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"A Model for Mr.Mayor"

Dec.8/13 2nd of Advent Is.11:1-10 (Mt.3:1-12)


November was not a banner month for the city of Toronto. Its mayor finally admitted to use of crack cocaine as a result of a leaked video. There was publicity of episodes of drunkenness. Mr. Ford didn't help his case by ill-advised comments about former staffers.

The media feeding-frenzy didn't help the city's image. An agency named Cormex Research revealed that the city's share of negative exposure globally had climbed from 12 to 26 percent over the previous year. A Cormex official commented, "After the first week of the Rob Ford story, most people thought/assumed that it could not get more bizarre, but...the story simply left orbit from reality..." He added, "Eventually, I believe the single biggest issue in the Rob Ford story will not be the crack allegations, nor the elements of the legal case...Instead, it will be about the media and the impact the Fords are having in attracting and/or generating long-term negative global media exposure for the city, day-in, day-out, as the city finds itself wandering through its nine circles of media hell." (source)

The politician even seemed to acknowledge a spiritual dimension to his problems. In an interview with CBC News, Mayor Ford said he'd had a kind of "come-to-Jesus" moment and said he's "finished" with alcohol and doesn't do drugs. "If you don't see a difference in me in five months, then I'll eat my words," he said. "I've had a come-to-Jesus moment if you want to call it that. I've let my dad down, I know he's upstairs watching this."

Christian broadcaster Lorna Dueck noted in her blog that leaders are called to higher standards. She quoted Prov.31:4-5, "It's not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer lest they drink and forget what has been decreed, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights." Dueck added, "A leader's private life will always affect the public good...I'm looking forward to the road to redemption on this story, after all the same wisdom source on booze and public office, the Bible, says it can be so for the embattled mayor and we should pray for it.Mayor Ford should have resigned months ago, but if now he can stop the activity of being busy in public office, he may in the stillness start to reach for the inner compass that got obscured along the way. I'd love to see him be able to live out his declaration that his best days are still ahead."

So the city's less-than-perfect leadership has left it reeling with shame given the global media exposure. A lot of damage has been done. Perhaps there's a parallel here to the southern kingdom of Judah following the invasion of the Assyrian army: in 721 BC the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, but in 701 they returned and conquered Judah all the way to the gates of Jerusalem. The land was devastated.

Leadership was at least partly to blame. About 733 the kings of Syria (Aram) and Israel tried to pressure the southern kingdom into joining a coalition against the Assyrians, but instead King Ahaz of Judah asked Assyria for help. The prophet Isaiah condemned that decision. When Assyria responded by conquering the northern kingdom, that took away an important buffer and left Judah vulnerable to Assyrian attack a few decades later. And overall in the history of the kings of Israel and Judah, the kings who did evil and worshipped idols outnumber the "good" kings. The Old Testament prophets (including Isaiah) tried to warn the kings God would judge their actions; 1Kings 24 says the Lord sent raiders to destroy Judah because of the sins of the kings "including the shedding of innocent blood...and the Lord was not willing to forgive." (1Kings 24:4)

The context of today's passage (Isaiah 11) relates to the devastation and restoration that would occur before much longer in Judah's history. The close of the previous chapter, Isaiah 10(35f), describes the Lord cutting down the Assyrian oppressors: "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." The imagery must be like the clear-cutting and devastation an invading army would have left behind as Isaiah and his fellow citizens surveyed the countryside. They longed for a righteous leader, a good and great king, who could save them and lead them well instead of wickedly.


11:1 starts off very unsensationally with a cut-off tree stump. That looks pretty hopeless, like that's the end of it! But in the midst of the post-invasion devastation, there's a sign of hope. "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." Jesse was, of course, the father of King David, their historical hero who ushered in Israel's "golden age" of monarchy. God had promised David, "Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever." (2Sa 7:16) So everyone hoped for some future great king to come from David's descendants. Over time, the hope arose of a Messiah from the line of Jesse. In fact, both gospel-writers Matthew and Luke trace Jesus' family tree through David; Jesus' earthly 'adopted' father (so to speak - for legal purposes) Joseph belonged to "the house and line of David" as Luke puts it (Lk 2:4).

