Joy Instead Of Grief

December 26, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Isaiah 61:1-11

Making What [God] Has Already Fulfilled As Your Own

1. Last week we celebrated Christmas. Christmas is the holy birth of God's son, the coming of the Christ. To celebrate Christmas as such is also a confession of our faith. We believe that this world is one in which the messiah has already come. We believe that it is a world where God's salvation has come. God loved the world to the degree that he gave his only son to it. We believe this world is loved by God. If I may add further, celebrating Christmas is both an announcement of the faith and the proclamation of it to the world.

2. The devil comes bringing despair and just says the world has no hope, there is no hope for your life. He portrays the world as a place where sin and death still wield power, and just says there isn't any salvation anywhere. But, in celebrating Christmas, we proclaim the faith, that this world is a place where the savior has already arrived. Furthermore, we know that soon Lent will follow Christmas and then Easter. Then following that, the celebration of Pentecost will come. This world is a place where the cross for the atonement of sin was erected, a place where death was conquered by the resurrection of Christ, a place where the Holy Spirit has descended and is at work. Therefore, through out the year we confess the faith while joyfully celebrating, and [so] we announce and proclaim salvation.

3. Having thus just celebrated Christmas, we opened to Isaiah chapter sixty-one today. We could say this is good timing. When Jesus went back to his old home town of Nazareth, this passage is the one that Jesus read out loud in the synagogue. Then, the Lord said, "These words of scripture were fulfilled, today, when you heard them." Yes, indeed, they were already fulfilled. Yes, indeed, Jesus was standing right there actually as the anointed messiah, and he announced that he "fulfilled" the words of salvation that were written in the book of Isaiah.

4. Thus, we are hearing today's passage of scripture as something that has already been fulfilled; for, the Lord had announced it so. The poor hear the good news. The crushed hearts are addressed. The captive are made free, those who are bound up are set loose. Those who mourn are given to wear a crown instead of ash, the oil of joy instead of grief, they are made to wear garments of praise instead of gloomy hearts. Jesus had come for that reason. He has already arrived.

5. However, one thing is important here. Last week, a junior high student made a confession of the faith. Our decision in church has been to present a Bible whenever we have confessions of the faith and baptisms. Therefore, a young woman's Bible was prepared ahead of time. The Bible was purchased, and words of celebration for her were written in it. At that moment, that Bible already belonged to the young woman. But, we could also say that it still wasn't hers just yet. The faith confession ceremony was held, the Bible was handed over to her, she accepted it and for the first time in a real sense it became hers. However, if I may take it further, I could make the case that that Bible will be hers only as she makes a good effort to read it. It is precisely because she actually experiences what already belongs to her as hers that it truly becomes hers in the real sense of it. Thus, the important thing is that [we] are to make what already belongs to us as our own in the true sense. We could argue the same thing with regard to salvation.

6. The messiah has already come. He announced what was written in Isaiah as something that had already been fulfilled. But, when Jesus stated that "These words of scripture were fulfilled today, when you heard them," what did the people who heard him do?" The scripture says, "They drove Jesus outside of the town, and they brought him right to the cliff of the mountain on which the town was built, and they attempted to throw him down." It is possible that sometimes no matter how hard you put your heart into it and prepare the gift, others will not accept it. Christ had already come. This world is a place in which God's salvation has come. There was no need for the people on their own power to make salvation come to pass. It is just as there was no need for the young lady to purchase the Bible and [having to] pay money for it herself. The payment was already made. Similarly, God did for us everything necessary for salvation. Nevertheless, it is possible that sometimes people won't accept it. It is precisely because one has accepted salvation that it becomes one's own. If I may go a bit further with this, there is also a process by which a person makes it his or her own all the while as one experiences the salvation that has been fulfilled by the arrival of the messiah. It is the faith life, the day to day practice of the faith.

Joy Instead Of Grief

7. Thus, what in the world is really essential in order for a person to make it his or her own all the while as one experiences the salvation that has already been fulfilled by the arrival of the messiah? Among many of the points given today, I would like for us to pay attention to just one point. It is the words that say, "The oil of joy instead of grief." I have taken today's sermon title from this. This "joy" is the joy that God gives. It is the joy of salvation. But, this joy presupposes "grief." [He] doesn't give just joy. He gives "joy" in the place of "grief." So, what is this "grief" then? I think we could change it to the word "sadness," but we would need to ponder what kind of "sadness" it is because there are so many kinds of sadness.

