We long for a leader. We want someone to care for us, show us what we’re supposed to be like, tell us what to do, cast a vision, inspire us, and lead the way.
But we’re usually disappointed in our leaders. As kids, we look up to our parents, but as we grow older, their imperfections become obvious. In school, we emulate the cool kids, but their coolness does not translate into adulthood. At work, we’re perpetually frustrated with our bosses. As citizens, we get excited about our candidate, but their presidency is inevitably flawed.
There is a reason we long for a leader we can’t seem to find. C. S. Lewis wrote that we are only born with desires for which satisfaction exists. Babies desire food; food exists. Ducklings desire to swim; water exists. We desire a perfect leader; a perfect leader exists.
Isaiah 11:1-5 gave God’s people hope as they faced discipline for rebellion under their current leadership. But a better leader would come one day. This “shoot from the stump of Jesse” would have the Spirit resting upon him, enabling him to lead with wisdom, strength, and righteousness.
Christians know this Spirit-enabled leader is Jesus Christ. But are we following him fully?
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1)
Picture a large tree with a thick trunk. A lumberjack chops and saws at that trunk until it thunders to the ground. He drags away the branches and hauls away the lumber until all that’s left is the lowly stump. It looks dead, but behold, a green sprig has emerged from it. In time-lapse, you see years pass as this shoot stretches toward the sun, leaves sprouting, branches branching, and fruit growing.
This tree represents Israel. God’s discipline would cut them down to a stump. But that would not be the end of them. A leader would come from their remains and from this leader a renewed nation would grow.
“The stump of Jesse” indicates that this image refers to Israel’s royalty. Jesse was King David’s father. This future leader would not be a president; he would be a king. His nation would not be a democracy; it would be a monarchy.
Jesus Christ is this long-awaited King.
The Spirit Rests Upon Jesus
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:2-3a)
“The Spirit of the LORD” is the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, he empowered people to do what God wanted them to do. For example, when David was crowned king, “The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13). In Matthew 3:16, the Spirit literally rested upon Jesus after his baptism.
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove coming to rest upon him.
Jesus identified himself as the Spirit-anointed King in Luke 4:16-21.
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The Spirit Enables Jesus to Lead Well
Jesus is anointed with “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding.” Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge well, to make good decisions, to navigate reality. Understanding is the ability to grasp the heart of a matter. Jesus showed both at a young age.
When he was 12, Jesus slipped away from his parents and discussed scripture with Jewish religious leaders. “All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). His wisdom continued to amaze his hearers as an adult. “The Jews therefore marveled, saying, ‘How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?’” (John 7:15).
He is anointed with “the Spirit of counsel and might,” which are military terms. It means Jesus is able to formulate a good strategy and carry it out with strength.
He is anointed with “the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” He grasps and applies truth while revering God the Father.
Jesus Leads with Insight and Righteousness
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (Isaiah 11:3b-5)
We can stop searching for a perfect leader. We already have him.
How to Follow Jesus When He’s Not Physically Here
The same Spirit who empowers Jesus to lead empowers us to follow.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you…
25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:15-25)
Before Jesus ascended to the Father, he told his apostles, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they were able to carry out King Jesus’ commission.
As the Holy Spirit continues to enable us to live by Jesus’ teachings today, we function as the body of Christ in the world.
22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.(Ephesians 1:22-23)