Jeremiah 33:14-16 – I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
Psalm 25:1-10 – Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 – And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.
Luke 21:25-36 – There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
Hope in Chaos: Jeremiah 33:14-16
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
When I read this I am filled with questions. How did the original hearers understand this passage? What promise was made to the house of Israel? How will it be fulfilled? What righteous branch will spring up? Let’s sort this out.
Jeremiah (יִרְמְיָהוּ) is a prophet of the Southern Kingdom, Judah, during the reign of King Josiah. At least until the Babylonian Captivity in 587 B.C. He prophesied that Judah would be dragged into captivity because of their unfaithfulness to YHWH. He’s hard on idolatry and priestly greed. These prophecies land him in jail (33:1).
Luther Seminary Associate Professor of Old Testament Kathryn Schifferdecker reminds us that this passage does not appear in the Septuagint (possibly 3rd century B.C.). It is a later addition. Brittanica.com says chapters 1-25 are Jeremiah’s prophecies against Judah. Chapters 26-45 are prose that often refer to Jeremiah in the third person. Some believe they were written by Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe. (Read chapter 36.)
In the midst of scathing prophecies that include corpses in the street, Jeremiah hints that better days will come, in time. Laughter will one day be heard again in the streets (33:10-11). Jeremiah cares about the streets.
The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 B.C., followed by the Babylonian Captivity meant the end of the Davidic dynasty. It was now a dead stump. Once a tree is cut down, what can be done? The temple was destroyed. The end of a civilization. Or maybe not.
Jeremiah promises a shoot will spring up. It will be a righteous branch of David. This shoot, a person, will execute justice in the land.
Imagine a beautiful old tree, with much history. Your grandparents were engaged there. Your parents hung a swing and pushed you. Then someone cuts it down. Forlorn, you know you will never again sit in the shade of that tree. Your children will never swing from its branches as you once did. After a while, however, you return to the site, and you notice a shoot emerging from the stump. Hope. you and your children will not swing from that tree, but future generations might.
David’s line will never again occupy the throne. But Jews hundreds of years later will come to hope for a different kind of dynasty. A different son of David. The Jews will look for this anointed one, this messiah (in Greek, Christ, from chrism, anointing).
But for Jeremiah, rotting in prison, for the corpses in the street, for the people eventually in slavery in Babylon, this is a long way off.
Schifferdecker reminds us that we are called to do the same. When the world seems in chaos, we proclaim hope. When the world seems bent on hate, and when even the best of us respond to hate with hate, followers of Christ announce God’s coming reign of love. When, gripped with fear, we seem ready to shut out our neighbor, the one in the ditch, the holy family at our door, no room in the inn, we are invited to announce Gods risky, radical hospitality.
This is our privilege and obligation: to announce the love of God which casts out all fear – the love that became flesh in Jesus, son of David, our righteous branch.
Read the Signs: Luke 21:25-36
25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
On November 19 we read about Jesus and the disciples at the Temple. The disciples were marveling at the large stones, sparking a surprising comment from Jesus: “Not one stone will be left upon another.” Indeed, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. did the unthinkable: It obliterated the Temple. The story of the Babylonian destruction of the Temple in Jeremiah gives some context to the story of the Roman destruction of Herod’s Temple in the New Testament.
Today’s gospel reading comes from Luke 21, a chapter in which Jesus is at and around the Temple, watching rich people putting large sums into the treasury, and a poor widow only two copper coins. He follows with the prediction of the destruction of Temple. Both texts are borrowed from Mark.
There is both judgement (before today’s text) and promise (within today’s text).
Judgement: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know the desolation has come near.” (Luke 21:20).
Promise: Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28)
There is an arch in Rome dedicated to Titus’ siege of Jerusalem (along with his father Vespasian). It was erected in 82 A.D. by Titus’ younger brother, the Emperor Domitian, shortly after Titus’ death. It is believed to be the inspiration for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The south panel depicts the Romans carrying off the spoils of Jerusalem’s Temple, including a menorah, bread table, golden trumpets and more. The north panel shows Titus on a four-horsed chariot as the trimphator. Nike, the god of victory, crowns him with a laurel wreath. This is significant, because usually morals and gods are depicted separately. Nike and Titus are together, an advancing of the worship of “divine” emperors.
The inscription says:
and People of Rome (dedicate this)
to divine Titus (divine Vespasian’s son)
Parsons helps us to see how all Jesus’ predictions in Luke come to be fulfilled in Luke’s volume II: Acts (location 7303):
Prediction in Luke Fulfillment in Acts
Arrest (“lay their hands on you”) 4:3; 5:18; 12:1; 21:27
Persecuted 7:52; 8:3; 9:4-5; 12:4; 22:4, 7-8; 26:11, 14-15
Conflict in Synagogues 6:9; 9:2; 13:44-51; 17:1-5; 19:8-10
Imprisoned 5:18; 12:3-5; 16:19-24; 21:27-36; 28:16
Brought before kings and governors 12:1; 13:6-12; 18:12 – 17; 23:24-33; 24:1, 10; 25:13-26; 26:2, 27, 30
Given words to speak (also Lk 12:11) 18:9-61010; 23:11
None can withstand or oppose 6:10; 13:8-12
Executed 7:59-60; 12:2
In Luke, Jesus subtly makes an apocalyptic shift from the end of the Temple to the end of time. Parsons (Luke, Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), says this is a false dichotomy. Jesus is painting a coming historical conflict onto a cosmic canvas. That’s what apocalyptic literature is. It views events in human history as part of a larger cosmic battle going on.
Consider Ephesians 6:12:
For our[a] struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
There is a larger battle of good and evil going on. Today’s current events are simply a manifestation of that larger “invisible” drama.
