The Promise of His Coming
Topic: Christmas Passage: Isaiah 11:1–12:6
“THE PROMISE OF HIS COMING”
One of my earliest memories from elementary school is lining up at the classroom door at 2 o’clock on Friday afternoons and being paraded “single-file” to the school library. For us it was like a “field trip,” because the library was located in an adjacent building and it provided an escape of sorts from the four walls in which we had been confined all week.
Upon arriving in the room filled with books, we would spend several minutes browsing through the shelves and selecting that one volume that we would check out, take home, read, and write a one-page book report.
Every week I would gravitate to the section where the biographies were located and there pick out a book that told the story of a historic person or, in most cases, a famous athlete. I’m not sure what first drew me to biographies, but whatever it is, it still does.
To this day I still enjoy reading other people’s stories and discovering what went into making them the person they became...and, I suppose to some extent, comparing and contrasting their lives with my own.
Countless biographies and autobiographies have been penned through the years, but none more fascinating and cloaked with mystery than that of Jesus Christ. One writer has called it, The Greatest Story Ever Told, a fitting title in light of the fact that at the very end of the Gospel of John we find these words: “There are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
In just a few weeks you and I will be celebrating the birth of the One after whom Christmas Day is named. Even the most secular among us seem to know a few things related to the biblical story of Christmas, such as the shepherds, the wise men, the star...and, oh yes, the baby. Most, however, are not able to “connect the dots” in terms of what it all means.
If you were to tell the story of Jesus, where would you begin? Therein lay the problem, because with Jesus there is no beginning. As the Scriptures declare, He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). Jesus simply “is”...always has been, and always will be. He is the great “I AM” (cf. John 9:58). You and I may be bound by the confines of time and space, but God is not so restricted. And while that is impossible to relate to, the Bible declares it to be so.
The name “Jesus” means “salvation.” It was the name that He assumed when He left His eternal home in heaven and entered the realm of humanity (cf. Matthew 1:21 and Luke 1:31) through the womb of His virgin mother (cf. Matthew 1:18-25). The purpose for His coming was proclaimed by an angelic chorus, and the announcement of His arrival was made known to a group of lowly shepherds (cf. Luke 2:8-20). But the story of Jesus predates those events that are commonly associated with Christmas. In fact, if we omit the first part of His story, then we cannot help but miss the full and true meaning of the day that we celebrate. While Jesus is most clearly revealed to us in the New Testament, He makes many “cameo appearances” throughout the Old Testament.
This morning and extending through the end of this year, we are going to be looking at “the promises of Christmas” as first revealed in the Scriptures. Christmas is about a great deal more than the manger scenes we see in so many places at this time of the year...all of which are but imaginative interpretations of the way things may have been. Today we will be considering the promise of His coming.
There are many places we could turn in the Scriptures which foretell God’s promise to send a Savior into the world. The need for such a One arose shortly after God had created the world. Within that world He had planted an idyllic Garden, where He placed the first man and woman. That pair was invested with authority and given the responsibility to care for the Garden. There was but one prohibition...which they soon violated. Consequently, the couple incurred the wrath of God, the guilt of sin, and the penalty of death...conditions that have been passed along to every subsequent member of the human race from then until now (cf. Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:22a).
Because of His perfect holiness and absolute righteous standard, God had every right and every reason to destroy man on the spot, and either begin anew or scrap His plan to create a human race altogether. But He did neither. Confronting the first man and woman with their guilt, God gave them a promise...a promise of hope...hope of forgiveness and restoration (cf. Genesis 3:15) if they would repent of their sin and believe His Word. And in so doing, God launched a plan that would take sixty-six books, nearly twelve hundred chapters, and more than thirty-one thousand verses to unfold. That plan centered on the person and work of a single Man, the man Jesus (cf. Luke 24:27).
The entire Old Testament anticipated the arrival of this One who would provide the way back to God. The plot of the biblical story takes many twists and turns, and at times we wonder if the outcome is actually going to turn out the way that God said it would. But time and time again God’s sovereignty prevails and His providential plan proceeds onward, overcoming obstacle after obstacle.
