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Sermon December 8, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1423

December 8, 2019 Second Sunday of Advent Isaiah 11.1-10

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“A Promise of Restoration”

 

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. 6The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. 9They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

 

  • A Shoot From the Stump

 

The Bible often promises things that seem rather impossible. But we know also from the Bible that nothing is impossible with God. In this particular impossibility, God will bring someone out of a stump, not literally a stump, but a shoot from the stump of a family tree that had been cut off. The family tree will live again in the One who will be a great figure of righteousness. New life will come where no life is expected.

I have a stump next to my house. I have looked at multiple Youtube videos on how to get rid of that stump. We have stumps ground down or burned out or whatever method we might use because we don’t want stumps. Stumps are not usually desired in our yards. They are the remnants of a dead tree or an unsightly tree or one like I had that leaned toward the neighbor’s house. Even the word “stump” sounds undesirable. “Hey, when are you going to get that STUMP out of your yard?” Stumps are the remnants of life. They are dead. And yet, I have to cut something down from that stump almost every time I do yard work. Something is still at work below the surface. There is a root system still springing forth life. But it is unexpected life. The passage today begins with the stump of Jesse and ends speaking of the root of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David, one of the great kings of Israel. But Isaiah does not mention David because the line of David was nearly dead, like a stump. The dynasty had no life left in it. Assyria and Babylon had nearly destroyed Israel, but out of a lifeless stump, God would bring new life. John Calvin comments that Isaiah “does not call him David, but Jesse; because the rank of that family had sunk so low, that it appeared to be not a royal family, but that of a mean peasant, such as the family of Jesse was, when David was unexpectedly called to the government of the kingdom.”

Imagine if part of your family tree was cut down. No more branches. In this case, no more kings. It was a common conception among Jewish people that the family is thought of as a tree which strength lies in its roots. The metaphor of a Messiah coming out of a family tree would be understandable but what is unique and somewhat amazing is that this shoot, this branch will come out of a stump, a most unlikely place for life, especially a messianic king. Out of what seems impossible comes a birth. Out of what seems impossible comes redemption. We might relate that to other impossibilities; out of no hope for work comes a job, from no dates to a love, out of hopelessness – new hope. Out of what seems impossible will be a new heaven and new earth and the world as we know it will be no more. This is the power of God’s promise and God’s faithfulness.

This is part of what we celebrate, or should celebrate, in Advent and Christmas, that God brings forth life when it seems impossible. What an oddity is the Advent of Jesus. Such humble beginnings for the King of Kings. Strange that the king of king is born to common people in a most humble place. Absurd that he was raised in a working family home, never left his own country, never held a job outside his father's carpentry business. How is it that he is not born in the best place possible with all the world looking on? I guess the plan was to come "out of a stump" so that very few would even notice. I suppose that where the world sees little hope, God sees possibilities for a new future.

We face the same kind of impossibilities from time to time. We trip over the stumps of our lives. We have our shattered dreams, failed relationships, broken promises, and high anxiety about life. Even in those stumped stories, we have hope and all because out of a stump God brings a new Branch. Out of death, God brings life. Out of despair, hope. Out of emptiness, fullness. That is the hope of the Christ child, for out of the darkness we have seen a great light. Out of a stump has come the tree of life in the person of Jesus Christ.

 

 

  • The Spirit of the Lord

 

This One who shall rise up from the stump will be known by the Spirit that shall rest upon Him. It is God’s Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, and of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. If there is something that is desperately needed in the world today it is a people who are also known by following God’s spirit. We need wisdom and understanding in a world filled with foolishness and misunderstanding. We need to follow God’s counsel and might in a world that refuses to acknowledge God and believes that God has no power to change the world. We need, certainly in our nation, a return to the knowledge of God and the fear of the Lord. By fear, I mean respect, awe, reverence for the fact that God is! We know that a majority of people and the founders of our nation had, at the very least, a respect for God, even if they did not believe.

That Spirit is known to us in the person of Jesus Christ. The way people will come to know Jesus as we do is if we reflect this Spirit in our lives through word and deed. People need the Lord! This is what Jesus offers to people, the attributes of the Spirit of God, and not only the attributes, but the very Spirit Himself.

