God’s Kingdom is Worth Waiting For!
Every year I hold out the empty hope that winter will not come. Every year I dream that somehow fall will go straight into spring. But every year, I’m disappointed. It’s the first real snowfall that always kills that dream. It’s amazing how dramatically things change in a short period of time. You scarcely recognize the world. You take a breath and the air that was once so warm and fresh now seems cold and harsh. As fall fades away and winter barges in, it’s difficult to look back at the warmth and life of the previous seasons. The cheerful blooms have succumbed to the frost. The last leaves dangle loosely from the branches like our hopes of one more warm summer day. And when that first snowfall comes, those hopes are dead. It’s startling and shocking how quickly we go from living and vibrant to cold and dead. Other than the change of the seasons, perhaps there’s no better picture of that than what happens when you chop down a tree. One minute the tree can be tall and majestic, full of life and leaves and fruit. The next, it’s nothing but a stump—dead and empty. That’s the picture that Isaiah paints of the people of Israel. Just think of how dramatically things changed for God’s people. For a time, the twin oaks of Judah and Israel had been the envy of the nations. It was clear that God was with them. All the other nations lived in fear of them. But after a time, they rejected the nourishment. Isaiah tells us, “The people have not...sought the LORD Almighty. So the LORD will cut off...Israel.” Because of the wickedness of his people, because they put their trust in the alliances they’d made and not in God, these mighty oaks became diseased. They became knotty and disfigured. They needed to be cut down. And God said he would soon cut them down. And he would use the Assyrians as the ax. In one fell swoop, the Assyrians came in and chopped down Israel and carried them off never to be seen again. Soon after, God’s ax of judgment would be the Babylonians. They would chop down the nation of Judah so only a stump was left. As Isaiah looked over the once bountiful forest of Israel and Judah, all he saw was devastation—only stumps. It doesn’t matter how many times we study the history of Israel; it’s always strange to hear of Israel’s downfall, isn’t it? How could a nation springing from faithful Abraham have ended so tragically? How could a nation that once had been so full of life, that had once been marked by the mighty oaks of Joshua and David and Solomon now be cut down? How could it be nothing more than a stump? How did it happen? It happened because of sin and unbelief. It happened because the people rejected God and turned to idols. “It could never happen to us.” That’s what they thought. Even after it happened, the descendants of those who came back returned to thinking, “It could never happen to us.” Just look what John the Baptizer says to those descendants, those Pharisees and teachers of the law: “Therefore produce fruit in keeping with repentance! Do not think of saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. Already the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Has that way of thinking ever entered our minds? “It could never happen to us.” But where do we really stand? Don’t we deserve to be cut down too? Ever since Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, everyone else in their family tree, (us included) have rebelled against God ever since. Haven’t we put our trust in the gods of camouflage and gunpowder and steel of the most powerful military in the world? Haven’t we at times gained a false confidence in saying that we are sons and daughters of the WELS? Doesn’t Isaiah’s picture sometimes describe our spiritual life too? God is the source of life! And yet we cut ourselves off from him by putting ourselves first, by not being faithful in following him. We give in to temptations to give ourselves pleasure, when in reality the pleasure takes us away from him. Don’t we sometimes rob ourselves of the opportunities to grow through his Word by following the ways of this world instead of his. John said, “Already the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees…” It could happen to us! If we put our trust in ourselves and follow the ways of this world instead of in God, the ax will cut us down too! Here in Wisconsin, we have four or five or six months of winter ahead of us. As those months wane on, “Old Man Winter” starts to convince us that things will never be green again! But then comes spring. After the seemingly endless days of winter, a tiny green bud forms on a branch. A small sprout appears out of the remains of last year’s perennials. Can you think of a more uplifting sight? What a unique comfort and joy those tiny shoots bring! Isn’t it amazing how excited we get over something so little. But it’s not at all out of line. “A shoot will spring up from the stump of Jesse, and a Branch from his roots will bear fruit.” Even amid the clear-cutting of the forest of Israel and Judah, God’s promise to save his people remained. Even when it seemed like all was lost, there was hope. And out of that destruction, God raised up Israel’s Savior! Have you ever heard of “nurse logs?” They are dead tree trunks. Yet, in reality, those dead trees are still thriving. They are