The Lord said:
I made a wonderful promise to Israel and Judah, and the days are coming when I will keep it.
I promise that the time will come
when I will appoint a king
from the family of David,
a king who will be honest
and rule with justice.
In those days,
Judah will be safe;
Jerusalem will have peace
and will be named,
“The Lord Gives Justice.” (Contemporary English Version)
Jeremiah is known as “the weeping prophet.” From the very beginning of his prophetic ministry, Jeremiah was given a message that Jerusalem and Judah would experience God’s wrath and be exiled to a foreign country.
The prophet Jeremiah was faithful to his calling. Yet, he loved his homeland, and it grieved his heart to know that everything familiar around him would be either altered or destroyed. All would change because God’s judgment was coming.
The Lord gave Jeremiah an unpopular message, especially since Judah was enjoying a time of abundance, economic stability, and relative freedom from war. No one took Jeremiah seriously. Initially, when Jeremiah began to spread his message of gloom and doom, he was perceived as a kook, and no one took him seriously.
But Jeremiah did not let up. The eye-rolling turned into annoyance, and then, over time, contempt. Judah’s king and the governing officials tried to silence Jeremiah as being subversive and unpatriotic. As a result, Jeremiah was imprisoned several times.
Jeremiah, in today’s Old Testament lesson, is under house arrest. The city of Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonian army. Jeremiah’s prophecy is knocking at the door….
But the people are not listening, believing they’ll be delivered by God for two reasons:
1) They see the Babylonians are evil pagans who do not recognize the One true God, so, obviously, God would never use such an ungodly army to overthrow the people of God, right!?
2) They have the temple and the true worship of God, and God would never let the temple be desecrated, right!?
So, the people of Jerusalem felt immune from any kind of terrible judgment, as if being God’s people with God’s temple would ward-off any disaster.
The siege against Jerusalem lasted over two years. During that time, the people of Jerusalem went from cocky and confident to having a very rude awakening. Horrible disaster was upon them. At their lowest point, with barely any food, and atrocities occurring throughout the city, Jeremiah’s word from God was a message of grace.
The people would not be delivered from their inevitable fate. Yet, God would not wipe them off the map and destroy them forever. There is coming a day when there will be a Deliverer, a just and right Savior from the line of the greatest Israelite king ever, David.
The hardest reality for Jerusalem’s people to accept was that their way of life would never be the same again. It would forever change. Although they continued to practice all the rituals of the temple system and worship, over the generations it had simply become a rabbit’s foot for them – as long as they did their duty, they could walk away and do whatever they wanted. And they did.
That approach got God’s attention. Divine wrath came through the most unlikely of instruments: the pagan Babylonians led by the arrogant King Nebuchadnezzar.
The transition from one way of life to another was excruciating.
Oftentimes change happens and it’s out of our control. However, what is within our influence is how we make the transition from the previous reality to the new reality.
A biblical way to deal with difficult changes and transitions is by focusing on God’s promises. There are two pairs of the promise we have within the prophecy of Jeremiah: judgment and grace; justice and righteousness.
By looking ahead with hope to the new future of what God is doing and will accomplish, we then come to grips with present troubles.
Judgment and Grace
All of the Old Testament prophetic books have a rhythm of judgment and grace. The promise God gave to the people through Jeremiah was that judgment was coming; and, that grace would follow on its heels.
Proclaiming only a message of judgment without grace brings despair, death, and hell; there is hopelessness. Conversely, only speaking of grace apart from judgment is oxymoronic – it doesn’t exist because there is no need for grace if there is no judgment; grace is an undeserved mercy given freely by God in the face of our sinful selves.
The siege of Jerusalem was terribly horrific. The details are too graphic to mention. Even the most pious of believers who believed Jeremiah’s message were completely aghast at the level of cruelty and violence done to God’s people.
At the people’s darkest hour, the message of grace came to them….
Justice and Righteousness
A safe, secure, just, and peaceful future will be provided by God. The Lord will not forget the people. Better days are coming. A king will arise. His rule will be just and right, providing protection, peace, and prosperity. God’s people were to keep their heads up looking toward that future in order to help them now in the present.
This requires patience. They must wait.
While waiting, the people need to live in the way God intended before all this terror happened. They are to uphold justice and live righteously because that’s what the coming king is all about.
Justice and righteousness are often paired together in the Old Testament. They’re really two sides of the same coin. We may often think of justice in the punitive sense of giving lawbreakers what they deserve. Yet, biblical justice has more to do with giving someone what they need and deserve to live and thrive as human beings.
To act justly means to provide essentials like clean drinking water, a safe environment, food to eat, a place to sleep, etc. Righteousness is the relational element to justice. To be righteous means to have right relationships, to connect with people, to move toward them and provide them with all the relational things that people need like respect, dignity, friendship, hospitality, fellowship, etc.
Justice and righteousness go together. Justice without righteousness is at best, impersonal, and, at worst, condescending. Righteousness without justice is a dead faith that wishes well but never delivers. Together, however, justice and righteousness brings love, peace, harmony, well-being, and human flourishing because all the basic necessities of life, physical and relational, are met in abundance.
This is what is meant in the Old Testament when Israel is referred to as “a land of milk and honey.”
For Christians, the time of abundance is here, in Christ. Yet, it’s not here in its fullness. We anticipate, wait, and hope for the Second Coming of our Savior and King. While we exercise patience, we long for better days. A true Advent spirit is a deep longing for justice and righteousness because King Jesus is just and right.
So, what do you long for today?
I long for justice.
I long for broken spirits to be made right, for people’s healing of both body and soul. I long for the day when children with epilepsy will have no more seizures. I long for the day when individuals and families will not have to contend with cancer anymore. I long for the day when there will be no more depression, anxiety, mental illness, or dementia. I long for the day when people will be free of addictions. I long for the day when there will be no more sex trafficking, death from malnutrition, grinding poverty, corrupt governments, whole families and communities torn by the ravages of diseases, refugees with no place to call home, and devastating natural disasters.
I long for righteousness.
I long for the day when women and girls across the globe will not be abused and become the victims of disordered power. I long for the day when nations, ethnicities, races, and everyone everywhere will no longer hate each other. I long for every individual to know forgiveness. I long for people to experience the exhilaration of new life in Christ. I long for my community to hear and believe the gospel. I long for peace, harmony, unity, equity, and an egalitarian spirit.
I long for God’s benevolent rule to come in all its fullness, freedom, joy, prosperity, peace, and happiness. I long for Christ’s coming! And I long to be doing justice and righteousness when Jesus arrives!
Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!