There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit…In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious (vv. 1, 10).
The meaning of Isaiah’s prophesy is this: Jesse, grandson of Boaz and Ruth of Bethlehem-Ephrathah, was father of seven sons. God does not elect his king by appearances or the repute of men; rather his heart discerns the man upon whom he sets his Spirit. God directed the prophet Samuel to anoint the youngest of Jesse’s sons, David, king of Israel in place of Saul.
The “shoot” from Jesse, in the first instance was of course, David; but Isaiah prophesying later is revealing another “sprout”, greater than David who will bloom and bear for God desired fruit. This latter “shoot” from Jesse is a prophesy of Jesus, anointed by JB.
By the time of Jesus and JB, Jesse’s line and David’s house (2 Sam. 7:11-13) were decimated. Except for Jesus’ birth, it was game over; Jesse’s line was a stump of dead wood good only as fuel for fire.
But from Jesse’s stump God would bring something new; a “Shoot”, the bearer of his Spirit engrafted upon the “dry wood” of the cross for Life. God’s “Shoot” would be the “green wood” of his new church (Lk. 23:31; cf. Sermon for proper 29C.19), his place of “glorious” dwelling with men.
In this context of God who replaces the unfit with the fit, the old with new, the dry and decimated with young and green, and brings the dead to Life; JB warned “religionists” of every age, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt. 3:10).
In Advent we prepare to greet Jesse’s “Shoot”, source of God’s “Remnant”, new Israel. How then do we to process the prophecies of Isaiah and JB?
JB preached the nearness of the kingdom of heaven in the person of Jesus, not for Israel only but all peoples. His proclamation revitalized God’s eternal purposes; but within Judaism his preaching of the Kingdom necessitated new reflections of old assumptions, and a new response to God on the part of the old covenantal establishment.
JB came to catechize, making explicit God’s new thing by his “Shoot”; that Life, knowledge of God, and salvation would no longer be accessed as ethnic (Jewish) status and ritual obeisance. God’s “Shoot”, his “Babe” and Anointed One, was destined for new Fire upon the cross’ old “dry wood”. At that place Jesus would be God’s ensign to the nations where they would inquire of the fulness of God (Isa. 11:9b).
JB’s call to a washing of repentance not only called Israel, independent of the temple sacrifices, to heart-felt separation from sins; but more especially to a conversion of heart to God’s new, singular, and gracious rule in the knowledge of his anointed new “Shoot” (Rom. 15:12).
This was the point of JB’s ministry, a catechism for turning hearts and minds to Scripture’s promised fulfillment in Christ, and so to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mt. 3:3c). JB was Judaism’s bridge for departure from old to new: out of Sadducean temple and Pharisaic synagogues to Jesus’ new Torah wisdom and priesthood after the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 5: 6, 10, et al.).
Fast approaching is the Feast of Christmas, and the question for believers and unbelievers during Advent’s preparation is; will our crooked hearts and undulating minds be readied to receive God’s Christ, coming even as a Babe, Wisdom, and Priest in these end times?
Our “earthy” condition always throws-up barriers to God arriving into our lives. We, as much as OT Israel, still need JB’s preaching. His message of conversion at the nearness of the King is as relevant today as then.
Last Sunday we considered Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Its triumphal nature had little to do with the crowd’s un-comprehending “Hosannas”. Rather, Jesus’ triumph was in concluding his fiery baptism, bearing our sin without “provision for the flesh…” (Rom. 13:14), a perfect atonement toward God for all who will receive it.
The deep humility surrounding our Lord’s Bethlehem birth, his breaking-in from heaven to earth, forces us to know and recognize the Babe in his maturity to be God’s humble Shoot when from the cross, he declared, “it is finished” (Jn. 19:30).
Jesus trusted in God alone for all. When St. Paul urges that we “put on Christ”, then our condemnation in Adam, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19) is trumped. This is the gospel in whom we have knowledge of God revealed in his tender Shoot.
JB confronted old Israel, “do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these [dead] stones (euphemism for “Gentiles”) to raise up children for Abraham” (Mt. 3:9). Israel of Abraham’s physical DNA, apart from the shoot of Jesus’ flesh, is consigned as dead wood fit only for the axe’s heft.
But the cross bearing and proclaiming God’s “Shoot” is Life for us by Baptism, our new begetting and “signal for the peoples—[and] of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place (the Church) shall be glorious” (Isa. 11:10).
As we prepare for the church’s Christmas celebration, will we receive our Lord aright; the sole source of salvation with his church; or will we, like Pharisee’s and Sadducee’s, play the hypocrite for a day; which is to say, will we receive conversion to God’s love?
Christians attending JB’s catechism, prepare for Jesus who still comes to us in the Babe’s humility. We set aside the flesh of Adam for the flesh of our risen Lord in faith, repenting of any other way to God than in the man Christ alone in his church.
Though, in our earthly natures we are dust; by Baptism we “put on Christ” with the certain hope of God’s fidelity to his word receiving us his pleasing fruit of the “Shoot”. Amen.