Opening Prayer: Christ, our Mighty God, we worship you as the Child who was born at Bethlehem and worshiped by the wise men of the East. We worship you as the Child who taught the scribes and theologians. We honor you as the young boy who reminded his parents that he was always about his Father’s business. And we ask you to teach us now. Rule us by the rod of your mouth. Amen!
Today is Epiphany Sunday. It is the culmination of our celebration of Christmas with the saints throughout the world. It is the feast of the manifestation of God as a Child.
Prophecies of a Child
We have read and heard the prophecies many times from Isaiah. Isaiah rebukes Ahaz’s insolence for refusing to request a sign of his deliverance and declares that that a virgin will conceive and bear a Son who will be Immanuel (Is. 7:13-14). Of course the immediate context and application of this prophecy regards the threat of invasion in Jerusalem from the alliance of the kings of Israel and Syria (Is. 7:1). Isaiah promises that this threat will be undone by the nation of Assyria (Is. 7:7-9, 17). The immediate fulfillment of the prophecy is recorded in the birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8:1-3). “Swift Plunder” is the child born to the “prophetess” who will still be a toddler when the judgment falls. Yet, there is clearly more to be fulfilled beyond this. Assyria’s banks are going to overflow and come up even against Jerusalem (8:7-8), but in the midst of that threat, the rod of the oppressor will be broken because of Immanuel (8:9-10, 9:1-5). Isaiah’s train of thought has not been broken: Immanuel is the Child born of the virgin, and therefore he declares the same point again. Unto us a Child is born who will be the King of Israel (9:6-7). This Child’s empire is to emerge in the midst of great turmoil and unrest (9:18-21), and the rod of Assyria is to be broken even as it deals out Yahweh’s judgment (10:12, 15). The remnant of Israel will return to “Mighty God” – the Child Immanuel (10:21, cf. 9:6). Yahweh again declares that Jerusalem must not fear; Assyria will strike Zion but she will be hewn down (10:24, 33-34).
The Branch and the Child
It is in this context that Isaiah declares that a rod and branch will grow up from the stem of Jesse (11:1). The forest of Assyria grown upon in Palestine will be hewn down, and from this clear cut, a branch will grow up. This branch will be the Child who will judge not by sight or sound but in righteousness (11:3-4). It is a Child who will slay the wicked, a Child who will lead lions and leopards and lambs (11:5). A nursing Child will play in the cobra’s hole and reach his hand down into a viper’s den (11:8). Not only is this a prophecy of ultimate peace and righteousness, this is the prophecy of what that Child Immanuel is like. Only a Child who doesn’t look or listen would do those things! This Child will be a new Moses who will lead a new Israel in a new Exodus, gathering a people from the four corners of the earth (11:11-15, 12:1-2). The central issue at hand is who does Israel trust? Israel trusted Damascus and Judah will trust Assyria (10:20), but Yahweh calls them to put their trust in a Child, a Child who does childish things.
Conclusions & Applications
In Revelation 12, John picks up on this imagery describing the birth pangs of the woman whose Child was to rule all nations with a Rod of iron. This Child who is born to rule all the nations is taken up to heaven to sit on God’s throne (Rev. 12:5). John says that the Emperor of the world is a Child. In other words, for God to become man is for God to become young; it is for God to become a little kid. And John says that this Child is now in heaven ruling the world. The fate of the world rests upon the shoulders of a Child. We serve the Child King.
But the glory of the gospel is that God calls upon us to follow this Child as our King. Jesus is the Child who came to play in the viper’s den of Israel. John the Baptist called first century Israel a brood of vipers. And Christ himself calls them serpents and vipers (Mt. 12:34, 23:33). Jesus spent much of his ministry mingling with the outcasts, but tax collectors were predators and the antagonism between Jew and Gentile was about like a lion and a lamb. Jesus is the Child King who put his hand right into our world. He is the little child who came and began leading lions and leopards and bears around and teaching their offspring to play together. Ultimately his childlike behavior got him killed, but that has hardly fazed him.
And you are called this same childlike peace making. Your King has gone before you. He is oblivious to your excuses and all the risks. He doesn’t care that it has never worked before. He doesn’t care that you say it is impossible. He is a Child utterly intent upon filling this world with his peace and righteousness. We serve a Child who rules the nations, and you cannot argue with a Child. You are therefore called upon to follow this child in the coming year into whatever challenges he brings you.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we praise you for your Son, the Child King who rules the nations. We thank you that our world is in the hand of this Child. Make us like this Child, your Son, teach us to become little children that we might enter your Kingdom. Give us this courage and make us fearless as we trust in you.