Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sermon on Psalm 24, for Advent Midweek 3, "The King of Glory"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. As we recited Psalm 24, we heard three questions asked, and the last one gets repeated. The first two questions appear together in vs. 3, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place?” It’s asking who can approach God and come into His Temple. Not just anyone. Sin bars just anyone from approaching God’s holiness. Even the high priest of Israel was only able to enter the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement, after sacrifices had first been made for his own sin. The answer to the Psalm’s question of whom may enter is given in the next verse, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” So shall we ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place? Do we meet the test of clean hands, pure heart; not having any falseness in our soul or lies on our lips? And if we start asking, “How pure is pure?” Then we’ve already lost. There’s no amount of impurity or falsity that can survive before God. Sin is like gasoline before the fire of God’s holiness. Pure is pure. By definition pure means no impurities.
But if we don’t dare ascend the hill of the Lord on our own—if as the Bible says, our righteous deeds are like filthy rags, then how can we ever approach God? Fortunately the Psalm answers for us; look at verses 7-10 again. Someone does approach and enter in. Psalm 24:7–8 “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!” To get the poetic imagery of the Psalm, you have to visualize the great and mighty gates of the city walls of Jerusalem, or massive gates to the Temple complex coming alive, like some computer generated imagery (CGI) from the Lord of the Rings movies or something. The gates and doors are personified like some great sleeping giants that need to be wakened and stretched out or enlarged. The Psalm joyfully calls the gates to come alive, to open up, to wake up, to lift up their heads. Never before have these ancient doors welcomed such a royal dignitary. The guest they welcome is no ordinary person. Now they must make room for the King of Glory to enter in.
A few months ago we talked about this word “glory”, and said that glory comes to someone who does what no one else could or would do. The more exclusive or difficult the task, the greater the glory to the person. The King of Glory is an exceptional title, and therefore must be due an exceptional honor. Interestingly, this exact title, “King of Glory” shows up only in this Psalm. But the New Testament variant, “Lord of Glory” shows up in 1 Corinthians 2:8, which says the rulers didn’t understand God’s Wisdom, or else they wouldn’t have crucified the “Lord of Glory”. James 2:1 talks about holding faith in “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” It’s no surprise to you that Jesus is identified as this King or Lord of Glory. But do you know that the Old Testament is also very explicit about whom God shares His glory with?  Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord (YHWH); that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”, and 48:11, “My glory I will not give to another.”
God does not share His glory with anyone. He possesses it alone—which again tells you that if Jesus possesses God’s glory, then Jesus must of necessity be God. Who is this King of Glory, the Psalm asks twice? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle. Israelite worshippers might here have remembered the mighty deeds by which God delivered them into the Promised Land. The Red Sea, the conquest of Jericho and the battles in the rest of the land; the defeat of the Philistines and other persistent enemies. God had fought for them in battle, and therefore was deserving of special glory—especially when the victory of His arm was clearly what made them win, and not their own military might.
But then the second time it asks, Who is this King of Glory? the answer changes ever so slightly: The Lord of hosts, He is the King of Glory.  “Lord of Hosts” is a much more common title for God—242 times in the Bible. In Hebrew “Hosts” is Sabaoth. Not to be confused with Sabbath—the day of rest—Sabaoth is the “heavenly hosts” or the whole company of heaven—the saints and angels who together worship and obey God. Their God—He is the King of Glory. The One leading the whole heavenly host. The Lord God of power and might.
So now that we’ve made all these connections—the King of Glory is our Lord Jesus Christ, and He’s the Lord of all the heavenly host—go back to where we began. Who can ascend the hill of the Lord, or stand in His holy place? Who has clean hands, a pure heart, never lifts His soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully? The Lord of Glory, Jesus Christ, does! He ascends God’s holy hill, He stands in God’s presence without stain of sin or any shame—but as God’s chosen servant, as His very Son who bears His same glory. The exceptional glory for what no one else could or would do—to die on the cross for the sins of the world, and to rise to life again. This King of Glory rode into Jerusalem with the gates open to Him, crowds praising His glory and all His works, and Jesus telling us that even the stones would cry out if His disciples were silenced. Jesus enters rightfully and with honor, to go and win the glory that is due only to Him—the glory that glorifies His Father in heaven.
