The Righteous Branch

Text: Jeremiah 23:5-8

Bulletin: 2017-12-03 First Sunday in Advent

Today marks the beginning of a new church year. We know by now that the Church Year flows in seasons. Seasons, which are patterned after the life of Christ and the Church. The first season of the year is Advent, a season of both repentance and joyful expectation. In Advent, we celebrate our Lord’s coming the flesh and His future coming again, even as we recognize in ourselves our own sinfulness. Christ, by His death, has secured for us forgiveness and eternal life. But still, we live here as exiles. And, like exiles, we groan.

The groaning among God’s people in Jeremiah’s time was that they were ruled by an unfaithful shepherd. Or, rather, a line of unfaithful kings who did not abide by God’s Word nor rule by His wisdom and justice. By these kings’ negative influence, the people also fell into idolatry – until Jerusalem was finally destroyed as the punishment for their evil deeds. Still, God’s faithful people among them longed for a new king, a new shepherd, who would be faithful to God’s Word. Therefore, God spoke through Jeremiah that the days were indeed coming, when the Righteous Branch would rule. Unlike the kings of Israel and Judah, and unlike all kings of the earth, Jesus the Righteous Branch executes justice and righteousness and makes His people dwell securely.

I.

Jeremiah is a prophet that comes up a lot in conversations and the lectionary. He, along with Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel are called the Major Prophets – for the length of their writing. Not only is the book of Jeremiah long, but so was his ministry. Jeremiah preached perhaps more than 40 years, during which time a complete handful of kings ruled in Jerusalem. As you might guess, this was not a good time for Judah. Their brothers in the Northern Kingdom had long before fallen to Assyria, and now Jerusalem was on the road to destruction herself. The reason would be the same that Israel was given into the hands of their enemies, idolatry. Both king and people were unfaithful to God’s Word.

Jeremiah 23 is part of a sermon given in the king’s court. In it, Jeremiah recounted the deeds of King Josiah’s sons and grandson who followed him on the throne. Josiah was a good king. He abided by God’s Word – his sons, not so much. In the Old Testament, when you were king you weren’t just king. You were a shepherd; you very much a spiritual figure for your people. It was also your job as king to encourage worship of the one true God. You were to discourage and punish idolatry. Josiah’s sons, along with many of the other kings, didn’t do that. The kings did not abide by God’s Word. They were frivolous in their living. They did not care about their neighbor near as much as themselves. They were in it for themselves. And, as were the kings, so were the people.

This is not an unfamiliar concept for us. Just a few weeks ago we talked about how the rulers and governments that exist are put in place by God. Now, ask yourself, how many of them do God’s will according to His written Word, the Bible? As the kings, so the people. In America, the disfunction goes even deeper. There are many people who dislike the government, so they take their orders and inspiration from celebrities. But, it’s also not just the rulers who don’t follow God’s Word – neither do we. At least, not all the time. We all set up little shrines to ourselves in our own hearts. We are the most important things in our lives, we do what our hearts desire and disregard the good of our neighbor. As those who have been redeemed by Christ, we recognize and lament our own sinfulness. With the faithful people of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time, we also groan. God’s Word to them and us is the same.

II.

The Lord spoke through Jeremiah,

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.’[1]

Remember that Jeremiah is speaking these words in the court of the king – at this time – Zedekiah. Jeremiah preached the Law against Zedekiah reign, and against those who came before him by calling them wicked shepherds. Now comes the Gospel to God’s people, where He promises a Righteous Branch, a Righteous Shepherd, a righteous king. These terms are often used interchangeably for the Messiah. The Lord promised David a son who would sit on his throne forever. The prophets Isaiah and Zechariah both talked about the branch of the Lord, the shoot from the stump of Jesse. Ezekiel preached about how the Lord would shepherd His people Himself. Branch, Shepherd, King, all mean the Messiah.

The Messiah, of course, is Jesus. He is the promised offspring of Adam and Eve, the offspring of Abraham. He is the true Son of David. He is the Righteous Branch who reigns as king. Unlike the kings of Israel and our time, Jesus does rule according to God’s will and Word. In His life, in the Garden, and on the cross, Jesus submitted to the Father’s will. He spoke and acted according the Word of God. According to the justice of God, “a bruised reed He [did] not break, and a smoldering wick He [did] not quench.”[2] Jesus does reign as king and deal wisely according to God’s Word, and that also means demanding the justice of God. One way God is just is in demanding punishment of sin. The kings of Israel did not punish the sin of idolatry. Jesus will punish sin eternally at His return. So that all the world might not perish in iniquity, Jesus also kept the Lord’s justice by bearing God’s wrath against sin in Himself on the cross. Jesus atoned for our sin by drinking the cup of God’s wrath for us.

