1st Sunday after Christmas - Isaiah 11.1-5 - December 28, 2014
1) Don’t judge a tree by its height, the number of branches it has, or the thickness of its trunk. The life of a tree isn’t in the trunk, the branches, or the height. The life of a tree is in the roots. The house of David was, already at the time of Isaiah, a tree hewn down to its stump, cut down through its own unbelief, dilapidated due to unfaithfulness so that it looked to be spiritually dying if not dead already. But the Lord is faithful to His promise when man is unfaithful in His response to God’s promise. The prophet writes, “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 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 of the fear of the LORD.” (Isaiah 11:1-2) From this dilapidated stump of a once great tree, a rod would sprout. From this lowly rootstock a branch would appear. The Lord would produce a small twig from the stem of Jesse’s felled tree. It would not appear glorious as the great leaders of the other nations appear glorious. It would not sprout into a magnificent forest like Cedars of Lebanon. It would not grow into a thick forest as the nation of Assyria had in Isaiah’s day. It will be lowly. It will be a humble twig. But it will have life in it because the life of the tree isn’t in its height, its branches, or its trunk. Life is in the roots, the part of the tree that is unseen. The part of the Davidic tree that was unseen was the promise of the Lord that “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 33:17) So in spite of its appearance as dead, in spite of how it seemed to the judgment of eyes and ears, this stump still had life in it because the promise of God was still strong, certain, and sure.
2) This rod, this branch, this twig, which will grow from the stump of Jesse from the roots is the Messiah. He grows up out of the house and line of David according to the flesh but He springs up out of the roots, the promise of God. He Himself is lowly and humble looking to the eyes of the flesh. But we must not judge Him by the eyes of the flesh. Though He is only a branch growing from a stump, the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him. The Spirit of the Lord will not come upon this branch in short bursts as He had come upon Samson, King Saul, and others in former days. The Spirit will rest upon Him permanently so that the Messiah may be about His duties eternally. This Spirit is one of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, and the knowledge and fear of the Lord. This Messiah will look like only a twig from Jesse’s stump but He possess “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9) He will appear otherwise. Isaiah writes in Isaiah 53:2-3 that, “He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” When Messiah comes He doesn’t look like much. His earthly origins aren’t that impressive. But do not be fooled. Do not be scandalized by appearances. Judge Him not by what you see but by the Word of the Lord, the roots, as Simeon and Anna did when the child is brought to the Temple. They do not dwell upon what they see with their eyes nor are they put off by what they hear with their ears in the infant child. The judge this child according to the Word of God.
3) As the Messiah is not to be judged by His outward appearance of lowliness and humility, so the Messiah does not judge mankind by appearances. The prophet continues: “His delight is in the fear of the LORD, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.” (Isaiah 11:3-5) When Christ walked the earth, He judged that course and calloused fisherman would be His apostles instead of the teachers of the day, but those teachers had not held to the Gospel of God’s promises but had made the law a heavy burden for their hearers. So Christ, during in the days of His humiliation, does not judge situations as sinners would. When a woman enters a Pharisee’s house and anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, the Pharisee is indignant because everyone knows this woman’s seedy occupation. But Jesus does not judge her by the depth of her sin, as man does, but by the sincerity of her repentance for those many sins. Christ judges people by what He knows of them as the Only-Begotten Son of God, the One on whom the Spirit rested as His baptism. Jesus, being God Himself, “had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” (John 2:25)
4) Christ is ascended to the right hand of God the Father almighty, having completed the work of redemption. He continues to work through the Spirit of God to apply that redemption to men through faith. He still judges not by appearances and the outward sight of things. He judges according to the heart. What does He see in the hearts of men? Does He see sinners who are comfortable in their sin, enjoying the favorite sins and becoming cozy with them? Does He see sinners who are stalwart in believing that their own version of righteousness will gain them God’s favor? Does He find sinners who have become complacent about the truth of God’s Word in all articles of the faith, thoughtless regarding His Word, sluggish in prayer, or cold in their love for the Lord and His gifts? Does He find anxious hearts weighed down with regret and guilt of sins long past? Does He find souls who desperately want to be rid of their sin and its stain but find no relief? He will not see you as you want to be seen. He does not judge you by your charity, by your good works of civil righteousness, by your outward piety or your best intentions. He sees us as we truly are and judges us according to our sins so that we might agree with that judgment in repentance and confess our sins in humility.
