Now again if you would take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands and turn with me to the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 11. Isaiah chapter 11 on page 575 in the church Bibles. It is the night before Christmas and I suspect that in most of our homes at least the stockings are hung by the chimney with care. I don’t know about you, but whatever the famous poem says, on the night before Christmas we’ve always found it quite difficult to get our creatures to stop stirring all through the house, much less tucked up in bed! Whatever sugar plums are, unless they’re some kind of new video game I’ve not heard about yet, it’s highly unlikely that mine will have visions of them dancing in their heads tonight! Excitement runs pretty high; tomorrow is the big day! But I for one am very glad that we take this time out from all of that, all the preparations – probably you still have some to do. Maybe there’s some preparation for the Christmas meal tomorrow or some presents still to be placed under the tree, but isn’t it good to take some time out from all of that to worship together on Christmas Eve, to remember why we celebrate at all?
I want to invite you, if you would, to look at the passage before us because it is one place where we are reminded why we celebrate who Jesus is and what He came to do that first Christmas more than two millennia ago. And as we contemplate this passage together just for a few brief moments, I hope it will stir in all our hearts renewed wonder and gratitude for His birth and for our salvation. Before we read it together, would you bow your heads with me as we pray?
God our Father, we bless You for Your holy Word. We pray that in all the happiness of these moments You would use Your Word by Your Holy Spirit to transpose these lesser joys to a higher key enabling us to rejoice in the gift of Christ, our great Savior. For we ask it in His name, amen.
Isaiah chapter 11 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
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.”
Amen, and we praise God for speaking to us in His holy Word.
Probably the great symbol of Christmas is the tree. I love a good Christmas tree, don’t you? All decorated, sparkling with lights, covered in ornaments; those ornaments, many of them perhaps in your home, tell a story of some significance to your family. Well, Isaiah suggests a different Christmas symbol for us in the opening verse of chapter 11. Not a Christmas tree, but the stump of a tree that has been chopped down. It probably wouldn’t look quite so nice in your living room I don’t suppose. It has the virtue at least of not shedding pine needles all over your floor, though I doubt there would be much market for it at Lowes in the month of December – Christmas tree stumps!
Nevertheless, it is a powerful metaphor that Isaiah is using. If you look with me at verse 1, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Isaiah is saying that Israel, God’s people, will suffer judgment and war. The line of the Davidic kings descended from Jesse will appear almost entirely destroyed. Nothing but the ruined stump of a once majestic tree. But the vital roots remain intact and so from the stump new life will one-day spring – a shoot, a branch that will bear fruit – the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the true and final King will be born.
And verses 2 to 10 tell us about Him, about the Lord Jesus, about this coming King. They tell us why we celebrate. Here’s what all the fuss is about, what all the festivities commemorate. Here’s something worth rejoicing in. Notice three things very quickly! I promise I’ll be brief. First, Isaiah tells us about His qualifications for rule in verse 2. Then in verses 3 and 4 he tells us about the characteristics of His rule. And then finally in verses 6 to 10, he tells us about the consummation of His rule, the climax of His rule. The qualifications, characteristics, and consummation of Christ’s rule.
The Qualifications of His Rule
The qualifications of His rule first. Do you see them in verse 2? In a way that will surpass anyone else before or since, in His human nature, Jesus Christ will be endowed with the fullness of the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,” Isaiah says. And the fullness of the Spirit will produce in Him six characteristics that fit Him for His office as the Messianic King. Let me just list them as we look together again at verse 2. The Spirit of the Lord, Isaiah says, is the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and of might, of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. These are the attributes of a great king. He understands what we need and what He needs to do for us. He has the wisdom to respond well to every challenge and meet every crisis. He has the power to effect lasting change. And above all, He trembles in awe and reverence before the Lord His God.
A Perfectly Qualified King
And when you read through the Gospel accounts we discover that really is a marvelous short description of the character of Jesus Christ. “He grew in wisdom and in stature before God and man,” Luke says of Him. Mark chapter 6 verse 2 tells how, “Many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?’” And then toward the end of His ministry in the Garden of Gethsemane, in agony, submerged beneath the enormity of the final climactic task still ahead of Him, we hear Him saying to God, “Not My will be done, but Your will be done.” And He goes obediently to the cross as the Father calls Him to make full payment for our sin. So here is a Man marked, even at this moment of unimaginable pressure and temptation, to turn aside and to go His own way; here is a Man marked, rather, by the fear of the Lord. And so we rejoice this Christmas because Jesus Christ is a perfectly qualified King. There is no deficit in Him, no area of incompetence. There are not blind spots, no gaps in His ability. He is a sufficient Savior, perfectly qualified to receive your trust, infinitely deserving of your obedience and unfailingly able to save you. The shoot that comes from the stump of Jesse, the child who was born of the virgin and laid in a manger that first Christmas, is a perfect King under whose reign we find refuge. The qualifications of Christ’s reign.
