Roots and Trees, Isaiah 11:1–10, Second Sunday in Advent, December 8, 2019
I am really going out on a limb for today’s sermon but please bear with me. There was once a gentleman who bought a 35-foot tall Christmas tree for his house. Now that’s a pretty big tree. Problem was he only had a two story dwelling that was only 30 feet tall.
So what do you think he did? Maybe he should just put the tree on the outside his house and decorate it there. Nooo, what he did was he cut that tree into three equal parts and installed them on every floor of his house, including the roof!
He put the bottom chunk that had ten foot long branches in the living room. The middle part was squeezed into the spare bedroom above the living room. And the top section, measuring fifteen foot tall, was placed on the roof directly above the bedroom.
It took seven of his friends two entire days to put the tree in place. Then he decorated it with 160 huge ornaments and whopping 2000 LED lights. It even had a star perched on top.
Our Old Testament reading from Isaiah chapter 11 tells us that God planted a pretty big tree Himself, but His tree was quite different.
Isaiah uses this tree metaphor in our text, which is a continuation of the same metaphor introduced at the end of the preceding chapter. There the metaphor is used for law purposes. “Behold, the Lord God of hosts will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the great in height will be hewn down, and the lofty will be brought low. He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an axe, and Lebanon will fall by the Majestic One. (Is 10:33–34) This threatening image is applied to Assyria in the immediate context, and to Israel in the more remote context. Because of their wickedness God cuts these nations down and reduces them to a mere stump.
These trees symbolized the power and majesty of those two nations. And God says that He was going to take an ax and go through the forests of their power, and He was going to cut it all down. When He finished with them, there would be nothing left of their pride and might.
But in our text this morning God uses this same tree metaphor for gospel purposes. From the stump to which Israel has been reduced, called “the stump of Jesse”, King David’s father, a shoot or twig will grow, resulting in the fabulous peace and salvation so poetically described in verses 6–9.
In the devastation that was left behind He was going to graft a shoot into one of the stumps left behind and grow a new tree. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” (Is 11:1) Isaiah names Jesse rather than David to emphasize the humble beginnings of this shoot. Jesse takes us back to hill-country shepherds rather than the pinnacle of power and prestige of Israel.
This imagery would have been familiar to the Jews of that day. Trees were an important and valuable for people in that region, especially Olive trees. They were a source of food, medicine, fuel, and a base for the anointing oil they used in anointing their kings, priests and prophets. Spiritually, the oil of an Olive tree represented peace, faithfulness, endurance and new life.
The reason the tree symbolized new life was because the tree was virtually indestructible. They could grow in almost any soil and flourish in great heat with little water. Most Olive trees can live to the ripe old age of 500 years, and some are believed to be over a thousand years old.
One expert explained that new sprouts and trees will emerge from the olive tree stump roots, even if the trees are cut down. Even if a the grove catches on fire, a good Olive tree grower can graft an olive shoot into the stump of that tree and grow a new tree in its place.
So in this morning’s text, God is declaring that in the devastation left behind after the destruction of Assyria and Israel, a branch would grow out of the stump of Jesse, a branch would be grafted into the tree that had been cut down and destroyed.
So what was this branch? Or more to the point Who was this branch? Well, it was the Messiah. It was Jesus.
The prophecies are about the coming Messiah. Starting in Isaiah chapter 7, we are told that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son and we would call His name Immanuel. Then in chapter 9 God tells us this Child would minister in Galilee and that He would be a great ruler and leader of His people. And that this Messiah would be a light to those walking in the shadow of death.
And now we hear this morning that this Messiah would be like a great tree growing out of the stump of Jesse. God was going to plant that Tree in Bethlehem.
This Tree, this Jesus, has been described this way: He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn’t go to college. He never traveled more than 200 miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness.
Socrates taught for 40 years, Plato for 50, Aristotle for 40 but Jesus for only 3 1/2 years. Yet His influence infinitely transcends the impact left by the combined years of the teachings from all the world’s greatest philosophers.
Jesus painted no pictures, yet some of the finest paintings of Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci obtained their inspiration from Him. Jesus wrote no poetry, but Dante, Milton and scores of the greatest poets were inspired by Him. Jesus composed no music. Still Hadyn, Handel, Beethoven, Bach and Mendelssohn reached their highest perfection of melody in the music they composed in His praise.
Nearly twenty centuries have come and gone, and yet today He is the most predominate central figure in the entire human race. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and the kings that ever reigned have not affected the life of the human race on this earth as much as Jesus.
And rightfully so, because of Jesus Christ, there is no longer any wedge the devil can drive between God and us; we’re at peace with God now, and a new kingdom of peace is on the way.
For now, of course, the devil is still at his work around here. You can see his work everywhere in this world: in the crime, and disease, and war we see around us, but not for long. The devil, right now, is like a hornet Jesus has stepped on and crushed for us. That hornet continues to buzz around threateningly here on the floor. He can inflict a lot of pain on you if you decide to hold him in your hand; but stay away, and you don’t need to fear him. He’s the one who needs to be afraid. Because Jesus’ Second Coming is on the way, that means the other shoe is about to come down.
We live in a world that is so desperately in need of help. Just look at all the hospitals and doctors’ offices around. Yet, help has arrived. Our Savior, the great physician, has come and He brings healing for our hearts, minds, and souls. We are now at peace with God. By His death and resurrection, Jesus has placed us, not in an ambulance, but in a grand limousine. And He’s the driver. Jesus has taken care of all our enemies, sin, death, and the devil.
That single shoot that had been grafted into the Stump of Jesse, grew to such a tree that He has changed culture and history. And most importantly He changes you and me.
Jesus didn’t just come to earth to be influential. And Jesus didn’t come to earth just to fulfill all prophecy. Jesus said “I came that [you] may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Jesus came to give life. Jesus came to bear fruit. “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Is 11:1)
Legends about the first Christmas tree abound. One of these tells about a woodcutter who helps a small hungry child. The next morning, the child appears to the woodcutter and his wife, and is none other than the Christ child. The child breaks a branch from a fir tree and tells the couple that it will be a tree that, at Christmas time, will bear fruit. As foretold, the tree is laden with apples of gold and nuts of silver.
Many of us have beautiful Christmas trees decorated with lights, and tinsel and garland. And that’s great. But those trees are either dead or artificial. And when the season passes, they’ll be thrown away or stored in boxes. And Christmas trees don’t usually bear fruit. We have to hang whatever fruit they may have from their boughs. But the tree God planted, this Messiah who was to come, is a tree that always bears fruit.
We are saved, not by our works, but by the grace of God. We are saved because God came to us and did something about our lostness. Look to the cross. Look to this tree. Here is the miracle of God in the flesh; the same God who gave up all of heaven’s majesty to come down to our dark and desolate veil of tears in order to seek you out and restore you unto life and salvation. Behold the real Christmas tree! Here is your Good Shepherd who came to you and put your sin upon His shoulders, carrying you out of death and damnation into His marvelous Light. Amen.