The hope of the people contradicts human intuition, exposes every false hope, and points to a King and kingdom. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true and better prophet, priest, and king. The Kingdom has come in part and will come in fullness in the future. In this message on Isaiah 11:1–10, Pastor Matt Mason shows us that this kingdom will bring an end to all sin and evil and will instead bring eternal peace.
- This King is endowed with the Spirit.
- This King sees the heart and contends for the weak.
- This King loves righteousness.
- This Kingdom signals the end of evil and the establishment of everlasting peace.
Good evening, Brook Hills. If you would, open in your Bible to Isaiah 11. You can just open to the middle—the book of Psalms—then turn to your right to Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and then you’ll be in Isaiah. Our celebration of Advent continues this evening. As we saw last week, the Advent—or “arrival,” which is just another word for Advent—the arrival of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem two thousand years ago had deep-running relevance for the rest of human history, and it’s not an exaggeration to say for the whole creation. I hope and pray that we’ll see that, even as we read the text and as we explore it together.
I’m going to begin reading in Isaiah 11:1:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And 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. And 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, but 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.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The 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. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They 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. In 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.
Oh, God, as we open your Word, we pray that you would open our eyes. That these would not just be words we read off a page, but that they would be living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword. Father, help us to see the glory of Jesus Christ and, in beholding that glory, may everything about our lives be changed. May our hopes be redirected. Give us a vision of the greatness of the Savior and the salvation you have provided for us through Him. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Virtually all Advent texts—that is texts that speak about the coming of Jesus the Messiah—have at least a few features in common. Oftentimes, they’re going to contain hope-filled promises. Oftentimes, they’re going to point to characteristics or traits of the Messiah who was to come. If we’re dealing with prophetic material—the Messiah who was to come—they’ll talk about traits that characterize Him. Third, they’ll give us a sense of what the final outcome of what the kingdom of God is going to look and feel like.
The Hope of the People
This hope in Isaiah 11:1–10 contradicts human intuition.
Our passage does all these three things. As a matter of fact, Pastor Jim’s passage did it last week as well; it had all three of these common features of Advent texts. It all begins with the hope of the people here in Isaiah 11. But this hope contradicts human intuition.
Look at verse one: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” How often is it the case that God’s ways are counter-intuitive? They run in the opposite direction of our expectations, right? It’s more blessed to give than to receive. If you lose your life, you find it. Strength is perfected in weakness. All these things we read in God’s Word: swords and armies don’t win battles; religion doesn’t save; the meek shall inherit the earth. And here in Isaiah 11, the hope for salvation of God’s people, the hope of Israel, is a twig. It’s a twig sticking up out of a felled stump.
It’s as though the imagery we are coming to as we open this chapter is a forest of stumps—a field of stumps—and it has all been cut down. This little twig sticking up, which doesn’t necessarily conjure up for us a feeling of confidence and security iss a sprig, and that yet is the hope of Israel.
By way of review, it would probably help us to think again about the historical context, which is the same as the historical context of last week’s text. Over the first 37 chapters of Isaiah, there is a massive, looming threat called Assyria. Assyria is the biggest bully in the neighborhood at that time and he wants real estate. And he wants resources for his conquests and for his war machine moving forward. So any nation in that part of the world at that time in world history needed to decided, “Are we for or against Assyria?”
To be against Assyria was dangerous for obvious reasons because Assyria was big, bad and bloodthirsty. But to open your arms to Assyria was tricky as well because it meant you had to either be gullible or desperate enough to think Assyria wouldn’t, at the end of the day, abuse your hospitality—that Tiglath-Pileser III, the king of Assyria, was content with just being friends with you. “You want to be friendly with my kingdom, that’s great. I don’t really want your land.” You had to be gullible or desperate enough to believe that might be the case.
This is why God sent Isaiah to King Ahaz. It was Isaiah’s first prophetic task. He was called in Isaiah 6: “Here am I, Lord, send me. Where am I going to go?” The Lord says, “Your first assignment: Go talk to King Ahaz, the King of Judah in the Southern Kingdom, and make sure you warn him not to set up an alliance with Assyria. I’ve got him. I’m going to cover him and protect him. Don’t worry about the whole alliance thing that’s happening with Israel, the Ephraimites and Assyria. Don’t worry about that. I’m going to protect you. Don’t forge alliances with Assyria.”