Jesus ascends into Jerusalem to stand before God for us; but who else gets to enter? Who else follows in His train? Who becomes part of the heavenly hosts of His kingdom?  All who believe in Him, who are the redeemed. All who cry out with the Psalmist: “Create in me a clean heart Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10), and “purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). Our cleanliness, our purity of hands and heart, our washing, comes only by the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. That we join the heavenly hosts is by Christ’s redemption. That our souls are cleansed so that we are not combative and deceitful, is because of the life of the Spirit dwelling in us. Christ Jesus has not only entered the gates of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple for us, but He has also entered and enlarged the gates of our hearts, to dwell there also, and make our bodies a temple of the Living God. Christ makes our hearts a fitting dwelling place for Him, so that His clean hands, pure heart, and upright soul would take root in and transform ours to become like His. Redeemer, come and open wide, my heart to Thee; here, Lord, abide! O enter with thy grace divine, Thy face of mercy on me shine. In Advent and Christmas carols we sing this constant invitation for Jesus the King to enter and transform our hearts.
And what are those who are cleansed and forgiven by the Lord of Glory given? Our Psalm says they receive “blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of His salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him”. All who follow Jesus not only ascend God’s holy hill after Him, but they also receive all His blessings and salvation. Truly the King of Glory has earned exceptional honor and exceptional glory, for doing what no one else could do for us! To God alone be praise! For word and deed and grace! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sermon on Luke 21:25-36, for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, "Stand Before the Son"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. In today’s Gospel we hear the last words of Jesus’ public teaching, before He goes to celebrate His last Supper with the disciples, and to be betrayed, arrested, and crucified. The topic of Jesus’ last public teaching was the end of the world and His return as the judge of the living and the dead. Jesus says that He, the Son of Man, will return on “a cloud with power and great glory.” It’s an interesting contrast. Jesus uses the title Son of Man to convey His role of suffering and death on the cross. But here, right before all that happens, He shifts to using this title to describe His coming glory from God, for all that He has done for us. The Son of Man turns from His suffering to His glory.
Jesus teaches about His Second Coming and the end of the world so that we would be warned and ready. Jesus knows that people will respond differently—but He wants us to be ready. Today He tells us what posture we should take towards warning signs of the end; He tells us how to avoid the pitfalls of unreadiness; and where to put our trust in the midst of it all. First of all, people respond differently to the promised return of Jesus. Some simply scoff and do not believe it. Other see things slowly coming unraveled, just like Jesus describes—and it fills them with an intense anguish and perplexity. People will feel lost and confused—others fainting from fear. It’s not unique to our times, but you can certainly find plenty of people who are hysterical about the end of the world. There are both religious and secular versions of this hysteria—but are heavily driven by fear. But Jesus calls His followers to a much different posture—not cowering in fear, not oblivious or careless to His coming, but standing tall, heads up, expectant, hopeful.
The reading ends with a similar call: “But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Pray for strength so you can stand before the Son of Man (on the Day of Judgment). To straighten up and stand, is a posture of courage and joy—not of weakness, fear, defeat, or cowardice. But it’s also not the kind of encouragement given if things are just going to coast along easily, peacefully, and smoothly until the end. Jesus reveals that the end times are a time of real testing and hardship. Are you ready? Are you strong and willing to stand, or do you belong to those who are filled with fear and dread? A movie I saw recently, called “Bridge of Spies” had a scene where a captured spy is recounting a difficult scene he saw in childhood. A man was being beaten by Soviet soldiers, but no matter how they kept beating him, he kept standing up again, to their amazement. They finally left him alone because they admired his resilience, and called him stoikiy muzhik—“standing man”.
Jesus’ description of the end times shows that people will faint and fall to the ground with fear. Other’s will hang their heads, but we are to be standing men and standing women. We do not belong to defeat, but to Christ’s victory! There may be plenty of circumstances that bring us to our knees—but Christ teaches that being on our knees can be a position of strength. How so? In that last verse again, Jesus says to pray for strength to escape all these things and to stand before the Son of Man. If we are on our knees, pray for strength to stand. It may seem safer to keep your head down or to fall to the ground. But Jesus calls us to stand  But how and why can disciples of Jesus be composed with such courage and joy?
