Unexpected Life

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1)

The Jewish people know what it is like to be crushed. Time and time again, throughout human history, their foes have sought to destroy them, and sometimes they have almost succeeded. And yet the Jewish people remain. And they realize that their survival is not their own doing, it is a gift from God. God continues to preserve a remnant and give them life.

Those of us who are Christians, who have been grafted into the family of God like a branch from a wild olive tree (see Romans 11:11-24), have tended to be the dominant force in our culture for centuries. Therefore we do not know what it is like to be brought to near extinction as a people and have God rescue and revive us. We tend to think that trials and tribulations come to us personally because of our human brokenness, rather than thinking that trials and tribulations come to us corporately because we follow Jesus. With our Western, individualistic, prosperity-focused mindset, we tend to see our faith at the way out of our trials and tribulations. That is called a Theology of Glory and it provides little comfort when we suffer. It can even lead to a loss of faith when the hard times don’t turn around according to the timetable of our own expectations.

An olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane. Notice the shoots coming out of the trunk of this olive tree.

Over and over again, the Bible speaks to us of a God that knows suffering, has experienced suffering and meets us in the middle of our own personal and corporate human suffering. Yes, he brings life and hope and peace, but not through a change in circumstances. Those are by-products that come later. The life, hope and peace that our God gives come to us in a person and that person is Jesus Christ. Through the worst kind of suffering one could imagine—crucifixion on a cross—God brought forth the greatest good in human history: forgiveness of sins for the whole world. When it seemed like all was lost—Jesus was dead and buried in a stone-cold tomb—God brought forth resurrection life. When anxiety and fear ruled hearts and determined actions—Jesus’ followers were huddled together behind locked doors in the Upper Room—the risen Jesus appeared in their midst and said, “‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22).

This understanding that God meets us in our suffering is called a Theology of the Cross and it will provide us comfort when we suffer because we will know that we are not alone. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is with us when we suffer. It is his loving, healing, restoring presence that enables us to endure suffering. Our life is in God’s hands and he is the One who will lift us up out of our suffering at the time and in the way that he knows is best. So we wait on him.

Notice the branches which have risen up from the roots of this olive tree and become fruitful.

In the Holy Land, the olive tree is a symbol of life. And old olive tree can appear to be dead, but when you look closer at it, there are times when you see that a shoot comes out from the trunk of this gnarled, old and, seemingly dead, tree. When you follow the roots outward from the trunk you may see that another shoot has sprung up from a root and this shoot has become a branch that bears fruit. That is what Jesus does for us. When it seems like there is no life or hope left in us, Jesus brings forth life in us in unexpected ways. And that life that Jesus gives produces fruit that enriches and blesses the lives of others. When that happens, we know that it all comes from God. He has preserved a remnant of our existence and given us resurrection life.

As you wait during this Advent season, know that God is waiting with you.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, help us to keep our eyes on you. Please comfort us with your presence while we wait. Amen.

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