But what would this One be like? How would people recognize Him? The prophet Isaiah’s vivid descriptions of the coming One—seven hundred years before His arrival—almost appear to have been “cut and pasted” from the New Testament record.
This morning we have time to focus on just one of those passages. It was written by the prophet at a time when Israel faced a critical national crisis and needed a hopeful word from the Lord. It is found in chapters 11 and 12 of Isaiah’s prophecy. Beginning with the 1st verse of chapter 11, we read concerning...
The recognition of the Expected One (Isaiah 11:1-5).
[11:]1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2 And 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 the fear of the LORD.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor.
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
The manner in which these verses are printed in our English Bibles remind us that much of what the prophet says is written in poetic form. That suggests that he employs several figures of speech in order to portray images in helping the reader conceptualize the identity of the coming Savior.
In verse 1, it is intimated that He would arise from the family of Jesse, who was the father of David the King. And because God had pledged that David’s “house and...kingdom shall be made sure forever” (cf. 2 Samuel 7:15), the implication is that the coming One would be a king and the promised One in whom the covenant would be fulfilled. The “shoot from the stump of Jesse” suggests, the Davidic dynasty had been reduced to a “fallen tree” at the time of Isaiah. But here, remarkably, we are told that it would be restored.
Isaiah’s mention of the “branch” in verse 1, is not unique to him. Both Jeremiah (23:5 and 33:15) and Zechariah (3:8 and 6:12) employ that same figure in reference to the Messiah and His ancestral roots as His advent drew nearer. A “fruitful branch” would come forth from what appeared to be a dead “stump.”
Verse 2 reveals that the coming One would be graced with “the Spirit of the LORD” unlike any other before Him or since. It would be “without measure,” according to the Apostle John (3:34), who would in time be a close companion of the Christ (cf. 1 John 1:1).
The uniqueness of the Expected One is further declared in that “his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD,” and that His life would be lived not of the basis of any human value system, but rather according to God’s righteous standard. In His teaching, others would say of Him, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). He would perform miracles, like cleansing lepers, causing the lame to walk, restoring sight to the blind, and even raising the dead. It would seem from this description that it would be hard to miss Him!
In short, God’s promised One would be recognized because—although like us—He would be so distinctively different. From the moment He drew His first breath, not one sinful thought would enter His mind, not one sinful word would flow from His lips, and not one sinful deed would be committed by Him. In every way He displayed “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). That is because “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19).
And yet when He arrived, few recognized Him. Even John the Baptist struggled during his most trying moments to put the pieces of the divine puzzle together (cf. Matthew 11:2-6). Four hundred “silent years”—centuries without a prophetic word from God—had muddled the concept of the messianic-figure in the minds of many. When He came as He did most were caught off-guard and unprepared. No wonder, then, when He at last entered the human drama, His first message was to call people to repentance (cf. Matthew 4:17).
To this very day, relatively few recognize Jesus for who He is. The approaching Christmas season provides for us all an optimal time to pause and take inventory of our relationship with the One whose arrival we commemorate. Just who is Jesus to you? As has been said in one form or another many times before, we are really left with but a handful of options when it comes to our response to Jesus’ claims. He is either a liar who falsely professed to be the One sent from God, a lunatic who believed that He was who He said He was but really wasn’t...or He is Lord, in which case we must bow the knee before Him. We are left with no other choice, other than to deny that Jesus ever lived at all. And to do that is to argue against history’s verifiable testimony.
But let’s see what else Isaiah has to say about this One as we resume our reading in verses 6 through 9. It is here that we learn about...
The restoration of the Expected One (Isaiah 11:6-9).
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat.
and the calf and the lion and the fatted calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand in the adder’s den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
The description that we find in these four verses defies our ability to even imagine. Wolves and lambs dwelling together? Leopards and goats lying down with one another? Calves and lions hanging out together? Young children leading around wild beasts like pets? Infants lying unthreatened beside snake pits? Clearly, Isaiah hasn’t been watching Animal Planet! Here it is said that the pristine, pre-sin conditions of Eden would be restored (cf. Isaiah 51:3).
