Sermon on Jeremiah 23:1-6
Text: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. 2 Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, 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,” declares the LORD. 3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD.
5 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior.”
There are many different pictures that God gives to us to describe himself in his Word. One of them is the fact that the Savior is referred to as a “lamb.” This picture is used in both the Old and New Testaments and highlights the work that the Savior would come to do. When the people heard about a lamb, they would think of all of those lambs that were sacrificed on the altar. This picture told the people that the Savior would be sacrificed to bring about their redemption. That is why John the Baptist pointed out Jesus by saying, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:28) Another familiar picture is that of being a shepherd. The people would have been reminded of the fact that the Lord leads them and cares for them. David said in Psalm 23:1, “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” Jesus referred to himself by saying, “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11) This morning, we have another word picture in Jeremiah, which is also found elsewhere. The coming Messiah is referred to as “a righteous branch.” As we look at JESUS, THE RIGHTEOUS BRANCH, we see that he 1. Punishes The Unrighteous, that he 2. Causes His Flock To Prosper, and that he 3. Provides Righteousness For His Own.
Our text begins with words of condemnation for a group of people. “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, 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,” declares the LORD.” (Verses 1-2) Who are the shepherds that the Lord is referring to? To help us understand this, we need to look at the circumstances under which Jeremiah gave his prophecy. Jeremiah was called by the Lord to be his prophet, just as the Babylonians were drawing close to the city of Jerusalem. There were many prophets who were telling the people that they did not need to worry. The Lord, who had saved them in the past, would also save them now. This is in complete opposition to what God’s prophets had said for hundreds of years. God had said, very clearly, that the Babylonians were going to destroy Jerusalem. When Jeremiah told the people this and had even encouraged the king to surrender to the Babylonians, he was imprisoned and almost put to death. The false prophets were saying that the Babylonians would be defeated, giving the people a false sense of hope. Because they had spoken contrary to the Lord’s word, they were the shepherds who were destroying and scattering the Lord’s flock, the people of Israel.
This group would also include the political leaders, as well. There were many kings who had led the people away from God. By their active participation on idolatry and their promotion of it, they were driving the people away from the Lord to these false gods. Instead of leading the people closer to God, they were driving them away and destroying them.
As a result, the Lord pronounced this judgement on them, “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.” (Verse 2) These shepherds would be destroyed by the Lord. This took place as the Babylonians did come in and destroy the city. Many of the people, including these false prophets and wayward leaders, would be taken away from their homeland. They would feel the Lord’s anger against their sins. The Lord would punish the unrighteous.
Just as in Jeremiah’s day, so also today, there are shepherds who try to scatter the Lord’s flock and destroy them. For example, we think of all of the governments throughout the ages that have actively tried to get rid of the Lord’s followers. From the Romans of the first century to the governments today that are Muslim led, they try their best to eradicate the Christian church. Even more pernicious are the many false prophets in our world. They claim to be speaking what the Lord says. Instead, they are promoting ideas that are directly in opposition to the clear words of the Scriptures. As a result of their actions, they drive their followers away from the truth. They destroy them. Here, the Lord tells us that, in the proper time, all of these false shepherds will have to stand before him and answer for their actions. The Lord will punish the unrighteous for the harm that they have carried out against his people.
After speaking about the destruction of these false shepherds, the Lord makes a promise to his people. He said, “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing.” (Verse 3-4) The Lord makes the promise that he was going to gather his flock out of all of the countries where they had been scattered. This promise told his people that they would return to their homeland after the exile was through.
This prophecy applied in part to the people of Israel. They did return home. However, this prophecy goes beyond the people of Israel. It applies to all of the believers. The Lord gathers his flock from countries all over the world. He makes the promise that they would be fruitful and increase in number. We see this happening every time a person is brought to faith. We have the assurance that none of them will be missing. Every single person that was chosen by God before the creation of the world to be his own will be brought into this flock. This flock will continue to be gathered and grow until the end of time. When all are gathered in, they will live in peace and security. They will no longer be afraid or terrified by the evils of this world that surround them. They will no longer be harassed by the troubles and cares of this life. They will no longer be attacked by false ideas that try to drive them away from God. God’s flock will continue to grow and prosper. They will live in peace and security.
