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First Sunday of Advent – The Expected Messiah

December 2, 2012

 

Sermon:  First Sunday of Advent – The Expected Messiah  
Text:  Isaiah 11:1-9; 9:6-7; 7:14

 

Prophesies from the book of Isaiah go back 700 years before the birth of Jesus, back to the 8th century B.C.  The prophet Isaiah was a priest deeply concerned about the political and religious condition of his own people, the people of Judah.  The prophet called for justice and mercy, for righteousness and faithfulness, for spiritual and social reform.  His vision for the future hinged on the decisions that the country would make, on the direction the country would take, and on their leaders.  Would the land know peace, or would it experience destruction?

In the midst of a time of darkness, Isaiah found a single ray of hope in the birth of a child.  It is difficult to know exactly which child Isaiah had in mind in his own historical context, but the New Testament gives no doubt about the identity of the child.  The New Testament interprets this prophecy as a foretelling of the birth of Jesus.  These Scriptures become for us, as Christians, a part of our Advent celebration, a part of our preparation for the birth of Christ.  You have heard them several times in worship this morning.  You will hear them throughout the season, sometimes as a text, sometimes as a hymn or anthem.  I want us to take a closer look at these passages and see what they tell us about the expected Messiah.

I invite you to turn to the book of Isaiah.  Follow along as I read today’s text.

 

Isaiah 7:14:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

 

Isaiah 9:6-7:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor,Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

 

Isaiah 11:1-9:

1A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

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.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
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 cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

We are going to analyze this text pretty much line-by-line and verse-by-verse as we look at what these Scriptures teach.  We will begin by first considering the text of Isaiah 11.  Verses 1-2 say, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”

I have tried to kill a mulberry tree growing in our yard at home several times by cutting it back to the ground.  Do you know what happens when you cut back a mulberry tree?  It sends up new shoots.  That tree now has several trunks because I have pruned it so many times.  I have decided not to try to kill it anymore.  I will let it grow though I still plan to keep it pruned.  A mulberry tree is not necessarily desirable though it does serve as a kind of forecaster for me.  When I see its leaves, I know it is safe to plant beds of annuals.  I have noticed that we never have a killing frost after that tree leafs out in the spring.

The prophet Isaiah says in Chapter 11 that the tree of David is going to be cut off at the ground.  The lineage of David, the kingship of David, is going to be utterly destroyed; but a new shoot, a new branch, will come, from a royal heritage, from the house and lineage of David, as the Scriptures teach in the New Testament.  You will notice that in the NIV, the word Branch is written with a capital letter.  The tree symbolizes Jesus, Jesus who will sprout from the stump of Jesse.  This One who is to come will be an ideal king.  Verse 2:

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—

 

Verse 2 gives us a messianic praise used for the Messiah.  “The Spirit of the LORD” is often used in conjunction with Isaiah’s servant poems of the Exile.  This Messiah who is to come is God’s anointed.  He will have a “Spirit of wisdom and understanding.”  That is to say that he will be a political and judicial leader.  He is going to have “the Spirit of counsel and of power.”  He will be a person of authority, a person of might.  “The Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” will rest upon him.

Verse 3 tells us that “he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”  Not only will he be a political leader, a judicial leader, but he will also be a spiritual leader, a person of piety.  “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears.”  What kind of judge ignores the evidence before him, ignores the testimony?  He will not pay attention to what he sees with his eyes and not respond based on what he hears with his ears.

How then will he judge?  This leader, this Messiah, sees and hears at a deeper level, far beyond the surface.  Verse 4:  “With righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.  He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”  That is to say that his judicial pronouncements will be those of a just judge.  Verse 5: “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”  This political leader will not be corrupt.  He will have no stain of impropriety.  He will have nothing but purity.  He will be absolutely dependable, faithful.

What are the results of this kind of leadership?  Isaiah goes into what is sometimes been called a picture of the peaceable kingdom.  He describes here a menagerie of animals, some domestic and some wild.  Children and animals are seated together, not hurting each other.  Even those who are archenemies will be compatible.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
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 picture Isaiah painted is certainly an idyllic one of children and animals together, a world without strife, without enmity.  It reminds me of the great question so often asked, “Why can’t we all just get along?”  You can see here the pastoral concern of this king for all of his children and all of his creation.

A 19th century Quaker artist, Edward Hicks painted a masterpiece called The Peaceable Kingdom based on this passage in Isaiah 11.  His vision is like that of Isaiah’s – a world of peace, a world of love, a world of tranquility.  We are so captured by the children and the animals in the painting that we might overlook a faint image in the background.  William Penn, the first governor of the colony of Pennsylvania, is signing a peace treaty with Native American leaders.  Both Isaiah and Hicks present a vision that is not just a sweet scene of children and animals.  It is a vision of peace and security under the leadership of an extraordinary ruler.

Like many of you, I was born close to the time the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  My generation has pretty much lived under the shadow of a mushroom cloud.  We have always known that nuclear war was a possibility.  We have had precious little peace during my lifetime.  Wars are occurring almost constantly.  The events in Iran or North Korea are not new to us.  We do not have to look far to see conflict in almost every quadrant of this world.

