Worth the Wait: Advent Scriptures and Devotion for December 16

          We enter day sixteen of our Advent studies. Our Old Testament Scripture passages remain focused on prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah. Over the next few days, however, our Gospel readings will begin to reveal the events surrounding and including the nativity. The time is drawing nigh, as the intensity of our readings will indicate. As we study the passages for today, we will learn about good and bad shepherds, a ‚Äúrighteous branch‚Äù and an understanding fianc√©. Let‚Äôs turn to God‚Äôs Word and read the following:
Jeremiah 23: (1-4) 5-8
          ‚ÄúWoe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!‚Äù declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: ‚ÄúBecause you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,‚Äù declares the Lord. 3 ‚ÄúI myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,‚Äù declares the Lord. 5 ‚ÄúThe days are coming,‚Äù declares the Lord, ‚Äúwhen I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior. 7 ‚ÄúSo then, the days are coming,‚Äù declares the Lord, ‚Äúwhen people will no longer say, ‚ÄòAs surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,‚Äô 8 but they will say, ‚ÄòAs surely as the Lord lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.‚Äô Then they will live in their own land.‚Äù
          In order to grasp the meaning of verses 5-8, we need to look at Jeremiah 23 in context. This chapter begins with a stunning rebuke of the leaders, or shepherds of God‚Äôs people. Verses 1-4 pronounce a ‚Äúwoe‚Äù or a curse on these shepherds for, ‚Äúdestroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture‚Äù.These shepherds have abused the sheep by scattering and neglecting the flock. Because of this malfeasance, God would punish them (see Ezekiel 34:1-10). Conversely, He will bring back the remnant of His people to the Promised Land and Mount Zion so that they might enjoy the pleasant pastures again (Psalm 23:2, Deuteronomy 26:9). Once there, they would be fruitful and multiply (see Genesis 1:28). New Shepherds will be placed over God‚Äôs people (Ezekiel 34:11-16). Those who are called to tend God‚Äôs flock in the new day will care for them in such a way that none of them will go missing.
          As we unpack these verses, realize that Jesus and the coming of the New Covenant Church fulfill every one of these prophesies. In these first four verses we see a vivid picture of the religious elite during the earthly life of Jesus. They were supposed to be the shepherds of God‚Äôs people. As Jeremiah and Ezekiel pronounced woes on the false shepherds, so to, Jesus pronounces seven woes on the Pharisees of His day (Matthew 23:13-28). Just as God will bring back the remnant of His people to the Promised Land and Mount Zion, followers of Christ will come to a greater Promised Land, the heavenly Mount Zion (Hebrews 12:22-24). When the remnant is reinstated, they will ‚ÄúBe fruitful and increase in number.‚Äù This sounds familiar. It is the instruction given to Adam and Eve while they were experiencing the perfection of creation ‚Äì before they sinned. Jesus, by His Passion, would restore what was lost through the sin of Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22). Jesus will bring about a new creation! Paul wrote, ‚ÄúTherefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new‚Äù (2 Corinthians 5:17). What was lost had been restored ‚Äì in Christ. Jesus‚Äô final words before His ascension also speak of ‚Äúincreasing in number.‚Äù  He told His disciples to, ‚ÄúGo and make disciples of all nations‚Ķ‚Äù (Matthew 28:19). That is exactly what happened after Pentecost. ‚ÄúAnd the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved‚Äù (Acts 2:47). New Shepherds would be placed over the Lord‚Äôs flock. In John 10:11, Jesus declares that ‚ÄúI am the good Shepherd.‚ÄùIn John 21:17 Jesus instructs Peter to ‚Äúfeed my sheep.‚Äù Ezekiel 34:11-16 leaves no doubt who the new Shepherd is. The Lord, Himself, will be the Shepherd of the Flock. And He appointed the Apostles to be under-shepherds. Jeremiah offers one other characteristic of the New Shepherd. He will not lose any of the sheep. Matthew 18:12-14 records Jesus‚Äô parable of the lost sheep. He teaches that He would leave the 99 safe sheep to go after the one who is missing. Also, Jesus said in 6:39, ‚ÄúAnd this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given me, but raise them up at the last day.‚Äù John 10:27-28 states, ‚ÄúMy sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.‚Äù
          If Jesus is the fulfillment of Jeremiah 23 concerning the new shepherd, what about the curses on the evil shepherds. In 70 AD, the temple was destroyed and the Pharisees and other religious leaders of the Old Covenant were left utterly unemployed. What was emerging from the ashes and rubble of the Old was the New Covenant Church of Jesus in fulfillment of every requirement outlined in Jeremiah 23:1-4.
