Police officers in Oregon recently responded after a woman reported that a burglar was locked in her bathroom. She had come home and heard some strange sounds coming from her bathroom. As she cautiously approached the bathroom, she could see shadows moving back and forth underneath the door. She was so scared that she ran out of the house and called 911. In a matter of minutes, the Washington Country Sheriff’s Department had the house surrounded. They issued several verbal commands to the burglar, telling him to come out of the house with his hands raised. When the burglar didn’t respond, the sheriff’s department brought in the K-9 unit for backup. The officers entered the house with their guns drawn and dogs by their side. “This is your last chance,” they yelled. “Come out with your hands up!” Finally, after they had exhausted every other possibility, the officers knocked down the bathroom door to encounter the suspect — who turned out to be an automated robot vacuum cleaner.
A Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy included the following note in his incident report: “We entered the bathroom and saw a very thorough vacuuming job being done by a Roomba vacuum cleaner.” The suspect was not taken into custody.
The word “instead” can be a word of good news. It’s really good news when you think there’s a burglar in your bathroom and it turns out to be a Roomba instead. The author Eugene Peterson points out that the word “instead” is a word of exchange, a word of radical contrast. That makes “instead” one of our most hopeful words.
It is fitting, then, that we find this word being used whenever the Good News is announced in the Scriptures. Instead of being enslaved to sin, God promises a new life of freedom and joy. All of the best “insteads” we can imagine are found in Jesus.
This week we conclude our New Day series by returning to a text we’ve already looked at: Isaiah 61. But we return to this text because the word “instead” is repeated three times as a declaration of the kind of exchange that takes place in the Good News about Jesus.
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion – to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit…Isaiah 61:1-3
A few weeks ago, we noted that Jesus takes Isaiah’s prophecy and says these verses are fulfilled in His ministry. Isaiah 61 provides a template for His ministry to the poor and the marginalized. But we also see in Isaiah’s prophecy three kinds of exchanges and these are also fulfilled in Jesus:
- In Jesus, we receive a garland instead of ashes.
- He anoints us with the oil of gladness instead of mourning.
- He clothes His people with the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
Ashes were the sign of mourning in the ancient world. To symbolize destruction and despair, you would literally take burned out debris and apply it to your forehead as a way of showing that your hope had burned out. But a garland, on the other hand, is made of beautiful flowers woven in the shape of a crown. It celebrates victory, honor, and glory. In the Olympics, a garland was presented to the winners. So Isaiah pictures the Messiah bringing victory in place of death.
The Messiah also anoints us with the oil of gladness instead of mourning. Tears of grief can leave us feeling dried out but oil restores and moisturizes, making the skin soft once again. And the makeover is complete as the Messiah clothes us with the mantle of praise to replace the faint spirit. A faint spirit is listless and lifeless but the mantle is the garment of life, the outer robe worn when leaving the house.
All of the best “insteads” we can imagine are found in Jesus.