Beauty For Ashes

Beauty For Ashes

Isaiah 61:1-3

“…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes…” vs. 3


There is an area of San Francisco that used to be important in the early to mid 1900’s because of the shipping industry, it’s called China Basin.   By the 50’s and 60’s it began to fall into disrepair and by the 70’s and 80’s was pretty much a waste land. I remember driving through there and not feeling really comfortable. You definitely wouldn’t walk around there or hang out in that area and, in fact, there was very little traffic through there at all. In the 90’s something happened, the San Francisco Giants wanted to move out of Candlestick Park and the area they settled on was China Basin, this rundown, empty, unkempt area that seem like it was good for nothing. It was a surprise to most that this area would even be considered. Well, as the stadium was planned and the work began, the area really changed; businesses moved into the area, condo’s and apartment buildings started going up, and his run down area was renovated into something that is now a bustling, active area that is a tourist spot and an important part of the San Francisco scenery. It not only changed that area but areas around it as well  like the Embarcadero’s.  It really is a quite a transformation.

Today, that is what we are going to look at; renovations and restorations, but not of areas or buildings but of people, of you and me. Today we are continuing our second part of Isaiah 61:1-3. If you are able, please stand as we read God’s Word.

Read Passage – Isaiah 61:1-3 

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, 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3and 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.

Living with a Broken Heart

Isaiah prophecies at a time in history when Israel when the nation is a going through a lot of changes, many for the worse. Last week we saw how the people felt brokenhearted and we are continuing that thought. Isaiah says in verse 1:

“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…” vs. 1

The word for poor here is also translated humble, afflicted, or brokenhearted. The Jewish community had been broken up and the northern part of Israel had fallen and ceased to be a nation. The people who overtook Israel took all the people with skills and worth and made them slaves and took them back to their homelands.  What was left was a dispersed group of people who had very little and were not thought of as important of valued in any way. In this verse Isaiah calls the “the poor.”

One important point, they brought this on themselves. They choose not to follow God. They choose to give themselves to idols and things that God told them to stay away from.  That’s what sin does, sin impoverishes, it takes away real joy, it ruins the good and leaves things in disarray; and in the end it destroys. Where does that leave us? The answer is feeling alone, sad, “poor” in spirit, and powerless. When you discover you are powerless to change things you can turn to God.

God’s Plan for Restoration – He Turns…

These words of Isaiah are encouraging and uplifting because they remind us that God is a God who restores. He takes the brokenness and the feeling of emptiness and he fills those places in us with something new. He turns them into something new.

  • Ashes to Beauty

The first restoration is that he takes the ashes of death and turns them into beauty; he says in verse 3a:

“…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes…” vs. 3a

Ashes refer to destruction, the remains of what once was. There is a hopelessness to them because you cannot rebuild from them. Look at the dispersed people of Israel again. They were living around the ruins of Jerusalem; this was before Ezra and Nehemiah returned to rebuild the temple and the city. Their cities and temple had been destroyed and they are living around the rubble and brokenness and ashes.  They were living day after day without hope. It was a constant reminder God had left them and was no longer looking favorably on them. It’s said that not even one stone was left on top of another; the place was completely demolished. They felt the lost-ness and alone-ness and were probably also suffering from spiritual depression.

But here is where the story changes and God turns the tables. The word beauty is translated in the Hebrew as ‘embellishment.’ When you look back at once was, God declares that right now it may look like nothing but ashes, but when I get done with it, and bring it back to life, I won’t just embellish it, it will be greater than it ever and more beautiful than it was before! Psalm 113:7 says:

“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap…” Psalm 113:7

Ill. You may know the name Susan Boyle. Susan was raised thinking that she had been briefly deprived of oxygen during a difficult birth resulting in a learning disability.  However, she found out later that she had been misdiagnosed and has Asperger syndrome with an IQ “above average”. Boyle says she was bullied as a child, and was nicknamed “Susie Simple” at school. She took singing lessons but gave up her chance at a singing career to take care of her ailing mother. At 48, on April 11, 2009, this Scottish woman appeared on Britain’s Got Talent. Much of the world just looked at her and didn’t give this woman a chance. However, she took the world by storm singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables and her career took off.  Now the world knows her

We may think it’s too late, we were dealt a bad hand, things can never happen for you, it’s too late, and you feel your sitting in an ash heap, but I have news for you, God turns your ashes to beauty.

