Summary: This sermon is based on Jeremiah 23:1-6 and emphasises the prophetic oracle being fulfilled in Jesus our Messiah-King.
Christ the King Sunday Yr C, 25/11/2007
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“The LORD is our Righteousness”
James S. Hewett tells the following story: The lion was proud of his mastery of the animal kingdom. One day he decided to make sure all the other animals knew he was the king of the jungle. He was so confident that he bypassed the smaller animals and went straight to the bear. “Who is the king of the jungle?” the lion asked. The bear replied, “Why, you are, of course.” The lion gave a mighty roar of approval.
Next he asked the tiger, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The tiger quickly responded, “Everyone knows that you are, O mighty lion.”
Next on the list was the elephant. The lion faced the elephant and addressed his question: “Who is the king of the jungle?” The elephant immediately grabbed the lion with his trunk, whirled him around in the air five or six times, and slammed him into a tree. Then he pounded him onto the ground several times, dunked him under water in a nearby lake, and finally threw him up on the shore.
The lion—beaten, bruised, and battered—struggled to his feet. He looked at the elephant through sad and bloody eyes and said, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer is no reason for you to get mean about it!”1
Although some may find this story somewhat humorous, there is a truth to it similar to that of our first lesson from Jeremiah. In today’s first lesson, the prophet begins by speaking out against the political leadership of Judah. Jeremiah speaks a woe against Judah’s kings. He says they, in large part, are responsible for the sheep, the people of Judah being scattered and taken into Babylonian exile.
Indeed, Jeremiah had warned his contemporary, King Zedekiah, who was a puppet king, not to rebel against King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army. However, Zedekiah did not listen, and therefore he, and the people of Judah suffered the tragic consequences—they were taken into Babylonian exile for seventy years. Like the vanity of the lion in the story who ends up being thrown around by the elephant; Zedekiah who out of vanity thinks he can throw his weight around and assert his authority; ends up being defeated by the Babylonian, King Nebuchadnezzar, and living under his authority.
However, as Jeremiah prophesied, the story did not end there. In verses three and four, Jeremiah tells us what God will do: First, he will gather the remnant of his scattered flock in exile and will bring them together to the fold. They shall return to Judah. Second, they shall be fruitful and multiply, in fulfillment of the covenant God made with his people. Third, God will raise up good shepherds-leaders over them who will shepherd them. These shepherds will not be corrupt or selfish or vain—they will genuinely care for the people.
According to Jeremiah the consequences of these liberating actions of God for the people of Judah are: they shall not live in fear any longer nor be dismayed, nor shall any of the people be missing. They shall live together in community and enjoy their freedom.
Then, in verses five and six, Jeremiah, speaking of the future, prophesied that the long-expected Messiah would eventually come. One scholar, Professor Ralph Klein, commenting on these verses, has this to say about a Hebrew word play, which underscores the important reign of the coming Messiah: The king’s new name "Yahweh is the source of our vindication" reads in Hebrew yhwh sidqenu. This king can be seen as the direct opposite of Jeremiah’s contemporary Zedekiah, written in Hebrew as sidqiyahu. "Yahweh is the source of our vindication" is "Zedekiah" written backwards! The messiah’s name points to the real source of hope: Yahweh is the source of our vindication.2 In other words, just as the name of King Zedekiah is the reverse of the coming Messiah-King, so too shall the reign of the coming Messiah-King be the opposite of Zedekiah’s reign as well as that of all previous unfaithful shepherd-kings of Israel and Judah.
Today, on this last Sunday of the church calendar year, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, also known as Reign of Christ Sunday. We Christians, reading Jeremiah’s prophecy of the Messiah-King, interpret it to refer to Jesus as our Messiah-King. In this prophecy, it is rather telling that the name of the Messiah-King is: “The LORD is our righteousness.” This name for Jesus, a righteous Branch from David’s line, also describes quite well the very function of Jesus’ reign.
Over against all other kings in history who are sinful, self-centred, and all-too-easily corrupt and unjust in the abuse of their authority and power; King Jesus, according to Jeremiah, “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”