Sunday, August 19, 2012

God's Promise of a Righteous Branch

International Sunday School Lesson
Study Notes

Lesson Text: Jeremiah 23:1-6; 33:14-18
Lesson Title: God's Promise of a Righteous Branch

Introduction

Where have all the leaders gone? That is a relevant question that needs to be asked and answered in relation to both the secular world and the spiritual world. Who actually believes that anyone holding or seeking public office is capable of sound productive leadership? And how many Christians are confident that those who lead their church are biblically gifted and qualified to do so? Biblical leadership is the need of the hour, and for the church under the mandate of the Great Commission to take the gospel to the world, leadership is an indispensible requirement.

Leadership is essential to the life of God's people. From the beginning God has established leaders to guide His people in fulfilling their purpose in life. The church is undergoing a leadership crisis that is painfully evident. The absence of spiritual growth in the church is directly connected to pastors and church leaders who are spiritually satisfied and reluctant to change of any sort. Peace at any price has become the norm among pastors and church leaders. In other words, don't rock the boat.

A church can call a man to be a pastor, deacon, elder or to hold some other position of leadership. A church can appoint men and women to teach Sunday school, serve in leadership positions on committees and other ministries. But the call or appointments does not make someone a leader. Leader is not a title, but a role. You only become a leader by functioning as one. And the pastors in today's lesson obviously did not fulfill that role.

Jeremiah ministered in the southern kingdom of Judah from about 626 B.C. until after the fall of Jerusalem around 586 B.C. He witnessed firsthand the results of bad leadership. There were some bright spots in Jeremiah's ministry in regard to leadership but they were few and far between. King Josiah made some notable reforms but after his death things quickly went the other way ((2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chronicles 23:3-7; 34:14). Jeremiah's prophesy of coming judgment was not well received. He was persecuted, placed in stocks and even smote in the mouth by Pashur, chief governor of the Lord's house (Jeremiah 20:2). Weary from all the opposition, Jeremiah declared, "I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name..." (Jeremiah 20:9). But he couldn't stop because "...his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay" (Jeremiah 20:9).

Jeremiah is preaching his ninth message in chapter 22:1 through 23:40. The time is just prior to the fall of Jerusalem and King Zedekiah, the last and the weakest of the kings is the main recipient of Jeremiah's words. At this most crucial time in the nation's history the land was filled with prophets; prophets who were urging King Zedekiah to listen to their prophesy and follow their leadership in hopes of freeing Judah from its oppression. Because Jeremiah was preaching God's message he was brought into conflict with the prophets and leaders of the day. The sins of the kings and the sins of the prophets become the heart of Jeremiah's message.

A Condemnation Spoken (Jeremiah 23:1-2)

Verse 1

"Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord."

Much of Judah's troubles could be linked to their lack of leadership. "Woe be unto the pastors" is a reference to the false shepherds and corrupt leaders who failed in their spiritual duty to lead them in the ways of God. The term "pastors" is synonymous with the shepherd. The people of Judah were very familiar with a shepherd and his responsibilities to lead, fed, guide, and guard the sheep. Jeremiah's use of the term "pastors" is a reference to all the leadership in the land including kings, civil authorities and anyone who had oversight of the affairs of the realm.

The term "pastors" also included the prophets and priests (Jeremiah 23:11). God had "found their wickedness" in his house. What a terrible indictment on the spiritual leadership of Jeremiah's day. It is also a stern reminder in our day that we are in deep trouble when we go to God's house and find "their wickedness" in God's house. Their prophesies, their rules, their thought process controlled the house of God and God's word from His prophet Jeremiah was disregarded.

The pastors "destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD." This is totally opposite of what a pastor (shepherd) is to do.

Verse 2

"Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord."

The thought of "scattering" and "driving away" God's people is continued in this verse. God is speaking "against the pastors that feed my people." While they should have been feeding the people the truth of the coming judgment they were driving them away from truth by their soft prophecies and politically correct approach to spiritual matters.

