Advent: Joy

Isaiah 61:10-11: 10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.

Oh, the joy of our salvation from God (Ps. 51:12)! Our joy flows out of our new clothing we have put on in Christ (Gal. 3:27)! Isaiah says two key things here in the first verse of our passage today. First, he says that God has clothed him with the garments of salvation. Second, he says that he has been covered with the robe of righteousness.

These two things are vitally important for us to understand if we are to experience the kind of joy Christ desires for us. And to fully understand them, we need a little more context from this chapter, and then we will jump around Scripture for a bit before we come back to this passage. Let’s go!

Alright, at the very beginning of this chapter, Isaiah 61:1-2, Isaiah says this, speaking these words from the mouth of God, as if coming from the Messiah: 1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

And in Luke 4:18-19, we read that at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He came to the synagogue in His own hometown, Nazareth, and stood up to read Scriptures as was His custom, and as He stood up, the scroll of Isaiah was handed to him and this is what He read: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then Jesus rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the teachers of the Law, sat down and said this: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (v. 21). This is one of the places in the NT where we learn of Jesus being the Messiah, the Rescuer that the Israelites have been waiting for. He is the one who would come and clothe them with the garments of salvation, and cover them with the robe of righteousness. Jesus tells the teachers of the Law that the Scripture that Isaiah wrote was about Him!! Now, why did they need to be clothed? Why was that kind of wording chosen?

Let me ask you to turn to Genesis 3. Let me remind you, when we pick up in this passage, Adam & Eve are in the garden of Eden, perfect in the sight of God, everything is good, or very good (Gen. 1:25, 31), and they were naked together and not ashamed (Gen. 2:25). In verses 1-6 we learn that Satan, in the form of a serpent, came to Eve, enticed her with the fruit of the tree that God said was absolutely off limits….after some dialogue with the craftiest beast of the field, Eve gave in and her husband wasn’t doing his job. Eve ate the forbidden fruit, brought it to Adam and said this is good try it, he does, and now let’s read together what happens after that:

7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:7-11).

No one had to tell them that they were naked; this was the reality of their separation from God. They were given knowledge that God did not want them to have. They were informed by their sinfulness, that they were naked and it was not acceptable, so in their shame of being completely exposed, they hid foolishly behind fig leaves from an all-knowing, ever-present, good and gracious God.

They are broken and naked because of their rebellion with God. They are separated from Him and need to be clothed so their shame will not condemn them. Then, as broken people who are separated from God, they had babies, who had babies, who had babies…you get the point. Broken people can’t make whole people. No, but someone who is perfect and whole, can redeem broken people.

This is a God-job! He is sending a Rescuer to cover our nakedness not with perishable clothes that will not stand in the fire, but with imperishable clothes that will be received by this great God of justice and mercy. This is what Jesus was going to do, and this is why Isaiah says: I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…

How did Jesus accomplish this? How could He make them (us) whole and perfect before God and clothe us with salvation, and robe of with righteousness? Turn to 2 Corinthians 5:21 with me: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. There it is! That’s how it happened.

God sent His Son, Jesus, who was perfect, who knew no sin, and had Him become sin (bear the weight and the consequences of our sin and treated by God as if all that sin was His own); so that Jesus’ perfect life and death and resurrection would be transferred to us by faith in Jesus’ work, not man’s work (and we would be treated as if all Jesus’ righteousness was our own). He has covered our shame and nakedness and sin and made us right with God again!

This is means for rejoicing! I once was lost, separated, broken, and poor… Now I am found, joined with God, redeemed from my brokenness, and rich in Christ! Hallelujah!! With this in mind, let’s re-read together Isaiah 61:10-11 together:

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.

Through faith in Christ, we can be clothed in salvation and robed in the righteousness of Christ so that we will be accepted by the God of the universe! Then in verse 11 Isaiah says that this will surely happen just as surely as the earth brings forth sprouts and a garden causes what is sown to sprout up… those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus will assuredly be clothed with salvation and robed in righteousness.

So this is what I want to do as we close. I want to clarify what this righteousness is and what it looks like. Because depending on the way you view your righteousness in Christ, will depend on whether or not you truly get what Christ has done. And if you don’t get the kind of righteousness that is spoken of here in Scriptures, then you will come up short in the joy factor and will wonder what the big deal about Jesus is.

To do this we will turn back to 2 Corinthians 5:21: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Here Paul is making clear the biblical doctrine (belief) of righteousness with the goal of demonstrating beyond doubt the difference between Christian righteousness and all other kinds of righteousness, for there are many kinds:

– There is political or civil righteousness, the nation’s public laws.
– There is cultural righteousness, the standards of our family and social grouping or class, which parents and schools may teach.
– There is ethical righteousness, the Ten Commandments and the Law of God, which the church may teach (but only in light of Christian righteousness).

