Well…it didn’t take long did it? The moment we put down our forks and finished our thanksgiving feasts radio stations began playing Christmas songs, churches began scheduling special services, our neighbors began climbing steep ladders to decorate their homes, and retail stores began pumping up their marketing trying to convince we need everything they’re selling to prepare for all the festivities to come.
It must be Christmas.
I often find a jumbling of contradictory feelings going on within myself during this time. On the one hand there truly is a thrill in the air as this season approaches, it’s an easy time to speak of the gospel as we give gifts to others because God gave us the gift of His Son. But on the other hand, amid all the hustle and bustle of the season, I can too easily either get jaded with the overload of holiday commercialism or can get so caught up in it that I forget the grand and glorious reason why we do all these things. Do you find all these things present in you too? Whatever you find going on within you as the festivities begin, I think it is good for us to be reminded of what the Incarnation is, why it matters, and why it simply changed everything as we know it.
Pastor and one of The Publicans blogger’s Austin Wynn summarizes the meaning of Christmas in this way: “Christmas is the story of a how a big, holy God came to dwell with a little, unholy people. Don’t be fooled by the smallness of the baby in the manger or the insignificant place in which He was born. It may not look like much, but this is God. The God who lit the fire of a thousand blazing suns with just His words. The God who parted a giant sea to save His people. The God who sent fire from heaven at Elijah’s prayer. This is that God. If you and I could somehow hop on a time machine and travel back to the stable and look this baby in the face, nothing about His appearance would scream, ‘I am God!’, yet He was. That same Child who cried for his mother’s milk and seemed so vulnerable would soon fast for forty days in the wilderness, walk on water, drive out demons, still storms” …and lay down His life for sinners like us.
What should our response to this be? “Rejoice and be merry in song and in mirth! Praise the Redeemer, all mortals of earth! For it is the birthday of Jesus our King, who brought us salvation – His praise we sing!”
Here’s where we’re headed the next 4 weeks. Each Sunday in Advent during the lighting of our Advent candle you’ll hear a specific passage of Scripture read. Then during the sermon time you’ll hear that same passage preached. For us today we turn our attention to Jeremiah 33:10-16 where we find ‘Expectation of Hope’ as our theme. Let’s dig in…
The book of Jeremiah, along with the other prophetic books of the Old Testament, shouldn’t be read like a normal book as if they had an introduction, main body of content, and a conclusion. Instead they should be read as a collection of speeches the prophet gives to a certain audience, with a few brief descriptions of how these speeches effected the prophets’ own life situation.Allow me to set this historical context to get a sense of the issues at play within Jeremiah’s ministry. We start with the prophet Isaiah who ministered before, during, and after the year 722 BC, which was the time the northern kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria. Afterwards the Assyrians continued to trouble the southern kingdom of Judah for some time, demanding they pay a tribute to them. This Judah did, prompting some within Judah to begin looking to Egypt for help because in their own right the Egyptians were coming back to a position of power in the world. However, in 640 BC Josiah became king in Judah and began a reformation in the nation after he found the Book of the Law in the temple. From being so struck with what was written in God’s Law, Josiah called the nation to repentance. He stopped the tribute payments to the Assyrian king and told the people to no longer look to any other nation for help but to look to the Lord instead.
Well, during Josiah’s reforms many things did get better within Judah but he couldn’t completely reform the nation. And around them things continued developing amid the other nations. Assyria was growing weaker and could no longer enforce other nations to make tribute payments, Egypt seemed strong but would eventually fall to the Babylonians, and in 612 BC the Babylonians decisively sacked the city Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. These same Babylonians continued their march south and began a campaign against the southern kingdom of Judah. The first time they came into Jerusalem was 605 BC, after striking fear into the people and Jehoiakim the king they took away their first group of captives. Daniel and his friends were among this first group of exiles. 597 BC was the next time they came and after installing the puppet king Jehoiachin they took another large group captive and among this group of exiles was the prophet Ezekiel. Their king Jehoiachin ended up only being king for three months because the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar came back and installed another king named Zedekiah. From 597-586 BC things went from bad to worse as Zedekiah tried to save Judah not by trusting in God but by secretly aligning with other nations opposed to Babylon. Eventually word got out, Nebuchadnezzar found out about it, and in his anger he came back to Jerusalem in 586 BC and laid siege to Jerusalem, effectively completing their campaign against Judah.
It was during these turbulent days that God spoke to His people through the prophets Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Jeremiah. And that shouldn’t surprise us really, all throughout Scripture when it seems as if all were dark and hopeless God raises up a prophet to shine forth the light of truth.
