The Greatest Hope
Series: Christmas Words
Everyone thinks of Christmas as as season of hope, but on what do we set our hopes? This passage directs our hopes to the greatest possible king with the greatest possible kingdom.
Today we’re wrapping up our mini-series of sermons on Christmas words at Citylight Center City with hope, and hope gets talked a lot about at Christmas because no matter how bad your life is going, no matter how bad things seem, Christmas brings a message of hope. But not everyone gives the same message of hope. A commercial may look at your hardship and say, “You know what will set it all right? This car. This article of clothing. That time with family when everyone just gets along.” And those things aren’t all bad, right? But if you set your hopes on them, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. The Christmas season, as much as I and many others enjoy it, ends. And for how long will the new car really deliver? And what happens when the family isn’t all getting along? For real and lasting hope, you need something greater. So set your hopes on Jesus, because He is the greatest king, and His kingdom is the greatest kingdom.
He is the greatest king
The scene when we come to chapter 11 is of a forest that has been thoroughly devastated. The nations are compared to trees in the chapters that precede it: Israel and Assyria are especially in focus. First, Assyria was the ax in God’s hands that He would use to bring judgment on Israel for their sins, especially for the way they’d oppressed their poor and widows. But then God would judge Assyria for their pride and the joy they took in putting Israel to death, leaving both as mere stumps in the ground. But now in chapter 11 we read that from one of those stumps, the stump of Jesse, there will come forth a shoot, a branch that will bear fruit. Jesse was the father of David, the greatest king of Israel up this point. So what Isaiah is saying here is that from the remnant of Israel, from the few people who are left after the Assyrian invasion, God will raise up another David, another “greatest king,” and then he goes on to describe this king.
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. The Spirit of the LORD is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, and Isaiah gives us a beautiful description of Him here. He is the Spirit of wisdom and understanding. He’s the Spirit who leads people into the truth, and also the Spirit who enables them to apply it well to the situations they face. He’s the Spirit of counsel and might, and here we see military terminology. Counsel means wise choices in battle, and might the power to carry them out. The greatest king who is coming will need to fight a battle. He’s also the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD, which are again related in Scripture: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. To know rightly is to fear the LORD, to turn away from evil is the path of understanding. This king will be the greatest king because this Spirit will rest upon Him.
And so, verse 3: His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. This will be a king who delights to use His kingly office to serve the LORD. The worst kings are the ones who don’t fear God, because what do they use their kingly office to do? They use it to serve themselves. They see that they’re on the top rung of the social ladder in their society, and since they don’t fear God, they see no one above them. Now one way we’ve tried to mitigate that in America is by not having a king; spread out the power enough that nobody is alone at the top of the hierarchy, then at least if the President won’t fear God, he should fear congress, the supreme court, or the voters.
But hierarchy doesn’t die so easily, and in any society, any community, some people or group of people rise to power. Someone still makes the TV shows we all watch, someone runs the social media platforms we all use and decides what content is allowable and not, someone still teaches the classes you have to take to get the job you want, someone’s still the boss at that job, someone still sits in the therapist’s chair, someone still runs the news media and decides which stories get told and how they are told, and we could go on, but the point is that these people have more power than others, and this will happen in any society. It’s the structure of nature, and so our hope for the future is not the elimination of all power differentials; it’s that someone will come and use their power to serve the LORD rather than serve Himself. And this one, on whom the Spirit will rest, will delight to do just that. And so He shall not judge by what His eyes see or what His ears hear, verse 3 says. This doesn’t mean He’ll be blind to evidence; it means He’ll be blind to bribery and partiality. He won’t look at the nations and say, “Ah, well you are the more powerful one, so I can turn a blind eye to your sins.” He won’t be swayed by rumors, by “fake news” or “alternate facts.” Instead, He will judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. In other words, He will bring judgment in favor of the poor and the meek of the earth, the justice they are so often denied, and the justice they were in fact being denied in Israel at that time.
You see, kings who don’t fear the LORD have no incentive to execute justice in favor of the poor. The poor can’t pay them back. They have a lot of visible incentive to judge by the wealth their eyes see, and so they tend to find in favor of the wealthy. In our day we’ve seen how often this can happen even unintentionally through implicit biases. One of the reasons so many of us rejoiced when Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers were recently convicted is because we know so often justice is miscarried in such cases, and almost was in that one. But this coming king will never miscarry justice. He will right the wrongs, and the poor and meek of the earth will be vindicated.
That doesn’t mean every poor person is going to enter His kingdom just because they’re poor, as though poverty were the way to merit eternal life. When Revelation 21 gives us a picture of the coming kingdom, it specifically tells us that there are some who won’t be there: The cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, idolaters, liars, and other sins are listed elsewhere in the Bible, and there is no exception clause saying something like, “unless they were poor.” It also doesn’t mean that the righteous are always materially poor. There are exceptional examples of wealthy saints in Scripture: Abraham, Job, David, Lydia and other characters in the book of Acts. However, there is a theme running throughout Scripture that since the world is in rebellion against God, those who delight to serve Him often do find themselves on the losing side in the world. In Israel of Isaiah’s day, the righteous were oppressed by wicked rulers, and then overcome in battle by a wicked nation.
