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Fall Quarter: The Sovereignty of God
Unit 1: The Sovereignty of God
Sunday school lesson for the week of September 25, 2016
By Rev. Denise Walton
Lesson Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Background Scripture: Isaiah 61
The Suffering Servant in the Old and New Testaments
This week the Sunday school lesson introduces Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 as the focus of the lesson. Over the past several weeks we have read passages from Isaiah and focused on the purposes which are building upon the theme of God as sovereign.
Lesson 1: The Peaceful Kingdom – Isaiah 11:1-9
The stated purpose was to explore how we can actively participate in God’s peaceful kingdom
Lesson 2: The Mountain of God – Isaiah 25:6-10a
The stated purpose was to understand what it means to trust in God’s promise to end oppression.
Lesson 3: Foundations of the Earth – Isaiah 40:21-31
The stated purpose was to explore the nature of God’s sovereign power
Lesson 4: Everlasting Covenant – Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
The stated purpose is to see how we can engage with God and one another to keep God’s everlasting covenant.
One of the major themes of this week’s lesson (Lesson 4: Everlasting Covenant) is the description of the suffering servant found in Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11. It is common knowledge that many scholars in the field of theology disagree over the identity of the servant. Some researchers point to the servant found in these passages as a historical figure or representing the community of Israel while others agree the servant is a Messianic link to Jesus Christ.
For our purposes, we will not argue the identity but acknowledge there is a connection between the description of the suffering servant in the Old Testament found in Isaiah and other Old Testament passages. This connection in the New Testament is found in Luke 4:17-19.
“The writers of the Synoptic Gospels saw in these servant songs messianic prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus. These writers understood Jesus as a suffering-type Messiah rather than a triumphant warrior/king Messiah.” (Adult Bible Studies, pg. 47)
Sunday school teachers consider this: invite class participants to read both Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 and Luke 4:17-19. As the passages are read, what was the servant sent to do among the people of God? Invite the class to name the categories of suffering described and explore God’s instruction concerning each group. Finally, explore the implications of these passages for leaders today in the church.
The good news of God’s covenant relationship
As you consider the historical information related to Israel, I invite you to recall our previous discussions that Isaiah is commonly understood to be divided into three major sections. First Isaiah, chapters 1-39; Second Isaiah, chapters 40-55; and Third Isaiah, chapters 56-66. The lesson today falls within Third Isaiah and depicts a historical period after the Babylonian exile and during the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Scholars teach that the books of Ezra and Nehemiah give us a detailed explanation of the rebuilding of Jerusalem during this period.
There is good news – God is sovereign. Through the sovereignty of God, the Israelites have survived the exile and they are rebuilding their lives and rebuilding the temple. God has not forgotten his covenant with the people of Israel.
The covenant between God and the people of God remains intact. God’s love for his people and His love for justice has not changed.
Let’s now take a look at Psalm 13:1 and Isaiah 61:1-4.
Psalm 13:1 reveals the Israelites in a state of struggle with the weight of oppression and crying out for God to be present and act upon the injustices.
Psalm 13:1 (NIV)
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
In Isaiah 61:1-4, there is a confidence that God has acted and will act in the present circumstances of the oppressed. God has kept covenant and is exalting a servant to address the injustices, restore the people, and restore Jerusalem.
Isaiah 61:1-4 (NIV)
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.
Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins,
They will raise up the former devastations;
And they will repair the ruined cities,
The desolations of many generations.
Finally, we close this week’s lesson with Isaiah 61:8-11. It is the suffering servant who portrays a covenant understanding of God’s abundant love.
I will rejoice greatly in the LORD,
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up,
So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
To spring up before all the nations.
As we reflect on God’s covenant relationship, there is indeed good news. The people of ancient Israel in the Old Testament were now rebuilding after the exile. In the New Testament, Luke 4:17-19, Jesus stands in the temple to read the scroll of Isaiah 61.
Both passages challenge the church today to consider what it means to be in leadership in God’s kingdom. As church leaders, what areas of ministry focus stand out in these passages? How do we measure up in reaching out to the oppressed and sharing the goods news of hope and salvation in Jesus Christ?
Rev. Denise Walton serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.