Introduction: Welcome to Calvary Albuquerque. We pursue the God who is passionately pursuing a lost world; we do this with one another, through worship, by the Word, to the world.
Skip Heitzig: Good morning. Would you turn in your Bibles to two passages of Scripture this morning: one in Isaiah, chapter 61, that's in your Old Testament, of course; and then in the New Testament the gospel of Luke, chapter 4. You'll need it to follow along and to get the most out of it. There's a Bible near you. Isaiah, chapter 61; Luke, chapter 4.
I want to speak to you today on "The World's Most Important Comma." I've spoken before on whole books of the Bible at one time, whole chapters at one time. Typically I do a paragraph. I've confined my comments to a single verse of Scripture, even a phrase of a verse. Today I want to look at a point of punctuation—a comma, the world's most important comma. My teachers in school always used to tell me that punctuation was vital. It is important; in fact, it can be very costly.
Let me tell you a story about a woman who was, well, she was quite wealthy, and she was traveling and she was overseas and saw a necklace. She wanted to buy it. It was quite expensive; it was $75,000. Now, she could afford it, but she thought it was only right to ask her husband. So she was on her iPhone, took a picture of it, and texted her husband: "I found the perfect necklace, $75,000, may I buy it?"
Sweet of her, isn't it, to ask her husband first? "May I buy it?" He immediately texted back. The answer was supposed to read, "No,—comma—price too high." But when he texted her back he left the comma out. [laughter] You picking up on it? "No price too high." No price too high, so she thought, "How sweet of him." That missing comma cost that man $75,000.
So we're going to look at a comma and see why it is important in Isaiah 61, and then spoken again by Jesus in Luke, chapter 4. We've been studying in our series on Sunday mornings the book of Daniel, the prophet Daniel. Jesus called him a prophet. It's a book of history. It's a book of prophecy. Daniel looks forward and he sees kingdoms of the world come and go, rise and fall, conquering and being conquered.
But if you remember in the seventh chapter of Daniel, Daniel sees a coming King. A coming King from heaven to earth whom he calls the Son of Man who will have a worldwide kingdom that will last forever and ever. But what I want to show you is how Jesus Christ your Lord interfaced with Old Testament prophecy. In the book of Isaiah the prophet Isaiah foretells the coming of Jesus Christ by calling him the "Servant of the Lord." A Servant of the Lord is coming, the ultimate Deliverer, the Rescuer, the long awaited Messiah.
And in chapter 61 of Isaiah we're going to look at a few verses. It says, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God."
Now, did you notice what's between the first phrase in verse 2 and the second phrase of verse 2? "To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,"—what follows that? A comma. I want you to mark that; that's the world's most important comma.
And then it continues, "And the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified." Let's stop there.
So far in our reading we could see how these verses would fit with the Lord Jesus Christ. We could say, "Yeah, I see how they could depict Jesus." But we don't have to guess, because in Luke, chapter 4, these are the verses Jesus pulls out and says, "These verses are fulfilled in me." He quotes these very verses. But what he does when he quotes these verses is he stops at the comma, and he closes the book. In effect, he turns the comma into a period. Doesn't even finish the sentence of the original author, the prophet Isaiah.
Now, once we get to the New Testament, we understand why. We understand, yes, the Messiah is coming, but he's not coming just once, but twice. And so we have a sequence: first coming—comma—second coming. Certain things will happen before the comma, certain things will happen after the comma. He came the first time to do one thing; he'll come a second time to do something else.
Now, we've seen the text; we've looked at the comma. Now turn with me to Luke, chapter 4. Now, here we're going to look at these verses a little more in depth. I want you to think around three lines: the coming King, the coming Conqueror, and the considerable comma.
First of all, the King. Let's begin in verse 16, it says, "So he came," this is Luke, chapter 4, "to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And he was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah.
"And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.' "—Period, not a comma.
"Then he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, sat down, and the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.' So all bore witness to him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, 'Is this not Joseph's son?' "
Now the reason they ask that question, and the reason, if you keep reading, they want to throw him over the cliff of Nazareth is because the rabbis believed Isaiah 61 referred to the coming Messiah. Here is this kid who grew up in Nazareth, now thirty years of age, coming into the synagogue, in effect, saying, "I am the Messiah." They didn't want to buy that.
Something to make a note of where we began in verse 16 of Luke 4, it says, "Jesus went into the synagogue as was his custom." That means he did it every week. Every, every weekend he was gathering for public worship with fellow Jews. I wish that would become the custom of all who claim to follow Christ, that public worship, gathering together like what we're doing here would be paramount, would be so vital, so important—it would be our custom.
