“Our Righteous King”
November 20, 2022
Henry Norkplim Anyomi
References: Jer. 23:1-6, Luke 23:33-43
Lord Almighty, thank You for this house and for this opportunity to listen for Your word. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to You. Amen!
In this message, we will be exploring Jeremiah’s prophecy about Judah’s exile and Jesus’ crucifixion. Through both stories, we will be reflecting on the themes of righteousness, restoration, leadership, and mis- or bad leadership. Our message culminates in an emphasis on Jesus as our righteousness.
That said, let’s take off together…
*Power gone wrong, that’s how we begin today’s reflection. Our first reading, Jeremiah 23:1-6 brings to the fore the irresponsible leadership and negligence of Israel and Judah’s rulers. God’s retribution was coming upon them because they had “destroyed the sheep, scattered them, driven them away, and not attended to them” (Jer. 23:1-2).
Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry spanned five monarchs – Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. Arguably, though his ministry centred on Judah, it had implications for Israel and its capital Samaria at times, and our Old Testament reference for today is no exception. I really am not great at tongue twisting and these many “J’s” may obstruct the flow of my message, so let me just bring it home.
What we need to retain is that Jeremiah’s ministry occurred, for the most part, in unfavourable periods of idolatry and evil where he was called upon to prophesy harsh fates to Jerusalem.
Back to Jeremiah 23, irresponsible actions and poor leadership (turning their backs on God, worshipping Baal and prophesying by him, defiling the holy land, and following unprofitable things) had already plunged Israel into captivity across Assyria, and Judah would later struggle under such superpowers as Chaldea, Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt for the same sins. Unknown to those shepherds, their momentary pleasures, relationships of convenience, and arbitrary choices had almost life-long consequences. Consequences and hardships which would cost even God so much to reverse – think of sacrificing Jesus so a new temple could be built from his body (as we, Christians, believe) and the gathering the remnants of God’s flock from where their leaders had driven them.
*Because the Scripture refers to the word, “shepherd,” there’s the need to pause and ponder exactly who’s being talked about here. Biblical scholars say both spiritual and civil leaders are being looked at here. Indulge me, imagine we are out in the fields with a shepherd and their herd. What primary duties do they owe their flock? … I’m sure you may have mentioned taking them to pasture and a source of water for a drink. You probably may have also considered finding shade for them to rest, and protecting them from predators, among others. These are correct and they are exactly what God expected of the Judah and Samaria’s shepherds – feeding, tending, protection, etc. Instead, they “destroyed, scattered, drove away, and did not attend” to God’s flock.
*An important pause and reflect moment for us: are we scatterers, destroyers, and the like in social contexts (homes, schools, workplaces, etc) we find ourselves? Who might we be scattering or destroying from God’s fold?
We may ask the same questions in regard to our modern-day shepherds, at a time where parochial interests, untruths, conspiracy theories, insatiable appetites for power threaten our very lives. Persons in places of authority use excessive force on unarmed civilian protestors, incite their followers to violent uprisings, fabricate lies about their opponents, stockpile nuclear warheads and other explosives, invade others’ territories, and so on and so forth. Our secular and spiritual leaders today ought to reflect on the repercussions of scattering and damaging God’s flock, this evil doesn’t escape God’s view (Jer. 23:2 NRSV).
Shepherds’ corruption, negligence, and injustice can’t stop the divine plan for our lives. Pharoah couldn’t stop the Israelites from inheriting the Promised Land, Sanballat and Tobiah couldn’t stop Nehemiah and the Jews from rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls and gates, Hitler and the Nazi regime couldn’t stop God’s plan for the Jews … *Today, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has cost over 6,500 Ukrainian civilian lives, displaced over 12million others from their homes, and directly damaged more than $97billion worth of property. Though hard to understand, this too won’t stop God’s redemptive and restorative plans for Ukraine – someday God’s hand will silence the ammunition and artillery, the displaced will come back home, and families will be reunited. We may not understand the “whys,” but we know that God restores.
This restorative God says in Jeremiah 23:3:
“I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.”
