A Righteous Branch
December 02, 2018*
By Pastor John Partridge
Jeremiah 33:14-16 Luke 21:25-36 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
As we begin the season of Advent today the word we remember, and the word that we will repeatedly encounter, is… hope.
But that the same time, we remember that the first Sunday of Advent is traditionally celebrated as the one in which we remember the contributions of the prophets of old. These two themes are inextricably intertwined because it is in the prophecies of old, and in the faithfulness of God, that leads us to have hope for the future.
That may seem to be a little vague, but let’s begin with the prophecy and the promise of God found in Jeremiah 33:14-16 where we hear these words:
14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
15 “‘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.
16 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 Righteous Savior.’
We remember from last week, that God’s promise, his sacred covenant, with King David, was that one of his descendants would rule over the people of Israel in righteousness forever. And now we hear Jeremiah say that God intends to keep that promise, that God is raising up a righteous branch from David’s family tree, a man that would do what is just and right, so that Judah and Jerusalem will live in safety. Jeremiah also tells us that God has named that man, that righteous branch, the Lord, Our Righteous Savior.
Who else could this be but Jesus? And as we begin our preparations for Advent and Christmas, it seems especially obvious that this must be Jesus. But when we realize that this is Jesus, then we also remember that God has been faithful and has done what he had promised to David, to Jeremiah, and to the people of Israel. You see, it is in remembering the faithfulness of God that we discover hope.
It is in remembering the faithfulness of God that we discover hope.
But how? How does remembering the past help us to have hope? And the answer to that is found in reading the words of Jesus found in the New Testament, but today we specifically look at Jesus’ words to the disciples found in Luke 21:25-36 where we hear this:
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
Jesus, the Son of Man, promises his disciples that that there will be signs that will precede his return to the earth and people who are alert and watching for those signs will know, just as we see the signs and know that spring is coming, we will know that his return is near. But Jesus doesn’t just declare that he will return, he proclaims that when he comes, he will return, not as a suffering servant that obediently submits to torture and crucifixion, but with power and great glory as a conquering king.
But what does he mean when Jesus says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.”? Part of our problem in understanding comes about because we started reading in the middle of the story. In the beginning of the conversation, the disciples were marveling over how beautiful the temple and the surrounding buildings were, and Jesus said that soon all of them would be torn down with not a single stone left upon another. And so, as we read this part of that conversation, Jesus is explaining that the destruction of the temple was so close at hand, that most of them would live to see it. But we can also understand that the coming of the kingdom of God begins with the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is because, as you will remember from last week, we have been called to be a kingdom and priests.
The kingdom of God is not just something that will come on the day of judgement at Jesus’ return, the kingdom of God is something that we do every day. With the resurrection of Jesus, the kingdom of heaven has been planted on earth, and it is up to us, every day, to live like Jesus, to become more like Jesus, and to make the world around us more like heaven than it was the day before. It is up to us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to speak for the voiceless, and intervene for downtrodden and the abused and to, as much as possible, make our community, and our world, a better place.
But what would that look like?
In 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Paul has both kind words, and a prayer for the church in Thessalonica.
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
Paul compliments the people of the church by saying that he and the others who have ministered there are filled with joy in the presence of God because of them. They are so proud of what the church is doing for the kingdom of God, and they would be blessed by God simply by knowing that they had played a part of leading the church in that direction. But Paul’s prayer for the church is that they might be able to return and teach them even more. And Paul also prays that God would make their love for one another, and for everyone around them, increase and overflow. That God would strengthen their hearts so that the people of the church would be blameless and holy in the presence of God.
Paul was proud of the work that the church was doing but his prayer was that the people would so filled with love, that the love of Jesus would overflow into the life of the church, but also into the lives of their community and everyone around them. Paul’s greatest prayer was that the church would become so much like Jesus, that they would be blameless when they stood in the presence of God. Just as Jesus was raised up as a righteous branch from the tree of David, we too are called to be a righteous branch growing up in the midst of the chaos of our world.
So, you see, God made a covenant with King David that one of his descendants would rule over the people of Israel in righteousness forever and, as he always does, God kept his promise. And just as God made a promise to David, Jesus has made a promise to each of us. Jesus has promised that he will return, not in suffering, but in triumph. But while we wait, we are called to do the work that Jesus began, to be Jesus to the world around us, to be so filled with his love that our love overflows into the lives of one another and into the lives of the people in the community, and the world, around us.
It is a message of promises kept. It is a message of prophecy fulfilled, and prophecy yet to come. It is a message that even today fills the people of God, that fills us, with purpose.
It is… a message of hope.
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