Tonight I want to start off by taking you to a place you might not normally think about. Imagine yourself in a large, walled city. People are running all over the place, in and out of alleyways through the rubble of what used to be buildings and homes. Some carry a few precious items they were able to grab before their homes were destroyed, while others carry their children or elderly parents or grandparents. Soldiers are briskly marching through the streets with their unit on their way to the city wall. Outside the wall you hear a loud, constant clammer of metal and stone, and a roar from a large, unseen force. Inside the wall you hear the crying of women and children. Everyone who is inside the wall has their heart full of fear. Outside the wall is the largest army of that time. This giant army belongs to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The city that the army is surrounding is Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar has come to Jerusalem because the king of Judah, Zedekiah, has refused to pay tribute to Babylon and has allied himself with Egypt, who is an enemy of Babylon, in hopes of breaking free of Babylonian control.
Now, where does that leave us? You may be wondering: “What does the sack of Jerusalem have to do with us in the twenty-first century? Yes it is an interesting story, but why should we pay attention to the situation that Judah is in at the time in this text? What does this have to do with us?” And I would say that it has everything to do with us.
At this point, God’s people are a falling nation and it seems quite obvious to them and to the surrounding nations that God is not there to protect them this time. This is the situation in which we find Judah when we look at our passage. In the near future, Jerusalem will be sacked and God’s people will be taken into exile in Babylon. All of this will be topped off by the ravaging and destruction of the temple.
Needless to say, it does appear that God has rejected his people. This is why God takes the time to remind his people of the promises he has made with their forefathers, and consequently them. He promised that he would keep them and make them great and as numerous as the stars. This is the case and we clearly see as much in Genesis 15 and 22. Then what is going on here? Has God rejected his chosen people? Has he broken his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? And what of his covenant with David that we see in 2 Samuel 7 and Psalms 89? Has he broken that as well?
These are questions that may be going through the minds of those in Jerusalem. Understandably, we see why they may be asking such questions. This is why the Lord comes to Jeremiah at this time in chapter 33. When it seems like all is lost, and the Lord appears to have forgotten his people, he comes to Jeremiah to reassure his people that he has not forgotten them. He reassures his people of his coming promise that is eternal and unbreakable.
But again, what does this have to do with us? What does a promise from many centuries ago have to do with us and our life and how we live it? Anyone can see that we live in a fallen world full of evil, sin, and pain. And, to quote the great Wesley from The Princess Bride, “Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.” We live in this world and that makes us part of it. We are sinful and idolatrous, and we rebel against a holy and righteous God. We naturally do that which we know to be wrong and rebellious against God. Paul says that he himself does the wrong things, even though he knows it to be wrong. He says, and not to steal your future thunder in a couple of weeks here Lee, but he says in Romans 7:15ff. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”
I now have a question for you: Why should this holy and righteous God, who demands perfection, promise anything good to anyone, whether in ancient Jerusalem or in Jackson, TN in 2017? Paul again says in Romans, this time in chapter 3 verses 10-12, that “None is righteous, no not one. No one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless. No one does good, not even one.” Just like ancient Judah and Jerusalem, we are idolatrous. We are self centered, and pay more attention to what will benefit us in this world rather than in eternity. Because of this, the only promise that we should get from God is a promise of destruction and eternal separation from him. We deserve it after all.
I. A Promise to Come: A Righteous Branch for David (vv. 14-16)
Starting in verse fourteen, we see the Lord saying something to Jeremiah. The specific wording that we see here is “declares the Lord.” Now, when I first started trying to figure out how to organize and work through my passage, I could not for the life of me figure out how I was going to break down the text. I looked at a few commentaries that I have for some assistance and found nothing with the slightest shape or form of a textual outline. I next went to the all-knowing Google. Again, my search turned up nothing. I began to get quite frustrated. I found everything under the sun about Jeremiah, including outlines for the entire book in one sermon, and, to my annoyance, a textual outline on Jeremiah 33:3, but nothing more. Not even John Piper had an outline of Jeremiah chapter 33 that I could find, let alone verses 14-26. Eventually I decided to do the work myself, which, to be honest, is something that I probably should have done in the first place.
