Jeremiah 33:14-23 “His Name is Righteousness”
For the sake of the Advent season, we are going to just take a little Christmas Holiday from the series going through Luke. We are going to make an historical prophetic journey into the Old Testament to look at the foretelling of the coming of the Messiah. I hope you are as excited as I am! I am really bubbling about this.
Everybody is always talking about what they think is going to happen in the future. The world is filled with modern day prophets of doom and gloom. We have no shortage of people with opinions. So, it is really refreshing to me in Advent to look at positive prophecy of old that has actually come to be true through the person of Jesus Christ. This is like a happy Christmas card written from the past to all of us here today!
In verse sixteen of our text for this morning, you will see a piece of the verse is in quotation marks. You might have been wondering about that when you were reading this while it was being read from the pulpit. When reading this aloud, we should probably put “air quotes” in there so people will get the full effect. This way of calling the Messiah is being quoted. In the Hebrew it is a way of referring specifically not just to God, but the one whom God sends to us. In the Hebrew we would hear “Adonai Zedekenu,” We know that “adonai” simply means “my Lord.” The “zedekenu” means “our righteousness or justice.” It is based on the one Hebrew word “zedek.” Right.
Now we must consider Jeremiah’s choice of this term in this place. This is very clever in regards to the politics of Jeremiah’s time. Who was the King sitting in Jerusalem at that time? That would King Zedekiah. So, his name literally means “the righteous one.” The only problem with this kingly designation is that Zedekiah was one of those amazingly unrighteous kings that wrought trouble for Israel and Judah. To this day, we remember Zedekiah as the “Last King of Judah.” He is the one who tried to repulse Nebuchadnezzar and brought the armies of Babylon to destroy the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The children of Israel were then brought into exile in Babylon. All of that was not very righteous or just!
So, you see, Jeremiah is having fun at the last king’s expense. The prophet Jeremiah is saying to the king “You are not our righteousness, but God is our righteousness.” God will send His salvation to us. God is sending a new “Zedekiah” who really will be righteous and just.
Who is this new king that is a king of Zedek or righteousness? We have the blessing of hindsight three thousand years later. We know who the king sent by God is! His name is Jesus. But, I want you to check this out about the name of Jesus and how it is also “adonai zedekenu.” First let us jump back to Genesis 14: 18 where we can read that Abraham is first blessed by a priest named Melchizedek. This is the first time that any priest is ever mentioned in the bible. His name means “malek” for “king” and “zedek” we already know means “righteousness.” He is also named as the king of “salem,” which means “peace.” This is all very mysterious right?
Then, in Hebrews 5:5-6, “So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee” as he says also in another place “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” This means that Jesus is the King of Righteousness of all time. He is the last priest we ever need!
Well, if that were not enough to convince us that Jeremiah speaking about the coming of the Messiah, whom we know as Jesus, then we have further evidence in the rest of the passage that again becomes clearer when we apply to the life of Jesus. Please note the line that says a “branch will spring forth from the line of King David.” We all know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the City of David, because Jesus’ father Joseph had to go there to be enrolled under the Roman census. That literally means that Joseph, and hence Jesus, must have been in the line of David.
This connection to prophecy was so important to the early Christians that we should note that the very first sentence of the very first book of the New Testament, Matthew’s Gospel, begins with “the book of the genealogy Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham.” That is the first thing presented to the listeners of the early gospel. Jesus is in the line of King David. He is the one foretold by prophets of old to be the Messiah.
Did that give you chicken skin yet? Please also note that in the genealogy that takes almost the whole first page of the New Testament, at around verse 11, we find no mention of the unrighteous King Zedekiah at the time of deportation to Babylon. I think this is deliberate, so that there is no confusion that Jesus is the “righteous one of God,” not that old king that caused the destruction of the temple.
More suspense in this scripture is to be found in verses 17-18 of Jeremiah 33. The new king is Jesus. We get that. But, there is also a mention about priests. We heard that already Jesus is the new priest in the order of the line of Melchizedek. What is interesting about this is that as we read the rest of the New Testament after the genealogies, we see that the chief priests of the day, the so-called Sadducees, are always trying to implicate Jesus in some wrong doing so that they can get rid of him. They even sent spies that were there when Jesus was baptized by John!
We understand that part of the Christmas story is that King Herod was afraid that a new king was born that would take his place. The best that we know today is that Herod was not in the line of David at all. His kingship was from his family being related to Sileseus, a general under Alexander the Great. In other words, one could argue that Herod was more Greek than Jew. His line goes back to Judas Maccabeas—not to David.
What we often times miss in this Christmas story and the rest of the gospel is that the chief priests were also very much afraid of losing their positions of power as well. They were afraid of Jesus because Jesus would spell the end of their priesthood. In fact this came to be. There are no more Jewish priests in the world today. When the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, as Jesus predicted they would, the priests were the first to be slaughtered. There is no more Temple, and there are no more priests. There are still rabbis, but no more priests—except, Jesus becomes the new priest in the order of Melchizedek. We read that in the Book of Hebrews already. Christians carry on the tradition of the priesthood today! In this, the prophecy is again strangely being fulfilled.
The last part of the scripture that we have today is also very telling in regards to the future coming of the Messiah. Jeremiah reports the direct speech of God as a revelation: “if you can break my covenant with the day and with the night. . . .” Let us check out Mark 15:33 “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” Jesus did cause day to become night! We might note as well that it was at that moment that the old covenant is broken and the new covenant begins.
This last week I was speaking with another pastor about “politically correct speech” and how it is that we were told not to call the Old Testament the Old Testament anymore. As you all know in the Bible we have the Old Testament and the New Testament, so that the Bible is in two parts. Believe it or not, some higher ups in the church decided that it was inappropriate to call the first part of the bible “old.” They thought somebody might take offense at that. We are to call the Old Testament the “Hebrew Scriptures,” this despite the fact that some of the Old Testament is not written in Hebrew but in Aramaic and Greek. And, I do not find “old” to be a derogatory term at all. I get the senior discount on the bus, supermarket, and movie theater. How is that bad?
In Matthew 26:28, and it is great that we are having communion here this morning, we hear Jesus himself saying “This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant.” Therefore, we have an old covenant and a new covenant. The old one was with Noah, Abraham, and Moses. The new covenant is with Jesus.
Jesus, just perhaps to make the point, does as exactly what Jeremiah reports is the prophecy of God. Jesus stops night and day. That therefore is the very beginning point of the new covenant, that is the death of Jesus on the Cross.
Non-Christians would just say: “Oh, this is just coincidence.” Some might even say: “It is wrong to use the Hebrew Scriptures to endorse that Jesus is the Messiah.” To that, I would respond that when I need to look up a word, I use a dictionary. When I need a phone number, I use a phone book. When I need to know who is the Messiah, I use Holy Scripture. The prophets of old foretold through revelations of God all of this.
I just find it one of the greatest miracles of Christmas that everyone already knew that it was going to happen: A new king, a new priest, a new covenant was coming. They had a term for him “Adonai Zedekenu,” the righteousness of God coming down to earth.