Date: 19 Mar 2017
Text: Isaiah 11:1-11
As we approach Easter and remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for us at Calvary I want to spend a few minutes thinking about one of the prophecies about Jesus, the coming Messiah, made by Isaiah. This isn’t the “regular” prophecy made in Isaiah 9 which I hope we are all familiar with, but a slightly different prophecy that outlines what the Messiah, for whom the people waited, would be like and what He would bring with Him and do for us and for the world.
In Isaiah 9:6 the prophet tells us that, “... to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” That is absolutely fantastic and is something that we always remember at Christmas. Isaiah is foretelling the birth of the coming Messiah and, here, in the opening verses of Isaiah 11 we learn a little more about this long awaited and much needed Messiah.
So, this morning I want to spend just a short amount of time thinking about what Isaiah had to say about this amazing Messiah whose birth he had already prophesied.
Isaiah begins with the statement that “a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse” (11:1a). I think that most gardeners will understand what a “shoot” is and will have a vague understanding of what will result. But, what is this “stump of Jesse” and who was Jesse? At the time the prophecy was written, the House of David had suffered greatly from a storm of hostility against it. Many had deserted God leaving only a “remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob” (10:20). It was this remnant that Isaiah likened to the stump of a tree that had been drastically chopped down. However, from this sad stump would come a branch, a fresh shoot, a “Branch [that] will bear fruit” (11:1).
Jesse was the father of David and we meet him in 1 Samuel 16:1-13 where we read that Samuel was sent to find and anoint a successor to Saul as King. Jesse had eight sons and presented them one by one to Samuel. Samuel rejected the first seven who he saw and it was only when David, the youngest and smallest, was summoned from tending his sheep that Samuel knew that he had found just who he was looking for. David went on of course to be famous as a great man of God and writer of many Psalms. David may have gone on to become a great man but he was far from lilywhite frequently behaving quite badly. Regardless of that, God forgave him and held him in high regard. His father, Jesse, was less famous; in fact it wouldn’t surprise me if most people have forgotten all about him. By referring to the Messiah as from the “stump of Jesse” an air of humility is brought to the situation. This phrase indicated that the Messiah wasn’t necessarily coming from grand or aristocratic stock but rather quite the opposite; he was to be an ancestor of an ordinary human being.
The Messiah was always expected to be a man of power, someone who would expel the oppressor and take over the government of the occupied country. If he was to originate from a shepherd’s family how was this to come about; how could an ordinary man born of ordinary stock really be the Messiah?
Remember that with God nothing, but nothing is impossible. In 11:2-3 we see just how this individual would be empowered by God to be the Messiah. There are three clauses that refer to this person being given the “Spirit of...” Firstly, he was to be empowered with the “Spirit of wisdom and understanding” which are two of the characteristics that are much needed in Government. If only modern governments had such attributes! When Solomon succeeded his father David, God asked him what he would like to be given. Solomon replied that as he was only young he had no idea how to govern and so he asked for “a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong [in other words, wisdom]” (1 Kings 3:9). God was impressed and told Solomon that he would give him “a wise and discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:12). In the case of the Messiah these much needed attributes were to be provided by the Holy Spirit.
Secondly the Messiah was to be empowered with “the Spirit of counsel and might”. These relate to the power needed to wage war; although in the Messiah’s case the war was to be against sin and injustice. In Isaiah 9:6 we read that the son to be born would be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God” which is much the same thing that we see here in 11:2.
Finally, the Messiah was to be empowered with “the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD [that is, God]”. These two vital attributes were necessary for the spiritual leadership that the Messiah was to provide. However, that phrase “Fear of the Lord” may seem a bit strange; may seem rather daunting and therefore difficult to understand since it suggests that we should be afraid of God. That is not how I see it and I’m of the opinion that that is not how God wants us to see Him either. Rather, the phrase suggests a level of piety, awe and respect shown towards God, something that He fully deserves given just Who He is, what He has already done for us and what He is doing for us. It’s worth noting that this fear of God was something that David’s predecessors had signally failed to show. They had a great tendency to ignore God and do exactly the opposite of what He wanted them to do. The Messiah being discussed here in Isaiah 11 would be totally different. He would have a truly deep knowledge of God and would revere Him in the right way. In 11:3 the Prophet continues by adding that “he will delight in the fear of the LORD”; that suggests to me that the Messiah would want to be in God’s company, want to serve Him and would want to bring Him all the honour that He deserves. Are we like that? How do we really feel about God? Do we honour Him, respect Him and approach Him in awe; or are we like David’s predecessors who acknowledged His existence and presence but totally ignored Him? I just hope that we have within us that Spirit given “fear of the LORD”.
