The Promise of Christmas: Rod and Root of Jesse

[2nd and last part in a series called “The Promise of Christmas” that looks at less well known prophecies about Jesus’ birth.]

When is the last time a small child ran up to the manger in your local nativity scene and exclaimed, “Look, dad, it’s the rod that came from the stem of Jesse!”?

I’m guessing it doesn’t happen very often. In Isaiah 11 we find this prophecy about the coming of the Messiah:

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Is 11:1 ESV

rodstumpThe KJV says “rod” from the “stem” of Jesse. The word for stem is “geza” and it means stump. The rod or shoot is a sapling. You may have been walking in the woods and seen a stump of a tree that has been cut down. Sometimes, from that stump, new trees will spring up.

In it’s most basic sense, the prophecy is fulfilled in the genealogy of Jesus, found in the first chapter of Matthew.

Matt 1:6
“and Jesse the father of King David.”

Also see Acts 13.

Acts 13:22-23
“After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.”

Jesse was father of King David. Jesus was a descendant from the line of David.

But what does it mean? A new tree springing from the stump of an old tree? To understand it, we need to look back at how Israel got its first king.

In 1 Samuel 8 Israel demanded a king. It had never been part of God’s plan for them to have a king. At the end of the time of judges, the elders of Israel complained to Samuel that his children were not fit to be judges. They took bribes and perverted justice. So they rejected the judges and asked for a king. One of the reasons given was so they can be “like other nations” even though Israel was never supposed to be like other nations.

After Saul, it was David who became king. He was the greatest king Israel would ever have. But the monarchy that came through Jesse failed. By the end of Solomon’s reign, things were going downhill fast. Israel split, and Rehoboam ruled Judah like a dictator, and the Northern kingdom never had another godly king. A little over 700 years before Christ’s birth, the Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians. Around 600 years before Christ, Judah fell to the Babylonians.

2 Kings 24 records how Jesse’s tree was cut down, leaving a stump. God protected a remnant, and from this remaining part of Israel, Jesus comes.

Why is it a stump? We know that’s what did happen, but why? Why not from a healthy tree? Why was the kingdom of David’s line destined to fall?

Part of the reason is because the Law leads to death. People are imperfect, and we cannot live the life required of us without Christ. Paul talks about this in Romans 7:

Romans 7:10-11
” I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.”

So is the Law bad? Paul answers this as well in the same chapter. and ends up describing the war within ourselves, as sin and holiness fight.

Romans 7:21-25
” So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

No matter what happened to Israel as a nation, humanity would always need a savior. Not just Israel, but all of humanity. Imagine what would have happened if the kingdom of Israel had stood. The Messiah would have come, and literally been born into the earthly throne of David. Jesus Christ isn’t the king of Israel, he is the King of Kings and Lord of all. (Revelation 17:14) His purpose isn’t to rule and earthly kingdom, but to make a way for humanity to be reconciled to God.

Look later in Isaiah 11:

Is 11:10- 12
” In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush,from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.”

The Messiah is also the root of Jesse. Jesus was born a man in the line of David, Jesse’s son, but he has always existed, and as Col 1:16 reminds us, Jesus created all things, including Jesse and his line of descendants. Revelation 22:16 also shows Jesus referring to himself as the root and offspring of David, Jesse’s son.

In verse 11 of Isaiah 11 the Lord reclaims his Remnant. It’s through the work of the Messiah that the people of Israel can be reclaimed. The Hebrew word for “reclaim” can also be translated “redeem”. It refers to something you pay for, or get in exchange for labor or payment. Jesus Christ is the redeemer.

From this rod of Jesse, a branch that bears fruit. Think about the cycle of plant life. Seeds grow into a plant, the plant reaches maturity and fruit is produced. Within that fruit are more seeds. It’s the beginning of new life.

The Old Covenant, the Promise of Christmas, the Promise made to Abraham, matures in the coming of Christ. And in him are the seeds of new life, the New Covenant.

The Law is the measuring stick that lets us know we have sinned. Because the Law exists, we know we need a savior. The Law shows us the no earthly kingdom can succeed in fulfilling the purpose of Christ’s coming. It is not through allegiance to Israel or a king on earth that salvation comes. Jesus is a different kind of king.

Make no mistake, the coming of Christ seals the fate of those who refuse to follow God. It is the fulcrum upon which everyone will be judged.

Matthew 25:31-33
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. The people of every nation will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right but the goats on his left.”

