Jesus: The Root
Jesus: who was He? what was He? what difference does He make to us?
The Scripture spoke of His childhood hundreds of years beforehand: "He shall grow up before Him." Jesus was scheduled to come, not as conquering warrior bristling in bulging, bicep brawn, but as a vulnerable infant child. Through the doorway of Mary's womb He would enter this world. His physical form would develop according to fallen human DNA. From His mother He received the genetic code of an after-the-fall human adjusted morally downward by 4000 years of devastating decline separating Him from Eden's tree of life.
Adam lived to nearly 1000 years of age. By the time of Jesus' birth, Anna, a widow of 84 years was described as being as "of great age." Things had changed since the beginning of humankind. But how well do we know Him who was bruised for our transgressions, and whose stripes heal us? After the hero left, in the old Lone Ranger movies they would ask, "Who was that masked man?" In contrast, before Jesus came, Isaiah told us who that "masked Man" would be—what Messiah would be like.
He left His divine power in heaven, emptying Himself (Philippians 2:7) and coming to this earth. The incarnation is so astonishing that Isaiah asked "who has believed our report?" His famous 53rd chapter breaks down into three sections: The first tells of Jesus, and humanity's reaction to Him; the middle discusses Christ exclusively; while the last verses speak of His victory.
Delve then today with me into this second verse today, as it tells of our Jesus: the Root.
"For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground."
Jesus came not in an alien nature, but according to the Scriptures, in fallen human nature! We find this in Hebrews 2:16. Let's turn there, and read it together:
For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham.
(This is rather an interesting verse for Adventists, since our original statement of fundamental beliefs, published in the Review in 1872 quoted it in their teaching on the nature of Christ. It's been said that we never took a stand on this point, but that is a misstatement of the facts.) Abraham was a descendant of Adam, and Adam's nature was changed by his choice to sin from unfallen to fallen. Isaiah in his first chapter describes this nature as "a seed of evil-doers" (Isaiah 1:4)—a nature inclined to rebel against goodness and cleave unto badness. It is a distorted, twisted, fallen nature; pulling toward itself rather than naturally turning toward God. Whereas man's nature (as originally created) was unselfish, oriented outward toward God (centrifugal, literally "fleeing the center"), man in his fallen estate is oriented inwardly, (centripetally, literally "center-seeking"). That is, man's natural self-control of the intellect and conscience over the senses is reversed in fallen peopl so that we are weakened (Romans 5:6)—pulled toward these sensations. In essence, through sin we have been reprogrammed to seek self-fulfilling instead of other-filling.
The Bible teaches that Jesus was born with this same fundamentally ruined nature we were born with. That's why, In part, this Scripture describes Jesus as growing up before God, "as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground." The ground of humanity is dry. The fallen human nature is a parched wasteland. It naturally desires only to water itself; it naturally inclines one to please only one's self. It pulls toward the center and not toward that which is outside of itself. When Jesus came in this very nature, and lived without sinning, it was a real mystery to the devil.
See, when Jesus came into our human flesh, Satan thought, "This is my chance!" He said to himself, "here comes Jesus into this dry ground where I can defeat him." For 4000 years the devil had been learning exactly how to overcome humanity in its ruined nature. Now, he thought, he would succeed in breaking Jesus who had arrived in a broken nature.
While Jesus may have come out of the dry ground of fallen humanity, He was a living root, a life-filled, "tender plant." He came in our hard and ruined nature, but He clung to the Father through every step of the journey—just as we must cling to Him through every step we take.
Notice how Ellen White describes His nature in the Youth's Instructor, YI 20 December 1900:
Think of Christ's humiliation. He took upon himself fallen, suffering human nature, degraded and defiled by sin. He took our sorrows, bearing our grief and shame. He endured all the temptations wherewith man is beset.
Jesus' nature is described here as "fallen," "suffering;" even as "degraded and defiled by sin." And yet He is "Him who knew no sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21). He is described in Scripture as "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26), yet "tempted in all points like as we are" (Hebrews 4:15); "in all things...made like unto His brethren" (Hebrews 2:17). He came indisputably "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3).
