logo Living Water Christian Fellowship logo
Home Recent Sermon Multimedia Sermons News & Events Our Vision Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

“Spirit Work”

Isaiah 61:1-7 - Pentecost June 4 2017


It was an exciting morning that first Pentecost Sunday. Acts 2:2-4 “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Visitors who’d come to Jerusalem for the festival from many nations heard them declaring God’s wonders in their own languages. The Apostle Peter interpreted the event in terms given by the prophet Joel: Ac 2:17f “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

      These are also exciting times at Living Water Christian Fellowship! Earlier this year, after discussion and a month for discernment and with a great sense of unity, our congregation decided we would not put in an offer to purchase the building with a wet unhealthy basement that we’re currently renting. Now that building has been sold and we are faced with the challenge of finding new space to meet. Moving always involves some upheaval. We don’t particularly welcome it because it requires change. But change can be a good thing. Change is a sign of life. How we adapt to our changing conditions and needs is an indication of our aliveness – like the early church responded to the “blowing of a violent wind” that first Pentecost with the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

      In the prophet Joel’s words, God’s poured-out Spirit brings visions, prophesy, and leads people to “dream dreams”. Are we in that mode this morning? Do we have God’s permission, even prompting, to dream dreams, to envision what could be?

      Someone has noted these differences between an alive church and a dead church...

“A lively church has parking problems; a dead church doesn't.

A lively church has lots of "noisy" children and young people; a dead church is fairly quiet.

A lively church often changes the way things are done; a dead church doesn't.

A lively church often asks for more program and mission money; a dead church tries to keep plenty of money in the treasury.

A lively church asks people to open up and risk involvement; a dead church plays it safe and never risks.

A lively church sees challenges and opportunities; a dead church sees problems and dangers.

A lively church apologizes, forgives, and seeks forgiveness; a dead church never makes mistakes.

A lively church uses its tradition and facilities to serve people; a dead church uses people to preserve facilities and traditions.

A lively church believes in God's future and "lets go" with faith; a dead church believes in the past and "holds on."

A lively church is filled with committed givers; a dead church is filled with tippers.

A lively church dares to dream great dreams for God's kingdom; a dead church has nightmares.”

      At a recent Church Council meeting, as we were brainstorming about our current facility situation, it was asked, “What are we really here FOR?” It’s an established architectural maxim that “Form Follows Function” – so in order to determine what sort of meeting space we need, first we have to identify what our main functions are, what are we going to be DOING in that space, based on our purpose and priorities.

      Of course, in the Christian church, ‘what we’re here for’ ought to be informed by our Lord Jesus. In the broadest sense, we’re here to “Make Disciples” – that’s right in the Great Commission. But what does that look like more specifically? How did Jesus make disciples? What priorities did He use in His earthly ministry?

      At the outset of His ministry as Luke records it, Jesus in the synagogue one sabbath at His hometown of Nazareth read a passage from Isaiah, sat down, and said: Lk 4:21 “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” He seemed to be indicating these verses from one of the Old Testament’s major prophets summed up pretty well what HE was here for. It encapsulated His mission, summarized His purpose. Presumably it should influence the church’s mission, too! Let’s turn to it today.


Before we hop into Isaiah 61, a general remark about application... Isaiah (740-681 BC) was giving a prophesy primarily to the nation of Israel, which was exiled 70 years in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Some sections of his book are a warning to the nation to repent before the invasion; others, such as this one and much of chapters 40 on, look ahead into the future after the nation has been disciplined and dispersed for a time amongst other countries by way of painful consequence. So there are parts of today’s passage that apply in the immediate sense to the Jews back then, not to us today. Particularly verses 4 and 7: Is 61:4,7 “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations...Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.” Some phrases here fit best in the context of a defeated nation and its restoration after exile: “ancient ruins - places long devastated - ruined cities - shame - disgrace - inheritance - their land.”

