Looking Forward to Our Gift
Anticipating Prophecy Fulfilled
Passages: Isaiah 61:1-7, Luke 4:15-21
Focus Verse: He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21 NKJV
Everyone at some time looks forward to a Christmas gift they want. When I was a little girl, my wish list included several toys I hoped to find under our Christmas tree, but I mainly wanted a Mrs. Beasley doll. My mom took my brother and me Christmas shopping with her. As we strolled through the aisles beside her cart, gazing around to see what interested us, we’d wander nearby, pointing as we announced, “I want this!” Over and over, I’d find a doll, skates, and other delightful things to trot back to Mommy, hoping she would let me put it in the cart. But she would tell me, “Charlaine, put that back. Christmas is coming soon.” My brother, of course, did the same. When she paid for the items at the checkout, I asked about a few gifts I spied on the counter. She would tell me they were for this family member or that one. Disappointed, I hung my head pouting. I doubted I would get anything I wanted.
Christmas Morning Wonder
On Christmas morning, my brother and I shot out of bed early and raced down the stairs, at least the best I could at four years old, with short legs on old high steps. The tree, sprinkled with shiny tinsel, colorful glass ornaments, and glowing lights, sat over beautifully wrapped gifts like a hen with her brood of chicks nestled beneath. Mom and Dad, dressed in their robes, smiled to see our eyes light up. Then they casually walked down the stairs. Anticipation swelled inside us.
They each reached under the tree, pulled out a gift, and handed ours to each of us. Tearing through the pretty festive paper, I was pleasantly shocked! How did Mom sneak this past me at the store? I wondered. My little heart was full,” OH, Mommy! I LOVE THIS!” My new Mrs. Beasley doll never left my side. My brother excitedly pulled the wrapping off a Daisy BB gun, just beaming with pride. Christmas never disappointed us, although some gifts did. Not every toy measured up to the advertisements on TV.
Looking into Our Passages
Just as my brother and I anticipated our Christmas gifts, Israel anticipated the Messiah. Considering Christmas with the birth of Jesus, I can’t help to wonder how Israel felt, hoping the Messiah would come and set their world right again. They groaned under the oppression of pagan countries whose cultures flew in the face of the Law. They longed for days gone by when they lived in the land God gave them. As time passed, some of them likely lost hope. When, Lord?
God remained silent for four hundred years. Not a peep from a prophet during that time. Had He abandoned them? Some gave up hope, becoming absorbed into the lifestyles of the Gentiles. Others doubted a literal Messiah when hearing the priest read Isaiah 61. Could the Prophet Isaiah be referring to Israel rather than a person?
Yet others watched, hopeful, for their Savior. And then He came, quietly, gently wrapped in cloth either found in the cave where Mary birthed Jesus or from some of their clothing. The shepherds rejoiced over their Christmas gift. The wise men from the East gave Him gifts rather than expecting to get one. Simeon and Anna continued watching for Him expectantly. Imagine their joy at his arrival! Simeon exclaimed,
“For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,” Luke 20:31 NKJV.
What a Christmas gift!
Looking Forward to Christmas by Looking Back
As I look through Isaiah 61, I see “me.” Who is “me”? That’s the question I imagine even the priests asked. They read the Scriptures and performed the sacrifices but knew they were not “me.” How about the men in the inner court hearing this passage read at the Temple, wondering, Who is this “me“? Whoever this person was, is, or is to be, He’s been entrusted with an immense, unique task. Who is this who frees prisoners from darkness, sets captives free, binds up the brokenhearted, gives liberty to the oppressed—boy, Israel was certainly oppressed—and gives sight to the blind? How about proclaiming the Year of the Lord’s favor? That’s huge! It could refer to the Year of Jubilee, in which all debts are canceled, land ownership reverted to the original owner, and slaves were freed. Yet Isaiah also pointed forward to a time not yet seen. Rebuild the Temple? We are standing in it. Praise the Lord! But we are not in our own country as our nation. Wandering through their possible thoughts can help us grasp the importance of this passage.
This prophecy was proclaimed sometime in the 700s BC, around 700 years before Jesus was born and another 30 years before Jesus read these words in the Synagogue at Nazareth. I find it interesting that Isaiah writes as if he stood in that time as if it were present, that individual “me,” possibly seeing these events unfold in his spirit! Some Jewish scholars believe King Hezekiah penned these words around 738 BC rather than Isaiah himself (Zondervan Academic). Nonetheless, I imagine Isaiah getting a glimpse into the spirit of this time foretold, with Jesus standing in the Jewish Synagogue of His hometown Nazareth, proclaiming that He fulfilled those words. His additional words, “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” signaled His claim as Messiah. Yet those listening couldn’t believe His proclamation. Who does He think He is? He’s Joseph’s kid, isn’t He? He’s committing blasphemy! His neighbors and relatives in His hometown couldn’t accept Him all grown up, let alone being the long-awaited Messiah.
Christmas had come to Israel. The very Gift God promised, which they anticipated for so long, came. Were they excited? Was He what they expected and longed for? Yes and no. Just as we hope a gift will be exactly as advertised often disappoints us, they were disappointed that Jesus wasn’t what they envisioned. They expected deliverance through a military leader but received a baby born in a cave where the animals were kept behind an inn in Bethlehem during the Roman census. He lay in a stone feeding trough, not quite how royalty or military leaders start life. They didn’t expect a preacher and teacher Who spoke of a Kingdom yet to come. But, how interesting, He came to “seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 10:19). As Jesus stood in the synagogue holding the scroll while He read, I imagine those who were present pondered, When, Lord? And Jesus answered the longing of their hearts, “These words are fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) Today. Now.
Christmas Yet to Come
Prophecy is multilayered. The words Isaiah spoke are for us today as well. Since Isaiah speaks as if he were there in that time and space, as I said before, imagine him watching Jesus speaking these words in the synagogue. Imagine him observing Israel become a nation again in 1948. Imagine him witnessing Jesus’ second coming. Remember that prophets are spokesmen for God, so they often speak as if they were Him. What an amazing scene forms in my mind! Isaiah speaks these words superimposed on this scene in Nazareth’s synagogue, on more recent history, and on times yet to occur. The difference between prophecy and fulfillment? Jesus said, “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” That acceptable year of the Lord is yet to come for us. That’s the gift we look forward to as believers. He will give us immeasurably more than we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21). We will not be disappointed!
We long to see Jesus in all His glory. To see His face. To be welcomed into eternity by Him. Christmas is not only here, but Christmas will come again. This time, He will be in His glorified state, and so will we–clothed with His righteousness radiantly beaming. Do you look forward to this Gift? What are some of your expectations of eternity? Of His Second Coming? Feel free to contact me or comment below. Merry blessed Christmas to you!