On April 26, my novel titled Beauty for Ashes will be released. You’ll read a story about Nathan and Angie, debilitating guilt, and the far-reaching consequences of actions. The title comes from Isaiah 61 where the prophet shares God’s promise to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives. those who grieve in Zion. God will grant 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.
As I’m preparing for the book’s release and anticipating the approach of Easter, it struck me how closely the two are related. The darkest days of Jesus’ ministry were spent during the week before Easter. He knelt in the garden at Gethsemane, experiencing the reality of his humanity. He’d left heaven where there is no pain, no fear, no quarreling, no divisions between men, no selfishness, no power struggles, no politics. He came to a world filled with all of that and more. As he knelt and prayed, his distress was so great that his sweat contained blood. This is a medical condition called hematohidrosis. It occurs when the level of stress is so extreme that blood vessels dilate and rupture, sending blood to the sweat glands.
It’s no wonder his stress was so great. He knew what was ahead. Arrest. Beatings. The long walk up the hill to Golgotha carrying the onerous wooden cross that would soon hold his body. Nails. Thorns. The weight of generations of sin. A spear to his side. The tomb. The stone. Three days in separation from God, his father.
Isaiah talks about ashes, mourning, and a spirit of despair. Those terms don’t even touch what Jesus went through that awful week.
But then came Sunday. Then came joy. Death defeated. A risen savior. A torn curtain. Here’s the amazing, incomprehensible part. He willingly did it for us. For you and me. Listen to Jesus’ words in John 10:17-18. “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”
Bible scholars believe that the days of Isaiah were about 700 years before Jesus came to earth. I don’t imagine that the Israelites had any idea what would occur, despite the words of the prophet. I suspect that their vision was much too narrow to reach 700 years in the future. The sad truth is that even today, 2,000 years of having the truth of God’s word, so many people still have vision too clouded to see.
This Easter, may we all have fresh eyes to see the truth, to experience the joy of a resurrected Christ. God’s mercy spared us the penalty of sin that we deserve, and God’s grace offers us the gift of life that we don’t deserve.
“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