From the Garden to the City, Trees along the way
Series (Advent 1)
Jesse's Stump
Isaiah 6:1-13

(c) Copyright 2007 Rev. Bill Versteeg


Isaiah 6
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

9 He said, “Go and tell this people:
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “For how long, O Lord?”
And he answered:
“Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,
12 until the LORD has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

We have been looking at Trees along the way to the city - the city which is a fulfillment of God’s promises for us in Christ. But I must point out to you that there are a lot of trees before we arrive at the city, the journey is long, and sometimes the trip is hard.
That theme comes to very clear expression in the times, the life and the prophecies of Isaiah. To give you a sense of that, let me highlight a little of the life and times of Isaiah.
He started his prophecies during the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Uzziah’s son Jotham. Uzziah was a good king. He wanted to do God’s will as a king, but he ruled over a nation that had become prosperous and with that prosperity in the early 700s BC, there was exceptional corruption among the rich and the powerful people in the nation of Israel. Though king Uzziah was a good man, the people under him were not, and few if any followed his example.

Though JWH had given them their peace and prosperity, they themselves took the credit for it.

Though JWH had nurtured and blessed them, they rebelled against the Lord and would have little if anything to do with him.

Those under the king who had the power to make sure justice was done for those who were powerless, the widow, the orphan and the alien - they did nothing, and they were more interested in their own well being than the well being of the people that they served. They took brides. They abused their power.

Oh they went through their religious rituals, bringing their offerings to the temple, but their hearts were far from God, and God felt this was simply trampling the floor in his temple, it was meaningless to him, he wanted something more than sacrifice, he wanted obedience to the covenant, obedience to his will, hearts that sought hard after God. Without their hearts in it, their worship was hated by God, a burden he was not willing to bother himself with. Israel had thought of herself as an oak of righteousness, God’s planting in the land of Palestine, but the oak was dying, the land dried out with no water to sustain life. And that is just listing some of the themes that happen in chapter one.

I need only mention from chapters 2-5 that Israel had adopted the pagan practices of the nations around them, idolatry and pride filled the land. The female gender used their beauty as power to serve their own ends rather than honoring God with what he had made them, rather than focusing on an inner beauty that pleases God. And because of their abuse of their power, God promised to turn their beauty to ugliness, their perfumes to a stench (chapter 3).
In chapter 5, Isaiah pictures another tree- God’s vine in a vineyard. But for all that the Lord had invested in his vineyard called Israel, all he got for it was sour grapes, useless for food and wine. God lamented - what more could he have done for his vineyard - there was nothing more that he could do, except destroy it. Burn the vines, destroy the wine press, get rid of its protecting walls, let the nations run over it. The Assyrian army was close to their boarders already although most of Israel was in denial over that too.

That’s when chapter 6 happened - God gave to Isaiah a vision of his majesty, his power and his holiness, his Sovereign kingship over all creation, and then having cleansed Isaiah’s tongue with a burning coal called him to go and be the voice of the Lord to a rebellious nation. I am certain you have heard sermons from Isaiah 6 before, probably followed by the song

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

But too often motivational sermons on Isaiah 6 stop at the end of verse 8. It is important that we continue with the commission that Isaiah received. The Lord said to Isaiah

9 “Go and tell this people:
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

What a call! Can you imagine being called by God to go and preach, knowing that from the very beginning your preaching will have no success, knowing from the very beginning that your preaching would only make people deaf, deafer to the gospel and blind, blinder to the Glory of God. But that was Isaiah’s call.

Did you know that this passage is the most single quoted text from the prophet Isaiah throughout the New Testament! The truth of this passage still applies to today. Preaching has always had this effect. You see the truth of the good news of the gospel is that it forces change in us. The gospel cannot leave you unchanged. It either heals you are it hardens you. It either opens your eyes or in response you choose to shut your eyes. It either enables you to hear sounds of grace or it causes you to plug your ears. There is no in between. That is the power of the gospel - it is grace to those who are being saved, it is foolishness to those who are perishing. There is no middle ground.

If preaching causes you to shut your ears, inevitably, you will blame the preacher. They blamed Ezekiel, they blamed the prophets and took their lives, they blamed Jesus and charged him with blasphemy, they blamed the apostles and stoned them, the preacher is always to blame. But the truth is your heart responds to the gospel, one way or another. That’s why it is so important for every preacher of the gospel to be especially careful that they are preaching the actual word of God. Mere human wisdom does not have the power of the gospel to change us. Preachers have to be very careful before God with what they say.

But listeners have to be very careful with how we respond to preaching. If our response is critical, we have to ask our hearts why it is that we are critical of the preaching? Is it because our hearts are not where God wants our hearts to be? Are we being hardened by the voice of God calling us to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ? How do you respond to preaching, the prophetic word of God? Do you dare walk in here and not be changed by the power of the word proclaimed? Do you dare sit there, harden your hearts and ignor what is said? Well God has strong words for those who go through the motions of worship but their heart is not in it. He says “I detest your worship.” (1:13) “I hate that you come to trample in my courts wearing out my rugs.” (1:12) God says “I would rather that you did not come.”