So I dug myself into the text, reading it over and over again. Finally, I noticed something that had been staring me in my face the whole time: the word of the Lord. No, literally “the word of the Lord.” I saw four explicit sections that started off with some kind of wording of the phrase “the word of the Lord.” I sheepishly grinned at my obliviousness to what God no doubt had been saying to me for hours. This is a lesson that I will hopefully never forget: When the Lord is saying something, I need to shut-up and listen. This is what God’s people need to do. They need to listen to what God says about his promises.
The first thing God says to his people is a declaration that his promise to the house of Israel and the house of Judah is still to come. The Lord works in his own time, not man’s. He is not bound by our wishes or our plans. Even though it may not seem like it to man’s finite mind, God has a perfect plan, and he will fulfill it to its glorious end. They need to hear and know that God has not forgotten his promise, it is still to come.
The promise the Lord refers to is his promise of a king from the line of David. This king will be a just king. He will save Judah, and Jerusalem will be safe and secure once more. This is something, when put in context with where Jerusalem is right now, namely under siege from Babylon, that would encourage the people and give them hope. A king, and not just any king, but one who will save Judah and restore Jerusalem! What a relief to have heard this. They might have been thinking, “We are not going to be completely finished off. We will return and be a great and glorious nation once again!”
This king, the one who will restore God’s people, is not just any king. This is made evident by his name seen in verse 16: “The Lord is our righteousness.” Jeremiah writes this name earlier in the book in chapter 23 where we see that the name is given to the king himself. In our passage, in verse sixteen, the name is given to Jerusalem. In both places we see that the name is given in reference to the coming of a messiah. The reason that we can say that both refer to the messiah is because the king is the representative of his city and its people, just as Christ is the head of the church and its people.
Now you might ask, "What should Jerusalem have done with this?” At this point in the leadership history of God’s people, many of the kings of Judah have been leading the people in idolatry. In the beginning chapters of the book, the Lord foretells through Jeremiah of a boiling pot of punishment that will come from the north if the people do not repent and return to the Lord. The Lord also says that the people will not repent, therefore making the foretold punishment eminent. This punishment is the invasion of Babylon on Jerusalem and the exiling of its people. In the midst of the chaos of the city being overrun, they would most likely have known they were going to be taken into exile. So what should the people have done with these two seemingly opposite pieces of information? They most likely knew they were going to be taken into exile, but they also had a promise of a coming savior and messiah. Upon hearing this promise of a coming messiah, they should not only have been encouraged by it, but also heard it as an implication of how to live, in spite of the exile. Although they were going into exile, they had hope for a future, one that provided safety and security as well as a just and righteous king They also need to repent and live repentant lives, returning to God from their idolatry.
Seeing this promise of a coming messiah for Judah, should not only be a reminder to us of God sending his Son to earth to live a perfect life and give himself up as a sacrifice in our place, but should also serve as a reminder for Christ’s second coming. We should be living in such a way that eagerly expects his second coming. Do not simply wait passively as if doing so will not have any weight when Christ does return. We need to be living for the glory of God. We need to live our lives as if Christ could come at any moment. In fact, we know that he could come at any moment. His coming could be within the next day, hour, or even minute. Jesus himself said so.1
So God has given his promise of a coming king who is just and righteous and will make Judah safe and Jerusalem secure. But what about the reign of this king? Will it be one that lasts or will it only be short-lived? This brings me to my second point:
II. A Promise to Last: An Eternal King and High Priest (vv. 17-18)
Jeremiah’s words in verses seventeen and eighteen are fairly straightforward in what he wants his listeners to hear. Verse seventeen simply states, “David will never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel.” This is a restatement of something that God promised to David himself through his servant Samuel and is passed down by David to his son Solomon and referenced in the Psalms as well. So this promise is nothing new. Verse eighteen says, “the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.” We see in Exodus that the Levites are set aside to be a priesthood, and in Numbers it is one that is perpetual and will last for generations.
