A Safe Haven
by Jack Wald | November 18th, 2018

Isaiah 10:16-11:16

The book of Isaiah is broken down into sections. Isaiah 1-5 is a prologue to the book. Isaiah 6 is the call of Isaiah to be God’s prophet to Judah and Israel. Isaiah 7-39 asks the question, “Whom shall we trust?” The first sermon in this section, Isaiah 7-12, asks, “Will you trust in God or Assyria?” We are coming to the end of this first sermon. Next week Elliot will finish our preaching from Isaiah this fall when he preaches from Isaiah 12.

Assyria was the threat that hung over the head of Israel and Judah during Isaiah’s lifetime. If you had conducted a poll of the greatest fear of the people of Israel and Judah, Assyria would have been the dominant number one response. Fear of Assyria would have been the number one response for all of Isaiah’s lifetime.

When preaching a sermon, it is important to be sensitive to the larger concerns of the congregation. After the attacks on the World Trade Tower and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, I put aside the sermon I was working on and preached about how to respond to the attacks. If I had ignored what everyone was thinking about and preached a sermon about using our spiritual gifts or how to use our finances, I don’t know how many people would have been listening. After doing the research for a passage of scripture, the question is always, “What difference does this make to the people in the congregation?” A preacher has to pay attention to what the people are thinking.

Isaiah paid attention to what people were thinking about so his sermons talk a lot about the threat of Assyria. We have heard that this fall as we have worked our way through the first eleven chapters of Isaiah.

Once again in today’s text, Isaiah speaks about the judgment of God against Israel and Judah because of their idolatry. Assyria will be the tool God uses to bring judgment. The northern kingdom of Israel will be conquered and Assyria will come down on Judah like a flood. The water will come up to the neck of Judah but they will not drown. Assyria will do great damage but will not be successful in its conquest of Judah. Assyria will itself eventually be conquered as part of God’s judgment.

Isaiah had a difficult message to preach. Because of Israel and Judah’s lack of trust in God, they will be almost completely destroyed by Assyria. But destruction is not God’s final word.

This is what is so wonderful in the book of Isaiah. In the midst of Isaiah’s sermons of judgment, hope keeps springing up. In the midst of Isaiah’s preaching about the judgment of God that will be coming, he says over and over again that there will be a remnant, (Isaiah 6:13)
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.

Judah will be up to its neck in the flood of Assyria, Judah will suffer, but there will be a remnant that will remain.

That is of some comfort to a people being threatened by a great power, but even greater comfort is that there will be a just ruler who is coming. This is where Isaiah uses his prophetic gift and looks far into the future and sees a coming king who will be a loving and just king. The Messiah is coming.

The first glimpse of this is in Isaiah 7:14 when Isaiah tells Ahaz the Lord will give him a sign.
The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

The second glimpse of the coming just ruler is in Isaiah 9:2-7
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

This morning we come to the third look at this coming Messiah.
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.

In these three prophecies of the coming Messiah, there is first a promise: Immanuel – God with us. Then there is an announcement: a child is born. The third part of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy is a description of what his rule will look like and that is our focus this morning.

We read these Messianic prophecies and interpret them from our knowledge of Jesus who was born to Mary and Joseph, who grew up in Nazareth, who was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead. But how did people in the time of Isaiah understand what Isaiah was prophesying?

What Isaiah was telling them was that in place of the corrupt leadership of Ahaz, who sat on the throne of David, and in place of the oppression of Assyria that made them fearful, a king is coming in whose hands the concerns of the weakest will be safe. He will make his kingdom a place of safety and security so that even those who have been taken away into exile will be able to return and find peace. Righteousness and justice will be the characteristics of the coming king and his kingdom.

Isaiah sees a time when the ruler of Israel and Judah will no longer see himself as privileged. He will not think first of himself but will concern himself with the needs of the people he rules. There are leaders who are always trying to make the people they lead happy. Why? They do this because they are insecure and need the approval of the people they lead. The ruler who is coming will lead with strength because he knows he is loved and will be free to lead wisely. He will be a servant of the people, not because he is too weak to dominate, but because he is strong enough not to need to crush his people to maintain his power.

This is clearly a look at a king who will not be a human king. Israel never had a king like this. The nations surrounding Israel never had a king like this. This is a superhuman king and evidence that this is what Isaiah was seeing is found in the verses immediately following his description of the rule of this king. In verses 10-16 Isaiah speaks about the Messiah who is to come. He will be the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Let’s take a look at Isaiah’s description of the rule of this king who is to come.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

Isaiah has just prophesied the swift and sudden destruction of Assyria which came to pass in 609 BC when it was defeated by the combined forces of Babylon, Media, and Persia. Israel was also defeated, by Assyria, but there is a difference in the two defeats. When Assyria was defeated, nothing ever arose from the stump of Assyria that remained. But in the case of Israel, a small shoot grew up out of the stump that was left.

