Advent 1c

Preached: December 2, 2012

The Righteous Branch Brings You Hope
Jeremiah 33:14-16

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word the Holy Spirit speaks to us to point us to Jesus is recorded through the prophet Jeremiah.

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. “‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness’” (Jeremiah 33:14-16).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Jeremiah lived in dark times. He's called the weeping prophet because of the sadnesses he witnessed. His ministry began during a time of outward peace. Assyria, who had troubled Jerusalem for many years, was in decline, leaving breathing space for tiny Judah. Good king Josiah sat on David's throne. It was toward the end of the seventh century B.C.

King Josiah was zealous for the Lord, working for religious revival after the ungodly rule of his predecessors. But Jeremiah's ministry became more and more difficult after Josiah was killed in battle. He was the last of the good kings.

Jeremiah called the people to repent, warning of the coming destruction. The people didn't want to hear that kind of news. They wanted peace and prosperity. They didn't want to hear of Jerusalem's fall. The Lord's temple was here. God wouldn't let that be destroyed, they reasoned.

But the rising power of Babylon kept pushing Judah down. Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, would come and replace the king in Jerusalem with another and carry off nobles as insurance. Some accused Jeremiah of destroying morale or even collaborating with the enemy because of his preaching of coming destruction and exile.

Yes, Jeremiah suffered rejection and imprisonment for speaking the Lord's message. The faithful who listened to the prophet saw the darkness coming as foretold, but they could not stop it. What hope was left for them? If the Lord's temple was destroyed and his people exiled, how could the Savior come as promised? And even for those others who had dreamed of earthly peace and prosperity, rejecting the prophet's warning, how despair must have chocked them as Nebuchadnezzar's hand squeezed harder and harder. What darkness!

But for those who would hear and believe, the Lord gave Jeremiah words of hope to shine into this darkness and bring life. Yes, Jerusalem and even the temple would soon be destroyed. But the Lord would bring back a remnant of his people after seventy years in exile. And even though David's family line would be like a dead stump, no longer wielding royal power, yet the Lord would make a Branch shoot up from that stump -- a righteous Branch to bring his people hope, to bring hope to you, dear Christian, real hope.

Take to heart the word of God recorded in Jeremiah 33. The righteous Branch brings you hope. He fulfills God's saving promise. And he is your righteousness.

A. He fulfills God's saving promise.

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line’” (Jeremiah 22:14, 15 NIV84).

How impossible it seemed! But you know, dear Christians, how the Lord fulfilled his saving promise. Each Christmas we ponder and celebrate that the Lord made the righteous Branch sprout from David's family stump. Mary's ancestry goes back to King David, so our Savior's physical or biological family line sprouts from David. Since Mary was a virgin, Jesus had no human, biological father. Joseph was his legal father, and Joseph's ancestry also went back to King David. So our Savior's legal family tree sprouts from David. We become so use to little children telling us about this each Christmas Eve, it's easy to fail to marvel at the miracle. How impossible this all is! But with God all things are possible. He fulfills his saving promise, no matter how dark or dead it seems.

Believe that, dear friends. He still does the impossible today as he fulfills his saving promise and brings you hope.

Like the people in Jeremiah's day, we can get caught up in hoping for near-term improvements. I'm not just talking about hopes of earthly peace, prosperity, and friendship. But like the faithful in Jerusalem who fervently prayed for the spiritual renewal of the people only to see hearts harden all the more, our hopes for certain spiritual blessings can be disappointed as well. A grandparent prayers for her grandchildren to stay close to Jesus, but she sees them drifting away into unbelief instead. A young person prays that his friend comes to faith, but receives only silence or ridicule when he talks to him about Jesus. A Christian prayers for gifts to better serve their Lord, but the thorns of life seem to make better service impossible.

Yes, dear friends, these are good prayers coming from hearts longing for Jesus' kingdom to grow. So the disappointment and hurt can strike all the more deeply into our souls when we don't see the answers we're hoping for. Nevertheless know and believe with all your heart that the Lord fulfills his promises.

For example, he has promised to give each of us gifts and opportunities to serve him, but the gifts he's giving may not be the ones you think you need. His promise hasn't failed. Rather pray for him to open your eyes to see the kingdom work he's placed in front of you and trust that he is with you as you carry it out.