What makes the leader in Isaiah's prophecy better, so much different, than the imperfect leaders in his own day - or in our own time, for that matter? 11:2 "The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD..." The best possible leader NEEDS God's Spirit. 1Samuel 16(13) tells us that when the prophet Samuel anointed David as king, "from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power." David routinely sought God's guidance on matters, including military moves. The Spirit also inspired David to write many spiritual songs that we still use today from the book of Psalms.

John the Baptist was an eyewitness to the fulfilment of this when he baptized Jesus in the Jordan. "At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him." (Mt 3:16) What words did Jesus say had come true in the hearing of those who were at the synagogue in Nazareth at the outset of his ministry? "The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed me...to release the oppressed...(etc.)"

Isaiah adds this kingly "Branch" or "sprout" from Jesse's stump will have "the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power..." Earthly leaders desperately need God's supernatural wisdom and counsel. James described God's kind of wisdom in 3:17, "the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." Isn't that the kind of person you want leading your municipality, your school board, your province and country?

Jesus lived out this walk guided by God's wisdom, daily depending on the Father for insight. John the Baptist testified about Christ, "For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit." Jesus explained His actions to those who were persecuting Him in Jn 5:19, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." Christ also demonstrated the Spirit's supernatural power by His many miracles, healing the sick, casting out unclean spirits, even raising the dead. One beneficiary underlined the uniqueness of Jesus' actions this way: "Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind." (Jn 9:32)

Isaiah notes Jesse's "shoot" will exhibit "the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord - and he will delight in the fear of the Lord." Here, "knowledge...of the Lord" does not mean bits of information, like God's shoe size or date of birth! Likewise in v9, when it says "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" it's not talking about having God's phone number memorized. "Knowledge of the Lord" involves being acquainted with Him, enjoying intimate relationship with God. It requires both a "come-to-Jesus" experience (to use Mayor Ford's words) AND a 'stay-with-Jesus' time duration, hanging out with Him, listening to Him by reading what He said, talking to Him through prayer. Mark records at times Jesus would get up very early in the morning while it was still dark, go off to a solitary place and pray (Mk 1:35). He nurtured His relationship with the Father. He remained in such closeness to God that He could say, "Whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say," and "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." (Jn 12:50b, 14:9)

The godly leader, according to 11:3, "delights in the fear of the Lord" - not fear of the polls, or the political party, or the media, or loss of reputation. A godly leader's primary concern is to please God. As Peter and John replied to their critics, "But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God." (Ac 4:19) Paul wrote, "We make it our goal to please [the Lord]" and, "We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts." (2Cor 5:9; 1Th 2:4)

In your day-to-day life - who are YOU trying to please? Do you "delight in the fear of the Lord", revering Him, treasuring God as awesome in your life? The Holy Spirit yearns in that direction.

The Sprout has Spirit - and Spunk. Vv4b-5a "He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist." Striking the earth with the rod of his mouth? That must have seemed strange imagery to Isaiah's audience. But Jesus spoke and stilled the storm; by a word He cursed the fig tree and it withered (Mt 8:23-27; 21:18-22). Even at His arrest at the Mount of Olives, when He said "I am He", the well-armed soldiers and officials "drew back and fell to the ground." (Jn 18:6) The Book of Revelation picks up this imagery in describing the Risen Christ: "Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth...[and, towards the end] Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. (Rev 2:16; 19:15)

When Isaiah talks of righteousness being Messiah's "belt" and faithfulness "the sash around his waist", he's speaking of normally loose flowing robes being tucked in, ready for action. John MacArthur comments that the belt "Is figurative of the Messiah's readiness for conflict." His sleeves are rolled up (so to speak), He's prepared to get down to work - not lounging around, but full of spunk and purposefulness.


Torontonians might have excused their mayor imbibing alcohol in private. They understand there is a difference between public and personal, there are boundaries. But citizens became more irked when there was evidence of drinking on the job; when a video of smoking crack cocaine became public; and when City Hall staff were asked sometimes to help out with personal errands. Such actions trigger our inner justice-meter, what's "fair" and "right" in use of public resources.

The godly leader Isaiah describes rules righteously. Vv3b-4a "He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth." At first the phrasing here may seem puzzling to us, because we rely so much upon eyewitness "hard evidence" in court. But what we see with our eyes reveals only one angle, a narrow perspective; the Messiah knows the whole story, including inner motives, He doesn't rely on hearsay or external appearances. In John 7(24) Jesus told His opponents, "Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment." Earlier John noted that Jesus "knew all men.He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man." (Jn 2:25) When He comes to judge at the end, He will "expose the motives of men's hearts" (1Cor 4:5).

