The Resurrection of Hope
December 08, 2019*
(Second Sunday of Advent)
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 11:1-10 Matthew 3:1-12 Romans 15:4-13
As we look outside at the beginning of winter, as the leaves have fallen, temperatures have dropped, now there is ice to be scraped from the windshields of our cars, and soon there will be snow to shovel, imagine what it might be like to watch this transformation if you had never seen a winter, nor heard stories of its coming. Imagine what it might be like for someone who grew up in Africa or in another equatorial country, or if an alien from outer space where to land here. Imagine their horror as the watched this transformation and imagined that it represented the end of the world. The trees look as if they have all died. Life giving heat has left the atmosphere. And even the skies seem to be dark and foreboding as if they are foretelling of some greater evil yet to come.
Of course, it is difficult for us to even imagine such a thing. Of course, this is temporary. Of course, we know that as dark, and as gray, as our world becomes in December and January, we know that Spring is the obvious, reliable, and predictable future. But that isn’t always the way we think when we are confronted with disaster and it certainly wasn’t what the people of Israel were thinking when they imagined what kind of a future there might be when it became obvious that they would soon be defeated by the Babylonian army. The gloom and depression were so thick that you could feel them, and the moods of some people were becoming suicidally dark. But into that gloom, God, through the prophet Isaiah, speaks a message of hope. (Isaiah 11:1-10)
11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
Isaiah agrees that it seems as if the tree of Israel, and the lineage of her kings, is about to be cut down and destroyed forever. But even though that tree might be cut down, God promises that, some time in the future, new growth will come from the roots of the tree. A shoot will come from the stump of the house of Jesse. In Bethlehem, life will come from death. There will be resurrection for the nation of Israel. And not only will Israel return, not only will there be new life in the lineage of Israel’s kings, but in that day Israel’s king will stand above the kings of the world, and the nations of the world will gather around to serve him.
God’s words, spoken through Isaiah, brought the resurrection of hope to the people of Israel.
And the story wasn’t much different eight hundred years later as John the Baptist spoke to crowds of people who were wondering what future Israel might have when soldiers from Rome occupied their nation and ruled over them. And John begins by reminding the people of the promises God had spoken through the prophet Isaiah. (Matthew 3:1-12)
3:1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
John looked weird but people noticed that he wore the same type of clothes that the prophet Elijah had worn. His food was strange, but by eating locusts and wild honey he kept kosher, followed the law, and made a statement against the excesses of the rich. John’s appearance was weird, but it was just weird enough that people recognized something godly in him and they came from far and wide to hear what he had to say. They confessed their sins and were baptized as a symbol of their new ambition to live lives of repentance and holiness.
But the message that John preached was a message not only about repentance as a one-time act, but a message that real repentance had to look real. Real repentance isn’t an act, it’s a change in lifestyle that produces the fruits of righteousness. John was offering baptism as a symbol of repentance, but we know that it is also a symbol of resurrection. Going under the water is symbolic of being buried and then rising again to a new life of repentance. John told the people about the coming Messiah who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire because the Messiah was the shoot growing out of the root of Jessie that Isaiah had written about. Jesus was, at first, a symbol of resurrection, and then became the one in whom God brought real resurrection to his people.
For the people of Israel in the time of John the Baptist, the arrival of the Messiah represented the resurrection of hope.
And then, in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul again explains that it is in our faith in Jesus Christ where we find God’s gift of hope. (Romans 15:4-13)
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:
“Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing the praises of your name.”
10 Again, it says,
“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
let all the peoples extol him.”
12 And again, Isaiah says,
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Everything that has ever been written in scripture was written to teach us endurance so that with the encouragement of the prophets and the heroes of our faith, we might discover hope. Paul says that we are called by God to have the same attitude of mind toward one another that Jesus had. In other words, we are called to see one another in the same way that Jesus sees us. Not as competition, not as sinners, but as brothers, sisters, co-heirs, and fellow workers who are striving toward the same goal. We are called to accept one another in order to bring praises to God.
It is this faith, and this lifestyle of repentance, that brings us hope, joy, and peace as we trust in Jesus. And, as we trust him, we are filled by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we might, even more, overflow with hope.
Our world is just as desperate for the message of hope today as it was in the time of Isaiah and John the Baptist. As we hear the message of Advent, let us repent, and draw closer to Jesus so that we can be filled with God’s spirit, and overflow with hope in a world filled with darkness, misery, and despair.
May we be the people that God uses to bring about a new resurrection of hope.
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