The Lord's promises don't fail. He promises that the Gospel is always the power of God for salvation to all who believe. Romans 1:16. But he also reveals that despite his rich grace and boundless mercy many reject the Good News of Jesus. How this truth cuts deep when we see a loved one or dear friend turning their back on Jesus, for no other name saves! But God's saving promise hasn't failed. His word is powerful and so we keep on sharing it, planting it like a sower spreading seed. And as others hear the word, the Holy Spirit, using the Gospel we're planting, makes faith grow in those whom God has chosen in Christ by grace. Why are only some chosen, even though God sincerely, truly, and earnestly wants all to be saved? That is a mystery God has not revealed and we dare not try to speculate about or explain the depths of his wisdom.

Rather, dear friend, come to the manger. Here God does reveal himself. See his saving promise fulfilled. See God's great love that gave his Son for you. See his unfathomable grace that sent him to be your Savior from sin and death. He is flesh and blood but also God over all. He is the branch for David's family line. How impossible! But his grace and mercy does the impossible. He fulfills his saving promise. What love beyond degree!

Yes, the Son of God became one of us, the Branch born from David's line. So as you look into that manger, know and believe that your Savior can truly sympathize with you and me in all our weakness. For look, he is flesh and blood, born into this world, even as we were born. He depends on the care of his mother and father. He gets hungry and thirsty and needs to be fed. He would be tempted in every way just as we are, but yet was without sin. So, yes, he can sympathize with you and me as we struggle with our weaknesses, as we struggle with our doubts and prayers, as we struggle with those dark and hopeless times.

Approach his throne of grace with confidence that you will receive mercy. No matter how dark, dead, or hopeless life may seem, his mercy will not fail. He fulfills his saving promise. Look into the manger and see. This righteous Branch brings you hope.

B. He is your righteousness

Approach his throne of grace with confidence because he is your righteousness. “This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:16 NIV84-footnote). What a marvel!

In the hymn “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” Charles Wesley writes, “I am all unrighteousness. False and full of sin I am” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 357:3). How true for each of us! Don't look into yourself to find the righteousness that stands pure before the judgment throne. But look into the manger, dear friend, and see the Lord, your righteousness.

The marvel here is twofold. First, stand astounded at how rotten, unrighteous, false and full of sin, your inborn self is. So many of our dark days and moments of fading hope come because we tend to forget how bad to the bone we are by nature. So when something happens, like prayers that seem unanswered or adversities that trouble our life, we're reminded that we're not as good as we imagined. Doubts about God's love explode into focus. Feelings of despair and hopelessness tug deep down inside. “If I'm really that bad, how could God love me?”

That bring us to the second marvel that far surpasses the first. Even though we might forget what evil lurks in us, God always knows. And here's the marvel: Fully knowing how rotten, unrighteous, false and full sin, each of us is by nature, nevertheless he still gave his Son to be your righteousness. What a wonder! And how this second marvel, God's gift of righteousness, surpasses our inborn sinfulness and outshines the darkness of our doubts and despair! The real question to ponder isn't why are some not saved. The real question is: How could God save even me?

Look in the manger and marvel at the answer. There lies the Lord, Jehovah, Jahweh, the faithful I AM, the unchanging God, the eternal Son of the Father. And he, the Lord God himself, is your righteousness. The Lord Jesus lived a sinless, holy life to count as yours. He credits his right record to you, freely, at no charge, according to his good will, not based on anything in you at all. For what were you and I except false and full of sin, all unrighteousness -- nothing at all on which to base a verdict of acquittal. It's be grace alone. In addition, he credits his right record to you not only freely but also fully. Nothing is left out. Nothing is required to complete his righteousness. No work, no effort, no choice, no decision, no prayer -- nothing on our part improves his righteousness. It stands perfect, blameless, complete, and full in God's courtroom. That's how rich his grace is. Look into the manger and see the Lord your righteousness. For his righteousness is freely and fully credited to you.

What hope this righteous Branch brings! For no matter what you've done, no matter how you've felt, no matter how fiercely despair and hopelessness have attacked you, your Lord's righteousness still stands perfect, complete, unmarred, and unblemished. That righteousness is yours. Believe that saving promise. Believe it with all your heart, soul, and mind. Build your hope on it. Trust it as the sure foundation on which your hope stands. For his righteousness will not crack or crumble. It stands firm forever.

Jesus is the righteous Branch that brings you hope. For he fulfills his saving promise. And he is the Lord your righteousness.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313