What Does Righteousness Bring?
Some sentences seem simple, but are really scary. For example, let’s say that you get a letter from the IRS. And in that letter it says that they’d like to have a look at your records. You wouldn’t think there would be any reason to become afraid when you read those words. But all of us know there is more to those words, don’t we? Those words carry the unspoken message with them, “we’re checking your records. And if we find that your records are in error, there will be consequences.’” I mention this because, here, now, at the beginning of a new year, God’s word in our first reading from Jeremiah makes a statement that sounds fine on its own. But if you do even a little more study you realize that these words are actually quite terrifying. In Jeremiah 33, we read: “14 “Look, the days are coming”— this is the Lord’s declaration— “when I will fulfill the good promise that I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a Righteous Branch to sprout up for David, and he will administer justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 33:14–15 CSB17)
In these words the Lord was promising to come to them with righteousness and justice. And what was terrifying about this is that the people to whom Jeremiah was writing knew what those words meant. For the Lord spoke those sorts of words in their grandparents’ time. In that time, about 722 BC, the Lord had the Assyrians come down and destroy the 10 northern tribes. And he did that in the name of his righteousness and justice. And if they missed the weight and meaning of those words in their grandparents’ time, then they could not miss the meaning of those words in their own time. For, in the name of his righteousness and justice the Lord brought the Babylonians down against the two remaining tribes. Their own armies were killed by the Babylonians. And the rest were enslaved. And thousands were forced away from their homeland to be slaves in Babylon. And all of this happened in the name of the Lord’s righteousness and justice.
Maybe we should take a step back and define this word. What is righteousness? And what does it bring with it? Righteousness is a word that means holiness and perfection. But there’s more to it than that. It’s the sort of perfection that cannot tolerate imperfection in anything it comes in contact with. It’s the sort of perfection and holiness that deals with those who have unholiness and non-perfection in the same way a bug-zapper deals with mosquitoes and moths. It consumes them. That’s why this seemingly innocent statement of the Lord establishing his righteousness and holiness would have been terrifying to those people who had been conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians. For the Lord had invited them to repent for hundreds of years. And for hundreds of years the Lord’s people turned their back on them. So he brought his righteousness against them.
But if we ask the question, what does righteousness bring, it shouldn’t just terrify them. It should also give us pause to ponder the word in our own time and in our own context. The Lord is holy. We are unholy. The Lord is sinless. We are sinful. The Lord cannot tolerate sin. We cannot get rid of our sin. When humans consider this fact, there is a distinct trap they can fall into. The trap is to conclude that the Lord tolerates, looks the other way, and is OK with our sin. For example, one of the statements you can hear churches saying is, “Come as you are.” There is some truth to this statement. God wants—really truly wants all people to come to church and hear and learn about him. But sadly, there many out there who conclude that we say “come as you are,” what we mean is the Lord tolerates my sin, looks the other way, and, at the end of the day, is OK with my sin. But the bible says, “our “God is a consuming fire.”” (Hebrews 12:29 NIV) Righteousness brings wrath. And our temptation is to fall into the trap of not seeing the true terror that is contained in that one word, righteousness, if we are not careful. For if the Lord did not hesitate to kill and enslave his people in the Old Testament twice when they did not repent, he is ever-so-willing to do the same with us today.
What does righteousness bring? It brings wrath. But, my dear friends in Christ, there is more to this word than just wrath. In the first verse we read, the Lord told us that he would fulfill the good promise he spoke. And in our final verse we learn more about this promise: “In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely, and this is what she will be named: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 33:16 CSB17)
Righteousness brings wrath. When it comes it destroys sin and anyone who contains sin. But what if a miracle happened? What if the Lord shielded us from his wrath? What if he covered our lack of righteousness with his own righteousness? What if the Lord could remove and replace our sin with his own righteousness and perfection? What then? Then the Lord could come to us and there would be no need to destroy us. And that’s the point that the Lord is making in these final words. In an amazing promise the Lord tells desolate Jerusalem and rebellious Judah that the Lord’s righteousness is now our righteousness.1(Jeremiah 33:16 BHS-T)}} This then is another answer to the question. What does righteousness bring. Yes, it brings wrath. But it also brings redemption.
And so, my dear friends in Christ, when you look ahead several weeks down the road to that little baby placed in the manger, what should you see? See God’s righteousness. But also see that his own righteousness is now our own righteousness. See a child that will buy us back for him. See a king that will die like a slave. See a God who is now also a man.
See redemption when you look at Christmas Day. But also see redemption when you look at the last day. In our gospel for this morning, Jesus says, “27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.”” (Luke 21:27–28 CSB17)
So what does righteousness bring? The Lord’s righteousness brings wrath. And this moves us then to repent of our sin, not making our Lord accept and approve of our sin. No, we ask our Lord to purify us of our sin and pay for it. And that too is what Jesus’ righteousness brings: redemption. Amen.
1 ”יְהוָ֥ה ׀ צִדְקֵֽנוּ“