We just got back from a ten day trip to Memphis to visit my wife’s relatives. One thing that I noticed profoundly was what I would call a spirit of heaviness over the region. It has been a couple of years since I visited the bible belt. In thinking about this spirit of heaviness that I experienced I thought of Isaiah sixty-one. Jesus introduced verses 1 through 2a as his immediate mission statement. It underscores his redemptive-gospel focus. He stopped at 2a because 2b was descriptive of his other mission which was to come into play after the cross and his rejection by the majority of Jews. The ensuing forty years with the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem would be the vengeance of God proclaimed in Isaiah 61:2b.
However, that brings me to the rest of the Isaiah 61 passage focusing on verse 3. This describes what he was going to do for each and every one who embraced the gospel.
Isa 61:3 To console those who 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 may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified."
The spirit of heaviness was from the crushing weight of a legalistic system that demands obedience to the letter of the law to gain acceptability to God. The law was not given to make man acceptable to God ever. It was given for two reasons that are different than a system of read and do obedience that makes one righteous. It was given to drive humanity to God’s mercy for acceptance and to present a way of living, that when followed, would bring about a healthier, happier life. I am in agreement with Paul in saying that the law is good (Romans 7:12.)
But, when it is used as a method of being righteous and acceptable to God it becomes a heavy task master. This is why the redemptive-gospel focus that Jesus and his apostles taught is so very important. Without the solely redemptive focus the law brings about the spirit of heaviness.
I find it amusing, that when Isaiah prophesies that Christ will bring the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that most of the evangelical churches make praise a legal requirement which in turn makes praise and worship service a drudge. The spirit of heaviness comes from a legalistic approach to God’s law and praise has become a spoken legal requirement which is quite ironic in my view.
The church does not lessen the bonds and chains it rather makes them tighter and more formidable. The Jews had 613 mitzvahs or laws and the church has over 800 and it is growing. This comes from not recognizing the method of transformation in the gospel message. The method of transformation proscribed in the gospel is to simply rest in the validity of God’s mercy in Christ, and from a place of certain rest, allow the love of God to begin its restraining and constraining function. This process never even begins today as it is still birthed by the legal requirements put on believers and this brings about a spirit of heaviness that at times is insurmountable. In other words, the law is not being used lawfully (1Tim 1:8.) As long as that is true there will always be a spirit of heaviness without the true garment of praise, and if we rest in Jesus, the garment of praise will be automatic 24-7!