The Scripture on which we concentrate is the second verse of Isaiah 53. Let us begin reading at verse 1.
“Who hath believed our report? And to whom was the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor splendor, that we should lock upon him.
The word “report” denotes the Gospel of Christ that the prophet had received from God by an infallible revelation. The utterance, “Who hath received our report,” namely, our gospel, is an exclamation expressive of amazement mingled with grief at the reception that men gave the prophet’s gospel. They did not believe it. In our text the prophet reveals what men held against the Christ of God on account of which they despised and rejected Him. In making this plain to us, the prophet avails himself of a figure, when he says, “For he, the Christ, shall grow up before him, namely, God, as a tender plant, as a root out of a dry ground.” The same figure occurs in the first verse of the eleventh chapter of Isaiah’s discourse. Here the text reads, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” It is the figure of a little branch, a shoot or sucker that comes forth out of a sightless tree stump, rooted in the dry ground of a desert land. This shoot or rod is Christ. The stump out of which He comes forth is the Virgin, Christ’s mother. The stump of Jesse is again the virgin. The implied relation is that of stump and tree ,in which the virgin is the stump, and Jesse and his royal descendants, definitely David and Solomon, the tree.
Let us lay hold on the meaning of this figure. It is plainly suggested here in our text. Dropping the figure, the prophet asserts, “He, the Christ, hath no form nor splendor.” The people of Israel once upon a time did have a king who had form, splendor, glory. This king was Solomon, the son of David and the grandson of Jesse. And what a glorious king he was, was Solomon. He sat on a throne of ivory overlaid with gold. No king so rich, no king so powerful, no king so wise as Solomon.
However, Solomon’s glory was not true heavenly glory, beauty, splendor of the exalted and heavenly Christ now at the right hand of God in the highest heavens. The glory of Solomon’s kingdom was not the true beauty of Christ’s heavenly kingdom, when this kingdom—the kingdom of Christ—shall once have appeared in glory on the new earth. The glory of Solomon was but earthy, typical. It was but a shadow, a pre-indication, a picture, of the glory of the heavenly Christ. Being but a shadow, a picture, devoid of reality, it faded, did this glory of king Solomon. The light of this glory grew more and more dim and was finally extinguished. This dimming process of the glory of Jesse’s royal house began even before Solomon’s death. It was accelerated by the breaking away of the ten tribes from the house of David. It was completed by the exile of Judah. The end came in 587 B.C. In that year Nebuchadnezzar once more and for the last time marched against Judah and laid siege to Jerusalem. City and temple were destroyed. King Zedekiah, the last member of the royal family of Jesse to occupy the typical throne of David was taken captive and carried to the king of Babylon in Riblah. After seeing his sons slain before his very eyes, his own eyes were put out, and he ended his life in a Babylonian prison. The holy line was continued in the generations of Jehoiada, the brother of Zedekiah, and the son of king Josiah. But never again did a descendant of David the son of Jesse occupy the typical Davidic throne. The light of the typical glory of Jesse’s house had been extinguished, never again to be rekindled. Mary, the last female descendant of this house and the mother of Jesus was a poor and obscure virgin of the despised city of Nazareth. She was all that remained of what once had been a glorious tree—a splendorous royal house, the house of Jesse. The tree had been felled; all its foliage and branches, in a word, all its glory, had been clean cut away. All that was permitted to stand of it was that sightless stump in a dry ground—Mary the virgin. The royal house of David had been humbled to the very ground. What can this indicate but that the Lord was about to make a new beginning of things. And so He did. From that sightless stump He brought forth the Christ, Israel’s true king. But, as born from this poor and obscure female descendant of the royal house of Jesse, Christ was indeed in his beginnings a shoot out of a sightless stump—the stump of Jesse. As that stump, as that virgin, so the Christ, He was without form, without splendor, typical glory, beauty, appearance.
