Anticipation, Longing, and Yearning

Anticipation, Longing, and Yearning

I’m a firm believer that anticipating a special event can be as pleasurable as the event itself—or, at the very least, that anticipating such an event is part and parcel of the pleasure to be found in it once it finally arrives. Whatever it is that we may be looking forward to—gathering with dear friends and family for Thanksgiving after not being able to last year due to Covid; time off from work to take a vacation or even just a stay-cation due to Covid restrictions; going to a concert albeit while wearing a mask due to Covid; or whatever other pleasures we might look forward to in our new when-will-Covid-finally-be-endemic-rather-than-pandemic normal world—it can be joyous to look forward to something.

Similarly, looking forward to Christmas, to the day when the Son of God, Savior and LORD, was sent to earth by our heavenly Father in the form of a baby born in a manger in order to take away the sins of the world, is what Advent is all about. Each year during the four Sundays prior to Christmas, we kick off the Church calendar by celebrating Advent—a word that means “coming” and which can refer to both Christ’s first and second coming although what we celebrate prior to Christmas is, of course, his first coming to earth.

Now when we were children, we probably looked forward to Christmas because it meant we would be receiving toys. The connection between these gifts and the birth of Christ—not to mention the ways in which Santa Claus and Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed Reindeer further muddle its meaning, was probably lost on us. But as adults, hopefully we look forward to Christmas because we want to celebrate the birth of Jesus who is the Christ, the Messiah, the One promised in God’s Holy Scripture to one day deliver us from evil and sin by coming and establishing his Kingdom of peace. This latter sense of anticipating Advent is the one we find in our brief passage from Jeremiah 33. For what God’s people at that time were promised—and, therefore, what God’s people at that time looked forward to—wasn’t just a one-time event, but a completely new world led by God’s Messiah to come. This would be a world:

in which good wins over evil;

in which there is no suffering;

in which kindness wins over cruelty;

in which peace wins over war

because a leader who is good—and righteous—and just—and merciful—and compassionate—and powerful—and holy, does the leading. Although such a world no doubt seemed too good to be true, this is the world that the LORD promised through his prophet Jeremiah in a time when the kingdom of Israel that had once been united under David, had divided into the people of Israel and Judah. Into this divided, broken world Jeremiah sounded a word of hope!

As stated beginning with verse 14 of Jeremiah 33, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.’” Although things may have seemed dire at the time when Jeremiah wrote—there’s a reason he’s referred to as the weeping prophet—nonetheless God promised that this misery wouldn’t always last. One day things would change for the better. As stated in verse 15, “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.” To be told that this future leader would arise “from David’s line” would have made the ears of both the people of Israel and Judah tingle because for one, David was the best king Israel and Judah had ever known. He wasn’t perfect, but even when he acted wrongly, he repented for he loved his LORD and he loved the people over whom God had entrusted him to rule.[1] For another, to learn that this future leader was going to be “a righteous Branch” connected him with God’s Messiah, “Branch” being a Messianic title.[2] Therefore, if such leader was to be sprouted from  “a righteous Branch…from David’s line,” there was indeed great cause for hope that peace—and justice—and good would finally be established. For such a leader would no doubt “do what is just and right in the land.” As noted by one commentator, “This promise is not finally to restore the monarchy, but to inaugurate the messianic kingdom.”[3] And, as noted by another, “The Branch’s coming will fulfill God’s promise to David of an eternal kingdom.”[4] With the arrival of such a Messiah, all would surely be made well. As the LORD’s declaration went on to state, verse 16, “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” This is just what God’s people were longing for—not only a temporary salvation from their enemies but for someone who would make it possible for them to live in safety permanently.

Now if we look back earlier in this chapter, we see that among the things included in what the LORD “who made the earth,… who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name” (verse 2) promised are:

Verse 6: “I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security;”

Verse 8 “I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me;”

Verses 10–11: “…in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more 11 the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying, ‘Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever;’”

Verse 12: “In this place, desolate and without people or animals—in all its towns there will again be pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks.”

So we see that the sickness of war and insecurity would be healed and transformed into abundant peace and security; the stain of sins and rebellion against God would be cleansed and forgiven; forsaken and deserted streets would be filled with joy and gladness and voices of thanksgiving as people acknowledged that God’s goodness and love lasts forever; and there would again be “pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks.” In this breath-taking transformation to come, as noted by one commentator, “God rescues his people from danger—including the danger to which their own sin has subjected them—and fosters for them the conditions in which faithful life can flourish.”[5] This is what the righteous Branch from David’s line would do as he protected and cared for those who are his.

As reiterated at the end of verse 16, “This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.” In this name we see that this leader to come wouldn’t just be a man, but also God. God was going to send not just a capable leader but a Righteous Savior who would be able to save his people from all harm, a Savior who would always do what is right. For, as noted by one scholar, “Righteous rule is the hallmark of the Messiah’s reign.”[6] But again, this future leader would also be equal to the LORD who promised his coming for this, “Our Righteous Savior” would also be LORD, Yahweh, one with God who promised him. Upon hearing these wondrous words from Jeremiah, the people must have thought: “But when, oh when, will these promised days arrive? When, oh when, will ‘The Lord Our Righteous Savior’ come to deliver us from evil and bring justice and righteousness to the land?”

