In that amazing prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-6, which Jesus quoted in the synagogue in Nazareth, thereby confirming that it was indeed a Messianic mission statement, it tells us that the Spirit of the Lord would be on the Messiah, anointing Him to ‘preach good news to the poor, bind up the broken hearted, proclaim freedom to the captives and release for the prisoners’. The prophecy continues that He is also going to ‘proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God’. It then goes directly on to the fact that the Messiah is going to ‘comfort all who mourn’, and the provision for those who grieve is relayed by three different pictures.
Firstly by bestowing on them ‘a crown of beauty instead of ashes’. He is going to give them something beautiful to put on their heads instead of the ashes, which would have marked out the person as being in mourning. Secondly they were going to be given ‘the oil of gladness instead of mourning’, an anointing fragrance not associated with someone in grief, (who may well not really take care of themselves properly or bother about such things). Thirdly they were to be given ‘a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair’. Isaiah 61:2,3. Again people don’t usually dress in ‘happy clothes’ when they are grieving.
The provision for those who grieve is threefold, giving it great emphasis. All three pictures, taken from normal grieving practice, denote the exchange that the Messiah will bring spiritually, emotionally and physically to His people. The description of this exchange, follows on from the fact that the Messiah is proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God. God is going to pour His favour on His people and avenge them for the damage that the enemy has done to them, that leaves them in mourning.
The parallels for us are immense. I believe that an important part of our Salvation apart from our New Birth, is seeing the damage that the enemy has done in our lives reversed. Many of us are comforted by these promises and we quote them to each other but we don’t always find that we are fully able to enter in to all that they offer. Sometimes it feels like we get very excited about this passage but we don’t always find it that easy to appropriate all the promises in it.
I was struck this morning by the fact that the Authorised Version uses the word ‘for’ where the other versions use ‘instead of’, as quoted above, and I think that this holds a clue for us because the word ‘for’ conveys something very important as we look to benefit from these promises and receive these gifts from our saviour.
When I give you something ‘for’ something else, there is an exchange. Think about it. In a game of Monopoly, if I give you my four railway stations ‘for’ Mayfair and Park Lane, I no longer own the Railway stations, but I do own Mayfair and Park Lane. When I get something ‘for’ something else, that means there is something I have to ‘give’ or let go of first, or as I receive the desired thing.
Sometimes we want to hold onto our stuff and take what Jesus offers, but it doesn’t work like that. Taking the ‘stuff’ that makes us grieve in anyway, shape, or form to the cross, is a necessary first step to receiving the benefits of living in ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’. So how can I know that I have left my ‘grief’ there? I thank Him for taking my sorrows and my grief, (and that may cover a great deal of different things) then I thank Him for what He is giving me in exchange. Two lots of ‘Thank You’ are needed!!!
In case this should all seem too good to be true, let’s look at the rest of these verses. Isaiah prophesies that these people who have experienced this divine exchange will go on to rebuild things, renew cities, have flocks and vineyards, and be called priests of the Most High. Isaiah 61:4-6. God clearly has plans for them. These people who have experienced this divine exchange are to be part of His restoration team for the nation. God wants this divine exchange to happen because He loves us ? Yes! And also for His Kingdom’s sake.
So today if there are some things we would like to exchange, let us thank Him that He wants to take them to the cross with Him and thank Him for all that He is longing to give us in exchange.