 

 

  • Right Judgment

 

What Jesus also brings is righteous judgment. Justice for all. There is no need for any qualifiers before the word justice. It’s not social justice or ecological justice or racial justice, it is plain and simple justice, the only kind we need. The good get their reward, the wicked get their punishment. All things are set right in the realm of justice. Consequences of actions will once again matter. Today we groan at the lack of consequences for the wicked. Today we groan at the lack of justice in the world. But there will come a day when all those groans will be replaced with joy and satisfaction and complete justice.

 

  • Creation Restored

 

The result of all of these things, what is found in the Spirit of the Lord and in the righteous judgment, the result of those things is that all things will be set right in creation itself. That is what Isaiah 11.6-9 indicates. Look at it again:

 

6The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. 9They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

 

The picture is all of creation set as God intended it when He first spoke all things into existence. All things are set right as God created them before the taint of sin. All things are as when God pronounced them good. All things are set right in the realm of creation.

 

  • A Promise of Restoration

 

In these promises there is always more going on than we can see. Hope reigns because God is working in the invisible realm of His own kingdom that deeply affects the world we see and the situations we see. There is always reason for hope, for faith, for joy, for optimism, and a positive world view, even looking beyond the world we see by looking into the world of the kingdom of God. Behold the kingdom is near! We are citizens of that kingdom (Phil. 3.20). With Advent, first and second, comes the hope of restoration. In that day…that day has come in Christ. Another day will also come when Christ returns. That day will see the fullness of what Isaiah has prophesied. This is the promise and this is our hope. It is a hope and a promise already realized in part, a huge part, in that Jesus has set things right for His own, right with God through redemption.

Look at Israel during this time of Isaiah. Even when the tree was cut down, Israel hoped. It professed, through the prophet, a hope for a future king. The coming king would judge justly and the consequence is a restoration of creation itself. This reflects the consequence of sin upon the earth, of injustice in the earth, that when God’s way is broken creation itself suffers (Hosea 4.1-3). What will come in the end of complete redemption will be the recreation of creation. I believe this means that the whole of the human community and even creation itself will be restored to pre-fall existence. Everything will be back to the way God created it before humanity corrupted all things in sin. This is what Isaiah 11.9 indicates,

 

the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

 

All the earth, not just Israel, not just Christians, but all will be full of the knowledge of the Lord. Now, does that mean they will simply know that God is who He says He is or does that mean they will have a saving knowledge of the Lord? The text does not make that particular point clear. What it does say is the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord.

God gives us, through the prophet, a promissory note for a coming king who will restore all things. We know that king to be Jesus Christ.

 

How might we imagine our lives through this prophetic text? Maybe we could ask this question: What stumps do we have in life? That is, what has been cut off in such a way that we think there is no more hope? I begin to think about the stories of the Bible that ask and answer that question. There are stories that show hope lost and then found. My first thought is of the prodigal son. A father who lost hope, a son who lost hope, but in the end all things are made right.

A modern story might be like the mother who always looks out the kitchen window expecting her son to return. Or, the community hoping for some company to reopen the old factory. The addict looking for a way out of addiction. The citizen hoping to preserve freedoms. This promise in Isaiah not only gives hope in Jesus, the ultimate hope, but hope in everything about our lives. It gives us hope, period. Hope then permeates everything in our lives. Of course the first hope is what Jesus has already done and what is promised for our future as well. There is more to come in Jesus. Knowing that, we can hope in more to come for the next hour or day or year. Hope is never lost. Hope for restoration in relationships, in employment, in systems, in government, in issues of the day. People we might not get along with can now will one day experience reconciliation. It might be more difficult for us to think about people who prey on other people. The scam artist who bilked us out of money. The telemarketer who is viewed as mortal enemy. The politician who never kept a promise in his life. Could there possibly be a time when we all could be friends? Animals once enemies or predator/prey are now together without fear. The is the promise of restoration. Seems impossible on most days, but still, we hope. The shoot out of the stump is a surprise. Jesus was certainly a surprise for everyone. He will surprise many people in that day.

We need these promises. We need hope...for the sake of our own well being, for our children, and for generations to come. This is our hope, for God has promised! Amen.