I was recently blessed by a prophetic description of Jesus, found in the Old Testament:
“Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”
Zechariah 6:12-13 NASB
There are many wonderful promises here about what would make Jesus unique in His ministry to the world - enough to meditate on for a lifetime! But what caught my eye was the specific name He is given: “Branch.”
The margin says that the word for “Branch” is actually, literally, “Sprout.” And it blessed me to see that what the verse really says is, “Behold, a man whose name is Sprout, for He will sprout up from where He is...”
What a striking description of Jesus, our Lord, the coming Messiah: Sprout.
Where I’m from, “sprout” isn’t exactly a compliment or a show of respect. You don’t call an adult “sprout;” you don’t even call a small child sprout, except to specifically draw attention to how little they are. It’s like calling someone, “pipsqueak.”
Consider for a moment that the prophet was really saying: “Behold, the coming King, Pipsqueak.” It doesn’t exactly have the royal ring of dignity, does it?
And I noticed that the same replacement (of “Branch” for “Sprout”) was made in a couple of other places in the Old Testament as well (Zechariah 3, Jeremiah 23). In Jeremiah 23, the heading of the chapter even refers to “The Righteous Branch,” despite the fact that the word in the passage is actually “Sprout.” Why not title that portion of the prophecy, “The Righteous Sprout”? Perhaps because it’s a title so seemingly un-becoming of a King. It doesn’t have the same ring to it as “The Righteous Branch.”
That’s Why They Missed Jesus
This is exactly what the Lord said would happen. Jesus’ Sprout-ness is mentioned primarily as a stumbling block in Isaiah 52-53 (take a look at those verses, please). It was prophesied that precious few would believed the message in Isaiah 52:13-15 specifically because (“for,” 53:2) Jesus would start off in such an unassuming manner, as a “tender shoot.” They were expecting a great King, a Warrior, a strong Branch, and the Lord knew it would offend their royal sentiments to send a Sprout, a Pipsqueak.
But we can make the exact same mistake today.
This struck me in a fresh way because we are surrounded by many spiritual giants - the George Mullers and Hudson Taylor’s and Amy Carmichael’s and even Brother Zac Poonens - and we can ever so subtly be focused on bigness, scale of ministry, greatness of work, etc. The tendency to want to be a branch is great! We can be drawn, just like the translators of the Bible, to pursue that which has a “nice ring to it.”
But the glory of Jesus is that He came as a Sprout! Not as a fully-formed, strong Branch, with a large ministry and many great works; but as a “tender shoot,” vulnerable, helpless, dependent. He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself...” (Philippians 2:6-7a). He was willing to become a Nobody - just a Sprout. He is the Lion, Who became a Lamb - a baby Sheep! (Rev 5). And it is “for this reason that God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).
Will I Gladly Be A Sprout?
The Holy Spirit commands us in that very same passage to “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus...” (Philippians 2:4). It’s as though the Lord were telling us, “You also, be willing to be a sprout. Just be a tender shoot!”
Reject the thoughts of some great work!
Reject the expectation of instant perfection!
Reject the longing for a trial-free day!
Reject the hope some difficulty disappearing!
Jesus had no ambition to do anything except that which pleased His Father. And for much of His life, that meant WAITING in obscurity. Cooperating in secret with the Lord’s private dealings with Him. Accepting 1000 undocumented crushings hidden from the sight of the world.
Imagine how many people died while Jesus grew up, that He might have healed. Imagine how many sermons He could have corrected in the synagogue.
And yet, when He came for baptism, the Father was able to say, “this is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17), despite the fact that He had never preached a sermon or performed a single miracle. How was that life pleasing to God Almighty?
Virtually all we know of the largest “silent period” of His life (the 18 years from twelve to thirty years of age) is described in just two verses: “And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
What was He doing all those years? He was sprouting up — exactly as Zechariah prophesied, “Behold, a man whose name is Sprout, for He will sprout up...”
I want to go the same way!
Sprouting is The Source of Power
When Jesus began His public ministry at thirty years of age, what distinguished Him from the teachers and leaders of the day?
“They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
Mark 1:22 NASB
“When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”
Matthew 7:28-29 NASB
In both passages Jesus is directly contrasted with the religious leaders of the day. The primary difference was His authority, and their lack. Perhaps they had the same exact words (Jesus Himself commended the Pharisees’ preaching in Matthew 23:3); but they lacked power.
“The kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.”
1 Corinthians 4:20
Where did Jesus’ power come from? It came from His willingness to be a Sprout. His faithfulness to “sprout up” over thirty long years, in secret!
Don't Despise the Chance to Sprout
“For who has despised the day of small things?”
Zechariah 4:10a NASB
Don’t be one who despises the small things. The circumstance in our lives that we'd rather fast-forward through are God's necessary means of equipping us. If we will humble ourselves under His mighty hand, He will give us grace to grow in the same way He helped Jesus. The way to true spiritual power and authority is to be willing to sprout up. But the only way to sprout up is to fall into the ground and die.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
John 12:24 NASB
So let us take up the cross appointed for today, trusting in God's perfect wisdom and power. He is growing strong branches for His glory; but they must start as humble, pliable, tender shoots.