And he is judging the people of every nation, not just one. God didn’t plan for Israel to need a King, but they wanted one. They didn’t understand God’s plan. Centuries later when the Messiah finally came, most of Israel didn’t recognize him because he did not come as an earthly King, but as a spiritual one. The wise men went to Herod first because kings are never born in smelly stables. His birth doesn’t make sense if we expect him to be an earthly king.

Why was there a sapling from the stump of Jesse? What is the purpose of Christ’s coming?

Luke 19:10 says it plainly-
” For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost”

It is this action that fulfills the promise we talked about in the first part of this series. It is his nature that enables him to do the work, and accomplish his purpose. No one else could do it.

The Messiah is not an earthly king, he does not act like we expect kings to act. This king came to earth in a manger, in a smelly stable. His kingdom will not pass away, but will endure for ever and ever.

The King of Kings humbled himself:

Philippians 2:8
“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

The King of Kings- who will sit on his throne and judge us all, the greatest of all rulers, through out time- humbled himself, and did the work that only he could do. Fulfilling the promise made to Abraham, he made a way back to a right relationship with God. Only he is the root and the rod of Jesse.

Merry Christmas indeed.

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The Promise of Christmas: Seed of Abraham and Isaac

manger-hero-980x380[This post is more ministry than media related, but I hope you will enjoy it.]

If you have been around church at Christmas time you always hear about the virgin birth, and being born in Bethlehem, etc… But when was the last time you heard some one point to the manager and exclaim, “Look, it’s Isaac’s seed!” It’s not often that churches focus on prophecies that describe Jesus as the Seed of Abraham, Seed of Isaac, and Jesus being the way that all nations would be blessed through Abraham.

To be honest, normally when I think about biblical prophecies surrounding Jesus, whether from birth or life, I normally focus on the part where Jesus fulfilling them helps to prove he was who he said he was, and is who we believe him to be. But, while the prophecies do that, they are made for a reason, and in a time period. They have meaning and context. They have significance that spans eternity . I thought it would be interesting to see what the significance of some of these other, less well known Christmas prophecies were.

1. Seed of Abraham.

I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you.  And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.” Genesis 17:7-8
 In blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore, and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed… Genesis 22:17-18

On the surface, this prophecy is fulfilled in the 1st chapter of Matthew that records the genealogy of Christ, and lists Abraham as an ancestor. Galatians 3 goes further:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed who is Christ. And I say this: The law, which came 430 years later, does not revoke a covenant that was previously ratified by God and cancel the promise.  For if the inheritance is from the law, it is no longer from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise. Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come. Gal 3:16-19a

This was a promise made by God to Abraham. A promise made before the Law was given. God is establishing the Covenant here. This is the Old Covenant in the Bible. He promises to multiply Abraham’s descendants, and he promises that a seed from Abraham would bless all the nations of the earth.

In many ways the Bible is the story of how God kept this promise to Abraham.

Before this, there was no Israel, no Jewish religion. Abraham didn’t join an existing organization. He heard God’s voice, and responded. Through this man’s line of descendants God eventually brought Jesus Christ into the world. Jesus, who truly blesses every nation by offering a way back into relationship with God. It is the Seed of Abraham that fulfills God’s promise.

2. Seed of Isaac.

“Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. Genesis 17:19

Again,  Matthew 1 provides the surface fulfillment of this prophecy.

At first I didn’t think much about this. It seemed like a simple continuation of the promise God had made to Abraham. God promised Abraham would have descendants like the stars. That promise is continued through Isaac. Then I remembered that Abraham had another son…

He first had a child called Ishmael through Sarah’s servant Hagar. But God was clearly saying that it was through Isaac, not Ishmael, that the covenant continued. Paul wrote in Romans about this:

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” Romans 9:6-9

Though Abraham’s “ill conceived” (bad dad joke) son had his blood, Ishmael was not the line from which God would bring the Messiah. For the very first time, God is saying that it is not blood that maintains the covenant. It’s not simply a physical thing. There is something more to the promise.

(On a side note, Abraham and Sarah did not trust God, and tried to do things their own way. Then when God worked according to his own timing and Isaac was born, they cast out Hagar and Ishmael. Islam, one of the fastest growing religions in the world, claims the seed of Ishmael. They reference Genesis 21 where God said he would make a nation out of Hagar’s child, and trace their start back to Abraham’s first born son. What if Abraham and Sarah had fully trusted God? Would Islam still exist? Or if it did, would it be a different sort of faith? Those are questions we can’t answer. But we do know that sometimes our decisions can have impact for generations.)