These promises, however, raise some problems in the future. David’s line on the throne was broken, and the Levitical priesthood did not endure. Those who heard Jeremiah would have seen what we now know: David’s line being removed from the throne. So what do we do with this passage in light of what physically and historically happened? Here we need to see the implication of the text to be more than a never-ending royal line on the throne and a continuing priesthood. We know that the Lord sent his Son Jesus to be the messiah. He sent him to restore Jerusalem, his people, to make her safe and secure. He does this by bringing his people to himself. This is what Christ’s ministry was. He brought good news of his coming kingdom, the new Jerusalem. This new kingdom is going to last forever. Jesus Christ, “the Lord our Righteousness” will sit on the throne forever. Jesus was sent to bring God’s people to himself. Jesus does this by interceding to God the Father on our behalf. He is our high priest, who offered himself as the perfect and final sacrifice in our place. Because of Christ’s work we will dwell with God in his kingdom forever.
Forever… Wow. This is a strong statement. But when you think about it, the promise as a whole probably sounded quite outlandish to Jeremiah’s initial listeners considering what was going on in their backyard at the time. They may have been thinking, “We are about to be overrun and taken into captivity. Our king from the Davidic line will most likely be killed, and we may never be able to come back to our land. How do we know that this promise is real?” God sees how his people might be thinking these things. They need assurance. This brings me to my next point:
III. A Promise of Assurance: An Unbreakable Covenant (vv.19-22)
I want to take a quick detour and have us turn to Genesis one. Here we will see the very first thing that God created. Let us read.
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Here we see God’s institution of day and night. It is one of the very first things that he does in creation. Now turn back and look at our passage again. In verse twenty, the Lord says “If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, 21 then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers.” God is saying of the cycle of day and night, which is arguably the very first institution of his creation, if anyone can be break it, then, and only then, will his covenant with David be broken. The same goes for his covenant with the Levitical priests.
Imagine how insane of an idea it is to even think of being able to break the cycle of day and night. I’ll tell you, a lot of crazy ideas go through my head while thinking about this. There are lots of crazy images of massive spaceships and overpowered machines pushing and turning the earth that were floating around up in here. You really don’t want me to go into it. But think about how crazy the idea of pushing and turning the earth is! It is insane. This is how insanely unbreakable God’s promise is.
In verse 22, the Lord gives the same promise to David and the Levitical priests that he gave to Abraham in Genesis, chapters 15 and 22. Their offspring will be multiplied to the same extent as the stars in the heavens and the sand of the seas, which shows that the Lord will not only remember his promise to David and the Levitical priests, but he will remember his promise to Abraham. In Genesis this promise applies to all twelve of the tribes of Israel, but in this instance it is specifically being applied to the house of David and the tribe of Levi. This is because when the kingship and the priesthood flourish, namely in the person of the Messiah, the whole nation does as well.
Because of the Lord’s assurance to Judah, and the coming of the Messiah fulfilled by Jesus Christ, we as Christians can hope and trust in the second coming of Jesus. We have the same level of assurance as Jeremiah’s initial listeners did. Now, in case you were thinking that this assurance isn’t enough for you, or for the people of Jerusalem, the Lord goes on to give some more assurance, which brings me to my final point:
IV. A Promise of Assurance Repeated (vv. 23-26)
Imagine a little league baseball team that is mediocre at best. They have a mediocre outfield, a mediocre infield, and their hitting statistics are, you guessed it, mediocre. Now imagine a new player joins the team. This new player is a pitcher. He is a fantastic pitcher. In fact, he is the best pitcher ever seen at this level of playing. No one is able to hit anything that the new pitcher throws. He pitches so well that the other teams at times do not even want to play against him and his team. Because of this new player, our mediocre team goes on to be the championship team, winning the season.
Now imagine we are in a new season. Suddenly halfway through the season, the pitcher’s family moves and he no longer plays for the mediocre team. Suddenly all of the other teams who previously feared this team, now barely see them as a team, they have no pitcher and they can barely play good baseball. They loose the rest of their season and the team basically disbands.
This is where Israel is here in this text. This is how the surrounding nations and, to be honest, the Hebrews as well, see Judah. They see a people who’s God has rejected them. They see them as a mediocre little league team whose perfect pitcher has left them hanging and rejected.
