“The Work of the Incarnate One”
December 4, 2016
God’s story reaches its climax in the sacrifice of the incarnate king.
I. The Shoot of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-10)
II. The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:1-7)
III. The Victor (Zechariah 12;10, Isaiah 53:8-10, Psalm 16:7-11)
One of the most fascinating and unique aspects of the life and ministry of Jesus is how clearly his work, his incarnation and sacrificial death and victory was foreseen by the prophets. We tend to accept this as a matter of course, but no other religious figure or leader was foreseen in the detail and specificity that Jesus was. Islam claims that Mohammed was foreseen in our Old and New Testaments, but its easy to show that the verses they use point to Jesus or, in the New Testament, to the Holy Spirit, the comforter. In fact they usually only use two verses, which I’ll mention when we come to them in a few weeks.
But I’d like us to try to wrap our minds around how specific these prophecies are of the Messiah’s work. I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s Pulitzer prize winning biography of George Washington, so I’ve read about events in Washington’s life in some detail. But imagine that a prophet lived in England in 1066 AD, a famous, calamitous year, and he was given a very specific vision of a future ruler who would lead a revolution against the British. It might read like this:
He will be called George and Cincinnatus, of the place of the descendants of Whasha. He will live in a far land over the sea, on the mountain of the Lords of Vernon. He will stand tall among the men of his time, and be called by them to lead against the tyranny of Bretannia. He will lose a great battle and lose the new city of York and the place of brotherly love, but will cross a great river in the midst of winter to fight at the place of Trent. While he rides bravely on his white horse many projectiles will be cast at him, but none will strike him. He will win his greatest and final victory against the Britains of York in their town across the seas. He will quietly shape the new government uniting the states of that land, but will refuse and oppose the kingship. Instead he will rule as first among many, presiding over the early years of their sovereignty. He will then shock the world by stepping down and allowing the people to choose another in his place, retiring as their Cincinnatus to Mount Vernon.
Okay, it’s a little obscure, but it is very specifically George Washington, who was frequently called Cincinnatus after the great Roman General who refused to be emperor. Washington was well known for his bravery, and for never being struck by any of the bullets or cannonballs ever fired in his battles. He crossed the Delaware River to fight the British at Trenton, but his greatest victory was at Yorktown. He refused to be king but agreed to be president, and then he did shock the world by stepping down after eight years.
If a prophecy this specific was found and said to originate in 1066 AD, we’d scoff. If it was somehow proven true, we’d be amazed. Yet the prophecies of Jesus are more specific and more wide ranging than the example I made up. The fulfillment of prophecy is in fact a key theme in God’s Big Story, and this Christmas season we are going to look at a number of these prophecies and their fulfillments, prophecies of both his human and divine descent, prophecies of the place of his birth and life, and on Christmas Day, prophecies of his essence, God with us, the fulfillment of God’s Big Idea that now the dwelling of God is with man. But this week we’re going to start with a few of the prophecies of his work, his incarnation and ministry, his sacrifice and victory. This is a huge field of prophecy, and we’re only going to be able to look at a few examples, but I hope we will be amazed at how God’s Big Story reaches it’s climax in the prophesied sacrifice and victory of the Messiah.
We’ll start in Isaiah 11, which prophecies his coming as the Messianic king, but also looks forward to his ultimate victory. Isaiah 11:1-5 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2And 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. 3And 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, 4but 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. 5Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
The shoot from the stump of Jesse and the branch from his roots is a familiar image. Many weeks ago we looked at God’s promises to David, that his descendants would always reign over God’s people. But we saw that these promises, even as David reflected on them, quickly became promises of a descendant who would reign on David’s throne forever. The great prophets of Israel all picked up on that truth, especially Isaiah. Isaiah chapters 7 to 11 are filled with the prophecies of his coming, his incarnation. “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” and “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” and especially Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
And finally, in Isaiah 11, this one that describes both his work and his victory. He is the shoot from the stump of Jesse. A stump implies that a tree has been cut down and normally that means the end of the tree, but sometimes a shoot will come out of the stump and grow to be a new tree. Jesse is David’s father, so the tree founded on Jesse would include David and all his descendants. But in the Babylonian exile they were cut off from the kingship in Israel, and never resumed it. The tree was cut down and the stump was dry. Isaiah looks forward 700 years, the same length of time as our mythical Washington prophecy, and he sees details of the work of this shoot that will come up from that dead stump, the same shoot that he called a child in chapter 9 and the offspring of a virgin in chapter 7. In other words, this shoot, this branch is Jesus.