The Lord promised through Jeremiah that the Righteous Branch would make both Israel and Judah dwell securely. That means He will bring all of God’s people together to live in peace. Such, has Christ done by His death. Though we were once united in death, by His death, Christ has brought His people together in life. He unites His people in every time and place together through His Holy Word and Sacraments. In Baptism, we are brought into the one family of Christ. In the Supper, we are united to Christ and each other. Through the preaching of the Word, the same Holy Spirit dwells in each of us. We have peace and security now in the forgiveness sins. But, that’s not the only thing we have. We have the blessed hope of eternal life. Someday soon, our Lord will return. He will send His angels and gather all the faithful from the ends of the earth. He will bring us together, and together we will enter the blessedness of the new creation. There, we will have no sin or sorrow, no danger or need. There, we will dwell with our king in our land, and we will all know Him.

But, for now, we groan. We are united with God’s faithful people in Jeremiah’s time. We are sinful people living in a wicked world at a wicked time. Yet, we are also the forgiven saints of God, purchased and won from sin and the devil by the precious blood of Christ. Through faith in His death we have the forgiveness of sins now, even as we await His return. While we suffer here as exiles below, God’s Word to us now is the same as then.

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.

[1] Jer. 23:5-6, English Standard Version.

[2] Matt. 12:20.

As We Were Created to Be

Text: Genesis 2:7-17

It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are or where you’ve been. When you’re traveling to a place you haven’t been before, you always keep track of where you started so that, if you end up off course, you know the part you’ve already traveled and can turn back. If you don’t know where you’ve been, it’s hard to know where you’re going. This much is shared with us, I believe, in our text today.

This week, we turn back to the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of the world, the beginning of the universe. We hear how God created man, in what state man and creation originally existed, and what we were created for. Unfortunately, because of sin, the reality of Genesis 2 is no longer what we experience. Instead, the experiences of our lives now are very different than how God intended them to be. The Holy Spirit shows us in this text how things were, so that we might know how they will be again. In other words, the Spirit shows us in Genesis 2 where we’ve been so that we know where – in Christ – we’re headed. In our text, we learn from God how He originally created us to be so that we would know a) the greatness of His creation; b) depth of our sin; and c) the greatness of His mercy.

I.

In Genesis 1 and 2, God gives us a factual and true account of how the world came to be. Before the universe existed, only God did. He forever and always existed in the unity of the Trinity. Out of His own desire to show love and mercy, God created the heavens and the earth. He spoke and all things came to be. Genesis 1 provides the overview of God’s creative activity. In chapter 2, the Spirit directs the focus on the particular activity of the sixth day of Creation: the day that God created man.

Moses wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.[1]

After God created the earth, the land and seas, trees, all plants, and animals, His hand turned to create something in His own image and in His likeness – man. Everything else, God created by speaking; but man God formed from the dust of the earth. The Hebrew word is the word also used in Isaiah for a potter forming a vessel from clay. So, God molded man from the earth.

God formed man from the dust of the earth, breathed into him the breath of life, and man became a living creature. Unlike all other creatures, whom God caused to be by speaking, man alone was formed by God’s hand and endowed with an immortal soul. After God formed the man, the text says, “[He] planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.”[2] God created the garden for man, and man for the garden. Man’s job was simple. It says in verse 15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The only instructions God gave were these, “You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”[3]

II.

Man’s job, as God created him was simple. Adam was to live in the Garden of Eden, to work it and keep it and care for it. Adam was to live in the garden and enjoy fellowship with God. His work would’ve been a joy, too. Genesis 2 is before the Fall. So, the unpleasant things we experience while working in the field – scorching heat, never-ending weeds – these would’ve been unknown to Adam. He would’ve needed no pesticide or fertilizer. His work would’ve been one-hundred percent joyful. He only had one command – don’t eat from the tree. This is the way Adam was to worship God, by listening to His Word. And, Adam could’ve done it. God created man with complete free will and the ability to not sin.

But, we know what happened, don’t we? Back on the First Sunday in Lent, the Old Testament text was Genesis 3. Adam was formed by God from the dust of the earth. He was molded like a clay vessel. Alone among all creatures, God blessed him with a soul and free will. Adam’s job, as Eve’s would be, was to live in the garden and work it. This work would’ve been a joy and be done in full communion with God. The way they were to worship was simply, listen to God’s Word. They had the free will and ability to do so. But instead, by the temptation of Satan, they chose to doubt and disobey God’s Word. They sinned. Ever since, the whole world has existed in this corrupted state.