Why is this prophecy important? This is the first time we see that the relationship with God is not tied to the physical blood in our bodies. Romans specifically says it’s not about “physical descent”. Not every person with Abraham’s blood is included in the “promise”. And conversely, as we see in the New Covenant, the promise given to Abraham is not limited to just Jews. Jesus. who is the Seed of Isaac, makes a way for people to be included in the Promise, regardless of blood.

3. Blessing to all nations.

Referenced in Genesis 22, but earlier mentioned here:

Then the Lord said, “Should I hide what I am about to do from Abraham?  Abraham is to become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him so that he will command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. This is how the Lord will fulfill to Abraham what He promised him.” Genesis 18:17-19

The book of Acts records how this was fulfilled:

 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, And all the families of the earth will be blessed through your offspring. God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.  Acts 3:25-26

This prophecy happens right in the middle of the Sodom and Gomorrah story. God wants to tell Abraham what he is about to do to those sin filled cities. Both the Genesis and Galatians passages reference the behavior of those who will come after Abraham. How will the promise be kept? The children of Abraham will follow God’s ways. How will nations be blessed? Each person will turn from their evil ways. And in Genesis 18 God is about to wipe out two cities to make sure this happens.

We look at this through the glasses of a modern history where Jesus has already come and changed the world. It offends our sensibilities to think that anyone could just decree such death, but God is the only being that has the right to do it. God is the judge of who lives and who dies. He can judge everyone because of who he is. Even so, God relented when Abraham asked him to spare the cities if he could find just 10 righteous men. But there weren’t even 10 righteous men.

So why did God do this? Because Sodom and Gomorrah were sinful. But also, because God wanted to keep Abraham and his children on the right path. God obviously doesn’t destroy every haven of sin in the world. Look at Chapter 19. Lot had already begun to slip away, moving from the outskirts of the city to being a city leader. Later in the chapter, the influence of Lot raising his family there can be seen when his own daughters chose to get their father drunk, after the fall of Sodom and death of their mother, and lay with him (so they could bear children), rather than trust God would provide.

Throughout history God has taken extraordinary measures to preserve Israel until the birth of Christ. God protected his people, the line of Abraham, the descendants of Isaac. Even in exile, there was always a remnant. Why? Because through this line the salvation of the entire world comes. The entire world, all nations. Not just Israel, not just those tied to Abraham by blood. But all nations will be blessed by the promise God made to Abraham.

God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and protected Abraham’s descendants throughout history, so that they could keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, and the promise would be fulfilled.

ALL the nations of the earth. Jesus is for all, the GOSPEL is for all.This is the first time we see that God desires that every person in every nation be reconciled to God. This is only a prophecy related to Jesus birth because it is through Jesus that all have the opportunity to be saved, to be blessed. All families of the earth can be blessed if they will turn from their evil ways.

How serious is the “All” ? Christ’s return will not happen until all nations have heard.

Matt 24:14″This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come.

So here are these 3 prophecies, all tied together. All made thousands of years ago. Look at the progression:

  1. The fulfillment of the great promise God made to Abraham is the coming of Jesus Christ. (The Seed of Abraham)

  2. Being part of the promise God made is not tied to a physical relationship (bloodline), it is a spiritual state. (The Seed of Isaac)

  3. All people can be a part of the promise God made to Abraham through the work of Jesus Christ, if you will turn from your evil ways. (All nations will be blessed)

Has God kept his promise to Abraham?

There are 2.2 Billion Christians in the world today. There have been billions who have come before now. As that kids song says, father Abraham truly did have many sons. But there are more “nations”, more people-groups to be reached.

Are you a part of the promise? I’m not asking if you’re Jewish, or a member of a church. That’s not what the Bible says is required to be a part of the promise:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Gal 3:26-29

The only determining factor: Do you belong to Christ?

How can we be part of this blessing? Belong to Christ. That happens by acknowledging that your sin has separated you from God, and that there’s nothing you can do to fix that relationship. But, if you believe that God sent the Seed of Abraham and Isaac down through the centuries of time to make a way back to himself, through his son Jesus Christ, and you are willing to accept that and turn away from your evil ways as described in Acts 3, then you can be a part of the promise, you can belong to Christ.

3 prophecies made thousands of years ago, foretelling the coming of Christ, and the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham. And we can be blessed, and be a part of it.