Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11:1-10, NRSV)
A number of years ago there was a large tree which had been planted next to our house, just on the west side near the front. The tree was a liquid amber, also known as the American sweetgum, and it is a very common tree in this neighborhood. Liquid ambers are known for two reasons. First, these trees turn a brilliant orange-ish red every fall. In fact, this particular stretch of Florin Road just outside the church is always afire with color every October because of all the liquid ambers that line the street. The trees are also well known for the countless little balls of death (my name for them) that they produce and drop every season. I understand that technically these little things are called fruit but that is only because they will eventually drive a homeowner bananas!
Our liquid amber tree lived a tenuous existence. We loved the color and the shade, but the death balls were making it difficult to love the tree. Every season, in fact, we debated chopping it down. Its doom finally came about six years ago when an arborist told us that the roots of this tree, which are infamously aggressive, had begun to invade and threaten the foundation of our house. That was it. The tree’s days were numbered.
At the time we had the money to pay for somebody to chop the tree down but we did not have the money to remove the stump. Since it was tucked in behind some bushes and an eyesore to nobody, we decided to leave it. Well, some time went by and I didn’t think much about the tree until one day I came home and my wife informed me that our old dead liquid amber tree was, in fact, still alive. A quick check in the side yard confirmed her story. The stump still looked dead and dry as ever, but all around the area, every couple of feet, liquid amber shoots were emerging from the maze of roots, breaking through the ground and stretching towards the sky.
Shortly afterwards came one of those moments in my marriage, of which there have been many, when I would have been wise to have listened to my wife. She said that we needed to just call somebody and have the stump and root system removed. I said that, no, that was too expensive and I would take care of the problem myself. In my view, this was nothing that a little Round Up weed killer shouldn’t be able to handle.
Six years later I am convinced that liquid amber trees actually thrive on Round Up weed killer. They eat it for breakfast. I soaked those shoots, sheered them back to the ground, chopped at the roots. None of it mattered. I’d kill one sprout over here and a month later another one would pop up over there. The stump itself never showed signs of life, but there was plenty of life underground, life that was determined to emerge one way or another.
This past summer I finally gave up. I threw in the towel and coughed up the $400 to have that stump and roots removed. I’m told that should take care of the problem. After all that I’ve been through, however, I’m not convinced. Though the stump guy told me it would be impossible for this liquid amber tree to grow back, he doesn’t know this particular liquid amber tree. And this time, if another sprout somehow emerges from the ground again, this time I think I may just surrender and let it grow.
A thousand years before the time of Christ there was a man named Jesse who lived in a remote Palestinian village called Bethlehem. Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth, and was a prosperous farmer who had eight sons. One day a very famous prophet named Samuel showed up expectantly in Bethlehem looking for Jesse. As was always the case with prophets, Samuel had been sent by God with a message. God had told Samuel that he had chosen one of Jesse’s sons to become the next king of Israel. God would show Samuel which son was chosen and then Samuel was to anoint that boy as the future king.
Some of you know the story. The most likely candidates, Jesse’s seven older sons, were not chosen. It was the runt of the litter, the one who was out watching the sheep in the field, who was ultimately anointed. His name was David and he did eventually become king, the greatest king the nation of Israel ever had.
Though nobody knew it at the time, years later God would reveal that he had special plans for David that went way beyond simply becoming the next king. Years later, after David had become king, another prophet named Nathan was sent to David one day to tell him that his royal line was to go on forever.
In II Samuel 7, God speaks through Nathan and says, “[David], when your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings.” On that day, David learned that God apparently was going to raise up one of his descendants to be a mighty king who would suffer greatly but who would ultimately rule forever.
In time, as this promise was confirmed by prophet after prophet, the Jews eventually began to eagerly anticipate the coming of this grandson or great grandson of David who would not only rule Israel forever but who would finally and forever bring peace and prosperity to God’s people. They called this future promised king “Messiah”, a Jewish word that literally means “anointed one,” and the day of his coming to set things right inspired great hope in the people.
