The Lord Jesus is Our Righteousness
The Lord Jesus is our Righteousness
Last Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 29C) - November 24, 2019
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then 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. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
The days are surely 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. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness."
Today is the Last Sunday after Pentecost, otherwise known as Christ the King Sunday. Before we turn our attention more fully toward Christmas and preparing for the birth of our Savior (the season of Advent begins next Sunday), we celebrate the kingdom of God and the reign of Jesus as king forever.
This passage from the prophet Jeremiah contains one of the many biblical titles for the Messiah, the Christ. Well before Jesus was born or Mary heard from the Archangel Gabriel, God spoke to holy women and holy men about the coming Savior. The Messiah was the person whom God would anoint as King and Prophet to restore justice to Israel and even the whole world. And especially in that last paragraph, we hear Jeremiah turn toward talking about the Messiah, using the key phrase, “The days are surely coming…” [quote the rest]
Most Jews, including Jeremiah, imagined that the Messiah would be a king, ruler, and warrior who would help Israel regain its independence and former glory. They imagined an extra good king, but still an ordinary human being. They did not really expect what they got — God in the flesh. So because Christians believe that God did a remarkable thing in Jesus, becoming a human being to live among us, we read passages of Scripture like this a little differently.
Remember, Christians believe that God is Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God. We believe that the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Spirit is Lord, and they are all equal with one another. And we believe that Jesus was the Son of God become a human being, the perfect reflection of the Father and Spirit on earth. That means that when we read a passage of Scripture that talks about “the Lord”, even if it’s in the Old Testament and the author never conceived of the Trinity, it’s okay to replace “Lord” with “Lord Jesus.” This can give us some insight into who Jesus really is and what Jesus has done for us.
So I want us to reflect on this messianic title for Jesus: “The LORD is our righteousness” by looking at it three different ways. And because we’re talking about Christ the King, we are going to tweak this verse to help our learning. So take out a pen or pencil, underline that phrase in your Bible, and write in the margins, “The Lord Jesus is our Righteousness.”
The Lord Jesus is the MEASURE of righteousness
Jesus shows us what true righteousness is, how to treat each other fairly, etc.
The LORD Jesus is our standard for measuring righteousness. We don’t decide what is right; God does. It’s not always easy or obvious what is right and what is wrong. The Scriptures help us; tradition helps us; reason helps us. But if we rely only on reason, on our own lived experience, then we’re liable to make God in our own image, building a golden calf that loves who we love and hates who we hate. This is why it’s so important to know what Jesus teaches in the Gospels. They give us a lens for understanding the world and even understanding the rest of the Bible.
For example, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus reinterprets many parts of the Law. I’ll quote just a couple of familiar key pieces: ““You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; … You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:38-39, 43-45a NRSV).
Here, Jesus challenges common notions of what is right and wrong. He shows us a more perfect way that is difficult but is also truly God’s way. Jesus sets our moral priorities by teaching us that God loves everyone, especially the poor, downtrodden, and disenfranchised. If that world has been unkind to you, Jesus reminds us, God still cares and will still make things right. God's righteousness is different from human righteousness and Jesus helps us see that. We might think that we are pretty good because we seem morally better than a lot of people, but Jesus doesn’t let us lie to ourselves that way. The Lord Jesus is the measure of our righteousness.
The Lord Jesus is the GIVER of righteousness
Enables us to be righteous through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit
Jesus died on the cross and rose again to forgive the sins of the whole world. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be with us until he returns in great power and glory. The Holy Spirit gives us the grace we need to actually do righteous things. Without the help of God’s Spirit, given and enabled by Jesus, we would be hopelessly unable to change for the better. It’s because of Jesus’ saving sacrifice that we even have a chance to be righteous.
Through baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit in our souls, and we are spiritually joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection. As St. Paul says, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:5-7 NRSV). Jesus then frees us from our slavery to sin so that we can pursue righteousness. He gives that opportunity to us by the Holy Spirit and baptism. The Lord Jesus is the giver of righteousness.
The Lord Jesus IS our righteousness
Makes us righteous through his faithfulness and righteousness.
Not only does Jesus show us how to be moral and enable us to behave morally, but Jesus saves us when we fail to be moral. If Christianity were just about telling people to try harder to be good, then it would be pretty hopeless. 2000 years of church history has shown us the Christians are just as much sinners as anybody else is. So the point isn’t only to be good. The point remains that, try as we might, we can’t be good enough. But God loves us anyway! We don’t have to earn love and acceptance. We don’t have to be perfect because Jesus was and is perfect.
Jesus was willing to lay down his own life for the sake of us sinners. Jesus is willing to make us righteous even when we don’t deserve it. Jesus is willing to show grace and mercy to us even when we behave badly. Jesus, the true King of Kings, rules fairly and wisely, not angrily, waiting for us to slip up so he can punish us.
In Jesus’ Reign, God shows mercy to the unjust and the wicked, and so God transforms us from being unjust and wicked to being just and good. So our confidence as Christians doesn’t come from our own flawed efforts, but from Jesus’ perfect ones. Because Jesus is righteous, we are saved. He has accomplished what we cannot. Jesus has perfected humanity and brought us close to God so that now, we have a path forward. So when Jeremiah gives this title we should rejoice because the Lord Jesus IS our righteousness.
The Lord Jesus is the measure of our righteousness. The Lord Jesus is the giver of our righteousness. The Lord Jesus is our righteousness. Hallelujah! Thanks and praise be to God! Amen.