The Lord God declares through His prophet Jeremiah: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”
The year is 587 BC and for the last decade the Babylonian Empire has decimated the tiny nation of Judah. With three specific major military campaigns, Babylon defeated and exiled many of the people of Judah. The most devastating blow came in the year 587 when Babylon leveled Jerusalem—including the temple. It was gone—destroyed. The symbol of the nation, the center of worship for a number of the people was no more. How did it come to this?
Well, we need to go back to a promise God had made many years before when the tiny nation of Judah was part of a larger nation we know of as Israel under the leadership of King David. One day God told David, “The Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” Whereas the reign of Saul’s family ended with Saul, God promises that the reign of David’s family would have no end. The rule of David’s dynasty is to be eternal.
This doesn’t mean everything went flawlessly for the Israelite kings and people. Sadly, the descendants of David very often waxed and waned in their faithfulness to the Lord. Solomon chased after other gods. One day the Lord told him that as a punishment the kingdom would be torn in two. The result of his faithlessness was a northern kingdom called Israel and a southern kingdom called Judah.
Various kings—unrelated to King David—ruled Israel, so very, very often in total wickedness. These kings devoted themselves to other gods. It all began when King Jeroboam didn’t want his people to travel to worship in Jerusalem in the southern kingdom. Therefore, he constructed two statues of calves—two idols—to whom the citizens of the northern kingdom would offer sacrifice. The idol worship grew from there. Elijah spent his days as a prophet to the northern kingdom during the terrible rule of Ahab and Jezebel. Eventually, during the 8th century BC, the northern kingdom was ruthlessly defeated by the Assyrian Empire. The northern kingdom was no more.
The southern kingdom of Judah was ruled by descendants of David. More often than not, the kings of Judah behaved faithlessly—along with false prophets and ungodly priests. They chased after other gods, just as their sister nation of the northern kingdom did. They followed the wicked practices of other nations in temple prostitution and offering sacrifices to idols—the worst of which were the offering of child sacrifices. Instead of trusting the Lord, the kings put their trust in other nations to protect them—nations that would have turned on them in a heartbeat. The kings and priests often perverted justice to benefit themselves. They allowed wickedness to increase in the land. The poor, needy, orphaned, and widowed were ignored—contrary to God’s commands. In terms of faithfulness to God, the nation was a disaster except a faithful remnant which the Lord promised to preserve.
This is a warning to us as we are tempted to trust various gods in our lives—work, entertainment, laziness, ourselves, the culture. These are just some broad categories. One of the best ways to analyze where our false gods are is to observe in our hearts where our devotion is—whether to the Lord or other things. For example, if we spend an unhealthy number of hours in a week on things like work, sports, video games, reading novels, hunting, fishing, you name it—but can’t find time and interest to attend services with our brothers and sisters in Christ or we can’t find time and interest for Bible Study this should at the very least send red flags. And I’d venture to say that we—all of us—have been and can become guilty of this before our God.
We are also tempted into faithlessness when we go along with what the world declares to be good and right, regardless of what our Creator and Redeemer says. We are tempted into fear by keeping silent when we should speak out. We are tempted to deny the truth when threatened by those who proclaim falsehood.
There’s a connection between the people of ancient Israel and the people of today—we are sinful and unclean with sin natures that seek to serve ourselves. So, to say that what they did could never happen to any of us would be the height of arrogance and testing the Lord. We often do do the same things that the Israelites did—if not with our hands than with our hearts and minds. To the Lord who made and redeemed us it’s the same if done with hearts, minds, or hands.
As a result of their faithlessness to the Lord—which in the Old Testament He calls not just idolatry but adultery—the Lord allows the nation of Judah led by the house of David to be taken captive into Babylon. The king of Judah would be humiliated—under the cruel thumb of the Babylonian king. The house of Judah was cut down and reduced to a stump. Following the exile to Babylon, none of David’s descendants ever ruled the earthly territory of Israel ever again. Not once.
And yet, God’s promise made in tonight’s reading is fulfilled. The days have come. The Lord brought His people back into the land of Judah where they rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple. Most importantly, the heavenly Father sent His Son who is David’s son. The Son of God and Son of Man. Last Sunday we heard the crowds call out praises to “the Son of David” as He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The King arrived to gather a people unto Himself—and He did so by bearing the world’s sin, sacrificing Himself for those sins as a substitute, and rising in triumph on the third day.
BEHOLD—THE LORD IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS
This name of the Lord focuses on the works which God has done for our salvation. The Old Testament people would recount the exodus from Egypt and the return from Babylonian exile. These events foreshadowed the even greater works of the Lord in redeeming His people from sin, death, and hell. Jesus is quite literally our righteousness because His righteous blood covers all of our sin—all of our unrighteousness.
Even to this day, David still doesn’t have a descendant ruling over an earthly throne. That’s not a bad thing. Instead, David’s descendant wields all authority “in heaven and on earth.” Christ Jesus—the righteous branch of David—rules justly and in righteousness. He rules the kingdoms of the world by directing leaders and the course of events to the fulfillment of all things. As I’ve pointed out before, it doesn’t always look like Jesus is in charge, but looks are deceiving.
Likewise, Jesus rules the Church in justice and righteousness by His Word and Sacrament. The Lord doesn’t condone or permit when we sin and do wrong. The Lord doesn’t overlook when we worship other idols or ignore Him and His Word. Nor does He automatically punish our sin and wrongdoing eternally even though justice and righteousness would permit it—even require it. By grace, by undeserved kindness the Lord carried your sins to the cross, paid for them, and rose again so to live a new life.
The Lord has made you and I righteous, because He has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified, and kept us in the true faith—as He continues to do. Christ redeemed you to be His own. You’re His precious possession whom He guards in justice and righteousness by Word and Sacrament. Baptism—through which you were buried with Christ and raised with Him to walk in newness of life—not in the ways of sin and idolatry, but in holiness and godliness. Holy Communion—through which you are forgiven, nourished, and strengthened not to do what the sinful flesh wants, but to live in faith toward God and love for others. You also receive the proclamation of forgiveness that encourages and makes you stand firm in times of doubt and uncertainty. These are ways in which Christ is ruling our hearts and minds within our midst.
He’s here among us by Word and Sacrament with His Law and Gospel to renew our hearts and minds so that “we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and [in His heavenly kingdom] in eternity.
Behold the awesome works of the Lord. He has raised up a righteous branch—your Savior, my Savior, the only Savior from sin and death. Amen.