So Isaiah brought that message to Ahaz. We need to know this about Ahaz: He was in the Davidic dynasty. So he was related to King David, but that’s where the parallels end. He was one of the most wicked kings in Old Testament history, and that’s saying something. Ahaz positively promoted idol worship in the Southern Kingdom. He led by example, tragically, offering even some of his own children as burnt sacrifices to Molech, the god of the Ammonites. You can read that tragic story in 2 Chronicles 28.
Given this, it’s really no surprise that, as soon as Isaiah finished jabbering on about warnings and words from God against forming alliances and walked out of the court of King Ahaz, Ahaz picked up the phone, called Assyria, and said, “I need you in my life. Will you be my friend? I need you for security purposes. Can we forge an alliance? Let’s talk business.” That was Ahaz’s response.
The irony here was that when God was sending Isaiah to Ahaz in chapter seven, Isaiah was saying, “I know you’re going to be tempted to forge an alliance with Assyria. It’s politically savvy to do that. But there’s a deeper story here; let me tell you something: God is going to judge Israel as a whole. And guess who He’s going to use to do it? Assyria.”
As a matter of fact, through the Prophet Isaiah’s writing in chapter ten, verse 15, God calls Assyria His “ax.” That is the ax that’s going to shave down the forest of Israel’s pride and idolatry. So Isaiah is saying to Ahaz, “Are you seriously going to grab the ax? You’re going to grab the instrument of judgment? Don’t do that! Don’t forge an alliance with Assyria.”
Look what Isaiah says here in Isaiah 8:11: “For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, [there’s a sense of urgency in Isaiah’s heart] and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: ’Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.’”
Now he’s going to go ahead and say, “Be in dread.” Verse 13: “But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” In other words, he’s saying, “Ahaz, wake up! You think Tiglath-Pileser III is scary? Let me give you a new definition of ‘terrifying.’ Oppose the Lord God Almighty.”
Let’s take that one word at a time: Lord. God. Almighty. Check out His resume, a small sampling of Old Testament texts: Isaiah 66:1: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool…” Daniel 4:35: “[A]ll the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” Psalm 29:7-9b: “The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. [Do you really want to oppose this God? He speaks flames of fire!] The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare…” Psalm 46:6: “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.” Psalm 2:2–4a “The kings of the earth set themselves [picture them all, Ahaz; let them all come together—Tiglath, Resin, Pekah. Grab them all.] and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’ [Here’s our God’s response:] He who sits in the heavens laughs.”
God looks at this coalition of earthly superpowers shaking their little fists into heaven and He laughs. Psalm 2 is clear: He’s not laughing with them; He’s straight up laughing at them. This is the God of Israel and this is what Isaiah is saying to Ahaz: “Don’t be crazy. Don’t oppose this God. Don’t put your hope in Assyria. Ahaz, don’t be a fool. Forge an alliance with Jehovah, not with Tiglath-Pileser!”
The hope exposes every false hope.
This hope exposes every false hope. We would do well to think personally about this. Where do your ultimate hopes lie? That’s a pretty vague question. Think about it in this way: What thoughts do you call to mind when you want to arrive at a sense of peace, purpose and joy in your life? Is it a job? Is it a school-related thing? Is it a marriage or family prospect in 2014? Are our hopes fixed on potential policy changes or political changes out there in the future?
All of these things can be wonderful sources of God’s providential blessing in our lives, but hear this: We must not confuse sources of blessing with the foundation of hope. Those are two different things. Sources of blessing are wonderful! Embrace them; enjoy them; give thanks for them. But they’re not always there, constantly in our lives, and that’s just the point. They’re not guaranteed. Hope is something entirely different. Christian faith doesn’t promise that all of my hopes and your hopes will be fulfilled.
Here’s what Christian faith does. When it gets into the heart, it redirects your hopes to that which is ultimate and then it gives you that. In other words, it gives us what we would have hoped for from the beginning if we only knew better. If we were all-wise, we would have hoped for this in the first place. That’s what Christian faith does.
