Sermon for Advent 1 - Jeremiah 33.14-18 - November 30, 2014
1) Jeremiah has the terrible task of preaching to Judah as they are on the cusp of captivity. In the prophet’s day, Jerusalem is on the threshold of thralldom, being under military siege by Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army. Judah had sown to the sinful flesh and was reaping her just reward. Generation after generation of the people, from King to peasant, had followed other gods. Sometimes these gods were idols of wood and stone, the gross and obvious kind of idolatry. More often their idolatry was fine idolatry. Their idols were taken into their heart and their false god was a false version of the true God, something they cooked up in their own wicked imagination. This had begun in earnest during the reign of Solomon, son and heir of David. He began his rule in wisdom but was quickly seduced and enticed by others gods and their worship. Of all his royal descendants, less than a handful were faithful to the true God. During these years the Levites, the priestly tribe of ancient Israel, adopted worship practices that contradicted the faith. They failed to teach the people repentance and faith and instead taught them to formulate their own gods according to their heart’s desires. It was placed upon Jeremiah, as the divinely called prophet, to uproot the sin from Judah’s heart, rub it in her face so that she might repent, and when she failed to repent, to prophesy God’s just judgment upon Judah for her unrighteousness, transgression, and sin. By the hand of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Lord would destroy both Temple and the Davidic throne. The Lord says in Jeremiah 26:18, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, And the mountain of the temple Like the bare hills of the forest.” With no temple there would be no more Divine Service for the Levites to perform. No more grace given by God’s appointed means. The Davidic line was to be cut off from the throne, for the Lord said of Jechoniah in Jeremiah 22:30, “Write this man down as childless, A man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling anymore in Judah.”
2) This punishment, being so sever, that did in fact come to pass, is what makes the words of the prophet in chapter 33 so sweet to the ears. “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.” The sin of the people does not negate God’s promise. The Lord will punish sin, because He is righteous and just, for He is “not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness.” (Psalm 5:4) But He is also faithful to His promises, faithful to the Words He utters by His prophets. As St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” What is this “good thing” that the Lord has promised to perform? “In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called: the Lord our righteousness.” Though He punish Judah for her sins, her punishment is not mean to destroy her but to bring her to repentance, to make her sorrow over her sins, make her despise her sins, and make her look to the Lord for mercy. Since this is the goal, repentance that causes Judah to look to God for mercy, there must be a promise of mercy for them to apprehend. This is that promise. The “good thing” God will perform is Judah’s salvation, not from physical enemies, but from her true enemy: her own unrighteousness, her own idolatry, her own made-up versions of God that have no power to save her.
3) This “good thing” will be accomplished by the Messiah, the Branch of righteousness who shall execute (do) judgment and righteousness. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, comes as the only righteous branch to sprout from the dilapidated stump of Jesse. This is why the crowds exclaim, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” in the Gospel lesson as Jesus enters Jerusalem. He IS the son of David, through Solomon’s disgraced line on Joseph’s side, though He is not biologically from Joseph, and from Nathan, son of David according to His mother’s side. Jesus comes as the Branch of Righteousness because He alone is truly righteous by nature. The best of the Davidic line, David himself, was unrighteous and born in sin. But this ‘son of David’ is also fully God. For the crowds cry out not only, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” but also, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Not only is the Christ righteous by nature, being the Second person of the Holy Trinity, He is righteous in His life. His perfect life, His righteous fulfilling of Moses, His righteous fear, love and trust in God the Father above all things and at all times, and His righteous and ever-present love for neighbor is the righteousness that He imputes to believers by faith. The promise of Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament Lesson find their fulfillment in none other than Christ Jesus our Lord. For all who believe are the true Israel of God. The Church, that is, those who believe and are baptized, are the true Jerusalem, the true holy city of the Lord.