And so today, some of you can see ways that if you were simply a bit less faithful to the LORD, you could get ahead in life. If you’d just lie about your income, you could qualify for greater government assistance. If you’d just stop giving your money away, you could keep up with your neighbors who aren’t. If you’ll just toe the line on the popular sexual ethics of our day, you’ll advance in your field. If you’ll just keep your mouth shut about the injustices in your workplace, you’ll be ok. I talked to one member recently who saw his bosses mistreating a couple of his female coworkers, who happen to be a minority in his field, and he had to push through the temptation to say nothing in order to confront them. And, of course, there are parts of the world where even to identify as a Christian can cost you your life. I heard the story recently of Christians in Afghanistan who, earlier this year, chose to switch their religious affiliation on their national ID card to Christian, knowing that it would doom them to the status of second-class citizens. Now under the Taliban, it could even cost them their lives.
Where do you get the power to do that? You get it from hope. You get it from believing that even if all your faithfulness to the LORD gets you in this life is more poverty and oppression, the greatest king is coming, and He will execute justice in your favor. Do you see what a powerful hope you have when you have this king to look forward to? Not only can that empower you to be faithful through poverty and oppression, it can enable you to do so with meekness. Notice that word in verse 4: To be meek means not only that you’re in a comparatively weak position in the world, but you are so without resentment and covetousness. You aren’t staring daggers through the powerful, secretly coveting their wealth, and fantasizing about the day you’ll show them. You just don’t need what they have. You have a greater hope, because you have a greater king. So even when wronged, you don’t retaliate. When faced with hardship, you don’t face it like the world does.
In fact, this hope is so great, that not only does it enable you to go through poverty and oppression with hope; it enables you to fight it. Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, on whose life the movie Just Mercy is based, has spent his life fighting for justice for the poor and racial minorities in the criminal justice system, and when he talked about what it’s taken for him to do that for decades, and what it will take for a younger generation to continue the work, one of the key ingredients he mentioned was hope. We can do justice and advocate for the poor and oppressed because in the end, justice wins. The greatest king is coming to execute justice. And look at how He does it, back in verse 4: He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth and with the breath of His lips He shall kill the wicked. He does it by speaking. He’s not like judges today who pronounce a sentence, but then must call in others to execute it. He speaks, and His Word not only declares the verdict; it executes the sentence.
This is a king on whom we can set our hopes. He will be supernaturally empowered by the very Spirit of God to delight in serving the LORD with His kingly office, which means He will not be partial to the wealthy and powerful, He will not be bought, and He will instead execute justice for the poor and meek of the earth with the Word of His mouth. As you face hardship, set your hopes on this king. And when He reigns as the greatest possible king, His kingdom will be the greatest possible kingdom.
His kingdom is the greatest kingdom
Listen to this description in verses 6-7 – “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 fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like ox.” Can you imagine that? God is giving us an image of a peace so expansive, so total, so comprehensive, that it extends to the animal realm. Wolves don’t eat lambs any longer; they lie down with them. Nature’s not as serene as we city folks sometimes imagine it; it’s wild out there. The wolves don’t lie down with the lambs now, but the day is coming when they will. The lions don’t eat straw now; they eat calves. But the day is coming when they will.
In that day, even a nursing child will play over the hole of a cobra verse 8 says, and the weaned child will put his hand on the adder’s den. Can you even imagine seeing an infant playing with a snake and not being afraid? How much of parents’ time and energy is spent assessing and protecting their kids from threats? How much sadness comes when we think of all the bad things that could happen to our kids? The day is coming when none of those will even be possible. But verse 8 is better yet. The conflict between humans and snakes goes back to the very beginning of the Bible. In the garden of Eden, the first home of humans, Satan used a snake to tempt Adam and Eve to sin against God, and when they did, God cursed the snake and told the snake that He would put enmity between his offspring and the offspring of the woman. Now we read of the offspring of the woman playing happily with the snake. It’s showing us a day when the battle between good and evil itself will be over. Even the snake will be redeemed, though not Satan; the battle will be over because he’ll be thrown into the lake of fire, never to torment God’s people again. And because that battle between good and evil will be over, so will battles between people. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, verse 9 says, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
The holy mountain in this context refers to the temple mountain, the holiest place within Israel. So it, of all places, was the place where one human should not hurt or destroy another human. And the idea here is that as this expands out to fill the earth, as the whole earth becomes God’s temple, and the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea, there will be no place left for people to kill or destroy. Peace spreads as knowledge of the LORD spreads. The secular theory of how peace began and spreads is through a social contract. We agree to not hurt or destroy one another because we don’t want to be hurt or destroyed. But listen to the comments of G.K. Chesterton on that idea: “Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, “I will not hit you if you do not hit me”; there is no trace of such a transaction. There IS a trace of both men having said, We must not hit each other in the holy place. They gained their morality by guarding their religion. They did not cultivate courage. They fought for the shrine, and found they had become courageous. They did not cultivate cleanliness. They purified themselves for the altar, and found that they were clean.”
