Beauty for Ashes
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to . . . 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. Isaiah 61:1a, 3a
The Lenten season is a busy time of preparation for the Christian community. We order Easter lilies and other spring flowers to fill our churches. The choir works on special music.
Our hearts need preparation too. We can gain a fresh perspective by reading the historical accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as if we don’t know about the last chapters of those books. We can imagine what Jesus’ disciples and the other people He encountered thought of what He did and what He told them.
For example, one Sabbath day early in His ministry, Jesus entered the synagogue in his hometown, Nazareth. He stood to indicate that He wanted to speak that day and the leaders handed Him the scroll. Unrolling it, He read from the book of Isaiah. His sermon was short but earthshaking: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
Isaiah had prophesied that one day someone would be specially anointed by God to minister to the poor, brokenhearted, mourners, and prisoners—all who despaired. They would receive a crown of beauty, the oil of gladness, a garment of praise. They would be called oaks of righteousness, planted by the Lord to display His splendor.
The people of Nazareth murmured, “We know this man. This is Joseph’s son,” implying that Jesus could not be the One promised by Isaiah. Yet the Gospels proclaim that Jesus did fulfill the prophet’s words. He came to the poor, to outcasts, and to the diseased—all the people shunned by the religious leaders. He healed, He consoled, and He offered hope. He rebuilt ruined lives.
True, some of what He promised has not yet been fulfilled. People still mourn; they still despair. Others experience poverty or imprisonment. But the sampling of Jesus’ power and love demonstrated as He walked on earth assures us that the rest of the Bible’s promises will happen too–and much more.
As you prepare for Easter, think about Jesus and what He came to do. Read the accounts and meditate on His words. Glimpse the beauty that He can create out of the ashes of our lives.
Read Luke 4:16-21 and Isaiah 61:1-11. Why do you think Jesus omitted the end of Isaiah 61:2 in his reading? Why didn’t he read the whole chapter? When will the things in verse 2 and verses 4-11 be fulfilled?
Read Matthew 5:1-12. Who will be blessed and what is promised to them?
Read Isaiah 64:4 and 1 Corinthians 2:7-9. What point is Paul making in 1 Corinthians? What are some things that God might have prepared for us?
You may also want to read Ash Wednesday under Dig into Holidays.
Nancy J. Baker