“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me… To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)
God is in the business of fixing and overruling our sinful mistakes. This has been true since man’s fall in Adam created a ruinous heap of ashes, burnt and severed fellowship with God. However, God has promised to give us “beauty for [those] ashes”, to replace the ashy remnants of loss and ruin with a beautiful blessing of God. We will see the full beauty of God’s overruling blessing at Christ’s second coming, but God also blesses us here in time with blessings and beauty in spite of the sinful lives we lead.
We find from Luke 4:16-21 that this prophecy in Isaiah 61 verses 1 and 2a was fulfilled principally by Jesus Christ in his ministry. Jesus enters a synagogue in Nazareth, and he opened up the Old Testament scriptures and read Isaiah 61, verse 1, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath appointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to them that are blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” Jesus then also reads the first portion of Isaiah 61, verse 2, “To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” Then, he abruptly closes the book, sits down, and declares to his audience that, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”
What is so significant about where Jesus ended his message, closed the book, and declared that prophecy as fulfilled is that he stopped in the middle of the verse in Isaiah 61:2. The rest of the verse that Jesus did not declare as fulfilled that day reads, “and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn.” Jesus came to preach the gospel to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, heal the blind, proclaim liberty and deliverance to the captive and imprisoned, and preach the acceptable year of the Lord. He perfectly fulfilled that prophecy. However, the “day of vengeance” was not to be fulfilled during Jesus’ earthly ministry but will be fulfilled at Christ’s second coming. Therefore, the verses following – particularly verse 3 in Isaiah 61 – have the same future fulfillment, that at the Lord’s second coming we shall receive beauty for ashes and comfort for our mourning hearts.
It’s at Christ’s second coming that God will take vengeance upon all the wicked who have lived in rebellion to God’s commandments and authority during this life. It’s also at that later day that those children of God that mourn shall be fully and finally comforted. Thankfully, when we encounter sorrow and heartache in this world (when we mourn), God is faithful to bless us with comfort and peace. God is described as the “God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3) and the Spirit is our “Holy Comforter”(John 14:26, etc). The Lord certainly gives us a measure of comfort and peace in this world during our mourning, but not every sorrow will be soothed in this world. It won’t be until we arrive in heaven that we are fully comforted from the mourning and heartache that we perpetually have to encounter during our earthly pilgrimage.
At Christ’s second coming, we will very literally receive beauty for ashes. This world will melt in fervent heat at Christ’s return, and while there won’t necessarily be a pile of ashes left over from the world, what we receive in place of the burnt-up earth will be a beautiful and glorious new heavens and new earth (see Rev. 21-22) for us to dwell eternally with the Lord. It’s at that time that those who continually had sorrow and pain (continually clothed in sackcloth and ashes, the attire of mourning) in this world will receive the beautiful peace and comfort that is promised to us in these verses.
Ashes are the remaining remnants of loss, of what has been burnt up and only the ashes remain; ashes are not very profitable or useful to us at all. To a large degree, our entire existence here on earth is just a large pile of ashes, remnants of paradise and blessing that has been lost. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, all that was left was a heap of ashes, a remnant and reminder of severed and burnt up fellowship with Almighty God. We have lived in a life of ashes ever since, continually clothed with the attire of mourning, sackcloth and ashes. (That’s why it is such a blessing that God has promised to clothe us at that later day not still the garments of mourning that we have worn our entire lives here, but instead we shall receive “garments of salvation, the robe of righteousness, and jewels of the bride”, Isaiah 61:10). No one is immuned or excluded from suffering in this world; we all face sorrow and suffering due to sin and its effects in our lives. That’s the ashes of loss that are inescapable in this world. It’s a fact that not every wrong and pain and sorrow will be made right in this world. However, we have a hope in Jesus Christ that no matter the magnitude or quantity of all the ashes of loss we encounter in this life, finally, we shall receive beauty for those ashes when we are conformed to the image of Christ at his return. God has promised to wipe away every tear from our eyes in the world to come; that there will be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain in that heavenly Jerusalem that is our eternal home (Rev. 21:8). We can hope and look forward to that final day of beauty, even if we only endure suffering and sorrow in this world.
Even though things may be difficult and challenging for the child of God in this world, God still oftentimes gives us beauty for ashes here in time as well. Just like our grandparents Adam and Eve did, we are prone to make a mess of our lives, to make bad decisions that only leave ashes, reminding us of the loss incurred. However, God graciously and providentially will oftentimes give us a beautiful blessing, overruling the sinful ashes that we or others have wrought. It probably seemed to Joseph after being sold into Egyptian bondage, later falsely accused and cast into prison, that there was only a heap of ashes in his life. His prior relationships with his family, his position of authority with Potiphar, was now burnt to the ground by the sin of others and only ashes remained, continually reminding him of what had been lost. However, God didn’t force Joseph to wallow in this “sackcloth and ashes” state indefinitely, but God instead providentially overruled his challenging circumstances (his heap of ashes) and gave him beauty instead, exalting him to second in charge of Egypt and thereby was able to save his family.
God is just as able today to bless in our lives despite the mistakes ourselves and others have made that have caused loss and fire and ashes in our lives. You know, ashes aren’t all that much different than dust, and it was dust that God saw fit to use to mold and create the beautiful creation of man and woman. Something that seems so useless as ashes (only the remnants of what had previously been burnt and lost) and even dust, God can take such a useless thing and create a beautiful, majestic body and human being out of it. God does the same in our lives. He takes our dust and ashes, our mistakes and our failures, and God can overrule those circumstances to bless us and create beauty, despite what fire either ourselves or others have lit up that have caused so much devastation. Praise the Lord that God is in the business of giving beauty for ashes, both in eternity and here in time.