What a blessed event in our salvation we commemorate today! In the fulness of time God sent forth His Son to be born into our human flesh. By means of the birth of our divine/human Savior our deliverance from sin, Satan, death, and hell was made possible. We have much to rejoice in today. It is my prayer that God will give you that joy in this time of the year and always.
This past month we have been studying a number of verses out of the prophecy of Isaiah. We are going to do that again today. The verse out of Isaiah that we consider directs us to the birth of Christ. We read in Isaiah 11:1, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” It is obvious from this short verse that we consider today that the prophet Isaiah knew of the coming Messiah. At the same time, however, he did not know how or when this prophecy would be fulfilled. This particular prophecy was pronounced to Judah during the reign of a very wicked king. This king’s name was Ahaz. Under his evil reign the nation of Judah had drifted far from Jehovah and was worshiping the idol gods of the heathen nations around her.
Because of this sin of Judah and her wicked king and princes, Isaiah pronounces destruction and punishment upon them. The words we consider today are a part of a larger picture, therefore, one we will consider in our broadcast today. It is true that Isaiah speaks to Judah and us using figurative language. For that reason it may seem to us confusing at first. But these few words gave great hope, comfort, and encouragement to the faithful few who were yet looking for their Savior to come. And as we consider them today they are of great joy and comfort to us too. “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” That will be our focus in our broadcast today: Christ’s birth.
Prior to the birth of Jesus Christ the nation of Israel had once again departed from Jehovah and was no longer looking for her Messiah. It was a dark point in the history of God’s church once again, just as it was in Isaiah’s day. It was not as if the church had disappeared. Yes, Jerusalem was destroyed and God’s people were led into captivity, as Isaiah prophesied. But God led His people back to the land of Canaan after the period of captivity in Babylon. She had rebuilt the temple and was worshiping with her sacrifices there. However, the worship of the church was empty and vain. The Jews in their sacrifices no longer looked for a Messiah who would save them from their sin. The nation was swallowed up in work-righteousness. The Deliverer they sought was going to be an earthly king who would rule on the throne of David restoring Israel to her former glory. Only few in Israel yet looked for their Messiah to come to deliver them from their sin.
The church existed in name therefore, but it was thoroughly apostate. Times looked bleak for the church. The glory had departed from Israel. Mere formal worship, vain traditions, worldly living. Would the Messiah ever be born? Out of a stem shall spring forth a rod and out of a root shall grow a branch! Christ the Savior is born!
I. The Dried Stump
When studying the history of the church in the Old Testament, one can only shake his head. So many times it looked as if the cause of the church was lost and the church would perish. At the time of the Flood, there were only eight souls left in the church. The ten tribes split away from Judah. They were later taken away into Assyria and scattered. Now the kingdom of Judah was walking in the same sins as the kingdom of Israel. In fact, she was walking in the same sins as the pagan nations around her. Wicked king Ahaz caused his own children to pass through the fire in service to heathen gods. He also sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places. The nation of Judah under his reign profaned the temple and turned to fornication in service to idols.
For that reason, Isaiah now pronounced woe and destruction upon this evil nation. In Isaiah 10: 33, 34 we read, “Behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, shall lop the bough with terror: and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down, and the haughty shall be humbled. And he shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one.” In these verses Isaiah likens Judah to the forest of Lebanon. This was a great and mighty forest in the north of Canaan made up of huge cedar trees. As such this forest was a fit description of Judah in her glory days. But now Isaiah declares that God will cut this forest down to the ground. The high ones of stature shall be hewn down and the haughty shall be humbled. This means the royal house as well as the families of the nobles and princes in Judah would be lopped off and destroyed. Even, mind you, the thickets. That is, the lowly people of Judah will be hewn down and Judah would be left to God desolate. This prophecy was fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldean army besieged and destroyed Jerusalem and the land of Judah. Thousands were slain and the rest taken away into captivity.
