“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; they thy might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.”  Isaiah 61:1-3

 

The blessings which God has extended to believers in the Covenant are essentially spiritual blessings because man is a spiritual creature.  Often we forget the threefold aspect of our being: body, soul, and spirit.  This is because our senses flood us the stimulus from the world about us.  Our senses smell, sight, taste, touch, and hearing predominate.  The body is self-conscious and communicates pain or pleasure.  The soul is world-conscious and it fills up our senses.  The human spirit is God-conscious, but it was devastated by Original Sin so its sensing ability is crippled.  In lieu of that, the average individual fails to appreciate the range of blessings which are available from the presence of the Lord.  Adam and Eve discarded the first vesture with which they were clothed for garments of their own making.  This poor covering could not mask their shame, therefore God initially covered them with the skins of animals, necessitating the death of innocent animals to meet man’s needs.  It was this act which set forth the principle of blood sacrifice which Abel later followed.

 

By inspiration, Isaiah reveals the progress of reintegrating the blessings of God into man’s experience.  It starts with the face.  God gives man beauty for ashes.  In ancient times it wasn’t uncommon for people to mourn and to express their sorrow by wearing sackcloth and rubbing ashes upon their face.  God says that He’ll give beauty for those ashes which mar and disfigure us.  And He’ll give us the oil of joy for mourning.  Oil was commonly used in anointing.  The Scripture describes Aaron’s investiture, saying that the oil ran down his beard, even to the borders of his garment.  So, instead of tears staining the chest as one weeps, God says He’ll give us the oil of joy to replace that.  Thus the face and the head are touched by God’s acts.  The third blessing offered in the text is something for the entire body.  God offers the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.  Rather than being bowed down by grief, sorrow and shame, God proposes to lift man to the summit.  Of His blessings, beauty, joy, and praise, praise is the summit; the very best.  Therefore, for the next few moments of meditation, I’d like to reflect on The Garment of Praise.

 

In the course of my daily experience and ministry I often meet people who are marked by the spirit of heaviness.  The Eli Lilly Company and other pharmaceutical firms make countless millions of dollars from psychiatric medicines that deal with depression and other mental conditions which derive from depression.  Valium, Zoloft, Xanex, Ridalin, Prozac and other powerful chemicals attempt to treat symptoms which just may have their roots in Original Sin.  Most psychiatrists and psychologists would dispute the association I have made, but nevertheless there can be no debate about the fact that our modern culture is characterized by a widespread dependency upon chemical aids to help people just to get by from day to day.  Facts and perceptions connected with our past sometimes cause us to hang our heads.  People recall the abuse they have suffered, be it emotional, physical, or sexual, and they assume unwarranted responsibility for it.  It’s not uncommon for people to drink this wormwood and gall.  They descend mentally into the haunts of dragons and owls and a doleful expression marks their face.  Depression, dejection, affliction, sorrow and wretchedness consume their life-force and suicide ideation creeps in, yipping at the edges of the consciousness.

 

This heaviness is an inward matter.  We may joke and cajole one another, but moments later the dark cloud will close in again.  It is a melancholy grief that we try to keep to ourselves because no one wants to be around chronic depression.  We may experience sympathy for a time from those who are closest to us, but sooner or later we’ll find that even our closest friends will begin to distance themselves from us because they are attempting to protect themselves from becoming bogged down in the same slough of despondency.  It is a natural act of self-preservation, and it is recognized by all because we all experience it in some form or fashion at one time or another.  There is a condition commonly known among Christian believers which we call “conviction.”  It is a mental-emotional-spiritual state in which an individual becomes sensitized to their past and to their misdeeds.  They come to realize the awesome holiness of God.  They come to realize their own unworthiness.  The cognitive dissonance which occurs makes one feel extremely uncomfortable until they either reject God altogether, or they flee to Him for refuge in the blood of Calvary.  This spiritual state of “conviction” is a normal experience.  It is akin to the sense of foreboding you felt as a child when you thought your parent was about to find out about some of your misdeeds, and you knew what the consequences were going to be.  In other words, what I’m saying is, when a sense of sin or wrong-doing is pressing in on the consciousness of the individual, they cannot be jested or joked out of it.  They realize they have to do something.  They may exist in this condition for days or weeks at a time, but sooner or later, their concern for their mental health will compel them to do something.

 

The condition of which I speak is real.  Psychologists may call it depression, and they may prescribe something to help alleviate the uncomfortable side-effects, but they really can’t touch it.  I was listening to a program a few days ago, and I was surprised by the amazing candor of the authority who was being interviewed.  He stated, in so many words, that the discipline of psychology with its mechanisms for helping was really no more effective than the barber or beautician who did your hair, or even the bartender at your local pub.  He said that all a counselor does is listen, and that’s basically what everyone wants…just someone to listen to their anguish.  The sharp cut of the conscience goes to the heart of a person, but it doesn’t kill.  It may make one wish they were dead, however, because it puts an enormous weight upon all of a person’s activities.  The Psalmist describes his own experience in this state when he said, “My soul abhorreth all manner of meat.”  In other words, he lost his appetite.  This is a common symptom of depression, loss of appetite.  Such heaviness clogs our mental facilities and makes it difficult for us to think straight or logically.  If you feel this, or if you have felt this, you are not alone.  You are very normal.  It is a common human experience.  In fact, some of God’s greatest servants have experienced such feelings.  Elijah is a case in point.  He was fleeing from Jezebel and asked the Lord to let him die.  Job cursed the day of his birth.  Jonah sat unto a withered juniper vine and cursed his existence.  Such men couldn’t be released from the grip of their emotional pangs until the power of God loosed them.
 

