The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)
The smoke stings our eyes as we watch it burn to the ground — a dream, a goal, a relationship.
If you’ve ever hoped for anything in your life, you know exactly how it feels to be deeply disappointed when it fades away.
Our hearts cry, “Lord, do You see me? How can this be Your will?”
Elisabeth Eliot was a missionary, author and speaker who faced her share of ashes. Her first husband was murdered while they were on the mission field by the very people they had come to reach. She outlived both her second and third husbands. And in her golden years, she received a dementia diagnosis that signalled the end of her public ministry.
She once said, “Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ashes”.
Whatever looks hopeless today, we know God isn’t finished yet.
All over the Bible we catch glimpses of what is yet to come – the hope of life beyond what we can see, in the actual presence of the Lord. As we engage His Word, He shows us more of who He is, and we find ourselves caught up in His beauty. More than that, as we read we discover that we are deeply and unconditionally loved by the One who can do what no one else can do: raise the dead.
In the story of the death of Lazarus, Jesus shows up after Lazarus has passed away and is greeted by a sister who is in the throes of grief:
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
John 11:21-27 (NIV)
In dark places, when we find ourselves surrounded by ashes, we can rise with the confident declaration that Jesus is who He says He is: the Resurrection and the Life. And when everything else tells us it’s hopeless, let us agree with Martha, and say, “Yes Lord, I believe!”
With the Lord, ashes are never the end.
A few verses later, we read:
“…Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go’. “
John 11:43-44 (NIV)
Only God can do that.
Whatever we think is broken beyond repair; whatever we look at and say, “well, that’s over forever” — it’s not the end. He is the Resurrection and the Life, and only He can raise what was once wrapped in strips of linen and buried behind a stone for days.
Only He can take what is utterly destroyed and make something infinitely more than we could ever have imagined, working now in our lives and ultimately for our eternal hope and future.
Let’s fix our eyes on Christ. Only He can give us beauty for ashes!