In two previous posts I discussed how to use the Old Testament in preaching. My first post dealt with the importance of preaching from the Old Testament. In my second post I discussed how to preach on the Messianic passages of the Old Testament. In this post, I will provide an example how to use a Messianic text and preach a sermon that takes into consideration the historical background that gave impetus to the prophetic message.
I have selected Jeremiah 23:5-6 as the basis for the sermon. It is true that every pastor approaches the text in different ways. When a minister is preparing a sermon, the preacher must take into consideration several factors that influence how the text is proclaimed.
The suggestions I present in this post reflect the way I preach in my own church. If my suggestions do not appeal to your style of preaching, at least they may provide a few ideas on how to approach this important text from the book of Jeremiah.
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6).
Jeremiah proclaimed his message during the historical crisis confronting the people of Judah and Jerusalem in the last days of the kingdom David had established. This crisis culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple in 587 B.C.
The destruction of the temple and the cessation of worship and kingship evoked a crisis of faith that permeates most of the literature of the Old Testament. Jeremiah was called to the prophetic ministry a few years before the destruction of Judah. The mission he received from God was to proclaim the advent of God who would visit his people to judge them for their unfaithfulness.
Israel had abandoned God (Jeremiah 2:11,13). They had become worthless by worshiping idols (Jeremiah 2:4). They had profaned the temple (Jeremiah 7:1-15) and violated the covenant that bound Israel to God (Jeremiah 11:1-8). Now Jeremiah was sent by God “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10).
Because Israel violated the covenant by their rejection of and rebellion against God, Jeremiah now proclaimed that God would establish a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). God would make all things new and different, but before God acted, Jeremiah had to preach a message of plucking up and pulling down, for these are the necessary ingredients for building up and planting again.
V. 5. Days are coming. This expression does not specify the time of God’s action. It could be the near or the distant future. The expression generally introduces a hope for the future, a time when God will come to save his people.
I will raise for David. God makes a reference to his promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:16 to preserve the throne and the kingdom of David forever. The salvation of God’s people comes through a son of David whom God will send.
A Righteous Branch. The Branch is a reference to the dynasty of David. Although the tree is fallen (a reference to the judgment of God and the exile of Judah in Babylon), the tree is not dead.
The king of Judah in the days of Jeremiah was Zedekiah. He was a descendant of David and he became the last king to sit on the throne of David. His name means “The Lord is Righteous.” Zedekiah did not live up to his name. He was a weak king who did evil in the sight of the Lord. Although he was God’s anointed (Messiah), he could not save God’s people.
The new king whom God was sending would have all the qualifications of the ideal king. For this reason God would use him mightily to save his people. These are the qualifications of the new king:
a. He will deal wisely. This means that the king will have divine wisdom and will fulfill the laws of God.
b. He shall execute justice. Justice means the order of rights and duties that come out of the relationship established by the covenant.
c. He shall execute righteousness. Righteousness means to do that which is right. Thus, the new king will deal justly and will do what is correct when he decides a case for someone needing vindication. The new king will bring wholeness and set right that which has been broken.
V. 6. The name of the new king, The Lord is our Righteousness is very significant because it is almost identical with the name of Zedekiah (“The Lord is Righteous”). The name of the new son of David creates a contrast between the present king, whose life and actions so desperately belies his name, and the one true king who will come some day. The new king will reflect the righteousness of God and impart it to his people. The apostle Paul probably had this promise in mind when he declared that Jesus Christ is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5: 21).
The new king will save his people. Jeremiah spoke of a day when Judah will be free again from all its trouble, when the problems and the tensions will go away and the people will live in safety.
In preparing a sermon from this passage, the text could be coupled with Matthew 21:1-9. Two possible titles for the sermon:
“The Coming of a New King” or
“The Manifestation of God’s Righteousness”
Introduce the text by describing the advent of God in Jeremiah’s time. God came to judge his people because of their rebellion and sins. They broke the covenant, they defiled the temple and abandoned God. But emphasize that the coming of God for destruction is only the beginning of God’s coming for salvation.
Thus, the prophet saw beyond the coming destruction. He saw God’s future when God will visit his people again, this time for salvation. Thus, the time of Advent looks at a message of hope and promise. The hope was that the original plan of God could not be destroyed by the rebellion of God’s people nor by the sins of his creation. The promise was that out of destruction God himself will rebuild again through his servant who represents the righteousness of God. Thus the advent of God to bring judgment upon his people is only a prelude to the advent of God in Christ to save and redeem his people.
The first section of the sermon should introduce the king of Judah. Most of the kings of Judah were evil; some like David and Josiah were good. The present king, Zedekiah did not live up to his name. The ideal king in Judah was David and the new king will be a branch of David, a second David.
The second section of the sermon should introduce the new king and his work: he shall deal wisely with his people, he shall execute justice, he shall execute righteousness, and he shall save his people.
The third section of the sermon should declare that Jesus Christ is this new king: (a) Jesus was proclaimed king by the people (Matthew 21:5); (b) Jesus came to save God’s people (Matthew 21:9). Hosanna means “save us now”; (c) Jesus was sent by God to accomplish God’s plan of redemption and salvation; (d) Paul said that Jesus is our righteousness.
The conclusion of the sermon should emphasize that the coming of Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promise. Jesus Christ has come to rebuild lives that have been destroyed by drugs and . . . (and any other problem facing your people). Jesus came to save those who are willing to accept his rule as a righteous king. Jesus came for all. Invite people to accept Jesus as their Lord and King.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Other studies in this series: