Advent 2 – God’s Kingdom is worth waiting for
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The Shoot Will Bear Fruit
There’s no way. Every horse movie I’ve every seen is basically the same. We meet a horse. And this poor horse has everything against him. And we conclude: There’s no way—no way this horse can run fast. An hour and a half later, what do we say to each other? Sure enough, that horse can run fast. In God’s word this morning we have a similar picture. Isaiah paints for us the picture of a stump. It’s cut down to the ground. It’s grey, and dry, and dead. There’s no way anything good could grow from that dry, dead stump. And sure enough, look at it, there’s a shoot that is there growing out of the dead stump. And the shoot grows and grows and it then bears fruit. It’s an amazing picture. But what does it mean? In Isaiah 11, Isaiah tells us: “1 Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” (Is. 11:1–2 CSB17)
The shoot will bear fruit. But what is this stump and shoot? Long before Isaiah wrote these words the Lord had promised that there would be a male descendant who would would reign on David’s throne forever. There was a problem though. As each generation of kings sitting on David’s throne progressed, they became more and more wicked. Finally, as Isaiah sees, there would be a foreign nation that would come up and over and destroy Judah. And this destruction was well-deserved. What would happen to that “son of David”—that king of Judah when this happened? As we read the rest of the OT we see that the Babylonians did conquer Judah and Jerusalem. And, at the point where would have expected the family line of David to die, the opposite happened. The last king of Judah, Zedekiah was blinded instead of killed.1 And he was carried off to Babylon. That family line seemed like a dead stump. For hundreds of years it was dead. But then Jesus was born. And that shoot would bear fruit. In the words that follow, Isaiah tells us what that fruit would look like: “3 His delight will be in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, he will not execute justice by what he hears with his ears, 4 but he will judge the poor righteously and execute justice for the oppressed of the land. He will strike the land with a scepter from his mouth, and he will kill the wicked with a command from his lips. 5 Righteousness will be a belt around his hips; faithfulness will be a belt around his waist.” (Is. 11:3–5 CSB17)
The shoot will bear fruit. Jesus will reign as the Son of David prophesied long ago. And there would be results. And what would those results be? First, wickedness will end. What an amazing thought. There is wickedness out there in the world. And it will end. I was listening to a podcast. It was about elder abuse. And, across our nation, there are elderly in their homes. And, either through the phone, or more often through the internet they are lied to. They give hundreds, thousands of dollars to unknown people on the internet. And they are never caught. And one of the reasons they are never caught is that the elderly people get robbed. And then they are ashamed of what happened to them. So they don’t ever tell anyone. Even worse, they are afraid that if their children find out that they lost money, they will be put in a home. When you hear this sort of wickedness, you end up asking the question, “when will it end?”
But there is also wickedness in here, in our hearts. Years ago I remember talking to a child in school. And, with such frustration, he said that life here on this earth was like a bad video game. So I asked him what he meant. And he said that in the bad video games the grind, the struggle never ends. You never really end or accomplish anything. You just keep playing and making the inventor of the game more money. And he said that life is like that. We pretend that we can wrestle against our temptations and win. But we give into our temptations. And the struggle never ends.
That young man stumbled onto the terrible truth that affects our whole lives. And that’s why these words mean so much to us today. That shoot that Isaiah speaks about will bear fruit. There will be a day when the wickedness out there and the wickedness in here will end. But what does that look like? First, while we are here on this earth, Jesus tends our weakness. Like the gardener, pruning the tender shoot, fertilizing it, watering it, and making sure it shines in the sun, Jesus tends us in our weakness. For it is true that there is still this sinful self inside of us. And what it holds is wickedness. But, by God’s grace, there is another self inside of us—a new self. It hears Jesus and follows him, albeit weakly. And Jesus strengthens this new self in us to trust and follow him every day.
But Jesus does more. He doesn’t just tend our weakness. He also ends our wickedness. Jesus grew up and died on the cross. He paid for all our sins. He won that victory for us in our place. And on the last day that victory will be full and complete. We are used to the inner struggle that we live in day by day. But there will be a day when that wickedness inside of us will end—forever. The Shoot will bear fruit. Wickedness will end. But there’s more: “6 The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat. The calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf will be together, and a child will lead them. 7 The cow and the bear will graze, their young ones will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like cattle. 8 An infant will play beside the cobra’s pit, and a toddler will put his hand into a snake’s den.” (Is. 11:6–8 CSB17)
The Shoot will bear fruit. There will be results to Jesus’ arrival. First, wickedness will end. But then, in these words, Isaiah takes in a weird direction. And it’s hard to get any weirder than what Isaiah speaks about here. Animals who should be either eating each other or running from each other are hanging out, lying down on the grass, eating grass. The wolf lies down with the lamb. The lion hangs out with the cow—and while we’re at it, let’s throw in a tasty treat. Let’s throw in a fattened calf. Instead of eating the fattened calf, the lion eats grass along with it.
Weird, right? But it gets weirder still. Isaiah shows us a little toddler. Little toddlers cannot help but put their hands everywhere where they should not. And keeping them from danger is a stressful full-time job. I remember when Camille was tiny I was shutting the car door and she shot her little hand into the space where the car door closes. And I was terrified because I couldn’t stop the door in time. It squished her little fingers. She was fine in the end. But I lost sleep over the event. That’s nothing compared to this picture. Here you have a little toddler. And where is it playing? It’s playing near the nest of the poisonous snake. He shoots his hand into the nest of the viper and what happens? We are expecting him to be bitten and painfully die. But what happens? Nothing. What is going on in these words? What is Isaiah trying to do? In the final words we have an answer: “9 They will not harm or destroy each other on my entire holy mountain, for the land will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is filled with water. 10 On that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations will look to him for guidance, and his resting place will be glorious.” (Is. 11:9–10 CSB17)
In these words we see events get weirder and weirder. But Isaiah is trying to fill us with wonder. This Shoot of Jesse will bear fruit. Wickedness will end. But notice what will begin: Wonder will begin. Isaiah is going out of his way to fill us with awe and wonder at what awaits us there in heaven. And as we begin to see this we see our own weakness and sin. For there is this great temptation to create and contrive a wonder here on earth and forget about the wonder that awaits us there in heaven. Tinsel for your eyes and treats for your stomach cannot match the wonder and amazement that awaits you there in heaven.
So my dear friends in Christ, now we can see why it’s so vital to prepare for Christmas by walking through Advent. For in our every day life we can begin to conclude that wickedness will never end. The wickedness out there and in here just stays. But this Shoot will bear fruit. Wickedness will end. And, year after year, we take out the same tree, eat the same treats, put the same tinsel on the tree as if that will recreate the wonder we had when we were tiny. But here, in these words, we find true lasting wonder. For the Shoot will bear fruit. On that day, wickedness will end and wonder will begin.
1 2 Kings 25:1–7