The Righteous Branch
Scripture Text: Jeremiah 23:1–8
We are continuing the season of Advent, a time for celebrating the first coming of Jesus Christ as well as His second coming. During Advent, we celebrate several aspects of Christmas and what it means for us. For instance, the candles we light represent Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love: the hope of eternal life we have in Christ; the peace Jesus brings to those who accept Him; the joy of salvation and being reconciled to God; the love God demonstrated to us in providing His only begotten Son as our Savior. Advent is not only a time for us to remember the first coming of Christ, the birth of mankind’s Savior, but it is also a time to remember and prepare ourselves for His second coming – a time when He will come to get His bride, the church.
I mentioned before that during the season of Advent I wanted to focus on several texts of Scripture that spoke of the coming Savior, the Old Testament prophesies that were about the long expectant Jesus. Last week, we looked at the first announcement of the gospel in Genesis chapter three. We saw the terrible state of mankind as a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. Mankind was sentenced to death, but God being rich in mercy, promised a Savior who would bruise the head of Satan. Today we are looking at another prophesy of Jesus that speaks of the righteousness of God. This is an aspect of God’s nature that expresses His unique moral perfection and His readiness to save sinners. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, all of mankind is now cursed with a sin nature. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “There is no one who does good, there is no one who is righteous.” But this is not so with God. Everything God does is right. He is righteous and His righteousness is made known especially through the good news of Jesus Christ.
Today’s passage comes from the prophet Jeremiah. He prophesied from about the reign of King Josiah, the last faithful king of Judah, until the fall of Judah to the Babylonian Empire. Jeremiah was constantly at odds with his contemporaries. Their differences arose from his negative, but accurate, view of the future. Jeremiah was convinced that Judah would not survive because of its wickedness and refusal to repent and return to God. He is frequently referred to as the “weeping prophet.” His tears were proof of his love for his people. He saw Babylon as God’s instrument of judgment on His people and warned that Judah would be destroyed. His preaching was unpopular and almost cost him his life on several occasions. Jeremiah is an example for us to preach God’s Word regardless of how favorable it is or how many believe it. Preach the Word! Not all was negative, though. Jeremiah prophesied of a “new covenant” and a “new King”. This was good news. The passage for this message is about the unrighteous shepherds (leaders) of Judah and the coming Righteous King.
Around Christmastime, we tend to recall the shepherds who were keeping watch of their flock by night. Our Advent candle reading today was about the event where an angel spoke to these shepherds and shared with them “good news of great joy,” that Jesus Christ, the long awaited Messiah had been born. As a result of these glad tidings, the shepherds went to see this thing that had happened. Sometimes, shepherds are not just those who keep watch of a flock, though. In Scripture, leaders were often called “shepherds”. Sometimes, these were good leaders, but oftentimes they were not.
During Jeremiah’s time, there were bad leaders who “destroyed and scattered [God’s] sheep.” The sheep of Jeremiah’s time were the people of Judah for whom the Lord was concerned. Therefore, God pronounced “Woe” on these bad shepherds, a grievous threatening warning on those who were leading God’s people astray. Instead of protecting them, like a shepherd does a flock of sheep, they were scattering and driving God’s people away. These leaders were expected to care for the people God had entrusted to them and instead were destroying them. This is a good warning for the church today, a concern we saw in the letter of First Corinthians where people were disrupting the church and leading people astray. Therefore God declared that He was going to punish these bad shepherds. God was also going to raise up good shepherds, good leaders, to care for the His people. The idea is that the future rulers of the nation will be as concerned for the needs of the people as good shepherds are for their sheep.
Not only was God going to punish these bad leaders and provide better leaders, He was going to assume the role of the Chief Shepherd. He was going to gather His flock, bring them back to the fold and make them fruitful and multiply. One should not confuse good leaders with the need for a Good Shepherd. God is our Shepherd, the One who leads righteously, who gathers His lost flock, and who makes us prosper. The psalmist declared that the “Lord is our Shepherd,” and because He is our Shepherd, “we shall not want.” And being the Chief Shepherd, God gives to the church, people to lead them, to guide them, and to help them fulfill the calling and mission God has placed upon the church. No one should think that he or she is unimportant or has nothing to contribute to the mission of the church. We are all called to “abound in the work of the Lord.” So let’s do it!
