Sunday 13th December 2020
‘A shoot will come up…’
Imagine you are out for a walk in the most desolate place you can think of, grass brown and withered, trees cut down and destroyed as far as the eye can see. You survey the desolation, it is a sad sight, (I hope this isn’t anyone’s back garden I’m describing!), and then you turn round and something catches your eye…At first you are not sure what it is but as you walk towards it all becomes clear, coming up out of what you thought was the stump of a dead tree is a green shoot, small but growing and very much alive. And from that moment your perspective changes; it’s as if everything is different, all is not lost, a green shoot, the promise of new life, new hope, not so desolate after all…
What a tough year this has been. For many, 2020 might have the feeling of a desolate place, but now as we move towards 2021, there is a hint of optimism around, a sense perhaps that we are beginning to turn a corner…And with that new optimism, that green shoot of hope, there is no better place to go than to God’s Word and Isaiah Chapter 11, for there we find not just a shoot of hope, important as that is, but we find it’s just the beginning, leading us to the One who is Hope, one who is the Promise, Immanuel God with us, and what a difference He makes to our perspective and how we see ourselves and this world…
Let’s pause to pray,
Heavenly Father, Help us now as we ponder Your precious Word and may we have ears to hear and hearts to respond to You in faith, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
We are now deep into the Advent Season. Advent as we know is a time of waiting, a time of preparation and a time often known as the ‘turning point of the year’, and so today as part of our Advent journey, we turn to Isaiah Chapter 11. Some Biblical background is always helpful, and as we dip into the writings of the prophet Isaiah we do so at a dark time in the history of God’s people. They have gone through some exceedingly difficult days and so in previous chapters you will read of things like woe, destruction, sadness, oppression, sickness…It’s a sad and desolate picture, but then amidst trouble, sadness and difficulty, a hint of change appears, new hope is in the air; Isaiah describes this new hope with a vivid and unforgettable metaphor, ‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit…’
It doesn’t take much unpacking to find the hope spelt out in those words –
- A green shoot symbolizes new life,
- The name ‘Jesse’ is important, Jesse father of King David, a powerful and promise-filled lineage for God’s people,
- And the word ‘Branch’ with a capital B points to a person,
- Is He the hope?
- Yes, yes and yes again…
The very next verse continues to spell it out as Isaiah goes on to write: ‘The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him…’ Isaiah 11:2. So, the promise of new hope is in a Person; what an incredible promise for God’s people long ago; and what a promise for us today! But what sort of Promise, what sort of Person and what difference does He make? The good news just keeps on coming, from verse 2 onwards:
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him,
[This is God’s Man – God’s ultimate choice],
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and of power,
The Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord,
And he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He won’t judge by what he sees with his eyes – by appearances,
He will judge fairly and act courageously…
Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.
And we know who this Person is for the text couldn’t be clearer as it points straight to Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, Immanuel. The One who was born in a stable, and who, when He walked this earth, was the fulfilment of everything in this prophecy. Now, let’s think about that for a moment and specifically how Jesus was with people…ponder what that means for you: are you hurting, feeling side lined, undervalued, sad, worried, wondering how God could use you? If that is you, listen again to this: ‘He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, by appearances…’ So, how did Jesus model this for us? Do you remember this encounter from John Chapter 4?
Jesus who paused by a well to talk with a despised, shunned, hurting, lost Samaritan woman – even his disciples didn’t want to bother with her…But Jesus asked her for a drink with whispers about her reputation hanging thick in the air, listened to her, really listened to her, answered her many questions and then talked of living water and a kingdom that had arrived. And in probably less than half an hour, Jesus turned her life around, filling it and her with new hope, like a green shoot out of the brokenness and desolation of her life…
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears…
Jesus who noticed a poor widow entering the temple and dropping two tiny coins, all she had, into the collection receptacle. Two tiny copper coins. Amidst the clamour and the crowd that day, who else even noticed her? But Jesus did, pointed it out, and told us all to take note of her giving…(Luke 21)
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears. But with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
Jesus who told of two men entering the temple to pray. One, a Pharisee, an important man, a man who was surely close to God, was he not? A man who did all the ‘right’ things to please God and who seemed to have all the right words to pray…But then a second man enters, a tax collector, not a popular man with the people…He seems too upset to even look up and only manages a few struggled words, “God have mercy on me…” But to whom does Jesus’ heart go out? Whose prayer is heard and answered? Not the Pharisee, so full of himself, but the one who was so in need and desperate for God’s mercy that day…(Luke 18)
Jesus Christ, Messiah and King, the ultimate fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, but what of His kingdom, what difference does that make to this restless world? Isaiah has a picture of that for us as well:
The wolf will live with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the goat,
The calf and the lion and the yearling together;
And a little child will lead them…
The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord…
A picture of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that is all about restoring broken relationships, bringing peace, everything as it should be…
Isaiah Chapter 11, points to a new hope, a new perspective, all wrapped up in a Person, Jesus Christ, Immanuel and His kingdom here on earth. But there is another step to take, for what about those who will put their trust in Jesus? Jesus, the Promise, spoke of that too, and His words are very challenging:
‘Prove your repentance by the fruit you bear. Show the world that you’re mine, through how you live your life…’ Matthew 3:8
‘Deny yourself. Take up your cross and follow me. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and the gospel will save it.’ Mark 8:35
We are now deep into the Advent Season. Advent – the turning point of the year.
So, what does that idea of turning mean for you and for me?
- It means turning to look to Jesus, who came 2000 years ago in fulfilment of prophecy.
- It means turning to look to Jesus, who died for us and who is alive today and reigns in the hearts of those who follow Him.
- It means turning to look to Jesus, the One who is Hope, the One who is Peace, the One who is the champion and companion of the lost, the lonely, the hurting, the down-trodden, the One who knows all about our hopes and dreams our fears and anxieties.
- It means turning to look to Jesus, who, in God’s timing, will ultimately restore all things: ‘In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious…11:10
Many thousands of year’s ago, God’s people were living through tough, desolate times but all was not lost: a green shoot, the promise of new life, new hope…Today, we have come through a very tough year but that hint of optimism, that green shoot of hope, is definitely now in the air….And with that feeling of optimism so we are encouraged to point people to the greatest hope there is, the One who is unchanging through our good and challenging times, Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. Let me encourage you, take time this week to reread Isaiah’s prophecy and remind yourself of how it points to Jesus and the hope you have in Him. Then take time to thank God for the work of Jesus in your life and pledge yourself to bear fruit for Him and serve Him well…, ‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit…’
Let’s pray together:
Lord, what a joy and an encouragement Your Word is to us. Thank you for the many ways this ancient prophecy speaks to our hearts today. May its precious words encourage and enthuse us as we strive to be Your people, in the name of Jesus, the Promise, Amen.