Based on: Jeremiah 23:2-6
What you think about this land that we live in? Isn’t it great to live under a monarchy? Isn’t it great to have a King ruling over us? "Now wait a minute pastor," you might say "we live in a democracy and in less than a year we are going to vote for a new president." I know there is an election coming and I know it’s already starting to make its way into the news, but our first lesson for today tells us that we live under a king, we live under a monarchy. Jesus Christ is our King. Not only is he king over his church, over believers, but he is also king over all of creation, from the President of the United States to the homeless person who lives under a bridge.
And it is a good thing to have a king. Actually, a democracy such as ours is not a very efficient form of government. If you have a bad president there are many other people involved in government to make sure he doesn’t do too much to harm the country. But it is also true that if you have a good president there are many other people to make sure he doesn’t do too much good. With a monarchy a bad king can make things horrible, but it is wonderful to have a good king and we have the greatest king possible. He is a perfect King. Christ is our King. Christ does what a king should do and Christ is for us something that no other King can be.
The prophet Jeremiah, who wrote the words of our first lesson this morning, lived at the end of a long line of kings who were all descendants of King David. Because these kings were kings over God’s chosen people, they had the added responsibility of being a shepherd to God’s people. By their example and by the policies they set they were to lead the people in worshiping the one true God. The title shepherd is an excellent way to describe their function.
But many of these kings over Judah were not doing this job and instead were leading the people away from God. They were scattering the sheep of God’s flock whom they were shepherds over. Perhaps some of these kings made decisions that they thought were good political choices for their kingdom. Perhaps some of them were only serving themselves. But too many of them did not look to God for their direction and therefore were not taking care of the spiritual needs of the sheep. God tells them that because they did not take care of the sheep God would take care of them. (God would take care of them by punishing them.)
Concerning the sheep that were scattered God says, "I myself will gather the remnant of my flock." So God will take care of his flock. We also hear God say he will raise up a king to rule over his people. Both of these statements are true because God is sending this king and this king is God himself. The same promises are true today. What a comfort it is to know that if those people who should be our spiritual shepherds are not taking care of us, God is still in control and watches over us.
What about this King that God will raise up? God says, "the days are coming when I will raise up to David a righteous branch." These words echo the words of the prophet Isaiah who said, "a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.” You may remember the Christmas song, "Behold, a Branch is Growing." The opening words of this song are based on this picture of Jesus as a branch growing up from the stump of a tree that is cut down. Actually, the Hebrew word translated branch refers to something more like a sprout – just a little thing that you’re not even sure is going to grow.
Here is Jeremiah at the end of a long line of kings beginning with King David. King David’s dynasty was like a tall and mighty tree, but that tree was about to be cut down. God promises that one day a sprout would begin to grow from the stump of this tree and that sprout or branch would be Jesus, the descendant of David who would rule as king. This small branch doesn’t look like much. Jesus didn’t look like much when he walked on this earth two thousand years ago, but when he returns again we will see him as the king he truly is. Just as we have been studying in our Bible class on the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is the powerful king of creation.
One of the things this King will do is gather his people together from what ever lands they were scattered. We saw this promise partially fulfilled when God brought back some of the Jews from Babylon and other places around the world, but not all of the Jews came back. The physical descendants of Abraham are not the main focus of this prophecy. The apostle Paul says very clearly to the Galatians, "those who believe are children of Abraham." The Jews today who reject that Jesus Christ is the Messiah are not God’s people. It is you and I and all those whom God has chosen from eternity to be his children – we are God’s chosen people, the sheep whom Christ the King is gathering to himself.
This king, as he gathers his flock together, will reign wisely. He knows exactly how to handle the people in his care. He knows when it is good for the church to experience hardship so that they turn to him and their faith is strengthened. He also knows when it is good to give good times so his church can praise him with their gifts and reach out to others.
This king knows what a king should do. He gathers the flock instead of scattering it as many of those kings of Israel had done and he knows how to rule wisely. But there’s something different about this King. This king is something that no other king could ever be. He is the Lord our righteousness.
The Lord our righteousness, in Hebrew that phrase is only two words, but those two words sum up the gospel message. First of all this king is our righteousness. What does that word righteousness mean? To be righteous is to have a right standing with God, to have no outstanding debts with God, to have no marks against you in God’s book. We are not righteous. We have plenty of marks against us and our ledger book with God is in the red not in the black. Every time we fail to love God perfectly or fail to love our neighbor as our self then that is one more mark against us and one more debt we owe God. The very fact that we need our king to be our righteousness shows that we are not righteous.
Yet, that is why these words sum up the gospel. This king, Jesus Christ, is called the Lord our righteousness. Jesus Christ is the Lord, he is God, but he is also our righteousness for us. He gives us his ledger book that shows a positive balance and takes for himself our ledger book that is in the red. He took our report card with all its failing grades and gave us his perfect report card. Now we have a right standing with God. We are righteous because we have our king’s righteousness. As a result Jeremiah writes "all Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.” And remember we are the Israel of God. We are the people he has saved and the people who live in safety.
Jeremiah writes that "this is the name by which he will be called: The Lord our Righteousness." We are the ones who will call him by this name. It is only by God’s grace and through the work of the Holy Spirit that we know this name and are able to use this name to refer to our King.
It is good to have a king and it is good to live under this monarchy. It is good because we have a good King. He is the Lord our Righteousness.