Now then comes a new question: what did God say through Jeremiah to His people? That answer isn’t easy to hear. The entire book is almost entirely dedicated to one thing: God rebuking His people, God judging His people, and God reminding His people of His freedom, His right, and His desire to hand His people over to the Babylonians. In chapters 2-20 God judges Judah for their idols, for their false religion, for listening to false prophets of peace, for breaking the covenant, He tells them of coming judgment, and the need for repentance. In chapters 21-24 God says He Himself will fight against His people alongside the Babylonians for their many sins and the only way to save themselves is to go into exile and into captivity. In chapters 25-29 God tells His people that He’ll send for and send out all the hosts of the north into Judah to take His people away in exile for 70 years. For being God’s mouthpiece for all this, God’s people responded by arresting Jeremiah for speaking against them and the holy city of Jerusalem but they end up letting him go free because they think Jeremiah will think more clearly about what he says after being arrested and warned so severely.
But in chapters 34-36 God brings more rebuke to His people, this time for rejecting His Word. They arrest Jeremiah again in chapter 37 because they now think he’s in league with the Babylonians. After arresting him, they threaten to kill him, and throw him in a deep well for speaking against them in chapter 38. But once again they release him and when Jeremiah speaks again he picks up exactly where he left off, warning that they’re about to be taken off into exile, and in chapter 39 that’s exactly what happens. 39:1 says, “In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem and besieged it.” The book of Jeremiah ends in chapters 40-52 with the aftermath of the exile and God’s judgments against the surrounding nations, and the last nation in the book of Jeremiah to be judged is none other than Babylon herself.
Perhaps now you understand a bit more of why Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet. Not only do we see God speaking judgment through Him to God’s people, but all throughout these chapters we get little peeks here and there at the toll these things are having on Jeremiah himself. The book as a whole is a long and ugly picture of the destination we’ll arrive at if we continue on rejecting the Word of God. But, though judgment is the main thrust of the book there are moments where the light of hope and promise shines through like the morning sun. Specifically, right in the middle of the book there is a whole chunk (chapters 30-33) where we see God promise a return from exile, promise a new King on the throne of David, and promise a new covenant which would bring God’s people the greatest possible redemption and restoration.It is in this middle portion where we find our text for our first Sunday in Advent. The context for Jeremiah 33:14-16 begins in 33:10-13, so we’ll begin there.
To a people being given over to exile due to their own unfaithfulness, comes the promise of the faithful God. A promise from God about God remembering, fulfilling, and bringing God’s own promises to pass. What does this mean for them? It means future restoration. This would’ve been nothing short of shocking to them. In 33:10 God mentions what all His people are saying. That Jerusalem, the holy city, was a waste place, an abandoned ruin, desolate, without man or beast walking about. But as chapter 29 mentioned briefly, the Lord had plans for His people, plans to prosper and plans to not harm them. Again in 32:41 God says, “Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them.” Even more so later in 33:3 God says He has great and unsearchable things to tell His people. What are these plans to prosper? What are all the good things He will bring upon them? What are the great and unsearchable things He desires to tell? Into the context of the desolate city of v10, comes the bright hope of reversal in v11. In that city “…there shall be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord (singing) ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!’ (lesson?) For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the Lord.”
Weddings, usually, are an occasion of covenantal celebration, where one man and one woman give thanks to God and enter into covenant before God and one another. They are occasions of dancing, laughter, cake, where gifts are given and toasts of all kinds are made to the happy new family. God expands on this in v12-13 saying in the desolate Jerusalem shepherds will once again have abundant work keeping and counting their flocks. Exile and war would’ve meant that social events like this and normal everyday vocations like shepherding would’ve come to an end, but here He promises a redemptive reversal to their exile, such that all these things will occur once again. Can you imagine that?Imagine, all of us here at SonRise being conquered, enslaved, lined up, and ordered to march to a faraway country where we could no longer worship freely and live as we desire to. Then imagine years going by, losing hope, but hoping against hope that God will rescue. Then imagine Him doing just that! God rescuing us out and bringing us back, imagine us gathering back here once again for the first time in a long time. Can you imagine how loud that first song would be?! Can you imagine how wonderful our fellowship would be?! Can you imagine how long and delightful that first sermon would be?! As Jeremiah writes chapter 33 the people of Judah may be leaving, but God tells them He will one day bring them back to the same city, to sing the same song, to the same God. Weddings will occur, festivities will be enjoyed, soldiers will turn back into shepherds, and peace will reign where devastation once ruled. This is what God is promising to His people!
