When Jesus Came and When He Will Come Again
You can imagine the crowd's anticipation. Rumors that a new prophet had arisen had swirled around the countryside for months. Some claimed that, when he was baptized by John, the heavens opened and God himself blessed the man. Others said they had witnessed him cast out demons, heal the sick, and even raise the dead. He was known to be a powerful teacher who spoke with authority. And now, here he was, in your synagogue. What would he say?
Then he rises and takes the scroll of Isaiah. He opens it and turns to the section where it is written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." After reading the text, he rolls up the scroll and sits down. Then he utters these words, "Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:16-22).
Immediately, the impact of these words washes over you. Isaiah 56-66 tells the story of what God will do to redeem the remnant of Israel. That redemption will be accomplished by the anointed one described in Isaiah 61, the very passage Jesus said was being fulfilled. But the implications don't stop there. Isaiah goes on to describe a time when the faithful shall dwell with God in a new heaven and a new earth. It will be a place where we will rejoice forever and where God will rejoice in us, where the sound of weeping will never be heard again, and where all the curses of Genesis 3 shall be a distant memory (Isaiah 65:17-25). If what Jesus has just said is true, it changes everything.
It is true and it does change everything. When Jesus stands up in that synagogue in Nazareth, he chooses his passage with care. The text says, "He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written" (Luke 4:17). Jesus chose to read from Isaiah 61:1-2 to tell us why he had come, why he was born in a manger. He has come bringing good news. Healing from sickness - both of body and heart - is found in God's anointed. He, and he alone, brings release from whatever holds you captive. Most importantly, he has come that you might be favored by the God of the universe. When Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-2 in that little synagogue in Nazareth, he is reshaping the universe and with it, he is offering to reshape you.
But the careful student will notice that Jesus omitted one phrase from the Isaiah passage. Isaiah 61:2 says that the anointed one has come "to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn." The "day of vengeance of our God" seems like a big deal. Why would Jesus leave that part of the text out of his sermon?
Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 to tell the people of Israel, the people of Twickenham, and the people of the world, why he came. Jesus was born in a manger, he was tempted in the wilderness, taught in the cities and towns of Judea, was killed on a hill outside Jerusalem, and rose triumphantly from the grave to redeem and to save us. The greatest problem you and I have is that we are sinners who stand before a holy God. When Jesus came, he came to heal the sin that sickens our souls and separates us from our God. He did not come bringing God's vengeance. Jesus' ministry of vengeance is reserved for his second coming.
We should never forget that the lamb of God (John 1:29) is also the lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5). The one who came humble and riding on a donkey (Matt 21:5) will return on a white horse dressed for war (Rev 19:11). On the cross, he shed his blood to wash away our sins (1 Cor 6:11). On that day, his clothes will be washed in the blood of his enemies (Rev 19:13). He died with words of forgiveness in his mouth (Luke 22:34). When he comes again, a sword, not words of forgiveness, will come from his mouth (Rev 19:15). The one who dies to save us from the wrath of God (Rom 5:9) will one day tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God (Rev 19:15). But this is good news too.
We often struggle to reconcile the love of God and the wrath of God. Yet we see them both perfectly displayed in the person of Jesus. One is on display in his incarnation, the other at his second coming. The truth is these two aspects of God's character live not in conflict but in complete harmony. Tim Keller expresses this better than I could, so I'll close with a quote from his book King's Cross. In the chapter entitled, "The Cup" he says,
When we think of God's wrath, we usually think of God's justice, and that is right. Those who care about justice get angry when they see justice being trampled upon, and we should expect a perfectly just God to do the same. But we don't ponder how much his anger is also a function of his love and goodness. The Bible tells us that God loves everything he has made. That's one of the reasons he's angry at what's going on in his creation; he is angry at anything or anyone that is destroying the people and the world he loves. His capacity for love is so much greater than ours—and the cumulative extent of evil in the world is so vast—that the word wrath doesn't really do justice to how God rightly feels when he looks at the world. So it makes no sense to say, "I don't want a wrathful God, I want a loving God." If God is loving and good, he must get angry at evil—angry enough to do something about it.
Consider this also: If you don't believe in a God of wrath, you have no idea of your value. Here's what I mean. A god without wrath has no need to go to the cross and suffer incredible agony and die in order to save you. Picture on the left a god who pays nothing in order to love you, and picture on the right the God of the Bible, who, because he's angry at evil, must go to the cross, absorb the debt, pay the ransom, and suffer immense torment. How do you know how much the "free love" god loves you or how valuable are you to him? Well, his love is just a concept. You don't know at all. This god pays no price in order to love you. How valuable are you to the God of the Bible? Valuable enough that he would go to these depths for you.