Jesus Is the Lord’s Branch of Righteousness—His Promised King!
Dear Heavenly Father, as I enter into Your presence this day for worship, send Your Holy Spirit to be with me and to guide me. Instruct my mind with Your truths, purify my heart with Your sanctifying power, open my lips to sing Your praises, and move me to a life of ever greater faithfulness. I ask this in the name of Jesus—my precious Savior and Lord. Amen.
We have been brought near to God by faith through the blood of Christ! Christ is our peace as we build with confidence upon the Scriptural foundation laid by the apostles and prophets.
Jesus came to serve, and He did so diligently. Even when He attempted to withdraw with His disciples for needed rest, people continued to come to Him. He compassionately continued to serve them with the truth.
Text: Jeremiah 23:1-6
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the LORD. “But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the LORD. “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
In Christ Jesus, God’s promised Messiah and our precious Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
Each Thursday I am privileged to conduct a Bible Study at Walnut Towers in downtown Mankato. Several of our members attend, as well as any number of the residents of that apartment building. I have encouraged the participants to ask any questions they have, so that we might discuss them and seek a proper Biblical answer. This past Thursday one gentleman asked: “How can we be sure that the Bible is true?” I directed him to Jesus’ words to a group of skeptical religious leaders in His day: “Search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (Jn. 5:39). Jesus urged those who questioned whether or not He was telling them the truth to consider all of the Old Testament prophecies, which had foretold His coming. There are over 60 such major prophecies and fully 300 minor ones. All of them find their fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus. The fulfillment of prophecy verifies the truth of the Bible. No other book can make such a claim!
Our text is one of those Messianic prophecies. Jeremiah lived 600 years before Jesus was born, yet his prophecy speaks directly to Jesus. He wrote: “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.” Jeremiah spoke these words shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. David’s descendant, Zedekiah, was the ruler at the time of the destruction. He was spiritually unfaithful. His sons were killed before his eyes. He was blinded and led into captivity where he was imprisoned until his death. He ultimately died in unbelief. Yet, led by the Holy Spirit Jeremiah declared that another descendant of David—a righteous descendant would arise and restore hope to God’s people. That descendant was Jesus. Jeremiah informs us that JESUS IS THE LORD’S BRANCH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS—HIS PROMISED KING! Having identified Him, Jeremiah then speaks of three things that He would do and be: He executes judgment upon the unfaithful, He upholds righteousness for His flock, andHe is “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS!” Let us this day examine these three things!
JESUS IS THE LORD’S BRANCH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS—HIS PROMISED KING, who executes judgment upon the unfaithful! It is an important truth and a sobering fact that part of Jesus’ work involves judgment—judgment upon sin…judgment upon unfaithfulness. While the Bible assures us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and that Jesus’ work of redemption is the highest manifestation of love (cf. 1 John 4:10), His work also involves judgment upon those who reject Him. In fact, Jesus will one day return as the ultimate Judge of both the living and the dead. Listen to His own words: “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous” (Jn. 5:25-30a).
Jeremiah begins our text by addressing a very special act of judgment by the LORD—a judgment upon the priests and other spiritual leaders of his day: “‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!’ says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: ‘You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,’ says the LORD.” The people of Jeremiah’s day were not irreligious by any means, but they were not practicing true religion. Oh, yes, they attended the services and ceremonies at the temple in Jerusalem, but those ceremonies had been altered and enhanced to include the worship of false gods. The priests were a big part of the problem—accommodating the wishes of the kings of Judah and their political supporters. They had become false shepherds misleading and ultimately destroying the flock. Jeremiah proclaimed that the LORD would bring judgment down upon them for their evil doings. That judgment came when the vast majority of the priests were killed when Jerusalem fell, and those who remained were taken into enslavement and captivity in Babylon.
But Jesus’ execution of judgment is not simply a past historical event. Jeremiah says the LORD will raise up His “Branch of Righteousness,” His “King” who would “execute judgment” upon the future unfaithful! Jeremiah’s message here was aimed especially at the religious class—the priests in view of the harm they were doing. Think of the harm that is going on in our day, as the religious leaders of many Christian churches have turned away from the truths of the Bible and have begun to preach their own thoughts and ideas. God will execute judgment upon them for their unfaithfulness. Jesus will sit in judgment of them on the last day, as He will judge all unbelief. This is not intended to be a scare tactic, but rather a sobering reminder of the spiritual reality to come. JESUS IS THE LORD’S BRANCH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS—HIS PROMISED KING, whoexecutes judgment upon the unfaithful! Please, my dear friends, let us not ignore Him or deny Him. That can be done actively and with intention, but as we considered in our Bible Class study earlier this morning, when we considered “How to Respond to Worldliness,” it can also be done passively and without much thought. As Peter encourages us in his 2nd Epistle, “Let us grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (3:18) giving all glory to Him!