Now, I know, people have different excuses like: "Well, you know, God can be worshiped anywhere. I worship God on the golf course Sunday morning." No, you don't; you worship golf on the golf course if you're doing it Sunday morning rather than being in church. Or, "Well, our church service is dry. It's sort of boring and predictable." Do you think a first century synagogue service was dynamic? But Jesus was there as an example to us honoring his Father. He came to Nazareth. He came to the synagogue. This was the coming King.
Now, there are seven things, seven descriptions of this coming King in the text that Jesus pulls out of Isaiah. Number one, he's going to be anointed. Notice, "The Spirit of Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me." We call him Christ. You need to know if you haven't known yet, that is not his last name. I've heard somebody say, "Jesus H. Christ," when they want to swear, as if Christ is his last name. As if there's like the Christ family living on whatever street in Nazareth and there's a whole bunch of the Christs, and here is Jesus as one of the family members.
That's not a name, it's a title. The Greek word Christos means Messiah; it's the Hebrew word mashiach—same word, same meaning. The Messiah, the Christ, the Christos, mashiach—all come from the word that means to smear with oil, to anoint with oil. Prophets of old would pour oil upon kings to anoint them for service. So the coming King will be the ultimate Anointed One, not smeared or anointed with oil, but anointed with the Holy Spirit controlling his life.
Second thing to make a note of is that he will attract the poor. "He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor." There were so many outcasts, downtrodden, poor people in the time when Jesus came, and they could relate to him. Jesus himself was poor. On one occasion he said, "Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." And because Jesus was that way, and lived that way, and walked among the poor, the poor they could connect with him. The Bible says, "The common people heard him gladly."
And in the early church those poor showed up. In fact, in the book of James toward the end of the Old Testament in chapter 2, verse 5, he writes, "Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to those that love him?"
There's a third mark of this coming King. He's going to heal the brokenhearted as it says here, "He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted." Now, brokenhearted people are not easy to hang out with. They're emotional, they're pessimistic, morose, shed a lot of tears, tell their same brokenhearted story over and over and over again. But what I love about Jesus is that he was tenderhearted around the brokenhearted. He was tenderhearted with them, and he had a way to reach out to them.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was to "walk softly around a broken heart." Brokenhearted people don't need long theological explanations or long sermons, they need your presence. And when a tenderhearted person finds a brokenhearted people, that brokenhearted person will always remember it and invite that person back. And so Jesus, when parents lost their children, or a woman was caught in adultery, he was tenderhearted toward the brokenhearted. He'll heal the brokenhearted.
Notice what's next on the list, the fourth characteristic: "To proclaim liberty to the captives." Now this is the second time in this text where the Messiah is said to be a preacher, one who speaks. Did you catch it? "To preach the gospel to the poor," now, "to proclaim," same idea, preach, herald, "liberty."
A lot of what Jesus did was he talked, he spoke, he gave sermons: Sermon on Mount, Upper Room Discourse, on and on and on, Olivet Discourse. Sometimes his words were filled with promise, other times packed full of rebuke—always designed to liberate, always setting people free. "You will know the truth," he said "and the truth will set you free." John, chapter 6, "The words that I speak to you, they are spirit, they are life."
When some of the disciples were leaving Jesus, and Jesus turned to his twelve and said, "You guys going to flake out as well?" Now, I'm free rendering that, of course. He didn't use those terms. But, "Will you also leave?" he said. Peter said, "Where else will we go? You alone have the words of eternal life." Words, freeing words, liberating words.
Our country puts a premium on freedom and liberty: freedom of speech, freedom from tyranny, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion. But we gather at the Lord's table and we are testifying of the real freedom that comes by him delivering us from the bondage, the shackles of sin. He'll "proclaim liberty to the captives."
The fifth characteristic mentioned right after is that he will give sight to people who are blind. And it says, "The recovery of sight to the blind." I see this as both literal and spiritual. Yeah, of course he healed people who couldn't see physically. Bartimaeus was a blind man in Jericho, Jesus opened up his eyes.
My favorite story is in Jerusalem when a man was blind and Jesus made a mud ball with his own spit and stuck it in the guy's eye. And I just gotta love that. You'd never see a faith healer trying to pull one off today. [laughter] "And then he said, 'Go wash in the pool of Siloam, and you'll come back seeing,' " and he did.
But the more than just that there is the opening of the blind eyes spiritually speaking. I was blind, you were blind before you came to Christ. John Newton wrote that great hymn: "Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind, but now I see." That's the testimony of every single believer. "I was blind; I didn't get it. I didn't understand it, but then came the day when my eyes were opened, and I saw the depth of my sin and the greatness of his love." You were blind. You're eyes have been opened.
