The First Sunday in Advent
December 1, 2019
“THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS”
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord,
Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. He cried over the people of Judah. He saw what would happen to them. God told him and he told them. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, would destroy the nation that called herself by God’s name. She bore God’s name, but she worshipped false gods while presuming to claim the status that belonged to the people of God. The people of Judah wanted to claim the benefits that God alone could provide, but to do so on their own terms. God wasn’t going to permit it. He sent his prophets to tell them. They wouldn’t listen.
Jeremiah loved his country. It wasn’t reciprocated. His prophetic ministry spanned the tenures of several kings of Judah, but only Josiah, the man who was king when Jeremiah was called, was faithful. The kings reflected the idolatrous decay that had taken over the people. The nation of Israel had been torn apart by civil war years earlier, and the northern kingdom – Israel – had already been taken away into captivity. The nation of Judah didn’t think that could happen to them because their capital city was Jerusalem and the temple of God was in Jerusalem. God would not permit his temple to be destroyed. This is what they claimed, even as they set up heathen idols in the temple!
The people who claimed the name of the true God worshipped Baals. The worship included acts of sexual immorality. They sacrificed their children to the god Moloch. And Judah claimed to be the people of God! Just like today when false Christians claim God’s name for themselves while defending every form of immorality including the killing of babies.
Love drove Jeremiah to warn Judah of her imminent destruction. For his efforts they accused him of being a traitor. When he said what would happen to Judah he was met with furious attacks, as if the bearer of bad news is responsible for it. Jeremiah loved Judah, but his love was unrequited. Hence, the designation: the weeping prophet.
Jeremiah was a prophet. He spoke for God. Matthew was an apostle. He spoke for God. Jeremiah the Old Testament prophet is not Matthew the New Testament apostle, but the words of Jeremiah the prophet and the words of Matthew the apostle were written under inspiration of the same Holy Spirit. The Bible is not a collection of different views of different men cobbled together by creative editors. The Bible has an inner unity. The whole Bible has the same divine Author and the whole Bible has the same divine teaching. The divine teaching of both the prophetic writings of the Old Testament and the apostolic writings of the New Testament is centered in Jesus Christ. Both Jeremiah and Matthew wrote about Christ’s reign. Both the prophet and the apostle were quite familiar with corrupt governments. So are we. The answer to the perennial problem of the immorality, corruption, and injustice featured in human governments down through the ages is the reign or government of Jesus.
Jeremiah witnessed the bad and corrupt government of King Jehoiachin. Justice and righteousness were trampled underfoot. He sat on David’s throne, but despised David’s God. Jeremiah warned him and the whole nation of Judah of the impending destruction of Jerusalem. The holy city would be destroyed. But God would not abandon his people.
Jerusalem would be destroyed. God would deliver his faithless people into the hand of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. They would be taken away into captivity. The royal line of King David would continue, but they would never again gain governance of the land over which King David had reigned. Still, God promised that he would raise up to David’s throne a Branch of righteousness. He would be a king who would execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. When he did, Judah would be saved and Israel would dwell in safety. What God promised was a different kind of rule than any king had ever exercised in the history of the world.
This king will execute judgment. Sound judgment must be just. Judgment that is not just is tyranny. But justice is elusive. People have a general sense of what justice is, but who will claim that we receive perfect justice in this world? Lady Liberty may be blind, but those entrusted with the administration of justice can see which side of their bread is buttered. You can pledge allegiance to a flag that stands for a republic with liberty and justice for all, but is there really justice for all? It’s an ideal. It’s not reality. Justice costs money. Some folks are too poor to pay for it. The judgment of the most enlightened and competent rulers always falls short of perfect justice.
But this king will execute judgment that is just. That’s because he will execute righteousness, and not an approximation of it, but the real thing. The reason no human government can carry out perfect righteousness is obvious. It’s because no human being is perfectly righteous. David prays in the psalm, “Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no one living is righteous.” (Psalm 143:2) Isaiah writes: “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) But this king will establish justice. He will establish the only kind of justice that is true justice. It will be in perfect accord with righteousness. Jeremiah writes that he will execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. The reason he will do what no one else has ever been able to do is that he is really and truly righteous. He is a Branch of righteousness. He is righteous and he is the source of righteousness.
David was of the tribe of Judah. Only a Jew could ascend to the throne of David. Jesus of Nazareth, son of David, son of Mary, is a Jew. He is a branch of righteousness. He is the ruler of God’s people. See how he rules! He covers up his majesty under his humility. He rides a donkey into Jerusalem. He does not strike fear, but evokes trust. He humbles himself to receive the praise of children. Jesus comes to his people, meek and riding on a donkey, just as the prophet Zechariah said he would.
If you want to understand the nature of Christ’s reign or rule, you must know his name. God is given many names in the Bible. Every one of them describes him in one way or another. God’s name is who he is. What is the name of the king, the branch of righteousness, who will execute judgment and righteousness in the earth? Jeremiah writes, “Now this is the name by which He will be called: ‘THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’”
This name tells you how Jesus exercises the authority of his kingdom. First, it tells us that Jesus is the LORD God. He is the LORD, the God who called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, who delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, and who formed them into his people. Jesus is the God and Savior of Israel. He is a Light to lighten the Gentiles. He is the LORD God almighty.
But there is more to his name than who he is. He is the LORD our righteousness. There is nothing remarkable about the LORD having righteousness. After all, he is righteous. God cannot sin. He cannot lust, bear false witness, covet, or steal. He is God. He is righteous. Everything he does is good. Nobody can accuse God of doing wrong. His righteousness is perfect righteousness. But his name doesn’t identify his righteousness as his. It identifies his righteousness as ours. He is the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. He is the branch of righteousness. He is the righteous man. He is the LORD our righteousness. He is the righteous God. He is OUR righteousness. His righteousness is ours. He gives it to us. This is how he rules over us. Christ’s authority requires nothing of us. It doesn’t depend on our obedience. It depends on God’s love.
Human authority depends on the obedience of those who are under it. How much authority do you have? If when you ask or tell people to do this or that and they don’t do it, you have no authority over them. It’s simple. Authority entails the ability to get people to do what you want them to do. Bribes, threats, manipulation, or whatever, getting people to do what you want them to do is required for you to have authority over them.
Christ’s authority is different. It doesn’t rely on anyone obeying him. It rather depends on his obedience. Christ’s obedience is our righteousness. We are righteous because he is the LORD our righteousness. We don’t make him our LORD. He makes himself our LORD. As the prophet says, “Behold, your King is coming to you.” He comes to you. You don’t cause him to come. He comes of his own free will.
We don’t cause Christmas. God did. We didn’t bring Jesus into this world. We didn’t cause God to become flesh. We didn’t do the deeds to achieve the righteousness we have. It is the LORD’s righteousness, and it is a gift. Our God joined the human race and submitted to his law. This righteous branch brought about true judgment and justice, true righteousness. He did it. It cost him. The praise of the crowd that cried hosanna was less than a week later replaced by the cry of the mob: crucify him, crucify him! This is what his quest for our righteousness cost him. He paid the cost. He became our righteousness.
This is how he captures our hearts. This is how he wins our loyalty. This is how he rules over us. We follow him because we are lost without him. We listen to him because his words are the words of eternal life. We submit to his authority because his authority is first and foremost the authority to forgive us our sins, remove sin’s burden off of us, and set us free. He is our King. He rules over us by his grace. When he rules us in this way, we can submit to him. We can love him. We know that by his grace he forgives us all of the flaws in our love for him. This is how we, God’s new Israel, are saved and dwell safely.
Rolf D. Preus