God pronounced the consequences of sin in that text. To Eve, God said that childbearing would now be painful and the relationship between husbands and wives, stressful. To Adam, God said that the ground which used to be a joy to work would be cursed. Because of sin, the earth would now bear thorns and thistles, and food would only come by hard labor. Then, God gave the greatest consequence – which He said would happen – because of sin, man will return to the dust from whence he came. All these things we find true by our own experience. I’d ask you if farming is an easy job, but you know the answer. Sure, we take joy in our work from time to time. But, it’s rare to have a job without stress. And, God’s Word is true: the rest of our lives are filled with pain, suffering, and death.

III.

It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Now we know where we’ve been. God created man to be perfect. Man was placed in Eden to work and keep it. This would have been a joyful experience. The work would’ve come easily. Adam and Eve (and all after them) would neither have died nor experienced any illness or hardship. Then the Fall happened, and things have been going terribly. That is, until Christ – the Second Adam – came.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans that sin came into the world through the one man, Adam; and death came through sin. Therefore, all men die because all men sin. That’s how original sin works. We inherit from our fathers the inability to not sin. Because we sin, we die. But, St. Paul says, “The free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through the one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ…as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”[4] St. Paul means, the fall of Adam and Eve introduced the corruption of sin; but the righteous work of Christ – His obedience of the Law and His death on the cross for our sins – brings life back into the picture.

Christ earned for us re-entry into paradise and fellowship with God. After Adam and Eve sinned, God barred entrance to Eden by a flaming sword. But now, in Christ, our fractured relationship with God is restored. Through the forgiveness we’ve received in Christ, we now address God as our dear Father, and He speaks to us through His Word and Sacrament as to His beloved children. The work of Christ on the cross doesn’t just restore us to a right relationship with God, though; but, creation, too. Doesn’t St. Paul also say to Romans in chapter 8 that the whole creation groans as it awaits the redemption of our bodies?

By His death and resurrection, Christ has not only restored us to a right relationship with God, but He also restored creation. Scripture calls the “New Creation,” the place where the lion and lamb will lay together, where children will play with snakes, and death will not exist. These things will take place when Christ returns, and they’re what we mean when we say, “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Now we know where we’ve been and where we’re going. God created man perfect, to work joyfully in the Garden and live in fellowship with Him. That was all destroyed by sin, and we experience that corruption in our lives. But, through Christ’s death and resurrection sin is forgiven. We are restored to fellowship with God. We now await Christ’s return, where He will raise the bodies of all believers and bring them with Himself into the joy of the new creation.


[1] Gen. 2:5-7, English Standard Version.

[2] Gen. 2:8.

[3] Gen. 2:16-17.

[4] Rom. 5:15-16.

New Heavens and a New Earth

Text: Isaiah 65:17-25

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” Thus says the Lord in the second to last chapter of Isaiah. He promises a time when His beloved children will no longer suffer the effects of sin. In that time He will rejoice over His people and dwell with them. No longer will there be heard among them the sound of crying or distress, no longer will there be an infant who dies only a few days old nor and old man who doesn’t fill out his days. No longer will God’s people labor in vain, nor will they build and others inhabit. The wolf and lamb will graze together and the lion will eat straw. Finally, the promise made in Genesis 3 will find complete fulfillment: the serpent will eat dust forever. God says that there shall be no hurt nor destruction in all His holy mountain.

All this we understand to be a picture of what our lives will be like in the Resurrection. Last week the lessons took us to the end times and the return of our Savior. And now this week, the last Sunday of the year, we are given in our Old Testament text a vision and a promise of the blessed future that awaits us. In Gospel and Epistle readings we are exhorted to live and wait as those who are wise and have oil enough and more. But here in Isaiah, we see that for which we wait and pray. We await from our Lord the time when sin will be no more. Our God promises to us, His beloved children, a new heaven and earth. There He will dwell with us in a way that we can’t even fully comprehend yet, and He will cause us to live in joy, security, and peace forever.

I.

Thus saith the Lord, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” As we talked about last week, at the end of the Church Year our minds turn toward the talk of eschatology, the last things. Our Epistle and Gospel readings direct our consciences toward what will happen to us. Between recent funerals and the readings, we’ve reached a conclusion. Those who die in faith are immediately in the presence of Christ. Though we lay their bodies in the grave, those same bodies will be resurrected at Christ’s return. One thing we haven’t really talked about is, what happens to creation? After all, God created us with bodies. Bodies need space. Bodies need the creation. Yet, at present, the creation itself is corrupted by sin. St. Paul says in Romans that, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” until such time as sin will be no more.