You see, we come to be changed. We come to be healed. We come to worship with the attitude: “Lord, how do you want to change me today?” I submit to your will! And sometimes that healing takes hard discipline, the purifying judgement of God in our lives, confronting us for our sin, calling us back to obedience so that our worship will be worth something, to justice, to right living that is pleasing to him rather than defining manhood by who can hold the most drink, or using our tongues to get one up on someone else we know.
Isaiah’s advent prophesies started with darkness and these strong challenging themes that force us to take the Advent of our Lord at Christmas seriously, to make a way prepared for him, to repent before his coming.

Isaiah was overwhelmed at the weight of the message he had to bring. Being a man of compassion for God’s people, his hope was that this would be a very temporary measure and so he cried out

11 Then I said, “For how long, O Lord?”
And he answered:
“Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,
12 until the LORD has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.

To a people who had no interest in listening to the Lord’s word through Isaiah, this was purifying judgment, this advent making the way strait and leveling of hills would be thorough, cities ruined, empty, deserted, ravaged, the land so special to God’s people utterly forsaken. There is no way to paint a pretty picture from this passage, nor is there a way to paint Isaiah commission in glowing colors for the picture is pain and the colors are dark. They would be laid waste again and again till nothing was left - nothing but a few burned tree stumps in the land. That is the scriptural advent picture for those who refuse to hear the word of the Lord, those who ignor his covenant, who disregard his will in the land. Hopeless. Darkness. Bleak. Nothingness. Despair. The Lord is coming! What will happen to you before he comes? Even the apostle Peter painted this dark picture of the Lord’s advent, his coming and our need to be ready. 2 Peter 3:10 - 12

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the hea
t.

That is where advent begins - even the mighty trees of the land cut down to nothing, the terebinth (an evergreen) and the oak just stumps in cracked sun seared dirt.

13b But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

We are on a journey from the garden to the city - the trees along the way are hewn down to nothing, mere stumps in the land. But there is one thing that cannot be burned up, destroyed completely even under the fiercest judgements of a Holy Holy Holy God! Isaiah points us to that light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

The holy seed - a stump in the land. Everything Israel would see would look dead, like nothing. But one of those stumps, one of those mighty trees cut down to nothing, the covenant of God’s promises that looked like they had come to naught, just one of those stumps contained in it what Isaiah called the holy seed. That holy Seed was God’s covenant promise.

Had Judah heard, they would have heard a covenant promise given to Eve

5 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your seed and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

Had Israel heard, they would have thought of a covenant promise given to Abraham “To your seed I will give this land.” (Genesis 12:7).

Had they been listening carefully to Isaiah’s words, they would have heard hope, a distant hope, but a hope nevertheless, that God would rescue them, that God, because of his covenant promises would not let them be totally destroyed for their sin, no let them disappear and become nothing in judgment. Even in the midst of God’s white hot purification, a seed would remain, hidden in a stump, their future was in the Lord’s promises. And the seed that Isaiah pointed Israel forward to was one person - born in Bethlehem, one person the fulfillment of all of God’s covenant promises for us. When all is laid to waste. When we are cut down to nothing, he is our hope, our only hope for all of God’s promises are yes and Amen in him.

The Lord is coming! How will you make yourself ready?

 

 


From the Garden to the City - Trees Along the Way
Immanuel CRC's Theme for 2006-2007
The complete Series

  1. Acts 10:34-48, text vs. 39 FROM THE GARDEN TO THE CITY:
    TREES ALONG THE WAY: Introduction

  2. Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17, 3:1-24 There was more than one Tree in the Garden

  3. Genesis 12:1-9 The Great Tree of Moreh

  4. Genesis 13:14-18, 18:1-5 The Evolution of the Presence of God

  5. Isaiah 6:1-13 Jesse's Stump (Advent #1)

  6. Isaiah 55 The Pine and the Myrtle

  7. Isaiah 11:1-5 Jesse's Shoot (Advent #4)

  8. Galatians 3:1-14 Those who Hang on Trees (Lent)

  9. Luke 19:28-40 The Trees Bowed Before Him! (Palm Sunday)

  10. Genesis 22, Mark 15:33-37 The Ram Caught in the Thicket (Good Friday)

  11. John 20:10-18 They Met Under the Trees in the Garden (Easter Morning)

  12. Acts 2:1-4, 42-47 Pentecost - the City has Arrived

  13. Matthew 6:13 (footnote)  “For Thine is the Kingdom, Power and Glory - the New Jerusalem - Focus of Desire”

  14. Revelation 17, 18 The Great Babylon

  15. Revelation 21 The Bride has Made herself Ready

  16. Revelation 22 The Tree Stands in the City










 


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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