For weeks, thick smoke drifted hundreds of miles from the fire in Yosemite to our home in Reno. Ash fell from the sky in a delicate dance much like that of a snowflake, yet in itself was the antithesis of snow. Dirty flakes, remnants of life now dead filled our air. Smoke blocked the Sierra Nevadas from view and, at times, was so thick one could not see to the end of the street clearly.
It became oppressive. There was a heaviness to the air I have not experienced before, and everyone was feeling it. “Oh, this smoke,” people would say in exasperation as they mulled about their day. Windows remained shut, and we remained indoors to prevent breathing unnecessary amounts of dirty air.
After a while, however, the smoke began to lift. Despite its continued presence, God brought us some of the most beautiful sunsets.
“Beauty for ashes,” I whispered to myself as I gazed at the sky driving home one night. This, quite literally, is beauty in the midst of ashes, I thought. This is what God does. Filled with wonder, I praised our God for the beauty given to me in exchange for the ashes of my past. Isaiah 61 foretold of Jesus’ coming. In this text, we are told the Messiah would “bestow on [us] a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (61:3, NIV).
What beautiful imagery.
Ash represents death. Ash is unclean. Dirty. Yet, Jesus came to wipe all that away.
Beauty for ashes.
Smoke and ash are weighty, oppressive. Jesus brings freedom and life.
He takes what is broken, dirty, and heavy and gives new life. “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In Christ, we are made new. Our old selves died with Christ along with all the weights and sins of our past.
Jesus beckons, “come, follow me,” and I will mend what is broken. Follow me, and I will clean what is unclean. I will carry your burdens. And I will give you life in exchange for death.
Beauty for ashes.
So, we come. We follow, and we hear Him say, ”Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19). Watch for it with unparalleled expectation. Then come. Receive your crown.
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.
- Isaiah 61:1-3
How have you seen beauty emerge out of your ashes? Share in the comments.