The only problem was, this Messiah King didn’t come. David died. His sons died. His grandsons died. King after king came to rule the people. Most of them were rotten kings. A few were good, but even they died without ever even coming close to establishing what God had promised would be established.
Eventually, after hundreds of years, other kings from other nations came to conquer Israel. Jerusalem, the city of David, and the Temple within it, were destroyed. The royal line of David was cut off, chopped down you might say. With no king to protect them, the people were killed or carted off into exile. Things had never looked worse. The promise had never appeared so far from being fulfilled.
Well, in those days – and this is about 300 years after the time of David – God sent yet another prophet to his people. This one was named Isaiah. As some of you know, God had plenty to say through Isaiah. Sixty-six chapters worth, in fact! On one hand, Isaiah spoke of God’s judgment against the dreadful sin of his people. The hardship they were experiencing was a direct result of their rebellion. On the other hand, however, Isaiah also spoke of God’s grace and faithfulness. Specifically, he reminded the people that when God makes a promise, God always keeps a promise. No matter how unlikely or impossible their fulfillment, God’s promises never die. No matter how dead the stump may seem, there is always life emerging from underground.
Let’s take a look again at the small section of Isaiah’s prophesy which we read earlier. Maybe the words will make a bit more sense when you hear them now.
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
Though 300 years had passed since God first made this promise to his people, Isaiah assures them that time had not dampened God’s intention to keep it. The stump of Jesse may appear dead but a shoot will one day grow from its roots. There is one coming from David’s line who will come full of God’s Spirit, a Spirit which will not only give him the wisdom to undertake God’s wise purposes but the power to carry them out.
In verse 3 we are told that this future King will not “judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear.” This is simply a fancy way of saying that he will not be fooled by the way things appear. The world is full of lies, lies which we often believe. This one to come, however, will see things as they truly are. He will see what is right, and true, and lasting and real. Those who have been unjustly degraded in this world, the poor, will be lifted up. The wicked, those who have degraded others for their own prosperity, will be struck down.
Righteousness and faithfulness, we’re told, will be a belt around his waist. In those days, when a man was preparing for action he would tie a belt around his waist to cinch up the loose flowing garments that he wore. This King to come is a man of action. He does not only come to teach, but also to transform. He does not only bring righteousness, but also faithfulness. He will not only say what is right, he will do what he says.
And what will he do when he comes? What will happen when this King arrives? Isaiah reminds his contemporaries that all the promises of God still stand. When the shoot of Jesse sprouts from the barren ground the world will be turned upside down. If you can imagine it, the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard with the baby goat. Cows and bears will graze in the pasture together. Lions will eat straw like the ox. Children shall play with once-deadly snakes.
From the very beginning of Genesis the scriptures testify that the world was made by God for peace and wellbeing. Not for some, but for all. Not just for people, but for the whole of creation. It may seem natural to us that a wolf would tear apart a lamb for dinner, but this is not actually the way the world was designed. In God’s plan, even wolves and lambs were meant to live in peace. And if this was God’s intention for animals, you can be sure that it was God’s intention for people and for nations. This world was made for peace and for wellbeing.
Everything, of course, fell into chaos when human beings turned their backs on God. In Genesis 3 we read the story of Adam and Eve which is really the story of us all. God sets his people in paradise, in a world that is absolutely full of peace and wellbeing. But evil is present there as well. And evil, portrayed in the story as a snake, begins to whisper lies into the ears of God’s people. The greatest of these lies is that God, their creator, is not trustworthy. What God says is not reliable. What God commands cannot be trusted. No, God does not have your best in mind. Truth is, God is trying to keep the best from you.
Tragically, the man and the woman believe the lie. Believing wrongly that God cannot, in fact, be trusted they take things into their own hands. In doing so, they cease to know God. We cease to know God. And the devastation which has resulted since can never be calculated. Everything has been disastrously corrupted by human sin, right down to the very relationships between the animals.