"Have not visited them" are words of neglect. Why had the pastors not "visited" God's people and taken care of them? The answer is they were too busy building their own kingdoms and looking after themselves. "Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work; That saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is cieled with cedar, and painted with vermilion." In other words, this entire duty of shepherding God's people had taken a back seat to looking after self.

The Apostle Paul warned two preachers Timothy and Titus and he warned deacons about the danger of self interest in the form of "filthy lucre" (2 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7). The Apostle Peter issued the same warning to pastors in 1 Peter 5:2. Ministry has become a financially profitable occupation in many circles. It is easy to succumb to the temptation of self-interest of the care and concern of the flock.

An Action Taken (Jeremiah 23:3-6)

Verse 3

"And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase."

In contrast to the scattering of the flock by the "pastors," God will "gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds..." It was God who drove His people out of their land because of their sinfulness. It is God who promises to restore exiled Israelites who have been driven out of their land back to their homeland.

There is a double fulfillment of this prophecy. The first fulfillment occurred after the Babylonian exile when the remnant returned to Israel. However, as history verifies, this peaceful and righteous rule and the "fruitful...increase" was short-lived. By the time Malachi wrote his prophecy, Israel had already regressed back into idolatry and immorality. The final fulfillment of this prophecy will not come until Jesus Christ the Messiah, the righteous Branch, will reign for a thousand years.

Verse 4

"And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord."

When the restoration of Israel occurs, God will "set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking..." Again, the final fulfillment of this verse will not occur until the millennial kingdom. However, when Israel returned from Babylonian captivity, God provided a glimpse of the type of leaders and shepherds He wanted over His people in men like Zerrubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and others (Ezekiel 34:11-16).

Obviously there is much fear, dismay, and want among God's people when the leadership fails and becomes self-centered. The leadership of the coming kingdom will be "set up" by God and His people will never lack again. Absolute safety and provision is God's desire for His people.

If you carefully study the history of the early church in Acts, it is obvious that Christ wanted His flock, His church taken care of. The leadership established and those appointed by the apostles to look after the well being of God's people is crucial to the life of the church. Just because we are not yet in the millennial kingdom and times are tough we have no excuse for careless self-centered leadership. There is no place in God's church for hirelings and dictators who want a position or a name for themselves.

Verse 5

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth."

"Behold" means "look, listen to what is about to be said, it is important." Jeremiah uses this introductory formula fourteen times in the book to introduce a message of hope for the future (Jeremiah 7:32; 9:25; 16:14; 19:6; 23:5, 7; 31:27, 31, 38; 33:14; 48:12; 49:2; 51:47, 52). What follow the word "Behold" in verses 5-6 is one of the great messianic prophecies of Jeremiah and the Old Testament.

"The days come" is a general promise and does not have a particular date on the calendar in mind. "Judgment and justice in the earth" is coming. That's the promise. When that day comes, "I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth." The Messiah is pictured as a "Branch" or literally a "shoot" out of the family tree of David (Isaiah 4:2; 11:1-5; Jeremiah 33:15-16). "Branch" is a messianic metaphor. The "Branch" was not an individual twig or branch of a tree, but a sprout from a fallen tree or a sprout out of the ground, a root that formed a second tree. The prophesy spoken of is that out of the fallen dynasty of Israel life would spring up through an individual Messiah, upon whom the nation's hopes and future would rest.

"And a King shall reign and prosper" is hopeful words indeed when you consider how many evil kings had reigned in Israel and Judah and the nation had suffered instead of prospered. Jesus Christ the Messiah will be that "King."

Verse 6

"In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS."

In the "days" of that "King," Jeremiah says, "Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely..." The "days" when Messiah shall reign speaks of the age or time of His reign. It is during the Millennium that Israel will be "saved" from internal troubles and external troubles. She will ever again have to worry about enemies. What a blessed day!

The "name" of the "King" will be "THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS." The future "King" would be the true King Zedekiah. The last king was King Zedekiah whose name means "The Lord is righteous." King Zedekiah never lived up to his name. Neither has any other king or ruler. But the coming Messiah will. The "Branch" will have a name symbolizing that "the Lord is our righteousness." His coming will mean that the righteousness of the Lord has been communicated to his people.