When Isaiah spoke these prophesies, war was on the horizon.  Just to the north was the Assyrian Empire.  The only superpower in the world at the time had conquered the Northern Kingdom, the kingdom of Israel.  Samaria, the capital, fell in 722 B.C. during the lifetime of Isaiah.  Isaiah thought that Assyria would invade and conquer Judea as well.  His prophesies say, “Unless we straighten up, unless we really turn to God, we can expect doom and destruction.”  It is true that the Assyrian army came right to the gates of Jerusalem, but they were repelled.  Another 100 years or so later, Judah, the capital of Jerusalem, was taken by the Babylonian army.

Isaiah lived at a time of distressing darkness described vividly in Chapter 8.  Verses 16-17 say that God is hiding His face while Verses 19-22 describe the awful silence of God:

19When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.

Not only will the people face the awful silence of God, but as Amos put it, they will also endure a famine of hearing the Word of God.  Does that sound familiar?  Do you sometimes think that you are living in that kind of darkness?  Many people do.  Darkness has been growing in our world since 9-11-2000.  Listen to what Isaiah says in Chapter 9, Verse 2:  “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  What, then, is the source of the light shining in the darkness?  Isaiah tells of a newly crowned Prince in Verse 6:  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Some scholars believe that Isaiah spoke these oracles at the coronation of King Hezekiah.  Certainly the prophet and king had a close relationship.  Hezekiah often consulted Isaiah.  He was a relatively good king, but not the ideal leader described in these prophesies.

From our Christian perspective, we affirm that this new leader, this child, is none other than the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”  This leader is given four royal titles.  “Wonderful Counselor” means that he has unusual administrative ability.  He is wiser than any sage.  “Mighty God” tells us that he is the consummate warrior with authority and strength greater than any other mortal.  “Everlasting Father” depicts His unfailing care for His people.  Neither time nor death can destroy His love for His people.  The epithet “Prince of Peace” illustrates His ability to bring about the peaceable kingdom described in Chapter 11.  This new crowned Prince will be wiser than Solomon, more courageous than David, and more devoted to God than Abraham or Moses.

Verse 7 offers the hope that Isaiah sees, a hope that does not disappoint.  In your own personal life, do you wonder if there is hope?  All of humanity cries, “Is there any hope?”

Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

Turn to Chapter 7:14:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

John Wesley was an 18th century Anglican cleric and Christian theologian.  His parting words in this life were, “The best of all is this:  God is with us.”  The word Immanuel means God is with us.  God is not just looking after us like a big eye in the sky.  God does not just reach down and touch us occasionally.  God has joined us in this life.  He has come to be one of us.  The first great Christian miracle is the miracle of the incarnation.  God has stooped close to earth and become a baby.  What?  Are we talking about a baby when we talk about a leader?  We are to consider a baby as a “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” and “Prince of Peace”?  Really?  How amazing it is that the great God of all creation would choose to become incarnate in a little baby!

Two events happened this week that brought this sense of amazement home to me.  Friday I was in the Emergency Room with a family I love very much.  All of the symptoms made us believe the wife and mother had had a very serious stroke.  The tone in that room was quite somber.  I led in prayer, and then we heard the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” playing in the hospital to announce the birth of a baby.   With that music came a changed mood in the room.

On Wednesday Kristin Wilkerson, our Preschool Partnership Director, asked me to give the devotion for the children in our program.  Our decorating committee had been working hard the day before, placing many Christmas decorations throughout the church.  Since the tree in the Fellowship Hall had been decorated, we took a field trip there so that all the children could sit down and look at the gifts under the tree.  Have you ever watched young children look at a Christmas tree?  Their eyes just twinkle.  We talked about the most special gift of all.  Some thought it might be Santa Claus, but others knew it was Jesus.  We talked about what God had done by giving us the gift of a baby.

As I walked back to my office, I thought, These children are the hope of Morningside Baptist Church.  They are the hope of the world. 

Many of my grandchildren, whom I love very much, came to our home for Thanksgiving.  It was wonderful see them here and wonderful to see them leave.  We are looking forward to their return at Christmastime.  When I look at them I can react two ways.  I could say, “I just can’t believe the kind of world they are going to have to live in!” or I could say, “These children are going to make this world a better place.”  I choose to believe the second option.

Do you want to find hope?  Go to the fifth floor of the hospital.  You will see hope on every face staring through the nursery window at the new babies.  If you want to see hope, look at little children.

We celebrate God’s decision to send a baby to do a Messiah’s work.  We come close to the manger and “find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16).  We look into that tiny face and see the spitting image of his Father, God.  We understand that God has done something miraculous.  Not only has God sent us a Messiah, a Savior, a Redeemer, but He has also sent us hope in human flesh.  That hope is a baby.

Are you ready for Christmas?  We sing the words, “Let every heart prepare him room” and “Come to my heart, Lord Jesus.  Come to my heart today.”  If you have never accepted Christ, we extend that invitation to you.  That decision will make all the difference in your Christmas celebration.  Some of you have other decisions to make.  You know what God has laid on your heart.  We invite you to respond.

 

Kirk H. Neely
© December 2012
 
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