In the beginning, there was a tree. It stood in the midst of a Garden, a sacred grove planted by God Himself. The tree’s branches were laden with fruit, fruit that was a delight to the eyes and good for food. But it had not been given for food. Instead, this tree was the place of worship, the place where the first man preached his sermons, telling his bride of how God had given to them the fruit of every other tree, even the delicious fruit of the tree of life, but when it came to this tree He had said, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” In refraining from its fruit, the man and the woman worshipped God, they served Him in obedience, and they dwelt in the Garden of paradise. But one day a serpent was in that tree, a creature more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He placed doubt in the woman’s mind, he led her first to question God’s Word, then to desire God’s place. And when she looked at the beauty of this tree, she gave up resistance and ate. And she gave some to her silent husband, who was with her, and he ate. And in the eating of the forbidden tree, the man and the woman lost all the trees. They were cast from the Garden, paradise was left behind, and they were cut off from the tree of life. They, and all their children, were now doomed to wander in the wilderness, scratching the earth to force it to yield its produce, only to die in the end as wanderers from their home.
God promised restoration for His exiled creation, He promised that He would bring them back into the Garden, that they would eat of the tree of life once more. He said to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your [seed] and her [seed]; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The seed that would conquer the serpent and restore the Garden was passed from generation to generation, and finally God planted it in Egypt. There it first sprouted and grew, even under the yoke of bondage. This seedling God then transplanted, bringing it out from Egypt with His mighty outstretched hand. He established it in the Promised Land, a place that was a dim shadow and reminder of the Garden that man had left behind. From generation to generation, God cut back the withered, unhealthy branches; He often had to cut quite deep, but He preserved the tree, and ensured that it would flourish. In time, God’s promised Seed, the Seed that would crush the serpent’s head and restore the Garden, had become a great tree, and David saw its branches spread wide and its trunk grow thick, and it seemed that nothing would stop God’s promised seed from bearing fruit.
But at its greatest moment, the tree began to rot from within. David was a man after God’s heart; his descendants were by and large men after their own. The faithfulness of David turned to apostasy in the kings of his line. God prophesied judgment, He warned His people again and again, but they did not heed. Wickedness increased, as man trusted in man rather than in God. The serpent spoke his lying words once again, enticing man to usurp God’s place. He wants us to desire God’s authority, and we are glad to oblige. But the Creator of the universe is a jealous God; He will not let any take His place; finally, His patience ran out, and He acted in wrath. With the Babylonians wielding the axe, the tree God planted from the promised Seed was cut down and burned with great violence and suffering. All that was left was a stump. The line had failed, the promised Seed had been cut off; humanity, all who had lived and all who would ever live, even you and me, were doomed to a life of labor that ended only in death, followed by an eternity of God’s righteous wrath. Never would we see the Garden again; the serpent had triumphed.
Almost six hundred years passed. The stump became withered and completely devoid of life; the serpent reveled in his victory. But God had other plans. On one night, the barren, withered stump sent forth a flash of green. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” The stump seemed dead, but there was life there, the life found only in the promised Seed. This shoot is not another king in David’s line, this shoot is a new David, but yet greater than he. He is called both the Shoot and the Root; He comes from that line and He is Himself its source. He is both man and God; born of the house of David, but yet before David begotten of the Father from eternity. He is the promised Seed, who has finally come forth as promised so long ago. The kings of Judah rotted the tree with their apostasy; this Shoot is faithful in all things. “And 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.” The Shoot from Jesse’s stump triumphs where man failed, He conquers where man was defeated; He is the faithful King. “With righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall kill the wicked.” He judges not as sinful men do, but with justice; He speaks God’s Word of truth, both the Law to condemn sin and the Gospel to forgive it. He declares Himself to be the promised Seed, the One sent by God the Father as promised in the beginning.
And for that men hated Him; they raged against Him, readying their axes. He used no other weapon than His words, but His enemies could not abide them; He condemned the wicked and acted in justice toward the poor, and the rich and powerful wanted Him destroyed. The axes were called for, and the tree was felled. The Shoot and the Root of Jesse, the tree that is the promised Seed, was nailed to a tree, He was placed upon a cross. There He was cut off from man and from God; on that dark day it seemed that once again God’s promise was thwarted by the rebellion of sinful man. But this time, the stump remained barren and withered for only three days, and Easter morning revealed the Shoot and Root of Jesse standing tall once more as the tree of salvation, never to be cut down again. For in being cut off, in being nailed to the tree, the Shoot and Root of Jesse, Jesus Christ, crushed the serpent’s head just as God had Himself promised so long ago. He was cut off in the place of rebellious humanity, in your place and mine; the perfect tree submitted to the axes so that you will never be cut off, so that all of the serpent’s power over you would be destroyed. The one who overcame by a tree is by a tree overcome; the cross, two barren pieces of wood, is now a life-giving tree, and all who look to it shall be healed. “In that day the root of Jesse, who will stand as a signal for the peoples—of Him shall the nations inquire, and His resting place shall be glorious.”
His resting place is glorious because it is the Garden restored; God’s exiled people now have the promise that they will one day return home. “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 fatted calf together; and a little child shall lead them… The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.” The serpent’s power will be no more, the children of God will play without fear, for you look to the tree of the cross, and there your every sin and rebellion, your every attempt to usurp God’s place as your fathers did before you, is forgiven by the shed blood of the Shoot and Root of Jesse, your Savior Jesus Christ, and you will dwell in peace. “They 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.” And in the center of the Garden restored stands the signal for the peoples, Jesus Christ the Shoot and Root of Jesse, and to Him the nations will be gathered, to Him you will be gathered, for it is only by the tree of His cross that the Garden will be restored, that the promise will be fulfilled. The exile is over, the wandering has come to an end, you will eat of the tree of life forever. “In that Day the Lord will extend His hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of His people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.” His mighty arm will bring the remnant to Himself, to dwell in the Garden, looking to His signal, forever. In the Name of Jesus, the Shoot and the Root of Jesse, Amen.