The Characteristics of His Rule
Then secondly, Isaiah tells us about the characteristics of Christ’s reign, verses 3 to 5. Really all Isaiah is doing here is applying the qualifications he’s just listed. The wisdom and the knowledge and the power and the fear of the Lord with which the Spirit-endowed the humanity of our Savior qualifying Him to rule, are now applied and worked out as He takes up that great work. Notice that His rule here is preeminently marked by justice and righteousness in judgment. He shall not judge by what He sees or decide by what His ears hear. How unlike us Jesus is! We judge a book by its cover all the time, don’t we? We are quick to pass sentence on people based on hearsay or rumor. We form our opinions often far too readily. We dismiss those we are called to love and serve sometimes with a self-justifying shrug. But never King Jesus! “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” Jesus sees all the way to the truth and nothing is hidden from His gaze. Instead, verse 4, “with righteousness he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”
The Royal Scepter of His Word
And the great instrument by which King Jesus shall accomplish all of this, Isaiah says is the Word of God. “He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” As Calvin put it, “The prophet here extols the efficacy of the Word which is Christ’s royal scepter.” He rules by the royal scepter of His Word. He speaks and sinners are saved and the wicked are judged. “He speaks and listening to His voice new life the dead receive. The mournful, broken hearts are healed and the humble poor believe.” One of the great grounds for joy this Christmas Eve is that King Jesus, who was born to rule, rules us still by the royal scepter of His holy Word. The baby of Bethlehem, the Man of Calvary, the King on the throne speaks to us today in holy Scripture.
The Consummation of Christ’s Rule
The qualifications of Christ’s rule, the characteristics of His rule; finally, the consummation of Christ’s rule. Now it’s Christmas Eve. We’re all anticipating tomorrow when we remember Jesus’ birth. But Isaiah chapter 11 summons us not just to look back at the first coming of Jesus with gratitude but also to look forward to the final coming of Jesus at the end of the age with joyful expectation. You may have heard it pointed out that Isaac Watts’ famous and beloved Christmas carol, “Joy to the World,” was Watts’ meditation on Psalm 98, was not originally written to celebrate the birth of Christ. It was originally written to celebrate the return of Christ. And I think it’s wonderful that at Christmastime when we remember the birth of Jesus we’re singing a carol that actually looks forward to His return when the work He came to do that first Christmas is brought to its completion at last.
And that is the picture Isaiah gives us in verses 6 to 10, of the work, finished, at last, the final removal of the effects of sin. There are echoes of Eden that was lost by our first parents’ disobedience. Here they are now restored by Christ’s obedience and blood. It is creation absent death and suffering where all things live together in harmony and security and peace. Isn’t that something to long for this Christmas Eve? A day will come when the reign of Christ will reach its consummation. When, verse 9, “they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
Why the Birth of Jesus is Worth Celebrating?
So why is the birth of Jesus worth celebrating with all the festivities that surround the Christmas season? Because the baby that was born was filled with the Spirit and perfectly qualified to be King and Savior to all of us. Because He reigns in righteousness and wields the royal scepter of His Word even now in our hearts. And because the Baby who was born, the Man who was crucified and the King who reigns on heaven’s throne, He’s coming back again one day soon. He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. He will put all things to right. Death will die, sin will be removed, sorrow will dissolve and every tear wiped from our eyes, and the world to come, the new creation will be a perfect realm of peace under the reign of the Prince of Peace. The final gift of that first Christmas will be a new creation, a home of righteousness, where we and all those who have gone ahead of us trusting in Christ shall be marvelously reunited in the adoration of our Savior.
I wonder if this Christmas you will come with the angels and with the shepherds and with your friends and family gathered here this evening if you will come and bend your knee before King Jesus. There is no greater joy, no greater joy, than knowing Him. Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room and heaven and nature sing! Let’s bow our heads as we pray together!
God our Father, we praise You for the gift of Jesus. As we open presents, maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, as we rejoice in the company of loved one and perhaps for some of us as we mourn the passing, the loss of others for whom we care, give to us the greater and deeper and untouchable joy of knowing Jesus, bending our knee before King Jesus and finding under His rule joy and peace for our hearts for time and for eternity. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
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