The world around us is blind. How many conversations have you heard when you've tried to share what you believe and people say things like, "I don't get it—this whole idea of one person coming from heaven and all the sin of the world being put on him—how does that work?" Or, or, "Why do you Christians even use that word—sin? It's an offensive word to me. Of course we all have hangups, we all have issues, we all have baggage, we all have problems, but why do you use the word sin?"
Because you have to identify the disease before you get it fixed. It doesn't do any good to have a bottle of poison that just says "Undetermined Substance, or "Alternate Substance"; you gotta say this is "Poison." You have to say, "Dr. Jesus, I have this disease, cure me," and he'll do it.
Look at the next description: "To set at liberty those who are oppressed." He's going to help the oppressed. The King James uses the word "bruised." I like that—bruised. One translation calls it "crushed." He's going to help those who are crushed. He's going to set at liberty those who are crushed, bruised, oppressed.
An oppressed person is a fearful person, a timid person. It's a person who holds back. They've been burned before, they're not quick to commit now, so they hold back in fear, they're timid. I love that Jesus found a place to rescue those who are crushed, those who are bruised. In fact, Jesus never intimidated people. He didn't oppress people. I look back at my life and I think of the people I've hurt. Some episodes I'm just ashamed of. Jesus never oppressed people.
Now look at the list. Look back at these verses again. Look at who is described in this verse. You have a perfect description of the church. You have a perfect description of us. Did you get it? Poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind, oppressed—sound like somebody you know? Does it sound like you at one time, or even now? That's the church, folks. That is a messy bunch of people. Which leads me to this thought: knowing that should make us more patient with each other. You're dealing with oppressed people sitting around you, brokenhearted people sitting next to you; they're in the same pew, in the same row, in the same facility—that's the church.
There's a seventh little description in the next verse; and that is, this coming king is going to be right on time. "To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." What does that mean? Well, some scholars believe that Jesus spoke these words on the Jubilee year. You've heard that term before out of Leviticus 25, perhaps.
The Jubilee year was every fiftieth year in the Jewish calendar. Something really cool happened. On the fiftieth year all the slaves were set free, all the debts were canceled, and the land that had been lost reverted back to the original owner. It's a year of Jubilee, it was a year of celebration, it was a year of freedom.
Some scholars believe that Jesus actually preached this message on a Jewish Jubilee year, which would make it significant, but we don't know that for sure. So I think it's simply safe to say that what he means by this reference in quoting Isaiah is that the Messiah would come at the exact right time.
Or as Paul put it in Galatians, "In the fullness of the time, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law." How often Jesus spoke of his hour: "My hour has not yet come." "It's not my hour." "The hour has now come, Father. Glorify your Son." He was moving on that perfect timetable.
And then—and then he came to the comma, and he closed the book, and he was done with his message, and he says, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears, in your hearing." As if to say, "I'm that guy. I'm the long awaited Messiah. I'm the One the prophet Isaiah and all the other prophets have been talking to you about. He's here. You're looking at him." That's the coming King.
The conquering King are the verses that are described after the comma back in Isaiah 61. "To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,"—comma—"and the day of vengeance of our God." To comfort all those who mourn in Zion, to bring a garment of joy for the spirit of heaviness—all of that comes after, that comes the second time. Jesus didn't finish the verse. He comes to the comma, puts a period on it, closes the book, and he sits down.
And probably a lot of people in the synagogue were going, "Wait! Wait, wait, wait! You didn't finish the thought, dude. You didn't finish the verse. You stopped at the comma; you didn't even make it to the period. What about, 'and the day of vengeance of our God'? That's the best part; you left the best part out. We like that whole vengeance thing."
And here's why: the anticipation was that the Messiah is going to come and revenge the enemies that had oppressed them for so long. And at that point the Roman government with their exorbitant taxes and with their military presence was breathing heavily down their necks. So they want the Messiah to come and bring "the day of vengeance of our God," that's the conquering King. But Jesus didn't even make it to that part, he closed the book.
Why did the Jews of Jesus' day anticipate, think, believe that the Messiah was going to come and do all that? Well, because when we read the prophet Isaiah, all of the things that are predicted are just sort of all lumped up into one paragraph.
Okay, let me explain this the best I can. There's a literary device known as "prophetic foreshortening"; that's what the scholars call it, prophetic foreshortening. What that means is events are predicted by the prophets without the delineation of the sequence of the events, or events are predicted without showing you the intervals of time that happened between the events.
So when you look at the prophets of the Old Testament, you have the first coming, the second coming, the millennial kingdom, the eternal state all lumped up into one paragraph sometimes, or chapter. So from a distance it looks like it's all one event, but it's not. The closer you get to the events, you realize there's a, there's a gap here.
