Saturday, December 10, 2011

The extravagant ministry of Jesus

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 61:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes
The oil of joy for mourning
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified." Isaiah 61:3

The whole of Isaiah 61 refers to the ministry of God's anointed. Who is that? Jesus said these words when He was in the synagogue in Nazareth—a direct quote from Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
       Because He has anointed Me
      To preach the gospel to the poor;
      He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
      To proclaim liberty to the captives"

He concluded with, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:17-21) telling us that He is that anointed one. So we're pretty safe in saying that the words in today's reading describe the ministry of Jesus.

Let's dig out some of the goodness of the rich images in our focus verse to understand what Jesus' presence in our lives can mean.

1. It is a comfort and a consolation - Isaiah 61:2b-3a.

2. It is a favourable exchange
  • We get beauty for ashes. Ashes in the Bible are associated with grief and mourning. How often don't we see mourners sitting in ashes or putting ashes on themselves? But Jesus ministers beauty for the grey dust of disappointment and pain.
  • We get the oil of joy for mourning. Oil is also loaded with symbolism. People used it to get ready for the day. Anointing someone with it set him apart as a king or special minister. It also symbolizes the Holy Spirit. Here we see that we can substitute mourning for that oil of preparation, anointing, and power.
  • We exchange the "garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." I like how my Bible's footnotes explain this: "The symbolism here depicts festive joy as part of Messiah's reign. The spirit of heaviness refers to discouragement. It is to be replaced by an abundant life (the garment of praise). Many see in this text the power of worship-filled praise to cast off the oppressive works of darkness" - Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 946.
3. It leads to a stable, productive life.
We become God's planting, His trees of righteousness. This imagery recalls other tree verses:
  • Psalm 1:3 where the godly person, planted near water is fruitful, unwithering, and prospers in everything.
  • Psalm 92:14 where the righteous are like trees that "still bear fruit in old age."
  • Ezekiel 47:12 where trees minister food and healing to the nations.

All this is meant to enhance God's glory, declaring His power and adequacy in living colour through the transformed lives of us, His people.

Let's claim and apply these ministries of Jesus to our lives today.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to exchange my disappointments, griefs and heavinesses for beauty, joy, and praise. I want to be one of Your flourishing, God-honouring trees. Amen.

MORE: Only 15 more sleeps

Advent Calendar - December 10

Christmas Fact:

The first carols were not singable songs at all, but ring dances. They were used to celebrate many occasions as well as Christmas, but were not allowed in church. As carols changed and became songs to sing, many of these folk songs, lullabies and hymns were written about Jesus’ birth. Legend says that St. Francis of Assisi first allowed carols to be part of a Christmas midnight service in the 1200s.

“Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” often sung at Christmas, was written by Aurelius Prudentius in the 4th century. It was set to plainsong in the 13th century. Here is a John Michael Talbot rendering of it.

Bible Drive-Thru

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