  • Mourning to Joy

The second thing God restores and turns into something lese is your mourning; verse 3 b:

“…the oil of joy instead of mourning…” vs. 3b

Not only were the Israelites living in the rubble of what once was, they were living with death. They saw their fellow Israelites enslaved as their country was conquered, they saw some killed by the sword, and those that were left they saw dying from starvation and disease. Mourning was not a once in a while thing, it was a constant occurrence. Mourning does more than just kill the body, it leaves those left behind in bewilderment, disillusioned, and hurt. When death happens, we usually can’t stop thinking about it.  It’s always on our minds.

God turns that around and says that mourning is not going to last.  He will change that by anointing you with the oil of joy. Anytime the Bible references oil, it speaks of anointing.  In this time, anointing was really only used for two types of people, the temple priests to seal their service to God and for royalty, mostly to confirm kings. Anointing was a calling of God’s spirit and presence on the individual. Anointing oil is sweet and aromatic. You get it on you and it lasts all day. Anointing is the calling of God’s Spirit and presence on you wherever you go. So understand this from this verse, the sting and stench of death and the emptiness we feel is replaced by the oil of joy meaning that we bring the sweet smell of God and his presence with us wherever we go. One of the most recognized passages of Scripture is Psalm 23, and in it David says in verse 5:

“You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5b

God is affirming that death is not the victor, it won’t last, because he brings a new, sweet, beautiful smell and that oil of joy is the Holy Spirit living within us. See we can’t change death, but in God we find new life.

Ex. The death of my friend Mike. I felt hurt, I struggled, it was hard.

Ill. Walk around the congregation and use the anointing oil and let them smell it.

  • A Spirit of Despair into a Garment of Praise

And the third restoration is that God takes our spirit of despair, that very core of who we are, and covers it with something beautiful, a garment of praise, verse 3c:

“…and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” vs. 3c

Despair is despondency or depression and hopelessness. In their time they had people who were professional mourners who wore particular clothing to indicate mourning. You were expected to show others you were in mourning too. You put on sackcloth, a burlap type of material and you shaved your head and might put an ash mark on your head. Burlap is itchy and uncomfortable and a constant reminder through discomfort and irritation. This indicated to everyone around you that you were in mourning. You also would walk around with a look of dread and heaviness on you.

Ex. Job

God takes that spirit and restore it by clothing you with a garment of praise. Praise   is thankfulness. God takes that outward dread and despair and covers it with something beautiful, a garment that is exquisite. These were the kind of garments they wore at their festivals of thanksgiving and celebrations of joy. Not only were they comfortable and made of the best material, but people would look at them and be in awe. David put it this way in Psalm 30:11:

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.” Psalm 30:11

God takes that itchy, uncomfortable, and irritable burlap sackcloth and turns it into something of joy and beauty and that causes us to praise and be thankful.

Ex. Trading Places with Eddie Murphy (show pictures of old and new)

Oaks of Righteousness

So what is the end result of God’s restoration, se find that in verse 3d:

“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” vs. 3d

The picture that Isaiah paints for us is this, when we admit that we can’t, he can, I think I’ll let him, that we are a picture of God’s splendor and strength. The oak tree is a symbol of strength and stability. And it says a planting. That means that God planted us in the exact place and time we are at to be his spokesman and his glory.

Although Isaiah lived before the time of Christ, we have a greater understanding of these promises because of the work of Christ. Notice how much of this passage has overtones of death. Jesus showed us that death is not the victor and sin is not forever. Through him, we have new beauty, new joy and They saw their fellow Israelites enslaved, they saw some killed by the sword, and those that were left they saw dying from starvation and disease are covered in beauty because of what he did for us.


So how does this restoration take place? It happens inwardly. It happens by not listening to the world and the things that seek to deceive you and bring you down. It happens by not putting our worth in circumstances. It happens by meditating on God’s Word, by filling our lives with God’s truth and not the worlds lies, it’s by ridding ourselves of sin and filling us with the Spirit of God.

About Ron Bowman

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