Text: Jeremiah 23:5-8
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded upon the seas and established it upon the rivers…Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” (Psalm 24:1-2, 7, English Standard Version) Such are the words of first Psalm we’ve spoken together in this new Church Year. With these words, we confess the Christian faith that God is the one who created and who continues to preserve all things. Because He is the Maker of all things both visible and invisible, all things belong to Him: the sun, the moon and stars, the land, seas, and rivers; ourselves. Yet, our God is not aloof or far away from us, but one who, in every respect, became as we are. He entered into His own creation to redeem it from its slavery to death and corruption and to be its true king. This Psalm also confesses the Incarnation with these words, “be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.”
This is our focus as we enter again into a new Church Year. Again, our Lord comes to dwell among us with His Word and Sacrament. Through these things, He gives us clean hands and pure hearts so that we may ascend His holy hill by grace. Especially this week do we praise Him as our true king. Unlike all the kings of the earth, Jesus alone rules with true justice and righteousness. He makes us dwell in peace and safety both here and in the life to come.
“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.” (v. 5) As we heard, these words were delivered from God through the prophet Jeremiah. If we think that the state of the world we live in now is bad, we should take a step back about 2,600 years. Jeremiah prophesied during the end of the divided kingdom. For some time, by his ministry, God’s people were divided into the kingdom of Israel in the north and Judah in the south, where Jerusalem was. The northern kingdom was much more worldly than the southern one and had long since fallen to the bloodthirsty Assyrians. By the time Jeremiah spoke these words before King Zedekiah, Babylon was on the rise. It had conquered Assyria and Egypt, and Judah seemed next. King Zedekiah, who should’ve sought the Lord’s help, instead looked for it anywhere else he could.
Zedekiah was just another unfaithful king in a long line of them. There were some good ones, Josiah, for example. But, overall, what started as a trickle with David turned into a downpour of unrighteousness. In the Bible, kings are meant to be as shepherds to their people. They were to look after them as a shepherd does the sheep, including in the spiritual sense; but the kings of Judah did not. Instead, they were selfish and arrogant. They worshipped idols and sacrificed their children to them. They were adulterers and liars. As the king so, also, the people. The one people called by God to be holy, was far from it. They were idolaters as well, gossips, cheats, murderers. Because of all this, there was no peace; there was no security. King Zedekiah did very little, if any, to help.
When you look at it this way, it seems Jeremiah’s time was not that different than our own. Then, as now, nations rise and fall. They fight and bicker. Our leaders, rather, those who seem to be, turn anywhere but to the Lord. Especially in political seasons like this, the wheels of our country, and of our world, seem to be falling off. In this way, we are not so different from the people of Judah during Jeremiah’s ministry. For them and for us, safety is a moving target; peace is thinly-veiled contempt. And we tire of the world’s tumult and distress. But, in some ways, this is what we deserve. We deserve this chastisement of the Lord because our hearts, also, are the same as the people in Jeremiah’s time.
It’s easy to look back at Scripture and wag our heads at God’s people, at their continual backsliding and sinful behavior. We think that if we were in the same position, we would have behaved differently. Friends, we are in the same position. Our Lord dwells among us now, just as He dwelt among them then and, perhaps, maybe even to a greater degree now that we have received the written Scriptures and the Sacraments. St. Peter wrote that angels longed to look into the things that have now been revealed to us in Christ – things like the incarnation and the resurrection. The fullness of time has dawned upon us in Christ, and how have we handled it? Like sinners. We squander the good things God gives us. We put up outward shows of piety, while in our hearts we lust and gossip. When we make a measurement of the important things in our lives, we say that the Lord is first but our actions prove otherwise. And, so, the way that the world is, is what we deserve.
In the midst of a sinful and crumbling world and people, the Lord sent a prophet. These were God’s Words to His people,
“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.’”Jeremiah 23:5-8
With these words, we hear the Lord’s promise of a new king and a new way of the world. We hear of a true and righteous king who will make His people dwell in peace and safety. This king, my friends, is Jesus. He is the one raised up for David and us, the righteous branch and shoot of Jesse’s stump. He reigns and deals wisely; He executes justice and righteousness in the earth.
We must confess that we are corrupt and deceitful sinners. God would be and is just to punish us. But, Jesus shows God’s justice in another way – by fulfilling the righteous requirements of the Law in our place and dying, also in our place, to make satisfaction for our sins. He is the king, the maker of all that exists, and He entered into His own creation to redeem it – to save both you and me. When He died and rose, He put an end to death and brought us into the way of peace. This peace that He gives us, is not like the world’s peace. We know that, even when the waters roar and foam and the mountains fall into the seas, we have a king and a kingdom that will not end. At the moment it is being stored for us above until the time that all our enemies are beat down beneath His feet.
In this way, we have true peace and true comfort, even in this sinful world. We have a true and righteous king who dwells among us for our good, who reigns to our abundant blessing. Today He is with us, and He will remain with us throughout this new year and unto all time. He is our righteousness and our peace, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.