Beauty From Ashes

Inner brokenness is demonstrated through the lives of human beings in an immeasurable number of ways.  In authoring each of our life stories individually, God is fully aware of the generational legacies passed down to us by our families, the complexities of our real-life experiences, and the uniqueness of our inborn, God-given temperament.  He alone is able to make our personal, unfolding life-narrative distinct and beautiful — not in spite of our brokenness, but built upon it.

Whether the origins of our brokenness were malicious or unintentional, physical or intangible, overtly obvious or imperceptible, the evidence of their existence cannot be denied.

Beauty from ashesGood News

These two corresponding passages in the Bible powerfully reflect how God loving and intentionality demonstrates His unconditional love amid our sin, shame, grief, and inner brokenness.  No other scriptures exemplify how we can find hope to overcome our brokenness as these do.

I concluded Chapter 9 with the passage written by the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel who had been taken captive by their oppressors.  Now I want to explore that same text through a much more focused lens.  So, please allow me to present this important passage again:

“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… Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance” (Isaiah 61:1-3, 7 NIV).

The Israelites in the 8th century BC undoubtedly found great optimism and comfort in this good news that God promised them through the words of the prophet.  Their confidence, however, lacked the tangible hope that you and I have in the cross of Christ.

On their side of history – 800 years before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem – the Messiah was only a promise passed down through Jewish prophecy and traditions.

On our side of history, however, where you and I are blessed to know the fullness of Christ through the Bible, we are able to establish our hope in a reality that is profoundly more absolute and certain than what the Israelites were only able to imagine conceptually.  What centuries of prophecy had spoken of and written had finally been realized in the person Jesus Christ and His undeniably central role in human history.

This was powerfully recorded by Luke, the gospel writer, as he personally witnessed his friend Jesus stepping into His rightful place at the climax of centuries of foretold truth, and the fulfillment of all that the prophets had promised:

“He (Jesus) went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom.  He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him.

Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

 Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16-20 NIV).

This Good News Is for Every One of Us

The Bible illuminates seven realities within these passages.  And when we humbly admit that each of these are actually characteristics of our own brokenness, this revelation will completely turn our lives inside out, and radically shift our identity from the brokenness of our pasts to the hope and wholeness found only in Jesus.

Within these two passages, God outlined seven specific individuals who personified the fundamental nature of mankind’s brokenness from sin and shame.  Our temptation is to quickly envision these characterized in the physical world.  But God wants us to consider them more deeply – in the realm of our soul and spirit.

Although we might be able to identify people who literally fit within these headings, God’s appeal is for us to open our hearts and minds to the reality that each of these individuals is represented in us.

Whether we’re willing to find ourselves in any or all of these characterizations or not, I believe that you and I have more examples than we could possibly count of instances when we have been judgmental or condemning of individuals whose lives had unfolded in these very ways.  To call myself a follower of Jesus yet look down on others simply because their brokenness looks different than mine, makes me no better than a Pharisee.

In addressing the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, Jesus said to them,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26 NIV).

The renewing of our souls will extend no further than our honest acknowledgement of our inner brokenness.

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