The hope in Isaiah 11:1–10 points to a King and kingdom.
The hope of biblical faith has everything to do with Advent, the arrival of Messiah. This hope points to a King and a Kingdom. Friends, there is only one hope that is absolutely certain: Advent. God with us. The feet of the second person of the Trinity touching down on land that you can find on a map. That’s hope. And it happened 2,000 years ago. The feet of the second person of the Trinity landed in Palestine, and it was the dawn of the hope of the world. He will come again and do that again, establishing His reign. He will put everything right in the world and that moment will be gloriously good news for everyone who has turned to Christ for salvation; it will be sheer terror to those who blew Him off as irrelevant. This is the God of the universe.
Isaiah’s warning to Ahaz was fulfilled. The ax of God’s judgment was swung and it laid bare the forest of Israel’s pride and idolatry. The Southern Kingdom of Judah was cut down in 586 BC and the people were carted off to Babylon. If you want to get a sense of what that felt like, read the book of Lamentations. That’s Jeremiah literally walking through the city as he saw the buses leaving with all of his friends and family members. He walked and said, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” (Lamentations 1:1). It was the darkest day in Old Testament history.
But the first verse of our passage here in Isaiah 11 tells us that, amid the horrible sight of a field of stumps in Israel, there would be a shoot, a sprig or branch, emerging from the stump of Jesse. Interestingly, when the New Testament turns it’s lights on Christmas morning in the little town of Bethlehem and identifies the child who is wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, in Matthew 1 it specifically identifies Him as the Son of Jesse, the Son of David. Look! This is a sprig from the stump of Jesse, some 500 years after the throne of David had been toppled. Nobody has been on David’s throne for 500 years at that point.
All hope was lost for a Davidic king to come to rule in Israel. Currently, they were paying rent to the Roman Empire. Assyria had come and gone; Babylon had come and gone; Persia had come and gone; Greece had come and gone; and now the Romans were in charge, subjugating the people of God.
This shoot springs up from Jesse’s stump and that shoot is the hope of Israel. That shoot is not only the hope of Israel; He’s the hope of all peoples. He’s the hope of all nations. Look at our text in Isaiah 11:10: “In 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.”
In other words, this Messiah, who was to come some 750 years after these words were penned, is not going to just have local jurisdiction. He’s not going to be a localized provincial deity over a certain region. He’s Lord over the universe. He’s the Lord of the nations and He will summon a people from the nations.
It’s no wonder, when the Apostle Paul is writing centuries later in Acts 17 and is sharing the gospel with the people in Athens at the Areopagus, he says in Acts 17:30: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…” This is because He has the authority to do it; He is the long-prophesied Messiah and Savior of the world.
In verse 11, we find a sovereign Savior summoning people—His people—from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath and the coastland. Isaiah is basically saying, “Don’t make me name them all.” He’s going to summon His people from everywhere in the world; He’s going to get His people. He’s going to save His own. Messiah will draw forth His people because He, quite simply, has the authority and power to do it.
As a matter of fact, we celebrate that fact every time we leave the worship gathering on Sundays when we stand together and look one another in the face and say, “He has all authority to claim the worship of His people from all nations. This is our God.”
This God has a double claim on every person on the planet. First, He has the claim of Creator. He made us. We owe our every breath to this God. We would not exist apart from Him. “In Him we live and move and have our being…” (Acts 17:28). He is the Creator of all. Find another God who can make and back up that claim.
Not only that, there’s this: He sent His Son into the world to live, to die in the place of sinners, to rise again to offer salvation to any who would turn from sin and believe in Him. He offers full rescue and full forgiveness. Find another person, god, entity, institution, publicly traded company or fashion line that can make that kind of claim. The prophets often had this very kind of tone. “Ask Molech. Ask Baal what he can do. Ask Baal what he knows. Can he summon? Can he whistle for nations and they come? This is what your God, the God of Israel, can do and does do.”
