Sermon Manuscript — Isaiah 53:2

6 Mar

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53:2

A Root Out of Dry Ground

           Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was killed for his part in the plot to overthrow Hitler during World War II, once said, “Christianity preaches the unending worth of the apparently worthless and the unending worthlessness of what is apparently so valuable.” Bonhoeffer’s quote has never seemed more on target than it does right now. We are all about appearances. But when you pull back the curtain, there isn’t much there. Our society is heavy on information but light on thought. Most of the time we immediately judge people by their weight and their age. If you are heavy and/or old you are on the bottom of the ladder, no matter what kind of person you are. We think of successful people as those who are smart or talented or rich. Even in Christian culture those who wield great influence are often attractive, nicely-dressed leaders with great charisma preaching a message of prosperity, a message that God will make everyone with a positive attitude successful if they have enough faith. It hasn’t always been this way. Charles Spurgeon was a powerful preacher who had a heavy beard and a big gut. Martin Luther was never known for his outward attractiveness. Our Southern Baptist heroines of missions, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, were not going to win the Miss Universe pageant but they did do universal good for the gospel.

          When we look at Scripture, we see the powerful truth that God often works in ways contrary to our expectations. He chooses a barren couple, Abraham and Sarah, to begin His nation. He chooses a deceitful schemer, Jacob, to carry it on. He chooses the betrayal of Joseph by his brothers to be the thing that sets into motion their very salvation. He chooses a stuttering murderer named Moses to lead His people out slavery. He chooses the child Samuel to grow into Israel’s prophet. He chooses lowly shepherd David to be king. He chooses Esther to save the Jews. He chooses twelve ordinary men to be Jesus’ closest earthly followers. On and on we go, all through the Bible. And when things are done for the sake of appearance; like the tower of Babel or choosing Saul because he was tall, or Israel choosing a king in the first place because they wanted to be like other nations, they don’t go well. So why should we be surprised that when God sends us a Savior, He comes in an unexpected way, not according to our standards of what a Savior should be? The reason many people did not believe the message they had heard about Jesus was because Jesus came in a way they were not expecting of their great Savior and King. That is what Isaiah 53:2 is about.

 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.

The Messiah is seen here as a young plant, as a root out of dry ground. He is like a tender plant springing out of the ground, more likely to be stepped on than admired. This young plant or root is often referred to in other prophecies of Jesus. Isaiah 11:1 says that “a branch will shoot out from the root of Jesse.” Jesse was David’s father, so the promise here is that one will come from the line of David to bring life to the world. Jeremiah 33 says the same thing when the prophet says, “Behold the days are coming when I will raise unto David the righteous branch.” Zechariah 3:8 likewise prophesies of the “one whose name is the branch.” Jesus in coming was that branch the prophets were looking for, but in the end he was prophesied not only as a branch but as a great tree. Ezekiel 27 says the Messiah will become as a great tree which will shelter birds of every wing. In coming the first time, Jesus was as a tender branch. In finishing His work of redemption, Jesus is revealed as the great hope of the world, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. In a sense, Jesus is the fulfillment of the story he told of the mustard seed, which is among the smallest of seeds, but becomes the biggest of the garden trees.

Jesus’ obscure beginning came in a place of spiritual dryness, for though there was spiritual interest in Israel in Jesus’ day, the words of the prophets had not come for 400 years. Isaiah, seeing by the Spirit of God, prophecies this dry ground from which the Messiah would spring.

Jesus did not come to this earth with pomp and majesty. Christ’s beauties are inward. So Jesus is the most beautiful person who ever lived, but it is not about his external beauty. He did not look the part of a great king. But within, the fullness of the godhead dwells bodily. He is the radiance of the glory and the exact impression of God’s being. And yet, as Philippians 2 tells us, “He made Himself of no reputation.”

So few believed in Jesus when He came because of judgments based on outward appearances. Even the prophet Samuel fell for this when he went to Jesse’s house to anoint a king. Samuel saw Eliab and said, “Surely this is the one” because of his height. But God said, “Don’t judge by his appearance for I have rejected him.” We judge according to our senses.

But we make a great mistake when we judge by outward appearances. Remember again my earlier words about all the unlikely people God chose in Scripture. We must be careful not to sit in judgment of God’s ways and insist that God do things our way. He is God, we are not.