Jesus told a parable about the kingdom of God. He said it was like a small, tiny mustard seed that when it was planted, grew up into such a large bush that birds could build nests in it. From the small shoot in the stump of Jesse grew up the kingdom of God with all its abundant 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—

In the Old Testament, the Spirit of the Lord gave men and women the ability to do what God called them to do. When God gave Moses instructions about building the Temple, he said, (Exodus 31:2–3)
“See, I have chosen Bezalel …3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—

Bezalel, being filled with the Spirit of God, was able to use his skills to build the Tabernacle. The Spirit of the Lord gave Samson his strength. Saul and David were endowed with the Spirit of the Lord for their leadership. But the kings who followed: the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel and the kings of Judah, with some exceptions, had little concern about how God wanted them to rule. They turned to idols rather than rely on God. They were not filled with the Spirit of the Lord and as a consequence, the people suffered.

It is with this background that the prophecy of Isaiah is such good news. The Messiah will be filled with the Spirit of God. Without this, his rule would be no different than that of Ahaz. It is being filled with the Spirit that makes all the difference.

After Jesus was baptized he went into the wilderness. Luke writes, (Luke 4:1–14)
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.

What will make the Messiah such a wonderful leader, what made Jesus such a wonderful Messiah is that he was filled with the Holy Spirit, led by the Spirit, lived in the power of the Spirit.

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;

A human king uses his senses to lead. He sees with his eyes, hears with his ears. But the wisdom and judgment of the Messiah who is to come will come from a much deeper place. How do you know if someone is telling the truth or not? Even the best of judges make mistakes because people know how to lie so convincingly. To have perfect justice requires having perfect knowledge and only God can has that. Only God can be the perfect judge.

4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.

A king is supposed to serve the people in his kingdom. A king is supposed to care for the needs of the poor in his kingdom. But in reality, kings have to pay attention to those with wealth and power. When a king seeks advice, he asks the wealthy and powerful for advice. He has to do this because if he does not pay attention to what the wealthy and powerful have to say, he risks losing his kingdom. So the rich get preferential treatment with the consequence that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. This is the way of kings, prime ministers, and presidents.

But the ruler who is coming will not be dependant on the powerful for his leadership. The ruler who is coming is secure on his throne. He does not face a coming election. He does not fear a coup. As a consequence, he will be able to care for the needy and the poor. Righteousness and justice will prevail.

He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

The coming ruler will not owe loyalty to any human person or group. So he will speak with such power that his decisions will be absolute. With perfect knowledge, and the wisdom that comes from being filled with the Spirit, his words will be spoken with power. His decisions will be perfectly righteous and perfectly just. This is bad news for the wicked who have been used to getting their own way with their shrewd manipulation of people.

5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

Righteousness and faithfulness speak of complete dependability. A perfect ruler will be a completely dependable ruler.

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,
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.

How are we to interpret this? Certainly not literally. The laws of nature will not change. Lions and wolves will continue to be carnivorous. They will still eat lambs and goats.

This is a figurative description of what the king’s rule will be like.

The kingdom of this ruler will be a place where everyone is safe. The images are so strong they shock us. A wolf and lamb side by side is one thing, but a little baby playing near a cobra and not getting bitten is a shocking image. What these images are saying is that the powerful and weak will live side by side. The powerful will not have to fight for power. The weak will not have to protect themselves from the powerful. The rich will not feed on the poor. They will live side by side. And, in fact, there will be no more powerful or weak. There will only be people filled with the knowledge of the Lord.

I want to be there. I am longing to be there. I want to live where I am safe, where I don’t have to worry about being attacked, where I can relax and trust people who come to me, where I hear words of affirmation rather than words of condemnation, where people live in relationships of trust rather than lies and deceit.

Isaiah finishes this description of the rule of this perfect ruler with a declaration that this ruler will be the coming Messiah who will call all God’s children to come home.

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.

The exiles from the nations will return home.

12 He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth.

This is a beautiful image. In his prologue, Isaiah talked about the nations streaming to the Lord’s temple. (Isaiah 2:2)

Zechariah also had a vision of this time. (Zechariah 8:23)
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’ ”

In the words of the children’s song,
Heaven is a wonderful place
Filled with God’s glory and grace
I’m gonna see his lovely face
Cause heaven is a wonderful place

How did this beautiful prophecy about a coming king who would rule with righteousness and justice help the people of Judah? As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, Assyria conquered the towns of Judah and laid siege to Jerusalem. Many people suffered. Many people were killed.

God spared Jerusalem and Assyria retreated but then Babylon took over as the threatening power. They laid siege to Jerusalem, broke down the walls, took the treasures of the Temple, and took the elite of Jerusalem into exile in Babylon.

How did Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah help them?

What about us? We have seen the fulfillment of Immanuel and “a child is born,” but we are still waiting for the second coming of Jesus when the third part of Isaiah’s prophecy will be fulfilled. In the meantime, there are wars, injustice abounds, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Men and women break apart marriages, inflicting unjust suffering on the children who get trampled in the process. People are robbed, women are raped, children are abused.

