A Broken World

As we look forward in anticipation of Christmas Day, we cannot help but look around at this broken world. Through just a quick search online, or a brief glance at a passing newspaper, or a conversation with a friend or stranger in the street, we can easily see that the world around us is suffering. 

A Broken People

The people of Judah, to whom the prophet Isaiah proclaimed his message, were also suffering under oppression, tyranny and persecution. God’s people faced annihilation at the hands of the invading Babylonians and Assyrians and looked around in despair, questioning God:

‘Have we been abandoned?’, ‘Have our sins caught up with us and we have been left to our enemies?’, ‘Is there any hope for us at all?’ (see Isaiah 40:27, 59:9-15).

Three Exciting Promises

And into the confusion and cries of despair, God speaks as the Defender and King of His people to offer a word of encouragement. God intends “…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.” (Isaiah 61:3)

This one verse is packed with the beautiful, jaw-dropping imagery of clothing and adorning someone – turning rags into riches. Exploring this imagery allows us to delve deeper into these exciting promises.

God promised His people, the nation of Judah, that He would one day take three things away from them: (1) ashes, (2) mourning, and (3) despair. Instead, He will replace them with three new things: (1) a crown of beauty, (2) the oil of joy, and (3) a garment of praise. 

Beauty For Ashes

Pouring ashes on one’s head was a sign of grief, shame and emotional agony (Joshua 7:6, 2 Samuel 1:2). God promised not merely to remove this ash of grief from the heads of His people, but to give them a crown of beauty in His sight.

Oil Of Joy

Furthermore, God promised His people the ‘oil of joy’ like that used to anoint the kings of Israel on their coronation (Psalm 45:7). 

A Garment Of Praise

Finally, God promised to give His people a ‘garment of praise’ – to be wrapped and enveloped in a state of ecstatic joy, wonder, love and worship of Him. 

The crown, oil and garment are glorious symbols of being clothed, adorned, and elevated in status.

Jesus Makes These Three Promises Real 

Where else do we find these words in the Bible? Jesus read these words from the scroll of Isaiah during a synagogue service in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21). The people were shocked because Jesus said to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (v. 21). 

God answered His promise to His suffering people sitting in despair. Through Jesus Christ – God made flesh – a crown of beauty, oil of joy and a garment of praise were given to His people. 

Through Christ’s death for sinners, resurrection in victory and ascension into heaven, all those who believe and trust in His saving power become children of the King of Kings (John 1:12), adorned in beauty, glory and splendour in God’s sight.

Final Words 

In the midst of despair, the suffering church across the world seeks God’s transformation and joy in a broken world. God heard His people; He hears His people still, and this Christmas we celebrate the day He answered and stepped into our suffering world. Through Jesus Christ, there is hope of transformation and joy for God’s suffering people.

Whether we ourselves are suffering under oppression, tyranny or persecution, or simply hear of it taking place elsewhere, we can ‘weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15 ESV) and join our brothers and sisters in their sorrow.

Josh Ludlow assists in coordinating all operations of The Shepherd’s Academy. He is currently studying an MTh at the University of Oxford, with research interests in Practical Theology, Biblical Studies and the Hebrew Bible.