Jesus says: “because your redemption is drawing near” and a few verses later: “you know that the kingdom of God is drawing near.” Redemption means to buy back—it is a repurchase of something. It can be the repurchase of freedom for a slave. It can be the repurchase of bottles for recycling. In Scripture, it is Jesus’ repurchase of sinners for freedom: “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34b-36). So is “redemption” a present or a future reality? Yes! It is! The Bible speaks of redemption both as a reality now—for example, Ephesians 1:7, “In Him we have (present tense!) redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” But also at the same time Ephesians 4:30 can speak of the future of redemption: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Or Romans 8:23b-24a, “We wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.”. Our present redemption is that forgiveness and freedom are already ours in Christ Jesus. The future redemption of our bodies comes at the resurrection of all flesh, when Jesus returns. So our joy is set to this hope—Jesus is near!
In verse 32-33 we come to the central promise in this section of Jesus’ final teaching: Luke 21:32–33 “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Jesus describes three things—and He uses the words “pass away” three times. First, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. The signs must happen first, but eventually, this generation will pass away. Second—heaven and earth will pass away. All that seems solid and firm as the mountains, or vast and immovable as the oceans, or great and innumerable as the stars in the universe—all of it will pass away. This does have a terrifying description, as 2 Peter 3:10 describes it: “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” But amidst all this destruction, the third and final promise is this: “but my words will not pass away.” One thing holds solid and firm—one refuge remains when all else is disintegrating and returning to chaos—it is Jesus’ words. The Word of the Lord Shall Endure Forever. It was one of the mottoes of the Reformation. God’s Word remains unchanging and our great refuge, even in the midst of all the changes and chances of life.
Pressures on many sides would cause us to forsake that firm ground, to leave the refuge of God’s Word, or to trade it away for something newer or better. The first lie of the devil to mankind, is still alive and ill among us: did God really say?—because the devil wants us to abandon God’s Word. But we abandon it at our own peril. God’s Word is the everlasting foundation, greater even then the heavens and the earth. If we are to be “standing men” or people of courage and faith, then the foundation on which we stand must be the Word of Jesus Christ.
How do those pressures hit us? Jesus warns: “watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Pressures to abandon God’s Word, and the fear and foreboding of what the end times will bring, will lead many to be weighed down or burdened in their hearts. One of our hymns sings: save us from deep resignation to the evils we deplore. Don’t be resigned to evil, or assume powerlessness, when we have the power of the Holy Spirit! There will be a heaviness and weakness in the hearts of many that leads them into unreadiness. Dissipation, drunkenness, and cares (or anxieties) of this life. Dissipation is really a rare word, and not too helpful to our understanding—though it means to slowly disintegrate or come apart. The more literal translation from the Greek would be hangovers or headaches from drinking. When the world seems frightening, there is a danger for many, to drown their fears and sorrows in alcohol.
Jesus is saying that the cares and worries of life could overwhelm us; but don’t let that drive us into drinking and despair. We could slowly come “unglued” whether by drinking, substance abuse, or even just by fretfulness that changes nothing. Jesus tells us all this because obviously it will require strength of faith and strength of heart to endure, trusting in Him. We need to be sober and watchful, putting our hope in Jesus. Peter walked on the water in the storm, until he turned his eyes from Jesus, and he began sinking. But with eyes on Jesus, however the storm may rage and seas may crash, we see Christ our calm in the midst of the storm, and our redemption who is drawing near. His hand is extended to ours, pulling us up out of fear, weakness, and anxiety. He can manage all the trouble—He only calls us to trust in Him, and supplies that very faith by which we do trust!
