Isaiah 11-12: The Branch, the Lion, and the Lamb
Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of Isaiah, and this morning we’re going to be reading parts of chapters 11 and 12.
We’re in a series through the book of Isaiah, which is a book about humanity’s sin, God’s redemption, and the coming of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Isaiah begin his text talking about the sin of the world, sin meaning the distance between who we are and who we are meant to be—and we need to learn both to long for the world as it will be and to participate in promising that world in word and deed to our broken world; we long and we work for the world as God is making it.
God is high and holy, able to do whatever he will do and be whoever he will be, and he isn’t going to do what we want him to do—but in spite of the brokenness of the world, even though he doesn’t always do what we want, or what would be pleasant for us; God wants us to trust him—trust that he is making all things new, and trust that until he does, he’s going to be with us.
Read with me, Isaiah, chapter 11, starting with verses 1-9, then I’m going to read the first two verses of chapter 12. [Isaiah 11:1-9; 12:1-2]. This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Father, thank you for both creating and restoring us; Christ, thank you for allowing us to know you; Holy Spirit, you are life itself; I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free.
Well, friends, today’s the day. I want you to know I’ve tried every way I knew to avoid this. I’ve done everything I can, exhausted all of my willpower, but this is it. I’m going to pull a sermon illustration today from the writings of JRR Tolkien, and not even from The Lord of the Rings. I’m pulling it from a short story named Ainulindalë. Yes, the name of this story is written in High Elvish. This is the least cool thing I’ve done publicly since I did a high school theater production of Oklahoma! So, Phil, if you need to step out for a moment, I’ll understand.
I’m just kidding, Amazon is making a Lord of the Rings TV show, I’ve talked about this story before here and no one complained, so now I feel like I have free rein. In the story, Tolkien imagines the creation of the world. God starts by creating the angels, and each angel is created knowing a different song. At first, they each sing one by one, but pretty soon they realize the songs God had created in them weren’t meant to be sung alone. They were different pieces of a great symphony, each song was meant to be sung together with the rest of creation. God spends his days teaching, listening, and relishing the music.
Then, one of the angels decides to sing his own song, one that clashes with the song of the rest of creation out of spite and pride, and he began to sing it louder to mock and interrupt the other singers. He taught others to do the same, and soon the music was mere noise. In their minds, they had ruined God’s creation, but God doesn’t see it that way in this story or in ours: he tells the angels, I’m skilled enough to write music around what you’ve sung, to incorporate your rebellions into what I’ve crafted, until even your song sounds like melody, and has meaning and beauty.
See, this is what God does in response to our sins, our mistakes. He takes the things we intended for evil, and he intends them for good. He takes our brokenness and makes beautiful things out of us. Out of our suffering, he makes perseverance. Out of our sorrow he makes joy. Out of our sin he makes redemption. Out of our rebellion he makes forgiveness. Out of our death he makes resurrection.
Isaiah, in our passage this morning, is still speaking to King Ahaz, who is king of Isaiah’s own people. We read last week how Ahaz refused out of a twisted kind of piety to trust in the Lord for the future of the people of God. He couldn’t accept that God was with them. Instead, when Israel began to raid the northern parts of Judah, Ahaz burned his own son on the altar of the god of war, which was a ritual meant to avert the certain destruction of a city. Then he took all of the gold and silver items used in worship at the temple and he brought them as a gift to the Assyrian empire, asking them to conquer the Northern kingdom of Israel.
Assyria was only too glad to accept the tribute, and brutally massacre Israel, systematically destroying the culture and people of God to the north of Ahaz’s lands. So King Ahaz not only allowed, but participated in the massacre of his own brothers. What’s more, he’s proud of his decisions. When he returns from war, he remakes the temple in Jerusalem to look like the altars of the gods of the north. He’s aligned himself with gods and peoples seeking power through dominance and violence, taking what they want.
I imagine the songs they sang as they marched to war, songs that wouldn’t match the song our creator sang to bring us to life.