JESUS IS THE LORD’S BRANCH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS—HIS PROMISED KING who, secondly,upholds righteousness for His flock! The LORD’s judgment is a fearful thing. In Jeremiah’s day, faithful believers suffered right along with the unfaithful. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were taken into captivity along with those who did not believe or serve the LORD faithfully. Jeremiah experienced the agony of seeing his beloved city of Jerusalem destroyed right along with those who had been unfaithful. But notice what Jeremiah says in His prophecy: “‘But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,’ says the LORD.”
The LORD remained faithful and upheld righteousness for His flock. Think of those wonderful accounts in the Book of Daniel—the three men cast into the fiery furnace, being saved by Jesus—the fourth man in the furnace identified by Nebuchadnezzar as “like the Son of God” (cf. Dan. 3:25b). Think of Daniel being cast into the lions’ den, but then being saved by an angel sent to close the mouths of the lions (cf. Dan. 6:22, 24). Jeremiah himself was rescued during the siege of Jerusalem from the bottom of a miry prison well into which he had been thrown to die, when an Ethiopian slave by the name of Ebed-Melech took it upon himself to plead for Jeremiah’s life and then helped him out. Both Jeremiah and Ebed-Melech were upheld and their lives spared when the Babylonian soldiers final stormed and took the city. God saw to it that their lives were spared!
Jesus upholds righteousness for His flock today as well. Being a Christian does not exempt you from suffering, but being a Christian means that your Savior will uphold you throughout your suffering and ultimately bring some good out of that suffering. You and I can count on Jesus always to do the right thing for us, so that His plan for our life both here in time and then throughout eternity is accomplished. This can and should bring us great hope and instill within our hearts tremendous confidence. We rest in the almighty yet gracious hands of our Savior. No one can take us out of those hands (cf. Jn. 10:28). No one can separate us from His love (cf. Rom. 8:35-39). In addition, Jesus promises to provide faithful shepherds to feed His flock, so that the precious message of His saving gospel will be proclaimed and fear removed. My dear friends, it is both a privilege and a pleasure to serve you as one of Jesus’ shepherds. It is a ministry that neither Pastor Eichstadt nor I take lightly. We pray daily for wisdom, so that you will lack nothing required for your spiritual nourishment. Yes, JESUS IS THE LORD’S BRANCH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS—HIS PROMISED KING who upholds righteousness for His flock!
He also is “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS!” Jeremiah concludes our text with this statement: “In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” “His days” refers to the New Testament era. “Judah” and “Israel” are names referring to God’s holy Christian Church in its entirety. But the most important thought presented in our text is the name given Jesus here by Jeremiah as inspired by the Holy Spirit: “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
First of all, note that Jeremiah here identifies Jesus as the LORD—Jehovah, the one, true, God—the God who knows us intimately, cares about us personally, and has loved us with a deep and abiding love. But notice, secondly, that the LORD has become OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. We need righteousness to stand before our holy God. In our children’s sermon today, I had one of our youngsters put on a t-shirt covered with markers and stains that were to represent our many sins. Were any of us to stand before our holy God apart from Christ, even our very best works would only appear to be filthy rags (cf. Is. 64:6), but when we are led by the Spirit to entrust ourselves to our Savior, He clothes us with His own righteousness—a righteousness which Isaiah calls “the garments of salvation” (cf. 61:10).
My dear friends, herein lays the source of our confidence. We are not saved because of our own works. We cannot and have not merited God’s favor—that is something we could never do. Rather, God by grace (His loving kindness that we do not deserve) has entered human history in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus lived for us! Jesus died for us! Jesus was raised for us! Jesus sits at God’s right hand and rules over us! At the same time He by faith dwells within us giving us the very righteousness we need to stand before our heavenly Father. JESUS IS THE LORD’S BRANCH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS—HIS PROMISED KING! May we be filled with joy in those facts, and may we ever rejoice in the salvation they bring us! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting
Soli Gloria Deo!