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Worship Theme: How Does God Guide Us?
Sermon Theme: Here Is Your King!
Pontius Pilate thought it was funny, well, more like sick humor. What a hoot for him to poke fun at the religious fanatics who banged on his door early in the morning demanding an execution edict on a man who, in Pilate’s not so humble opinion, spoke in riddles but was harmless. “We Romans have allowed you Israelites self-rule for the last hundred years, and you’ve had your Herods. But since you are clamoring for a royal, you can have this beaten, battered, broken traveling teacher. Here is your king!” (John 19:14).
If someone stopped you on the street and asked, “How is a king supposed to rule?” What would you say? Would you talk about power, might, and influence? Would you describe a king as leaning toward leniency or tyranny? God used kings to rule the nation he designed and created in order for the Savior to be born. He intended those kings of Israel not only to be rulers in every sense of the word but also to be spiritual shepherds of his flock of believers. Many of you are aware that King David was the best. There was a real shepherd-king. Under his leadership the Israelite armies won more battles than at any other time. Under his spiritual guidance the Israelites worshiped the true God with more sincerity than at any other time.
But three hundred fifty years later, when Jeremiah dictated his message, the scene had changed. The shepherd-kings of Israel had taken the nation for a ride on a semi without brakes careening down a mountain highway. Where could the people of Jerusalem go for help? Where could they go for comfort? How could they survive if an enemy army attacked? In the middle of this tragic setting God sent Jeremiah with a message that still comforts us when it feels like our lives are packed into the trailer of that racing semi or when we’re in the middle of a day that feels like it will never end. In chapter twenty-three of his book Jeremiah proclaims: “Here Is Your King!”
If you were reading the history of the Israelite nation for the first time, you might hope that all the kings would carry on where King David left off, enjoying a close, personal relationship with God, tending to the spiritual needs of God’s people, fighting battles under God’s direction. But the storyline runs one hundred eighty degrees the other way. Out the door went dedication and devotion to the true God. In flew injustice, immorality, and idol worship. The shepherd-kings of Israel drove God’s sheep and lambs away from the pasture of God’s promises. With few exceptions almost every king took a backward step away from God and a downward step deeper into sin. Jeremiah described them as ambitious, blood-thirsty, greedy, vain tyrants.
No wonder God spoke through Jeremiah, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture … Therefore this is what the LORD … 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.” Jeremiah had the unpleasant task of unloading that announcement under the noses of the kings and into the ears of the people. His prophecy came true. When God said, “That’s enough! The wicked rulers have to go!” he wasn’t kidding. He allowed the Babylonian army to roar through the land of Israel like a buzz-saw. They not only deported skilled workers and tradesmen, they not only raided the national treasury, they not only destroyed the capital city, but they also cut off the royal family tree. No more shepherd-kings. The only thing left of David’s royal family tree was a dead, rotting stump.
But now you and I need to ask, “What does God’s judgment against wicked Israelite rulers have to do with us today?” The answer is nothing if we have never taken God’s goodness for granted. The answer is nothing if we are in the role of a husband and have never tried to impose what we want on our wife as if we’re more important. The answer is nothing if we have a role of leadership in the church and have never given the impression, “My way or the highway.” The answer is nothing if we have responsibility for the spiritual welfare of children as parents and have always modeled God’s love by loving each other selflessly. But if we have ever tried to move our agenda ahead of other people’s or ahead of God’s, then hear the word of God through Jeremiah! God doesn’t mess around with shepherd-leaders who fall down on the job or neglect their duties. God threatens them and all sinners with the horror of his anger. I don’t know about you, but that scares my socks off.