Isaiah sees, 700 years ahead, that Jesus will be filled with the Spirit. Verse 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 the fear of the Lord.” This new king, unlike so many of the old ones, will delight in the fear of the Lord, in submission to God the Father through the indwelling power of God the Holy Spirit. And that’s who Jesus was. He was filled with the Spirit, as visualized for all to see at his baptism, and as he announced from Isaiah in his home town of Nazareth. Jesus was also, always, submitted to the Father. He says “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”
This is the fear of the Lord, and because of it, he is righteous. “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, 4but 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. 5Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” So he is a righteous king.
And though Jesus was both righteous and deeply identified with the meek in his first coming, the outcome of his justice and righteousness will be fulfilled in his second coming. Isaiah 11:6 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. 7The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. 9They 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. 10In 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.
This is a picture of Jesus, reigning in righteousness from Jerusalem, and on that holy mountain not even the instincts of the animals will be able to violate the peace and security that he brings. Lamb and lion, bear and cow, child and cobra will not harm or hurt there, in a preview, I believe of the eternal peace of the new heavens and the new earth. And in that day all the nations will submit to the one who reigns on David’s throne, and the whole earth will be filled with his glory, knowing that he is both Lord and God. In that day the root of Jesse, the son of David, will be the focal point of the whole earth, like a banner or a signal tower, and all nations will defer to him and his throne, his resting place, will be glorious. I believe this is a description is of the millennium, but looking forward even further to his eternal reign in a new heavens and new earth. So prophecy points to the coming of Jesus, to the incarnation of God the Son. But prophecies like this do not distinguish his first coming from his second. For the work of the Davidic king in his first coming we need to look elsewhere.
The classic text is Isaiah 53: Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
The messiah in this section of Isaiah is called the Suffering Servant. Notice though, verse 2, that he is a tender shoot, a root out of dry ground, clearly referring back to the shoot and root of Jesse, the descendant of David that we saw a moment ago in chapter 11. Isaiah tells us that in this phase of his work, the suffering servant “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” We don’t, of course, have a physical description of Jesus, even in the gospels, but that very lack indicates he was not physically outstanding. As I said, I’ve been reading the biography of Washington, and almost always when Chernow records first impressions of George Washington, some mention is made of his height, how tall and impressive he looked. Nobody ever does that in the Gospels. They were not attracted to Jesus because he was physically impressive.
In fact, verse 3: He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Even before the cross Jesus suffered the rejection of men, rejection by God’s people and their leaders. God the Son and the shoot of Jesse subjected to mocking and accusations. He’s insane. He’s demon possessed. He’s doing the work of Beelzebub. And on the cross he suffered the weight of sin and the mocking of men, while his own followers hid their faces. Again, this is pretty accurate prophecy, written 700 years in advance, and it’s going to get more accurate as the chapter, Isaiah 53, goes on.
Verses 4 and 5 tell us very clearly what his work was in his first coming, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” This is the cross. This is the sacrifice for sin. We’ve looked at this often, but think now of each phrase separated. He took up, he carried, he was smitten, stricken, afflicted, he was pierced and crushed, he was punished and wounded. The prophecy paints a picture of his sacrifice. We could look at Psalm 22, as we did last spring, and get a more detailed picture of the cross, but this is already clear.