I hope you can see how the teachings of scripture are as relevant today as they have ever been. For do you realize that every time in your life when you have failed to trust God you have done so because you do not know God? You make your own plans because you do not know the plans of God. You live in guilt and shame because you do not know the forgiveness of God. You chase after lies because you do not know the truth of God. You live in fear because you do not know the strength and sovereignty of God. You try to earn God’s favor because you do not know the grace of God. You fail to love others because you do know the love of God. God is absolutely and forever faithful and trustworthy and the only reason you and I do not have faith and trust in God is because we do not know God. If we knew God we would trust God.
It’s very interesting to me that when Isaiah gives this vision of what the Messiah will come to do one day he includes in his vision the statement that in that time “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Have any of you ever been on a boat in the middle of an ocean, in a spot where you cannot see land in any direction, where no matter where you look there is nothing but endless water? What a stunning image. The day the Messiah comes will be a day when full and total knowledge of God blanket the earth. All creation will finally once again know God, which means that all creation will finally once again trust God. Isaiah tells the people of his day that all this will happen when the long-awaited descendant of David finally comes to sit on the throne.
Now remember, 300 years had gone by since all this was first promised. Isaiah is speaking words of hope to people who have been waiting for all this to happen for more years than our nation has even been in existence. After all these years, you can see why he has to urge them not to lose hope, to not give up, to keep watching and keep waiting. Some of you in this room today know about waiting. Some of you have endured difficult things in life for so many years, never imagining that you would ever wait so long. Imagine waiting 300 years.
And the waiting wasn’t over. For no such king showed up in Isaiah’s day. 100 more years went by. 200 years. 300 years. 700 years went by and there wasn’t even a single king in Israel, much less a king who would set everything right. In fact, Jerusalem by that time was now under Roman rule. 700 years after Isaiah, Caesar was king and he was definitely not going to set things right. Lambs were still being torn apart by wolves. The curse on the world was just as strong as ever and on top of it all it had been nearly 400 years since God had even sent a single prophet to speak to his people. The stump in those days must have seemed as dead as ever.
It was in those very days, however, that a mysterious star appeared rising in the east. Most people didn’t notice, only a few wise men who had been waiting and watching the skies. Believing that the star was a sign that a great king had been born, they left their homes in the east to follow it west. Eventually it led them, of all places, to Judea, to a little backwater town by the name of Bethlehem, a place only known because it was long before the hometown of an ancient and great king named David. It was over that town where the star eventually stopped, over a humble home in which the wise men found a helpless child who, by all estimations, looked nothing like a great king.
As the Gospel of Luke later recorded, however, this baby boy just so happened to be the son of Joseph, who was the son of son of Matthat, the son of Levi, son of Melchi, son of Jannai, son of Joseph, son of Mattathias, son of Amos, son of Nahum, son of Esli, son of Naggai, son of Maath, son of Mattathias, son of Semein, son of Josech, son of Joda, son of Joanan, son of Rhesa, son of Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, son of Neri, son of Melchi, son of Addi, son of Cosam, son of Elmadam, son of Er, son of Joshua, son of Eliezer, son of Jorim, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Simeon, son of Judah, son of Joseph, son of Jonam, son of Eliakim, son of Melea, son of Menna, son of Mattatha, son of Nathan, son of David the great king, who was the eighth son of Jesse, the long-dead farmer once visited all those years ago by the prophet Samuel who came looking to anoint the boy who was chosen by God to become the ancestor of the savior of the world.
All those years the stump appeared dead. And then, at the unluckiest of times and in the unlikeliest of places, a tiny tender shoot grew up from the earth. In time, the child visited by the wise men in Bethlehem became a man, a man unlike any man the world had ever seen. He was a man upon whom rested the Spirit of the Lord. His teaching was full of wisdom and understanding. The miraculous things he did were powerful and awe inspiring. He did not see things the way others saw them. He did not hear things the way other people had heard them. He loved the oppressed, speaking to them comforting words of grace and compassion. He challenged the oppressors, speaking to them sharp words of judgment and truth.
