A sermon on Isaiah 11:1-10 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 30 December 2018
In our sermons in December, we’ve been looking at the book of Isaiah. Mainly because of three key passages used at Christmas time. Firstly, Isaiah chapter 7 verse 14 that we looked at last Sunday,
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
A name that means “God with us” and applied to Jesus in Matthew chapter 1.
Then Isaiah chapter 9 verse 6 that we looked at on Christmas Eve,
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
And thirdly our passage today in Isaiah chapter 11 which begins,
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
It speaks of Jesse. That’s king David’s father. It speaks of the stump of Jesse, because Jesse’s family, the line of kings descended from David, was like a tree that would be cut down by the judgment of God for their idolatry and injustice. But it also speaks of a Branch that would grow from the stump. This is the Messiah, from the family of David, who would come after the judgment, who would grow from the stump because there was still life in the roots, in the promises of God. For God had promised that someone from David’s line would rule as king forever.
Well, we talked about that two weeks ago, didn’t we? It would be a waste of time to repeat myself when anyone who wasn’t there could easily listen to the message off the church’s website (Click here!).
But today’s passage is about how that branch grew into a tree. Now I get a fair bit of positive feedback about the slideshow I make for my sermons. And I appreciate that, because it isn’t easy, at it takes a fair amount of time. But yesterday’s challenge was the hardest yet. I was looking for the perfect picture for a branch growing from a stump into a tree. Some pictures look like a little fern on top of a stump. Some pictures look like a bunch of twigs. Some pictures look like a demented bush. But the real problem is that a picture of a branch from a stump growing into a tree, looks like a tree.
The tree that grows from the stump reminds us again that the nativity is a wonderful thing. We are drawn by its simplicity and its poverty to remember that God’s ways are not our ways. For while we look to the rich and powerful to save us, God’s plan of salvation begins with the child in the manger.
But the nativity is only the beginning, and the story of Jesus doesn’t end in Matthew chapter 1 or in Luke chapter 2, and in Mark’s Gospel, his story doesn’t even start until he is a grown man. The child in the manger was like a little shoot growing up out of the stump of Jesse. But it grew into a tree under whose branches we can all rest in its shade, from whose fruit we will all be blessed. The child in the manger was the crown prince, the child of peace promised. But the prince grew up to become the king of kings.
Isaiah chapter 11 verses 2 to 5 tell us what is different about the Messiah. It explains why other rulers will disappoint us, but he never will. It is because as verses 2 to 3 say
The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord, and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
The Spirit, of course, was involved in the conception of Jesus. Jesus was the son of no human father, but the Son of God. But the Spirit did not abandon Jesus like a baby left at the orphanage. Instead Jesus was anointed by the Spirit at his baptism, as the Spirit came down on him like a dove. The Spirit sent him into the desert to be tested. The Spirit guided and empowered his ministry of teaching and healing. The Spirit who is Jesus’ gift to us, like water pouring from a dam that is full to bursting. Jesus, who was full of the Spirit, fills us with his Spirit. Jesus, who was not abandoned by his Father’s Spirit, has not abandoned us either, and he does not ask from us more than he himself can do through us with his Spirit.
The Messiah Jesus was a man of the Spirit, equipped, guided and empowered by the Spirit, and this is why he can do what no other self-appointed Saviour can do. He has wisdom and understanding. He has counsel and power. He has knowledge and the fear of the Lord. So that he does not take joy in doing his own will, but in his Father’s will. All other powers and authorities strut about on history’s stage, trying to leave their mark. But the Lord’s Messiah rules forever with grace and truth. He is like a tree in whose shade we can all rest.
