Today in many circles around the world, people are observing Ash Wednesday. It isn’t a coincidence that our weekly study today speaks of exchanging our ashes for a garment of praise. In many churches, ashes are placed on the forehead to observe a time of repentance and sorrow preceding Lent. It is to be outward observance of what should take place inwardly, in our spirit. My particular church upbringing never observed this ritual.
Ashes always gives us a picture of something which was but is no more. Something was burnt up, never to rise again. In our modern day church age, many ‘live it up’ prior to Ash Wednesday so many church goers can say they’re sorry and promise not to do whatever again. They receive their ashes and go on with their life. In theory it’s good; but does it bring about a real heart change? Only if there’s a heart change will be there be an outward change. Let’s look into this further.
Isaiah 61:3 speaks to this condition, specifically to Israel when Jesus read this scroll in front of the priests and learned elders of His day. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit, that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”
During Jesus’ day there were people who mourned. During our days, there are people who mourn. Many people are sad. Many have lost loved ones recently and are still mourning their passing. Many are mourning other ‘losses’, i.e., jobs, friends, etc. We can’t just pass over the loss people feel and tell them to ‘suck it up’ without feeling their loss and hurt. That’s why Jesus said He came to those who mourn so they could receive a beautiful headdress, the oil of gladness, a crown of righteousness, and a beautiful garment of praise through Him.
What will replace a state of mourning? Gladness and praise. Jesus said He would be the glory and lifter of their head (Psalm 3:3). He would lift the sadness from their heart and thoughts. He assured them, as He does you, He will give the oil of gladness. Not just an okay oil, but a powerful oil that pours down our heads, flows over our eyes, our nose, and lips, falling onto our chests, our hearts, and all the way to our toes. His anointing for our entire being provides His joy in all our circumstances.
Furthermore, He places on our head a crown of righteousness. He is our righteousness. He is your righteousness. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we receive right standing before God. We are IN Christ, righteous, dearly loved. And further He tops it off with a beautiful garment of praise. It reminds me of the coat of many colors Joseph received from his father (Genesis 37:3). As with any crown or coat, you must put them on. They are provided for you and to you, but to make it your own, you must put them on.
Today is the day you can do away with the ashes because Jesus has given you so much more. You’ve changed your mind about God’s goodness and provision in Jesus. His gifts of joy, peace, gladness, and praise are yours. You can enjoy the benefits of these gifts today and every day! There need not be any more ashes.