Pastor Johnold J. Strey
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church; Belmont, CA
Sermon on Isaiah 11:1-5
Second Sunday in Advent (Year A)
Sunday, December 5, 2010
The Assyrian armies were on the march. They mowed down cities and armies before them like a bulldozer traveling at the speed of a freight train. The nation of Judah and the great city of Jerusalem were next on Assyria’s destructive path. The prophet Isaiah and King Hezekiah prayed to the Lord that he would save them from this impending doom. There was no reasonable way to think they would escape from the destruction that threatened them. God heard their prayer and sent his angel who slaughtered 185,000 troops from Assyria’s forces. The Lord showed himself to be the Savior they were waiting for at that very moment.
The First Lesson for today’s service was written in that historical context. But as is so often the case in the Old Testament, God’s saving acts were an opportunity to preview the greatest saving acts of God that were yet to come. In today’s First Lesson, Isaiah uses God’s deliverance from the Assyrians as a springboard to talk about God’s greatest rescue efforts through the Savior who was to come. God was the Savior that Judah was waiting for against the Assyrians, and God’s Son would be the Savior we have all been waiting for against sin and death. In Isaiah 11, Isaiah tells you about the Savior you have been waiting for. This Savior, Jesus Christ, comes with humble roots, with heavenly qualities, and with holy judgment.
God rescued Israel from Assyria. Judah was not cut down by their enemies—at least, not yet. Because of the nation’s continued sin and rebellion, God would eventually send another enemy nation to cut them down. The great nation that once flourished under Kings David and Solomon would be cut down and reduced to a stump. But from that seemingly lifeless, God promised to send a Savior. Isaiah said, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” Isaiah calls the fledging nation of Judah “the stump of Jesse.” Jesse was the father of David, the great King from Israel’s past. The Savior God promised would come from the humble roots of Israel’s people and David’s family.
Today’s Gospel account (Matthew 3:1-12) described John the Baptist calling people to repentance to get them ready for the Savior’s ministry. God’s people had waited for the Savior to come over thousands of years. The Savior they had been waiting for, Jesus, finally came into this world. Isaiah tells us that the long-awaited Savior had humble roots. Jesus’ mother and stepfather, Mary and Joseph, were never in the latest edition of People magazine or Who’s Who among Israel. Yes, they were from the line of King David, but that was about it. But Jesus’ humble family roots were part of God’s plan to save us from sin. The Son of God left the glories of heaven and became a flesh-and-blood from the line of Jesse and David. Jesus disguised his divine power and set it aside, humbling himself from cradle to cross, where he endured the ultimate humility—enduring our punishment for his Father’s wrath against our sin. Those humble roots and that humble life were key ingredients to make Jesus the Savior you have been waiting for!
A few summers ago, we offered an eight-week Sunday morning Bible Class that gave us an overview of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. If you came to that class, you may remember how important numbers were in Revelation. Numbers often carry symbolic meaning in Revelation (and other Bible books). Sometimes those symbolic numbers were included in subtle ways—such as the number of phrases in a sentence acting as a symbolic number.
As Isaiah continues his description of the Savior you have been waiting for, he says that God’s Spirit would come on the Savior. In that description, there were seven phrases that described the Spirit. The number seven is sometimes used symbolically as a reference to the Holy Spirit; for example, Revelation 1:4 talks about the seven-fold Spirit of God. Note the seven “Spirit-phrases” Isaiah applies to the Branch of Jesse, the promised Savior: “The Spirit  of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit  of wisdom and  of understanding, the Spirit  of counsel and  of power, the Spirit of  knowledge and of  the fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”
Let’s take a quick look at those seven phrases. The first one simply tells us that “the Spirit of the Lord will rest on [Christ].” Perhaps Isaiah is previewing the way the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus when John the Baptist baptized him at the beginning of his ministry. After that, there are three pairs of words describing the Spirit that God the Father placed on the Savior. “Wisdom” describes intelligence that can properly evaluate situations. “Understanding” is perception or insight that can see into the true nature of something. “Counsel” describes wisdom that is put to work to make a good decision. “Power” is taking counsel and actually putting it to work. A thorough “knowledge” about God is something that only the Savior could reveal to us, and “fear” is the respect for God that knowledge and faith in him produces. Taken together, we have a picture of the heavenly wisdom that the Savior would possess.
