The Spirit-Filled Servant (61:1-7)

Bible Passage: Isaiah 61:1-7

In these verses we have another prophecy about the Messiah who God would send. Isaiah is speaking in the first person, as though he is hearing the words being spoken by the anointed one and reporting them. The verses set out what the servant had been sent to do (bring good news to the oppressed etc) and also the power in which he would do it (anointed by the Holy Spirit). As Jesus began his ministry, having received the Spirit at his baptism, these were the words that Jesus quoted in the synagogue (Luke 4:18-19), and he told the crowd who had gathered there that the words had been fulfilled in their hearing.

The Servant’s Anointing: The chapter starts by talking about the servant as the one who has the Spirit upon him and is anointed by God. In Old Testament times, anointing was a mark of leadership where oil would be poured on somebody’s head as a recognition of their role. Here, the same image is used but rather than oil being poured out it would be the Holy Spirit. The servant is not just being recognised into a role (although that is certainly the case) but also empowered to do the role. It was only after his baptism, when Jesus had received the Spirit, that Jesus stepped out on his public ministry, and this ministry was performed in the power of the Spirit. The term ‘Christ’ literally means ‘anointed one’, and the whole ministry of Jesus was lived out as the one anointed by the Spirit.

The Servant’s Mission: From the second half of verse 1 onwards, the servant outlines exactly what he has been sent by God to do: bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and so on. When Jesus read these verses in the Capernaum synagogue he was setting out a manifesto for his ministry, and then over the next three years this is exactly what he did. Jesus’ ministry was one of good news to the poor, and now he has commissioned his church to be about the same work.

The Servant’s Impact: In the latter half of this passage, we are told what the result of the servant’s ministry would be. Verse 3 speaks of gladness instead of mourning and oaks of righteousness planted by the Lord. This image speaks of people who are well established and made strong in the Lord. Verse 4 speaks of ancient ruins rebuilt. People whose lives were difficult and who faced various kinds of devastation were now built up and made strong. Verse 5 expands the view outwards to strangers and foreigners, and speaks of the hope Jesus brings for all the nations. Verse 6 speaks of the privilege of being involved in what God is doing as priests and ministers, and verse 7 speaks of everlasting joy. The Spirit filled servant has been sent to rebuild, to establish and to bring God’s kingdom into this broken world.

Potential Applications:

  • There will be people in the congregation who identify with the image of ancient ruins. Jesus came to restore and rebuild such people. You could offer a time of prayer response for anyone who feels like this and pray for Jesus to meet with them.
  • The passage challenges our priorities as churches. It is easy to drift, but here we get a reminder of the things that were of central importance to Jesus’ ministry, and it should cause us to reflect on how much our own ministries reflect the same priorities.
  • Jesus’ whole ministry was empowered by the Spirit and now he has given the same Spirit to his people. You could spend some time praying for people to be filled with the Spirit.