*God doesn’t cease to be good when adversity strikes; God is good all the time. And in God’s goodness, the scattered are gathered, refugees are returned, and the barren made fruitful. Amen!
This good God chose in this particular case to not only restore Judah and Israel to their lands, but to also appoint leaders after God’s heart over them.
*Now our God is not only good, God is our righteousness. The verses 5 to 6, predict the “raising up” of a Branch of righteousness who will bring about the salvation of Judah and the safety of Israel. His name is given as, “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (and we may define “righteousness” as without fault, sin, or blemish). Note that some argue that this prophecy remains unfulfilled, but to us, Christians, this “Branch” is Jesus. The book of Hebrews teaches that through Jesus, God sent us a message of righteousness (Hebrews 1:2,3). Friends, we, Christians, believe that God chose to be Judah and Israel’s righteousness (our righteousness by extension), following the failures of their civil and spiritual leaders. In, Jesus, therefore we have right standing with God and are without fault, sin, or guilt.
Human perceptions creep in when the Messiah, our Righteousness, is mentioned, however. In Luke 23:33-43, we see the perceptions of the leaders (religious and civil) creep in. They not only activate their plot of having Jesus killed, but they also instigate the crowd against Jesus, leading to his crucifixion. These resulted in part from their twisted understanding and ignorance of the mission of righteousness of the Branch of God. In their estimation, a saviour should be able to save both themselves and others. But God’s position was and is, “those who want to save their life will lose it” (Matt. 16:25). *Friends, God being righteous and credible needed to uphold this divine standard – God’s son’s life for us. Thus, this God who saved humanity and revealed the promised Branch in accordance with divine law; this God who is free from guilt and sin; this God who goes above and beyond to bring us back and make us fruitful is deserving of ALL OF OUR TRUST. Let’s trust God!
Also, notice that in the midst of the sneering, blaspheming, and ridiculing rises a witness of God - a criminal? Call it a stage of ironies, surprises, or whatever, but a condemned man wades through his ills and crimes and the stereotypes and abuses of the past to testify about Jesus the Christ. Notice that Jesus at that moment had no glory, he was one condemned by the system and written off by the leaders and people alongside the criminal. The criminal probably was the proverbial “stone” raised up by God to testify of the Messiah where others failed (Luke 19:40). What is the moral here? When we meet the Saviour, our past wrongs and sins don’t count anymore – they are forgiven. He himself is our righteousness, Jesus makes all things right. The criminal earned himself a place at the Lord’s table because of his testimony about Jesus: “this Man has done nothing wrong,” he stressed (Luke 23:41). He never knew Jesus and yet saw righteousness in our Lord.
*Today, we are encouraged by the example of this criminal and ex-convict – an example of courage amid lies and popular opinion, an example of pushing past a dark past, an example of standing by our beliefs. We are invited to let our own versions of the Messianic story be heard in the midst of the ideologies, conspiracy theories, fake news, party politics, power struggles, etc that surround us. I pray that no matter how high these voices rise or how trying these circumstances get, we will remember who Christ is to us; remember God’s goodness and commitment to God’s word; remember that our own strength will fail us, but God’s won’t; remember that God has gifted us the Good Shepherd who is our righteousness.
Pause and Reflect (2-3 minutes)
*I invite you to add your own testimony to the preaching of God’s word by grabbing the labyrinth handed you with today’s bulletin and announcements. We will take 2-3 minutes for this exercise (you may do a more detailed observation later at home).
Please move your finger around the labyrinth, trying to find the centre (don’t worry about making errors, adds to the fun). Kindly pay attention to the words that you may move past them and reflect on who is to you when you’ve come to the centre…
[Thanks for adding your voice to the word. May our Righteous God add God’s blessing to the preaching of God’s word. Amen!]
Thanks, Dear Lord, that no matter our backgrounds or present circumstances, you are committed to being our righteousness. Pardon the wrongs of our shepherds, bring us back to You, and make us fruitful. Above all, remind us always through your Holy Spirit that we are forgiven our own sins and that You are enough. We come boldly before Your throne of grace to receive mercy and grace to help us in times of need. We need You, Lord Jesus, for You are our righteous King! Amen.