8. When we look just before it, [the text] has "to those grieving because of Zion." This statement clearly shows what "grief" is, which is given in this text. Zion points to Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, there used to be a grieving people in Jerusalem. Why were they grieving? -- Because Jerusalem had been in ruins for a long time. The country was overthrown by Babylonia, and Jerusalem was destroyed, too. And so in the long interval, it turned into ruins. When they heard just that alone, they must have sounded like they were grieving a catastrophe. But no, it wasn't like that. They were acknowledging that what had caused these ruins was not Babylonia, but rather it was because of their own sins. They were acknowledging that the history of the Israelites, in which they had been in continuous rebellion against God, had brought on the ruins, and that they too were right there in the middle of it.

9. In sum, they were not grieving and saddened over the catastrophe, but rather they were grieving and saddened over their own sins, in that they had turned their backs against God. That seems like a big difference. Everybody, don't you think there is a big difference between our grieving as we look over the world that we have ruined and our grieving as we say, "This is what our sin has produced?" It is not a grief against some catastrophe, accident, or bad luck that was simply caused by some other person. They are not grieving and merely making somebody else out to be the bad guy. It is a grieving for the sin of this world and for our own sin. Therefore, the words "instead of ash" are found. That is the image of repentance. They wore ash on their heads because of it, shed tears, and harbored within themselves heavy and gloomy hearts.

10. If I may add, the reason they had grief there was probably because they were totally powerless with regard to the ruins that these sins of theirs had produced. It was probably because they were stricken with a powerlessness in which they were completely unable to do anything regarding the reality which their own sin and the sin of this world had produced. Several statements appear in the text before that. "The poor," "the crushed hearts," "the captive," "those bound." What is being expressed in that is the condition of the helpless people unable to do a thing about the desolated and ruined Zion. To begin with, if they could do something about it on their own power, they wouldn't be doing something like grieving. Since that is not the case, they are grieving.

11. In this way then, "the grief" that is written in this text is [the kind] that has looked the real world right in the eyes. Unless we direct our eyes on our own real worlds, we will probably never grieve over our own sin. Unless we direct our eyes on the world's ruin and the ruin in our lives, we will probably never bemoan our own powerlessness. Thus, we keep turning our eyes away from the unpleasant, we keep running from reality, and we live fun and games. That may be one way of living. But, the future it is heading into doesn't seem to be truly leading to salvation. Nor does it seem to be leading to true joy. Sooner or later, won't it turn into a dead end? Some where, some time, the hour is coming when you must look reality straight into the eyes. That's the way it is.

12. Thus, the Bible never treats "grief" in a negative way. Instead, it speaks of it as something important. We can grieve what we really ought to grieve. That is very important to do. Because it is during [those times] a person seeks God's forgiveness, seeks God's salvation, and also develops trust in the God of salvation. And then true joy is given by God. A joy from God is given "in the place of grief." God gives the oil of joy. It is given through [our] very savior. Joy doesn't start coming at the moment when the ruins stop being ruins. It doesn't happen that way, rather, joy is given before that. God himself makes you wear "the robe of praise" in exchange for [your] gloomy heart.

13. In addition [the verse] goes on to state, "They will be called oak trees of righteousness, which the Lord planted in order to show forth his splendor," (verse three). And it states that they indeed "will re-build the ruins of eternity, and revive the traces of the old devastation." This text has a marvelous world in it that the Bible is making statements about. The people don't rebuild the ruins saying, "We are re-building it. The future of Zion is in our hands." The people were grieving over their sin and powerlessness, the people were feeling nothing like being able to re-build the ruins, but yet these people said they would re-build the ruins. These people were powerless, they were poor, they were taken captive and could not do a single thing on their own to help themselves, but they would re-build the ruins. It will be done as a work by God himself. Therefore, [the text] says, "The Lord will show forth his splendor." The Lord will show forth his own splendor and glory right there, even among the people who are grieving over what they ought to be grieving over. And the Lord will use such persons in order to re-build the ruins.

14. This world is already a world into which the savior has come. It is a world where God's salvation has come. But, the ones who are supposed to live seeing his salvation and experiencing it are the people who grieve over what they should grieve over. The way into the faith life should be realistic. And it is one in which the people trust steadfastly and only in the Lord's salvation. There is where the joy that the Lord gives us is, and where the robe of praise is that the Lord gives us to wear. The Lord uses more and more for the world's sake the people who put on that robe. Like "the oak trees of righteousness, which the Lord planted in order to show forth his splendor!" The Lord will certainly reveal his splendor and glory through us. Let's proceed forth like this in [our] walk of faith from here on out!