Some say that "likeness" here means "like but not exactly like." But the verse itself says that He not only came in the likeness of sinful flesh, but that He, (now listen to this!) "condemned sin in the flesh." Now if He only condemned sin in a nature that was different than ours, then He only condemned sin in that flesh, and not in ours. And if He didn't condemn sin in the fallen flesh of Abraham, and if He didn't condemn sin in the flesh that I bear, then sin has not been condemned in my nature. And if sin has not been condemned in my nature—even by Jesus—then how can I be condemned for sinning in my nature?!! Do you see how significant it is that Jesus came "as a root out of a dry ground?"
If Jesus came as a root out of a wet ground—in the nature of Adam before the fall—a nature naturally inclined to turn towards God, and easily to subdue the lower nature, then He can hardly function as my Example. We'll come back to this. But let's look further into Isaiah 53:2:
"He hath no form or comeliness"
Jesus certainly has a "form," a body. But this part of the verse points out to us that there was nothing commanding about his physical appearance. He did not stand tall as a mountain as did Adam, nor as wide and testosteronized as we suppose Samson to have. When people came to see Jesus they were shocked by His plain and dusty appearance (DA 197).
Back when Israel first chose a king, they chose Saul, who stood a head higher than anyone else in the kingdom (1 Samuel 10:23). Absalom, who stole the hearts of Israel from his father David, was noted for his extraordinarily long hair and physical beauty (2 Samuel 14:25-26; 18:9). Scripture reveals that even Satan was lifted up "because of his beauty" (Ezekiel 28:17). Perhaps his heart was carried away, somehow, with the idea that somehow his beauty was his own doing—we don't know. People tend to follow those of striking appearance. Many of the famous and infamous leaders and empire-builders through the ages have been tall men. But Jesus didn't bring any of that. He came bearing the appearance only of a "joe normal."
Jesus was not a walking special-effect; He was not a glowing space-alien—a Connecticut yankee in king Arthur's court; He didn't bring a light-saber, He was and is the Light. He came simply, humbly, appearing only as a common man. He had appeared first to Moses in the lowly, burning bush. When born, tiny Jesus was announced by angels but entered the world in a humble and aromatic cattle-stall. He grew to adulthood not in Athens or Rome or Alexandria or even Jerusalem, but in lowly and despised Nazareth. He didn't come wearing papal mitre, or long, gold-gilded robes and sceptres and rings. He came in simple guise and travel-worn leather sandles. He could have arrived in fullest regalia, standing tall, commanding a hearing. But He came lowly and simply, carpenters' calluses on His hands.
He came as a root out of a dry ground, and remained consistent with that. His message was not the brightness of His glory, which He had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5), but it was the divine excellence of character that He had with the Father before the world was and which He—now as a human being as human as we are—revealed in all that He said and did. His character was the Ten Commandments lived in fallen flesh. He came to be an Overcomer for a race of failures. He came to turn man back to God—to heal and repair that which was ruined.
He didn't come to us to to receive our bowing and scraping and grovelling, but to lift us up out of the pit of evil. He told us that He has called us by our name. Notice Isaiah 43:1:
But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine.
The name "Jacob" means "supplanter," or "the one who grabs the foot." The name "Israel" means "prince with God." Jesus came to us where we dwelt—at the dry ground—and He came to water our parched dryness and turn supplanters like us into princes and princesses with God. He called us by our name, and our name as His children is to be the name "Israel."
But how did they&mdas;and how do we—respond to Him?
"And when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him"
You do know that we are not just talking outward form and appearance here. When Jesus at last came to Israel, they didn't like everything they saw. Here was One seemingly capable of doing whatever He wished. He commanded the elements, manufactured food out of nothing, calmed the seas, healed the sick, and raised the dead: some fairly appealing capacities if your agenda is to run the Romans out of town.
Nor would removing the Roman yoke have been such a bad thing. Inspiration records heaven's view of the Roman government of Palestine:
The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses,—extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Saviour attempted no civil reforms. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart. DA 509.
So Jesus didn't use the power at His command as they expected Him to. When they piped, He didn't dance (Matthew 11:16-19). He came to make possible the regeneration of the heart. He was on a mission from God.
