B2THEWORLD believes in the restorative work of God which brings fullness of life for every child impacted by war. Our guiding scripture for this restorative work comes from Isaiah 61.
Rev. Thomas Holliday, B2THEWORLD Board Director and Pastor at Alexandria Presbyterian Church (APC) in Alexandria, Virginia, introduces our theme Restored & Restoring in this beautiful devotion on Isaiah 61, the first of several testimonies and reflections from B2THEWORLD team members participating in God's global restoration. The Prophet Isaiah Offers Hope to a Nation in Darkness
Written by Rev. Thomas Holliday
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 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. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastation; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” - Isaiah 61:1–4
He speaks of a day when God’s people will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will rebuild the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Of course, this can and will only happen through the ministry and work of the Messiah. Isaiah prophesies of the coming of Jesus, whom the Spirit will anoint to bring about this glorious transformation in the lives of God’s people. The message is clear; the Messiah will bring healing to the brokenhearted, grant true freedom to people who have been captive to the powers of darkness, and free countless people who have been bound for generations.
The language is staggering; to grant to those who have suffered horribly and treated with contempt, a beautiful headdress instead of ashes.
Old Testament scholar Alec Motyer puts this in context for us: ”This involves things that seem to have been ruined forever, ancient: things that the previous generations have been unable to mend. Through the anointed one, all of this brokenness will be restored.”
Notice the images that Isaiah gives us: oak trees and ruined cities.
Although each will take time and patience to grow, the Lord will bring about substantial healing to his dearly loved people who have felt forsaken and hopeless. Substantial healing now, total healing in the future.
Oak trees can withstand fierce winds. My wife, Sharon, and I have witnessed this many times with the 100-year-old oak tree in our backyard. Super sturdy. The oak provides shade and protection. Oak trees grow from a tiny acorn that falls and descends into darkness for a time to be broken open. This takes place so that it can slowly be transformed into something big and magnificent.
We can easily forget what this kind of transformation looked like in the early years of the New Testament church. Christians faced strong opposition and hopelessness blanketed the lives of many. According to one archaeologist, “the apartment buildings of ancient Rome were so shoddily built and the city was constantly filled with the noise of buildings collapsing, being torn down to prevent it; and the tenants of an apartment lived in constant expectation of its coming down on their heads.”
Indeed, the gospel shines the brightest where the darkness is most acutely felt.
Jesus was sent to overcome this kind of darkness. He was given the anointing of the Holy Spirit for one reason: to bring good news to a world that desperately needed healing. Here in Isaiah our Messiah announces with seven infinitives all that means for him to save us.
We also must be filled with the Holy Spirit if we will rebuild the ruins in this world. There will always be the temptation to do the repair work in the energy of the flesh, with our own ideas and resources, and not even realize it.
Oaks of righteousness – the gospel builds strong Christians - “the planting of the Lord.” Because it’s the Lord's planting, the mustard seed grows (yes, also the mighty oak trees) so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.
The messiah is working today, growing his kingdom in our midst, using his disciples and ministries like B2THEWORLD, to rebuild the things of this world that have been ruined by evil.
Jesus could not have been clearer in stating his mission at the beginning of his public ministry, as recorded in Luke chapter 4. He not only looked back to the Old Testament, specifically Isaiah 61; he was also looking forward to his mission which he would accomplish on a cross. And yes, he was looking to the future, knowing full well that he would use people like us to join him in building up the ancient ruins, repairing the ruined cities, and bringing life and hope as his gospel addresses the devastation of many generations. Isaiah 61:4
The grace of God has called people like us to be his oaks of righteousness through whom he will be glorified. We pray and work that his building program will show up in some of the most unlikely places around the world. God will be glorified, devastated cities will be rebuilt and we will have the joy of having a part in all of this.