Above all, he was a man of action. He didn’t just speak of healing, he healed. He didn’t just speak of forgiveness, he forgave. He didn’t just talk about how we really ought to care for the poor, he went out in the streets and welcomed the poor to come and to sit at his very own table. He didn’t just talk about love, he gave his life away for love. He didn’t just dream of life beyond the grave, he actually rose from the grave.
After he rose and before he left the world, this man who was named Jesus made a promise. Actually, he renewed a promise. He assured his followers that he was, in fact, the very King for whom they had for so long waited. He assured them that the time had finally come for God to put in motion his plan to set all things right again. He guaranteed them, and us, that though he was leaving and we would not see him for a time, one day he would return. And on that day everything God has ever promised will at last be accomplished.
In the meantime, this King told us that we are to wait, and to watch, and to work, and to pray, and to worship, and to sing, and to laugh, and to weep, and to dance, and to gather around his table, and to give, and to build, and to plant, and to marry, and to have children, and to teach our children, and to bury our dead, and to look out for the poor, and to forgive those who hurt us, and to love our enemies, and to share good news with anybody and everybody who is willing to listen. And in all of it, the King promised that his Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, would rest on us, and guide us, and empower us, and secure us.
In the meantime, this is what the King told his followers that they are to do. The scriptures tell us that after he left and ascended to heaven his followers did just that. They did these things then and have been doing them ever since. And 100 years passed. Then 200. Then 500. Then 1,000. By now, nearly 2,000 years have come and gone and we are still waiting and watching and hoping. By any account, that is a long, long time to wait. So long that some people have begun to say that it looks like this time the stump has finally died for good. And I would say to you, don’t you believe it. Don’t you lose hope. Don’t you stop waiting. Don’t you stop watching.
Our God is faithful and that day is coming. “And on that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.”
Lord, help us to wait.
Give us a passion for knowing you,
And patience as your power and presence are revealed to us.
Help us to trust that you will always show up.
When it seems like you are nowhere to be seen,
remind us that you came to our world in the most inauspicious way.
As people experienced holy power in the birth of a child in a stable,
help us to see your spirit at work in the lives and the places in this world.
When it appears we can never change,
show us that you are the one who transforms us.
We feel weighed down by our histories and personalities,
lift from us the sin that plagues our lives.
When our bodies and minds fail us,
reveal that you are the one who brings healing.
Death, illness, confusion, and despair our daily companions,
free us from all the brokenness we face.
When the world appears to be overwhelmed with injustice,
come and make things right.
Stand in the way of evil that distorts the community you intend,
make us partners with you in acting with compassion.
When we feel alone and abandoned
grant us the knowledge of your steadfast love.
Open our minds and hearts to the depths of your sacrifice,
love us so much that we might actually become like you.
Sometimes it is so hard to believe you are here.
Sometimes is seems that we are far removed from your love and power.
When we look to you we see only a dry, dead, stump.
But help us look closer.
Show us your that your life is breaking through to us
Like a new branch with leaves that reach to the heavens.
Thank you that you came to us,
thank you for the life you bring.
You are everything we have waited for.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read Isaiah 11:1-10. There is certainly lots of vivid imagery here. What do you notice?
The New Testament interprets the “shoot from the stump of Jesse” to be the Messiah Jesus (see Romans 15:12; Revelation 5:5). As you read these verses, do they seem to describe Jesus? How so?
Have you ever considered before how deeply connected the Old Testament is to the New Testament? Why does this matter?
Look through the passage again and make a list of the things God promises to do here through the Messiah?
Notice that God does not change wolves into sheep, or vice versa, but transforms them so that they can live in peace together. What does this teach us about what God is doing in our world?
From our perspective it is taking God a long, long time to do what he has promised to do. Is that a problem? Why is God making us wait so long?
Do you live each day with a real hope that Christ the King truly will make all things right one day?
What is one way you have seen the presence and hand of Christ “sprouting” up around you in the world recently?