But the coming Savior would have another heavenly quality that deserves mention. That quality is righteousness. Isaiah wrote, “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.” In ancient times, a belt might be worn around the waist when a person engaged in a wrestling match; the object of the competition was to wrestle the opponent’s belt away from him. Isaiah used that ancient picture to describe the Savior’s readiness and ability to go into battle. The belt that made Christ ready for battle was righteousness and faithfulness. Jesus could be holy under God’s law and could faithfully obey every command God had given—heavenly qualities that were absolutely necessary for winning our salvation!
Today we heard John the Baptist calling people to repentance to get ready for the Savior’s ministry. God’s people had waited for the Savior to come over thousands of years. The Savior they had been waiting for, Jesus, finally came into this world. Isaiah tells us that the long-awaited Savior had heavenly qualities. Jesus had perfect wisdom and perfect righteousness because he was the perfect and eternal Son of God. Jesus’ knew God’s will perfectly: His Father had commissioned him to make the journey from cradle to cross where he would suffer and die for our sins. Jesus’ followed God’s will perfectly: His righteousness provides the spot-clean record that we need to get into heaven and that now counts for us who believe in Jesus as our Savior. Jesus’ heavenly qualities were key ingredients to make him the Savior you have been waiting for!
When a judge or jury makes a verdict, they rely entirely on evidence. As useful as it might be to try to look into someone’s heart and mind to find out if they are telling the truth, the reality is that no judge or jury has that ability. We must rely on testimony and evidence to make a judgment.
John the Baptist called the crowds to repent in today’s Gospel (Matthew 3:1-12) because the Messiah was coming to judge them. Isaiah relates a similar thought in this reading. Christ’s holy judgment was coming, and it would be a unique judgment because Christ can peer through human minds and hearts to judge them with far more than just outward evidence. Isaiah said, “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.”
There were many people in the ruling class who took advantage of their positions by coming down with judgments that were to their personal advantage. If the poor and needy were exploited, they didn’t seem to care, as long as they got ahead. But Christ’s holy judgment would not exploit anyone. In fact, his holy judgment with its heart-piercing knowledge would seek justice against all sin and injustice. By the powerful Word of God coming from his lips, he would condemn sin and crush arrogant souls who sought the pleasures of sin over his gift of salvation.
Today we heard John the Baptist calling people to repentance to get ready for the Savior’s ministry. God’s people had waited for the Savior to come over thousands of years. The Savior they had been waiting for, Jesus, finally came into this world—and he is coming again! Isaiah tells us that the long-awaited Savior will come with a holy judgment. That ought to make every one of us want to run and hide. The all-perceiving, heart-piercing Christ is coming to judge all mankind and to seek justice against all sin! There is no way you can doctor the data when God, who knows all and sees all, comes to judge all. The verdict we deserve is guilty; the punishment we deserve is hell.
But when Jesus’ comes again, his verdict will not be what we deserve. He endured what we deserved on the cross. He gives us what he earned through faith in his saving work. His holy life given into death assures you and all believers of eternal life and the resurrection from the dead. And so his final judgment is nothing to fear—no, it is our gracious entrance into heaven forever! Jesus’ holy judgment is a key ingredient to make him the Savior you are waiting for!
I think Isaiah’s message and John the Baptist’s preaching are good messages for us to hear these days before Christmas. The frenzy of the season can distract our attention from the miraculous baby born in Bethlehem, and the secularization of the season can distract our attention from the miraculous judgment that will happen when Christ comes again. The first and second Advents of Christ put it all in perspective. He came to save us, he comes in his Word to call us to repentance and faith, and he will come again to bring us the heavenly gifts that he has already secured for us. Jesus is not just holiday ambiance. He is the Savior we have been waiting for! Amen.