A Holy Tree for Unholy People
Kings aren’t very common any more, but let’s say that Jesus the King of kings showed up at our service this evening and said, “I am offering you the chance to have me as your personal king. In fact, not only am I willing to be your personal king, but as your king I am willing to give you every single thing you want, since I own every single thing in the world. Your every wish is my every command.” What would you say? What would you want from a king, if the Son of God himself said he would be your king?
Tonight I pray that our three lessons from God’s Word will help us see that even if the three things the mention aren’t the first things we would ask for if we could have whatever we wanted, we can be very thankful to God that what Jesus our king gives us is a tree, a trumpet and the truth.
Kings aren’t so common any more, but the desire to know more about a person’s family tree is growing more and more in popularity, as people try to learn more about their background and are interested to know more about their ancestors. Some people have found out that they are related generations and generations away from very famous people. Others have found out things they didn’t want to find out about those who have gone before them. But whoever our ancestors are, what they all have in common is they are no longer alive. They are dead, because they were infected by sin – everyone of them.
The prophet Jeremiah gave comfort to the people of his day hundreds of years before the Savior was born by telling them that the coming Savior was from a very special family tree – the family tree of kings. He would be, Jeremiah said, someone who would come from the line of King David of old – the greatest king in the entire history of Israel – the greatest king who was long since dead and in the grave, because he, like everyone else he ruled, was a great sinner who could not avoid the fate of all who had gone before him and all who would come after him.
But the great One who would come after him would not be infected with the sin of David. He would be the only “righteous Branch” in David’s family tree or any family tree – a holy tree unlike us unholy branches. That’s why everything he came to earth to do would be wise and right, and that’s why everything he would return to heaven to watch over for us would be equally wise and right, because it would be exactly what you and I needed — and need — to know that even though we too will also pass away like all human flesh before us, we are safe, because we are saved. We are saved by the one who is called “our” righteous Savior – the one who took our place when he came to this place to go to that place where he would die to pay for everything you and I and everyone in our family tree has ever done wrong. Thank God for this gift of the King – that Jesus is A Holy Tree for Unholy People.
A reading from Jeremiah 23:
5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to 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 Righteousness.
A Clear Trumpet for Unclear Times
When a trumpet sounds, you normally know it means something special is happening or about to happen. When the trumpets play in church, for example, it is normally during a time of high festivity, such as on Christmas Day or Easter Sunday. And even though kings aren’t that common any more, many people recognize that the sound of trumpets often signify the entrance of a king as he comes to meet his people. A trumpet sound is also what the Bible says will be heard throughout the entire earth when Jesus returns as king to judge the living and the dead. That clear trumpet sound will echo throughout the universe with its signal that we will finally be able to enter the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, Jesus the Son of God.
But until that time comes it often seems unclear as to God’s plans for us or whether Jesus really is in control of all that is going on, doesn’t it? It can seem that Jesus maybe isn’t the kind of king who has all power, because the power of the nations seems so often to be in control, as God’s prophets and saints – people like you and me who put our trust in Christ – often don’t seem to get as much benefit of being the people of Christ as we would hope there would be – and sometimes we even have life made rough for us because we are people of Christ, not to mention those brothers and sisters in faith in other parts of the world who have had businesses and jobs and homes and even their lives destroyed by those who want nothing to do with a Savior from sin or people who believe in him.
Jesus’ disciple John was confronted by all these kinds of thoughts in the many visions which he saw and which God had him record in the book of Revelation. Visions of beasts and dragons and serpents and hailstones and fire and death brought John to his knees, because he knew these were the kinds of things that symbolized what life on this earth was like. But in the midst of all these horrifying visions his Lord also gave John beautiful glimpses of victory and glory – glimpses of victory and glory, some of which were introduced by the sound of a clear trumpet – glimpses of glory as God let John look into heaven itself and there see a Lamb who was slain who was ruling as king forever and ever, being given honor and praise by all who were kneeling at his throne, including those called the “twenty-four elders,” who were meant to represent all believers who lived before Jesus and who lived after him.
And all this was meant to assure John of what he could assure those who were reading his Revelation, including you and me. This glimpse into heaven to see what is really happening even now means that even now on earth during these unclear times we already live in the kingdom of Christ. Right now we suffer and we cry and we know we will die, but right now we are more than conquerors through him who loves us – more than conquerors through the one who will someday come to destroy all those who sought to destroy him, leading us not to hate them, but to feel sorry for all who do not know or believe in the gift of Christmas, which our dear Lord God has given us the faith to believe and know. Thank God for this gift of the King – A Clear Trumpet for Unclear Times.
A reading from Revelation 11:
15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. 18 The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great— and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
Out of This World Truth for of This World Suffering
Kings aren’t common any more, but kings obviously came from someone else who was of this world – a parent. Sometimes kings even made that abundantly clear by being known by successive numbers, such as King Louis the 14th, Louis the 15th and Louis the 16th. It can’t be any other way. Kings come from people of this world, whether their father was a king or a peasant.
Just as obviously to us who know the family tree of Jesus, Jesus came from another place. He came from out of this world, since his Father was God Almighty and since he was begotten of the Father from eternity, as we confess in the Nicene Creed. Jesus came from heaven above.
But the miracle of Christmas includes the fact that this out of this world king would come to this of this world suffering — from the very beginning of his life on earth not even having any room in the inn.
The most hurtful part of Christ’s life on earth, however, was that there was no room in so many people’s hearts, including those from whose line of descent he specifically came as the king of the Jews. So many of them, like so many people today, just like everyone us in the sinful part of us, did not want to hear the truth Jesus spoke about weeping and gnashing of teeth, even though his purpose was to also assure them of the truth that through his work on the cross there would be rejoicing by the angels of heaven over every sinner who repented and looked to him for the forgiveness of sins he came to bring.
When Jesus came to Pontius Pilate the night before he finished the work he came to do on Christmas Day, that Roman governor was confronted with a king who did not command an army of soldiers whom he could order to prevent his arrest. His only weapon was the only weapon that wins – the truth. Truth that must come from above, because it is impossible for us to figure it out here below. Truth that must come from another place, because it is meant to tell us where we will live when it is time to leave this place. Truth that comes from out of this world because that is the only way for us to deal with what we deal with because we are of this world.
Kings aren’t common any more, but there cannot be anything more uncommon than a king giving a victory that lasts forever by giving his life for the wrongs of the very people he rules. There can be nothing more uncommon than an eternal king giving eternal life for out of this world by letting the suffering of this world take him down – only so that he could that life back again. There can be nothing more uncommon than knowing the truth which only God himself can reveal to us – that any suffering I go through will not separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, my Lord, and that it cannot compare to the glory I will someday enjoy when I am living and reigning with my king in his kingdom. Thank God for this gift of the King: Out of This World Truth for of This World Suffering.
A reading from John 18:
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”