A Family Tree of Hope

Pastor Marcus Birkholz

Worship Theme: A Family Tree of Hope

First Lesson & Sermon Text: Isaiah 11:1-5, 10 (NIV)
Second Lesson : Romans 11:13-24 (NIV)
Gospel : John 15:1-8 (NIV)

  • O, Come, O Come, Emmanuel
  • CW 47: Behold a Branch is Growing
  • CW 356: You are the Way
  • CW 2: Savior of the Nations, Come
  • CW 9: Jesus, Your Church with Longing Eyes

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Message: A Family Tree of Hope

Pastor Marcus Birkholz

Dear Worshipers of Christ,

A pastor in the MN district didn’t know how interrelated his congregation really was. He said, he found out quickly, when he stepped on one member’s toes and 30 members complained. Over the years in the various churches it has been fascinating to see how the family ties, and family trees have spread out. Here at Salem, I was amazed at how the family trees and ties are interrelated and were connected. In particular a number of the families from across the river. The trick was trying to find out how you are connected. Today some people don’t know their full families trees. There are helps for them like Ancestry.com or 23 and me. Some people are shocked to find who really is in their family tree.

When our first child was born, my wife said something that left me reflecting. As she held our first child, she said, this is the first blood relative she had ever met. She had no knowledge of a family tree. Being adopted, she did not know who was her mother or father. She didn’t know if she had brothers or sisters, uncles or aunts. This was the first branch of her family tree as she knew it. What a contrast to the family tree of our Savior. Unless you know the stories of the family members, those long sections of family names in the Bible are tough reading: Obed was the father of Jesse who was the father of David who was the father of Solomon who was the father of Rehoboam. Well, if the Lord had not gotten involved, that family tree would have died off. With the Lord involved there is hope. Our text is part of the story of that family tree, The Family Tree of Hope.

The Stump

Christmas trees are a part of this season. God would use the Christmas Tree as an illustration for the prophet Isaiah. In that day they were called the Cedars of Lebanon, the pine tree. Now in the verses just before our text, we hear the prophet describe the Assyrians, the nation that had captured and destroyed the northern kingdom, this way: Isaiah 10:33–34 (NIV84) — 33 See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will lop off the boughs with great power. The lofty trees will be felled, the tall ones will be brought low. 34 He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax; Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One. When the prophet turned to God’s people, he also used a picture of a tree, however, in our text it is described as “the stump of Jesse.” That too meant a great tree had been chopped down.

Oh, how mighty had been the nation of Israel. Powerful, rich and even God fearing kings had ruled. But the people were led away from the Lord, they trusted in politics rather than the Lord to deliver their nation. In 586 the Southern Kingdom would look like that stump that Isaiah had described. Their king, Zedekiah, was captured and blinded and led into captivity. It looked like God’s had not kept his promise to King David, 2 Samuel 7:11–16 (NIV84) — 11 … “ ‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: …16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’ ” Was there any hope for the people and the nation?

When you look at a stump, there is quite a history recorded in the rings. You can have rings that showed the tree was really growing, or it was a year of very little rain, a ring might show the effects of a fire that burned the tree. There can be many lessons learned from the rings of a tree. The stump of Jesse would reveal the good years of growth under good kings. It would also show the struggles to grow under the wicked kings and the nation going astray. So the question could be, what would a stump of our spiritual life look like? What would it record? Could we tell the story where our spiritual life was greatly stressed, little growth at the time, or could we point to a time we were spiritually growing and were strong in our faith? Do you have a spiritual story to share in your family tree? The older the tree, the more rings, the more stories which could reflect being close to the Lord in faith and life, really growing. Then again could you tell a story to the next generation of the struggles to stay spiritually alive and what forces were you struggling against. The rings can tell a story.

Like the people of old whose tree was pictured like a stump, God still had a message. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Lakeview hospital decided to close for two weeks of Christmas because there would be no longer cancer, heart attacks, or car accidents! It’s not going to happen. Our world and its troubles continue. God’s people at times, even at Christmas season can feel like God has forgotten them, failed to keep promises to them. Health issues, family issues, relationships, work situations, personal struggles with spiritual issues can build up. Prayer after prayer can be brought to the throne of heaven, but it seems like God is not listening, does not hear, does not care. Like the Psalmist, “Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord.”

The Branch (root of Jesse)

Our compassionate God, through the prophet Isaiah had a special message of hope. A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. Almost dead, almost destroyed, there would be a little branch, new life, new hope. We have a hymn based on that message: “Behold a branch is growing” or a verse from O come O come Immanuel. Now the Bible very clear about the meaning of that branch. The Apostle Paul preached a sermon in the city of Pisidian Antioch, where he traced the family tree and God’s working. After the failed leadership of a King Saul, the Lord proclaimed: Acts 13:22–23 (NIV84) — 22 ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ 23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.

That little branch was to be a specific person. Now he was described first of all of how the Holy Spirit would rest on him. I would have you think of Jesus baptism, and the Spirit coming down on him. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. With the Holy Spirit on him, he would know how to deal with people. Like the section in Isaiah 11 vs. 3He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears. That is how we judge people, by what we see and hear. Not Jesus. Like it says, Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. So Jesus could judge the very motives and hearts of people which we cannot do.

Another word describing Jesus’ coming ministry would be “Righteousness”. In the Bible there are three types of righteousness. God is righteous, he does everything just right. Then there is our righteousness which is like filthy rags. Then there is the righteousness of Christ which was his because he lived the perfect life and did everything right through his life, death on the cross and resurrection. What is amazing the Father knew what his Son has done, what joy when we know by faith that his righteousness is ours.

The picture of hope is clearly found in a new life coming from what was cut down. The stump was not the end of the story. So it is with us. No matter where we have been, no matter what we have done, no matter what might come, there is hope for us. No matter what we are facing, issues in school, at work, at home, with family members. Hope is found in our Lord and Savior Jesus. Just like his grave was not the end of the story, so his resurrection has a message of a living hope. We are assured sins are forgiven, death conquered, eternal life is ours.

Paul writing to the Romans connects our text to Jesus where he wrote: Romans 15:12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.” We are not Jewish, but the Bible connects us to that family tree of Jesus. I would like to keep the picture of the tree for a moment. When I was growing up, my father had 5 apple trees on the church property. He had grafted each tree with different varieties of apples. The one tree had up to 25 varieties. One side Macintosh, Whitney crab, Minn. Jonathan, yellow transparent, northwestern greening, Red delicious, yellow delicious, chestnut crab… those are just a few of the varieties all on one tree. Now in Romans Paul takes the picture of the Olive tree, representing the Jewish nation and people of promise. Now he has explained that the Gentiles, us, have been grafted into that tree and become part of its promises. By a living faith we become part of that great family tree. In other words, when people look back in family history, they might find relatives nobody wants to talk about, others are hoping to find someone famous. As believers we can look back and tell people, we are in the family tree of Jesus. He is our brother. With Jesus as our brother, he will be involved in our lives every day we have hope. Amen.