Behold, the days are coming, declares 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. -Jeremiah 23:5
Taken out of context, it would be possible to entirely overlook how important these words from the Prophet Jeremiah are. To suggest that they actually present the essence of the entire proclamation of the Old Testament, the very core of God’s divine revelation to the Old Testament people, seems kind of bold.
Sure, they speak of a righteous King, and we know that that would be Jesus Christ. And they speak of justice and righteousness, and we know that these are attributes of God and ones He values among men. But are they really the core of the Gospel? Isn’t it really redemption and the forgiveness of sins that stands at the center of the bible’s proclamation – in both Old and New Testaments?
It certainly is. And that’s most certainly about what this verse is about.
By the time so late in the Old Testament era when Jeremiah is prophesying these things, God’s people are in really bad shape. They had strayed away from Him, put their trust in false gods, in men, in themselves, too many times to count. They had chosen to go forward on the strength of their own ability, leaving God and His help at the wayside. It’s almost bewildering to imagine why someone who has ready access to the help and counsel of God Himself – so much so that it’s only a prayer away – would choose instead to go out on his own.
Almost: but it makes complete sense, because we all know we’d always rather do things on our own than accept help. Or barring that, at least claim that the help is owed us by someone.
But God doesn’t work that way, and as His people kept refusing His help, he used the world to show them where they are without Him. Their oppression by the Babylonians (that’s what’s going on) was really just a symptom of their subjection to the oppression of sin. It was their hearts that tried to go without God that led to their lives looking that way.
And to this day, our hearts are still this way – unrighteous and unfaithful at every turn.
But that’s why this verse is so central: Because it promises redemption in the midst of our sinful lives. It says that God is going to establish justice and righteousness and all good things right in the middle of our sinfulness. The promised King – Jesus Christ – is just and righteous, and it’s according to Him that God will treat us all.
You – you Christians – are a holy nation, but not because you’ve turned your hearts and made yourselves holy, and not even because God has turned your hearts (although He is doing that). You’re a holy nation because you have a holy King.
For Israel it was always this way, although they often as not failed to see it and relied, however hopelessly, on themselves. It’s the same temptation we face. May God give us the faith that resists it!