When a person experiences this awful state of mind it renders everything about us heavy and uninviting.  The external is generally colored by the internal.  The world about us is painted by the colors within the soul.  When our hearts are heavy, we prefer songs dealing with sadness and pain.  Joyous, upbeat songs seem to mock us.  We prefer the darker tunes.  Mirth is gone, but if it is expressed, it takes on the nature of “gallows humor.”  It is wry and cynical.  Perfumes and fragrances are not as sweet, and colors are not as brilliant.  I recall my father’s testimony of his salvation experience.  He was a WWII sailor stationed in the Aleutian Islands off of Alaska.  Those wind-swept, tundra-covered islands were forbidding in climate and appearance.  My father stated that after he was converted in a religious service in a Quonset hut chapel, he emerged into the biting cold of the night and suddenly the entire world about him seemed fresh and beautiful.  No longer did his surrounding seem cold and forbidding.  The spiritual change in his life seemed to make the sky bluer, the tundra greener, the low, ground-hugging trees lovelier.  But until Christ makes a difference in our lives, ordinary duties of life seem wearisome and slight cares become torture. 

Now listen to Isaiah once again, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tiding unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give 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.”  What a wonderful promise!!!!

 

It is my heart’s desire for all of my listeners today to see the heaviness you may be feeling lifted from off your soul.  We have the promise of the Holy Spirit before us.  Jesus Christ took our place at Calvary.  All we, like sheep, had gone astray.  We turned everyone to his own way.  But God laid our iniquity upon Christ and took our punishment out on Him.  Christ was rejected so that we might be accepted.  He died that we might live.  In His offering for sin, our sins were dealt with and we are pardoned.  When the realization of this sweeps over us, and when we accept God’s free gift, we will find a new direction in our lives.  The Holy Spirit will infuse us with a new nature.  Rather than a nature marked by death, darkness and sorrow, we will receive a nature marked by light, life and joy.  A sense of His presence will buoy us with peace beyond understanding.  I’m reminded of the promise which says, “Great peace of they that love Thy law and nothing shall offend them.”  Truly there is a difference when Christ Jesus comes into our lives.

 

Now, let me speak to you about this Garment of Praise which is bestowed upon all believers.  First of all, it is the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.  One of the interesting notations about the robe of Christ in the N.T. gospels is that His robe was seamless.  Think about that!  What does that imply?  Before we come to Christ we are covered by a patchwork of our own self-righteousness.  It is a sordid vesture of dishonor, rags of beggary, and black robes of condemnation.  We are never comfortable with it, and we’re always working on it, trying to improve it.  But it is never acceptable to us, let alone to God.  Yet, when we come to Christ Jesus, our prison garment is removed once and for all time, and His seamless robe covers the returning Prodigal.  Incidentally, the seamless quality of Christ’s robe represents the perfection of His covering.  It isn’t patched together.  It is an amazing work of God.

 

Secondly, the garment of praise is something that is outward as well as inward.  Those who are clothed in it find their hearts filled with joy.  Those who experience this joy unspeakable and full of glory cannot hide it for long.  You’ll be bursting at your seams to tell someone else about the refuge you found in Christ.  You’ll discover that this garment has amazing covering qualities.  I recall times I’ve been asked to paint a room with cheap paint.  Sometimes people will try to cut corners by buying cheaper-quality materials.  Well, let me tell you, you don’t save money.  Cheap paint won’t cover.  If you ever get it to work, it will take multiple coats.  So, why not buy the expensive grade which has high-covering quality?  So it is with the blood of Christ.  It is the most expensive grade known to man.  Its coverage is complete.  It will cover your sins so well that God will never be able to find them again.  And it will lead you to cover yourself by continually giving glory to God.  Self will seek to minimize as Christ exalted.

 

Of what is this garment made?  If this garment is anything like the robes worn by the saints portrayed in the Revelation, we are told that those robes of white represent the righteousness of the saints.  That statement is awe-inspiring.  Now you and I know we don’t have any righteousness.  There is none good but God; none holy but God; none righteous but God.  If we have any righteousness, it is the imputed righteousness of God.  That is, God works a transaction in which He credits our account with His own righteousness, and then, very graciously, He says that it is our own.  What amazing love!  This garment of praise is in large measure the attentive observation of God’s mercy and grace.  No wonder the Psalmist exclaimed, “and forget not all His many benefits.”  To be covered by the garment of praise is to be the object of the surpassing, amazing, lovingkindness and tender-mercies of our Savior.

 

Consider next, who ought to wear this garment?  Who does it fit?  Well, let me tell you that the garment of praise is very adaptable.  It can fit the smallest, lowliest penitent who comes before the throne of God, and it can fit the greatest spiritual achiever who ever lived.  Apostles can wear it.  Widows can wear it.  Adults can wear it.  Children can wear it.  Men can wear it.  Women can wear it.  There is a garment of praise that will fit you.  It won’t be too snug and it won’t be too large.  It will fit you perfectly.  And finally, when should we wear this garment of praise, and why?  My friends, wear the garment of praise every day.  You’ll never wear it out.  Wear it all the time, especially on ordinary, commonplace days.  Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in you all the time.  From early morning to late at night, the garment of praise will be suitable covering for your soul.  We should always be wearing this garment because there are multitudes yet unreached who are lonely souls, looking for the same answers for which we once searched.  May they see the tokens of God’s grace in our lives and become a part of the mighty army we have joined. 

 

With whom do you wish to be identified?  Do you want to live that galling dejection you once knew?  Do you wish to continue in the chains of depression?  Or would you rather bask in the liberty and freedom wherewith Christ has made you free?  My prayer for you today is that you’ll accept the garment of praise which has been tailored for your life.  Don it.  Enjoy it.  Revel in it.  It will change your life forever.

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