At the time that this prophecy was written, Judah was surrounded by hostility and injustice. The surrounding countries were enemies and certainly had no time for God, for righteousness or for justice. Some of these attitudes had rubbed off on Judah which meant that the country very much needed a revival. Does that sound familiar? Right now there is a lot of political hostility both within the UK and aimed at the UK. Many politicians claim that there is a lack of social equality and justice although none offer what seems to be an equitable solution that benefits all. There is also a lot of talk about equality and equal rights between disparate groups within society. True equality cannot be made by man but comes only from God and only He can hand out justice to all in a truly equal way.
The only true justice and righteousness comes from God; only He can provide the social justice and equality that many seem to crave. Worryingly whilst they may crave these things they won’t turn to God when He offers those very things. Isaiah tells us that the Messiah would judge people based on what He can see with His own eyes and not on what He hears. I take that to mean that He will ignore hearsay and tittle tattle; I also suspect that He would both ignore and condemn the so-called social networks such as Twitter!
There are times when we can look at how justice is exercised in this country and suspect that it favours those with money. Celebrities with large Bank Accounts are able to obtain injunctions keeping their misdemeanours out of the public eye. When charged with any sort of a crime they can afford the most expensive barristers. When found guilty they can afford to pursue appeals to the highest Courts in the land. Such justice doesn’t appear to be available to the poor or the less well off. This will not be the case with the Messiah; He will dispense justice equitably by judging the poor and the needy with righteousness. The poor will not be cheated out of receiving justice but will be treated fairly; as The Message puts it, “He’ll judge the needy by what is right” (11:4). If the poor and the needy can be treated in this way then it follows that everyone else will also be treated fairly.
Those who are enemies of God should tremble at what is to come. The Messiah will both judge and destroy the wicked, the enemies of God. Such will be His power that “His words will bring everyone to awed attention” (Message 11:4b) and “a mere breath from His lips will topple the wicked” (Message 11:4b). Those who know and love the Messiah will be spared from this judgement.
I’m particularly taken by 11:5 which says, “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist” since those words are very reminiscent of Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:10-17 where the Apostle urges us to put on the full armour of God. In that passage Paul describes things slightly differently although the sentiment is still the same. He tells us to put on “the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place” (Ephesians 6:14). Rather interestingly Isaiah also uses a similar thought in Isaiah 59:17a where he writes that God “put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head”. This is how the Messiah will handle justice and judge the entire world. He will do so fairly and equitably without favouring any one particular group.
What the world lacks today, apart from faith in Jesus Christ, is peace. Listen to any news broadcast, read any Internet news pages or any newspaper and all you will see and hear are reports of conflict somewhere in the world. As I speak there is a major famine in large parts of Africa. Much of this has been caused by the lack of rain for at least three years. However, the situation is exacerbated by the ongoing Civil Wars in South Sudan and Somalia together with civil unrest in Nigeria. The situation in Syria where the Syrian and US forces are fighting against ISIS shows no sign of being resolved any time soon. The innocent people suffering through all this are crying out for peace; for an end to bombs and bullets.
That sort of peace will only really come when the Messiah returns, then we will know peace and the end of armed conflict. Just look at how Isaiah puts it, “the wolf will live with the lamb”, “the leopard will lie down with the goat” and not only will “the calf and the lion and the yearling [be] together” but they will be led by a little child (11:6). Sounds idyllic doesn’t it; an almost impossible dream, and yet it will happen; it will happen when the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ returns to claim His earthly kingdom.
When this day comes “the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him” (11:10a). On that glorious day when Jesus comes to earth for the second time not only will peace envelop the earth but He will gather together His people from all over the world. He will act as a rallying point for all believers just as Isaiah prophesied earlier in Isaiah 5:26 when he wrote, “He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come swiftly and speedily!” As He hung dying on the cross Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). When Jesus does return again it will be a glorious day. The Apostle John told us in Revelation 22:5 that on that day, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” On that amazing day, where will be? Will you be in the light and be amongst those who rush “swiftly and speedily” towards Him; will you be amongst all those drawn towards Him or will you be hanging about in the background wondering what all the fuss is about?
It is sad but true that Jesus will only gather together those who have placed their faith and trust in Him as Lord and Saviour. Those who refused to believe or turned down His offer of eternal life will be judged and punished accordingly.
As our thoughts begin to turn to Easter, it is important for us to understand the prophecies that people such as Isaiah made. In his Book, Isaiah told the world that a baby would be born Who would be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Later in Isaiah 53 the same prophet told us that “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).
These and many other verses, all point towards the Messiah Who we know as Jesus. Isaiah calls this same Messiah “the Root of Jesse” (11:10) Who came from the “stump of Jesse” (11:1). It would benefit everyone to read and meditate on these verses and consider precisely what will happen when Jesus returns and how He will judge the world, gathering to His side all those who believe in Him whilst punishing all the wrongdoers. I urge you all to be among those who are gathered to His side.