Pray earnestly, urgently to God, for strength. Be watchful and ready, and when the sins of fear and doubt and cowardice weed their way into your mind, pull those weeds and cast those worries and sins back on Jesus, because He cares for you. Lift up your eyes to Him, for He is your redemption, and He is near. And we can earnestly pray for strength because Jesus has promised to supply it! We know He wants to strengthen our faith, and to make us to stand before Him in the day of judgment. Fear not that you are weak—He is strong. Fear not that the world is chaos—He is order and our Rock. Fear not that sin’s power is great—His power and love are infinitely greater. Stand before the Son of Man, who set you on your feet as a forgiven, holy, precious child of God, whom He has redeemed. Pray: “I am yours, save me!” (Psalm 119:94). We know that God wants to strengthen us, and we know that He wants to save us, because He wants us to know that the power is not ours, but is His alone. To the Son of Man be all power and great glory! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 21:25-36 are the last of Jesus’ recorded public teachings before His death on the cross. What was the central topic? What was He getting people ready for, and how?
  2. The title “Son of Man” is usually connected to Jesus’ role in suffering and dying for our sins (see Luke 9:22, 44; 18:31; 24:7). How does this reference in Luke 21:27 & 36 show that He has “turned the corner” from His suffering and death to receiving honor from God?
  3. What examples of unreadiness for Jesus’ return does He describe in this passage? Why should believers respond in such a different way when the signs of the end come? How can we be “standing men” or “standing women?” Where does our courage and strength and joy come from?
  4. Is “redemption” a present or future reality? Luke 21:24; Ephesians 1:7; 4:30; Romans 8:23-24. What is redemption? John 8:34-36.
  5. In Luke 21:32-33 Jesus describes 3 things. Which of  these will pass away, and which will not? Cf. Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:23-25. How can we hold fast to this foundation and refuge? Luke 6:46-49; 8:15.
  6. What original lie of the devil is recycled to us today, to pull us away from that foundation? Genesis 3:1.
  7. What dangers can lead us to unreadiness? Luke 21:34-35; 8:14. What is the dangerous spiritual effect of drunkenness or other substance abuse, or fretfulness? What requires our clear thinking and attention? How is our situation like the one in Matthew 14:27-31?
  8. What does Jesus tell us to pray for in Luke 21:36? Why can we be confident of His answer? Why does God want us to learn to depend on Him? 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. What can we pray, and be confident of His Yes? Psalm 119:94. 

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Sermon on Psalm 103, for Advent Midweek 2, "Bless the Lord O My Soul"

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His Holy Name! Last week we spoke, sang, and meditated on a deeply personal Psalm—Psalm 42. It was the cry of a soul in distress, and pointed the soul to hope in God, our salvation. This week Psalm 103 begins with individual praise, the soul blessing God and recounting all His benefits—but then the psalm expands our vision to include the whole community praising God. What begins as a solo turns into a chorus of praise to God. This beloved psalm has been paraphrased several times into hymns, including both of the hymns we sing tonight. As the solo turns to a chorus, the singers of the psalm reflect on our human frailty and sin in comparison to God’s eternity and forgiveness; and finally the psalm soars in a closing doxology that calls all creation to praise God. The closing words bring it full circle: Bless the Lord, O my soul!
The psalm begins and ends in praise, much like we often pray in church: It is truly good, right, and salutary (that is: healthful) for us at all times and in all places to give thanks to you, O Lord. To bless God, to praise and thank Him, is not only good and right, but it’s also healthy. C.S. Lewis, in his reflections on the Psalms, has a short chapter on praise. He described how praise surrounds us in ordinary life, and how much we in fact enjoy doing it, without any special urging. Lovers praise the beauty and the good qualities of their beloved. Sports fans enthusiastically praise their team and it’s victories. Nature lovers praise and glorify the scenery, the sunsets, the mountains and waterfalls. We praise our favorite music and the musicians who create it; or the artists and the artwork that impresses us and touches us. Readers praise their favorite books or poetry, and burn to tell others about them. Today youth and adults use Instagram, and other social media to praise their favorite pics or events.
C.S. Lewis observed that the people who enjoyed life the most and were healthiest of mind seemed also to be the ones who praised the most—while those who he called cranks, malcontents, or snobs, seemed to be the least grateful and praised least. His point was that praise seemed a sign of our inner health. Praise seems wired into our enjoyment of life. (Although we should make a note here that self-praise is usually a warped and unhealthy form of praise).  It is truly, good, right, and salutary for us at all times and in all places to give thanks to you O Lord. While we praise ordinary things readily enough; apparently when it comes to praising God, we often need more urging. Praise of God doesn’t seem to flow so easily as those ordinary examples, even though it is of far greater importance.