How does Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah who will come and bring a reign of righteousness and justice help us?

1. Our suffering is only temporary. It will not last forever.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught what we call the Beatitudes. (Matthew 5:2–9)
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

What was Jesus saying? Is there a blessing in being poor? Is there a blessing in mourning? Or in being meek?

Some people go to some length to make a case that this is true, but what Dallas Willard understood was that the poor are blessed because their poverty is just temporary. It is not good to be poor. Along with poverty comes suffering. But the poor are blessed because in a few short years they will escape their poverty and enter into the wealth of the kingdom of God.

When a spouse or parent or child dies, it is painful. There is nothing good about the grief that comes with the death of someone you love. It hurts. It is not supposed to be that way. And that is why those who mourn are blessed. After a few short years they will be in a realm where (Revelation 21:4)
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,

The meek get stepped on, taken advantage of, suffer here on earth because of their meekness. But they are heading to a realm where the wolf will lay down with the lamb, where a baby will play by the nest of a cobra. Their suffering will last only for a few short years.

Those who are persecuted are blessed because they are heading to a realm where those who remained faithful to Jesus, even under persecution, will be rewarded for their faithfulness. Peter wrote to followers of Jesus who were being persecuted for their faith. At the end of his letter he gave this benediction. (1 Peter 5:10–11)
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

I would love to tell you that you will not suffer, that you will not face injustice, but that is just not true. Jesus told his disciples, (John 16:33)
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

If Jesus could not promise his followers would not suffer, then we cannot promise that either.

2. Life is not fair.

I was talking with the older children of the Village of Hope whose “parents” were abruptly taken away from them in March 2010 (they had just seven hours to say goodbye to the children they had raised from their first days of life – before they were taken under police guard to be flown out of the country). I told them my perspective of what happened. I told them it was not fair to them and one of them told me, “Yes I know. Life is not fair.”

Before I met with them I visited the orphanage on the top floor of the hospital in Meknes where children are kept who have disabilities. I met one young woman, 26 years old, who has cerebral palsy. She sits in a wheelchair and cannot control her hands and feet. She cannot talk. She has an active mind. I could see the intelligence in her eyes, but she is a prisoner in her body. Life is not fair.

3. If life is a race, some people get a huge head start.

My life has been easy. I did have to deal with a mother who was a narcissist and a father who was emotionally distant, but these are minor things compared to what so many in the world experience. I graduated from high school, went to university, then to seminary. I worked as a pastor, then in my father’s business. When the business was sold, I used the money I made to support myself as pastor of RIC. I have had a very easy life.

When I was in business I had this quote from Ecclesiastes posted on my desk. (Ecclesiastes 9:11)
I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

There are people who were better qualified than I was to run my company. But I was lucky and they were not. Did my abilities help me to achieve a measure of success? Yes, but mostly I was lucky. I had opportunities others did not have.

I have met Moroccans who I would have loved to have working for me in my business. They are intelligent, hard working, have a great personality – but they are stuck in menial jobs because there are no other opportunities for them. Life is so unfair.

Some of you know very well how unfair life is. The United States has its share of violence, but it is a much safer country than South Sudan, CAR, Yemen and other countries that are at war. None of us choose the country of our birth. None of us choose our parents. Some of us are born with huge advantages.

Life is unfair but here is good news of great joy. The suffering in this world will not last forever. A ruler has entered into history and promised to return to take us into his kingdom.

I talk often about needing to remember who we are and where we are going. We are God’s beloved daughters, God’s beloved sons, and we are heading to his eternal kingdom. It is critical that we remember this. In the midst of poverty, in the midst of mourning, in the midst of injustice, in the midst of persecution we suffer, but we suffer knowing that it will not last forever. We hold on to Jesus and hold on to his promise to take us to be with him in his kingdom.

In a few minutes we will be singing a song, You Never Let Go, that has this lyric
Yes, I can see a light that is coming
For the heart that holds on
And there will be an end to these troubles
But until that day comes
Still I will praise You

We suffer because of what happens to us and we suffer because of what happens to people we love. But there is good news of great joy. God with us, Immanuel, has entered into history. Into the darkness of this world a light has dawned. To us a child has been born and he is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

We know his name. His name is Jesus. We read the Bible and see how wise a counselor he is. We read about his power over the forces of nature and his ability to bring healing and deliverance. We read about him calling people to come to him and experience his love and comfort. We have experienced his peace in our lives. And now we wait for him with great expectation.

Hold on to Jesus. In the good times and the bad, hold on to Jesus. He will keep you afloat in the floods that come. He will protect you from the fires that burn.

He is a gentle ruler. Isaiah tells us in Isaiah 42:3
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

You can trust him. You can rely on him.

Jesus promised to return and take us into the home he has created for us in his eternal kingdom. He will keep his promise.

Come, Lord Jesus.