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  • Frank Macchia

Hope in an Unexpected Place: Who Will Have Eyes to See It?

Updated: Sep 12

Hope is often found where we least expect it. In the cracks of our broken lives a new beginning can present itself. Those accustomed to finding hope only at the pinnacle of great successes can easily miss the hope that appears at the bottom of a deeply-felt loss. In a world divided up into "winners" and "losers," isn't hope to be found on the winning side? The answer may surprise you. In fact, examining Isaiah 11:1 can help us to find grace in the most unlikely of places. Let us look carefully at our text:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

A shoot from the stump of Jesse? In the context of ancient Israel, Jesse was King David’s father. One might conclude from this fact alone that Jesse should be viewed as a tall tree in the forest of God’s people. But this is not what the above text says. Jesse is referred to rather as a stump. In fact, according to the larger context, it seems that all of Israel had been “cut down to size,” or brought low through divine judgment. The two previous verses (10:33-34) say this:

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. He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax; Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One.

Reading the above text in the light of 11:1, it seems that Israel is being compared to the great cedar forest of Lebanon that is pruned but eventually chopped down due to a lack of fruit bearing. The stump of Jesse, therefore, is symbolic of a state of humiliation for God’s people, a being brought low as a result of a spiritual failure that had the potential of sucking the spiritual breath right out of them. Then a tender sprout appears, growing from the dried-out cracks of a lowly stump, from the broken lives of a devastated people. Hardly impressive and easy to misunderstand. But Isaiah tells us that this sprout will actually prove to be the Messiah. Though a tender sprout born in the lowly town of Bethlehem from a humble maiden who is betrothed to an ordinary carpenter, the Messiah will prove to be the Savior, mighty in the Spirit and wisdom (11:2-3). Will God's people have the wisdom to see it?

Isaiah is not very optimistic. Note 53:1-3:

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

The above text informs us that even in their lowly state of despair God's people will still refuse to see what this unimpressive shoot of life will offer them. In the brokenness of their loss, what can this unimpressive shoot offer them! Most will feel the need to reassert themselves so as to regain their hold on worldly power! They will not heed John the Baptist's warning that the divine axe has been laid to the roots of the trees (Matt. 3:10). Not wanting to abandon their idols, they will despise their Messiah. They will see him as a threat to their power structures (their temple, their traditions, their tense alliance with a heartless Roman Empire), so they hand him over to the Romans to be destroyed. He ends up being “crushed for our iniquities” (53:5), not only for the iniquities of Israel, but for those of humanity. Ironically, this innocent victim of unjust violence ends up standing in the place of the sinners who reject him and bearing their sin so as to overcome it in their place. Fulfilling the supreme act of divine love on their behalf, he simultaneously pays their debt of glory to God, providing the possibility of atonement or reconciliation with God for them all (53:4-5).

According to Isaiah, “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life” (53:10), as will those wise enough to see this light through him. The discernment will come from those who repent of their sin and trust in him. Such hope starts with repentance, for the path to the risen Christ runs through the cross that brings us low and calls for the abandonment of self-serving idols. The faith that follows is thus committed to the path of love and service. That tender shoot growing from the crevice of broken lives may not seem to amount to much; neither would a cross on the outskirts of the ancient city of Jerusalem, or the broken man who hung there upon it. But do not judge a book by its cover. That sprout has deeper roots in the life and purpose of a living God. That sprout represents the triumph of divine love and the hope that is born from the new beginning that it brings. This sprout will be enough to bring the kingdom of God to earth and to offer our broken world the only hope that can endure the test of time. He brings the haughty low and exalts the downtrodden who lift their eyes to God for freedom. Hope sprouts in the unexpected places of our brokenness and desperate need for God. Therein lies the challenge. But who will have eyes to see it?

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