Beauty For Ashes

The Phoenix of mythology was said to rise up out of its own ashes and soar away to the heavens with renewed youth and plumage of scarlet and gold; but the truth is more wonderful than the fable, as we shall see.

The first verse of our chapter describes the mission of our Lord to this world, about that there can be no question. The first time that He preached in the Synagogue of Nazareth, where He had been brought up, He opened the Book at these very words and read them. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the meek [the poor]; He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." And He told His hearers that that very day these words were fulfilled in their ears. It is equally certain that the great blessings of His mission were to run in no narrow channel, for while His words were addressed to a crowd of Jews, He showed them how the grace that was in Him would work, it would flow out and on to sinners of the Gentiles, like the Zidonian widow and the Syrian leper. His mission was to the world; He came for the blessing of men, to seek and save the lost, to preach the gospel to the poor.

The time had come for the declaration of the innermost thoughts of God's heart, they could no longer be withheld from men, but who could tell then out? When the outraged government of God was to take vengeance upon the hopelessly corrupt cities of the plain an angel or two were enough; and when rebellious Israel were to be rebuked for their sins or instructed in the way of righteousness, prophets, men like themselves, were sent to them; but when the heart of God was to be revealed, when His great love was to be proclaimed in the world, angels and men were useless; the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father was the only one sufficient for this, and so He was sent upon this great mission.

Consider the fact that our Scripture describes; the Son of God came to earth, a Man: "for the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14); that holy Thing that was born of the Virgin was called the Son of God (Luke 1:35); but as Man He was distinguished from every other man, not only by His superhuman birth and His sinless and holy nature, but by the anointing by the Spirit of the Lord with this mission in view. The words that He brought to men were the Father's words, and every one of them was spoken in the power of the Holy Ghost, and they were gospel words, they were good tidings to the poor, and they have reached us, for the words that He spoke abide to this day. He proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord, a wonderful, happy new year, and that year has not yet closed, for, behold, now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6).

How wonderful was the coming of the Lord, He did not burst upon men's darkness with dazzling splendour, as the lightning that shineth from one end of the heavens to the other or with fire and earthquake to make them afraid, as they were afraid at Sinai; but quietly He rose before the eyes of the watchers, as the light of the morning. And as the sun sheds its glory upon field and forest, and crowns the hills with its beauty, and floods humble cottage and stately palace alike with its light, warming, vitalizing, gladdening all, so He came, for He was the true Light that coming into the world shineth for every man; yet men loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. But the sun that fills the earth with its glory reveals the foetid cesspool and the squalor of the slums, and so when Jesus came the condition in which men were, was clearly manifested. What corruption, what need His presence brought to light! But no need was revealed that He was not able to remove, or corruption that He was not able to cleanse. I love the Gospel of Luke, it is the gospel of grace, and I am sure if it were carefully studied it would be discovered the every need that could force a sigh or wring a cry of anguish from a human heart is met there by the One who came to bind up hearts that were broken and to preach good tidings to the poor. The Spirit of the Lord was upon Him for this very purpose, and this was His Father's business, for this very cause He was sent into the world, and He never failed.

And what He was He is; for He is the same yesterday, today and for ever. All that He ever was to men in the fullness of grace that was in Him, He is today. Thank God if we have tasted that the Lord is gracious, He will abide so, and no need on our part will exhaust the grace that is in Him, for His grace is enough for us, and were our need one thousand times greater than it is, His grace would still be enough. The same yearning that brought Him down to men in their woes is in His heart today, with this same beseechings and entreaties He comes to us. All He desires is the opportunity to serve us, and to bless us. If we were only half awake to the joy it gives Him to lift our burdens and to give us peace for trouble, we should be humbled and blest.

It has often been remarked that the Lord ceased His reading of this passage in the middle of a sentence and closed the Book. He read of the acceptable year, but said nothing of the day of vengeance. And that was because the day of vengeance was not then, nor has it yet come, for God is long-suffering not willing that any should perish, and we count the long-suffering of our God to be salvation.

Our Scripture continues, "To comfort all that mourn."

