Isaiah 11:1-10 & Matthew 3:1-3
As you know, there was nothing fancy or royal about Christ’s birth. He was born in a barn where the animals live and placed on a manger on a cold winter night. When Jesus was born as the first born son of Joseph and Mary, the nation of Israel was ruled by the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus. He oppressed God’s people with his political and military power. When Isaiah describes Jesus’s birth as “the stump of Jesse and a branch grow out of his root,” he was emphasizing the humble nature of the Messiah. Jesse was much less famous than King David. It is far more humble to say “from Jesse” than to say “from King David.” Isaiah says it like this in verse 1, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his root.”
On this morning, I’m going to use two Scriptures—one from Isaiah 11 and the other from Matthew 3. Both of these texts describe “HOPE born out of HOPELESS circumstances.” The context of Isaiah 11 was a difficult period of tensions in B.C. 733. During these days, the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Aramaeans of Damascus tried to force Judah and king Ahaz to join their rebellion against Assyria. According to the advice of prophet Isaiah, king Ahaz refused to join this rebellion against Assyria. He made a right decision by not joining the rebel alliance, but he made a “BIG MISTAKE” by calling Assyria for help. This eventually led the destruction of Samaria and the end of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in B.C. 721 by Assyria.
Like today, the world was hostile when Jesus was born. Like today, the people in Isaiah’s time were living in fear. At that time, God’s people were living without a sense of hope and without a godly leader . . . like many people in today’s world. When Prophet Isaiah shared the vision of this New and Righteous King, God’s people were greatly comforted. Jesus, the Root of Jesse—the Branch that comes from the apparently dead stump is not going to just barely alive. It is full of life, and full of the Spirit of the LORD. He will lead his nation with the spirit of “wisdom and understanding”; “council and might”; “knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” This new king loves God and his people and enjoys serving them from his heart. Under his leadership, people who are living in the margin of society will be treated fairly and the wicked will be punished according to their sins. Isaiah said that Jesus the Messiah “will not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear” (v.3). How often have we judged and criticized each other based on the rumors or gossips we hear? How often have we criticized others based on our own feelings and limited understanding? But the root of Jesse, Jesus the Messiah will not judge by what his eyes se or decide by what his ears hear. He will guide his people with his righteousness, love, and wisdom.
Every person who is in his Kingdom will live in perfect harmony. Isaiah describes it like this in verses 6-8. I will read in the Message translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson, “The wolf will romp with the lamb the leopard sleep with the kid. Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them. Cow and bear will graze the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent. Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain.” The idea of predator laying down with prey has the power to thrill us. The parade of animal friends Isaiah shows us is remarkable. Under the leadership of the Messiah, even snakes don’t bite. I know that it sounds like a fairy tale rather than a future reality? I understand that this prophecy stands in direct contrast to the painful realities of this broken world. Every day we hear news of terrorism, economical collapse, gun violence, natural disaster like wild fire/hurricane, and many people who are suffering with addictions, corruptions, immoral behaviors, and abuses. But when Christ comes as the King of kings and the Lord of lords, he will restore all of God’s creation and heal all the brokenness in this world.
Ex. Edward Hick: The Peaceable Kingdom
He painted this art work in 1820. He was a Quaker preacher in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. As you can see, the theme of his painting is from chapter 11 of Isaiah. He drew this picture to share the message of peace between his fellow Quakers and the native Indians. In this world, every one including people and animals will not hurt one another, but live peacefully. It will be possible because, “The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide” (v.9). On that day, “the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquires of him and his dwelling shall be glorious” (v.10).
Matthew 3 begins like this, “In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea . . .” John the Baptist was a scary dude in a scary place. He wore clothing made out of camel’s hair. And when Matthew says this, I don’t think he means a soft, lovely men’s camel hair sport coat like you can buy in a fancy department store today. I think he means stinky, rough, dirty cloth. This fabric was tied to John’s body with a strap of leather. Not only does he look kind of funny, but he acts kind of funny too. He shouted to the people at the top of his lungs whenever he saw people coming to him. John was living out in the dry, mountainous, harsh desert. The Judean desert must have been a hard place to live. It is very hot during the day and becomes very cold during the night. So this individual, this scary guy named John the Baptist was out there in the desert shouting at the top of his lungs, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!’. . . ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!”
Amazingly, people from everywhere—from Jerusalem and all, Judea, and all the region along the Jordan—not only flock to hear him shout at them, but to confess their sins and be baptized by John. It sounds so strange that those people—people who came out into the wilderness, out from the safety of their homes and neighborhoods to a place of insecurity and discomfort to hear this wired guy shout at them and compel them to change their hearts and lifestyles.
I can’t help but wonder WHO were these people, and WHY did they go out into the desert to confess their sins and be baptized by this strange guy? WHAT were they looking for? I do not know the all the answers to these questions, but these are some of the answers that I know. There were 400 years of gap in between the Old Testament and the New Testament periods. During these times, God was silent. God did not send any prophets since Malachi who was the last prophet in the Old Testament period. The Israelites, God’s people were longing to hear God’s voice again. And then John the Baptist appeared. He even looked like the prophet Isaiah and shared the same message Isaiah had proclaimed before. He broke the silence of 400 years. No wonder why so many people rushed to listen to him, like many of us who rushed to a gas station before the hurricane. Remember how you and I drove to fill our gas tank and to buy extra water bottles, foods, bags of ice, or batteries.
When John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” This was harsh and urgent message for them. But it was the message that they REALLY needed to hear and follow through.
How about us? What areas in our lives needed to be changed? What kinds of fruit do we need to bear in our lives? What kinds of message are we keep hearing from God again and again because we are not willing to change? Let us think about it! Before we celebrate the birth of our Savior, how should we prepare hearts? Before Jesus comes back, what areas in our lives have to be changed? Let us pray!