4) He gives this righteousness to all sinners who believe in Him. Faith is counted for righteousness in God’s sight. Faith apprehends, faith receives, faith holds onto and believes this Gospel of Christ. Faith is how we wear Christ’s righteousness and receive it as our own in the sight of God. There is no good work good enough. There is no righteous deed righteous enough. There is nothing that one can to do make oneself righteous before God the Father in heaven. There is only Christ’s righteousness which justifies the sinner, absolves all sins, and removes the guilt and punishment for our sins. This is the great promise of Jeremiah, that when Messiah advents He will bring righteousness with Him. Ten chapters before today’s reading, Jeremiah was given this to prophesy, “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jeremiah 23:5-6) In that chapter, Jesus is called “The Lord our Righteousness.” In today’s reading the church, all who believe in Christ, are called, “The Lord our Righteousness.” Faith receives what belongs to Jesus and applies it to yourself. We are declared righteous because of faith in Christ. As a bride takes the name of her husband upon marriage, so the believer takes Christ’s name, The Lord our Righteousness, and all His blessings at conversion, whenever and however often that happens by the grace of God.
5) It is in Christ Jesus that all the promises of today’s Old Testament lesson find their fulfillment. The Lord says through Jeremiah, “For thus says the LORD: 'David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel.” Jesus is the true son of David, as we said a moment ago, from Solomon’s lineage on Joseph’s side and through Nathan’s lineage on His mother Mary’s side. Though the Lord had barred Solomon’s ancestors from sitting upon the throne of Israel because of sin, the Lord provides THE Son of David from another branch of the stump of Jesse to sit upon the throne of David into eternity. As our David king, He rules over us gently and humbly. Christ rules over His people, the church, by given her the Holy Ghost. He then works repentance in us so that we mourn our sins and desire to turn from them. He then works faith in our hearts since faith is something the human will cannot manage itself. He rules over us through His Word in Holy Scripture, so that the Scriptures are our only source and norm for doctrine and life. That means that only look only to the Scriptures for what we are to believe and for how we ought to live as His Christians. He rules over us by the Office of the Holy Ministry, given each us, myself included, pastors and bishops to calls us to repentance and preach faith into our hearts. He rules only His enemies with a rod of iron. He rules the people of His pasture with His comforting rod and staff.
6) He is our King but He is also our priest. The Lord’s Word through Jeremiah continues, “nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually.” We need no Levites, no Jerusalem Temple, and no sacrificial system because these all were shadows of the reality to come in Christ. The author of Hebrews calls Jesus, “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.” (Hebrews 3:1) As THE High Priest His sacrifice upon Mt. Calvary atoned for the sins of the world. Being God in human flesh, His sacrifice covers all our sins so that they might be forgiven when be believe that we have a gracious God in Christ. There is nothing left for us to do to atone for any of our sins. The work of atonement has been made and finished. Now Christ, as our High Priest, sits on the right hand of God the Father almighty to be our advocate and plead for our redemption when we sin. In this way He continues to be the High Priest just as He continues to be our King. David’s man is still on David’s throne, just as Levite’s man has completed His once for all sacrifice and now offers its benefits to all who believe. Thus Jesus earned our righteousness in His life, passion, and death. Thus Jesus gives us His perfect righteousness as He rules us by His Word.
7) All of this we have because God is faithful to His promises. Our sin will never nullify God’s promises. He will never take them back. The Lord is faithful to the promises He makes in His Word because He does not lie. His word is inerrant and true because God, the true author of the Scriptures, is inerrant and true. In our sin, like Judah, we may remove ourselves from faith in God’s promise. But the promise always remains and while we live in the body we are to be daily repenting of our sins, turning from our sins, lest we fall into eternal punishment at Christ’s return. The Lord God offers Christ Jesus, the Messiah, to be our righteousness, our King, and our High Priest. Because His Word is true, let us join the crowds outside Jerusalem. Because He remains faithful to His promises even when we are unfaithful, let us spread the garment of our praise before Him. Since Christ comes to give us His name of Righteousness and take away all our sins, let us cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Amen.