But this was only the beginning of the story. God would not only bring them back and give them peace, He would give them a new King characterized by peace. 33:14-16 says the following, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”
The people of God had many kings in their time, a few of which are noteworthy and exemplary models of righteousness for the people, we think of David, perhaps Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah. But by and large most of their kings were exemplary models of unrighteousness. Here God says He’ll fulfill His promise of old and give His people a new King.
See in v15 that the King is called, not David himself, but a righteous Branch springing up from David. The people would’ve remembered the great Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7 where God promises to establish the throne and kingdom of David forever. They would’ve also known that this promise was initially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon, who would build the Lord a house in the great Solomonic temple. But Solomon ultimately failed to usher in the peace and permanence promised to David. So then who is in view here? Was it Hezekiah? Was it Josiah? In small ways perhaps, but they too didn’t quite fit the magnitude of the promises in 2 Samuel 7. Who then is the Branch springing up from the line of David? It is none other than the One who is both David’s son and David’s Lord, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Matthew would begin his gospel with Jesus’ genealogy as the Son of David (Matthew 1:1-17), Peter said in his sermon at Pentecost that Jesus’ resurrection was the moment when God established David’s throne forever (Acts 2:29-32), and Paul begins his great letter to the Romans with a statement that the gospel concerns one Man, Jesus who was descended from David by the flesh (Rom. 1:4).
See in v15 that Christ the King will execute justice and righteousness in the land. Unlike all the unfaithful kings of old, Christ the King will be flawlessly faithful and will live and lead justly and righteously. In His ministry and in His Kingdom the humble are exalted while the exalted are humbled, the sinful and lost find welcome and redemption while the proud and arrogant find rebuke and judgment. See in v16 that God’s people, because of the coming of Christ the King, will be saved and will dwell securely. This King will not look to other nations to save God’s people, because being God Himself He will save His people Himself. Not by waging a mighty military campaign against all their enemies but by initially humbling Himself by becoming one of us at His birth and ultimately allowing Himself to be killed by all their enemies. But though He died and was laid in the tomb, death died when Jesus burst forth in resurrection power, accomplishing victory against the evil one for all who would believe in Him. This is how will He save His people. See then what v16 ends with? Christ the King is righteous, and because He is righteous, all those who place their faith in Him are given His righteousness as a gift, so much so that the very people of God will be called ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’ What a promise of light to a people in darkness!
We’ve called this first Sunday in Advent “Expectation of Hope.” Do not forget that hope was absent in Judah at this time. This was a promise of hope originally made to those heading out of Judah into exile in Babylon. For them, this almost unbelievable promise would’ve given them a present hope in (what?) a future yet to come. They looked ahead and put their faith in the coming King who make all these sad things untrue.
These great promises were partially fulfilled when they returned to the land 70 years later, but they lacked this righteous King who would be righteous for them and make them righteous in Him. So they still looked ahead in faith that He would come. And of course, come He would. These great promises would be ultimately fulfilled when David’s Branch, Jesus Christ, was born. His coming meant salvation for all those from all nations who believed in Him and followed Him.
And for us today, we look back on all these things being fulfilled, we read of Him coming, living, dying, rising, and ascending to rule and reign, we hear the gospel preached, we who have believed in Him experience the power of salvation, we rejoice in the gift of His righteousness though we’re still sinners, and regardless of how hostile this world is to us we love the safety and security of dwelling and abiding in Him forevermore. At times our sense of exile is deep, isn’t it? We are deeply aware that we were made for far more than we currently experience. We are deeply aware that things are not as they should be in the world. And if we’re honest, we’re deeply aware that we are not as we should be either. May you gain a Christmas hope this morning! They looked forward to the hope that would one day be revealed, we look back at the hope that has been revealed. But for the time being, we are like they were…exiles, aliens in this world, waiting like they did in Babylon for the fulfillment of His promises. We also look ahead, waiting in faith for the return of our King, for His Second Coming, when He shall come back to usher in His kingdom in full and take us once and for all out of exile and into the heavenly land, to the new Jerusalem where He shall ever be our King, we shall ever be His people, and His praise shall ever be on our lips!
The peace and hope of Christmas now reigns in part, one day it shall reign in full!
Anonymous medieval hymn, Rejoice and Be Merry, quoted in The Pastor’s Book (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015) page 85.
Mark Dever Promises Made(Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2006) page 593.
ESV Study Bible, Introductory notes for Jeremiah(Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2008) page 1364-1367.
Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2001) page 510.