Why praise gives us such satisfaction, Lewis ventures to explain that praising something, and telling others about it, completes our enjoyment of something, and that the higher the worth or value of the object or person we are praising, the more our enjoyment increases by praising it. So if we were able to fully delight in, love, and perfectly express our delight in the highest and worthiest object (which, of course, is God)—then our souls would experience supreme beatitude or perfect bliss. Isn’t this what the Psalmist—and really God—is inviting us to do? To join our soul in the praise of God—which both elevates our spirits and turns our eyes from this frail earthly life, to the daily benefits and blessings of God that surround us, and up further to the Divine Hand from which they flow? God’s benefits include forgiveness, healing, redemption, a glorious crown of His mercy and love upon our heads, and renewal of strength like the eagles.
Look at how God regards us in our low estate. God does not trample on us or despise us, but He has compassion on us, as a father to his children. He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. God has not forgotten that He has made us fragile creatures, or that we are mortal. He knows our weakness. But how? Isn’t God infinitely above us, transcendent and immortal, beyond all the lowness and misery of dusty Earth? But God has so intimately entered our human frame and form in the person of Jesus Christ, that He knows our weakness from the inside out. He was born in a humble manger, in real human flesh and blood, and walked this earth in a mortal body, subject to pain, exhaustion, emotions, both joyful and sad, hunger, thirst, and ultimately even death. God knows our frame and remembers that we are dust—so intimately, so truly, because God became man in Jesus of Nazareth. His skin sweated under the Galilean sun. His hands and arms felt the splinters in wood. His heart felt the sorrow of being despised and hated by those He came to save. But as Jesus Christ entered human flesh, this the miracle and mystery of Christmas, He became the fulfilment of all these precious benefits and promises from God, contained in Psalm 103.
If all we knew was that we are dust, that we’re like the grass and flowers, doomed to fade and disappear; if all we knew was the guilt of our sins and the penalty that was justly due for them, then our life would be miserable indeed. Nothing better to do than eat, drink, be merry, and die. If that were all we knew, then there would be no reason to hope this Advent. But because God walked in human flesh, because Jesus’ road traveled to the cross and the empty tomb; the LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He forgives us our sins, driving them as far from us as the east is from the west. Our sins are forever parted from us and God does not record them to our account, because Jesus has forgiven them on the cross. God has entered our human condition and responded to all the sin that we use to cause ourselves and others so much grief. At the cross, the Father’s compassionate love for His children is seen, as He bears up all our sins, illness, and weakness, and takes it upon His Son. And Jesus delivers these pains and ills to the grave where they belong.
While our time on the scene may be fleeting, the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. God’s love is eternal and covenantal. While this temporary world passes away, His love for us is eternal—which means that the grave is not the end for us. He forever keeps the soul that blesses Him. He pours all His benefits graciously down on us, through Jesus, who died and rose to deliver on all these benefits for us.
