If you’ve studied The Bible for any length of time, then you know there are a few passages in scripture that that sort of package up the gospel in a “nutshell” kind of way. Passages like John 3:16, Acts 2:38, Romans 5: 6-9 are just a few. They’re beautiful short explanations of what Jesus accomplished for us when He came and gave himself up for us on the cross. In the Old Testament there’s a beautiful passage in Isaiah 61 that summarizes exactly what Jesus came to do for us too. It’s not short and sweet like the others, but I love how it contains so many promises to specific groups of people. It’s prophetic because it was written way before He was born in the manger, but also because not everything that it predicts has happened…yet. Some of it has, but there’s so much more to look forward to in these verses. Are you poor? Are you brokenhearted? Have you ever felt like a captive or a prisoner of something? Have you ever been treated unfairly or experienced an injustice? Are you grieving?…Then this passage is for you.
I specifically love the promises to the person who mourns and is grieving. There is so much hope for those of us who have suffered from sin’s biggest weapon-death. Since death was never part of God’s plan, grief wasn’t either. Yet, God promises to redeem our grief. He offers comfort while we wait, promises beauty for our ashes, the “oil of joy”-instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair. Don’t you love that imagery? When we’re grieving, it literally feels like we’re covered in a blanket of despair. Life feels heavy as we sit in the ashes of our loss. Jesus is the only one that can take what we have left of our life after a devastating loss and make something beautiful- if we let Him. He promises to replace our mourning with the “oil of joy”–the kind of oil that is so fragrant that it oozes out from us. So much so that when we’re around others, they notice and can’t help but get a little on them too. One day, He will forever lift the blanket of despair and cover us with His garment of praise. It’s the exact opposite of the “sackcloth” that is mentioned often in scriptures, that was worn by those who were mourning or outwardly expressing their grief. His garment of praise is a thing of beauty. It signifies celebration, freedom, and life and I can’t help but think that when we’re wearing it, we won’t be able to stop ourselves from dancing! While we live on this earth, our grief is always going to be on us, but someday…It will be thrown into the depths of hell, along with the enemy, death, cancer, suicide, depression, and all the other things that came with sin.
The following verses in this passage refer to us–the ones who are rescued and redeemed by Christ–as “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” As I process that, some words that come to mind with that imagery are: beauty, strength, endurance, fortitude, deep roots, weathering the seasons, a shelter for others. One of my most favorite vacation places has become St Simons Island, GA. One of the reasons why is because of the ginormous Oak trees that inhabit the island. I literally turn into a tree hugger, when I’m there! Many of them are hundreds of years old. They have so much character and history. They have weathered many a hurricane, but still have a beautiful majestic grace about them. How encouraging that we can grow into something so wonderful. Growth is not always easy and it takes time, but wow! When we let our roots grow deep we can survive and thrive. I’m so thankful that those trees on the island didn’t just give up and die and neither must we.
If you are familiar with this passage, than you may know that part of this scripture appears again in the New Testament in Luke 4. It’s extremely significant because Jesus, used this passage to proclaim that He was the Messiah. He stood before his own hometown and proclaimed that He was the one that that would fulfill all of the promises in this very treasured messianic prophecy that every person in that temple would have known, like we know our ABC’s. As you can imagine, it wasn’t easily accepted. Luke tells us that all the people were furious and that they even drove him out of his own hometown and tried to drive him off a cliff! Their failure to recognize who they were with, and the power of His words– meant that they missed out on the greatest gift that was every given to them.
Friends, it’s my prayer that you don’t miss out too. These promises are for you and Jesus is who He says He is! He’s the only one that can permanently fix our broken hearts. Will you recognize Him today and the ways that He wants to minister to you? Will you accept His “garment of praise,” instead of staying under the weight of the spirit of despair? Find comfort from the one who hates death and grief more than we do.
I’ve only barely scratched the surface of what this passage means. I encourage you to research it for yourself. There is so much hope in between the lines of Isaiah 61. I know that’s why Jesus used it to kick off his ministry. Is there something on the pages of this passage that speaks to your heart? Share with us!