“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 33:14-16).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Recent data collected from Barna’s pastor poll indicate that U.S. pastors are currently in crisis and at risk for burnout. Notably, in 2021 alone, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of pastors who are thinking about quitting the ministry entirely.[i] Thirty-eight percent indicate they have considered quitting full-time ministry within the past year. Even worse, this is up nine full points since Barna asked church leaders this same question at the beginning of 2021.
“We started seeing early warning signs of burnout among pastors before COVID,” says David Kinnaman, President of Barna Group, “with initial warning bells sounding in Barna’s The State of Pastors study in 2017. Now, after eighteen months of the pandemic, along with intense congregational divisions and financial strain, an alarming percentage of pastors is experiencing significant burnout, driving them to seriously consider leaving ministry.”[ii]
I don’t mention this study because I’m feeling burnout, or because I think pastors are suffering more than anybody else. I’m sure it’s the same in many other vocations: health care, law enforcement, first responders, teachers, food services, just to name a few. I just happen to have the statistics for pastor ministry available to me. You’ve maybe noticed an increased level of stress in your own life.
What bothers you? What makes you uneasy and anxious? Political and racial tension? A shaky economy? A health report from your doctor? Family turmoil? Job burnout? A world that has changed so much, sometimes it is hard to recognize? Injustice?
Each of us is no doubt bothered in separate ways by different developments in our lives. Whatever your anxieties, Jeremiah could probably relate. His world was upset by a number of things.
First, God has called him to be a prophet and to speak God’s Word in a time when people refused and resented God’s messengers. At least twice there were attempts on his life. The refusal and violent reaction to his message caused him great anguish.[iii] Jeremiah shares his frustration when he pours out his heart to God:
“O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the Word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, ‘I will not mention Him, or speak any more in His name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot’” (Jeremiah 20:7–9).
Thus, at the center of Jeremiah’s life—his very vocation—there was tension and rejection. Talk about a candidate for ministry burnout!
And if the inner turmoil of his life was not enough, his world on the outside was about to collapse, too. The Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar, were about to conquer Jerusalem and enslave its population. The glory of Jerusalem (Solomon’s temple) would be flattened.
Jeremiah was at the crossroads of this inner and outer world. He was called to announce that this would all happen because the people had so completely rejected the God who had given them the land, the temple, Zion, and Jerusalem.
What a situation! However unsettled we might be and whatever bothers us, these forces do not surpass the internal and external challenges that faced Jeremiah.
Into such a shaken world, God sends a remarkable word for Jeremiah and for each of us: “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 33:15-16).
A calming, healing word. A restoring, refreshing word. A certain word. Indeed, it is more than a word. It is a change in reality. Jeremiah describes the coming of One who would reverse the curse of apostasy and idolatry. The Jerusalem that would experience violence, bloodshed, anguish, and enslavement would once again dwell in security and enjoy wonderful prosperity and justice. God’s blessings would be lavished upon her.
Jeremiah repeats the promise the Lord had revealed to him earlier in his ministry (chapter 23). The real marvel and wonder of God is Christ. The final words of this chapter speak about Christ and the age to follow. Jeremiah describes more fully the nature of the Righteous Branch which the Lord would raise up from David. David was long dead; the Lord had written off the last successor to his throne, Jehoiachin, “as if childless” (Jeremiah 22:30), yet He promised that one from David’s line would sit eternally on the throne, ruling an eternal Kingdom. To be a descendant of David, this King must be a human, a Jew. To rule an eternal Kingdom, He must be eternal, that is, He must also be God.
This great reversal would be brought about by the presence of the One who would execute justice and righteousness, who would bring security and salvation. David’s Seed, Jesus, fulfills this wonderful word precisely as Jeremiah promised.
The word “justice” includes sentencing, punishment, and retribution, but also suggests more positive and pleasant activities such as providing for the welfare and happiness of people. The restrictive and negative meanings we today attach to both “justice” and “execute” suggest a delicious Gospel irony. This was more than just a perverse turn of events. It was the plan of God for your salvation. For when the Messiah set to our world to “execute justice” was Himself judged and executed, that was precisely how we were saved. For He was judged and executed in our place, for our sins, and that’s why we are now called by His name, “The Lord is our righteousness.”
His name becomes our name. His righteousness becomes our righteousness. Here we have simply and clearly stated the Gospel of forensic justification: the fact that God declares us sinners righteous because Christ’s righteousness has been credited to us. That declaration is our entrée to eternal life.
Justice and righteousness are yours in Jesus. And you are in Him—in David’s Seed—for you were joined to His death and resurrection in your Baptism. You were clothed with Christ’s righteous. His death has done away with Israel’s sin, Judah’s sin, your sin. His resurrection has given you life that is in God—in the Father, in the Son, in the Holy Spirit—as the triune name spoken over you.
The political and racial tension that upsets you? Christ brings His perfect peace that makes us all brothers and sisters in the family of God. A shaky economy? The Lord promises you treasures kept for you in heaven. A health report from your doctor? The Lord promises you strength to meet the unwelcome news, and healing, if not in this life, perfect healing in eternity. Job burnout? Jesus offers and contentment and joy despite our circumstances. A world that has changed so much, sometimes it is hard to recognize? Jesus promises a new heaven and earth for eternity. Injustice and evil? Jesus brings His righteousness and justice. Insecurity and fear? Now, even death cannot conquer you, for your life is secure in the life of God.
Jesus’ word is certain: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25). And our answer, with Jeremiah, with Martha, is “Yes, Lord; I believe” (John 11:27).
Indeed, if we reflect for a moment, it is clear that many of those who seek to make us feel safe and secure cannot deliver. The stock market? Financial plans? Insurance? Physical fitness? Beauty? Popularity? Executive mandates? Legislative programs? All those places that advertise lasting security simply, on examination, cannot deliver. The most powerful and wealthy of human beings will soon lose that power and wealth. How silly to regard wealth or power or popularity as gods! How misspent is a life devoted to them as though they were gods!
Jeremiah spoke that message to his contemporaries. He faithfully spoke God’s holy Word. The majority rejected his message, but a significant minority listened and believed.[iv] They saw reality for what it was. They saw the beauty and wonder of the God of Moses and of Jeremiah. They confessed their sins and rejoiced in God’s forgiveness for the sake of David’s Seed, Jesus.
So, rejoice with Jeremiah. Beyond the disappointment and challenges of the world and that beset us from within, beyond anxieties is security, beyond sin and injustice is justice and righteousness, the security, justice, and righteousness that the Son of God, the Seed of David, brings and freely bestows upon us. Be at peace inside and as you meet the world on the outside, for you are secure in Jesus. In Him will you find true justice and righteous, in this world and in the world to come.
Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy! You are forgiven for all your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[i] 38% of U.S. Pastors Have Thought About Quitting Full-Time …, https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-well-being/.
[ii] 38% of U.S. Pastors Have Thought About Quitting Full-Time …, https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-well-being/.
[iii] Dean Wenthe. Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 23, Part 1, Series C, December 2, 2012—February 10, 2013. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, P.15.
[iv] Dean Wenthe. Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 23, Part 1, Series C, December 2, 2012—February 10, 2013. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, P.15.