This is what it's like: If you drive into Albuquerque from the west, you see in the distance what mountain range as you look toward the east? The Sandias, you see the Sandias in the distance. It looks to you like one, flat, solid mountain. But keep driving. The closer you get, you start seeing shades of gray and purple and blue that show that there's not one peak but a few different peaks.
But keep going—I mean go all the way up to Tramway Boulevard. In fact, if you really want to have fun, get out of your car and walk up the La Luz Trail. Now you see there's not one mountain, there are several peaks that are separated by actual valleys. That's what we're dealing with in prophecy.
First we have the coming Savior, the coming King, the One who would die on the cross for our sins—comma—he'll come again a second time as a conquering King to fulfill Revelation chapter 6 through 18, "the day of vengeance of our God," the tribulation period upon the earth; followed by chapter 19, the return of Jesus Christ to the earth; followed by the comfort of all those who mourn in Zion, that's the millennial kingdom of Revelation, chapter 20; on into the kingdom age.
So, Isaiah saw the Messiah coming and doing all these things. What Isaiah didn't know is that that comma was a two thousand year comma. There was a valley between the first coming and the second coming. And if Jesus would have read to the end of the verse, and into the next verse of Isaiah 61, he could not have said, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Because it won't be fulfilled till he comes a second time. You follow?
So we have the coming King, the conquering King; I want to close on these thoughts as we take communion: the considerable comma. Now, once again, this comma has lasted two thousand years. The entire church age, the entire dispensation of grace is stuck in that comma. Jesus made it a period only for that day; the rest of that verse is still unfulfilled.
I told you before about my English teachers. And my English teachers made a whole big deal about periods, and commas, and colons, and semicolons, and to this day I suffer from exactness. When somebody gives me something to read: "Hey, read this. What do you think of this?" I get hung up on punctuation because of those horrible teachers, what they did to me. [laughter]
So I say, "Well, I notice that you didn't put a semicolon." "Just read it, tell me—I don't care about that." But what you need to know is that punctuation, commas, can save lives.
Let me show you a slide. You see what I mean? Just let it, let it wash over you. [laughter] There's a comma here, right? The first sentence: "Let's eat Grandpa." Second sentence: "Let's eat,—comma—Grandpa." Two totally different meanings. The second, "Let's eat, Grandpa," is inviting Grandpa to come have a meal with you. The first is inviting others the enjoy Grandpa. [laughter] You'd give that to head hunters, I suppose.
So commas make all the—commas save lives. This comma has saved our lives. It saved our lives. Aren't you glad this is a two thousand year old comma? Aren't you glad for this comma, because in this comma is the church age, in this comma you were saved, in this comma worldwide evangelism has taken place. It's the age of grace, it's the comma, the great comma, the world's most important comma.
But you know what? We're just one comma away from the day of the Lord, the day of vengeance, the great tribulation period. At the end of that comma comes an event called the "rapture of the church," and then the day of vengeance of our God upon this earth. We are one comma away from the day of the Lord, but we're still in the comma. Do something with that comma, because one day that comma is going to be turned into a period, and it'll be all over.
Jesus will return—period! Jesus will be the judge of the earth—period! God will sentence all unbelievers—period! There will never be another choice to be made after that—period!
But today we have a comma. And in the comma we celebrate the Lord's Supper. We don't celebrate it before the comma. When Jesus came as the King the first time, he simply announced the Lord's Supper, "Do this often in remembrance of me." We're not going to take the Lord's Supper after the comma in heaven. So here in the comma, in the pause, in the gap, in the valley, between the mountain peak of his first coming and the mountain peak of his second coming is the comma where we celebrate. We look backward to the cross, we look forward to his coming again.
I'm going to pray, and as I pray I'm going to ask the communion board to come forward. They're going to distribute the elements to you. I ask you not to take them till we all have them together, then we'll close and we'll dismiss.
If you do not know the Lord this morning, do not take these. If it's not personal with you, if Jesus isn't reigning in your life on the throne of your heart, do not take these, because the Bible says you are advertising your own condemnation. Now, that's just one option.
Second option, better option is to right in the next few minutes, right now, you say to the Lord, "Lord, I give you my life. I surrender my heart and my life to you. I want to be forgiven." You give your life to Christ and then you take these elements along with all of us. Let's pray.
Father, we are so thankful for this great comma that you have given between proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord, and then the day of vengeance of our God. Isaiah didn't see it, but Jesus announced it, showed it, demonstrated it, and the New Testament expounds upon this wonderful gap of time, this comma of grace and love that we celebrate because we're in it. Our lives are in the comma, our salvation is in the comma. Thank you, Lord.
Closing: What binds us together is devotion to worshiping our heavenly Father, dedication to studying his Word, and determination to proclaim our eternal hope in Jesus Christ.
For more teachings from Calvary Albuquerque and Skip Heitzig visit calvaryabq.org.