Advent is a time to meditate on what the Old Testament Scriptures teach about our Lord. Some stories give us pictures of Christ. Last week’s story of Isaac being replaced by the ram is a picture of Christ replacing us in sin and death. The Old Testament worship was vivid imagery of what His Death would do for us. Then there’s the prophets.
Our Lord was the first prophet. The Word of the LORD came to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He spoke to them about how He would bless the world through their Seed. He was going to be their seed in order to crush the serpent’s head and bring life eternal to the world. They in turn proclaimed His Word to their families and to all who would hear them.
Then came Moses, and the prophets began to write for all the world to read God’s Word. Then came Samuel and Nathan, and David sang His Psalms, in which His Son and Lord sings about His work for our salvation. More prophets came, like Elijah and Elisha. They preached the Law to the people so they would repent, so they would stop doing evil and stop worshiping idols and start worshiping the true God and believe the Gospel again. Even more prophets wrote; we call them Greater or Lesser, solely because of the lengths of their books. And then there were no prophets for 400 years until St. John the Baptist was born of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
The prophets spoke about our Lord. That was their chief work. They give us details about His life. Micah tells us about His Birth in Bethlehem. Jeremiah tells us His work is to make us righteous. Joel tells us the Holy Spirit would come upon the faithful on Pentecost. But Isaiah foretells so much He is called the Fifth Evangelist. He sees it all, from His Virgin Conception and Birth to His Death and Resurrection. He even says why God died – that you be healed of your sin and death.
One thing we don’t always realize when we read the prophets is they didn’t know the details of the fulfilment of their prophecies. Jesus says they longed to understand them and to see them fulfilled. They did not foretell things in order. No, they saw everything at once. Their prophecies are a lot like driving up to the mountains. It all looks like one big mountain from afar, but as you get close you see all the different peaks and vales and hills and dales and the whole profile. The prophets saw our Lord’s work at His first coming and His second coming, but did not differentiate between the two. Today’s reading from Isaiah 11 does just that. It combines our Lord’s first coming with His second. It starts with His human ancestry and ends with the perfect, tranquil life of the world to come.
Jesus is a shoot from Jesse’s stump and a branch from His roots. Jesse’s family had thrived. He was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth. His youngest son became King David. His family reigned over Israel for 14 generations. Then Jerusalem fell. Another 14 generations brings us to Christ. In those generations, Zerubbabel was governor, but after him they fell from prominence. Joseph was no ruler, not even close. The family of David had been without power for a long time. He was just a carpenter.
Nothing great could be expected from this family. Yet out of that stump, born of a Virgin of David’s line, came forth Christ the Lord. He grew up in that family, was raised by David’s descendent, and bore fruit. Though the line seemed to be worthless and near dead, He gave it new, reinvigorated life and glory. The throne of David once more had an occupant, someone who will never leave it, someone who will always bear fruit. On Him the Spirit of the LORD rests, for He was poured out on Him when He was baptized. This was God’s proclamation that this Man Jesus is His Only-begotten Son and the One He sent to be His Christ, His Messiah, the Savior.
He comes to judge the poor and the meek. But He is a different kind of judge. Judges and juries go by the evidence. They have to go by what they see and hear. They aren’t supposed to go by anything else. If they do, lawsuits, retrials, and appeals will follow. But what judges aren’t supposed to do, that’s what Jesus does, Isaiah says. He judges with righteousness and decides with equity, fairness.
What is fair? What is righteous? Humans believe whatever we deserve is what is fair and righteous. Then we add up all our good qualities and whatever good things we’ve done and conveniently leave out of the equation all our bad qualities and whatever bad things we’ve done. The problem is all the bad actually outweighs the good. We just don’t realize that because we don’t want to admit we were born sinners. Our environment didn’t turn us into good or bad people. We just are sinners and the children of sinners. Snakes bite and so do lions, tigers, and bears, and little children better not play with them. That’s a symptom of life in a sinful world, and we’re the reason for it, because our father Adam brought sin and death into the world. And we know God sees every sin we’ve committed, hears every bad thing we’ve said, even knows our deepest, darkest thoughts.
He should judge us worthy of death. That’s what’s righteous. I have sinned against God. I deserve Him to punish me. I have sinned against others. I have done wrong. I have hurt my neighbor, desired what I shouldn’t, and hated my leaders. I have not been constant in prayer and hearing God’s Word. I deserve to hear the sentence: “guilty – death.”
Yet that’s not how He judges. He judges “innocent – life.” How can He do that? There’s a reason Isaiah uses very woody language. God wants you to see a very specific tree. He wants you to see Jesus hanging there. For on The Cross He passed judgment on you, and on Himself. He declared Himself guilty of all your sins. That’s why He declares you innocent. He suffered hell and died on that Cross. That’s why He declares heaven and the resurrection His gift to you. That’s His righteousness. He declares you not guilty of sin and worthy of eternal life. That’s His faithfulness too. He will never change His mind. You believe in Him, so His salvation is yours for good.
The resurrection is where Isaiah ends up in today’s prophecy. You love your pets, but you would never let a child anywhere near zoo animals unless there was very thick glass to protect them. But on that day all the symptoms of sin will be destroyed. Adam was supposed to live in peace with all creation. Sin broke that harmony. All creation groans, is subjected to corruption, because of our sin. It can’t wait to be free from that corruption. On that day, it will be, and you will be. You will live in the perfect world He gives us forever. Everything will be perfect, including you, and all the evils of this world will be gone and forgotten by eternal joys.
In the last verse Isaiah rewinds to today. He sees you. He sees you gathered around the crucifix. He sees you learning about Christ. He sees people from all over the world coming to faith in Him. He sees them in the sanctuaries of Christendom, for that is where He dwells, His resting place. The star showed the Magi where the Baby Jesus was, and crucifix, Bible, paten and chalice show you where the Risen Jesus is. He dwells with His people. He truly is where they are gathered. He is here. He is present. He is heard in His Word. He sits on the Altar when bread and wine are consecrated and given to you to eat and to drink. Gather around Him. That’s where you find Him, in His Means of Grace.
So Advent isn’t just about a Baby being born. It’s about a Baby born to die on a Cross to give you eternal life. It’s about the fruit of that tree – those who are brought to faith in Him Who are washed in His Blood and drink it at the Altar. It’s about preparing – preparing to meet Him on the last day, preparing by repenting of our sins and studying what His Word says about what is to come. It’s about teaching us to pray with believing hearts (TLH 62:2):
Oh, come, Thou Rod of Jesse free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; From depths of hell Thy people save And give them vict’ry o’er the grave. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!