Isaiah’s response is to tell the king, through this alliance with evil gods and evil people, you think you’ve saved your people, and made Judah great and powerful; but really what you’ve decreed is your own desolation. You misjudged who the real power is in the world—you’ve made friends with Assyria, yes, but you’ve made yourself an enemy of God. You thought Assyria would save you, but the Lord is going to allow the destruction of both kingdoms.
Don’t worry, though, God says. I’m skilled enough that even this catastrophic evil isn’t going to wreck my plans for the world. I’ll take even this noise and make melody.
He says, there’s almost no life left in you, like a tree cut to the roots, but I’m going to cause new life, new branches to spring up even from the stump. In the place of the nation of Judah, he’s going to bring up a new nation—a kingdom—and he’s going to make new people who will be citizens of this kingdom.
Very quickly, I have four points this morning from the text, four characteristics of the new king, and therefore the new kingdom, God is making on the earth.
First is this: God’s kingdom is filled with justice. God’s kingdom is filled with justice, because God himself is both king and judge.
God is going to give his people a new kind of king, not like Ahaz—not even like king David, the great king of the golden age of Jerusalem. This is something new the Lord is doing—he’s restoring Israel to the way it was always meant to be, with God, himself, as king. And the Spirit of God is going to rest on this new king, just like it rests on the temple throughout the Old Testament, to show the presence of God with his people—this king is going to be God with us.
Unlike Ahaz, this new king is going to rule in wisdom, knowing and fearing the Lord, and teaching his people to do the same. He’s not going to sacrifice his children to foreign gods, he’s going to nurture them and make them thrive. Death will have nothing to do with the new kingdom or the new king; he will be life springing up from the damage we’ve done, like a green branch growing up from the stump of a burned tree.
You can see in v.3, when the new king makes judgements, he’s not going to go by the way things look, but he’ll look to the heart of the matter, to the truth, and judge rightly. V.4, he’s not going to give special treatment to the rich and powerful people, to this race or that group; he’s going to treat everyone equally. And I love v.5, which imagines this king in his underwear—a little awkward—but Isaiah’s trying to say, this new king isn’t going to be hiding anything. He’s not acting. If you strip him down to his very heart, at his most intimate, he’s just and faithful.
Secondly, God’s kingdom is healing everything that is divided. God’s kingdom is healing everything that is divided. As we read through our text, we can recognize in the society of that time, and in our own society today, the divides our sin creates. The distance created by sin is not just between the world as it is and the world as it should be, the distance created by sin separates us from God, and it separates us from each other. Sin creates divides in relationships, divides in societies. The kingdom of God is going to heal all of these divides, because the king treats all of his people with equity.
There is a divide between people with power in society and people without power, v.4 uses the word “the meek,” the meek are those people in society without power. We see throughout human history when one group or people has power, they tend to oppress the meek, those without power. We see this between men and women, between races, between nations. We treat our brothers and sisters as though we are superior to them, we put chains on their wrists and enslave them, we dominated and oppressed them, making them feel unwelcome, unsafe, unwanted, worthless.
God is healing these divides. He is using his power to lift up the powerless, to break chains, to free the oppressed. “In God’s kingdom there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one.”
Also in v.4 we are reminded of the divides between people with money and people who are impoverished. We use our resources to take from the poor what little they have. We charge interest and demand payment even if a person is destitute and doesn’t even have the basic means of life. We do not practice generosity, instead we tell people to pull themselves out of poverty, as though poverty has nothing to do with sin or society and is instead a matter of will. We are the debtors who are forgiven by God of debts we never could have paid, and yet we show no mercy to people who owe far less to us.
In v.3 we see God healing the divide between truth and appearance. In God’s kingdom there is nothing that will go unseen. His light is able to pierce every darkness. The faces people put on, the appearances we expertly craft online and with the people around us, all of that is passing away. In God’s kingdom, all truths are told, all people revealed for who they really are.
In v.6, we see God healing the divide between the strong and the weak. Lions living with lambs, children playing with snakes. There’s nothing to be afraid of in the new kingdom. No holding your keys in a fist as you walk on a dark street to your car. No worrying that someone who knows more is going to cheat you out of money or wages, or someone will attack you who you won’t be strong enough to fight off. No votes, no politics, only what’s right.
