The Root of Jesse
Judah was in darkness. They had not heard from a prophet of God for four hundred years. They were no longer in control of their own government, having been conquered by Rome. Although Rome allowed them to have some freedom in practicing Judaism, they were heavily taxed by Rome. The Jewish people had little hope for the future.
The question is: Was there any hope for things to get better? Without hope, despair can take over. This is especially true for those who feel cutoff from God. The devout Jews knew that they were cutoff from God, because Judah had not kept the Mosaic Convent. They had not properly observed the Commandments of God, Although the Jewish religious leaders went through the motions to demonstrate that Judaism was still surviving, the devout Jews knew it was essentially dead.
Suddenly, things changed for Judah. Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet wrote:
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? (Malachi 3:1-2)
This prophecy referred tp John the Baptist. He would be the messenger of the New Covenant. His ministry was to prepare the people for the coming of their Messiah. But, as foretold in Malachi, not everyone was able to “endure the day of his coming.”
Reading from Today’s Gospel:
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’” (Matthew 3:1-3)
John preached a baptism of repentance. His ministry was to prepare the people to receive their Messiah. Reading from today’s Gospel:
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:4-10)
Many of the religious leaders were not able to receive John’s message. They thought of themselves as children of Abraham by birth. How many of us today see our Christianity as a birthright?
In today’s prophecy from Isaiah, we read about a tree that was cut down, but still was able to produce fruit. This tree was Judah. They had rebelled against God and he had struck them down. Nonetheless, God, in his mercy, would restore it. It would require the birth of the Messiah and the establishment of new covenant. Reading from Isaiah:
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:1-2)
Only the Messiah would give the people hope. Devout Jews longed for their Messiah. They looked for a signal from God. The sign was the root of Jesse
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11:10)
Jesus is the root of Jesse. He was born in the ancestry of King David, Jesse being his father.
Today, many of us may need a sign from God. Do we need a “root of Jesse?” Perhaps we may feel abandoned by God. Many of us may feel this way about our nation, or even our church.
The stump figuratively represents this feeling. But out of the stump grows a small root. It may not be noticed at first. But God is not trough with us. He is not trough with our nation.
The Apostle Paul wrote:
and again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the gentiles;
in him the gentiles shall hope.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:12-13)
Now is not the time to lose hope. Is our focus on circumstances or on Jesus. The circumstances may be difficult, but Jesus is greater than them. Jesus said:
In the world you face persecution, but take courage: I have conquered the world! (John 16:33)