And the fruits of his rule are extraordinary. Firstly, verses 3 to 5 say,
“He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”
What Messiah brings is justice. He does not judge by appearances by how things look, but by how things really are. He does not make his decisions by hearsay, but by his own knowledge of the facts. He does not merely support the status quo, defending the rights of the rich and powerful. But he defends the powerless. He intervenes for the vulnerable. He is the strength of the weak. He is the fortress for the oppressed. He does not fight for king and country, but for the poor. He is not biased against the rich, but he wants the rich to find their true riches in joining his mission for the poor. The kings of David’s line used their power to protect their own power, to project their own influence, to pursue their own interests. But the Lord’s Messiah will be the true king after the Lord’s own heart to rescue the harassed and the impotent. Righteousness will be his belt. With the breath of his lips, that is, by the decisions he pronounces, by the justice he brings, he will slay the wicked.
It reminds us that at the heart of the gospel is a message of judgment that establishes God’s justice, his righteousness. Sin and death and hell have unjustly enslaved our world. So that we are sinners by choice but not according to our original design. God’s purpose is not against us, but for us. His plan is not our death and condemnation, but the death of our sin and our acquittal. In the cross of the messiah we see God’s justice, pronounced and enforced against sin and in his Son. Our sin is nailed and put to death on the cross and it does not live to condemn us. And in his call to repent and believe we hear his summons to abandon our self-righteousness and all our attempts to justify ourselves, in order to receive his righteousness as his gift and to be justified by him. And so we long for the return of our Messiah Jesus and for God’s final judgment, when he will right all wrongs. Death will be put to death. And hell will be thrown into hell. And all God’s purposes will be fulfilled.
Isaiah chapter 11 verses 6 to 9 make clear that when God establishes his justice through his Messiah, the result will be peace in his creation.
“The wolf will lie down with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. the infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.”
This is the promise of the coming of the kingdom of God in all its fullness. Not just peace between nations. Not just an end to war. But peace in all creation. Peace within nature. And peace between nature and humanity. The earth will not end with a fireball, nor when the sun goes out. But at the end, at the goal of all things, there will be a new earth and a new heaven. We will not be angels in heaven, but real human beings, living real human lives in a renewed and perfect creation, recreated not just according to an original plan, but according to God’s better plan. Universe version 2.0. In peace and eternal joy.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
You have to admit that that is quite a comparison. I mean you can try to take cover and the wind can just blow it away. And you can cover your favourite book and still drop it on the floor. But in all the history of covering things, nothing quite covers anything as the waters cover the sea. Seventy one percent of our planet is ocean and every square millimetre of the ocean is covered by water.
This is God’s great goal. This is the end that he has planned for us, that the whole earth will be filled with knowing him just as much as the waters cover the sea. That we will know him as he knows us. That the whole world will hum to the rhythm of his will. Where there will be a place for everything, even for you, and everything will be in its right place. As the apostle Paul says,
“so that God may be all in all.”
And his presence will be the very air we breathe and the only light we need.
“In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.”
Banners were used in battle to let everyone know where the king was. When units were separated by the chaos of war, soldiers could always look to the banner to get their bearings. Banners created a rallying point for the army to regather its strength for the fight.
In the Lord’s war against sin and death, his Messiah is that rallying point for the nations. As our Messiah Jesus sounds the battle call of the gospel, he summons us to himself. To take our place at the foot of his cross where we all stand as forgiven sinners, both young and old, men and women, rich or poor, white or black. And when he returns every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Messiah Jesus is Lord.
It reminds us that the battle is real against sin and temptation and injustice and poverty and selfishness and abuse and inequality and oppression. And in the middle of the chaos, a banner is raised. It is not a call to war, but a call to peace, to surrender the weapons we use against each other, to remember the humanity we share with each other, to receive our true humanity in the image of Christ, and to find our place of rest in him.
Of course it begins with the child in the manger. The virgin conceived and his name is Immanuel. God with us. To us a son is born, to us a child is given. But it will not end until the Lord’s Messiah return to claim the victory that he won on the cross, when he will right all wrongs, when the wolf lies down with the lamb, and the earth will be full of his knowledge. Till that day comes, a banner is raised for the peoples, the living Lord Jesus, crucified and risen for us, calling us to drop the weapons we use against each other and to kneel at the foot of the cross. To find our peace with God and to become true peace makers in his name.