Beauty For Ashes (IDOP 2012)
Again this year we are participating in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, known as IDOP. Most churches will be remembering and praying for these 200 million persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ on November 4th. We are gathering this morning to remember and to pray for the saints in Nigeria, Vietnam and North Korea which are being severely persecuted just because they are willing to be identified with Jesus Christ and the Word of God. An average of 425 Christian believers are murdered daily for their faith.
The theme of IDOP this year is “Beauty for Ashes”. This theme reminds me of the myth of the Phoenix. The mythical Phoenix is a bird with colorful plumage and a red and gold tail. It has a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle. Near the end of this life-cycle the Phoenix builds itself a nest of twigs and then the nest ignites into flame, reducing everything to ashes. From the ashes a new, young Phoenix is born and repeats the cycle.
In Isaiah 61.3 we read, “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes”. God promises that He is going to do something so that out of the devastation and the loss of persecution He will bestow a crown of beauty. This crown of beauty is promised both to individual saints and to the church as a whole. Let’s look a little closer at this chapter in Isaiah.
The first two verses of Isaiah 61 should be familiar to anyone who regularly reads the Gospel of Luke. At the beginning of the Gospel of Luke (4.14-21) Jesus is in his home town synagogue in Nazareth and stands and reads from the scroll of Isaiah. There were no chapter and verse divisions during the time of Jesus but what Jesus read we now call Isaiah 61. Jesus read all of verse 1 and the first part of verse 2 and then stopped reading and sat down. It is very interesting to note where Jesus stopped reading because in verse two we find the announcement of both the first coming of Jesus and the second coming of Jesus. The first part of verse 2 says, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”. This is where Jesus stopped reading. When Jesus finished reading in the synagogue, he sat down and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. Jesus fulfilled the year of the Lord’s favor in his coming to earth to seek and to save that which was lost.
Jesus did not read the second part of verse 2 which says, “and the day of vengeance of our God”. This is a reference to the second coming of Christ and the final wrath of God upon all who have not followed Jesus.
Continuing on in verse 2 and in the rest of Isaiah chapter 61 it speaks about the resulting blessings of the first and second coming of Christ – the comfort of all who mourn and grieve, a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. There is spiritual maturity and rebuilding and fruitfulness of every kind. There is the promised reward from the Lord who loves justice and who is faithful to His covenant. There is recognition of the people of God by the whole world. There is delight in God’s salvation and righteousness. The chapter concludes with the promise that “the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”.
At this present moment the Church is living between the first and second coming of Christ. The Church is living in the New Covenant promises and in God’s salvation and righteousness in Jesus Christ, but the Church has not yet come into the fullness of the Kingdom of God. For now the true Church is despised, mocked, rejected, persecuted and killed. There is suffering, pain, abuse, injustice, conflict, confiscation and destruction of property, rape, wounds, loss of family members, slander, misery, imprisonment, starvation, sickness, death… The Church is receiving ashes from a God hating, Bible hating, world just as Jesus said it would. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15.20). But persecution and death is not the end of the story. God will bestow on all His people and on the Church a crown of beauty for their ashes.
For now, as believers and as God’s people, we go on and encourage and support and lift one another up in the midst of all our struggles, as we look to the second coming of Christ when God will make all things right in us and in the world in the Kingdom of God. For now provide material help to families whose fathers and husbands are in prison. We join with persecuted Christians through letter writing and asking our governments to intervene in human rights violations. And this morning we give ourselves to prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters, and we give ourselves in worship to God who will fulfill all of His promises to us as His people and as His Church. One day God will bestow a crown of beauty instead of ashes. Glory to God.