But God had a purpose in unloading such stern warnings. He wanted to set the stage for a remarkable miracle, a miracle we would ignore as non-essential unless we know that without it, we’d be like front lawns and flowers without rain. God promised, “The days are coming … when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch.” When we first moved into our house, there was a tree stump in the backyard. There it sat, more gray than brown, lifeless, dead. Nothing was going to grow out of it. Nothing could. Eventually we had someone dig it out. Who would guess that out of a dead stump like that could come life, not just a little sprig of green but a massive, muscular branch? Both Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Joseph, his not-biological-but-legal-earthly father, were descendants of King David. By blood and by legal right Jesus is the Branch from David’s family tree stump, a mighty, muscular Branch at that, but labeled with an even more meaningful descriptor. He is called the righteous Branch, pure, holy. The LORD [declares], “I will raise up … a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely. Why is that such a big deal? Because reign wisely indicates not only intelligence but also success and prosperity. God kept his promise. Where other shepherd-kings failed, Jesus succeeded. With the heart of a compassionate shepherd Jesus not only knows what we need but has the kingly power to give what we need. Splashed all over the pages of the Gospel accounts we find evidence of Jesus, the Shepherd-King, caring for people, binding up their wounded bodies and souls, listening, leading, helping, healing.
Where does healing and help really come from in your life? We’ll have a memorial service here next Friday. The family and friends rejoice that their loved one is with Jesus. But how do they know that? Because the Shepherd-King gave their loved one eternal life at his baptism and has now given him perfect life in glory. Where does healing come from when the virus of discontent and disappointment has infiltrated a relationship? It comes from our Shepherd-King’s forgiveness. Where does healing come from when we desire unity and oneness after so many opinions about pandemic protocols seem to have pulled us apart. It comes from the unity of trust in him that his Spirit has given.
Our Shepherd-King is not only is right, pure, and holy, but God also promised that our King would do what is just and right in the land,” in other words, “establish justice and righteousness on the earth,” that is, he would cover our wayward wandering and be slaughtered on a cross so we wouldn’t be slaughtered in hell. That was Jeremiah’s message for those whose socks were scared off. That’s his message for you. Don’t be afraid! Here is your King! Raised up for you.
To bring renewal
But what about those days when we see our life packed into the trailer of that careening semi? What about those hard days that never seem to end? The Lord says, “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries”? After the Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem and taken the Israelites to their country, it looked like that was the end of God’s special nation. But even though most of them had forgotten about the Lord, God had not forgotten about them or his promise to them. He promised that there would always be a remnant of believers. That word “remnant” gave those who paid attention goose bumps. Sure enough! Seventy years later a handful of world-weary folks returned to rebuild the capital city. There, at least for a time, they found rest from oppression and peace to worship God.
But there’s more to this promise from God. When God spoke about a remnant, he was looking beyond an earthly gathering of Israelites to a spiritual gathering of all true Israelites. That’s embedded in Jeremiah’s message, “In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.” The tribe of Judah and the Old Testament nation of Israel are long gone. But there still is a “remnant.” The Bible says, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs” (Galatians 3:29). That means the Lord has revealed his King so you will be saved and live in safety. “But what if I were hit by a stray road-rage bullet? What if I keel over with a stroke? What if my kids get sick?” The answer is the same one the King gave to his disciples who asked about tragedies. Those horrors remind us that our days on earth are numbered, but then we look to our King and remember that he functions as our Shepherd. Our souls are saved and safe. That’s a promise that renews weary spirits. Jesus makes sure we lie down in green pastures. He leads us beside quiet waters. He restores our souls. He guides us in paths of righteousness. Even if one day we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil. He is with us. The rod and staff of his power and pardon comfort us. If we run into flack or people who oppose what we believe, he prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. He anoints our head with the oil of joy. Our cup of blessings overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives, and we will live in the house of the Lord forever. Here is your King who brings renewal even in the darkest days!
There are folks who grew up in a country with royalty and are very much in tune with what kings and queens do. Americans are at a bit of a disadvantage in that regard. If you moved to a country with a king, what kind of king would you want? Maybe you’d have a tough time describing that. But what if your eternity hinged on having not just a king but the right one? Good thing we don’t have to go on a search or hunt for one. Here is your King! He’s our Savior, Jesus! Amen.
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