The older I become, the more familiar I am with ashes, mourning, and a faint spirit. I’m vividly aware of the constraints caused by my past decisions, my chronic illness, and my aging body. I’m more cognizant of how little time remains on this earth, though I have an eternal view. I’m aware of my deep need for the Lord.
Ashes arrive through fiery natural disasters destroying everything before them, burning and laying waste to what was once healthy and vibrant. Ashes can also arrive through poor decisions, neglect of our bodies, and accumulated years of hard use and difficulty. When we’ve burned up all our stores, all that remain are the embers and the ashes. Ashes conjure up no positive images.
It can take decades from which to recover, a burned out forest requiring fifty years to reforest and a volcanic explosion even more. The ashes of poverty or inability to obtain an early education may never be recovered from in a lifetime. It can’t be regained. At the end of our days, we’re face to face with the pile of burned out dreams, hopes, and unfulfilled potential. Ashes remind us of hopelessness, despair, and loss.
And then, Jesus Messiah enters the picture. The Lord beautifies our ashes, refashioning the hard edges of our lives. In his first sermon, Jesus preached a portion of Isaiah 61:1-3 (in red below), summarizing his mission to restore us.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor [or afflicted];
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;
[or the opening of the eyes to those who are blind]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified
[or that he may display his beauty]
(Isaiah 61:1-3 ESV)
This was proclaimed by Messiah Jesus. The fulfillment is contained in his wording.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Luke 4:18-19 NIV)
Jesus then said of this prophecy: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.“ These opening promises were fulfilled when Christ came. He said so. He himself had come to bear the Lord’s vengeance for our sins, so he left the next phrase from Isaiah unspoken. Total fulfillment, of both God’s vengeance and his healing, will occur on the day when he returns.
In the Hebrew, “comfort” and “bind up” are powerful words, involving compassion and physical consolation – the kind we see when Jesus visited Mary and Martha to raise Lazarus. Jesus comes to us with outstretched arms, brushing our hair back from our snotty tear-stained faces, breathing deeply as he weeps with us in our ashes. He sympathizes. He binds up our broken hearts, bandaging our wounds, and enveloping us in his arms. And then, he does this:
3 provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them
a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
(Isaiah 61:3, NIV used to compare with the above ESV)
Before Jesus enters the picture, Job captured our reality: “And now my life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest. He throws me into the mud, and I am reduced to dust and ashes” (Job 30:16-17, 19 NIV).
But Jesus came. This is not the end. After bearing our sins, our Savior rose from the dead.
Now, for all who put their faith in Christ, entrusting themselves entirely into his hands, instead of ashes, we have beauty. Instead of mourning, we have joy and the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, the source of unending gladness. Now, instead of despair, we have a life of praising and rejoicing in Jesus.
Jesus walked into our mourning and raised the dead. On the last day, he will raise all of our dead. He will raise us. We will never again mourn.
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, THEN the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55 NIV).
Christ is victorious. He has borne God’s vengeance, and he has gained us eternal life. The ashes and despair are gone. Our God does indeed work all things together for our good. His goodness displays his beauty. Seeing him fully is the only thing that will ever satisfy us. We marvel at his splendor. We rise from the ash heap. We plant our roots down deep into him. He enables our growth.Christ is victorious. He has borne God's vengeance, and he has gained us eternal life. The ashes and despair are gone. Our God does indeed work all things together for our good. We rise from the ash heap. Click To Tweet
Seeing the Lord fully is the only thing that will satisfy us. His goodness displays his beauty. We marvel at his splendor. We rise from the ash heap. We plant our roots deep into him. He enables our growth. Click To Tweet
The Lord’s mission is justice, redemption, and healing. He frees us to become like him. Once free, we become mighty oaks of righteousness, strong and stalwart.
We step forward in victory, the love of God and the lessons of the Word enabling us to stand strong. The display of changed lives, fulfilled promises, and God’s orchestration for our good reveal his splendor even more, the Sovereign Lord who makes us whole. There is hope.
Listen in HERE to Tim Keller’s short podcast on God’s glorious Justice.