My parents started the tradition a number of years ago of taking one grandchild to New Orleans when he or she is about eight years old. In order of birth, the grandchildren each get their turn to have a special trip with Grandpa and Grandma. They get to choose several things that they are going to do with the grandparents in the New Orleans area.
A highlight in all the trips is a swamp tour. Now when you hear “swamp” that may not sound like the first place you would want to visit. However, this is the bayou area around New Orleans and rather than stagnant nasty water, it is water that has some movement due to the ocean. It is a beautiful area filled with wild life.
Of course on a Louisiana swamp tour there is really only one form of wild life that people want to see – alligators. The boat tours don’t disappoint because they know where the alligators are at. And the alligators know how things work. They know that boats bring food. Almost on cue they are present and ready to go. The swamp tour operators put hot dogs on the end of sticks and hold them out over the water. The alligators leap up for the hot dogs and put on a show.
The alligators know the routine and don’t fail to perform. The tour operators are so comfortable with the alligators, and the alligators cooperate so well, that it is easy to forget what the alligators really are – they are savage killing machines.
But once in awhile there is a reminder about their true nature when things don’t go according to script. One of these occasions was caught on video by a person on a tour and posted on YouTube. As the boat was approaching the alligators, there were a couple of wild pigs that were in the water right near the shore. They had wandered over close to the alligators – too close as it turned out. In an instant the alligator lunged at the nearest wild pig and its jaws snapped shut on the animal. The pig let out a terrible squeal and then the alligator pulled the pig under water and started the death roll. There on display was the fact that in nature there are predators, and there is prey.
In our text for tonight from the prophet Isaiah, we find that the arrangement of predators and prey has been turned topsy-turvy. The wolf and lamb reside together in peace. It is a depiction of the cosmic peace that the Messiah – the Christ will bring. Yet to our surprise, we learn that this Messiah comes forth as shoot from a stump.
Our text tonight is set in a time of war and shifting geo-politics. It was about 735 B.C. Any leader in the Middle East who was paying attention could see that the kingdom of Assyria in modern day Iraq was a rising super power that was going to threaten Palestine and Egypt. No one was strong enough to stand up on their own against the Assyrians. But if they banded together, perhaps they would have a chance.
The nation of Syria and the northern of kingdom of Israel formed an alliance, and they wanted the southern kingdom of Judah to join them. Ahaz, the king of Judah refused to join, and so Syria and Israel attacked.
It was in this setting that Yahweh declared he would give Ahaz a sign. Isaiah announced, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.” God promised a child and said that in a short span of time the threat of Syria and Israel would be gone.
Ahaz didn’t believe Yahweh, and so he formed his own plan. He went and asked for help … from Assyria. He invited the fox into the hen house. And isn’t that quite often what we do? We don’t trust God and his ways. We determine that God’s ways – the narrow way of faithfulness to God’s Word – is not practical. It’s going to be too hard. It’s not going to be successful. And so we strike out on our own. We try to figure out our own way of doing things – a way that puts us first.
However, our way is just that – our way and not God’s way. In the end the results are harmful to us. In Ahaz’s case, Assyria gladly came. But they didn’t stop with Syria and Israel. They wanted Judah too. They brought destruction with them. And in this dire time God said through Isaiah in chapter nine: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
As Yahweh encouraged the people with words of hope, he promised a child born of a virgin. He promised a figure – a son – described in ways that went beyond any human being. He promised a descendant of King David, a Davidic king, who would bring peace and rule justly.
And now in our text God promises a descendant from the line of king David by naming is father Jesse. He promises this son, but he does so in a very unexpected way. He says, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Instead of a great and mighty tree, the house of David is described as a stump – cut down and cut off. It is merely a stump. But a shoot will come forth from it.
The future of the Davidic line was that of a stump. They were oppressed by the Assyrians. They were conquered and taken into exile by the Babylonians. Though the descendants of David continued, their rule over a kingdom was ended.
But God’s promise remained. And in the first century A.D. in the village of Nazareth a virgin conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit and give birth to a child – a son. A son of David, a descendant of the king took the mother and child as his own, and in this way the child became a son of David. The child was Immanuel – God with us. And his parents named him Jesus, which means “Yahweh saves.”
At his baptism in the Jordan the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. For as our text says, “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” He was anointed by the Spirit and he acted righteously as he brought God’s saving righteousness.
He was the shoot from the stump of Jesse. And then on Good Friday the shoot was cut off. Hung on a cross he died because God had sent him to bear the sins of all. He had sent him to receive the judgment against your sin.
Yet his death was not the end, because God’s promise could not remain unfulfilled. On the third day, the same Spirit who had conceived Jesus and had anointed him at his baptism raised him from the dead. Forty days later he ascended into heaven and was exalted at the right hand of God.
The shoot of Jesse came once as God had promised. And now he was promised that he will come again. He has promised that he will return in glory on the Last Day. He will come as the righteous judge. As Isaiah says in our text, “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”
In Jesus Christ and his resurrection, the new creation has begun. Because you are in Christ through baptism, you are a new creation now. On the Last Day everything that remains of the Fall and sin in you will be removed as your body is transformed to be like the resurrected Lord.
Jesus the Christ has brought you peace. The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” You have peace with God now. And this peace is just the beginning because when he returns in glory the risen Lord will restore peace to all of creation. He will renew all things as the new creation, and make everything very good once again. When this happens the words of Isaiah will be fulfilled – fully fulfilled. For through the prophet God promises in our text tonight: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf 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 cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”