And why? To deal with our infirmities, our sorrows, our transgressions, our iniquities, our lack of peace, our wounds. Everything he suffered he suffered because of our need. He was dealing with the fallen human condition, which is not just a global systemic problem, though it is that, but is a personal tragedy in the life of every person you will meet this season. Some will have come to personal faith in Jesus and received the benefit of his suffering, but many will not, and it may be that the Christmas season sensitizes them to their need.
Isaiah knows this is a universal and individual problem. Look at verse 6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” But Isaiah also knows how the solution was accomplished “the Lord has laid on him,” this suffering servant, this Messiah, this shoot from the stump of Jesse, this fully human descendant of David, “the iniquity of us all.” He was the sacrifice lamb slain for us. Verse 7 “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” We’ve seen, over and over, beginning with the ram that substituted at the sacrifice of Isaac, that the lambs and rams and bulls and goats of the sacrificial system are God’s picture of what his anointed one will do for fallen and sinful men. He will be the lamb who is sacrificed for our sins, and just as the lamb is silent on the way to the sacrifice, so Jesus did not open his mouth even though falsely accused.
So the work of the Messiah, the work of the Davidic king, is rescue by sacrifice: rescue of individuals and penultimately of the whole nation of Israel, and ultimately of the whole fallen world by his work and by his victory. Old Testament prophecy gives us many glimpses of his victory and it’s effects.
Let’s start with Zechariah 12:10, which really gives what has to be the first effect of this victory and this sacrifice, repentance. And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. In other words we should not be able to look at the cross, or even the manger, without a sense of sorrow, a recognition that it was our sins he was bearing, that it was our lives that he was saving. Notice that this repentance, this mourning is called a spirit of grace. It is grace that allows you to see in Jesus, to see in the cross, not a good teacher, not a moral philosopher, but a savior, to see his body broken and his blood shed for you.
So the first part of his victory is that in seeing Jesus on the cross we receive grace to plead for mercy. This was the image Jesus created in the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee, who stood far off and beat his breast and cried out “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And he went home justified. As God’s mercy is poured out, we receive the benefits of the Messiah’s work. Our infirmities are taken up, our sorrows are carried away, our transgressions and iniquities are forgiven, his punishment brings us peace and his wounds heal us.” That’s the overwhelming work, the breathtaking victory of Jesus.
But it doesn’t end there. It doesn’t end on the cross, it ends with the resurrection and with eternal life. Isaiah 53:8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 9He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Notice, that we go from the cross to the grave. The apostle Paul says that the heart of the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
In Isaiah 53:10 we take that next step, to the resurrection. Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. This is a prophecy and picture of Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead hundreds of years before it happens.
The bruising is the crucifixion and death of Jesus, making himself an offering for sin. The prolonging of his days is a reference to his resurrection to eternal life after death. And when it says he will see his offspring, it means that the fruit of his suffering will be many people saved from sin and death. That’s us. This is a fully realized prophecy of his victory, and a clear allusion to resurrection. It’s my opinion that in the fabled conversation on the road to Emmaus, and in other place after the resurrection when Jesus “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” Isaiah 53 was one of the main topics. Certainly the early church relied on Isaiah 53 in their evangelism. When Philip met the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza, it was this exact passage that God used to open the Ethiopian’s eyes and bring him to Christ.
But some may say, “no it’s not that clear.” And it’s true that when Peter preached the first sermon after the resurrection, after the coming of the Holy Spirit, he didn’t use Isaiah 53 to prove the resurrection. He used Psalm 16, which we looked at this spring. Verses 7-11 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 9Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Peter says “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”
So there is the incarnation of Jesus, there is the passion of Jesus and there is the resurrection of Jesus, and all of these clearly foreseen in Scripture 700 years or more before the events. As we consider God’s Big Story, we recognize that it is focused on Jesus and that the incarnation of Jesus which we celebrate this month was not an afterthought or an adaptation to the failure of the Jewish people, but that it was the clearly foreseen culmination of all that God was doing and accomplishing. God’s story reaches its climax in the sacrifice of the incarnate king.