Talk about unique. This Messiah is identified in a couple of interesting ways. The Messiah to come, it says in verse one, “…comes forth from a shoot as from the stump of Jesse.” But in verse ten, it’s not the shoot of Jesse. Look at that: “In that day, the root of Jesse [will appear]…of him shall the nations inquire…” How can someone be both the root and shoot of Jesse? How can someone precede and spring from Jesse’s lineage? It’s going to be a unique individual. This is going to be the God-Man. He’s going to be fully human but He’s not going to be merely fully human.
It’s interesting when you fast forward and get to the end of the Bible, the last chapter in Revelation 22. Just let your eyes gravitate to the red letters where Jesus is speaking. In the last thing Jesus says when He’s talking about His own identity, at the very pinnacle of human history—the apex and culmination of everything—He stands there and thinks about the Prophet Isaiah’s prophecy. He says this in Revelation 22:16: “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” He’s the hope of the people. He’s the hope of every person in this room.
Non-Christian friend, if you are to have hope in this world and in the next life, there is only one place to get it, and it’s in Christ alone. He has come. He has borne our sins. He has absorbed the blast of the just wrath of God against our sins so that if you would believe and turn away from your sins and false hopes to real, genuine, solid hope in Christ, He saves to the uttermost. Turn to Him. Embrace Him as Lord and Savior.
We see the the Heart of the King in Isaiah 11:1–10
Our passage moves from hope in a King who would come to showing us what that King would be like. It talks about the heart of the King in verses two through five. Jesus loved the book of Isaiah and I love thinking about that. One of the ways you know He loves the book of Isaiah is how often He’s quoting from it. He loves Deuteronomy, the Psalms and He loves Isaiah. All over the Gospels, He’s quoting Isaiah. In fact, when He’s going to select His first text for His first sermon, He chooses Isaiah. In Luke 4, He goes into the synagogue and chooses the Isaiah scroll. He opens it up to Isaiah 61, saying “This is going to be my first sermon.” He reads from Isaiah 61 which begins in this way, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me…” and then Isaiah’s prophecy goes on to list the things that mark the Spirit-endowed Messiah. At the end of reading that selection from Isaiah 61, Jesus says, “…this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “If you were hoping for the long-promised Messiah, I have good news. He’s here. This Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
The King is endowed with the Spirit.
Isaiah 61 actually was an echo of an earlier text in Isaiah, namely, ours. In Isaiah 11, look at this very same language in verse two: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him…” This King is endowed with the Spirit. If ever a man was full of the Spirit, it was Jesus Christ.
This idea of the Spirit coming upon, or resting upon, individuals had a long history in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit would come upon, for example, various officers and ministries and tasks, in order to enable people to function in a ministry. The Holy Spirit came on the first king of Israel, King Saul, to anoint him for the task of leading the nation. But King Saul sinned against God and the Holy Spirit was removed from him.
Then the Holy Spirit comes upon the next king of Israel, King David, to anoint him for the task of giving leadership to the nation. And King David sins grievously. When you read his confession psalm, Psalm 51, do you ever wonder why David is pleading with God not to take the Holy Spirit from him? He pleaded in that way because there was precedent. He knew Saul’s tragic story. So he was saying, “I know I’ve sinned and done this evil in your sight. Purge me and wash me and please, please don’t take the Holy Spirit from me!”
Then in the fullness of time, the new and better—the ultimate—King arrives on the scene and what happens? Jesus goes down into the waters to be baptized by John the Baptist. What’s the outward sign that signals something different is happening here? The dove comes down, representing the Holy Spirit, and rested upon Jesus from the very beginning of His ministry. Great news: The Spirit never left Him! Jesus lived a life empowered by, dependent on, filled with the Holy Spirit. Relying on the Holy Spirit. Look at these phrases from our text in Isaiah 11 and let it call to mind things we read about Jesus in the Gospels and New Testament. Isaiah 11 says the Messiah would be marked by wisdom and understanding and counsel and might.