When the prophets of old recorded the words given to them by the Spirit of God, neither they nor the angels of heaven grasped their full implications (cf. 1 Peter 1:12 and 2 Peter 1:20-21). Frequently, when writing of the promised One, the prophets did not distinguish between His two advents. What they referred to in seamless fashion is better understood by those of us living in the “gap” or “parenthesis” between His first and second comings. Clearly, the conditions described in verses 6 through 9 have not yet come to pass. They remain for the future, and yet we read them with a certain note of familiarity. That is because they are a renewal and a reminder of the environment which existed long ago when God first created a place for man, the crowing jewel of His creation, to dwell (cf. Genesis 1:26-27 and Psalm 8:3-8).
In Romans 8:19 through 22 we are told that “The creation waits with eager longing for the renewal of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
Because of sin—specifically that first sin, committed in the Garden of Eden by our first parents—the world has fallen under a curse. We are reminded of this every time we pass a cemetery or attend a funeral. Death has reigned from then until now, and yet it is an aberration from God’s creative purpose. One day that curse will be reversed, and all for which our souls now long will become a reality for the people who have believed His promise.
This is the assurance that awaits those who entrust themselves to the One whom God sent to fulfill the pledge first given in the Garden. And herein is the meaning of Christmas that so often eludes us. Contrary to contemporary notions, Jesus did not come to provide for us a respite from the routines of life at the end of every calendar year. His purpose was far more substantial than that. He came in order to restore “paradise” to those willing to entrust themselves to Him and await the full and final realization of His promise.
But let’s read on, for Isaiah has more to tell us in verses 10 through 16 with regard to...
The renown of the Expected One (Isaiah 11:10-16).
10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
11 In that day the LORD will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.
12 He will raise a signal for the nations
and will assemble the banished of Israel
and gather the dispersed of Judah
from the four corners of the earth.
13 The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart,
and those who harass Judah shall be cut off;
Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah,
and Judah shall not harass Ephraim.
14 But they shall swoop down on the shoulder of the Philistines in the west,
and together they shall plunder the people of the east.
They shall put out their hand against Edom and Moab,
And the Ammonites shall obey them.
15 And the LORD shall utterly destroy
the tongue of the Sea of Egypt,
and will wave his hand over the River
with his scorching breath,
and strike it into seven channels,
and he will lead his people across in sandals.
And there will be a highway from Assyria
for the remnant that remains of his people,
as there was for Israel
when they came up from the land of Egypt.
More than fifty times in his prophetic book, Isaiah employs the phrase, “In that day.” Its reference is to a time in the future when God will bring about the fulfillment of the promises He has declared. Every promise of God hinges on the work of the promised One.
The prophet again makes reference to “the root of Jesse,” as he did in verse 1. This time we are told that the Expected One would be “a signal for the peoples” and the One of whom “the nations (would) inquire.” What an astonishing announcement this would have been to the Jews of Isaiah’s day. For even though the promised One would spring from Israel, He would be much more than a “localized savior.” He would be, as Isaiah would say elsewhere, “a light for the nations” (Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6). He would bring, as the angels told the shepherds, “good news of great joy...for all the people” (Luke 2:10). He would bear “the name that is above every name,” before which everyone would one day bow and confess (cf. Philippians 2:9-11).
He would be the One who would end all conflict and unite His people under a single banner...a banner bearing the insignia of a blood-stained cross. He would gather His people “from the four corners of the earth,” and vanquish all of His enemies. “In that day,” just as “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,” so the elect from every nation and people group on the planet would live in perfect peaceful harmony. And eternally this One would reign as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (cf. 1 Timothy 6:15 and Revelation 19:16).
You may not consider yourself to be a classical music fan, but let me encourage you to do what I did recently. Locate a recording—on YouTube or elsewhere—of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”...not some modern arrangement, but an original version. Listen to it without distraction and allow the words of that time-honored piece to penetrate into your spiritual pores. Throughout history, people in public gatherings have stood whenever it is played and sung. Perhaps—just perhaps—it will drive you to your knees. Handel wrote...
The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever.
As we enter chapter 12 of Isaiah’s prophecy, we find that he has composed and left for us his own song. Its content centers on...
