‘Behold, days are coming,' declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. In those days Judah shall be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: the LORD is our righteousness.'
"For thus says the LORD, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to prepare sacrifices continually.'"
Sermon for 1st Sunday in Advent 11/27/22
The Promised Time of Peace
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I remember as a child how everything was always in the future somewhere. "It's coming," was always the answer. Christmas always seemed to take forever to get here. Oh, how I wish I could recapture that feeling today! But the point is that things were always coming. Just like the days mentioned in our text. The prophets were always saying, "the days are coming". They were telling the Children of Israel that the promise of God of salvation, of the Messiah, and of peace and justice were coming. The wait got to be long, and the promises were easy to doubt. God wanted them to be reassured. He was still planning to do all that He promised. He was not going to forget them.
Well, the days that were promised to the Children of Israel have arrived. The promises made to the Children of Israel have been fulfilled. We no longer look forward to that toward which they looked forward. Don't get me wrong, we still look forward. It is just that what we look forward to is not what they were looking for. At least not entirely. They looked forward to a promised time of peace. We, too, look forward to a promised time of peace – we just view that time from a different perspective and expect something different than they did when they used those words. Our theme this morning is, The Promised Time of Peace.
Those days are here! The Righteous Branch has been raised up. He has accomplished all the saving and the peace and justice that He promised to do. Some of the days spoken of by Jeremiah are actually past. I am thinking particularly of the days in which the king was raised up.
Of course, the people of ancient Israel did not hear these words the way we do. God meant them to be heard by us the way we hear them, but the Old Testament people did not hear them that way. Jeremiah was the prophet at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of those who went into exile.
First, the people stubbornly refused to believe Jeremiah. They got angry with him because he said things that they did not want to hear, and they would not accept that what he said was true, or that it was God's Word even when the things he spoke began to happen. I kind of know what that is like, a little bit. I have had it happen that people would get angry with me for preaching the Word of God just because they didn't like what it said -- or they refused to believe what I said and did not bother to test my words against the Scriptures. They rejected it because they just did not want to hear it.
The second thing that caused Jeremiah's words not to be heard, effectively, was that not many of those that heard Jeremiah survived. Jeremiah was the prophet during the destruction of Jerusalem. The people of Israel ended up being slaughtered wholesale. Probably fewer than one in ten went into exile -- and only the poorest and the least capable were left alive to manage the land. There were two deportations of Israel by Babylon. The first deportation wasn't so bad. That was the group that Ezekiel ended up living among. The second deportation came when Nebuchadnezzar finally destroyed Jerusalem. The puppet king he had set up to rule locally – Zedekiah – had rebelled and refused to pay tribute and had turned to Egypt for an alliance -- which really irritated Nebuchadnezzar. When He came back with his army, he decimated the people, largely because they fought against him.
So, the people at the time of Jeremiah did not hear the words of Jeremiah with any sort of faith, and most of them did not survive to remember them. They were written down, however, and read later, during the captivity. At that point in time, the children of Israel would have interpreted the words of Jeremiah as dealing with their exile -- and thought that God was promising a new kingdom of Judah, and a new king and a return to their ancestral home. At the very least, the faithful would have read these words as promising the coming of the Messiah, whom they would have (and did) invest with all sorts of military and nationalistic meaning.
They were partly right, this prophecy was about the coming of the Messiah. And that has happened. That is what Advent is all about. We also look forward to the coming of the Messiah. We are looking forward to that Savior coming again at the end of time. They were looking for Him to come in the first place, and part of our Advent observance is to review the promises made to them and their expectations. They were looking forward to Jesus.
And He came, at Bethlehem. He was proclaimed King of Israel on Palm Sunday. He was holy and righteous. He never sinned. His throne was the cross. He ascended that throne to do justice and righteousness, just as the prophecy said. The justice that He did was the justice of God.
Jesus satisfied the justice of God by first earning life everlasting, and then suffering death and all that He endured for us, innocently. His death was the death that you and I have earned. He suffered the torments that we deserve for our rebellion against God and for our sins. He paid the price and served out our sentence under the justice of God. That is how He did justice. His death on the cross. He is our justice.
Then He did righteousness. Of course, in the course of living a perfect life, all that Jesus did was righteousness. But that isn't what the prophet was speaking about. He was speaking about the forgiveness of sins. Jesus was not merely righteous, He did righteousness. He gave us the forgiveness of sins. That is why we Lutherans do not say "if" when we preach Christ. We do not need to focus on the "if"s of the faith when we preach because there is no "if" about what Jesus has accomplished. There is no "if" about the payment. There is no "if" about the forgiveness of sins. I can proclaim the work accomplished, the forgiveness won and poured out. I can say, "Your sins are forgiven" with no if, and's, or but's about it. The only "if" is ‘if you believe', and therefore receive all that Christ has accomplished on your behalf.
