Texts: Isaiah 11:1-10 & Romans 15:1-13
Second Sunday of Advent, Series A
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Every time there is an election, it seems that our discontentment with the status quo emerges. Things are not the way they should be. And when the politicians start their campaigns, it occasionally happens that we can begin to have hope. We hope that things will finally be put right. Even though we know it is idealistic, we still feel the longing to dare to hope for “change we can believe in”. In fact, some politicians play to those longings and desires for change. In the campaign speeches during the 2008 presidential campaign, Barak Obama repeatedly stressed these two words, “hope” and “change”. But, now, no matter what your political views, we’d all agree that there is very little to hope for in politics, and very little of the change that will matter.
Isaiah, writing during a time when war with the pagan empires threatened to destroy God’s people, calls Israel to place their hope in their faithful God, who will raise up a king who will bring in lasting change. So, Isaiah says that God’s promised king is coming from an unlikely source. He’s coming completely qualified to make good on his promises, and he coming to bring hope to the entire world.
From An Unlikely Source
The imagery here is of a tree which has been cut down. All the former signs of life are gone but the hidden life of the root remains. Jesse was the father of King David. When the pagan empires finally overwhelmed the kingdom of Judah, the heir to David’s throne was never crowned king. Instead, for hundreds of years the Jews languished under pagan oppression and dominion. Isaiah is saying that this promised king, the Messiah is like a fresh branch growing out of the old royal root after it had appeared to be cut down.
The Messianic King will arise from the decayed family of David. God, through Isaiah is promising to raise up a king from a very unlikely source, the dead line of Judean kings. God not only knows how to chop down mighty trees; he knows how to generate renewed life in dying wood. The king who comes won’t be another in a long line of failed kings. He will not be one more descendant of a failed royal house that is now deceased. Instead, he will be the restoration of this fallen line of kings. The crownless again shall be king. This king will be raised from the stump like one raised from the dead. This is God’s work and God’s way. He brings life out of death. God works his salvation out of the lowly rather than the mighty. God makes the impossible possible.
And, true to his promise, a branch grew out of the Stump of Jesse. Jesus of Nazareth was the long expected, long awaited Messiah. He doesn’t come from a royal palace, but from a manger; not from an important city, but from a backwater village. His parents are not nobility, but a virgin and her betrothed carpenter. Yet, Jesus of Nazareth is of the house and lineage of David. (Luke 2:4) From this unlikely source, God presents his Messiah, the promised king. The Lord gives him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:32-33)
Not only does this promised king come from an unlikely source, but he comes completely qualified. This coming king will rule empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. It will be a rule quite different from that of any other king. The rule of this Messiah will be backed by God himself. And as a result, his reign will be characterised by “wisdom”, “understanding”, “counsel”, “might”, “knowledge” and “the fear of the Lord.” These are all characteristics lacking in our politicians, and indeed, lacking in us.
He has the kind of understanding that won’t just be a bunch of facts rattling about the brain. He has a wisdom that comes from experience, that comes from a true fear of God. Putting understand and fear of the Lord together guarantees that the expected King not only will know the will of God but will have a holy reverence for God’s will and person. And he has the might required to put God’s will into effect. The problem with too many of our leaders today is that they do not govern out of a chief concern for obeying, pleasing, and glorifying God.
The King’s application of justice won’t be limited by the publicly presented evidences, or by contrived testimonies. He will not judge based on appearances. He would have the power to see through the surface of cases brought before him and to penetrate to the heart of a matter. He won’t be biased to favour the rich and powerful. Instead, he will be concerned with what is right. He will set all things right. The poor and the needy will no longer be at a disadvantage with the rich. The powerful will not escape if they are wicked. He demonstrates a parental style of justice and is faithful to the best interests of his subjects, punishing those who disobey but remaining true to his love in showing mercy and providing salvation to bring about in his subjects renewed devotion to him as king.
How is all this possible for him? Righteousness and faithfulness will be the very heart of his existence. When you strip away everything else, what do you find in this king? A constant concern to be right with all that is right and to be true to all that is true. A king who always keeps his promises and always lives up to his obligations. Could you trust such a king? Could you finally hope for lasting change under this king?
To Bring Hope to the World
We have a king who comes from an unexpected source. This king comes completely qualified to be our righteous and faithful king. This king comes to bring hope to the entire world. The Messiah became a servant to Israel, the ancient people of God, the physical family of Abraham. This was in order to embody and demonstrate God’s righteousness and faithfulness. It was, more specifically, to make good on the promises God had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The point of these promises was never simply that Israel would be a great nation, distinct from and superior to all others. It was always so that, through Jesus, God would call people of every nation into the one family of salvation and praise.
The creator God is bringing his justice to the world by fulfilling his promises to Israel through the Messiah. This includes God’s purpose to renew the whole created order. This is what we could rightly call “Paradise Restored.” All things are set right in the new heavens and a new earth. The consequence of the messianic King’s advent will be a kingdom in which peace prevails as it once did in Eden. The Prince of peace will have a reign that will create a society where none are eaters and none are eaten. None will take advantage of another’s weakness; none will lash out in fear against a perceived threat. The self-seeking laws of behavior that had governed humanity under the rule of the prince of this world will be replaced by the law of love.
That’s why Paul, in our epistle lesson swaps the prophet’s animals for humans: instead of wolves and lambs, Jews and Gentiles are brought together in harmony. That future kingdom has begun to come into existence. Its bounds grow whenever the gospel is preached and people are called to repentance. On the basis of this Isaiah text, Paul pleads for Jew and Gentile to stop fighting and accept each other in peaceable love (Ro 15:7–12). Their peaceful attitudes toward one another in one holy Christian church will herald to the nations what can happen when Christ becomes their King and Savior. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Groups that used to be divided , prejudiced, and antagonistic towards one another, now live in harmony. Under the rule of Jesus, Jews and Gentiles, blacks and whites, Hutus and Tutsis, and people of all races have come together into a single family. Now we are all children of Abraham by faith, and heirs of all the promises. Jesus, our Messiah, our coming king will rule in such a way as to bring hope to the whole world, something sorely lacking today.
Yes, the messianic King already has established a kingdom of peace, but for now his rule is conducted under the cross and is hidden. The core condition for peace, however, has been established. The most violent tension within the fallen creation has been dealt with. The messianic King has made peace with God on behalf of sinners by making restitution for their sins. There is no to doubt the intentions or the goodness of the King toward his people. He has created a covenant of peace with you through the shedding of his blood, the triumphant act of obedience to his Father by which he became King. God has offered proof of this by raising him from the dead. Looking to politicians to establish a kingdom of hope and change here on earth is chasing an illusion. Christ will reign in complete peace when he returns. Then the conditions described by Isaiah will be seen to be no exaggeration of the reality his governance can create.
“O Come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind. Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, and by Thyself the King of peace. Rejoice. Rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” (LSB #357, St. 7)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.