      But God could also gift prophets with telescopic vision – an ability to perceive events that were distant in the future. God also seems to have blessed them with an ability to craft prophecies that served a dual purpose, they applied to more than one time frame. So we see Jesus at the synagogue in Nazareth reach back and take an excerpt from Isaiah’s prophecy and bring it forward into His context and say in effect very pointedly: “This is coming true right here and now.” The section He highlighted we find in Luke 4:18f “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

      Let’s look at these back in Isaiah’s original version. We could cover this under three main headings, as it informs the church’s purpose in ministry: Who are the few whom Jesus comes to help? How does He help them? and, What is the upshot of genuine ministry?


First, “Who are the few whom Jesus comes to help?” He did not come to help EVERYBODY. The church is not just another service club, designed to attract or engage all. Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Matthew 9:12-13 “...Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."”

      Whom does the “Servant of the Lord” back in Isaiah 61 have ‘on his radar’? V1 (a) “to preach good news to THE POOR”; (b) “to bind up THE BROKENHEARTED”; (c) “to proclaim freedom for THE CAPTIVES and release from darkness for THE PRISONERS”; (d) “to comfort ALL WHO MOURN, and provide for THOSE WHO GRIEVE...”

      Jesus did not come to call the righteous; He acknowledged the “healthy” don’t need a doctor. Likewise the church ought not to fret if we can’t seem to come up with programs that attract fine respectable folk, those who are ‘managing quite well on their own - thank you very much’, or even the ‘happy pagan’ whose materialistic or hedonistic life seems totally oblivious to spiritual concerns. We have a different focus group: the poor; the brokenhearted; captives / prisoners; those who mourn or grieve. Note as Jesus applies it, “captives/prisoners” does not seem to be taken literally: even John the Baptist didn’t escape his prison or beheading – so Christ seems to be concerned about those who are figuratively prisoners, held captive by sin in its various forms. That’s how Paul interprets it in Ephesians 4:7f “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."” God’s grace of forgiveness frees us from the prison of our sin and its penalty. Next...


What are the steps taken to address the needs of the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, and those who mourn? Did Jesus start giving out huge tax credits, or start a lottery and re-distribute wealth to the poorest 20%? No. Neither did He go around blasting dungeon walls. Let’s investigate by paying closer attention to the verbs here.

      Is 61:1-3 “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 favour and the day of vengeance of our God, TO COMFORT all who mourn, and PROVIDE FOR those who grieve in Zion – 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.”

      There seem to be two broad categories of activity here: PROCLAIM and PRACTICAL. First, PROCLAIM...

      The Lord’s Servant is Spirit-anointed to PREACH good news to the poor, to PROCLAIM freedom for the captives and [PROCLAIM (implied)] release for the prisoners, to PROCLAIM the year of the Lord’s favour, etc. So several times “proclaiming” or announcing or declaring verbally is central to the mission. Ministry of the Word is central to Christ’s mission: both in His own earthly ministry of teaching using sermons and parables and sending out the Twelve to preach about the Kingdom of heaven (Lk 10:7); and in His commission to His disciples at His departure. Mt 28:19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples [a ‘disciple’ is a learner of specific content] of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

      Weekly gathering to hear Scripture read and expounded, and to provide Christian education, has through the centuries been a core function of church ministry. Granted, that doesn’t have to happen at “God’s hour” of 11 a.m.on Sunday morning: even multi-site churches and multi-point pastoral charges have had to shift to other times. It can happen on a Saturday. One church had its “seeker service” on Sunday and its “meat for the members” service Tuesday night.

      The core weekly worship/teaching service is supplemented by midweek programs and house churches or small groups during the week. Those informal Bible studies can be even friendlier entry-level ministries to which one can find it easier to invite an unchurched friend. But, whatever form it takes – preaching and proclaiming Good News is central to a church’s functioning.

