During Advent it is most appropriate to spend time reading and reflecting on the Old Testament – in particular – the words of the Prophets who wrote to call Israel into a faithful relationship with their YHWH God, to remind Israel of God’s faithfulness, and to speak a word of hope, encouraging Israel of God’s coming deliverance. In Isaiah 11:1-9 we read of the promise and future hope of God sending a King who will deliver Israel.
Any time we as Christians read the Old Testament, we must read the Old Testament on two different, but simultaneous levels. (We have mentioned this before). First, every Old Testament passage has an initial and historical context. In the case of Isaiah 11:1-9, it was written to Israel – the people of God – and applied to Israel’s specific historical context. In 11:1-9, Isaiah spoke hopeful words to Israel; one day God will send – out of the lineage of David – a future King who will deliver Israel from their oppression and marginalization to the nations. This King will be the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham and David and the King will deliver Israel by establishing a reign of justice that will lead to Israel’s experience of peace. The prophet Isaiah’s words – to Israel – were of a distinctly socio-political nature.
But as followers of Christ we also read with a distinctly Christ-centric focus. As we read Isaiah’s words we read them not only as a socio-political word of hope to ancient Israel, but we read them as a messianic promise that has been fulfilled in Jesus. For us, the words of Isaiah are prophecy fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ – who was God in flesh, the sent and anointed Savior – who has reconciled us to God. In this regards, these words of Isaiah 11 are for us a statement on Jesus’ Messianic identity and role.
We affirm that Jesus has sprouted out of the branch of Jesse. That Jesus is King David’s biological heir and in so being, has fulfilled God’s promises to David and Abraham. We believe that out of this great theological tree – Israel as God’s covenant people – a new branch has been engrafted (to use the Apostle Paul’s words from the New Testament). And now the people of God includes both Jew and Gentile who would confess faith in Jesus and cling to the faithfulness of Jesus’ work of redemption. We, the Church, are now engrafted and part of God’s covenant people, part of the branch (the Church) that will sprout from the shoot (Jesus, the Messiah) that will grow from the stump (Israel).
In Isaiah we not only see Jesus’ identity – as the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Messiah – but we also see a clear articulation of Jesus’ Spirit, Jesus’ character, Jesus’ work, and lastly (but not least) the fruit of Jesus’ ministry. Isaiah tells us that Jesus, the Messiah – God’s anointed, will have a spirit endowed upon him by the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God has poured out on Jesus a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, of counsel and might, and of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. Jesus is a Messiah who has the practical wisdom to lead and govern, the diplomatic and military authority to offer judgement, and a deep piety and love of God.
The Spirit shapes Jesus’ character. Again, Isaiah instructs us that Jesus is one who is righteous and he is faithful. He lives a life that is obedient to God and honors God. Both Jesus’ Spirit and Jesus’ character then author and animate Jesus’ work. In Isaiah 11:3-4 we read that Jesus’ ultimate work is to establish justice on the earth. Justice is life lived in accordance to God’s will and God’s plan. It means there is fairness and equity, there is no marginalization or oppression, but there is equality in the Kingdom of God and mutuality. Jesus brings God’s justice largely through his work of bringing judgment. Judgement simply means not allowing sin to thrive or go unchecked, unpunished, or unmitigated. When their is injustice, when the poor are oppressed and when people are marginalized, Jesus has come to make sure those who are oppressing and marginalizing others are held accountable, but also, Jesus comes to deliver those who are oppressed and marginalized into a new future free from that oppression. So Isaiah tells us that Jesus is a Messiah who will judge the needy with righteousness and will be one who strikes the violent and breaks those who are wicked.
Lastly, Isaiah then points to the fruit of Jesus’ ministry of establishing justice – peace. Jesus has come to establish the justice of the Kingdom of God so that there might be peace on the earth. This peace is revealed in an absence of the violence and of the predatory/prey relationship that so characterizes earthly life. Those that are enemies, those that are at war, those that are trying to kill and murder – both in the natural world and the world of humanity – will be transformed into allies and friends. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the young goat, the nursing child will play over the snake’s den. Human beings will no longer hurt nor destroy anywhere in God’s Kingdom.
This is the promise of God. This is what is fulfilled in Jesus. This is what we the people of God wait for in Jesus’ return – the day when Jesus’ ministry of establishing the justice of the Kingdom of God leads to the reign of peace on this earth and on the new heavens and earth that Jesus will bring. Amen.