What does Luke tell us right in the beginning of his Gospel? Luke 2:52 says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” You remember a few verses earlier in Luke 2 when Jesus was separated? He was just a little boy and was separated from His parents for a period of time. They were frantically looking everywhere for Him and they found Him in the temple. He was sitting in there talking theology with the religious leaders. He was passionate and was listening, asking questions and engaging with this conversation. Luke goes on to describe what this little boy was like, saying, “All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
Our text in Isaiah 11 goes on to talk about the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord being on this coming Messiah. Verse 3a says, “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”
Jesus embodied these descriptions like no other. His whole life was glad-hearted submission to His Father. Remember, He says, “My meat and my drink is to do the will of Him who sent me. That’s my food; that’s my sustenance. Everything. I don’t want to say anything that the Father doesn’t instruct me to say. I don’t want to do anything the Father doesn’t instruct me to do.”
Do you ever wonder why Jesus tore through the temple in holy fury, turning tables over, screaming and cracking whips? What was going on? It was zeal for the honor of His Father. And His lips had to be trembling when He said, “My Father designed this place to be a house of prayer, and look at the circus you’ve made of it. Shut the doors! Get out!” It was zeal for His Father’s glory. He didn’t care what people thought about Him. Fundamentally, His delight was in the fear of God the Father. This was the consuming principle of His entire life. Isaiah prophesied about a King who would be endowed with the Spirit in full measure.
Isaiah 11:1–10 discusses how the King sees the heart and contends for the weak.
There is something else here, though. This King sees the heart and contends for the weak. Our text says, “He shall not judge by what his eyes see…but with righteousness he will judge…” (Isaiah 11:3–4). Is it any coincidence when Jesus comes on the scene hundreds of years later, He says in John 7:24, almost verbatim, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment”?
He saw through things. He saw reality. John 2:23b–25 says, “…many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” He knew the heart.
He knew in John 4 when He’s talking with a Samaritan woman; she’s being evasive, talking about temple, mountains and worship. He says, “Let’s cut to the chase. You’ve had five husbands and the one you’re with now isn’t your husband.” And she says, “I perceive that you are a prophet.” In other words, “Nobody else told you that. I didn’t tell you that. How could you know that?” Because Isaiah 11 was speaking about this One! He doesn’t judge by what His ears hear or what His eyes see. He knows the heart. He sees through. He saw that the Pharisees’ worship was all lip service—what everybody else who was gathered around saw as long and eloquent and theologically nuanced and passionate prayers. He said, “Their lips are moving but their hearts are far away from me.”
He knew what was going on in Matthew 26 when the woman breaks this costly perfume at the feet of Jesus and washes His feet. Judas, His disciple, is standing nearby and says, “You know that money could have been better spent. There’s better use of that in the kingdom. We could have taken the money that was just put on Jesus’ feet and given it to the poor.” Jesus knew what was up. It was not an accident that Matthew 26, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, moves directly from Judas complaining that the money could have been given to the poor to Judas taking thirty pieces of silver and betraying Jesus.
Jesus saw through. He was not duped by religious piety, outward signs and demonstrations. He didn’t just see things; He saw through things. He saw faith in the heart of the Syro-Phoenician woman, the Roman centurion and the thief on the cross. He saw that there was no guile in Nathaniel when he was sitting under the tree. This was our God fulfilling prophecy. He’s the Messiah in living color.
He judges in righteousness. Our text says He defends the poor and the weak. But how beautiful this is when you read about this in the Gospels. There are so many episodes that we could go after. When the disciples pushed the children away, saying, “Get the kids away!” Jesus says, “No! Let the little children come to me. As a matter of fact, when they’re coming, watch them. They are little sermons on how to come into my Kingdom. You don’t come with sophistication or high and mighty; you come with simplicity; you come believing; you come dependent. Look at the way they run to me.”
There was a renowned theologian in the 20th century who is now deceased. He was on a lecture tour that landed him at the University of Chicago in 1962. After he gave a theological lecture, he had a Q&A session. One of the students raised his hand and said, “Could you give us a summary of your whole life’s work of theology in one sentence?” This renowned theologian said, “Yes, I can give you a single sentence. I learned it in a song at my mother’s knee. ‘Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”
Intellectual ability is not an entrance requirement for the Kingdom of God. I’m so glad my ACT score has nothing to do with my salvation. Our God isn’t looking for those who are outwardly impressive in any way. He calls the poor; He calls the humble; He calls the meek and the lowly; He opposes the proud.