In a scene from a popular movie some years ago, John Belushi was standing with Dan Akroyd as they portrayed small-time blues singers: their attire was dark suits and hats, with dark sunglasses on. Keeping a straight face, Belushi solemnly intoned, "We're on a mission from God" (apparently to sing the blues). Oh how small and mindless! He died in 1982 in Beverly Hills from an overdose of heroin and cocaine. Belushi hit it big in entertainment, and had a knack for manic comedy. But he fed a poisonous movie industry, which today is an effective distraction from preparation for eternal life. Really, it seems more like he was on a mission from hell. Jesus came on a mission from God. Jesus left His riches behind and came to this pit called earth to release us from bondage. In His kingdom there will be no heroin, no cocaine, no crack. There will be no death from drug overdoses—in fact, no death at all. None shall kill or destroy in all His holy mountain (Isaiah 11:9).
But just stop and think it through: if Jesus didn't overcome sin in the flesh by actually conquering it in its stronghold—in its lair—then He has provided us no example of overcoming. If Jesus didn't do battle with sin in our flesh, then He cannot be our legitimate Representative. If our Savior did not identify Himself with us, then how can we identify our salvation with Him?
Jesus brought with Him a kingdom not of this world. It is a kingdom of virtue, goodness, and peace. It is a restoration to humankind of his original centrifugal nature—a nature reaching out in goodness to others, not one looking for self-fulfillment inwardly.
When God was trying to convince Moses that He would indeed accompany him on his mission, one of the things that He had him do was place his hand in his bosom. When Moses drew it out, it was leprous. But when, as God commanded, he placed it back against his chest, it was restored to soundness again. Left to ourselves, we are dry ground—we are ruined and morally leprous; utterly lacking in built-in goodness. But when we receive Jesus, we are changed. That which normally seeks self is transformed, becoming that seeking toward God and others. God takes away our leprosy, but first He had to come into the dry ground—to be born in it. Only by launching His ministry for humankind in the polluted soil of the fallen nature could He conquer sin in its element—in sinful flesh itself. Only in this way could He bring life to those catastrophically wounded through the fall of Adam. Only thusly could He water us, and heal us, and prepare us to see His glory. Only thus could He do a work in us bringing us into readiness to meet Him when He comes (1 John 3:2).
And so there we are: Jesus grew up before God as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He had no form or beauty that would draw us to Him, nor any special exemptions from our nature or its liabilities—any or all of them. The moral kingdom that He still presents to us, is not one that we naturally cleave to or prefer, but that's because we are warped, not God's kingdom. It is because we are ruined and need restoring that He Himself likewise took part of the same nature (Hebrews 2:14), and lived in it victoriously, all the way to the bottom: triumphant over sin in fallen flesh.
That's our Jesus.
Brothers and sisters of Jesus, today some in the church are embarrassed by the idea that Jesus became as human as we are, so that we could become as obedient as He is. When we talk of the Bible's testimony that we can experience the overcoming of sin here, now, in this life, there is embarrassment. There is pain, among some, when we try to understand our precious Savior in a manner out of vogue with contemporary Christianity.
Well, that's too bad. It's a bit late in the hour to start becoming embarrassed by Jesus. You see, the offense of the cross has not ceased. The offense of the cross is not just that Jesus was crucified on that pagan wooden throne, but really, so much more, that daily He took up His cross over a period of thirty-three years, and His plea to us is that daily we take up our cross and overcome.
He has led the way. No, it may not be popular. No, it may not be appreciated in our era of rock-and-roll, easy-time Christianity. But it is what is right. And He will not deny to us His power to overcome. He has left us an example. And so we should follow Jesus, the Root. We should let Him shoot up out of our stoney hearts and sprout. And cause us bloom.
Who was He? He is God, the Creator of the human race and the Recreator of fallen people.
What was He? He is the essence—the very source of unselfishness—come in the flesh.
What difference does He make to me and to you? Because Jesus stepped fully into our nature, receiving the same hereditary liabilities that we do; and because He overcame in our nature, condemning sin in the flesh; He offers to us a life sacrificed in our place, an example of overcoming that should give us hope. The difference that Jesus makes is that He condemned sin in the flesh so that we may condemn sin in the flesh.
So friends, when we need forgiveness, when we need power, when we need hope, let us turn to He who knew what was in man, and has no need that anyone should tell Him. He's been there and done that. Let us overcome the evil that has been ours with the goodness that is His. Let the Root spring up out of your dry ground.
Presentation log: 19 Feb 2000 Moab UT; 13 May 2000 Price UT.