I keep talking about this word sin, as a distance or a divide between the world as it is and the world as it should be. The Bible also has a word for the healing of those divides: the word is peace, or in Hebrew, shalom. The opposite of sin, according to the Bible, is peace. Which means the opposite of sin in your life is not forgetting, or perfecting, or learning, but peace.
Peace means all divisions healed. God and humanity are living together. Humanity is finally who we were created to be. Those who are high are brought low and those who are low are lifted up. The wealthy and the impoverished, both in money and power, are made to be equal. All truths are told, all violence halted. We see in this passage all divides healed, a picture of peace, shalom, the world as it was created to be. I close every service by praying for peace in your lives—this is what I’m praying for, that every divide in your heart and life, in our community would be healed.
Thirdly, God’s kingdom is filled with knowledge of the Lord. We can see this clearly in v.9: “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” God’s kingdom is filled with the knowledge of the Lord.
It’s only through knowledge of God that any of this—peace, justice, equity—can exist in a society or in your own personal life. Knowledge in the Biblical sense is always personal, it’s always experiential. You don’t know a person until you’ve spent time with him, you don’t know a place until you’ve lived there. Even so, in our societies and in our own lives, you can’t know the Lord until you know him personally, experientially.
This is what evangelists mean when we say it’s not enough to know about God, you have to have a relationship with him—what we mean is that to actually know God you have to spend time with him. You have to pray and speak with him. You have to read the Bible and encounter him, hear about the things he’s done. You have to follow his way and walk with him, or else you don’t really know him.
God’s kingdom is filled with knowledge of the Lord, God with us, face-to-face, person-to-person. Peace, justice, equity, the healing of divides in your life is only going to come from time spent with the Lord.
As Christians today, we need to orient ourselves toward this kingdom, and I want to be very clear on this point, the new nation, the kingdom of God, is not the American nation we are living in. We do not live in a just nation—people here are not treated equally. We don’t have peace; instead we have division, which is the result of sin. And we don’t know the Lord, not like he wants us to know him.
In our lives, too, we may strive to act in justice and wisdom, but we fail. We make choices based upon whim or desire, on self-interest rather than generosity. We don’t work to heal the divisions in our lives. We’re just fine with there being divisions in our societies along lines of race, power, wealth, and education, so long as we are on the right side of the division. So we don’t work for peace in our societies.
When we do these things, we show that we do not know the Lord, not experientially, not like Isaiah desires, and we don’t fear him. We’re like Ahaz, we kill and neglect our children to avoid our own disasters; we take what’s meant for God, and we give it away. We trust more in our jobs, friends, and allies to guide our future more than we do in the Lord himself. We don’t seek justice or peace because we are afraid of what our allies might say—but what will God say? What will God do? He is more powerful, wealthier than they are.
My last point from today is just an invitation from v.12, Isaiah is given a vision of people living in this just kingdom, in peace with every divide healed, filled with knowing the Lord face-to-face and in his vision, the people of God are singing. That’s my last point: God’s kingdom is filled with music. God’s kingdom is filled with music. Did you see it, in chapter 12? “The Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” I would invite you this morning to sing.
Tolkien is right. There is a reason why every culture, why nearly every expression of worship of our God throughout the history of the world has involved some sort of music or song. There is a reason the majority of the Bible is poetry and songs. There is a reason why the scriptures tell us over and over to sing to the Lord. We were created to sing. I’m inviting you this morning to sing, join in with the heavenly chorus. All nature sings the praises of our God. Join in.
Allow our Lord to heal those divisions which make our lives more like chaos than melody. Allow him to teach us again his songs and his ways, so that with all of creation we can sing to the Lord, a new song.
The kingdom of God is already echoing through all of creation, it’s breaking through. If you just stop and listen, if you quiet yourself to hear from God today, I believe he will speak to you a word of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and he will give you a song to sing.