The Coming King

Found this in the archive: a sermon I didn’t get to preach.  How about a little Christmas in May?

Sunday 12-8-2013,  2nd Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10 —  The Coming King
This message was planned for Sunday, December 12, 2013 and was not delivered because our morning worship was cut short due to inclement weather. 

The Text:  Isaiah 11:1-10
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. 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; 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.  
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 
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. 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 asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 
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.
 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.

The Coming King Foretold 

“a shoot from the stump of Jesse”  Jesse of course is the father of David the king, so this refers to the birth of someone in the royal line.  It is a “stump” because for hundreds of years there were no Davidic kings in Israel, the last of them having gone into exile in Babylon.  Still the roots remained, as the family continued to exist, so the prophet says a “branch” would come out from those roots.  There is also a suggestion here of how the kingdom of God works:  When God intends to do something big, he starts our with something small.  A shoot growing from a stump seems insignificant, but it contains the life of the tree, and thus the promise of more life and growth in the future.

The Background:  Exile to Assyria 

Isaiah prophesied during the time when the great world power of the day, Assyria, was overwhelming the entire Middle East with its military might.  During Isaiah’s lifetime this juggernaut overcame the resistance of the northern kingdom of Israel, with its capital in Samaria, and took ten tribes into exile.  The Assyrian army then proceeded to besiege Jerusalem, threatening the existence of the remaining tribes (Judah and Benjamin). Only through miraculous intervention did the attacking army withdraw.  Under these dark circumstances, when it looked like the life of the nation may soon be snuffed out permanently, this promise of a coming king comes as a surprisingly (and no doubt unlikely) word of hope.

A different kind of King 

This King will be known, not by the trappings of power, but by the presence of God in his life.  What is described here is a matter of character: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of the Lord, delight.  These seven characteristics are associated with godliness.  “He shall not judge by what  his eyes see,” etc., is reminiscent of the words of Samuel to Jesse on the day David was revealed as God’s anointed king:  “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  Similarly, God says elsewhere through Isaiah:  “For my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.”  The opposite of appearance here is contrasted with righteousness, defined as equity or fairness, such that the poor and the meek are treated equally with the powerful.  This is such an unusual thing in this world that it is said that he judges “for” the meek; the ones whom Jesus, in one of his Beatitudes, will call blessed.

The Power of Truth (v 4):  John 14:6 

It is through truth-telling that the world is judged. “the rod of his mouth” and “the breath of his lips” refer to the power of the spoken word.  At the beginning this power is what called the universe into being.  In the New Testament the word of God is referred to repeatedly as a sword, and in Revelation it is portrayed as proceeding out of the mouth of the Messiah.  So Jesus also says of his detractors:  “The word that I have spoken will be their judge in the last day.”

The Peaceful Kingdom (6-9)

Isaiah’s vision of God’s ultimate blessing on Israel, and through Israel, the world, is the reason he also called them to such a high standard.   The images here are of predator and prey, powerful and weak, living together in beautiful harmony.  This can only happen if the nature of these creatures, and the nature of their habitual relationship, changes radically.  One might be able to expect a vision where the lamb and the kid and the little child — the vulnerable and the victims — are protected from the lion and the leopard and the snake, where those predatory creatures are destroyed or at least separated from those they would naturally be expected to prey upon; but this vision is much more radical than that. Dare we hope that this biblical vision can be ours?

In God’s coming kingdom, enemies are not destroyed, but enmity is. The thing that will bring this about is “the knowledge of the LORD”.  This is not intellectual or informational knowledge, but intimate, personal, relational knowledge that affects the character of the persons involved.  And the best here is saved for last:  the good news is not that the nations, exemplified in the first instance by the Assyrians, will be eliminated, destroyed, or defeated, but that they shall be attracted to “the root of Jesse.”  This is Christ who said, “If I be lifted up I will draw all people to myself.” 
And that points to why, at Christmas, we sing “Joy to the World, the Lord is come, Let earth receive her king.”  We do not sing “Joy to the Christians.”  If it were only “Joy to the Christians” we would have a diminished Christ, and a diminished vision of what God intends to do, even of what God is able to do.  Thank God for the vision!