      There’s also the PRACTICAL side of ministry – including ‘pastoral care’ if you want to put it that way, but done by many others than just ‘the pastor’. In Isaiah 61 we have ministry to the poor (those who lack materially); being sent “to bind up the brokenhearted” - compassionate ministry; “to comfort all who mourn” - being present to those who grieve, sometimes offering a casserole; to “provide for” those who grieve. These are PRACTICAL ways of announcing God’s lovingkindness.

      Think back for a moment to how the early church embodied these aspects of PROCLAMATION and the PRACTICAL. They met to be taught and have sharing around the Word: Acts 2:42,46 “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer...Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”

      In Acts 6, a compassionate issue arises when it’s discovered some widows are being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. The apostles intentionally prioritize ministry of the word lest their time and energy get sapped by the purely practical demands; they make a decision to appoint “deacons” to look after the latter. Ac 6:2,4 “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables...[We] will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."”

      The church still organized to address PRACTICAL needs - binding up, comforting, providing, caring. After all, what was Jesus’ specific “new command”? Jn 13:34f “A new command I give you: Love one another.As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always sees the real need of the other person and gets practical.

      As for how the first Christians did this: besides the fellowship and meeting from house to house already alluded to – Ac 2:44f “All the believers were together and had everything in common.Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” A HEALTHY church is a GIVING church. Recall – “A lively church is filled with committed givers; a dead church is filled with tippers.”


When God-style ministry is being carried out, how can you tell? What are the markers; what’s the upshot? Basically two things: it reflects well on God – He gets glory – and, His people get a reputation for being God’s agents, we’re known as “go-to” representatives (priests / ministers) to whom the hurting or broken can turn for help.

      First, one upshot is that GOD GETS GLORY. Is 61:3B “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour.” Jesus made this connection in Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” And, John 15:8 “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” We become prisms through which those around can begin to detect the beauty of God’s love and light shining through us, and honour and praise God as a result.

      The second upshot is WE BECOME KNOWN AS GOD’S PRIESTS / MINISTERS. Isaiah 61:6A “And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God.” Members of a healthy church will start to get a reputation in the community as someone people in trouble can GO-TO for help, for prayer, for guidance and support. EVERY Christian is a minister, not just the “paid professional holy man”! As Peter wrote to the early church, 1Pet 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” [there’s that ‘displaying God’s splendours’ again!] Also 1Peter 4:10 “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” Note the verbs – ‘serving’, ‘administering’ – those are priestly ‘minister’ actions. In caring by whatever way God made you, people are touched by God’s grace through you.


We heard at the outset, “A lively church uses its tradition and facilities to serve people” – that is, to MINISTER. This week I finished reading an excellent book by Eddy Hall and Ray Bowman, The More-with-Less Church. Today we’re having a congregational meeting to try to address an upcoming facility need. I’d like to close with an excerpt by Ray Bowman in which he describes why a church in a small Kansas town, one of the first ones for which he worked as an architect, did not outgrow its new attractive building even decades after it had been built. Ray writes...

      “This church’s mistake was that they expected a building to motivate people to minister. The members did not have a passion to reach people before they built. A new building did nothing to change that. These...false expectations...assume that buildings can meet non-building needs. Buildings cannot stimulate growth, inspire healthy stewardship, or motivate outreach. Why? Because these are all ministry needs, not building needs, and buildings cannot minister. If buildings cannot minister, what purpose do they serve? They are tools for ministry. A wrench can’t repair a faucet, and a word processor can’t write a book, but they can help the plumber and the writer do their jobs better. In the same way, an appropriate building – whether borrowed, rented, or owned – can provide space well-suited to the ministries it serves. It can help people feel more comfortable and welcomed. It can provide workspace and equipment to increase efficiency. It can make the ministries of the church more accessible to the community. It can do all these and more. But there is one thing a building can never do: it can never minister. Only people can do that.”

      Those anointed by God’s Spirit will display His splendour, and be known as “ministers of our God”. May the Lord be glorified as we both educate and outfit ourselves so that can happen! Let’s pray.