Greeting: Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice.
Text: 1) The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion 3) – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called “oaks of righteousness”, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. . . . 10) I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11) For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
Introduction: Today we consider a message that is both strong and sweet. It’s a message that causes people to respond in rejoicing. God has important things to say to us in this Advent season. He gives us a glad and glorious message to consider in the coming of Jesus. A Christmas song asks the question: “Why did He come down from His throne on high? Why did He leave heaven knowing He would die?” Then it supplies this answer: “He came down because He loves you and me. He came down to save us and to set us free.” That song captures very well the essence of God’s message to us through the prophet Isaiah. In the opening verses of his 61st chapter, God’s great Advent prophet calls us to “REJOICE IN THE CHRIST WHO SETS US
1. From The Eternal Anguish Of Sin
We might well ask: “And what kind of freedom is God talking about? From what does Christ set us free when God says: “He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor?” One answer to that question is: “Christ comes to set us free from the eternal anguish of sin.”
There are many great freedoms people can enjoy. In America, we often talk about freedom from want and hunger, freedom of movement and self-determination. The greatest freedom is the spiritual freedom from sin. Jesus Himself described our sin as a terrible slavery. He said: “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Do you hear that? Everyone who sins is a slave to the power and consequences of sin. By natural inheritance and by personal choice, we are under sin’s influence and control. It rules over us. It compels us. It imprisons us and does not let us go.
Sin also ruins us. The payment for our sin is death. This sentence of death includes God’s condemnation and punishment for our transgressions, His divine rejection of us and eternal anguish for us. Jesus pulls away the curtain that conceals the final outcome for a life enslaved to sin in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The sin-dominated rich man dies and goes to hell, where he pleads for mercy and relief, where he confesses “I am in agony. I am in painful remorse in this fire. Could I not get just a drop of water to give me some relief?” Many, many people are unaware of the desperate, tragic bondage that sin brings. It is a bondage and a condition far worse that we can or want to imagine.
God sent His Son to the world to fight for our freedom. Jesus said: “Yes” to God’s eternal plan to enter the human race and to serve as our Savior. He said: “No” to all the devil’s temptations to be unfaithful to God. He said: “Yes” to the Father’s requirements that He suffer and die in our place and for our sins. He said: “No” to any alternative that would have left us unpardoned and doomed in sin. His life was a long, hard, titanic struggle to gain freedom for those captive in sin. It was a brutal, humiliating task. Yet for the love of sinners and the joy of rescuing us, Jesus endured it all, offering Himself willingly to the crushing blows of God’s anger over our sin, scorning the shame and pain of the cross.
By His loving endurance of God’s wrath, Jesus gained freedom for us. Because He did, He can announce the victorious words: “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” The freedom that Jesus won includes more than the rescue from the influences of sin or the effects of sin. It also includes freedom from the deep power of sin – from the controlling and condemning power of sin. Jesus does more than come to our prison cell to tidy it up, to put new carpeting on the floor and new paint on the walls, to give us a more comfortable mattress for our bed and upgrade us to High Definition cable channels – all so we will have a more pleasant time waiting for the day of our execution, No, Jesus comes to us with a full and immediate pardon for our sins. He opens the doors of our prison cell, takes us off death row and escorts us out of prison altogether.
This is the freedom that Jesus wants you to enjoy. It is God’s gift to you in the coming Savior. Jesus proclaims good news to you. He wants you to enjoy the time of the Lord’s favor and to avoid the day of God’s vengeance. Believe it. Receive that freedom. Do not refuse it or reject it. To refuse the gift means one has to face God’s vengeance. To reject the Savior means one has to remain a prisoner of sin and be punished as God’s enemy. This would be a tragic, terrible outcome. Don’t let it be yours. Rather, believe and rejoice that Christ sets you free from the eternal anguish of sin.
2. From The Earthly Sorrows We Face
And believe also that Christ comes to do something about your earthly sorrows. Sin causes eternal problems. It also causes earthly problems. Jesus was very familiar with them. God did not spare His Son from encountering earthly evils and sadness. In another chapter of his book, Isaiah describes Jesus as a man of sorrows, who is well acquainted with grief. During His ministry, Jesus did much to relieve people from those earthly sorrows. He showed compassion and spoke tenderly to hurting people. He patiently taught people to see God’s perspective and ultimate solutions to sin-caused sorrows. He used His energy and ability to bring relief – from hunger, disease, disability, even physical death. Christ is one who truly cares and can do something about our sad and sorrowful earthly condition.
Jesus can and does shield people from harm and evil. He can and does minimize the damage that harm and evil can bring. He can and does turn harm and evil into things that help. He stays with us in difficult times and does not even think about abandoning us. He gives us hope and prevents us from falling into despair. He controls the amount and length of any sorrow that comes our way so that it will not cause us ultimate, eternal loss. And with great determination and faithfulness, Jesus steadily guides this world to a conclusion where it must pass away and where sorrows will no longer be able to harm us. He leads the flow of history to the point where He will His great 2nd Advent and return in glory to complete His freedom-giving work for us. What comfort we can take and what confidence we can express as we pray to the Savior who says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light. I will turn your sadness into joy.”
The stanza from the Christmas hymn asks: “Why did He come down from His throne on high? Why did He leave heaven knowing He would die?” It answers: “He came down because He loves you and me. He came down to save us and to set us free.” And the stanza closes with these faith-filled words: “That is why I feel deep inside of me, love and joy and happiness and victory.” This Advent Sunday let us rejoice in the Jesus, our divine Deliverer, who sets us free from the earthly sorrows we face and from the eternal anguish of sin. Amen.