The Righteous Branch
Though things were bad in Judah and God’s people at that time were being led astray by bad leaders, God was going to provide a righteous leader. All of Judah’s kings had failed, some more than others, so God determined to provide His own ruler. We saw in Genesis chapter three that God was going to provide a Savior for mankind. As time progressed, God revealed a little more about this future Savior. In Genesis chapter twelve, we read that mankind’s Savior would be one of Abraham’s descendants. Here in Jeremiah, we read that this Savior was going to be a righteous King from the lineage of King David. This future King came to be called the Messiah and He would rule wisely. Jeremiah wrote the following in verse five:
Jeremiah 23:5 The days are coming when God will raise up a righteous Branch who shall reign as king and deal wisely, and execute justice and righteousness in the land.
The word “Branch” became a messianic title for the rightful heir to David’s throne; the One God was going to raise up to rule His people righteously. Jeremiah was telling the people of Judah, times have been bad, but a time is coming when God was going to provide a Righteous King, a Savior for mankind who will lead His people. The prophet Isaiah also wrote about God’s Righteous Branch almost one hundred years before Jeremiah.
Isaiah 11:1–2 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him…
Not only would God’s Righteous Branch come from the lineage of David and rule rightly, He would also bear fruit, and the Spirit of God would rest upon Him. Most translators understand this to mean he will be a righteous person, one who acts in accordance with the will of God. He was going to be the kind of leader that all of Judah’s leaders should have been. He was also going to be the Good Shepherd, the one who takes care of God’s people. Jesus confirmed that He is that person – the Good Shepherd.
John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the
Notice the stark contrast between the bad shepherds of Judah who destroyed God’s people and the Good Shepherd who is willing to lay His life down for the sheep. This is the type of Shepherd and King that God planned for mankind, the One who will bruise Satan’s head. This is the kind of Savior we needed.
The Lord is Our Righteousness
Not only was Jesus the righteous heir of David, the Good Shepherd who laid His life down for the sheep, but Jesus also became our righteousness. Jeremiah wrote the following:
Jeremiah 23:6 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.”
His name would be “The Lord is our righteousness.” Many scholars see this as a play on King Zedekiah’s name, which meant, “The Lord is my righteousness.” King Zedekiah was Judah’s last king who reigned during Jeremiah’s ministry, but he failed to live up to his name. To say “The Lord is our righteousness” probably means that God is the One who either defends His people or rescues His people. Indeed, this is true for Jesus, God’s own Son and our Savior. Jesus is the One who defended us against Satan’s attack and rescued us from the clutches of death and sin. But Jesus is also our righteousness.
What Jesus did by becoming flesh and then going to the cross was what I call “The Great Transaction.” Because of our sin nature, all mankind is separated from our Creator God. God is holy and cannot dwell with sin. We need an Advocate, one who will go between God and us and repair our broken relationship. Our Advocate, our Savior, our Shepherd is Jesus Christ. The Great Transaction is this: Our sin is charged to Jesus and Jesus’ righteousness is credited to us. This means that our righteousness is in Jesus Christ. Jesus is our righteousness. We have none within ourselves. Our righteousness is not based on how good we are or how well we obey the Law of God. If it were we would be most pitiful. Our righteousness is based solely on faith in Jesus Christ. Paul revealed this in his first letter to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 1:30–31 And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Jesus is the One promised so long ago to be the Savior of mankind. Because of His work on the cross and His resurrection, those who place their trust in Him are declared righteous. This is not because of anything they have done, but solely what Jesus has done for us. Jesus is the one who is the Righteous Branch of David, the Savior for all people, and the source of our righteousness.
The promise of God mentioned in Jeremiah should strengthen our faith and motivate us to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. The world is full of people who are lost and on their way to hell. As we celebrate this Advent season and remember the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let’s remember the righteousness that comes by having faith in Him. Because of Christ, we can receive the joy of salvation, knowing that our sins are forgiven and that we have a right relationship with God. We can have the hope and promise of eternal life where we will spend eternity with each other, and more importantly with the Giver of life, God Himself.
There are people who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who do not have a relationship with the Savior of mankind, who do not know the joy and peace Jesus brings. But that can change. God uses the church to proclaim the good news that He loved us in such a way that He sent His one and only Son to pay the debt of sin that we all owe. The baby Jesus is fulfillment of God’s promise made as far back as the Garden of Eden and the Righteous Branch of David that the prophet Jeremiah promised. As the angels told the shepherds that night, this is good news of great joy. The Righteous Branch of David has been born. The Lord who is our Righteousness has come. As we celebrate Christmas this year, let us remember this great promise of God. There is a Savior. Satan has been crushed. Victory is in Jesus. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!