Jesus, the Savior of the world, says, in some of the most beautiful words of all the New Testament, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). You need rest. I mean deep rest. Maybe an older word might do—“solace.” I’m talking about a firm hand on your trembling soul. Do you need that? Are you willing to find it in Christ? If you do, you qualify. Martin Luther said, “God’s grace is like water. It runs to the lowest places and fills them up.” I’m so grateful that we have a King that we serve. Christian brothers and sisters, we serve a King who contends for and loves the lowly. He runs to the lowly.
This King loves righteousness.
This King loves righteousness. Our text goes on to say, “Righteousness and faithfulness shall be the belt of his waist.” In the ancient world, the belt supported and secured all the other garments. It held everything together. Scripture tells us there’s something similar in God’s righteousness. It holds all of God’s other attributes together. God can act in wrath or not act in wrath, but God cannot act in righteousness or act in unrighteousness. As the Scriptures say, He is righteous in all that He does. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Scripture says, “All His deeds—every one of His deeds—are done in righteousness.”
Do you ever wonder what’s priority number one on Jesus’ to-do list every day as He lived and walked on the earth? You know he tells us? He even uses the language of priority in Matthew 6:33. He says, “Seek this first more than anything else. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
I love to imagine Jesus waking up Monday morning, rolls out of bed, sleepy seeds in His eyes. His feet hit the floor and He says, “It’s Monday. It’s time to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” He lives all of that day seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. He goes to bed and wakes up Tuesday morning, feet hit the floor: “It’s time to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” This was the motivating principle of His whole life. He loved obedience to God’s law. He was filled with the Spirit and delighted to obey His Father.
He goes into the waters of baptism, not because He Himself lacked outward demonstrations of purity and repentance, but because you did. I did. John the Baptist says, “This doesn’t make any sense. I shouldn’t be baptizing you. You should be baptizing me.” Jesus says, “Hold on. This is to fulfill all righteousness.”
Don’t miss the relevance of Jesus’ life for your salvation. Not just His death and resurrection—which we’ll talk about next week—His life for your salvation. In order to be a sin-bearer for you and me, Jesus had to have no sins of His own. If Jesus disobeyed the Father even once, we’d all be toast. We would have a very certain future, namely experiencing the just wrath of God against our countless sins for all eternity.
So in light of that, if it were possible for us to travel back in time and to be there when Jesus Christ arrived on the scene—the second Adam is here—we would all be shouting, “Please obey! Please don’t do what the first Adam did, giving us all this mess, all this ruin and corruption that’s in our hearts and in this world. The curse is found everywhere. Please don’t do this! Please break the old template. Set up a new template—not a template filled with curse, but a template filled with holy, righteous actions, thoughts, motivations, words. Create a new way to be human. Create a new humanity, a refuge for weary souls, that we might be united to a second Adam. Don’t be like the first Adam.”
We would be saying, “Don’t be like the fallen prophets and priests and kings. Don’t be like the fallen prophets who compromised the message. They said, ‘Peace! Peace’ and there wasn’t any peace and they ended up fueling idolatry and apostasy among God’s people. Don’t be like the fallen prophets.
“Don’t be like the fallen priests, who really could give a rip about God’s people in feeding them the Word. They were more interested in fattening themselves at the expense of the people. It wasn’t so much about love for the God of Israel as it was temple rituals. ‘The temple of the Lord,’ the prophets say. Your hope and all your security is in your rituals. Don’t be like the fallen prophets or priests.
“Don’t be like the fallen kings, who sought to protect God’s people by forging alliances with pagan nations, with those who hate the God of Israel. Don’t be like Ahaz. Be the better, the ultimate Prophet, Priest and King! Tell the truth. Take our sins. Defeat our enemies. Be our Redeemer. Be what we need.”
Isaiah 11 showed Israel the King she so desperately needed. And then, in the fullness of time, the virgin would give birth, and the King we so desperately needed came. He came. You talk about the deep-running relevance of Advent.