God gives the reason that his flock will live in peace and prosper. “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior.’” God makes a promise that he is going to raise up a righteous branch from the line of David. The word picture behind the word “branch” is not what we normally think of when we hear the word branch. Normally, when we hear this word, we think of a branch coming off a healthy tree. Here the word has the idea of a branch or a shoot that grows out of a dying stump or from the ground where a tree has recently decayed. It is something new. This is an apt picture of the righteous branch, Jesus Christ. When you look at the line of David, especially when Jesus was born, there was no political power attached to it. Think of Jesus’ parents. You have Mary, who was a girl from a little town in Galilee. There is Joseph, who was a carpenter. Yet, from these humble beginnings, the Lord has raised a branch, who would bring this peace and prosperity for his flock.
The reason that he is able to bring this about is that he is a “righteous” branch. Righteous means to be in a correct or right relationship with God. Only those who are sinless would fall into the category of being righteous. This perfectly describes Jesus. As you read through the Scriptures, you see that every single one of Jesus’ words and actions were completely in line with his Father’s will. Jesus was, in every sense of the word, righteous.
However, if this was all that was true of Jesus, it would give us no hope or peace. For then, when we stand before our God at the end of our days, we would be terrified. The reason for this terror would be the fact that we are sinners. We have broken God’s laws time without number. We have not always loved God as we should. We have not loved those around us as we should. We have been selfish. We have been lazy. As a result, if we were to stand before this righteous branch, there would be no peace. There would only be the terrors of spending our eternity apart from God in the punishment of hell.
Yet, we can and do live in peace and prosperity. The reason for this is found in verse 6. “This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior.” He is our righteous Savior. Actually, in the Hebrew, this verse is translated, “The LORD Our Righteousness.” He is our righteousness. This highlights the reason that Jesus came to the earth. He came to be our righteousness. That righteous life that he lived he lived in our place. He served as our Substitute. What about all of those sins that we have committed during our lifetimes? Does God just overlook them? No, those sins were punished. Jesus, not only lived a perfect life for us; he also served as our Substitute when he was on the cross. While on the cross, he was paying for every one of our sins. The debt of sin has been paid in full. Sometimes, this is referred to as God’s Great Exchange. God took all of the sins that you and I have ever committed and punished Jesus in our place. He took the righteous life that Jesus lived and applied that to our account. Now, when God looks at us, he sees us as righteous. Since we are righteous, we now have the privilege of living in peace. We live in peace here and now, because we know that our sins are forgiven. We will live in peace and joy for all eternity in the glories of heaven. It is this knowledge of what has been done for us that gives us our reason for getting out of bed in the morning. I know that God loves me and will continue to care for me. It is this knowledge that gives me my motivation for life. I have the wonderful opportunity to live for God, thanking him for all that he has done for me. This is all true because the Lord has provided this righteous branch, who has provided me with his righteousness so that I might live in peace and prosperity. I am part of his flock, both today and for all eternity.
We thank God for the many ways that he has revealed himself to us in his Word. He has given us so many pictures of his loving care for us. He does this so that we might never have any doubts about our relationship with him. He is the Lamb of God, who has taken away the sins of the world. He is the Good Shepherd, who leads me and cares for me. He is the Alpha and Omega. He has always been there and will always be there. This morning, we thank God for revealing to us that he is that righteous Branch, who came from the line of David, to be my righteousness. He watches over his Church, guarding and protecting her until he comes again in glory at the end of time and gathers his flock for all eternity. Until that time, we have Jesus, that Righteous Branch’s words of comfort and encouragement, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) We praise him for this wonderful assurance. Amen.
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