1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 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 of the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight is in the fear of the Lord, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; 4 But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, And faithfulness the belt of His waist.
Jeremiah 23:5-6 (NKJV)
5 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. 6 In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Zechariah 6:12-13 (NKJV)
12 Then speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the Lord; 13 Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” ’
Luke 2:8-20 (NKJV)
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
The passages before us today from the prophets and from the Gospel of Luke share a common theme – the arrival of the Branch of the Line of David. The Tree of David was faltering, falling into sin repeatedly. In Isaiah the tree was diseased, in Jeremiah dying, in Zechariah nearly dead. So God promised a Branch who would be a planting from the original tree of Israel, the true fulfillment of all that which the dying tree of David’s royal line anticipated. It was Isaiah who first heard God’s promise of the Branch who would rule and reign in righteousness. He would not be like the false shepherds in Israel – looking out only for their personal interests, pursuing personal gain at the expense of the sheep. Rather, He would be filled with the Spirit of God, filled with wisdom, knowledge, and discretion – modeling the character of God Himself. But for the time being, Israel endured the darkness of kings like Manasseh and Amon.
Over a hundred years later, Jeremiah picked up on this promise. Disgusted like Isaiah with the selfishness and folly of the kings of Israel, he reminded his readers of God’s promise through Isaiah. One day God would raise up to David a Branch of righteousness. This king would reign and prosper, saving and protecting His people, upholding righteousness and purity in His person. But for the time being, Israel continued to endure the darkness of men like Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.
Over a hundred years later, Zechariah again returned to the promise. Told by God to set a kingly crown upon the head of the High Priest Jeshua, Zechariah announced that like David, the Branch would be a Temple builder. Zechariah announced, “He shall build the temple of the Lord; Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord.” But He would not merely build the Temple, He would serve in it, for He would be not only King but also Priest. That which King Uzziah was forbidden to do – to rule and reign not only as king but as high priest – this King would be able to do. “He shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne.” Why? Because He would not abuse the authority granted to Him but would rule and reign in righteousness and justice. As Zechariah insisted, “The counsel of peace shall be between the two offices.” But for the time being, the offices were divided and our fathers endured the darkness of Persian, Greek, Maccabbean, and Roman rule.
But then an angel spoke to some shepherds. The long-promised Branch of righteousness, the Shepherd of Israel, the One who would rule and reign in justice was to be born. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And this was good news not just for Israel but for all people, all the nations of the earth, all the families of the earth. The light has come, the world will change. Then glory filled the sky, the light and life of the Messiah’s rule reflected in the voices and faces of the angelic hosts as they declared that the prophecies of Isaiah and of Jeremiah and of Zechariah were coming to fruition. Praise filled the sky as the angels marveled that the mercies of God would now extend to all the peoples of the earth. The light has come!
So what do these words mean for us? Just this: the darkness of the Judaic Age has come to an end. The Judaic Age – when God’s presence was by and large limited to the land of Israel, closeted behind the veil in the Holy of Holies – the Judaic Age has passed. Now the Age of the Messiah has come – all nations have been given to Him and so the Word of Truth, the light of life, is going forth to all the nations of the earth. The Spirit of God has been poured out on the Church and is now pouring forth from her into the world bringing life and salvation in His wake. God has begun to fulfill the promises He made long ago through the prophets. He has given a King to rule and reign in Justice; He has given a High Priest to minister in the Temple. And this King, this High Priest is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Branch from the Stem of Jesse.
It is this transition from darkness to light that we sung of just a moment ago. In the darkness of the ancient world, amidst the rot and decay of paganism, amidst the folly of apostate Judaism, came the Root and Branch of David.
Isaiah ‘twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half-spent was the night.
And from this Root, this Branch, planted by the hand of God, a great tree has grown which shall one day fill the entire earth.
This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.
It is the planting of this Branch, the Branch of Righteousness, which we celebrate today. The light has come – let us feast! Our King sits upon His throne – let us rejoice! Our High Priest has offered up a perfect sacrifice on our behalf and offers up prayers and petitions for us continually – let us give thanks! And let us start even now. Let us pray together:
Lord Jesus Christ,
Your birth at Bethlehem
Draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth.
You have saved us, you have delivered us,
You have done far beyond anything we could ask or think.
Accept our heartfelt praise
As we worship you,
In harmony with the Father and the Spirit,
Our Savior and our eternal God.