That’s where our text comes in. God promises to create new heavens and a new earth. You might hear that and expect that we’re hearing from Revelation – because it’s there, too. But it’s also promised here in the Old Testament. It’s unclear to us exactly how the new heavens and earth will come to be. St. Peter says that the heavenly bodies will be burned up with fire. Hebrews simply says the foundation of the earth and heavens will be “changed,” like you would an old shirt. Whether by fire or other means, the Biblical witness and the promise of God is that all things will be made new. And, quite frankly, we’re due for it. Our Lutheran forefathers were of the opinion that the earth is somewhere around 6,000 years old, judging from the timelines in the Bible. This view we share. That’s six thousand years of death. Six thousand years of disease and decay, of crime and warfare, of sin and shame. But all these things will pass away. We who have been baptized have already been made new creations in Christ, but then will all creation itself be made new.

What will be new, is that the effects of sin will be no more. God goes to one of the most notable changes, “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days.” In this new creation, the chief consequence of sin will be destroyed. Death will no longer exist. No more will we mourn the loss of our children nor grieve for those who passed too soon. There will be no more weeping nor cry of distress. For, God says, “I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people.” In addition, the former things shall not be remembered. Meaning, the sins that we committed will no longer weigh us down. There will be no death, and there will be no guilt.

II.

Because God will create all things new, death and sin will be no more. We will live in the joy of the resurrection and in its security. The language of building and inhabiting, planting and eating, calls to mind the many times in the Old Testament where God’s people were delivered into the hands of their enemies. God allowed them to be driven from their land as punishment for sin and their adultery against Him. Other families lived in their homes and other farmers benefited from their hard work. But, no more. Instead, “They shall build…and inhabit…they shall plant…and eat…my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.” Think of all those times you’ve worked hard on something, only to see it fall to pieces. That won’t happen anymore.

For like the days of a tree shall the days of My people be…They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.” God returns us to the big idea here: there will be no sin, no death. Death is not a good thing. Jesus Christ died to put an end to death; at His Return it will finally be no more. The translators of the Greek Old Testament monkey with the Hebrew here, but I’ll allow it. They change “like the days of a tree,” to “like the days of the Tree of Life.” The lives of God’s beloved people will be like the Tree of Life, standing in the Garden of Eden forever for all to see and enjoy. This eternal life will extend not just to us, but to our children. No longer will we labor in vain, or bear children just to outlive them. Instead, we and our children will live together in God’s light. Remember what St. Peter said on Pentecost, “The promise [of forgiveness in Christ] is for you and for your children.”

III.   

So much of this text is beyond our comprehension. We can imagine there being no death, but only to an extent. The entire experience of our lives is built upon the fact that things don’t last. None of us has ever lived in a world where there was no death. Soon we will. God has yet more to say in our text. “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” Repeatedly God promises in Scripture to dwell with us. All of it – all of the work of Christ, His fulfillment of the Law, His suffering, His death, His resurrection and defeat of death – culminate in this. God will dwell with us in an immediate sense. There will be nothing between us. Truly, God does already dwell with us in Word and Sacrament, but in the new creation we will be in the presence of God. Before we call, He’ll answer. While we’re speaking, He’ll hear. It won’t be a terrifying presence, like in chapter 6 when Isaiah is sure he’s gonna die for seeing God. It will be a joy, and God Himself will rejoice.

Last things. “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD. So much of this we can’t truly picture, so God describes it in a way we can. The fundamental order of creation will be changed. There will be no death and no destruction in the new creation that awaits us. And so, at the end of another Church year, our minds turn to the glory ahead. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we await from it our Savior. When He returns He will change our bodies to be like His and create all things new. Let us pray.

O God, the Father of all mercies, we bring unto You this day our sacrifice of praise for the innumerable and inestimable blessings which You have bestowed on us in Christ during the Church year which is now ending. You have caused Your divine Word to be preached to us, which is able to make us wise for salvation; You have permitted us to enjoy the holy Sacraments for our comfort and sanctification, and have accompanied the means of grace with the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We thank Your for Your goodness and praise Your holy name. We beg You, that in Your mercy, You would forgive us all our sins of the past year for Jesus’ sake, and graciously preserve for us and Your whole Church the light of Your Gospel. Lead us by Your Holy Spirit, that, receiving Your Word with gladness, we may be sanctified by Your Truth, and finally receive eternal salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.