I must add that it is right and good to be a good citizen, to be loved and respected by your social group, and to be a morally upright person. So all these may be received without danger, so long as we do not give them any power to satisfy God for our sin, to please God, or to deserve grace. These kinds of righteousness are are not a means of being clothed in salvation and being robed in righteousness.

Christian righteousness comes by faith, not works… For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. God grants it to us apart from our works; we become righteous, we don’t labor to become… in other words, it’s a non-active righteousness as the others are active. For we do nothing for it, and we give nothing for it, we only receive and allow another to work, that is God.

Italics adapted from Tim Keller: This non-active righteousness is a mystery that the world cannot understand. Indeed, Christians never completely understand it themselves, and thus do not take advantage of it when they are troubled and tempted. So we have to constantly teach it, repeat it, and work it out in practice.

For anyone who does not understand this righteousness or cherish it in the heart and conscience, will continually be beaten up by fears and depression and anxiety of whether or not they are good enough to be accepted by God. Nothing gives hope, peace, joy and acceptance like this non-active righteousness.

For human beings by nature, when we encounter danger or taste death itself, we will seek to view our own worthiness. We defend ourselves before all threats by
recounting our good deeds and moral efforts. But then the remembrance of sins and
flaws inevitably come to mind, and this tears us apart, and we think: “How many errors
and sins and wrongs I have done! Please God, let me live so I can fix and amend
things.”

We become obsessed with our active righteousness and are terrified by its
imperfections. “We must fix this!” we say… But the real evil is that we trust our own power to be righteous and will not lift up our eyes to see that Christ has robed us in righteousness…

The troubled conscience has no cure for its desperation and feelings of unworthiness unless it takes hold of the forgiveness of sins by grace, offered free of charge in Jesus Christ, which is this non-active, faith-in-Jesus driven righteousness.

If I tried to fulfill the law myself, I could not trust in what I had accomplished, neither could it stand up to the judgment of God. So…I rest only upon the righteousness of Christ…which I do not produce but receive: God the Father freely gave it to us through faith in Jesus Christ.

This is an absolute and unique teaching in all the world, to teach people, through Christ, to live as if there were no Law or Wrath or Punishment. In a sense, they do not exist anymore for the Christian, but only total grace and mercy for Christ’s sake. Once you are in Christ, the law is the greatest guide for your life, but until you have Christian righteousness, all the Law can do is show you how sinful and condemned you are. In fact, to those outside of Christian righteousness, the Law needs to be expounded in all its force. Why? So that people who “think” they have power to be righteous before God
will be humbled.

However, we must keep the law within its bounds! If we teach that we can be accepted by God through obedience, then Christian righteousness becomes mixed up with earned/moral (active) righteousness in people’s minds. On the other hand, if we teach to people outside of Christ about God’s acceptance and love, with no mention of repentance and the cross of Christ, we also confuse and fail to “rightly divide” the word of God.

Here is where the joy of our salvation comes in. Through (non-active) faith in Jesus, God sees no sin in us, for in this heavenly righteousness, sin has no place. So now we may certainly think: “Although I still sin, I don’t despair, because Christ lives, who is both my righteousness and my eternal life.”

In Christian righteousness, we can rejoice in saying: “I have no sin, no fear, no guilty conscience, no fear of death. I am indeed a sinner in this life and in my own righteousness, but I have another life, another righteousness above this life, which is in Christ, the Son of God, who knows no sin or death, but is eternal righteousness and eternal life.”

Now both these things continue while we live here. We are accused, exercised with temptations, oppressed with heaviness and sorrow, and bruised by the Law with its demands of active righteousness. These attacks fall upon our “flesh” [the part of our heart that still seeks to earn our salvation]…

If the truth of being justified by Christ alone (not by our works) is lost, then all Christian truths and joy and hope and peace are lost, because we have to labor for our own righteousness which is impossible before God.

There is no middle ground between Christian righteousness and works-righteousness. There is no other alternative to Christian righteousness but works-righteousness; if you do not build your confidence on the work of Christ you must build your confidence on your own work. On this truth and only on this truth the church is built and has it’s being…

Practically, to rejoice in God, you rejoice in what you see and know of God in the portrait of Jesus Christ. And this comes to its fullest experience when the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and we are clothed in salvation and robed in righteousness.

So hear this closing advent point. Not only did God purchase our redemption through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, but He also causes us to receive His righteousness through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Look to Jesus this Christmas. Receive the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus. Don’t put this gift on the shelf unopened this Christmas. And don’t open it and then make it a means to gain other pleasures. Open it and enjoy the gift. Rejoice in God. Make Him your pleasure. Make Him your treasure. Look to Christ alone for your righteousness, and God will be your pleasure and your treasure!

Have faith in Jesus and allow Him to clothe you in salvation and cover up the shame of your nakedness, sin. Then preach the gospel to yourself every day and may God, who is our joy, remind you that you stand perfectly righteous before Him, now, today, because of Jesus’s works, not your own works!

Let’s pray!

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