he portrayed the coming deliverance
of Israel from captivity to Babylon. A Redeemer shall come to Zion
preaching good tidings unto the meek and liberty to the captives.
The word translated poor here is the Hebrew word anaw. Other meanings of this word include humble, afflicted, oppressed, helpless, needy, and meek. Calvin comments, “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.” Every person is lacking in some way. Their poverty may be routine boughts with insecurity, fear, or depression. He may experience rejection and pain because of unhealthy relationships with parents, siblings, or friends. Wounds can mark the person who already has his sins forgiven. When that occurs, the good news needs to continue to be preached. The aim of that good news is not just justification from sin’s penalty but healing and redemption from sin’s consequences. The Bible says that Jesus grew mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially. So the ministry of the Spirit on Jesus is not only interested in one aspect of our lives but, instead, in our entire being.
Charles Stanley writes, “No matter who we are today, we are ‘poor’ – or lacking – in some way. We are brokenhearted over something or someone. We are captives to the memories of the past and the limited expectations we have for our futures. We are blind to our true position and place in the Lord Jesus Christ. We truly need to be set free because each of us is oppressed by the enemy of the soul.” The Source of My Strength: Relying on the Life-Changing Power of Jesus Christ to Heal Our Wounded Hearts, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), x.
This promise of hope offered to the poor, the anaw, provides wonderful news. No one is beyond hope! No situation is too difficult that Jesus in his redemptive power cannot touch, transform, and restore. What the afflicted must do is believe. When two blind men cried out for Jesus to have mercy on them, he asked them a vital question: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Receiving a positive answer, he touched their eyes, saying, “Let it be done for you according to your faith!” And they were healed. Their healing was contingent on their belief that God could and would restore them. The afflicted must stand on the promises of God’s Word and believe. One of the great temptations in oppressive situations is to give up hope. Instead of believing for future redemption a person may resign for present disappointments. Beth Moore writes, “The Bible teaches that there are no lost causes. No permanent pit-dwellers except those who refuse to leave. Every person can know the complete redemption of Jesus Christ, purpose for life, and fullness of joy.”
The connotation of the poor in verse one “speaks of all who are distressed and in trouble for any reason, including sin. Ps. 25:16-21 explains this larger sense of the word well. As Jesus would say later (Matt. 9:12-13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31-32), he had not come to announce good news to those who were comfortable and in control, but to those who were in deep trouble. To such persons, God’s victory over all that is holding them in bondage is good news indeed.” John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66 of The New International Commentary, R. K. Harrison and Robert Hubbard, Jr. eds., (USA: Eerdmans, 1998), 564-5.