Isaiah 61:1-4
From Grief To Gladness

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. The sermon title for today is "From Grief To Gladness." It comes from the words in verse three. In the place of ashes the Lord is giving them a crown. In the stead of grief the Lord is giving them the oil of gladness. In exchange for darkened hearts the Lord is giving them robes of praise. This is good news being given to a grieving people. It is gospel. It is the delightful promise of God.

The Oil Of Gladness Instead Of Grief

2. But, what kind of persons were these people to whom these words of grace were directed? They were the mourners in Zion. It is translated in the New Interconfessional Version as "to those who grieve because of Zion." That's the exact meaning. They weren't just mourning over a destitute lifestyle. They weren't just grieving the bad fortune that had befallen them. They were grieving because of Zion, because of Jerusalem; for, Jerusalem was still in ruins. [They were grieving] because it was the place chosen by the Lord, where the Lord was worshipped, a place that was supposed to be filled with joy and peace, yet it was still desolate like a wilderness. And [they were grieving] because they knew that it was because of their sins, [their sins] that had brought on this devastation. Therefore, they grieved. They wore ashes on their brows, shed their tears and held dark hearts heavily within themselves.

3. Today, dark faces are not what's up. People with serious faces all the time are alienated and called party poopers, maybe even dweebs. On the other hand, cheerful and peppy people are liked better. Rather than looking at oneself and the world and complaining, some live believing in their own potential or the potential of humanity - those kind of people are given kudos for being "productive and proactive." The positive philosophy of living that never takes a look at the dark side of things but focuses on the bright side forgetting the heartbreaks of life, remembering only the joys, and relegating the griefs far off in the distance looks really good to most people. Today people are seeking that way of life and may even come to church for it; and churches might even be trying to respond to such a felt "need."

4. But, I think that because the times are that way, we need to recall this message from God's word once again. The oil of joy is being given to us "instead of grief." Robes of praise are being given "instead of dark hearts." Only people who know how to truly grieve will know the joy that comes from God.

5. Grief and pain are not unnecessary elements in human life. Expressing pain is necessary. The prophet Joel once cried out, "Thus says the Lord. 'Right now, return to me with your very hearts, fast and weep with sorrow. Do not rend your clothes, but rend your hearts.'," (Joel 2:12-13). Furthermore, James also wrote as follows: "O sinners, purify your hands. Be sorrowful, grieve, weep. Change your laughter to mourning, change your joy to grief," (James 4:8-9). Above all, we need to recall the words spoken by our Lord Jesus. "Those who are in sorrow are blessed, they will be comforted," (Matthew 5:4).

6. Actually, could we really call it blessedness or happiness when we don't mourn or feel the pain even though our sins have wrecked our lives? Is that really happiness when we never mourn or feel pain at all even though the ruin that comes through our sin is so wide spread in our home life or in our lives in society? Is that really happiness and blessing when we don't grieve or feel sorrow but wish only to spend our whole life utterly peacefully even though this world is ruined by sin? Does heavenly joy and true gladness really fill any places like that? I wouldn't expect there to be. The oil of gladness that the Lord gives is given in place of grief and mourning!

6. Actually, although our sins bring on our own devastations in our lives, if we've never felt any grief or sorrow over it, would that be truly blessed? Even though the devastation because of sin is wide in scope in our home lives, in our life in society, if we haven't complained or cried out in sorrow at all would that be true happiness? Even though this country was desolated by sin, even this world is ruined by sin, if we have never felt grief or sorrow but wish only to spend our whole life utterly peacefully, would that be real happiness? Would we be filled with heavenly joy or true joy in a place like that? I don't think we would expect such a thing. The oil of joy that the Lord grants is being given in place of grief!

To Be Called The Evergreen Oak Tree Of Righteous

7. With that, let's try to think still deeper upon these "people who were grieving because of Zion." The Lord poured out and sent the oil of the Holy Spirit upon the prophet. The Lord had him tell the good news, that he is giving the oil of gladness instead of grief. Those to whom this good news was directed are described with various phrases in verse one. It is "the poor" who are to be told the good news. It is "the broken heart" who will be enwrapped by the healing of the Lord. It is "the captive" and "the bound" who are to be informed of liberty and liberation.

8. The ones being called "the poor" here are not those who are merely economically down and out. The first definition of this term in the Old Testament is those suffering and oppressed because they are powerless. It means the havenots, those without a place to fall back on in this world. Therefore, these people earnestly put all their hopes on God alone and cry out to him. Because they are weak, because they are poor, all they have is to humbly seek for the mercy of God. So, often times in places like the Psalms, the term "the poor" means the believer in the midst of hardships.

