2nd Sunday of Advent December 10, 2023
2 Samuel 7:1-17
59, 59:1,5-6, 62, 339
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
There shall come forth a Rod from the Stem of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots. (NKJV)
In Christ Jesus, whose first Advent we celebrate at Christmas and whose second Advent we anticipate at the end of time, dear fellow redeemed:
We are considering in our Advent messages the pictures of Christ found in the opening lines of each stanza of the hymn we have just sung: “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel.” Today we want to consider the second of those pictures under the theme O COME, O COME, THOU ROD OF JESSE! Unlike the name Emmanuel, which we considered last week, the meaning, the background, and the proper application of the name “Rod of Jesse” may be unclear to many if not most of you. What is the significance of the Messianic title—the Rod of Jesse?
“Jesse” was the father of King David. The LORD informed David in 2 Samuel 7 that the promised Savior would come from his family, making the Savior, a descendent not only of King David, but also of his father, Jesse. That Savior, the LORD promised, would sit on King David’s throne and rule over an everlasting kingdom.
A “rod” is a small branch that grows out of the stump of a tree that has been cut down. Perhaps you have seen that occur. You cut down a tree and even though it looks dead and gone, during the spring of the year a small sucker branch will begin to grow up from the roots that are still alive. If left alone, that rod will grow back into a tree. I experienced this phenomenon years ago while serving as a professor at our Immanuel Lutheran College. Shortly after arriving at our new home on campus, I went out to mow our yard. Foolishly I wore my favorite t-shirt which I caught and tore on a two-inch thorn from a wild plum tree growing at the corner of the house. Angry about tearing my shirt and thinking I did not want a wild plum tree with two-inch thorns in my yard—especially since I had three young daughters, I ran to the garage and grabbed my harp saw. I crawled under the bottom limbs of that tree ready to cut it down. When I got down to cut it, I discovered that it had already been cut down once before but had clearly grown up a second time. I lay there on the ground pondering whether I should cut down my “Isaiah” tree. In the end I simply could not do it, so I returned to the garage with my saw, picked up a tree clipper instead, and simply gave it a good trim. Every year that wild plum tree would fill with beautiful white blossoms for about a week and remind me of the “Rod of Jesse” from Isaiah’s prophecy.
The significance of that prophetic picture is that historically there would come a time when King David’s family would no longer occupy the throne of Israel but would be cut off just like a tree cut down. At that point, when everything looked hopeless for David’s family and the nation of Judah, the Savior would come just as a small branch might grow out of a stump. He would grow, flourish, and ultimately establish an everlasting kingdom.
Martin Luther says regarding this picture of Christ: “This is a short summary of the whole of theology and of the words of God, that Christ did not come till the trunk had died, and was altogether in a hopeless condition; that hence (and note this thought in particular) when all hope is gone, we are to believe that it is the time of salvation and that God is then nearest when He seems to be farthest off.” Listen one more time to that final thought, for it is a powerful thought in connection with this Advent picture of Christ—“when all hope is gone, we are to believe that it is the time of salvation and that God is then nearest when He seems to be farthest off.”
Let us consider then how that was true in Isaiah’s day, when this picture of Christ was first used. This prophecy was spoken by Isaiah some years after the “Immanuel” prophecy, of which we spoke last week. By this time the ruthless kingdom of Assyria was no longer an ally of Judah, but rather a feared adversary. Assyria was in fact the most powerful nation of that time. It was known for its cruelty in battle and its oppression of its subject peoples. They took few prisoners in battle and those that were taken were slaughtered before the altars of heathen gods. Entire populations of conquered territories were resettled in entirely different areas to disorient and pacify them. At the time Isaiah issued this prophetic message, the Assyrian armies were poised to invade and destroy the kingdom of Judah. It was in that dire situation, when all hope seemed lost, that Isaiah told Judah’s people: “There shall come forth a Rod from the Stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
But why would Isaiah, at such a time and in such circumstances, point the eyes and hearts of the people ahead to a Savior who would come seven hundred years later? The reason is simply that Isaiah wanted the people to trust their LORD God and put their situation into perspective. Yes, their situation was critical—they were facing an incredibly powerful enemy, but the LORD God was even more powerful. They could and Isaiah said they should place their confidence in Him. Even if the Assyrians inflict a temporal disaster upon them—which, by the way, they did not—these powerful enemies could and would not undo the eternal victory that the promised Christ would win on their behalf and on behalf of the whole world of sinners.
