Friday, December 8, 2017

The Righteous Branch

Jeremiah 23:5-8 What does the future hold for us and our nation?  We don’t really know, do we?  But as we look forward there is much to be concerned about. 
We have powerful enemies throughout the world who hate us and would destroy us if they could.  Our own leaders don’t come close to measuring up to those godly men who guided our nation at it beginning.  And even the visible church is torn apart by faithlessness and the rejection of God’s truth.
Looking towards the future, given what we see right now before  our eyes, it is hard for us to hope for better days.
That was the situation in Jeremiah’s day as well.  Josiah had been a great king who followed after the LORD and ruled his nation wisely but the men who followed him abandoned the LORD. 
Assyria and Egypt and finally Babylon were the great empires on the world stage and all of them stood against Judah and finally would bring it to ruin. 
And God’s ancient people abandoned the LORD again and again and followed in the ways and thinking of the pagans around them.
The days in which Jeremiah was called by God to speak his Word were—like our own days—very dark indeed and hope was in short supply.  In the midst of that seemingly hopeless situation, the LORD spoke these words of better days to come when he would raise up the Righteous Branch to save and rule his people: 
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
            Despite living in dark days, or perhaps, because of it, we need to be reminded that Advent season is a season of hope.  The LORD points us to better days to come and we trust his promise that even in the midst of hard times and dark days he always has the well-being of his people at heart and is working for our good.  This promise of better days gives us the encouragement we need to face the future unafraid—whether it is dangerous enemies; or faithless leaders; or churches who have lost their way. 
And so then, as bleak as the situation is on the world stage—as faithfulness as is many part of the visible church—as lacking are our leaders—God has promised that we can look to the future with hope. 
That was the promise the Lord made to the people of Jeremiah’s day as well and the fulfillment of this promise for God’s people of the past -and God’s people of today-is found in exactly the same person and that is Jesus Christ.
He is the Righteous Branch from David’s line Jeremiah promised would rule God’s people in wisdom and justice in a kingdom of grace and peace and truth.
The northern Kingdom of Israel would be destroyed and lost to history; the southern Kingdom of Judah would go into exile and never again be a political power; but God’s kingdom and his righteous rule would go on forever as Jesus Christ took his rightful reign in the human hearts who trusted in the promise of a Righteous Branch and now know its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
That is what the Kingdom of God is:  the reign of Christ in our hearts and it is mightier and more wonderful than any earthly kingdom or empire that has ever existed-- for it is not bound by space or time but is found wherever there are people whose King is the Lord Jesus Christ. 
Our king rules his kingdom with wisdom and justice and grace and mercy and he rules all things in heaven and earth in such a way that it ultimately benefits his people and works for our salvation.  God promises us that:
In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.  And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ 
When the Holy Spirit gave Jeremiah these words to preach and write, Israel had already been overcome by Assyria and their people carried into slavery.  The same judgment was about to befall Judah at the hands of the Babylonians.  And yet the LORD promised salvation and security to God’s people—all of them.
That is what the LORD meant when Jeremiah promised that both Israel and Judah would be saved—this was the biblical way of speaking of the fullness of God’s people in the Old Testament. 
But that fullness of salvation and security that the Righteous Branch would accomplish, God intended would include people from every place and time who are brought together by faith in Jesus Christ.
1. He is the one and only one who is our righteousness in God’s sight.  2. He is the LORD—the Savior God who has always come to the aid of his people.  3. He is the Righteous Branch who is the true Davidic King. 
He is the one who took on our flesh and bore our sins and fulfilled all righteousness in our place so that believing in him—his own righteousness and holiness and goodness becomes our own and we take our place in his kingdom.
Judah and Israel and believers in every time and place including us here today have been saved by his work on our behalf. 
Judah and Israel and believers in every time and place can know that their life with God right here and now --and their eternal future-- rest safe and secure in his nail-scarred hands.
These things are true for all of God’s people because they are built on the foundation of the accomplished facts of salvation history.  Jeremiah wrote: 
“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’
            When we think about the future, particularly given the direction that the world is going right now—it is hard to see how things will get better—it is hard to have hope.  And so we are always tempted to look back—to long for what are called “the good ole days”—to believe that God’s saving work for us is only in the past
That’s where the people of God found themselves in Jeremiah’s day.  They looked back to God’s mighty deliverance of their forefathers from slavery in Egypt with a kind of nostalgia that robbed them of hope in the future. 
They believed that the LORD was a Savior God—they trusted that he really had delivered and cared for his people—but they thought that that God’s mighty saving works were all behind them. 
But Jeremiah assured them (with the same certainly with which they could look back in salvation history and see the mighty saving acts of the LORD) that in the same way they could also look forward into the future with hope-- and know that the LORD was still the same mighty, loving God he had always been and could be counted on to deliver his people from their enemies just as he had in the past.
Judah would go into exile in Babylon but just as prophesied by Jeremiah they would also come out of Babylon and return—and this promised deliverance would also be an accomplished fact of salvation history just as certainly as their forefathers walked out of Egypt.
So it is for us.  Jesus Christ has redeemed us at the cost of his life’s blood upon the cross and set us free from our enemies of sin, death and the devil.  He was raised from the dead to give us a hope that transcends death.  His death and resurrection are the accomplished facts of salvation history.  They happened in a particular moment on a particular day in history—a day that is now 2,000 years in the past.
But this same living, ascended, reigning King assures us that his mighty saving works are not all in the past—that he will come again in glory and stand upon the earth and bring us to our heavenly home.  That is the promise that has always sustained God’s people.  Jeremiah promised:  Then they shall dwell in their own land.”
            God kept that promise and brought them home to the land he had promised to give them many years before.  Despite the dark days that were before them; despite the fact that they would go through years of exile; God would bring them home.
So it is for us.  We are strangers and exiles in a dark and dying world.  We are a pilgrim people far from our true home.  But God is faithful to his promises and he will bring us to himself in our true fatherland of heaven. 

That is our hope and the Righteous Branch, Jesus Christ—who has set us free from slavery to sin and death at the cost of his own life’s blood—will rule our live in such a wise and gracious way that he will bring us to the home he has prepared for us.  Amen.

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