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Monday, December 6, 2010

God So Loved the World (Isaiah 11.1-10, Romans 15.4-13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
December 5, 2010
Some Music Used 
Children: Prepare Our Hearts (by GSPC children)
Of the Father's Love Begotten (arr. Austell)
Offertory: Away in a Manger, Walker Austell, piano (Murray)
Children: Come, Lord Jesus (Bedford)
The Gospel Song (Kauflin)

God So Loved the World
Texts: Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
Bulletin Art by Maggie Slade

Today is the second Sunday in Advent and we are focused on love, particularly God’s love for the world as shown through His Son, Jesus Christ. We will be reminded how God’s plan has unfolded in human history and over generations upon generations. In a sentence, we will see that God’s saving love was promised of old, kept in Christ, and wide as the whole world.

Promised of Old

Jesus – all he was and all he did – did not arrive unannounced in the manger. And I don’t just mean that an angel-messenger let Mary and Joseph know he was coming. No, Jesus coming was promised of old and the Messiah was the subject of generations of persevering hope. So our Romans text reminds us in verse 4: “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

This verse was in direct reference to a quotation from the Psalms in the previous verse, but also applies to what follows, which summarizes Jesus’ person and work and ends by pointing to the passage from Isaiah. So let’s take a moment to look at the Isaiah passage in more detail.

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. (v. 1)

This verse points to the covenant promise God made to David (the “stem of Jesse”), that God would preserve his lineage and kingship (cf. 2 Samuel 7:16). Both Matthew and Luke include genealogies to connect Jesus with the Davidic line and this covenantal promise.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (v. 2)

As Isaiah describes the promised Messiah, it is not hard to make the connection to what we know of Jesus. Consider the story at the end of Luke 2 of his childhood visit to the Temple, where he demonstrated godly wisdom and understanding. That story ends with a description that hearkens back to the Isaiah prophecy. Luke 2:52 says of the boy Jesus: “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” As Jesus began his adult ministry, again and again he demonstrated the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, and knowledge. I think of his interaction with the woman at the well, or the scene we looked at for several weeks in November, with Simon the Pharisee and the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet.

And if you keep reading in Isaiah, it only sounds more and more like the Jesus we read of in the Gospels:

And he will delight in the fear of the Lord and he will not judge by what his eyes see, nor make a decision by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth… (vv. 3-4a)

I think of the many times Jesus spent time with the poor and outcast, with prostitutes, sinners, lepers, the sick, lame, and blind. He was more interested in a person’s heart and faith than in their outward appearance, station, or standing.

From there, the Isaiah prophecy starts to sound a little fantastic, describing both a judgment and a peace we have yet to see. But that, too, is the message of the New Testament, that Jesus not only fulfilled Messianic hope, but inaugurated or ushered in the age to come, which will not be consummated until his return. So, unlike Isaiah’s original audience, we have seen the beginning of hope fulfilled; and like Isaiah’s original audience, we still wait in hope of God’s completion of His plan.

Let’s look back at Romans, though we will return to the end of the Isaiah passage once more before we are done.

Kept in Christ

God’s promises were kept in Jesus Christ! The Romans passage says a number of important things, but that essential truth is right there in the middle of it. Listen to verse 8:

For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers…

The part that is a little obscure is “becoming a servant to the circumcision.” What that means is what is taught throughout the New Testament, and Romans in particular. Circumcision is the Old Testament sign of both the Law and the Covenant with God. There in that one obscure reference is the whole Good News story. Though humanity could not live up to covenant faithfulness and God’s law, God was eternally faithful and Himself kept both “sides” of the covenant by assuming humanity through Jesus Christ. Jesus was the true covenant-keeper of Israel who was obedient to the Law and faithful to the covenant in our stead.

Through his birth, life, death, and resurrection, Jesus accomplished all that God intended, which is all God had promised of old. Jesus was the shoot from the stem of Jesse, and not only did he come to save each one in the covenant who believes, but he came to extend God’s salvation as wide as the whole world.

Wide as the Whole World

This breadth of God’s salvation is really at the heart of both the Isaiah and the Romans passage, as well as the original Abrahamic covenant itself. Listen first to how it is described in Romans:

Christ has become a servant to the circumcision (i.e. the covenant-keeper of Israel… to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy. (v. 9)

And again and again in what follows, as if Paul wants us to understand just how significant it is that God’s salvation is as wide as the whole world.

…as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to you among the Gentiles…” (v. 9b)

Again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” (v. 10)

And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise Him.” (v. 11)

Again Isaiah says, “There shall come the root of Jesse, and he who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in him shall the Gentiles hope.” (v. 12)

And there is the connection back to our passage in Isaiah. In Romans, Paul quotes Isaiah 11:1, which goes on in verse 10 to say, “Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, who will stand as a signal for the peoples….”

What’s the point in all this? It is that from the beginning, and spelled out in the covenant with Abraham, God has set apart a people as a witness to all. He set apart Abraham and his family, and then their descendants, in order to bless the nations and the world. He established David’s kingship and line in order to bless Israel, but also the surrounding nations. And He sent His one and only Son, when the time was right, as the shoot from the stem of Jesse, to be savior not just the set apart chosen people, but to fulfill their purpose within the covenant, to be the witness, savior, and blessing agent for the world.

God So Loved the World

To summarize, then, these scriptures flesh out the verse we know so well, that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

From the beginning, God has pursued fallen humanity wherever and whoever they are. From old, God promised to save, and in Christ God has kept this promise with a love that is as wide as the whole world. This is both our motivation to come to Christ and our motivation to go with the news of Christ, that all who believe might know the depth and breadth of God’s love. Amen.

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