The One Isaiah foretells will "judge the needy" with righteousness and "give decisions for the poor of the earth" with justice (v4). A politician's primary activity should centre on serving the people, not pleasing the powerful or bolstering his or her prospects for re-election. Jesus took time to stop and help the poor and needy: for instance, the woman who'd suffered from internal bleeding for 12 years - Jesus healed her even though He was on His way to help out a ruler (Mt 9:20-22). Or there's the woman caught in adultery in John 8(3-11): Jesus was the only man there who stood up for her and did not condemn her.

But Christ will deal out recompense to sinners who reject God's mercy. Isaiah says v4 "with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked." Paul predicts to the Thessalonians, "And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming." (2Th 2:8) And those who don't know God or obey the gospel "will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power" (2Th 1:9) - a most fearful prospect indeed.


This is the second Sunday of Advent, traditionally associated with "Peace" (in the sequence Hope - Peace - Joy - Love). This section in Isaiah's prophecy closes with a beautiful word-picture describing a marvelously peaceful setting. There are 6 sets of pairs or triplets of beings in which something that's normally a predator is paired with something that's usually its prey - yet both coexist together peacefully. Who's with who in the zoo? Vv6-8 "The (A) wolf will live with the lamb, the (B) leopard will lie down with the goat, the (C) calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The (D) cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the (E) lion will eat straw like the ox. The (F) infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest."

Such combinations of normally mortal enemies could only come about by a miraculous transformation from the Almighty. God the Creator would be re-quiring basic circuitry in His creatures, back to the way things were in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. The overall image is one of SAFETY and TRANSFORMATION.

God is well able to keep us safe and protected when on mission for Him. When Paul the prisoner was being transported to Rome for trial, their boat was shipwrecked; Paul coached the whole shipload of people on how they could reach shore safely. But then as they were building a fire, a snake fastened itself onto his hand; the natives of the island expected Paul to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but he didn't.(Ac 28:5) God closing the mouths of the lions to keep Daniel safe would be another example.(Dan 6:22)

Paul would also be an example of Christ's transformation of character. As "Saul" he was once a harsh persecutor of the church, throwing people into prison; but Jesus stopped him on the road to Damascus and commissioned him to become an apostle to the Gentiles.(Ac 26:9ff,17)

Jesus is our Prince of Peace. Isaiah prophesied He'd balance power (responsibility) and peace back in chapter 9(6f), "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end."


In closing, v10 says, "In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious." In military conflict, the 'banner' or 'colours' were a visual rallying point for the troops, offering a visual point of reference on the field of battle. The colours represented the essence of the unit - if you were getting bushwhacked, you'd gather back at the colours to re-group.

What does the 'banner' represent for the Christian? What's the essence of what we're about? The cross is at the centre of the gospel. It's our 'rallying point'. Jesus said, "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." (Jn 12:32) And "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up." (Jn 3:14) Jesus on the cross is our Banner hoisted, rallying the nations to Him. He offers us peace and rest. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Mt 11:28) You will find rest for your souls: His place of rest is glorious.

One notable human leader who died this past week was Nelson Mandela. He courageously fought against apartheid, being imprisoned for many years. When apartheid was finally overthrown and he was elected president, many feared there would be a bloodbath of reprisal for the harsh treatment of blacks by whites over the decades. But Mandela established a "Truth and Reconciliation" commission which made reconciliation the focus instead of reprisal. Actual PEACE in a potentially volcanic situation.

A couple of Mandela quotes highlight how God's wisdom had a role influencing this key leader's approach. At an Easter sermon in 1994 about 3 weeks before he was elected president, Mandela declared, "We raise our voices in holy gladness to celebrate the victory of the risen Christ over the terrible forces of death."

Isaiah spoke of the importance for the needy to be judged rightly, and the "poor of the earth" to have justice. Mandela said, "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children."

One last quote that highlights forgiveness: "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison." Reflecting on that as Christians, we appreciate how the cross of Jesus - that banner to which we rally - paid the price for our freedom, so we could in turn forgive and release others, bringing peace in our relationships.

For freedom Christ has set us free! He is the best leader of all time - you can trust Him with your soul. Let's pray.