We are aliens and strangers on the earth. The world’s ways are not to be our ways. We are called to a life of self-giving love and spiritual warfare that issues from our secure identity as those who have trusted Jesus. But we are prone to fall into the false judgments of the world. So beware. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in all things, so that you would be discerning. Walk with God, trust and obey and He is faithful to show you the truth of things. Trust in the God that takes evil intent and turns it to good, who brings life from death. Don’t just by outward appearances.

Rejoice that God has ordained Jesus to come in this way, to come as one in whom there is no beauty or majesty that we should desire Him. Jesus came to a very lowly place, Bethlehem and was born not in a palace but in a lowly place and laid in a manger. When Joseph and Mary brought an offering for Him at the temple, they brought the offering of poor people, two turtle doves and a pair of pigeons. As Jesus grew, he worked with His hands in the carpentry trade. He hungered and He thirsted. He said, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” He was hated by the religious elites of His day. But through it all, He is the King of glory. How we should worship One who would come from such a height to stoop so low for us. As Galatians 4 says, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” And 2 Corinthians 8:9, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that through His poverty you might become rich.” Rich in beauty? No. Rich in money? No. Rich in what is worthwhile. Rich in grace, rich in forgiveness, rich in love. Jesus’ humility was for our good. He was outwardly unlovely that we might have inward beauty. He was not attractive, but He was coming for a bride, the Church of the living God, which He through His suffering would make to be without wrinkle or blemish. He would be bloodied that the Church might be without spot, clean and pure.

So don’t despise your lack of money or lack of beauty or lack of earthly success. It is not easy to be poor. The Bible doesn’t celebrate poverty, but it does extend the hope of the gospel to all regardless of their economic standing. And honestly it is easier for people of outward beauty to gain advantages in the world. But is our goal to gain advantages or is it to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God? He became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. The royal One humbled Himself to show us the way to really live.

If you live for yourself and your lusts you will be poor, whether your bank account says $10 million or $10. If you live for Christ and for others you will be rich in everything that is really important. Bonhoeffer went to the gallows in peace because his hope was not in his riches, though he came from a fairly well-to-do family. William Borden sacrificed himself in missionary service because he knew his inheritance from the milk fortune of his family would perish, spoil and fade, and the great quote he is known for is “No reserve, no retreat, no regrets.” Jim Elliot went to the tribes of Ecuador because he knew, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he can never lose.” Maybe today God is calling someone here to such a sacrifice. To count all things loss and take Jesus to the ends of the earth. Or maybe for some it is the sacrifice of staying, because the temptation you face is to try to gain glory through Christian service rather than humbly serving Christ where you are without recognition. For others the challenge you face may simply be the challenge of believing in One or walking with One for whom you have little to no desire. In other words, there are probably some here for whom Jesus is not beautiful and His ways are not admirable. You see no beauty in Jesus. He bores you. Church bores you. When young people leave home and forsake Jesus that doesn’t happen because of universities indoctrinating kids, it happens most often because the child never saw Jesus as beautiful in the first place. So if you don’t see the humble, self-giving Jesus as attractive this morning, is there anything you can do to change that? Well, as we said last week, there is God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. There are things you can pursue which may be the means God uses to open your eyes to Jesus’ beauty.

First, let Christ be in your thoughts. If you feel a coldness toward Christ, I would just suggest that you read slowly through the gospels this year. You should be able to get through them at least a couple of times just reading them through slowly. Just expose yourself to the life and ministry of Jesus and see if God doesn’t show you His beauty. Most of the time we claim Jesus is not beautiful it is because we’ve never really looked at Him.

Second, remember that Jesus’ goal is to bring you to God not to make all your dreams come true. Many people get disappointed with God because they expect God to do things the way they want them done. But the chief cry of Jesus’ lips was, “Not my will but yours be done.” In the end, Jesus was always about the Father’s business. Jesus has better goals for you than the dreams you have for yourself. He has come to give you life with God and eternity and power for living today and transformation of life and heart. He has come to bring you into His kind of abundance so that you can give yourself away for the good of others.

Third, remember the emptiness of so much that we think is important. In the end, the handsome man’s broad shoulders stoop, the beautiful woman’s face shows her age and the strength of youth fades away. We give so much energy to things that don’t matter, to things that will go with us to the grave and so little energy to that which will last.

Christianity preaches the unending usefulness of the apparently useless and the unending uselessness of what is apparently so valuable. Shortly before his death, Bonhoeffer wrote a poem while in prison. It is powerful for its honesty and its deep faith.

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!


In the end, what we have is this . . . Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

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