We perceive now how this language is to be understood. It can scarcely have any reference to the structure of Christ’s physical frame, as though perhaps he was deformed of body; or to the mold of the features of His countenance, as though He was a man with a plain, expressionless, or even ugly, repulsive-looking face, so that seeing Him, men looked away. It need not even be assumed that He was small and frail. He was as well built and stalwart as any normal man, as His working alongside His supposed father, Joseph, as a carpenter, would seem to indicate. And His countenance was beautiful, must have been, as upon it was reflected the heaven that filled His pure soul. But what He lacked is form, splendor, appearance, position, prestige. He wore no crown of gold as did Solomon. He sat not on a throne of ivory as had Solomon. He was not clothed with royal purple as Solomon had been. He drank not from vessels of gold. He had no horses and chariots. As to glory, appearance, honor and prestige, He, the Christ, was as far removed from Solomon, as it was possible for any man in Israel to be. He was not a priest, was Christ. He was not a scribe; He was not an elder; He was not a Pharisee, as was Paul. He was not a member of the Sanhedrin. He had no doctor’s degree. For the seminary attached to the synagogue He never attended. Anyway, what could that institution have contributed to His spiritual development? It was dry ground. It was reading its own theories into the Bible.
A shoot, a branch, a rod,—that was Christ. And a shoot that came forth not out of the trunk of a stately tree still standing in all its glory; but a shoot growing from a sightless stump in the dry ground of a desert land at that. His estate was as low as it was possible for the estate of any man to be low. He was born in a smelly stable, wasn’t He? His first cradle was a manger. His mother had nothing but some swaddling clothes to wrap Him in when He was born. For she was a poor woman. As soon as He was able, He had to go to work, which He did, working with His hands as a carpenter under Joseph all the rest of the years of His life with the exception of the last three.
A shoot growing from a sightless stump, that was Christ. And mark you, the stump was rooted in a dry ground of a desert land. It was thus a root and stump from which it was not even possible for a shoot to come forth at all. For it had no moisture. The application of the figure is plain. According to the will of God, as prophecy had revealed it, Christ had to be of the seed of David. But the virgin was the only living descendant of David so that there was for her no man by which she might conceive. Then the Holy Ghost performed a great wonder. He came upon the virgin and the power of the Highest overshadowed her by reason of which she was with child and brought forth a son, the Christ of God, the Son of God incarnate.
The text states further that He grew up before Him, namely, God. He increased, did the Christ, though a shoot in a dry ground. But His increase was not from below but from above. The Spirit of the Lord rested upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, and of counsel and of might, and of the fear of the Lord; wherefore He was quick of understanding in the fear of the Lord, . So did He grow up before the Lord, mark you, before the Lord. The Lord He served. The Lord He sought. Before the face of the Lord He stood and walked, fought the good fight, and bore witness to the truth. In the Lord He trusted. By the zeal of the Lord’s house He was consumed. Into the work that the Lord had given Him to do, He threw Himself with all His will and mind and heart and soul and strength, and thereby procured for us an eternal redemption.
But He was without earthy form, glory, appearance.
This was right and proper. So God willed it. For an earthly glory would have ill become the Christ, He being a heavenly King, who had come to establish by His suffering and death a heavenly kingdom, formed of citizens who are heavenly in contra-distinction to earthy, sinfully earthy. The only glory that becomes such a King, such a kingdom and such citizens is heavenly. It was upon such a glory—the heavenly—that Christ has His affection set. By the promise of this glory He lived and suffered and died and was raised and appeared in glory with His people.
Christ loved the glory of the heavenly; for what is this glory but Zion’s righteousness going forth as brightness and her salvation burning as a lamp. Hence, Christ’s love of the glory of the heavenly was love of righteousness and the salvation of His people; it was thus love of God, the triune Jehovah.
