A few weeks ago we visited the Big Island of Hawai’i. As we traveled across the island I was captivated by the sight of plants springing up in the charred fields of lava. How impossible it seemed that beauty and life could spring up in the midst of such utter destruction. Each time I saw the brilliant green of new life piercing through the seemingly endless flows of black crusted lava I was reminded of the promise of “beauty for ashes” in Isaiah 61.
“1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD [is] upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to [them that are] bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; 3 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 [KJV]
Such a poignant display of new life and beauty emerging from destruction and ashes. Of the countless beautiful sights on the island, I found myself repeatedly drawn to this one. I’m doubtful many would describe it as beautiful, but it profoundly resonated as beautiful within me.
Evidence of the violent devastation wrought by the volcanoes will always be present on the island. It has been forever transformed and reshaped by their catastrophic eruptions.
Likewise I am forever marked by the devastating sorrow of Sarah’s death and absence. I have been permanently transformed and reshaped through it.
Today marks five years since we were abruptly and violently separated from our sweet Sarah.
5 years, that’s 60 months apart. 5 and 60, both seemingly small numbers to reflect an incomprehensible 260 weeks of separation. More strikingly, that’s 1,825 days since I last saw my child alive, 43,800 hours since I last felt her embrace, and 2,628,000 minutes since I last heard the sound of her precious voice speaking to me.
Five years without my child. Pondering that reality takes my breath away. I am continually, unavoidably and acutely aware of her now five year absence, and yet my heart convulses each time I acknowledge its reality.
As the Big Island bears the black crusted mounds and gorges created by the destructive rivers of lava, my heart and soul bear the transforming scars of sword piercing sorrow.
But just as God is bringing new life and beauty up out of the ashes of the lava fields, He continues to faithfully bring beauty up out of the ashes of my sorrow.
In Luke 4:17-21 Jesus read Isaiah 61:1-2a aloud in the temple, and followed by saying “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
“17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”” Luke 4:17-21 [ESV]
Many believe it is significant that He stopped reading prior to saying “and the day of vengeance of our God…“, partway through Isaiah 61:2, because that day will be associated with His second coming rather than His first.
Jesus Christ is coming again. And after His second coming “and the day of vengeance of our God,” every tear and sorrow will be wiped away.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 [ESV]
In that glorious day when tears and sorrows are wiped away, my ashes (sorrow), mourning and spirit of heaviness will be completely removed and fully replaced with beauty, joy and praise (Isaiah 61:3).
That day has not yet come, but the promise of its coming allows us to experience its fulfillment in a very significant way even now. The Hope we have been given through the first coming of Jesus Christ, and His promised second coming, is our source of beauty, joy, and praise even in the midst of our ashes, mourning, and spirit of heaviness.
In fact, our ashes, mourning, and spirit of heaviness enable us to uniquely see and experience the beauty, joy, and praise found through the Hope we have in Him.
Like rivers of lava, sorrow and suffering roll through our lives as sanctifying flames stripping away temporal comforts and distractions enabling us to clearly see and cling to our only true Hope, Jesus Christ, and the glorious future found only in Him.
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13 [NASB95]
Because He came and is coming again, and my faith and Sarah’s is in Him, I have the promised Hope of eternity with Him and her. Through Him, my five long years apart from Sarah sets me five full years closer to seeing her again, this time never to be separated again.
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13 [NASB95]
“13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 [NASB95]
What glorious promises!
And so, as we all who grieve choose to continually fix our eyes, hearts and hope on the beauty of this and His many other precious promises, He restores to us the true joy of His Salvation. And as we are reminded of and filled with the true joy of His salvation our souls can’t help but erupt in praise to Him, rendering us, like Paul, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” (2 Cor 6:10)
“ 7 Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which You have broken rejoice. 9 Hide Your face from my sins And blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit. 13 [Then] I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You.” Psalm 51:7-13 [NASB95]
“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 61:3 [KJV]
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20 [NASB95]