The world around us seems to be growing more selfish and corrupt. The values that spring from a general acknowledgement that we are the special creation of a personal God are gathering dust on the shelf of history. Parents are concerned about the influences of social media and the impact of gender issues. Drugs and alcohol, homelessness, violence and rape seem more prevalent.
Is it possible to feel hopeful?
Two and a half millennia ago hopelessness was staring the little kingdom of Judah in the face. In the 8th century BC the Assyrian imperial army rampaged through the Middle East and sacked the northern kingdom of Israel. A century later the Babylonian armies were on the rise, and it was only a matter of time before Judah received the unwelcome attention of those powerful forces.
How would Judah survive? She had no army to speak of, no money and no allies. Greater nations had already been cut down. Political obliteration seemed inevitable. Yet despite the odds, Judah’s morale was not destroyed. A glimmer of hope was on the horizon.
It was Isaiah, one of the prophets who had spoken of doom and despair, who wrote about a special leader who would be raised up. In Isaiah chapter 11, features of God’s promised king unfold.
A leader after God’s own heart. Isaiah was disappointed by the politicians of his day. They were corrupt: they took bribes, ignored the poor, and turned a blind eye to justice. King Ahaz, for example, had broken every trust given to him. He had even used the gold of the Temple to try to bribe Assyria and prevent her march on Jerusalem. He’d failed. He was another ruler who’d let his people down.
Time and time again, rulers and governments do that. In most western democracies today election promises are constantly consigned to the trash.
In chapter 11, verse 1, Isaiah offers hope: A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
Jesse was the father of King David, the great king in the Old Testament. Just as David himself had come out of obscurity, Isaiah is saying, so too a new king would emerge, and he would be greater than David and his son Solomon.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, Isaiah says, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2-3).
Wisdom, understanding and knowledge would characterize this king’s rule. But fundamental would be his willingness to learn from God. There would be no political blunders in his rule. Furthermore, corruption would not plague his government; the media wouldn’t be able to destroy him – either over his personal integrity or his policies. No one would be living in poverty or without a home.
A leader who would use his power for peace. The metaphors in verse 6 are vivid: The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. Peace would be the mark of this leader’s rule.
Periods of world peace are fleeting. The war in Ukraine has expunged the view that the world had at last entered a time of safety, security and prosperity. Yet Isaiah insists, under God’s ruler there will be no incompetence, no corruption, no violence – only peace. Could it be true?
A leader who draws his people from the nations. Isaiah doesn’t stop there, for in verses 10 though 16 he portrays people coming from all parts of the world, like a scattered army, to rally around this ruler. It will be a victorious, redeemed community, he says (11:15). People will come from the East and the West. Highways will be built to God’s City so that people from every nation can come. It’s a vivid and poetic picture.
Understandably we ask, ‘Could it happen?’ ‘Who is this root of Jesse, this ruler to whom the people rally, who will restore creation to its pristine harmony?’ Jesus.
Some seven hundred years before Jesus came, Isaiah predicted the first coming of God’s king as well as his return. This is one of the amazing things about the Bible that convinces me that it is what it says it is – namely, God’s deliberate, progressive, self-revelation.
Centuries before Jesus came, Isaiah opened a window on Jesus’ life and work. Wise men did come from the Far East to pay him homage at his birth. And people from around the world have been coming to him ever since his death and resurrection.
The Gospel writers reveal that Jesus not only taught but backed up his words with action that showed God’s compassion for a sick and sorry world. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and dealt with the powers of evil.
As the New Testament unfolds, we learn that the coming of God’s king is in two parts: his first coming was a rescue operation; his return will reveal the king in all his might, majesty dominion and power. He will bring his perfect justice to bear and, with the unveiling of his own glory, will reveal the glory of all who have truly turned to him.
His first coming we celebrate at Christmas. In the season of Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, we focus on the reality of his return.
Our hope is bound up in God’s king. For the death of the king on the cross comes between God’s good creation, ruined by human sin with which the Bible begins, and the promise of a restored creation with which the Bible ends. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes… there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4).
A prayer. Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, so that, encouraged and supported by your holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
You may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.
© John G. Mason
Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.
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