Where a man’s treasure is, there is his heart. Christ’s treasure was the glory of the heavenly . There was His heart. To be clothed with that glory—the glory of the heavenly—was His sole desire. “And now O Father,” so He prayed, “glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” Reference here, of course, is to the glory of Christ in His office of Mediator which He already had with His Father in His counsel before the foundation of the world. It is this glory after which He thirsted; for His heart thirsted after God, and after the salvation of His people of Which God His Father is the fountain and He the channel. How true it is that it was after this glory that He thirsted. Attend to the following: His thirtieth birthday anniversary came round. As prompted by the Spirit, He came into the desert. The devil was there, too. And the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all his kingdoms—the kingdoms of the world—man’s world—and their earthly glory. Said the devil to Him, “All these things—these kingdoms of mine—will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” It is plain what the devil wanted. He wanted Christ to consent to His being exalted by him, the devil, to the devil’s own right hand far above all the kings and potentates that reign on this earth. If Christ consents, He will be Christ the magnificent indeed; but He will no longer be the Christ of God but the Christ, the anointed, of the devil, the devil’s vicar and vice-regent on earth, in the devil’s service and thus in the service of sin, and of the lie and of darkness and of all iniquity and unrighteousness. How could the Christ of God consent to such a thing? He could not. The devil’s offer had absolutely no appeal for Him. He had His heart set on being exalted at the Father’s right hand with the Father’s countenance lifted upon Him in eternal love. He had His heart set on the glory of a heavenly kingship. Though obtainable only in the way of suffering and death on the cross, it is well; it is that glory that He will have for Himself and His own and none other. For God’s favor to Him is better than life. “Get thee hence,” is therefore His reply to the tempter, “For it is written, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”
Then He came, did Christ, among His people. And they brought to Him their devil-possessed, and their sick and their blind, and deaf, and halt, and maim. And He cast out the evil spirits by His Word. He healed all that were sick and even raised some of their dead; but all this only in confirmation of His preaching—His preaching of the heavenly kingdom that He had come to establish by His suffering and death; the preaching of Himself as its heavenly king; the preaching of Himself as the great physician, as the good shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep that they might be reconciled to His father through the cross. But they refused to understand, did the men with whom He walked. With the evidence of His wonder-working power filling the land, and as willingly ignorant of the true purpose of His mission, they remarked to one another what a wonderful earthy king He would make them, to judge them and to go out before them and to fight their earthly battles. With such a king they would not only again be like all the nations, but they would be the head and not the tail of the nations as they now were, seeing that they groaned under the yoke of the Romans. And when on a day He fed five thousand of them with five loaves of bread and two fishes, they were wildly enthusiastic; and they came to take Him by force to make Him king. Of course, the devil was back of all this. He was determined that Christ consent to His being seated on an earthly throne. Thus the opportunity again presents itself to Christ to be crowned a king of earthly glory, appearance, and magnificence. Will He this time yield to the wiles of the devil? He will not. He cannot. For He is the incarnate Son of God; and thus the man Jesus can only will to stand firm, which He also does. He departs out of their midst. And the next day He returns to them and tells them the truth about Himself and themselves in language that pointed that they cannot but conclude that it is utterly useless to try to get Him seated on an earthly throne. Bitterly disappointed, and also cut to the quick by what He had said to them, they looked at Him again. Then they looked at one another and said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? The man is a plebe, a pariah; they meant to say He hath no form nor splendor. Indeed, and it troubles them especially now since they perceive that He is determined in His opposition to all attempts on their part to give Him form and splendor and appearance by seating Him on an earthly throne. In the words of our text, they saw him—and saw that there was no beauty that they should desire Him. And they walked with Him no more, it is stated. They forsook Him to a man. From that day on they were His avowed enemies. And not so long thereafter, as inflamed by their leaders, they nailed Him to a cross. And on that cross He died. Then the Lord God again performed a great miracle. He raised Him up from the dead; and low, the sightless shoot or sprout becomes a beautiful tree; it acquires a crown of foliage and fruit—the church of the redeemed in heaven clothed with the heavenly perfection and glory of her Head, the resurrected and exalted Christ, the King of true glory at the right hand of God in the highest heavens. And the tree filleth the whole earth, the new earth. What a wonderful tree it is. So do God’s people now see this sightless shoot or sprout by faith in the Scriptures, definitely in the prophetic discourse of Ezekiel.