Isaiah 11:1-10 (Second Sunday in Advent—Series A)
“The World Turned Upside Down”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
December 4, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament reading from Isaiah 11:
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. 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 fattened 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 on 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. 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.
Sometimes what comes down to us from long ago is accurate and sometimes it isn’t. Such is the case with the song, “The World Turned Upside Down.” Take a listen. Play song. American tradition has it that the British played this tune when Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in 1781. However, there was no historical record of which song or songs were played. What has come down to us through historical tradition, then, is that the British played “The World Turned Upside Down” because the greatest army in the world had just surrendered to the rag-tag Americans.
Do you ever feel that your world has been turned upside down? Life can so quickly go topsy-turvy on us. One moment everything is going along as it should and then you get a phone call that your father has collapsed and died. In an instant, the world has been turned upside down. One moment things seem to be moving forward just fine and at your appointment, your doctor tells you that you have cancer. Life is good one moment and the next your employer has let you go and you find yourself without a job. In an instant, the world gets turned upside down.
Thousands of years ago, everything was perfect, literally! Adam and Eve were taking care of God’s creation, tending the Garden of Eden as the Lord had entrusted them. But then the world was turned upside down. Adam and Eve sinned—they did what God had forbidden them to do. They willfully rebelled against Him as they fell prey to the devil’s temptation. The perfect creation was subjected to the curse of sin and death. All creation was now held in the bondage of corruption (Rom. 8:21). Thistles and thorns, decay and death is now the norm.
All creation is now in a state of corruption and death including people because, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). As we look at the history of the people of Israel throughout the Old Testament it is one of rebellion against God. There is a pattern of Israel’s sin, God’s judgment against their sin, the people’s repentance, God’s gracious forgiveness, and then the whole thing starts over again. Then came a time when the people refused to listen to the Word of God spoken by His prophets like Isaiah. They refused to hear God’s Word of Law showing them their sins and announcing their punishment. They would not repent. They would not turn. So God rightfully brought upon the people of Israel the covenant curses outlined in Deuteronomy for failing to keep the agreement which God had set up for His people. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was captured by the nation of Assyrian in 722 B.C. The Southern Kingdom of Judah met its fate at the hands of the nation of Babylon in 586 B.C. There was utter destruction and death and captivity for the Israelites mirroring the utter destruction, death, and captivity of sin itself.
And that’s where Isaiah 11 picks things up. Because of their sins, God reduced Israel (and Assyria by the way, if you read Isaiah 10!) to mere stubs. Like a great forest cut down, there remained of the nation of Israel nothing but stumps. Can you relate? When your world is turned upside down, when things are bad, when you are down and out, don’t you feel like an old tree stump, cut off and dead? Sin does that to us also. It cuts us off from God and leaves us for dead. Sin ruins our lives because it destroys our relationship with God. We no longer desire to put God first; we fear, love, and trust in ourselves above all things. We seek after false gods of our own making—popularity, power, wealth, possessions, drugs, alcohol, sex. Our sinful thoughts, words, desires, and actions hurt not only ourselves but our family and other people. We suffer the guilt of what we have done and what we have failed to do. We are not really much more than a tree that has been cut down, a stump left to rot in death.
That, too, was Israel. But something truly amazing is promised. From the stump of Jesse God would cause a sprout to grow. This tree-metaphor points us to a person, a descendant of Jesse, the father of King David. This sprout from the stump of Jesse would be a descendant of David, the Messiah-King, as Isaiah promises that “the spirit of Yahweh will rest upon Him.” The Messiah-King would be endowed for rule by the Holy Spirit with the wisdom, understanding, counsel and might of God Himself. The Messiah-King would have a perfect relationship with God, not a destroyed relationship like sinful humanity, for He will “delight in the fear of Yahweh.” What sinners fail to do in fearing, loving, and trusting God, the Messiah-King would accomplish. He would judge people, not according to outward appearances or what people say about each other, but in righteousness and with uprightness. The Messiah-King would do all perfectly, everything fairly, in accordance with the perfect will and Word of God. He would win justice for everyone.
That justice would come in the form of a decree that sinners are now “not guilty.” The Messiah-King, who is, of course, Jesus, the promised Savior from sin, took the sins of the world upon Himself and suffered the death penalty for them all. God’s justice was meted out. Sin was paid for in full, but not by the people who had committed the sins—not by Israel, not by you or me—but by the sinless Messiah-King, God Himself in human flesh, Jesus. Consider what Isaiah says about this twig from the stump of Jesse, the Messiah-King, in chapter 53: “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground. . . . Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:2, 4-5 ESV).
The world was again turned upside down. Darkness covered the earth. The earth shook. Tombs were opened. The curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. God had taken on human flesh and He suffered on a cross as the sinless One on behalf of all sinners, beginning with Adam and Eve. Jesus shed His blood to make atonement for our sins. On the cross, He suffered the punishment of hell that was ours. Jesus died our death. Three days later, the world was turned upside down again! Jesus, the Messiah-King, rose from the dead. He defeated death with His own bodily resurrection, undoing the power of death that entered the world with the sin of Adam and Eve.
Jesus’ sacrificial death and victorious resurrection also turned things upside down between us and God our Father. Because of Jesus’ blood and merit, the Father is no longer angry with us. He declares us “not guilty” of our sins because the punishment has been served by our Savior. All our sins and all our guilt are removed by Christ. Forgiveness is yours. Eternal life (and not eternal death) is yours. Paul writes in Romans 5, “Since we have been justified by faith [declared “not guilty of sin”], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1 ESV). And that peace is a present reality. You have peace with God right now through the saving work of Jesus Christ in the forgiveness of your sins.
Look how Isaiah captures this fabulous image of peace that results from Jesus’ death and resurrection! It’s a world—the whole creation that we know—turned upside down! There’s such an extensive peace that it is as if ferocious animals are able to hang out with domestic animals which they would normally eat. “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 the ox.” And not only is this peace pictured as peace between animals and animals but also between animals and people. Normally dangerous creatures will not even harm a child. “The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.” The peace that results from the salvation which Jesus the Messiah has brought will be as universal as the water covering the sea. And that is the peace that we have to look forward to.
Isaiah’s beautiful metaphor of the peace the Christ brings is not just a metaphor. It is reality both now and not yet. While we have peace with God today through the forgiveness Christ purchased and won for us on the cross, we do not yet live in such a world of peace. That is in our future, however. We are looking forward, along with all of creation, to the day of Jesus’ coming again when creation will be finally and completely set free from its bondage to corruption. We look forward to the day you and I will enjoy the freedom of the glory of the children of God without sin, as Paul says in Romans 8:21. We eagerly await the redemption of our bodies in the resurrection. We look forward to the new creation where sin, death, and the devil are no more. It will be the Garden of Eden restored, where all believers in Jesus will live in peace with one another and will walk in peace with the one, Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit face to face.
Jesus Christ has indeed turned the world upside down both now and in the future. He has saved us from sin and death. We are forgiven. He has made peace between us and God our Father. Jesus is preparing a place for us in heaven. He will come again to bring us into a new creation where there will be peace in the very presence of God forever. Amen.