The Hallmarks of the Kingdom
Isaiah pointed forward to this day of hope and then he indicated what this king would be like. But he also pointed to hallmarks of the Kingdom in verses six through ten. You know, so much of what we see here and what we’ve already looked at in Isaiah 11 can be seen in living color in the life and ministry of Jesus. And then there are other things about this passage that aren’t as familiar, like verses six through ten and like verse four.
So what’s the deal with this? “…He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” And we ask the question, “When did Jesus do that in the Gospels?” Here’s the thing about Advent prophecies. They don’t often distinguish between the first coming of Jesus and the second coming of Jesus—what would be done the first time Jesus came and what would be done the second time Jesus came. It’s all blended and blurred into one moment. Incidentally, our Advent songs and Christmas carols do exactly the same thing. I mean, what are we singing about? Which coming of Jesus—the first or the second— when we sing, Joy to the World:
No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found… (Joy to the World by Isaac Watts, 1719)
Now, maybe my yard is unique—maybe it’s a Birmingham thing—but there are still thorns infesting the ground out where I live. I don’t know about you guys. So there is clearly some sense in which the Kingdom has already come and certain things have been accomplished, and, yet certain things of this text are yet to be fulfilled when Jesus returns a second time. There is an “already” and a “not yet” dimension to the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. There’s a sense in which, if you have trusted in Jesus Christ, you have been saved. And it’s done. You’ve been justified and that will never be undone. You are as saved now as you will ever be.
There is a sense in which we can say that the enemy of our souls has been defeated, judged, beaten. Read Colossians 2. He’s been put to open shame and triumphed over by the cross of Christ. In other words, in the wake of and as a result of Christ’s incarnation and death and resurrection, and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there is something of the Kingdom of the age to come spilling back over into this present age. Theologians call this “inaugurated eschatology.” It’s spill-over from the age to come. To quote from one of my dad’s favorite songs for years, “It’s a foretaste of glory”, which is from “Blessed Assurance” by Fanny Crosby in 1873. There are these foretastes of glory.
There are, for example, wonderful displays (if you look for them) of the unity of Christ’s church. That’s not the whole story. There are also quite remarkable displays of disunity and discord in the church, right? There are moments when we get foretastes of the powers of the age to come in the form of healing of our bodies or of our minds and God answers prayers, and does miraculous and wonderful things that will be hallmarks of the Kingdom to come—but now they’re foretastes of glory. They last for a little while and we get a taste of what it’s going to be like on the other side of the arrival of God’s Kingdom in fullness.
So we get foretastes of healing and yet, not all of our prayers are answered. The ultimate end of death, Satan, evil and sin still await fulfillment. So there are glorious signs of the Kingdom of God at work in our hearts, in the church, even in the world but, you might say, we lack closure. And this prophecy, among many others, tells us that closure is coming.
God proved to Judah that they didn’t need to fear Assyria. In Isaiah 37, if you want to just flip there really quickly, the Lord rescued Judah and brought an end to the Assyrian empire. In verse 34, God is speaking of the Assyrian army, it says, “‘…he shall not come into this city…” Why can He speak with such confidence? Look at verse 35: “‘For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.’”
Verse 36 is the one verse—one sentence—and the end of the greatest empire in the then known world. Look how matter of fact and understated it is. This is just wonderful. Verse 36 says, “And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.” There it is! So there are 185,000 in the army of the greatest empire on the earth at the time. They’re there in verse 35; they’re gone in verse 36. That’s the power of our God—the saving, legendary right arm of the God of Israel.
This text in this historical episode inspired Lord Byron in 1815 to write a poem called “The Destruction of Sennacherib.” And I’m affected every time I read it, not just because I feel solidarity and connection to Old Testament history, but because these are covenant words. This is God’s covenant people, so there’s a sense in which I feel we’re all a part of this story. Not only that, but I’m affected by it because I can’t help but read this poem and think about when Christ returns. And think about how His absolute dominance over every evil, every hostile force in this world, and how that will be felt in every corner of the cosmos. Truly, it’s an awesome thing.
Let me read this poetic accounting of the episode of the defeat of the Assyrian army:
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea, When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,That host with their banners at sunset were seen: Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown, That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed; And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide, But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride; And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf, And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale, With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail: And the tents were all silent, the banners alone, The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail, And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal; And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword, Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.