This destruction included the royal line of David. The kings of Judah, the heirs of David’s lineage, had done wickedly. Spiritually the royal line of David had departed from the ways of David. With the captivity, this line of David was hewn down. So lowly had it become that Isaiah in our text does not even refer to David. He refers to the line of Jesse, David’s father. Before David was exalted, Jesse was nothing more than a lowly peasant who took care of his sheep on the hills of Bethlehem. The glory of David had been cut down to this lowly state again. In fact, worse. Although David’s line continued to exist during and through the captivity, it never saw its former glory. The genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke reveal that after the captivity the names of David’s children became lost in obscurity. This is what Isaiah now describes for us in the words of Isaiah 11:1 when he says of the royal line, “there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.”
The house of Jesse, the house of David, was hewn down. All that was left was a dried-up stump. That is what the word stem here means: a stump. There was no life left in it. The roots of that stump were dry too. There was nothing left of David’s line. It was all but forgotten. Despite the many prophecies that spoke of the glorious coming of that one out of David’s seed who would be the Ruler of Israel; despite the prophecy that the scepter or rule would not depart from Judah’s line until Shiloh come, David’s line had faded into obscurity. No one in the nation of Israel was even keeping track of David’s line anymore. No one was watching for that one who was to be born to David.
No one could really find it. No one really cared. In fact, not even the descendants of Jesse or of David themselves thought of themselves anything more than anyone else. The hope of Israel had died. The nation was now looking elsewhere for their deliverer. Some were still looking to the line of the Maccabees. Others, called Herodians, were watching the house of Herod, an Edomite, for deliverance from their enemies.
Where was the line of David? It was no longer living in Jerusalem. It was not found hanging around the palace of Herod there. Where was this line of David? We read in Luke 2:1-4, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David).” Joseph was of the house and lineage of David. So was his wife, Mary. Two peasant people who actually lived in the hill country of Galilee, in a small village of Nazareth. The region of Palestine called Galilee in the north was separated from Judea by the Samaritans. Judea in the south was where Jerusalem was located. This was the city of David. And Bethlehem, where the house of Jesse and therefore David too was only about 11 miles south of Jerusalem, also in Judea. So David’s line was far from the place of its origins. Two poor people living in Galilee.
Surely, the line of Jesse was but a stump. That was all that was left of it. It was a bleak period in history for the church of God. Was salvation even possible? But wait a minute, what is this that we see? A rod out of the stump is growing, a little shoot was springing forth from that dead stump? A branch was beginning to grow out of its roots? How could this possibly be?
II. The Springing Branch
An angel had already appeared to Mary before she and Joseph were married, announcing that she was with child of the Holy Spirit. That son that would be born of her would be the Son of God, who would sit upon the throne of David. The angel had already appeared to Joseph telling him not to be afraid to take to himself Mary as his wife because the child she carried was Emmanuel, meaning God with us. Now, these two lowly peasants of the line of David traveled from their hometown in Nazareth to Bethlehem in Judea. Was it their purpose to have their child in the village where Jesse had raised his family? Not at all. In God’s providence they traveled to Bethlehem according to the decree of Caesar Augustus, who at the time demanded that all the world should be taxed.
Since both Joseph and Mary were of the house and lineage of David they had to go to Bethlehem to register for the tax. So Mary, who was due to be delivered, traveled to Bethlehem with her husband, trusting that God would care for her in her need. As they entered into the village Mary, according to God’s sovereign will and purpose for all things, went into labor. In a hurry to find a place where she could be delivered, Joseph tried the inn but found it was full. But they needed a place out of the weather, so they settled for a place where livestock were kept. Today we might call it a barn, but it was nothing more than a shed or shelter of sorts. It was a cattle stall.
In that cattle stall Mary and Joseph delivered into this world their baby boy. They then took their son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes—the clothes of the poor—and since there was no bed, they laid him comfortably in a manger. This was the lowly birth of our Savior. The Son of God was born into our human flesh—the first step in Christ’s humiliation. The birth of a poor man. He was of the royal seed of David. Yet, He was born in poverty. Not that we sorrow over this birth of Christ. We are reminded in Scripture, II Corinthians 8:9, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” All of this, however, was accomplished in order that the prophecy of Isaiah in our text might be fulfilled.
