The Second Sunday in Advent
December 9, 2018
Isaiah 11:1, 10
Oh, Come, O Root of Jesse!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This is the time of the year when certain traditions just need to be followed. One of those traditions centers on setting up a Christmas tree. Can you imagine never setting up a Christmas tree in your home? Can you imagine never setting up a Christmas tree here in God’s house? Setting up a Christmas tree is one of those traditions that we just have to follow! But, do you know where this tradition started? It started in the country of Germany about 500 years ago. Legend has it that a man by the name of Martin Luther was the first person to bring an evergreen tree into his house and put candles on it. The evergreen tree is used for a Christmas tree because it symbolizes everlasting life. And the candles, or nowadays we use lights, symbolize the fact that the Child who was born in Bethlehem is the Light of this world.
But did you know that there is another Christian tradition that incorporates a tree— a tradition that is much older than the Christmas tree? Around the year 1,000 A.D. someone developed what is now known as the “Jesse Tree.” The Jesse Tree depicts Jesse, the father of great King David, sleeping peacefully on his side with a tree (or a vine) growing out of his side. As the tree grows upward each branch bears the figure of one of the ancestors of Christ. At the top of the Jesse Tree is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The purpose of the Jesse Tree is to show us that the Child of Bethlehem is indeed a direct descendant of Jesse’s son, David.
From what I read the Jesse Tree is what gave rise to the “family tree” that so many people now use to trace their genealogy. But, do you know what gave rise to the Jesse Tree? The Jesse Tree is based on the words of our text for today— Isaiah 11:1, 10! This morning then my friends, as we continue our Advent sermon series we focus our attention on stanza two of the hymn “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel.” Our sermon theme for today is the opening words of the second stanza of this hymn: Oh, Come, O Root of Jesse! As we study this text we let’s see how it takes us from a picture of humility to a declaration of victory.
Humility. The opening words of our text for today paint an extremely humble picture— especially when we realize that these words picture the once proud and mighty nation of Judah. Isaiah writes, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” It was during the time of Isaiah that the Assyrian Empire was flexing its military muscles. In 720 B.C. Assyria attacked and conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel. Not long after the Assyrians defeated and dismembered the northern kingdom it unleashed its wrath on the southern Kingdom of Judah. The only reason Judah survived this onslaught was because the Lord rescued Jerusalem by striking down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. And yet, because of her own sin, because of her own rebellious ways, because of her own unfaithfulness to the Lord and to His covenant the Lord revealed through His servant Isaiah that Judah would be conquered and Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Babylonians. Some 130 years after the northern kingdom fell, the walls of Jerusalem were breached and the city was captured. A man by the name of Zedekiah was the last descendant of David to rule as king in Jerusalem. When the Babylonians captured the city we are are told, “They killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.” (2 Kings 25:7; See also I Chronicles 3:1-16) The once mighty and magnificent family tree of Jesse— a tree that included great King David and wise King Solomon— had now been humbled. That once mighty and magnificent tree had now been reduced to just a “stump.”
And yet, God Himself had made a promise to great King David, hadn’t He! God Himself had promised David that one of David’s descendants would sit on the throne and rule over God’s Kingdom forever! (See 2 Samuel 7:8-16) The fulfillment of that promise is pictured in the words, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” The fulfillment of that promise was then realized when an angel named Gabriel said to a virgin named Mary, “Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33).
As a direct descendant of great King David the Child of Bethlehem is that humble “shoot” that sprung up from the humble “stump” of Jesse. But make no mistake, my friends. The humility that God’s people endured when the mighty family tree of Jesse was reduced to a “stump” by the Babylonians was nothing compared to the humility that the Son of God experienced when He set aside the full use of His divine power, majesty and glory and was born into this world as a tiny little Baby in Bethlehem.
Think about it, my friends. Jesus was born in a stable, wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a manger. He was raised by two very humble yet mortal sinful human beings who were certainly not listed among the “Who’s Who in Israel.” (Compare Luke 2:22-24 and Leviticus 12:6-8) After Jesus entered into the public phase of His ministry here on this earth He didn’t even have a place of His own to lay His head down at night. (Matthew 8:20) He was rejected by the people of His hometown. (Matthew 13:53-58) He was laughed at by others. (Matthew 9:23, 24) He was deserted by His followers (John 6:60ff), denied by His friends (Matthew 26:69-75) and mocked by His enemies (Matthew 27:27-44). And guess what! Jesus endured all of this humility willingly! In his letter to the Philippians the apostle Paul describes Jesus in this way, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
Yes, the humble “shoot” that sprung up from the humble “stump” of Jesse’s family tree willingly humbled Himself for you! But why? Why was the eternal Son of God willing to humble Himself for you? We find the three-fold answer to that question when we sing the words, “Oh, come, O Root of Jesse, free Your own from Satan’s tyranny; From depths of hell your people save, And bring them vict’ry o’er the grave”! Jesus willingly set aside the full use of His divine power, majesty and glory so that as the Root of Jesse, as the Son of Man, as your Brother He could set you free from Satan’s tyranny. Jesus willingly humbled Himself and became “obedient to death— even death on a cross” to save you from the depths of hell by completely paying for all of your sins on the cross of Calvary’s hill! (Pointing to the cross) Jesus’ willingness to humble Himself for you has now resulted in victory— victory over sin, victory over death, victory over the devil. That victory— the victory that was openly proclaimed to the world on Easter Sunday when Jesus physically rose from the dead— is declared in the second our text when Isaiah writes, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.”
Over and over again the Scriptures proclaim to us that Jesus, the Root of Jesse, is this world’s only Savior from sin. Over and over again the Scriptures assure us that because Jesus, the Root of Jesse, has won the victory for us there is nothing we need to do, no work we need to perform, no decision we need to make in order to be saved. Over and over again Jesus, the Root of Jesse, proclaims to all the people of this world, “Trust Me!” Trust Me when I say, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Trust Me when I say, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Trust Me when I say, “I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2, 3). Trust Me when I say to you, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Yes, my friends, as the Root of Jesse our Brother Jesus is the “banner” that now calls out to all the people of this world, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28, 29). That’s the ultimate victory! That’s the victory that you and I now have because Jesus, the Root of Jesse, was willing to humble Himself for us!
This is the time of the year when certain traditions just need to be followed. One of those traditions centers on setting up a Christmas tree in our homes as well as here in God’s house. My prayer this morning is that as you set up your Christmas tree and every time you see a Christmas tree that you will take a moment to remember another tree, the Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree reminds us that the Christmas tree is possible only because the Lord our God kept the promise that He made through His servant Isaiah— the promise that progresses from a picture of humility to a declaration of victory! May that victory always lead us to say: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!”
To God be the glory!