          In the context of this coming curse for the Shepherds, and the restoration of the remnant, we now look at verse 5. Jeremiah prophesies that God will raise up a ‚Äúrighteous branch‚Äù for David.  In those days, ‚ÄúIsrael will be saved and Judah will live in safety.‚Äù What will the name of this promised One be? He will be called, ‚ÄúThe Lord our Righteous Savior.‚Äù The prophet goes on to say that a new day is dawning. Previously the rallying cry for the people was that God had brought them out of the land of Egypt. But, in that day, the people will cry out, that the Lord has restored Israel from her dispersion and brought her back to the Promised Land.
          For almost six hundred years, there was no Davidic king on the throne. Zedekiah was the last Davidic king, and he was deposed in 586 BC. God had promised that David would have an heir on his throne forever (2 Samuel 7:16). Could God have been mistaken? Jeremiah is stating that hope is not lost. The throne will be occupied again by one who will do what is right and just in the land. In fact, this branch that will grow on the Davidic family tree will be ‚Äúrighteous.‚Äù Well, who qualifies for that? Ecclesiastes 7:20 states, ‚ÄúIndeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.‚Äù Romans 3:10 says, ‚ÄúAs it is written: ‚ÄúThere is no one righteous, not even one‚Ķ‚Äù So, who could possibly fit this bill? There is only one way that this requirement for a righteous one could be fulfilled. Since all of mankind is unrighteous, God, who alone is righteous had to become man. THERE IS NO OTHER WAY! Humanity had to have a perfect, righteous representative before God, or we were doomed. John identified the righteous One prophesied by Jeremiah. 1 John 2:1 says, ‚ÄúMy dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father‚ÄîJesus Christ, the Righteous One.‚Äù Alright, Jesus is righteous, but is Jesus in David‚Äôs family line? Matthew 1:1 settles this issue. ‚ÄúThis is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David‚Ķ‚Äù David presided over a united kingdom. Would Jesus bring restoration and unity? Ephesians 4:4-6 says, ‚ÄúThere is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.‚Äù In His high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed, ‚Äú‚Ķthat all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you‚Äù (John 17:21). What about the name of the Promised One‚Ķhe is supposed to be called, ‚ÄúThe Lord our Righteous Savior‚Äù? In Matthew 1:21, the angel is instructing Joseph concerning what was happening to Mary. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.‚Äù Jesus‚Äô Hebrew name is Joshua which means, ‚ÄúThe Lord Saves.‚Äù Would Jesus change the focus from the Exodus from Egypt to a new a greater Exodus? Would Jesus change the focus from the Promised Land to a greater Promised Land? Would Jesus be seen as greater than Moses? Hebrews 3:3 says, ‚ÄúJesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.‚Äù As we saw in Hebrews 12:22-24, for followers of Christ, the Promised Land and Mount Zion are actually the Heavenly Jerusalem!  
          Jeremiah provides a picturesque prophecy of what the Messiah will be like. As we have seen, Jesus fulfills every expectation. This is not coincidence or serendipity. What we have observed is God‚Äôs plan for Salvation History unfolding precisely as He planned.
Matthew 1:18-25
          This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‚ÄúJoseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.‚Äù 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 ‚ÄúThe virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel‚Äù (which means ‚ÄúGod with us‚Äù). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
          Matthew 1:18-25 is a familiar passage. Verse 16 of Matthew 1 tells us that Joseph, the husband of Mary was in the line of David! This is important for legal reasons.  Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. Do you think that this could have caused a problem for Joseph? The angel of the Lord came to Joseph and explained to him what was happening. It would take an angelic visitor to intervene for most men to accept this situation. Mary and Joseph were betrothed or promised to one another. This was even more significant than an engagement, as we might understand it. Betrothals could not be broken without a divorce. When Joseph found out Mary was expecting he considered how he might divorce her quietly. But, the angel of the Lord came to Joseph. He instructed Joseph in a dream that the Holy Spirit had come upon Mary and that she would give birth to a son. This little child was to be named Jesus, ‚Äúbecause He will save His people from their sins.‚Äù What an amazing scenario! A virgin is expecting a child conceived of the Holy Spirit!! Those who were familiar with Isaiah 7:14 would have expected this to be the case. Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Jesus means ‚Äúthe Lord saves.‚Äù Immanuel means ‚ÄúGod with us.‚Äù The only the way the Lord could save us was to come and be with us! That is exactly what He did. When Joseph awakened from the dream, he did what the angel said to do. He took Mary to be his wife. And, so that there would be no misunderstanding that Jesus was born of a virgin, it is clear that they did not ‚Äúknow‚Äù each other before the child was born.
          This child was the ‚Äúrighteous branch‚Äù from the family tree of David. This child was to be the Good Shepherd. The child as God and man, would save His people from their sins ‚Äì bringing unity where there was division, forgiveness where there was condemnation, light and life where there was dark and death. Indeed a New Day was dawning. ‚Äú‚Ķand we have beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten, full of grace and truth‚Äù (John 1:14).
          Oh yes, and He won‚Äôt lose a single one of us!! Thanks be to God. Happy 16th day of Advent.

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