When you are filled with a sense that you are in the presence of a holy God, you simply cannot hurt or destroy another human made in His image in His presence. So when the whole earth is filled with such a knowledge of the LORD, there will be no place left to hurt or destroy. Instead, the tribes who have littered human history with their wars will come together and rest at peace. So verse 10 says this coming King, this root of Jesse, will stand as a signal for the peoples, as a sign that God holds up, saying to all nations: “Come.” And so of Him shall the nations inquire, and that resting place, in which He will be at rest, having accomplished His work, and in which the nations will be at rest with Him, justice finally having been executed, that place will be glorious. It will be the greatest possible kingdom. What could be better than this? And this is how the true story ends!
It seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? Like it’s a fairy tale or something. You see, we tend to assume today that if a story has a happy ending, it’s probably less true; it’s probably just something people are telling themselves to avoid the harsh reality of life. But do you see how irrational that is? How do you know how the story ends? What logical reason do you have to assume it ends poorly? Yes, there is a lot of evil and injustice in the world, but this vision isn’t glossing over that. Instead it’s telling us about a King who deals with it, who deals with is so decisively as to defeat it. And we have even better reasons to set our hopes on such a King today than the people of Isaiah’s day did, because we live in the days where this King has come. We don’t need to set our hopes on some nameless king; we set our hopes on Jesus.
He is the shoot of Jesse; remember a couple weeks ago we saw that he was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, because that’s the line from which he descended according to the flesh? At his baptism we read that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and the fear of the LORD, descended upon Him and remained there. In John 4 we saw that His food, His delight, was to do the will of the one who sent Him. In John 2 we saw that though people professed faith in Him, He did not entrust Himself to them, for He knew what was in man; He did not judge by what His eyes saw or His ears heard. And when He spoke words of judgment, here’s what He said:
“20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” – Luke 6:20-26
What was He doing? He was deciding with equity for the meek of the earth, and striking the wicked of the earth with the rod of His mouth. Righteousness and faithfulness were His belt, and yet in the end, He was cut down. The serpent took his last shot at Him. The wicked of the earth hurt Him, and ultimately destroyed Him. He became poor and oppressed, and just as Assyria was the instrument in God’s hands to execute His judgment on the sins of Israel, so the wicked of Jesus’ day were instruments in God’s hands to execute His judgment on our sins as Jesus bore them on the cross. Then, when He was reduced to a dead stump, new life came. He rose from the dead, and so was revealed not only to be the shoot of Jesse, but the root of Jesse. Did you catch that in verse 10? In verse 1, He’s called the shoot of Jesse, but in verse 10, He’s the root. He’s the descendant of Jesse, but He’s also Jesse’s ancestor. How could that be? Because He is the eternal Son of God, through whom all things were made, to whom God promised a people, a people He then committed to save, a promise revealed and made in Genesis 3, when God promised not only that there would be enmity between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman, but that the offspring of the woman would be victorious. Jesus is that offspring, from whom Jesse’s line descended, and who in time, came as a descendent of that line Himself. Believe in Him, and He will pour out his Spirit on you. Believe in Him, and the sentence of judgment over you will be “righteous,” because He is righteous.
And because He has come, that means even now, this future hope has broken into the present. There is now an embassy of His kingdom on earth, people who happily submit to His rule, called the church. They are the poor in spirit, the meek of the earth, the community in which the outcast and despised of the world find a home. Those in it who are wealthy identify with the poor and so give their money generously to any as they have need. They don’t expect the world to give them power; faithfulness to Jesus is the goal, whatever the cost. They use their words to pronounce Jesus’ judgment: To call good what God calls good, though the world calls it evil, and to call evil what God calls evil, though the world calls it good. Its members do not hurt or destroy, for the church is filled with the knowledge of the LORD, and the nations are streaming into it. People from enemy tribes in the world reconcile with one another in the church, not by pretending their sins don’t exist, but by an open confession of them, repentance, reparation, and forgiveness. They join together to sing God’s praises with one voice, and this church then holds out Christ as a signal to the nations and calls them to come and enjoy His kingdom. That’s what we are, Citylight Church. Who are the poor and oppressed of the world you need to move toward and advocate for? Who are the members you need to maintain peace with, either by repenting or extending forgiveness? To whom can we hold out Christ as a signal?
We do these things with great hope as we look ahead to the future. We have the greatest king reigning over us now, we’ve been made citizens of the greatest possible kingdom, and the day is coming when our king will return and execute perfect justice on behalf of His meek and poor people and against the proud and arrogant who persisted against them. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the lion will eat straw, and even the battle with the serpent will then be over. Don’t fear the world and what it can do to you. Don’t grow weary of doing good. Do you realize how dear we will be to one another in that day, whatever our conflicts now? Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God, until the day He comes again, and we enter into His glorious rest.