The LORD our Righteousness
First Sunday in Advent| November 30, 2008| Rev Rolf Preus| Jeremiah 33:16
“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.’” Jeremiah 33:16
Jesus comes in the name of the Lord. So said the adoring crowds on that first Palm Sunday when he rode a donkey into the holy city. Jesus comes in the name of the Lord. So sings the adoring church of Christ in the words of the Sanctus, sung before the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Advent is when the church specifically directs her attention to the coming of Jesus in the name of the Lord. The word advent means coming.
There are three distinct comings or advents of Jesus. His first advent was when he was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. His first advent is described in detail in the New Testament, especially in the four Gospels. Although he was the Ruler of the whole world he chose to become the son of a young virgin girl who had no status or power. The Lord over all creation chose to live a life of poverty and service to others. Instead of demanding that his disciples serve Him, He served them, and so gave them an example to follow. He was the Judge of all mankind yet he judged no one. Instead of judging sinners, he forgave them. The Samaritan women at the well, the women caught in adultery, Zaccheaus the chief tax collector, and many other notorious sinners found in Jesus a gracious and loving Lord. Finally, this almighty God, this Lord over all creation, this eternal judge of all people, endured the humiliation of betrayal, whipping, mockery, and crucifixion. The first advent of Jesus appears to be a colossal failure.
But it is not. He rises from the dead. He ascends into heaven. He is even now seated at the right hand of God from whence he will return to judge the living and the dead. That will be his second advent. He will return to judge. The whole world will be brought before him. His omniscient gaze will bring to light everything that was hidden. The first advent of Jesus was in humility to save sinners. The second advent of Jesus will be in glory to judge sinners.
In between the first and second advents of Christ is his present advent. He comes to his church today. It is this advent to which we turn our attention this morning. Listen once more to the voice of God in the words recorded by Jeremiah the prophet:
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.’” (Jeremiah 33:15-16)
These words recorded by Jeremiah in chapter 33 of the book that bears his name are very similar to words that he recorded in chapter 23 of the same book. In chapter 23 he also wrote of a Branch of righteousness. He also spoke of Judah and Israel being saved. He gave a name to that Branch of righteousness. The name? “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Then in Jeremiah 33 the prophet repeats in very similar words the same promise of the coming of that Branch of righteousness. But there is one important difference. Whereas in chapter 23 he calls the Branch of righteousness by the name “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” in chapter 33 he calls Jerusalem by the name “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
This is truly a wonderful prophecy to which we should pay very close attention because these words were intended for us. The church is the new Jerusalem. All those who have put on the Lord Jesus Christ are members of the true church. According to St. Paul, we put on Christ in Holy Baptism. Of course, as today’s Epistle Lesson makes clear, this is not just a one time thing. We are constantly putting on Christ, as we daily repent of our sin and trust in the gospel. Listen to this beautiful description of the Holy Christian Church that St. Paul provides in Ephesians 5:25-27
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
How can this be? How can the church be so beautiful? How can the apostle speak of her in such extravagant terms? He says she is glorious. He says she has neither spot nor wrinkle and anything like that. He says that she is holy and without blemish. Where in the world is this church? I have never seen such a church. Have you? The church I have seen is made up of people who sin. They say false and unkind things about their neighbors. They are dissatisfied with what God has given them and they covet things belonging to others. They are known to cheat and to lie. They break promises. They judge people unfairly. They break the rules. They drink too much. Sometimes they don’t even pay their bills. They neglect the needs of others and consider their own needs to be more important. And this is just what we see! Think of what God sees! Think of what God sees in you! You know: the things nobody else can see. There’s nothing hidden from his sight. How, then, can St. Paul describe Christ’s church as he does?
What does the Bible say? “And this is the name by which she will be called: ‘THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’” The very same name that belongs to Jesus belongs to his church. Think of that! Who is Jesus? He is the Lord God. He is the Lord God become flesh. He is the Lord God become flesh for us in order to do in his holy flesh what we in our sinful flesh failed to do. He is the Lord God become flesh for us in order to be the righteous human being that none of us was. He is what his name says, “The Lord our righteousness.” Our righteousness is not in what we have done. What we have done is sin. Even the righteous things we have done are tainted by sin. Only he has done everything well. Only he who comes in the name of the Lord has done everything as it should be done. And his righteousness is ours. It is ours. That means it belongs to us. It is not ours in the sense that we have done the righteous things to bring about this righteousness. We have not. Christ’s righteousness is ours because he gives it to us. He tells us that our sins are forgiven. He not only tells us of this forgiveness, he places us into the care of his Church to whom he has entrusted this forgiveness. It is the greatest treasure in the world. It belongs to her whose name is the Lord our righteousness.
There is no Lord but the Lord our righteousness. All other gods and lords are fakes. They shouldn’t be trusted or worshipped. They should be avoided. Only the Lord Jesus Christ gives us his righteousness as a gift. Other lords and gods are frauds. They cannot give us sinners what we need. They make demands that we cannot meet, but they will never give us the forgiveness we need.
The only righteousness that will stand before the Lord God is the righteousness that was done by Jesus. He is the Righteous branch of the tree of David, the king. No one but the pure and holy virgin born Son of Mary could bring into existence the righteousness that avails before the judgment seat of God. Only God could do what God requires us to do and so God became one of us to do it. This is the meaning of the first advent. Had God appeared to us in his glory as Judge we couldn’t have stood before him. First he had to appear to us in the lowly and humble form of an innocent little Baby, an obedient Child, a faithful Servant, and a Lamb offered up to God as the Sacrifice to cancel all our guilt. In this way God became “the Lord our righteousness.” In this way the Church gained her identity and her name. She is Christian. She bears the same name as her Savior. So closely is she tied to Jesus that she and Jesus receive the same name: “The Lord, our righteousness.” The church of Jesus Christ is never known for her own achievements. She is known for Christ’s achievements. Her beauty doesn’t come from her. It comes from Christ. Christ is the Lord our righteousness. This is his name. So says the prophet, Jeremiah. This is the same name Jeremiah assigned to his Church. This means that there is an unbreakable union that joins Christ to his Church. This means that the righteousness we have through faith in Christ Jesus is the righteousness by which the Holy Christian Church is to be identified.
We are the Holy Christian Church because Christ has come to us. You and I cannot see the churchly beauty we possess, but God can. Through faith in the LORD our righteousness we receive his righteousness. When God looks at us he sees what we have received through faith. He sees the righteousness of his Son our Lord Jesus. He sees his obedience all the way to the cross. He sees the love that overcomes hatred. He sees the humility that abases all pride. He sees the purity that covers up all sin, deceit, lust, and covetousness. God sees the righteousness of Christ whenever he sees the Church that bears his name.
And so should we. We shouldn’t look at the Church as a bunch of dirty sinners. God doesn’t. We should not think of the Church in terms of the sins we see in one another. God has washed us clean of our sins. This is what makes us the Holy Christian Church. Jesus surely has come to us and made us his holy bride. Let us take God at his word when he calls Jerusalem by the same name he gives to his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased. We are called, “The Lord our righteousness” because this precious gift identifies us. God treats us as saints. Dear friends in Christ, this is how we ought to treat one another. Amen