The rejoicing for the Expected One (Isaiah 12:1-6).
The arrival of the promised One will be a time of great joy for those who await and anticipate His arrival. Isaiah writes,
[12:]1 You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O LORD,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.
2 “Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
For the LORD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”
3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
4 And you will say in that day:
“Give thanks to the LORD,
call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that his name is exalted.
5 “Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;
let this be made known in all the earth.
6 Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
The reason to rejoice is given in the first three verses. The prophet’s elation cannot be contained as he speaks of a restored relationship with God and the salvation that will be made possible through the arrival of the Expected One. Indeed, apart from the One who is to come, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Forgiveness, comfort, security, and strength are the portion of those who trust the Lord and embrace His promise. Therefore, the reader is called upon to “Give thanks to the LORD” and encourage others to do the same.
With thanksgiving comes the call to “make known his deeds among the peoples, (and) proclaim that his name is exalted.” As we exchange Christmas greetings with one another this year, we should do so with by exalting His name. We live in an increasingly secular culture where “Christ” is being squeezed out of the very day that has been set aside to remember His coming. You and I must be intentional in making Him known. Our voices must be heard as we “Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously.” We must, therefore, “let this be made known in all the earth.”
In 2 Corinthians 1:20, the Apostle Paul affirms that “All the promises of God find their Yes in him (that is, in Christ Jesus). That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen for his glory.” What that means is that God’s promise to His people is certain. What He has said, He will perform...in His perfect timing, and in His perfect way.
The birth of Christ may have occurred in a remote and quiet setting, but the message of salvation that it brought was never meant to stray there. His coming was the fulfillment of a plan conceived in the Council of God from before the creation of the world. When the Son of God took on human flesh and became the Son of Man, the angels of heaven rejoiced. As significant a day as Christmas is to our culture, we as Christians must not allow the fact to be obscured that it historically marked but the beginning of a course that would lead Jesus to a cross and then to an empty tomb some three decades later.
For thirty-plus years He would live in perfect obedience to the Heavenly Father, something that was absolutely necessary if He were to die for a race that had had been soiled by sin and separated from a holy God. For a few days, the fate of humanity and the faith of the faithful seemed to hang in the balance. Had God’s promise been thwarted? Had it suddenly been declared null and void? God forbid!
The promises that you and I make to one another are often broken and, perhaps even more common, quickly forgotten. Some of us may have had the embarrassing experience of remembering days, weeks, or even months later a promise that we had made to someone. And then there is the matter of “inadvertent promises” that we never intended to be a promise in the first place.
I recently heard of a woman who was so busy that she fell behind in her holiday preparations. It was just a few days before Christmas and she had not yet sent the first greeting card. She rushed to the store, quickly purchased one of the few remaining boxes of cards without reading the message printed inside. She rapidly signed each one, “Love, Mary” and dropped them off at the post office. Some time after the first of the year, she noticed that there was one card left in the box she had purchased and had sent out to her friends. Opening it, she was stunned to read these words: “Just a little note to say your Christmas gift is one the way.”
When it came to sending the promised One, God did not have to play “catch-up” or make a hasty “change of course” in bringing about its fulfillment. Everything from the arrival of the Christ child to His sacrificial death to His glorious resurrection and ascension took place according to the timetable of a sovereign God. In Galatians 4:4 and 5 we read, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
Are you included in God’s family? Have you embraced His promise and turned from sin and welcomed Christ by faith? If not, then what in heaven’s name are you planning to celebrate this Christmas? When the tree is taken down, the decorations put away, and the new presents have lost their luster, what will you have left? Could it be that God is calling you to approach this Christmas in a new light...in light of the promised Savior?
Within three decades of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and promised return, people were asking, “Where is the promise of his coming” (2 Peter 3:4). It is a question that many—including many in the Church—are asking today. It is the same question that many asked as they awaited His first coming two millennia ago. Peter’s words of assurance, left for us who await Jesus’ return, would have been just as fitting for those who anticipated His first advent:
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, But is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
As you wait, so does He? He came once...He will come again. Are you ready?