To appoint to them that mourn in Zion, to give to them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning…
I. JESUS CHRIST IS THE JOY-BRINGER TO MEN BECAUSE HE IS THE REDEEMER OF MEN. In the original application of my text to the deliverance from captivity, this gift of joy, and change of sorrow into gladness, was no independent and second bestowment, but was simply the issue of the one that preceded it, viz. the gift of liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. The gladness was a gladness that welled up in the heart of the captives set free, and coming out from the gloom of the Babylonian dungeon into the sunshine of God's favour, with their faces set towards Zion "with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads." You have only to keep firm hold of this connection between these two thoughts to come to the crown and centre-point of this great prophecy, as far as it applies to us, and that is that it is Christ as the Emancipator, Christ as He who brings us out of the prison and bondage of the tyranny of sin, who is the great Joy-giver. For there is no real, deep, fundamental and impregnable gladness possible to a man until his relations to God have been rectified, and until, with the consciousness of forgiveness and the Divine love nestling warm at his heart, he has turned himself away from his dread and his sin, and has recognized in his Father God "the gladness of his joy." There are many: us who feel that life is sufficiently comfortable without any kind of reference to God at all. But about all that kind of surface joy, the old words are true, "even in laughter the heart is sorrowful," and hosts of us are satisfied with joys which Jesus has no part in brining, simply because our truest self has never once awakened. When it does you will find out "that no one can bring real joy who does not take away guilt and sin.
II. JESUS CHRIST TRANSFORMS SORROW BECAUSE HE TRANSFORMS THE MOURNER. All that this Joy-bringer and Transmuter of grief into its opposite is represented as doing, is on the man who feels the sorrow. In regard to the ordinary sorrows of life, He affects these not so much by an operation upon our circumstances as by an operation upon ourselves, and transforms sorrow and brings gladness, because He transforms the man that endures it. The landscape remains the same, the difference is the colour of the glass through which we look at it. How does He do it?
1. By giving to the man sources of joy, if he will use them, altogether independent of external circumstances. "Although the fig-tree shall not blossom," etc. The paradox of the Christian life is "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.
2. There is another way by which for us, if we will use our privileges, the sorrows of life may be transmuted, because we, contemplating them, have come to a changed understanding of their meaning. We shall never understand life if we class its diverse events simply under the two opposite categories of good — evil; prosperity — adversity; gains-losses; fulfilled expectations — disappointed hopes. Put them all together under one class — discipline and education; means for growth; means for Christlikeness. When we have found out, what it takes a long while for us to learn, that the lancet and the bandage are for the same purpose, and that opposite weathers conspire to the same end, that of the harvest, the sting is out of the sorrow, the poison is wiped off the arrow.
3. Here we may suggest a third way by which a transformation wrought upon ourselves transforms the aspect of our sorrows, and that is that possessing independent sources of joy, and having come to learn the educational aspect of all adversity, we thereby are brought by Jesus Christ Himself to the position of submission. That is the most potent talisman to transform mourning into praise. An accepted grief is a conquered grief; a conquered grief will very soon be a comforted grief; and a comforted grief is a joy.
III. JESUS GIVES JOY AFTER SORROW. Jesus Christ, even here and now, gives these blessed results of our sorrows, if they are taken to the right place, and borne in the right fashion. For it is they "that mourn in Zion that He thus blesses. There are some of us, I fear, whose only resource in trouble is to fling ourselves into some work, or some dissipation. And there are some of us whose only resource for deliverance from our sorrows is that, after the wound has bled all it can, it stops bleeding, and that grief simply dies by lapse of time, and for want of fuel. An affliction wasted is the worst of all waste. But if we carry our grief into the sanctuary, then, here and now, it will change its aspect, and be a solemn joy. I say nothing about the ultimate result, where every sorrow rightly borne shall be represented in the future life by some stage in grace or glory, where every tear shall be crystallized, if I might so say, into a flashing diamond, which flings off the reflection of the Divine light, where "there shall be no sorrow nor sighing, nor any more pain," for the former things are passed away. When the lesson has been learnt, God burns the rod. But there is another sadder transformation of joy into its opposite. I saw a few days ago, on a hill-top, a black circle among the grass and heather. There had been a bonfire there on Coronation night, and it had all died down, and that was the end — a hideous ring of scorched barrenness amidst the verdure. Take care that your gladnesses do not die down like that, but that they are pure, and being pure are undying. Separation from Christ makes joy shallow, and makes it certain that at last, instead of a garland, shall be ashes on the head, and that, instead of a festal robe, the spirit shall be wrapped in a garment of heaviness.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.).
Parallel VersesKJV: To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.
WEB: to appoint to those who mourn in Zion, to give to them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Yahweh, that he may be glorified.