Jesse Tree: Introduction

CHILDREN’S VERSIONIf you  would like to do this with smaller children, a version suitable for them can be had HERE.

The “Jesse Tree” traces the messianic hope throughout the Bible up until the birth of the Christ child. The reference to “Jesse” comes from Isaiah’s expression of messianic hope.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

Isaiah 11:1
Jan Mostaert (1475-1522/23), "The Tree of Jesse"
Jan Mostaert (1475–1522/23), “The Tree of Jesse”—While he is sleeping a tree is growing from Jesse’s body with on it the twelve Kings of Judah, the ancestors of Christ, and Mary with the Christ child in the top. The kings are: David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah and Manasseh. On either side of Jesse two prophets are standing, probably Isaiah and Jeremiah. To the left a nun in a white habit, probably from the Order of St.Mary Magdalene, is kneeling. She is the donor of the painting.

Following that line of hope, and hanging an ornament for each day’s lesson throughout the Advent season is a good change-up from opening a little window and eating a chocolate from a Hallmark Advent calendar—and it definitely beats the “twelve days of Christmas.”

These blogs first began as something my wife and did for our two daughters and our young grandchildren. My wife made representative tree ornaments for each of the characters that will follow in this blog, and I wrote a short lesson for each. My daughters used them with our grandchildren, and soon their friends and friends of friends were asking if they could get a copy. So we produced a booklet and some charts for creating decorations each day. Then some of the mothers asked for an “adult” version; so I wrote the original version of these blogs for them.

I’ll follow the same set of lessons that we did for the parents with children, and I won’t modify them much for “Theologizer.” My thinking is twofold:

  1. Many of you have children or grandchildren, or you’re leading small groups or congregations of people with children. Perhaps you’ll want to share this tradition with them during this Advent season. 
  2. Even if you’re reading these on your own, it might be useful to see what the biblical-theological approach looks like in a simple form that’s addressing regular congregation members—or even sympathetic unbelievers who love Christmas.

So, I’m hoping you’ll enjoy engaging in some daily biblical-theological reflection at the simple level that’s appropriate for parents with children.

Biblical Theology of the “Jesse Tree”

Scripture: Isa 11:1–10

The Bible says, “God chose [Jesus] as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last day” (1 Pet 1:20).1 In fact, God says, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes” (Eph 1:4). God was working his plan of salvation long before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. And that’s what we want to highlight throughout Advent.

Anointing David
François-Léon Benouville (1821-1859), “Samuel sacrant David”

Jesse had seven sons. Some of them may have seemed impressive sorts to Samuel, and God had sent him to anoint one of them as king. But God told Samuel, “Don’t judge by [their] appearance or height…. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). In fact, God had chosen Jesse’s youngest son to become Israel’s greatest king. David was the first royal branch from “the Jesse tree.”

Through thick and thin, the promise of an eternal Davidic dynasty stood true, whether Israel and the Davidic dynasty measured up to God’s expectations or not. Even when the Davidic kings broke covenant with God, his promise to David and his descendants remained in effect. So Isaiah could promise, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit…. In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious” (Isa 11:1, 10 ESV).

This figurative language about stumps, shoots, and branches promised renewal of the Davidic dynasty. Out of the apparently dead “stump of Jesse” there would sprout a new shoot (Isa 11:1). This new branch would bear “fruit from the old root,” that is the promise to David’s family would yet come to fruition in a “Son of David” (e.g., Matt 1:1). He would rule well, because God’s Spirit would rest on him, enduing him with all the attributes of a righteous king: “the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD” (Isa 11:2).

A righteous king should “Fear the LORD and judge with integrity, for the LORD our God does not tolerate perverted justice, partiality, or the taking of bribes” (2 Chr 19:7). So just as God would not look on outward appearances when appointing his chosen king (1 Sam 16:7), this Davidic king would “not judge by appearance nor make a decision based on hearsay”; rather, the Spirit’s anointing would enable him to “make fair decisions.” He would rule like God himself rules over his people (Isa 11:3–6).

And that just rule will establish a kingdom of perfect peace, indeed heavenly peace (Isa 11:7–9). Animals that now fight or fear each other will live in peace (v. 7), babies will be safe even “near the hole of a cobra” (v. 8). “Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain” (v. 9), which was the site of the ancient Davidic throne.

More importantly, it was God’s own throne, upon which God’s anointed king would rule over God’s people. Under the Old Testament arrangement, that meant theocratic rule over Israel. But even then, it included others who joined Israel in worshiping the one true God. That might be David’s own great-grandmother Ruth the Moabitess, or a resident alien who came to be a disciple of the Lord God. The ultimate goal of this kingdom was not just to bless Israel alone with peace and righteous rule. No, God’s goal was to bless all nations. That was why he called Abraham in the first place (Gen 12:1–3), and it was why he raised up the Davidic dynasty. So the days of fulfillment for the Davidic promise are described this way: “In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place” (Isa 11:10).

Each day throughout December, the Jesse Tree lessons will keep reminding us that God keeps his promises, especially his greatest promise. The Bible stories we’ll recount show how God kept on reminding his people that a “Son of David” would come and fulfill every promise God ever made. When we celebrate Christmas, it ought to be with this note: “All of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ And through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for his glory” (2 Cor 1:20). That should be the underlying motivation for our Christmas shouts, “Glory to God in the highest heaven!”

Mechanics of the “Jesse Tree”

  • “Theologizer” will become a daily blog between the first of December and the day after Christmas.
    • Each day’s blog will be posted in the earliest morning hours of each day.
    • Each day’s blog will be a lesson with appropriate “Questions, Reflections, and Commitments”
  • If you would like to produce ornaments for a “Jesse Tree,” you have two options:
    • You can get a simple cross-stitch pattern for each ornament and start working on them now. Click here to download cross-stitch patterns for all the daily ornaments.
    • You can get a paper copy of each ornament for children to cut out, color, paint, or decorate for tree hangings. Click here to download a simple coloring book for all the daily ornaments.

Questions, Reflections, and Commitments

  • Meditate on the linkage between the Jesse “tree” and our contemporary notion of a family tree. We tend to look backwards when we’re talking about the family tree; however, the family tree of Jesse was very much a forward-looking genealogy.
  • As you read the description of the messianic kingdom that Isaiah gave us (Isa 11:1–11), refresh your contribution to the prayers of saints in all the ages: “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).