The psalm ends with a fourfold call to bless God—from the highest angels in heaven to all the hosts that surround Him and ministers that do His will—across to every work of His creation, all the things that He has done and made—down to our individual soul. From the height, breadth, length, and depth of creation, let praise echo back to God! It is good, right, and salutary, or healthy, so to do! And while we just get tastes and glimpses of the full joy of heaven through our worship now—C.S. Lewis reminds us that our services are “merely attempts at worship”, to be completed in the perfect worship of heaven; like the tuning up of the orchestra for the future delight of the real performance; or the digging of water channels in a dry and dusty land, in anticipation that when the water comes, we will be ready and see the thirsty land flourish with new life. Or in the words of St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” This present life is but a dim reflection of the full glory we will see in God face to face. Here we feebly struggle, we endure bumps, or bruises, we sing off-key notes, and our clothes are dusty with this earth—but we should never fear that heaven should be a poor continuation of these struggles—but rather confidently believe that in heaven we will fully know God and enjoy Him forever. There we will know God face to face, and the joy of our soul will be complete. Bless the Lord, O my soul! In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Monday, December 04, 2017

Sermon on Jeremiah 23:5-8, for the 1st Sunday of Advent (1 YR), “The Righteous Branch”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Today on the 1st Sunday of Advent, we hear from Jeremiah the prophet, who lived in a dark period of Israel’s history, but prophesies brightly of the coming Christ who will restore righteousness and justice in the land. A quick thumbnail sketch of the history, is that the nation of Israel had endured several centuries of sliding into decline, idolatry, corruption, and gross immorality. They had experienced their “glory days” around 1000 BC under the reigns of King David and Solomon, when the nation was strong, the leadership was mostly just and wise, and the 12 tribes were united. Shortly after Solomon’s death, the decline began. The kingdom was divided during the reign of his son—the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the two southern tribes of the Kingdom of Judah. Eventually the ten tribes of Israel were swallowed up by the empire of the Assyrians. The looming threat of northern enemies squeezed the Kingdom of Judah—but prophets like Jeremiah could not convince them to amend their ways and turn back to God. So Jeremiah was left with the unsavory task of proclaiming God’s imminent judgment on Judah. Their northern enemy Babylon would invade Jerusalem, and they must surrender or lose their lives. 70 years of captivity faced them. He not only foretold this, but saw it firsthand, which is why Jeremiah is also known as "the weeping prophet." 
Soon there would be no king in the line of David, to rule on the throne—for six centuries! They didn’t realize it in their time, but they would never be able to restore the monarchy of King David’s line. But this was more than just a political and patriotic concern—it was a spiritual crisis of faith. God had promised that He would establish David’s house and kingdom forever, saying in 2 Samuel 7:16: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever”. And a few verses earlier, God had promised to establish one of David’s offspring to “build a house for [God’s] name and [God] would establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (v. 13). Those who took God’s promises seriously had to be asking with the Psalmist, “Are His promises at an end for all time?” (77:8). So how was God going to reconcile this promise of an eternal King in the line of David, with the seeming end of the Davidic monarchy and the captivity of the people of Judah?
Here’s where the prophet Jeremiah enters in with words of hope in 23:5-8, our reading today. Jeremiah 23:5–6 “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. 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.’” The coming righteous and wise king would be from the line of David. He would save Judah and give Israel security. But they would wait 6 centuries for His arrival, and to learn who He was. But to the faithful, they knew Him by these titles: “The Righteous Branch” and “The LORD is our Righteousness.” We’ll explore those titles shortly.
But first, we always puzzle and wonder at why a Palm Sunday reading shows up on the 1st Sunday of Advent. And now you can guess why: the King that we anticipate at Christmas, was the King that the Jews greeted and welcomed into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday—believing that the prophecies had come true, and shouting: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 21:9) and “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mark 11:10). Their understanding would need to grow greatly by the Holy Spirit, but they clearly saw prophecies coming true, and the long absent King in the line of David, entering Jerusalem to reign. Jesus did come to reign, but not in the manner they hoped for, as a political king. Rather, the forever kingdom and throne that He came to establish, was to elevate His throne above all earthly powers. Jesus came to establish a rule of justice and righteousness. Not just a King of Israel or Judah, but He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Jeremiah gave us two titles for Jesus in the reading. The first, “The Righteous Branch”, connects with other prophecies of Isaiah 11, that call Jesus the “shoot from the stump of Jesse and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit”. This pictures the line of David’s kingdom like the seemingly dead stump of a tree, that will not grow again. But from it, new life shoots forth, a righteous branch that will bear fruit. This is a prophecy of Jesus as being the new life, the new fruit-bearing branch that will grow out of that stump. Jesus would not be like the wicked kings and faithless shepherds that Israel had known before—but He would show true wisdom and justice in all that He did. He would Shepherd His people with love and self-sacrifice, so that none would be lost or missing, and He would care for the injured and heal them. This was the kind of King that Israel would receive, in fulfillment of God’s promises. Not just another warm body to sit on the throne till His death, but a radical change of that kingship and throne, to elevate it above all earthly powers. Jesus is this crucified and risen King, the Righteous Branch.