busy giving life to a whole new generation for the forest. The decaying surface of the dead tree creates a perfect growing medium for a tiny, struggling seedling, even a young sapling. The decaying tree becomes the nursemaid, a nurse-tree to the upcoming new tree generation. Out of the stump of Jesse, a shoot, a Branch—in the Hebrew, a nazer from Nazareth—came up in the baby, Jesus. Like that tiny shoot, his beginnings were humble. A little twig from a twig town. A king born in a stable with only shepherds and livestock to greet him. Born helpless and dependant on others, but born a king nonetheless. Yet, despite his humble beginnings, this king was special. And as Isaiah describes him, we see that his was a kingdom worth waiting for. Listen again. “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, nor will he render decisions based on what his ears hear, but with righteousness he will judge the poor, and he will render fair decisions in favor of the humble of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked. Righteousness will be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his hips.” This shoot, this Branch was given special gifts. He was given the Holy Spirit. The Spirit filled him with wisdom and understanding. Jesus knew all things and he could understand them. Unlike us, who sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between right and wrong, between a want and a need, Jesus perfectly knows and perfectly understands. The Spirit filled him with counsel and power. We can hear the echoes of the names Isaiah used to describe Jesus back in chapter 9: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God.” Jesus knows what his people need and he points them in the right direction. He points them to his Word where he shows them everything they need to be saved. And he is the Mighty God, who is able to save them! The Spirit filled him with the knowledge and fear of the Lord. How often don’t we hear Jesus saying, “My food...is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but to do the will of him who sent me.” “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” What a sharp contrast Jesus is to every other ruler, every other king. Anointed by the Spirit of the Lord at his Baptism, Jesus did have perfect wisdom and understanding, perfect counsel and power, perfect knowledge and fear of the Lord. With belts of faithfulness and righteousness, we know that Jesus will not change his mind or his course. He will keep his promise! He will forgive and save! Jesus, the living shoot that comes up out of the dead stump, brings life out of death. By his death on the cross in our place, he saves us from eternal death! By enduring the agony of hell for us, he saved us from hell! By taking our sin on himself, he took away our sin and gave us his righteousness. What a kingdom to wait for! Isaiah promised that this Branch would bear fruit...and what fruit he bears! It’s us! All who believe in him have the perfect righteousness that God demands. And though we were once as spiritually dead as a log lying on the ground in the forest, God has brought us to life so we’re no longer stumps, but healthy trees bearing the fruit of faith. And as redeemed and forgiven children of God, we are grafted into him, receiving life from the Branch. The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, the calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together; and a little child will lead them. The cow and the bear will graze. Their young ones will lie down together. The lion will eat straw like the cattle. The nursing child will play near a cobra’s hole, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. It will happen in that day that the peoples will seek the Root of Jesse, who will be standing like a banner for the peoples, and his resting place will be glorious. If you’ve ever been to the Milwaukee County Zoo, you’d see that surprisingly, the leopards and lions are housed near the antelope and deer. Did you notice I said near? Between them is a wide and deep canal. Along with that is a large fence. It doesn’t take much to figure out that those are there to prevent the antelope from becoming lunch. Makes us wonder what Isaiah is talking about, doesn’t it? How can predator and prey live together in harmony? As with many beautiful pictures, if we look too closely, it becomes blurry. The same is true with the picture Isaiah paints with these words. We might ask, “Is this a picture of a world without wars? Is it a modern nation of Israel? Is it an earthly Christian utopia?” Yet Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” The peace that Isaiah describes is the peace that we have now. We don’t have to wait for that, we have Christ ruling in our hearts right now. Yet, even though that peace is tainted by our own sinfulness, it’s still that peace that allows us to live as his children, to be kind and compassionate and forgiving to one another. Still, Christ’s Kingdom is Worth Waiting for! For when he comes again in his second Advent, we will experience that perfect peace which Isaiah describes! On that day, people from all the nations will rally to him. And our place of peace, our place of rest will be heaven. And that place will be glorious! Rest assured, that because of the Branch, God’s Kingdom is Worth Waiting For! Amen.