9. And in this text it is not just talking about "the poor." It is also talking about "the broken heart." As for the "the broken heart," that, we know all too well. The text has it in Psalm fifty-one. "The sacrifice that God requires is the broken spirit. The heart broken in repentance, o God, you will not despise," (Psalm 51:19). So here we have that a broken heart means a repentant heart. A repentant heart means a heart that beseeches God to, just as this Psalm sings it, "Wash every fault, purify me from sin," (Same psalm, verse four). In other words, this text here is talking about not only the person who knows his or her own powerlessness and poverty, but who also sees into his or her own sinfulness. The person here is not only praying "Please help me," but is also praying "Please forgive me."

10. Furthermore, the text speaks here in regard to "the captives" and "the bound." As for its time period, they say that this prophecy was given after they had already been released from Babylon and were repatriated back into Jerusalem. So, this is not likely to be the captivity situation in Babylon. Regardless of the situation it might be pointing to, the captive and the bound persons are unable to set themselves loose on their own. They have need of mercy from the outside. They have no basis for hope within reach of themselves. That's why salvation must come from the outside. Therefore, they implore for mercy and wait expectantly. They wait with great patience for the time of their deliverance. That's the kind of person that the scriptures are referring to here.

11. The kind of people being described here with the terms "the poor" and "the captive" is these "mourners because of Zion." In short, they had no strength in and of themselves to do anything about the desolated Zion. Neither could they do anything by themselves about their debt of sin, which caused the devastation. To begin with, if they could have done something on their own power, they probably wouldn't have been grieving. It's because they couldn't that they grieved.

12. The prophet says that it is people like them who will hear the good news. God's message of deliverance is deliverable to these very [kind of people]. The oil of gladness is offered in exchange for grief. But even more, something astonishing beyond that is being said here. The prophet states that "They will be called evergreen oak trees of righteousness planted so that the Lord may reveal his glory," (verse three).

13. The revealing of God's glory is not through people unaccustomed to pain and grief, or people that have power, wealth, and are loaded with self confidence. These grief laden souls alone are truly the evergreen oak trees of righteousness planted so that the Lord may reveal his glory. They are also called the people who will overhaul the perpetual ruins and build up from the vestiges of the old devastation. This [seems like] a strange but wonderful world that the Bible is relating here. The people saying "We will rebuild. The future of Zion hangs in our hands" will not rebuild from the ruins. The people unable to rebuild from the ruins will rebuild from the ruins. It is the powerless, the poor, the captives, among whom not one of them is capable, who will do the rebuilding from the ruins. It is people like them, who can only wait on the Lord in hope and out of their grieving hearts, who will do the rebuilding from the devastation and desolation.

14. Well, this message from the Lord is given to us today on this second Advent Sunday. I would like for us to keep two other things in mind about this.

15. The first one is about the fact that this very season is a time of grief and mourning that we have been given. We shouldn't look down on mourning. Grief needs to be given its proper place. Generations of the church have observed the season of Advent as a time of fasting. The meaning of fasting is mourning and repentance. We must wake up from our delusions and daydreams about it. We must get face to face with the way the world really is, where we lie under judgment and condemnation. We need to mourn as we ponder our poverty and utter powerlessness while we're in this [guilty] world. We need to grieve as we ponder the sins of this world and our own sins, which have brought these ruins in. That is the right way to spend this Advent.

16. Then the second thing we need to keep in mind is that we have already been informed of the good news. The reason we are [so] ready to celebrate the coming days is the celebration of the birth of the son of God. The son has already come!

17. When Jesus had received baptism from John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit descended upon him and a voice from heaven resounded with "You are my beloved son, the one who serves according to my will," (Luke 3:22). Also, soon after being filled with the power of 'the spirit' he returned to Galilee and Jesus entered the synagogue in Nazareth in which he was brought up and read aloud from Isaiah chapter sixty-one. After that, he announced, "The words of these scriptures are fulfilled today when you heard them," (Luke 4:21).

18. Jesus has already come. And along with the coming of the Lord, the time has also already come for the poor to hear the good news [of the gospel]. The definitive will of God has already begun with the arrival of [Jesus]. We have also been informed of this good news. As a result, our mourning doesn't just end with mourning. God is giving us a crown in place of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and robes of praise in place of dark hearts.

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