Monday, January 25, 2010

Was this Jesus' "mission statement?" (part 1 of 2)

The Word for today:
Isaiah 61:1 - 63:6

mark this: Isaiah 61:1-2 --
"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,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn."

[Shelley, next to Jesus the eternal love of my eternal life, is driving us all crazy because she is memorizing (out loud and incessantly) Isaiah 61:1-4. So with today's scriptures ringing in my ears as I write this, I offer some conjecture and some well-studied speculation. (Conjecture and speculation are what Bible teachers do for fun!)...]

What's the most important verse or passage in scripture?

Off the top of my head, maybe Genesis 1:1-3? or Genesis 3? Genesis 15:6? Genesis 50:20? Exodus 3:14? Exodus chapter 12? Leviticus 17:11? Exodus 34:6? 2 Samuel 7? Psalm 22? Isaiah 53? Jeremiah 31:31 Daniel 9? Matthew 1:21? Matthew 13? Luke 24? John 1? John 3:16?--and/or its necessary counterpart, John 3:18? John 19:30? Acts 2? Romans 1:16-17? 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:8-9? Hebrews 1? Revelation 21-22?

It would be fun to sit down with some avid Bible students and list Scripture's most important verse. It would also become an exercise in the ridiculous, akin to Paul's rhetorical question (in 1 Corinthians 12) asking which part of the body is most important. An organic whole is not to be dismembered, because verses don't exist in isolation. I'll even bet that your "most important verse" isn't on my extemporaneous list up there.

But, for the sake of Bible fun, I am going to vote today that Isaiah 61:1-2 (along with it's interpretive application by Christ himself in Luke 4:16-21) is the most important passage in scripture.

Why this verse? Because, between the lines, I think the Bible hints that this verse, more than any other, clarified the Word of God for the Word of God, himself.

First, a premise: the baby in Bethlehem did not come pre-packaged with infinite insight into the bottomless depths of scripture. That baby was God himself, but he set aside glory when he put on swaddling clothes. He "emptied himself" (1) and--as we do now--grew into himself. He "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (2)." Hebrews 5:8 tells us that "although he was a son, he learned..."

I think we have a more complete picture of "the lost years" (between the swaddling clothes and his baptism at age 30) than we might think. All that we're given is one incident, when Jesus is attending a heavy duty Bible study in Jerusalem! But it may be that the one incident pretty much covers those years.

Psalm 69 is a picture, not altogether pretty, of Jesus' formative years in Nazareth. "Zeal for his Father's house consumed him" (3) during those years. So in between working with his earthly father, Joseph, and playing, as children do, I think that he was captivated by the Word of God and spent hour after hour "in" it. If that doesn't sound likely, then I refer you to kids today, who can spend 8, 10, 12 hours at video games / texting / Wii. Kids can be absorbed in things, for better or for worse. Think Schroeder at the piano in "Charlie Brown."

I can see a young Jesus--14? 18? 20? 25?--reading this particular scripture when Scripture (with a big 'S') "clicked" for him, when the fragments fell into place, the big picture came into focus and the clarion call was heard.

And so time kept turning and his public ministry was upon him. As he launched out, what's the verse that he turned to as a sort of mission statement? It was Isaiah 61:1-2. As he looked back, it was summative--a personal testimony of the years spent in training for his life's work. Looking ahead, it was his itinerary. I think it was what we might call his "life verse."

(To be continued tomorrow...)

(1) Philippians 2:7; (2) Luke 2:52; Psalm 69:9

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