One cannot understand the New Testament without understanding the first century apocalyptic mentality. This apocalyptic mindset grew during the intertestamental period: fourth century BC until the first century. Rice University professor and director of the Jewish Studies department, Matthias Henze (a Lutheran from Hanover, Germany and spouse of Christ the King Pastor Karin Liebster) points out in his book, Mind the Gap: How the Jewish Writings Between the Old and New Testament Help Us Understand Jesus, shows how Jewish realities in the New Testament that don’t appear in the Old Testament (rabbis, synagogues, Pharisees and messiahs) emerged during these 400 years. This 200-page book is written for a general audience. It’s worth your time. All too often, we use the Old Testament Judaism from the Hebrew Bible as a backdrop to understand New Testament concepts, leap frogging over half a millennium of intertestamental Jewish development.
The cosmic portents are signs of God’s judgement upon the nations. Most everything Jesus mentions here is borrowed from apocalyptic literature. When these things happen, the Son of Man will come on the clouds. Lift up your heads. Stand up straight (the same word used for the woman bent over by Satan in Luke (13:11). Your redemption draws nigh. The glorious coming of the Son of Man comes from Daniel (7:13-14), perhaps the last Old Testament book written, and thus the beginning of the intertestamental explosion of apocalyptic literature.
Then Jesus turns to the fig tree, and Luke adds all the other trees (vv. 29-33). Just as you know, when you see buds on the trees, that it is spring, and summer is just around the corner, so you should understand that when you see these earlier mentioned signs, the Kingdom of God is near.
Finally, an exhortation (vv.34-36). Avoid drunkenness and going through the motions of life, as if there is no direction or purpose to history. This is the same message as the parable about keeping your lamps lit. Paul says something similar in 1 Thessalonians 5:6-7:
So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7 for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night.
Wake up people. Don’t live careless, thoughtless, immoral lives. Tune into God’s purposes. Look around you. Be prepared to stand before the Son of Man.
Preaching all of this
It is quite a struggle to preach apocalyptic literature. People don’t think apocalyptically. Or maybe they do. Jon Meacham, the presidential biographer, in his most recent book, The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels, says that America has always thought of itself in apocalyptic terms.
On the one hand, we are called to wake people from their stupor, the doldrums of life, and come alive to God’s movement in history. To jump in. On the other hand, we don’t want to be alarmists who run around claiming the sky is falling. Sometimes the sky is falling, but it always has been. Sin and evil are nothing new. What words call us to wake up to what is going on around us, but don’t border on the absurd.
Compounding all of this, this is the third week of apocalyptic texts. November 18 we had Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” (13:1-8) which claimed the end is near, and Jesus prediction of the destruction of the Temple: “Not one stone will be left upon another.” November 25 we had Christ the King Sunday in which Paul said (Romans 1:4b-8) that Jesus was coming on the clouds. And this week, Advent I, we have Luke’s apocalypse.
We needn’t be slaves to the lectionary. If you’re having apocalypse fatigue, then move on. You could do an introduction to the Gospel of Luke: An Introduction to Luke’s Gospel, or find a topic that your congregation desperately needs to hear.
At our most recent Preach at the Beach in Galveston, David Lose pointed out the challenging chronology of the four Sundays of Advent and then Christmas, especially for the unchurched who walk through our doors. We’re angling toward Jesus’ birth of course. Everyone knows this, even the postmodern, post-Christian, millennials. So how do we tell the story? We start on Advent 1 with the end of the world. You can work with that of course. Begin with the end in mind. There’s a sermon topic for you.
But from there, on Advent 2, we move to John the Baptist. Not the baby John the Baptist, mind you, but a full-grown John the Baptist, some 30 years after Jesus birth. Luke ties John to Isaiah’s voice crying in the wilderness. This will be confusing for all but the lifelong church-goers, and maybe even to some of them.
Then, on Advent 3, John calls the crowds that come to hear him preach snakes. How should they respond to his preaching? He teaches them to share, to not cheat people, and to be satisfied with their wages. He says I baptize you with water, but one is coming who will baptize you with fire.
On Advent 4, we go back in time thirty years, to a time before John is born, when Mary (Jesus’ future mother) meets with Elizabeth (John’s future mother). Mary sings her song, the Magnificat.
Then Jesus is born, Luke 2, on Christmas. Yes, this is a long-standing liturgical practice, our lectionary. But it is quite confusing to the world that we are seeking to inform and inspire with the hope of the world.
It may be worth noting that Advent emerged not a season to prepare for Christmas, but as a season to prepare for the second coming of Christ. In the earliest Advent sermons we have, the birth of Jesus is not even mentioned. The pastor and worship team may want to consider how to engage Advent in a way that makes sense in your context. What will inspire the people to come and engage the Word in worship, and then go to live the Word in everyday life.
If you choose to take on the Luke 21 text for this Sunday, here are some themes and thoughts from our group of 30+ pastors and deacons gathered in Galveston for Preach at the Beach last month:
- Be not afraid, versus be very afraid.
- Use this time for a big picture view of the new church year. Luke year.
- A countdown is happening in the text. Perhaps like a countdown for a rocket launch. What kinds of count downs are going on in people’s lives today?
- How do we counter millennial dispensational theology that is prevalent in our culture in the Bible Belt, especially after the Left Behind
- Preparing for the end now. Begin with the end in mind.
- Shift the focus from “when,” to “how” shall we live in the mean time?”
- The “powers” fear. Christians anticipate.
- Notice that fear and worry aren’t eliminated; they are transformed (think D-Day to VE Day). After D-Day, there’s no question about the outcome of the war, even though it’s not over. The victory is assured, though not yet won. In the meantime, you fight, but you fight differently. With hope. With the knowledge that the victory is in hand.
- In the face of chaos: Christian confidence! … and freedom!