At this point in time, the surrounding nations see the nation of Judah as a has-been. This is a big deal because these other nations would have known of the God of the Israelites. They would have had stories of how Israel’s God protected them in the past. Think about the Exodus from Egypt and the battle of Jericho. Israel has left Egypt and come to the Red Sea. The chariot army of Egypt is in hot pursuit. But instead of the Israelites being trapped and eventually slaughtered by Pharaoh’s chariots, the Lord of Israel parts the Red Sea and lets his people pass through safely to the other side. But the story does not end there. Pharaoh’s army pursues the Israelites even further by going through the parted Red Sea themselves. But instead of reaching their target, the Egyptians are crushed as the God of Israel cascades the sea in on them.
Now think about the battle of Jericho. The people of Israel have just come up to the Jordan River and are camped on the opposite side of it from Jericho. Israel has just recently laid waste to the Amorites and the people of Jericho are scared. Joshua 6:1 says that “Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in.” They know what the people of the Lord are capable of with God on their side.
We see many other instances in the Bible that the surrounding nations would have known about where the Lord protected Israel and led them to victory. The nations know about the power of the Israelite God. But now, in light of recent events, many of them are saying that the Lord has rejected his chosen people. They say that Judah is now no longer a nation because they no longer have a God. They say this because of the plight that Judah is in.
As I mentioned before, Jeremiah foretells a coming punishment from the north that the Lord is going to send. This is because the kings have been leading Judah in idolatry. This is why the nations say that the Hebrew God has forsaken his chosen people. It is at this point that the Lord encourages Jeremiah that even though the other nations have rejected them and the Lord is currently punishing his people, as I mentioned near the beginning, he has not forgotten them or broken his covenant with them and he never will.
The Lord again says, unless his covenant with the day and night can be broken, he will not break his covenant with David and the Levitical priests. The Lord, who is the God who created the world and the way it works, is the selfsame God who has made a covenant with David and the Levitical priests, and consequently with us, the church.
In the second half of verse 26 the Lord says something that tells his people that their punishment will not last. He will have mercy on them and return them from their captivity. We see all throughout this text that the Lord will fulfill his promises. He has not rejected Israel. We see this just by his wording in verse 24 where he refers to them as “my people.”
Now what does all of this mean for us today? As believers, we know that Jesus has come and has started gathering his people to himself to restore Jerusalem in a new heaven and a new earth. We have a security in our hope for the future day when he will return. But that does not mean we hope and do nothing. That is idolatry. It is self-centered and lazy. Our hope should stir us on to prepare for Christ’s second coming. We need to fight self-centeredness and laziness. Brian Hedges, in his book Christ Formed in You, compares salvation, specifically the relationship between justification and sanctification to that of a married man. When a man first gets married, his legal status changes. He is now declared to legally be a husband. But that does not necessarily make him the perfect husband that he needs and should want to be. That comes with time and effort. Sanctification is similar to the process of closing the gap between the husband that a man is, and the husband that he is legally declared to be. This is what we need to do. We need to fight against idolatry, repenting from our self-centeredness, so that the gap between the fallen men that we are now and the justified men who we are legally declared to be becomes smaller and smaller.
We should also prepare, not only for our own sake, but also for the sake of those who do not yet know Christ as Lord, so that we can share Christ with them. And while not under siege by an invading army, we often have serious hardships and sufferings. Our loved ones get cancer. We lose our jobs. We deal with financial hardships. We get out knees injured. It is so easy to question God’s faithfulness and promises in the midst of these things. But, if he assured Jerusalem, how much more assurance do we have in our day, knowing that God did not even spare his own son for us. We can rely on God and his promises.
Now, to those who do not know Christ as Lord, I plead with you to come to him. Without Christ, you have no hope in the promise of a king and high priest who will reign eternally in a new heaven and a new earth. You do not have a promise of help in hardship and suffering. Instead, because of your rebellion and idolatry against God, your promise is one of eternal separation from a loving creator who made you and desperately wants you to be with him. Do not push the truth away. Instead, I plead with you to repent of your sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. If you have questions or would like to talk about this further, please come talk to me or one of the elders or the person sitting next to you. Don’t put it off.