This has not yet happened because "judgment and justice" have not yet occurred on even a local level much less nationwide or worldwide. Israel still does not "dwell safely" in the land, but in the Millennium she will! This prophecy will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ when He returns to this earth to rule and reign (Revelation 11:15; 20:6).

An Answer Given (Jeremiah 33:14-18)

Jeremiah 33:1 indicates that the prophecy recorded in this chapter is a continuation of the prophecy given to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the prison. The heart of this chapter is that Jerusalem will be rebuilt and will one day be ruled by a righteous king.

The question of how God will accomplish His promise rebuilding Jerusalem and setting up rule by a righteous king is answered in Jeremiah 33:14-18.

Verse 14

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah."

"Behold" means "look, listen to what is about to be said, it is important." The "days" are coming when the Lord "will perform that good thing which I have promised." That "good thing" is God's promise to David through the prophet David recorded in 2 Samuel 7:16, "And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever."

Verse 15

"In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land."

When "those days" come and "that time" is here, God will "cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David." This is the Messiah King in David's lineage who was conceived of a virgin, born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, suffered and died on the cross; rose the third day, ascended into heaven, and is soon to return, the Lord Jesus Christ.

"And he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land" means the Messiah will do what is right and just in the land. Sometimes Jewish people and some Christians think the Lord's reign and rule will be limited to the promised land of Israel. While Messiah will reign there He will also reign and rule the entire earth.

Verse 16

"In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The Lord our righteousness."

This verse is almost identical to Jeremiah 23:6. The difference in the verses is that the city of "Jerusalem" shall be called by the same name of Messiah, "The LORD our righteousness." What a glorious thought. Both Jeremiah 23:6 and Jeremiah 33:16 promises security and a bright future for Israel and Judah, the northern and southern kingdoms. No portion of God's Promised Land or any of His people will be excluded from the promise.

Verse 17-18

"For thus saith the Lord; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually."

Since God had promised David that his kingdom would be established forever and one of his descendants would "sit upon the throne of the house of Israel," has God's promise failed? As Jeremiah wrote these prophetic words the throne of the house of Israel appeared to be in jeopardy. The sin of Judah as so awful that captivity and judgment could not be avoided. Anyone who understood the seriousness of this situation must have wondered if God's promise would ever be fulfilled. Of the twenty Davidic kings who reigned over Judah from David to the captivity, most of them were wicked and evil and unworthy to even be associated with David. Jeremiah reflects how he felt about the wickedness of the Davidic line in Jeremiah 22 and 23.

In spite of the present reality of sinfulness and shame, Jeremiah with confidence and assurance said, "For thus saith the Lord; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offering, and to do sacrifice continually." Jeremiah believed and prophesied that one legitimate King from David's loins would come and reign and a legitimate priesthood would one day be in place "to do sacrifice continually." The priesthood and kingship of ancient Israel are never combined into one office. It is therefore not strange that Jeremiah would see them separately in his prophecy. Yet, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of both.

Today, Jesus Christ the King does not yet literally reign. However, Jesus Christ at this very moment is our eternal priesthood and our qualified priest to represent us before God. While the need for sacrifices and burnt offerings no longer exist, the Hebrew writer reminds us, "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:14-15).

Conclusion

God in His infinite wisdom chose David to the king and the father of the lineage through which Jesus Christ would come. David was not perfect but he was a good leader for the nation of Israel (1 Samuel 13:14). It was David who said, "The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain" (2 Samuel 23:3-4). The nation was never closer to that kind of a leader than with David. And yet, after Solomon and the kings to follow it was painfully evident that it would never happen from a mere earthly king.

With Jeremiah, we who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior look forward to the righteous reign of the Righteous Branch of David, the Lord Jesus Christ. While we pray for godly leaders in both our nation and our churches we realize that true righteousness and justice will never be fully known in this life. David's greater Son, Jesus Christ, is the ultimate leader and the One for whom we wait.

Amen.