Only God's Righteous Branch Can Be Your True Shepherd

Pentecost 9 + July 19 & 22, 2018 + Pr. Dale Reckzin                                                                  Download PDF

Text: Jeremiah 23:1-6

Hymn: Behold, A Branch Is Growing (CW 47)

Jeremiah had a tough job. He was a prophet to the Kingdom of Judah during its last years.  His forty-year ministry left him abused, exhausted, and lonely.  But his ministry began on a positive note.  Jeremiah had been the close advisor to good King Josiah. Josiah had rekindled the spiritual life of Judah.  Josiah led his people to abandon idolatry and immorality.  Together, Josiah and Jeremiah brought God’s true Word to the Jews.

But King Josiah died in battle.  From then on, Judah only had evil kings. Judah quickly slipped back into idolatry.  Greed, materialism, and injustice filled the nation.  Furthermore, the Babylonian empire was growing in power and breathing down Judah’s neck.  But all the while, false prophets assured the people of Judah that they were doing just fine.

The Lord commissioned Jeremiah to preach against Judah.  For being faithful to the Lord, Jeremiah suffered frequent imprisonments under the last four kings of Judah.  The false prophets also agitated the Jewish people to mock and reject Jeremiah. But Jeremiah did not give up. Jeremiah kept proclaiming the true Word of the Lord.  Jeremiah kept preaching God’s holy Word whether Judah wanted to hear it or not.

So Jeremiah says, "Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD.  Therefore, this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: 'Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,' declares the LORD." (v 1-4)

The Lord blasts the shepherds of Judah.  These shepherds are the wicked kings and false prophets who had tormented Jeremiah for most of his ministry.  But the wicked kings and false prophets also destroyed and scattered the people of Judah. They did this by promoting idolatry, injustice, and love of money.  All the while they told the people, “God loves you and everything in Judah is just fine.”

Well, it wasn’t fine. The Lord was going to destroy these evil kings and false prophets by sending Babylon’s mighty armies against Judah.  And that’s what happened.  In 586 BC the Babylonians overran Jerusalem and destroyed it.  The Babylonian armies demolished the temple, tore down the city walls, and dragged thousands of Jews off to exile in Babylon.  The Kingdom of Judah was dead and gone.   

Now, there are similarities and differences between Jeremiah’s situation and our situation today.  First, America is not God’s specially chosen nation.  Judah was. America is not. America is also not on the brink of political annihilation the way Judah was.  America is the world’s super-power. 

But there are similarities. The true worship of the one true God is in rapid decline in America, just like it was in Judah during Jeremiah’s ministry. Christian denominations are shrinking at an alarming rate. More and more Americans are bowing down to the false gods of materialism and self-centered existence.  “Regular” people are expressing new and twisted ways of wickedness.  And people applaud them for their “courage.”  Furthermore, anyone who takes a stand for God’s Word and God’s morality swiftly earns condemnation from the “enlightened, progressive” elite.  If you proclaim God’s Word, you get the labels of, bigot, homophobe, racist, hater, and insensitive brute.

But it’s not just “those people out there” who are rapidly falling away from the Lord. It’s happening even in the small, conservative circles of our Wisconsin Synod. What used to be a scandalous sin is now just another behavior we barely notice.  Just like the people of Judah kept ignoring Jeremiah’s call to repent, you and I keep thinking, “I don’t have to change the way I live.  The Lord loves me just the way I am.  God would never punish me.  He chose me to be his own at my baptism. So, I’m good.  No worries here. Everything’s just fine.”

But none of us are “just fine.”  We all fail miserably at despising our sins and turning away from our sins.  We judge our culture’s open immorality and godlessness.  We hide our sins under the façade of our faithfulness. We excuse our hidden greed, lust, pride, anger, jealousy, and laziness.  Those sins quietly ferment in our heart and silently spread their poison to the point of smothering our faith.

So you and I need to listen to Jeremiah’s warning.  We do not want Satan’s armies to drag us into the captivity of impenitence, unbelief, and damnation.  We need to hear Jeremiah’s message. We also need to take to heart Jeremiah’s solution to our problem and the problem that plagued Judah.

Speaking on behalf of the Lord, Jeremiah says, "'I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,' declares the LORD.  'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.'" (v 5-6)

 After the Lord punished Judah for its sins, the Lord would comfort and forgive his people.  He would scatter them under the Babylonian captivity.  But he would bring his people back home.  He would remove their wicked leaders and replace them with honest, loving, and righteous leaders.

Jeremiah is not describing a political resurgence for the nation of Judah.  He is describing the time of the Holy Christian Church. Jeremiah is describing how Jesus would be the true King of the Jews and how only Jesus would be the true, loving, and perfect shepherd of all believers.

Jeremiah calls Jesus, “the righteous Branch.”  That’s also how the prophet Isaiah described Jesus. The image is this: a dying tree is cut down.  All that’s left is a stump.  But from that stump a new, healthy branch emerges.  Well, in 586 BC the Lord used the ax of the Babylonian army to chop down that dying tree called Judah. Then, 586 years later, Jesus was born to be the king of the Jews. To do that,  Jesus was a descendant of King David.  More importantly, Jesus was God’s one and only Son. 

And as true God and true man, Jesus did what no other Jewish king or prophet of Israel could ever do.  Jesus was righteous.  He was perfect.  He was sinless.  And then Jesus did something with his perfect righteousness.  He gave it away, for free.  So, now, everyone who has faith in Jesus also possesses that perfect holiness of Jesus.  So, to describe Jesus, Jeremiah says, "This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness." (v 6)  So, Jeremiah tells us, only God's righteous branch can be your true shepherd.

 Only Jesus can serve as the perfect shepherd.  Only Jesus can feed you with God’s pure Word so that you have no appetite for the junk food of materialism and self-indulgence.

Only Jesus can quench your spiritual thirst as he leads you through the desert of this world’s poisonous spirituality.  Jesus quenches your thirst with himself—with his holiness and with his salvation—because Jesus himself is the water of life. 

Only Jesus can calm your fears of God’s judgment and the terror of hell.  That’s because only Jesus disarms the arrows of God’s holy accusations against you. Jesus disarms God’s law by obeying that law and then by taking the punishment of that law in your place.  Only Jesus died to pay for all your sins.

And by his mighty resurrection from the dead, only Jesus has the power to drive away that roaring lion called Satan.  Only Jesus can use his unlimited strength and his unending love to guard you, to keep you, and to open up heaven for you.

So, only in Christ’s flock of believers and only in Christ’s righteousness are you safe.  In Christ alone are you perfectly at peace with God and eternally blessed by your Father. In Christ alone are you God’s dearly loved lamb.  In Christ alone are you holy, righteous, and forgiven.  To Christ alone be the glory.

Amen.