“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for 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.” Isaiah 61:1-2
Every summer, Youth Unlimited partners with local ministries all across North America to host Serve Mission Trips. On these trips, middle school and high school students build intentional learning communities, grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In these communities, they learn practically how to live out God’s justice and engage in missional living in specific ministry contexts. “Serve” weeks function as catalysts for living justly every other day of the year.
Over the past few years, I had the unique privilege of speaking and participating during the week of Houston Serve. Houston Serve was always distinctive because it was hosted by five churches from five denominations that are engaged in works of justice in a neighborhood called Old Town Spring Heights. The picture of unity here was the perfect crucible for young people to engage in the mission of God.
During our week of learning, one of the most powerful experiences we shared every year was an Anointing Service. Yes, our Christian Reformed church hosted an Anointing Service! During this service, adult believers stood around the church worship space with vials of anointing oil. The youth walked up and the adults smeared oil in the shape of the cross on their foreheads, representing the anointing of Christ Jesus, which we all share as Christians.
The youth walked up and the adults smeared oil in the shape of the cross on their foreheads, representing the anointing of Christ Jesus.
In a deeply meaningful time together, every student heard the words of Isaiah 61 spoken over him or her. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon you, because he has anointed you to preach good news to the poor.” These were the same words that Jesus spoke about himself before beginning his ministry; words he was called to fulfill and complete in his words, works, and ways. And just as the Father sent the Son, the Son was sending us, in the power of his Spirit, to seek his justice.
As Christians, we are called to be like Christ, and we are empowered to be agents of God’s shalom and justice in this world. But when we look at our world today, we can get easily discouraged as we strive for justice. There are too many broken hearts to bind. There are too many captives to set free. There are too many refugees to resettle. There are too many failing schools to invest in. There is too little time, talent, or treasure to do it all.
However, if I learned anything from our Serve community, it is this: we are always unqualified to do the work of justice without the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. We cannot proclaim the favor of our God without being called and empowered by our God. We cannot join God on a mission in our world without his anointing on our lives.
We are always unqualified to do the work of justice without the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.
That is because God’s anointing is powerful enough to take broken sticks like us and draw straight lines of grace. God’s anointing is total and complete. When God anoints us, he pours out his Spirit on us, empowering us to do what he calls us to do. That is why he is confident in his endorsement of us. His stamp and seal of approval are on us. His Spirit dwells with us. Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, shares his anointing with us so we can wholeheartedly participate in the work of his kingdom.
God has not called us to work for justice that is here today and gone tomorrow. God empowers us to work for justice that will endure. As we do this work, he calls us to be like oak trees, with roots sinking deep and branches stretching far and wide, symbols of beauty, grace, strength, and endurance. “Oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:3b) God himself does the planting. Without the anointing of God’s Spirit, we may do nice things, but they won’t bring everlasting joy. But when God’s Spirit indwells every fiber of our being, we can work for justice that is truly glorifying to God and beneficial to our entire cosmos.
That is what it means to be Christian. That is what it means to follow Christ: to rely deeply on the empowering presence of God, as he calls and empowers us to proclaim and demonstrate good news to all who are in need of it.
“But why are you called a Christian?
Because by faith, I am a member of Christ, and so I share in his anointing.”
Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 32