This Christ child in His birth is that shoot that springs forth out of that stump of Jesse. He is the branch that comes forth out of the roots of that tree. Isaiah uses two words to describe Jesus. The first is a “rod,” which literally means a sprout or shoot, and the second is the “branch,” which literally means a branch bearing fruit. The rod out of the stump and the branch out of the root both refer to the birth of Christ, just as the stem (or stump) and root both refer to the “dried-up” line of Jesse or David. It is striking that the Old Testament prophets Jeremiah and Zechariah also refer to Jesus as the Branch.
The figure means this: out of that seemingly lifeless stump of the royal house of David, Christ now shoots forth as a living branch. He is born out of the very heart of the line of David, that line with whom God promised the fulfillment of His covenant with His people. Out of the heart of God’s covenant people, Christ was born unto His church. It seemed as if all hope was gone. But miraculously God by His grace sends forth His Son born out of the very line of David to become the Savior of His people, the church. In Christ the line of David was restored. No, not an earthly line so that Jesus would sit on an earthly throne and rule over an earthly kingdom. But Jesus came to rule over His spiritual Israel, God’s people, the elect. Christ was born a King. That lowly babe in Bethlehem was royalty! King of kings and Lord of lords.
But more, this is a little green sprout that grows out of that stump of Jesse’s line. This is a fruitful shoot that grows out of his root. That means there is life in that Branch. This infant child whose birth we commemorate at this time of year is not some ordinary child. He is not some poor helpless child whose sad birth gives us reason for grieving contemplation. This Christ child is Himself life! He has life flowing forth through Him. In Him is found life. He gives life in the place of death. What is it that Jesus tells Martha and Mary later during His earthly ministry just before raising Lazarus from the dead? He declared: “I am the resurrection and the life! He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Christ was born into this world in order that God’s people might have life and have it more abundantly.
But we must realize, fellow believers, that this implies first of all that Christ has life in Himself. He cannot impart life to you and me unless He possesses, or better, is life. By means of Christ’s death and resurrection, He earned for His people all the blessings of salvation. Those blessings are found in Him. Jesus is the storehouse of all the blessings and benefits He earned on the cross. All of them are found in Him. This is why Christ is the life! Only if someone is in Christ will that person ever find life. This is why Christ issues the call to all who labor and are heavy laden. Are you burdened with sin? Are you heavy laden with the weight of your sin? Do you labor to be rid of it? Then, Jesus says, come to me! Christ has the words of eternal life! Come to Him where life is found! He is the Branch of David! In Him alone life is found. Life in this world and life to come in eternity!
III. The Living Fruit
This, in turn, teaches us one more truth concerning the Christ child whose birth out of that line of Jesse we commemorate today. We spoke of the truth that the Branch out of David is a living branch. A miracle occurs with His birth. The term “Branch” means, remember, a fruitful branch. It is a Branch that bears fruit. Certainly, the life that is found in Jesus Christ produces fruit that when we eat makes us alive too.
This is why we as believers rejoice today. The life found in Christ becomes our life. When we eat of the fruit of that living Branch, Jesus Christ, we are filled with that life that is found in Him. That life consists in all the blessings of salvation that are found in Jesus Christ. When we in faith eat of the Branch, we become partakers of His righteousness and holiness. By means of His death, Christ has paid the price of sin. He has redeemed us from sin and guilt. Christ has earned righteousness in the place of our guilt. We are justified through His death.
By means of His death, Christ has conquered the power of sin and Satan. He has cleansed us in His blood. As a result, through His death we are made holy. Through this work of Christ we receive the forgiveness of sins, adoption unto sons, and life eternal, all gifts that are found in Christ, who is that living Branch. These gifts become ours by means of a true and living faith. When God grafts us into the Branch by means of that true and living faith, we become one living organism with Christ. As a result, the life and blessings found in Christ flow forth out of Him and into us. That is what we see in the birth of Christ—such salvation is made possible.
So we partake of that Branch by faith. We in faith eat of the fruit that is found in Him. By God’s grace we embrace Christ and His salvation. We believe in Him and, believing, we live. That life of Christ is in us now. We walk in this world with that life of Christ in us. That life is ours to all eternity. Sift through all the glitz and glamor of the season. What really do we commemorate at this time of year? Ah, to look upon the face of the Christ child—the Branch. We believe in Him and the salvation He has brought. Without becoming lost in all the greed and materialism that surrounds this season, we in faith give thanks to God today for having provided us our living Branch.