Isaiah wanted the people to view their lives in terms of both time and eternity. Christ would come for their God had so promised, and He would destroy much greater enemies than the ruthless Assyrians. He would conquer Satan, the greatest of our enemies. He would strip sin of its dominion in our lives. He would overcome death for Himself and for all others. Knowing this, Isaiah told the people to endure their present tribulation with patient faith, for God often acts after all human resources have been exhausted and all hope seems lost. God at times permits His believing children to face seemingly insurmountable odds, for human beings are more apt to look to the LORD God for aid when confronted by such circumstances.
The fulfillment of this prophecy came at the time of Jesus’ first advent. Again, it was a time in which it seemed that all hope was lost. The Jewish people were under the thumb of the Romans politically and unbelievers spiritually. The family of King David had long since lost their leadership role in Israel. While members of his family, such as Mary and Joseph, were still living, none of them occupied positions of power, but were in fact considered to be among the peasants of Israel. The family was like a tree cut off, with only a stump remaining. But then Jesus, the promised Christ, was born and rose much as a small sucker branch grows up from the roots of a stump.
Jesus was born after Gabriel informed Mary that she would conceive a Child by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Savior who would fulfill God’s promise and occupy the throne of King David. Jesus’ kingdom, however, would not be and is not a kingdom like those of this world. Rather, the Scriptures tell us that His is a kingdom that extends over this world and throughout this world, as He controls all things for His church and rules in the hearts of people throughout the world by His gospel message. His rule and authority will reveal itself visibly on the last day, at which time we are told by God through the apostle Paul: “Every knee should bow…and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)
My dear friends, we at times may very well face similar situations to those believers at the time of Isaiah or at the time of Jesus’ birth—situations in which it may seem that all hope is lost, whether that be for any of us as individuals or for all of us as a group. It is difficult, is it not, for anyone of us to hear our physician say, “You have inoperable cancer, and you have only a short time to live.” It is difficult to be caught in a loveless or abusive relationship with no end or healing in sight. It is difficult to maintain a true biblical confession in a nation, which now describes itself as “post-Christian.” It is difficult to be bold and confess your faith in unchanging biblical truths which are now rejected, and which if confessed may lead to being fired from your job and being socially “cancelled.”
But remember that thought of Luther: “When all hope is gone, we are to believe that it is the time of salvation, and that God is then nearest when He seems to be farthest off.” That is what the picture of the “rod of Jesse” expresses. When all hope seems lost, Jesus comes in fulfillment of God’s promise. He rules over everyone and everything. He exercises power on our behalf. Such news can help us to put our problems, whatever they may be, into proper perspective. Cancer may ravage our bodies, but it cannot touch our souls. The lovelessness of family members may distress us, but it cannot remove us from or remove from us the “love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) The world may rage, and it so often does, but the “gates of hell will never prevail” against God’s Church and His elect, even though at times it may appear otherwise (Matthew 16:18).
Even so, the unknown author of our hymn writes: “Oh, come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny.” St. Paul writes: “We know that the whole creation groans” (Rom. 8:22) because of Satan’s tyranny, but the writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus “through death… destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14) The hymnwriter pleads: “From depths of hell Thy people save and give them victory o’er the grave.” My dear friends, Jesus has done this! St. Paul declares such when he writes: “O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)
Let us therefore rejoice, dear Christians, for our Emmanuel—God with us is our Rod of Jesse! He came in great humility as a Child so long ago to rescue our souls, but He will come once again at the end of time in great glory to redeem our bodies! O COME, O COME THOU ROD OF JESSE! Deliver us from all distress and lead us safely home! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.