This Kingdom signals the end of evil and the establishment of everlasting peace.
Our God is truly an awesome God! The establishment of His Kingdom signals the end of evil and the establishment of everlasting peace. Friends, when Christ returns there will be a final putting down of all evil and Jesus will fulfill this prophecy from Isaiah 11 in full.
This word, “…he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” The Apostle Paul uses almost that exact same metaphor in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, when he’s referencing Jesus’ return. He says, “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.” Do you get that? Jesus just shows up and it’s over for evil.
Our text gives all of these portraits of absolute tranquility in the universe, things that make no sense to our minds on this side of the return of Jesus. A wolf dwelling with a lamb. That just doesn’t happen these days. A lion laying down with a lamb. Luther said, “If the lion lays down with a lamb these days, you’ll have to keep replacing the lamb.” Not so in the Kingdom to come! All of the poison, all of the strife in the universe, all evil forces will be completely expunged and eradicated from the planet. That’s why you have these children with their hands on the holes of cobras. It’s an innocent world. It’s Eden; it’s paradise; it’s peace and righteousness and joy forever.
Look at verse nine: “They 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.” All evil completely removed from the world. What a vision! Doesn’t that make you long for the return of Jesus? Don’t you ever just get tired? We are living in a fallen world and the trappings and the stink of the Fall is in us and all around us. We can’t go anywhere without bumping into vestiges, signs, tokens that the Fall is present everywhere.
I was coaching basketball yesterday. We lost horrifically. I don’t even want to talk about it. We were walking out—I’m walking with one of my sons—and there’s the winning team out in front of us. And they’re walking toward their car in the parking lot. This father’s got his son by the back of the neck and he’s yelling. And his teeth are grinding. He looked around as if, maybe if nobody was present, as if he might have physically done something to the boy. It was absolute fury.
And I think about that. I think about what that kid has seen, what that kid has heard. A couple weeks ago, when I was studying for this sermon, driving up 280 and I see a truck and the railing is gone. I can’t imagine how that person would have survived. It’s probably a fatality. We see them on a not-so-infrequent basis. Separating children from their parents and parents from their children. Not just in Birmingham. You pick up and go somewhere else and see typhoons crushing cities and you just get weary. The Fall is everywhere. Welcome to another fair December on planet earth. Don’t you wish that you could just say, “Enough,” and that would be the end of it?
Some 750 years after these words were penned, a man who hailed from Nazareth was bobbing around in a boat in hurricane force winds on the Sea of Galilee. He says, “Enough!” and the water stops. And His disciples say, “Who does that? Who speaks and oceans, winds and waves obey Him? Who can do this?”
Isaiah answered that question 750 years ago. He’s the rod of Jesse. He’s the sprig that shot up from the stump of Jesse. That’s who He is. He’s the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He doesn’t judge by outward appearance. His eyes penetrate to the heart of reality. He maintains the cause of the poor and the downtrodden. He wears a belt that’s called “righteousness and faithfulness.” He’s not intimidated by postmodernism. He’s not wringing His hands wondering if His purposes will be accomplished in the world. He’s not vexed and perplexed by the mystery of suffering the way that we are. He sees; He knows; He reigns now.
And that reign doesn’t look the way it will one day soon, but that Christ reigns is not a subject of controversy. It’s not up for debate. He’s on His throne and no one can do anything about it. This is the Lord over all. What began as a twig emerging from the stump of Jesse is now King over all the kings and Lord over all the lords. He lived; He died; He rose; He reigns; He saves all who turn to Him and all who trust in Him. He’s the hope of all peoples; He’s the hope of every person in this room. And He will come again to establish His reign of peace and righteousness in the world.
All who have turned from sin prior to that second Advent—that second arrival of Christ—all who have turned from sin, from self, from lesser hopes to this Christ, will live in a world where blessing flows as far as the curse was found. There will be no more remnants remaining of the world that was, except for one—the scars on His hands and the scars on His feet, reminding us of what it cost to bring sinners into that kind of Kingdom.