“To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory.” Isaiah 61:3  

Isaiah 61 is the beginning of our Lenten Bible verse set on this Ash Wednesday. These verses seem fitting now more than I ever imagined when creating Scripture Seeds earlier this year. Ash Wednesday is a day marked by ashes, resembling death and resurrection. It's an invitation to confess our need for Jesus and remember His abundant grace for us as we begin this Lenten season. I’d love to encourage you to read the entire chapter of Isaiah 61. (Do that now and come back to read below!)
Wouldn’t we all like to trade ashes for a crown of beauty today? Parts of our lives and world feel like they’re being held to the fire. What once was solid and undisturbed now looks a lot like ashes scattered across the nations. Broken, displaced, parched; our brothers and sisters in Ukraine are exiles from their homeland. Not unlike the people of Israel we read in Isaiah. 
Different from those living in the Old Testament days of this passage, we know Jesus. When reading about the good news for the oppressed in Isaiah 61, we know Jesus is the One who fulfills the promises given. Jesus gives beauty for ashes, joyous blessing instead of mourning. When we give our ashes to Jesus — burdens, struggles, whatever they might be — He redeems us with a crown of beauty. Yes, even our ashes may be made beautiful. Will we see it in the moment? Not always. But our trust rests securely in the One who gathers us, ashes and all, and never lets us go. 
Later on Isaiah 61:10 says, “I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For He has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels.” Clayton and I are celebrating our first wedding anniversary this weekend (eep!), so the feelings from that day are all coming back with extra nostalgia and awe of this gift. If you’ve been to a wedding, or have been the one standing down front, you’ll know that all eyes are on the bride and groom. They are the center of attention. The groom sports his best tuxedo, the bride adorns a long white dress and that sparkly engagement ring. They are dressed for the occasion and would definitely stand out if they casually strolled into a Waffle House afterwards. So are we created to be as believers. Dressed in His righteousness, we stand out. We aren’t made to blend into the crowd. We are clothed in righteousness and salvation by the Bridegroom Himself! Yes, Jesus takes our ashes and wraps us anew. Yet in order for that to happen, we must let those ashes fall at His feet in surrender. And even then, He still chooses us. Marriage goes a lot like that too — ashes and all. Isn’t that a beautiful picture of the Gospel at work in and through us?
The last verse in this passage is Isaiah 61:11 which says, “The Sovereign Lord will show His justice to the nations of the world. Everyone will praise Him! His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring, with plants springing up everywhere.” In the beginning of the Lenten season as spring draws nearer, and in the midst of unrest in the world, we can find peace and comfort. The Lord will show justice to the nations and He will gather them together. “In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory.” (Isaiah 61:3b) May we be like great oaks, strong and immovable. Standing firm in faith of our Lord Jesus — May it be so.

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