[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
The 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.
“and Jesse the father of King David.”
Also see Acts 13.
“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:
” 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.
” 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.
“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:
“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.