5) It is a gift from God the Lord that we might see ourselves as the Lord does, so that we might repent of our sins, turn from them, and turn towards Christ as our savior from our sins, the alleviator of our guilt, and the happy bearer of our worries and anxieties. For when we repent our sins, agreeing with Christ’s judgment over who we are, He graciously offers the forgiveness of all our sins. When we believe that precious promise made to us in the absolution, we can enjoy the removal of our guilty conscience, knowing that the Lord no longer looks upon our sins but blots them out. He tells you in Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” When we believe that for Christ’s sake, God the Father is gracious and merciful to us, we receive Christ’s blessings, we wear His righteousness given to us in Holy Baptism. We feast on His flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, so that we might have His life in our souls. When we are heavy laden with worries and anxieties, He speaks tenderly to us so that we cast all our cares on Him, for “He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) So Christ judges us not by the outward appearance of any of us, but according to repentance and faith in the heart. Christ only judges us and thinks upon us according to what He tells us in His Word. This is what the prophet means when he writes, The Messiah “shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth.” (Isaiah 11:4) He only wants to deal with us through the His Word, not in the appearance of things.
6) This brings us comfort in the hour of adversity from the Devil. The Devil wants you to judge yourself by what you see in your life. He wants you to judge yourself ‘pretty good’ or even ‘fairly pious’ or even worse, ‘righteous’ because of the good works you see yourself doing. On the other hand, the Devil wants you to judge yourself by the enormity of your sins. He puts them all in a great heap in front of your eyes so that your eyes are filled with your iniquity. He either wants you to judge yourself, to think of yourself that is, as either self-righteous or deservedly damned. But in rushes Christ, the one who is not to be judged by His outward appearance, and says the same thing of you. In His Gospel Christ judges your sins as atoned for. In Holy Baptism, Christ judges you to be sons and daughters of God the Father in heaven, clothed with His righteousness and belonging to Him. In the Lord’s Supper Christ judges you as worthy to partake of His very body and blood by faith. In the absolution, Christ judges you as forgiven, for there you stand acquitted of all your sins. The point of all of this is that Christ judges you by the Word of God. You, dear saints, are to judge yourselves by that same Word of God given to you in Word and Sacrament. You are not to look at yourselves apart from the Word, from baptism, from absolution, and from the Lord’s Supper. You are not to judge your own worthiness by anything you see in yourselves, feel in your heart, or hear from your own thoughts.
7) In the Gospel, the Lord sees the Christian “as a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:3) You may yet feel like a small branch, a rod, and twig in this life. You may feel as if your faith is weak and fragile, something that sways in the winds of misfortune, something that is nearly knocked over by the gusts of adversity. But do not judge yourself accordingly. That is the tactic of the Devil. Do not judge the tree by its height, its branches, or its trunk. For the life is not found in any of these. Your life is found in the roots, the same roots of the house of David: the strong, sure, and certain Word of our God. We know that “the grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) As our Lord Jesus is not to be judged by the external situation in which He is born, or by anything we see with the eyes of flesh, but according to the Word of God, so we are to think of ourselves according to the Word of God given to us. As we are not to judge the sacraments by their visible element alone, but the element combined with God’s Word, so let us think daily of ourselves, not according to the outward, physical, or internal thoughts of our hearts, but according to what God says about us in Baptism, in the absolution, and in the Sacrament of the Altar. These words of God are our roots. They are our life no matter how the tree appears to grow. For those means of grace are how Christ gives you the blessings won for you at the cross. These means are how Christ thinks about you, how He reckons you. The Word and Sacraments are how you are to think of yourself in weal and woe and every situation in between. You are baptized. You have been absolved. You have been fed with Christ. You have believed His Word. Do not judge yourself by any other benchmark or wonder what God thinks of you based on the happenings of your life. Look not to the tree’s height, branches, or trunk, but to the root, which is the promise of God. Amen.