And His second title: “this is the name by which He will be called: the LORD is our righteousness.” LORD, when you see it in all caps, is God’s personal, self-revealed name, in the Old Testament. YHWH in the Hebrew. So the coming Savior Jesus being called: “YHWH is our righteousness” is an acknowledgment that He is Divine. And “our righteousness” gets to how God’s people are saved and will dwell securely. Our salvation and security is not in any earthly kings, princes, presidents, or other powers, but our salvation and security is in YHWH, our righteousness. Righteousness is God’s standard of innocence, goodness, and perfect obedience—both in avoiding the wrong and in doing the good. YHWH’s righteousness becomes our righteousness when God imputes or credits it to our account by faith in Jesus.
We don’t carry any righteousness of our own that we can put before God—nothing but filthy rags. But Jesus baptizes us into His death, stripping us of dirty rags, and baptizes us into His resurrection, clothing us with pure robes of His righteousness. We carry Christ’s righteousness into God’s presence, so that when we are forgiven of our sins and clothed by Christ, we stand clean and holy in His sight. We call Jesus “The LORD (YHWH), our righteousness”. This treasure, of a life cleansed and made new, is not just a future reality, but a present joy that is ours—the present pledge of a clean conscience before God, and freedom from the stain and shame of guilt.
Jeremiah 23:7-8 gives another future promise. Faithful Israelites used to recall God delivering them out of slavery in the land of Egypt. In Jeremiah’s time, with the destruction of Jerusalem and a generation of exile in Babylon lying ahead, he predicts that there will be a future day when the faithful will recall God delivering them out of the north country—the land of their exile, and all the nations to which they were scattered. “Then they shall dwell in their own land.” A generation and more later, children and grandchildren of those who lived through those dark days, would see God faithfully deliver on His promises, and return them from exile to their homeland. We can still recall God’s great deliverances for Israel in the past—but now we have even more to add to the list. We can say, As the Lord lives who brought us up out of the slavery of our sins and death”—we can praise and remember that Jesus has delivered us from sins, and from the exile of hopelessness and defeat, into the reign of His justice and righteousness.
Thus we can face dark days with known and unknown threats to our security, by looking back to God’s faithful record of deliverance. We can focus our eyes on Jesus, to whom all the prophets point their bright spotlights—illuminating the promised Savior. Awaited in Jeremiah’s generation; awaited in Jesus’ own generation, and greeted on Palm Sunday, and awaited again in our generation; we long for the completion of His righteous rule. For we confess that He will come again to judge both the living and the dead, and that at “the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). Advent is a time of waiting, hope and expectation, and our hope is firmly founded on the record of His faithfulness. We trace that record of deliverance joyfully this Advent and Christmas season, and each new year as we continue the wait for His return. We rejoice to look to Him, The Righteous Branch, and the LORD our Righteousness! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Compare Jeremiah 23:5-6 with 33:14-16. What similarities and differences appear between the two passages? What is the identity of this king known as the “Righteous Branch” both in prophecy (Isaiah 11:1-10; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12) and fulfillment (Acts 13:22-23; Romans 15:12)? See also Luke 19:38.

  1. The Jews were facing the destruction of Jerusalem, their capital city, and the nation of Judah, as well as exile in Babylon. What is the “good word” or promise that God made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah (v.5-8)? See Jeremiah 29:10; also 2 Samuel 7:12-16 and Jer. 33:17-18.

  1. What kinds of  insecurity do we face in our times? What efforts do we make to try to secure our safety, possessions, health, future, etc? Why are all these efforts futile if our soul is not secure? Mark 8:35-38; cf. Luke 12:13-21.

  1. Who alone can secure the soul, and give us the peace that enables us to dwell securely? Jude 24-25; Psalm 40:1-3; Isaiah 32:15-18. From what assaults must it be guarded? What kind of false security should we watch out for? Isaiah 47:8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5.

  1. Why does having Jesus Christ, the Lord our Righteousness, with us, give us the ultimate confidence and security to face all the uncertainties and insecurity of life? What does it mean to have the One who has conquered death on our side? 1 Corinthians 15:54-57.  What does it mean to have His righteousness stand in our defense? Revelation 12:10-12.  How does the believer possess Jesus’ righteousness? Romans 3:26; 4:3.