We pass over the unfulfilled word and come to this which brings us to resurrection; How sad was Mary of Magdala when she cried, "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him." How sad were those two that walked to Emmaus when Jesus joined them in their journey. How sad was Simon Peter, who had denied his Lord with oaths and curses. They were mourners every one until they saw the Lord, but what comfort and joy came to them when they beheld Him again in resurrection, and so may we rejoice that, "now is Christ risen from the dead." The gospel we have believed is the gospel of the risen Lord, and this means everything to us. We rejoice and are glad because of the grace that the coming of our Lord brought into this world. We like to be assured that He is sufficient for all our needs, that He is ever at hand to succour us in every time of trouble, and we could not do without this, life would scarcely be bearable without it, nor does God intend that it should be, but there is another side of the truth. The coming of the Lord had a great purpose in view, and the lifting of our burdens, and the binding up of our broken hearts, and the preaching of good tidings to us, are all the means by which this purpose is realized. Our Scripture reveals what that purpose is: "To give to them beauty for ashes, the oil of gladness for mourning, the garment of praise for heaviness."

This could never have been, apart from the presence of the Holy Spirit who has been given to all who have believed on the risen and glorified Saviour. But to understand the blessedness of it we must learn what the meaning of the word "beauty" in this passage is. It means a head-dress; but from a footnote in J.N.Darby's New Translation we learn the sort of head-dress that it is. It is a priestly turban. And the whole truth as to God's purpose for us, as it has been revealed in the gospel, teaches us this very thing. We are lifted from the ashes of our degradation and repentance, and our heads are crowned with the priestly turban. Christ has loved us, and washed us from our sins by His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to God.

I know that Israel is in view in the first place, and that all this will be true for them when they their great Messiah see, returning in His glory to bless them; but meanwhile we stand in the place of favour, and can draw near to God in full assurance of faith and worship Him in spirit and in truth, for He seeks such to worship Him.

If Christ had not come revealing what God is in the great love of His heart this could never have been, for we should not have known God, and not knowing Him we should have been afraid of Him, and hidden from Him as Adam did. But now we know Him, the words that Jesus brought from Him to us are gospel words, and perfect love has cast all fear from our hearts. But our sins would have separated us from God for ever if Jesus had not died, now His blood has removed them, and we are made the companions of the risen Christ. This is a great dignity, but nothing less than this was God's thought for us. The priestly turban has been put upon our heads instead of ashes, and we have been anointed with the oil of gladness instead of mourning: we have received the Holy Ghost, for He which establisheth us in Christ, and has anointed us is God, and the garment of praise is ours instead of the spirit of heaviness. Every sentence shows how blessedly we are brought to God and the joy that He has in having us near to Him.

Raised up by grace into this new and holy position we can say, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments" (v. 10), and the word ornaments in this verse is the same as beauty in verse 3.

Here is our response to the wonderful revelation of God, and great is the privilege, but do we appreciate it? That is the question. But there is more, for our Scripture continues: "that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified."

We are reminded of 1 Corinthians 3:9. "Ye are God's husbandry," planted by Him in His assembly for His own pleasures, and:

"A holy Father's constant care,
  Keeps watch, with an unwearying eye;
To see what fruits His children bear,
  Fruits that may suit their calling high."

God grant that this great present purpose of our Lord's coming to earth may have a gracious fulfilment in every one of us.

Beauty for Ashes (2)

Isaiah 61

Have you noticed the true meaning of the word translated "beauty" in that beautiful passage in Isaiah 61:3? — "To appoint to them that mourn in Zion, to give to them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness," with the end in view "that He might be glorified." The word is only translated beauty in this our passage, but it is not the only time that it occurs in the Old Testament. It is the word that stands for "the goodly bonnets" of fine linen that were made for Aaron and his sons (Ex. 39:28), and for the "linen bonnets" that the priests of the Lord will wear in the millennial temple (Ezek. 44:18). It occurs in this same sixty-first of Isaiah, verse 10, "as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments." It is really a priestly turban, a joyous and beautiful ornament for the head. As we see this the meaning of the passage dawns upon us. Such is the grace of our God, such the exceeding riches of His grace, that He lifts us from the ashes of our repentance for sin and places us in priestly nearness to Himself. He removes the burden of sins that bowed us in the dust, and raises our heads with joy in HIS presence. We can sing a song of praise to "Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to God and His Father, to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." Nothing could be more wonderful than this: our blessing lies in being brought nigh to God and set in priestly relationship with Himself. We have been given access to Him, we have boldness to enter into His very presence now, we, whose place was once in sackcloth and ashes, and it is, as our verse tells us, that He might be glorified. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth God," and the priests' privilege is to offer praise.

The whole passage bears this out. Our heads are anointed with the oil of joy, and the garment of praise has taken the place of our sackcloth and rags. What a covering is this to have. And thus we stand before our God, accepted in the Beloved, to praise Him and bring forth fruit for His delight — the trees of righteousness planted by the Lord.