God’s Restorative Heart
In the first week of our series, “The Prophets Foretold,” I mentioned that the ancient prophets were poets. This means they often use metaphor and symbol to communicate their message. This passage is a good example:
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when 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.
A common metaphor among the prophets was a branch. Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Zechariah all spoke of a righteous Branch that would come. The metaphor was meant to imply that the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, (the people to whom these prophets were speaking) had become a stump that had been cut down. The imagery of the branch is meant to bring to our minds a picture of a new branch growing out of a dead stump. All this talk about a branch shows God’s restorative heart! He wants to bring new life out of that which was dead.
A dead stump may seem like a harsh word picture, but as a people, Israel was in trouble. Part of their trouble was with kings. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of a new king, but in order to understand the hope of that statement, we need to know a little something about the kings of Israel.
To begin with, Israel was never intended to have a human king (or kings) because God was their king! But, early on, they looked at the Gentile nations around them who all had kings and they got to thinking that they wanted a king (it’s funny, isn’t it, that we also look for things that we already possess in Christ). The prophet at the time, Samuel, tried to tell them that they didn’t need a king, but they insisted and so he told them, “God will give you a king, but you aren’t going to like it.”
The very first king of Israel was Saul. Saul great at the beginning, but the power of being king soon corrupted his heart and he turned against God. After Saul was David. David was a good, though not perfect king. He would become the model for what a righteous king looks like. After David came Solomon. Solomon was wise but he too, turned evil at the end of his days. After that Israel splits into two kingdoms. Rehoboam became king of Judah in the south and introduced cultic worship. Jeroboam became king of Israel in the north and abolished worship of Yahweh and instituted worship of a golden calf. The prophets would describe many kings after him as “walking in the way of Jeroboam.”
Things go from bad to worse after that! This community had become a stump that was cut down.
The prophet Jeremiah speaks (400 yrs. after David & 600 yrs. before Christ) of a king that will be a Branch from the line of David who will do what is right and just. Righteousness, in this sense, doesn’t just mean a person of noble character. Righteous means covenant faithfulness. So, there will come a king who demonstrates God’s faithfulness, who is the embodiment of God’s covenant. This king will be righteous, bring justice, and be the fulfillment of God’s covenant to Israel.
God’s Restorative Kingdom
Approximately 600 years after Jeremiah spoke these words, this happens – and it’s recorded in Luke 1:26-33 (NIV),
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Jesus comes as a new kind of King, and inaugurates a new kind of kingdom (that is growing and expanding to this day). In his kingdom, things will be made right for those who have suffered wrong. After all, that’s what true justice is. In our culture, our primary picture of justice is violent retribution, but God’s justice is different. God’s justice is restorative! Where God is in charge the…
poor are restored to prosperity
sick are restored to health
suffering are restored to wellbeing
rejected are restored to acceptance
oppressed are restored to liberty
and the ultimate restoration; the sinner is restored to forgiveness.
Jesus reveals that God’s heart all along was to restore. Jesus fulfills God’s heart to restore the people of God to himself. Jesus embodies God’s faithfulness to his people. And more than that, through Jesus all people can be brought into God’s covenant faithfulness by faith!
We now live as members of God’s restorative kingdom. A kingdom not defined by race, or income, or location, but a kingdom entered into by faith, defined by love, and marked with joy.
For the first hearers of Jeremiah, the promise of a new King meant that God hadn’t left them all alone in the middle of their mess. The same is true for us! In the middle of your mess, God has not forgotten you! God steps into our mess! When things go wrong. When you mess up. When tragedy strikes. God steps into all of that and works to restore it. That is the beautiful truth of Advent: God is with us!
Listen to the Jeremiah passage from The Message:
“Time’s coming”—God’s Decree—
“when I’ll establish a truly righteous David-Branch,
A ruler who knows how to rule justly.
He’ll make sure of justice and keep people united.
In his time Judah will be secure again
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name they’ll give him:
-Jeremiah 23:5-6 (MSG)
To learn more about God’s restorative kingdom, click on the resources below from Emmaus Road Church, a church in Fort Collins.