That is what has created The Promised Time of Peace. We don't need to wait for the days when forgiveness will be won or poured out. Those days are here! The forgiveness of your sins is accomplished. Whether you believe it or not, it is done. That forgiveness, however, is received through faith, but it could not be received unless it had already been won. We possess the forgiveness -- we have the righteousness which Jesus has done -- when we know what He has won for us, and know the promise of God in connection with Jesus, and trust God to do what He has promised to do.
In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. These days are The Promised Time of Peace. What the Old Testament people could only look forward to is what we in live today! We don't actually call Him "The Lord our Righteousness" as a name, as the prophecy seems to say. But we say it. The Lord is our righteousness. He is all that is holy about us, and He alone is our hope. So the prophecy is fulfilled -- this, the Gospel, is what Israel hoped for. They were waiting for God to save them.
Of course, we still look forward. We still await the day when our outward experience matches the truth of our salvation. We walk by faith, just as ancient Israel had to. They had the temple and the ceremonies, the Law which was their opportunity of faith to be faithful. We have our opportunities, too, but they look different.
We no longer have the law of the Sabbath, or the laws of the sacrifices, or the laws of the festivals. Israel was to show their trust in God by doing the things God had given them to do, the way that He told them to do it. The tithe, for example, was an exercise of faith -- they had to trust God that they would be cared for and adequately provided for if they gave God ten percent off the top -- and the best of what they had, to boot! Lots of them did not trust God. Many of them failed to pay the tithe. God called that "robbing" Him, in Malachi 3. Their tithe was one of the measures of faith and of faithfulness.
We Christians have no such rules -- although the tithe is still not a bad starting point. We have no laws from God about which day we must worship or whether we can work on a Sunday, or such. We also have no sacrifices to make, except the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Jesus is the Sacrifice for sins. He replaces all of the animal sacrifices and the grain sacrifices. We have been given no mandatory festivals, like the Feast of the Tabernacles, or of the First Fruits. Sundays for worship, and Christmas and Easter are inventions of the Church, not divine commands. We celebrate them for devotional purposes and, as Luther said, for good order, not because we must.
What, then, are our opportunities for faith and faithfulness?
Life. Life presents us with a continuous stream of choices. Each one challenges us to faith or fear, faithfulness or pragmatism, to trusting God and doing things His way, or trusting our own judgment and doing things in ways contrary to God's ways. We can choose to worship on Sundays, when the Church has agreed to gather for Word and Sacrament, or we can choose to travel, fish, hunt, attend sporting events, visit families, prepare meals for our company, or sleep in. We can make our offering a decision based on faith or see what we can afford after we have taken care of our needs and our desires, and reserved that extra pocket money first. We can give to God or give to perceived needs and budget requirements of the congregation. We can take the time for Bible Class or set our social agendas ahead of God's Word and spiritual growth. We can exercise patience with our brothers and sisters in Christ, or we can be demanding and judging. We can forgive one another and love one another in word and deed, or we can carry hurts, gossip and politic in the congregation, and demand that everyone accept us just . the way . we . are.
Every moment of life is our opportunity to be faithful, and to live out what we believe, or to hold faith as a mental exercise, and live as though God were not really there, not really aware of what we do and what we could do, or as though God were not really to be trusted, and as though the first rule of life is to take care of number one first! Do you praise God, or speak in vague generalities about luck and fortune? Do you speak of Jesus, invite your neighbors and your friends to come to Church, or not? Do you make sure that your loved ones know the truth, or do you surrender to the social pressure to avoid such topics? If you believe that faith in Christ means salvation, and unbelief means eternal torment, your momentary discomfort just doesn't weigh in the scales. But if you cannot bring yourself to speak of Jesus, forgiveness, life and salvation, then you probably don't really believe in heaven or hell – or you don't really love your family and friends.
These are our opportunities for faith and faithfulness. And, strangely enough, people generally do live out what they believe. Whether you believe in Jesus or yourself, whether you trust God's Word or your own wisdom, whether this life, or eternal life is more precious to you will be reflected in what you do, in the decisions you make, and in the way you respond to life. Just as not everyone in ancient Israel actually looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, and many at the time of Jeremiah did not bother to listen to him, or believe what he said, just so there are those today in the visible church who do not listen, and those who do not believe.
But for those who do, Christ is our Righteousness. He is the foundation for The Promised Time of Peace. We are the Israel that dwells securely, just as Jeremiah prophesied. We don't necessarily dwell secure as to our bodies, or as to our life in this world. We dwell securely in Christ. None of us is perfect in faithfulness or in what we do, but our sins are forgiven. When we trust in God and His promises, our failures are forgiven, and our resurrection and eternal life is assured because the Lord is our Righteousness -- not us, . . . Jesus! He is the fulfillment of the words of Jeremiah in our text, and He is the substance of The Promised Time of Peace.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Sunday, December 04, 2022
The Promised Time of Peace