In fact, those to whom this promise was declared didn’t live to see its fulfillment for those days didn’t arrive until over 600 years after the LORD had made his promise by the mouth of Jeremiah the prophet.[7] And when those days did at long last finally arrive, they did so by the miraculous conception of Mary who, though a virgin, was blessed[8] in being chosen by God to give birth to his Messiah, Jesus Christ.[9] With the birth of Jesus, the days for which those living in Jeremiah’s time longed had now arrived. For Jesus Christ, the righteous Branch had now sprouted from David’s line;[10] Jesus Christ who is “The Lord Our Righteous Savior,” had come to establish his rule on earth. This Advent, this arrival of Jesus Christ occurred in fulfillment of the promises that the LORD had made through Jeremiah and, indeed, throughout the entire Old Testament.[11]

For he was the one who would heal his people and let them enjoy abundant peace and security;[12]

he was the one who would cleanse them from all the sin they had committed against him and forgive all their sins of rebellion against him;[13]

he was the one who would bring the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who brought thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying, “Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever;”[14]

he was the one who would again make the desolate place without people or animals become pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks;[15]

Jesus would do “what is just and right in the land;”[16]

Jesus would make it possible for Judah to be saved, for Jerusalem to live in safety;[17]

He would do all of these things because, again, Jesus Christ is “The Lord Our Righteous Savior.”[18]

But, contrary to expectations, Jesus Christ was not to be a political leader who would establish an earthly kingdom. No, Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully human, had come to inaugurate his heavenly kingdom on earth. He came to conquer humanity’s most fearsome enemy, death, which resulted from humanity’s listening to Satan, that ancient serpent[19] who lured God’s image-bearers[20] away from listening to the LORD and Giver of life, and tempted them to instead listen to him and their own fallen, limited, misinformed, and sinful ways. But as the eternal Son of God who was sent by the eternal Father, Christ Jesus knew he could deliver on the promise he made in John 8:51: “Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death….” Did you catch that?: whoever obeys my word will never see death. And the word of Jesus that needs to be obeyed is that of believing he is Christ, the Messiah, the Lord and Savior. For as he declares earlier in John’s Gospel, “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.”[21] To believe that Jesus is who he says he is, God’s eternal Son sent by the Father to die and rise for the sins of all who believe in him, is how we can receive the eternal life he so generously and richly offers and bestows. This is why John and the other authors of Scripture chosen by God wrote. As John testifies,

10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.[22]

With the Advent of Christ, with the arrival of Jesus, the only way that the Father had provided to himself arrived.[23] For as Peter also testified, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”[24]

Jesus and his apostles understood that he was the promised “LORD Our Righteous Savior” foretold by Jeremiah and others in the Old Testament. As he said to the religious leaders of his day in verse 56 of John 8, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Even Abraham from whom God created a nation for himself, Israel, through whom all of the nations of the world one day be blessed,[25] understood this. Abraham’s rejoicing, as one commentator notes, “may have special reference to God’s providing the ram as a substitute when Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac.”[26] Alternatively, as suggested by others, “Jesus is possibly referring to a whole pattern of joyful and confident faith in Abraham’s life, rather than one specific event.”[27] In either case Jesus knew this about Abraham’s rejoicing because, as we’ve noted before[28] and as stated in verse 58, he who is the eternal Son of God went on to declare to these leaders, “Very truly I tell you…before Abraham was born, I am!”[29] Again, Jesus wasn’t just a man, no; he was the eternal Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah who as eternal God existed before Abraham—and before Noah—and before Eve—and before Adam—and even before the foundation of the world.[30]

But, wait. If Christ Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah promised by the Old Testament prophets; if he was the one promised by God who would come and make all things right, why are things still such a mess in this world? Why isn’t the world fixed? Why is there still suffering and sadness? Why are there still wicked people? Why do we still struggle with sin? Why are there still so many who choose to follow their own ways that lead to their harm and destruction over the ways of the God who made and loves them that lead to their ultimate flourishing and joy? The answer is because we’re still in a time of Advent. For with his first coming to earth from heaven Christ inaugurated his Kingdom. After dying for the sins of those who believe and receive him and rising from death, our gracious Lord Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to those who are his that by his body, his Church, we might be his hands—and heart—and feet in order that his will might be done on earth as it is in heaven. As Jesus said to his disciples before he ascended to heaven, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” And then he added these very important words, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”[31]

How is this possible? It’s possible by his Holy Spirit, sent initially at Pentecost and now given to all who believe in God’s Son. He is how our dear Jesus continues to be with us. Therefore we, like those living in the days of Jeremiah, now similarly await his Advent, his final coming when he will, at long last, make right everything that Satan—and we—have made wrong. And if we feel a certain impatience at our precious Jesus’ return; if at times we want to cry out what those living in Jeremiah’s day might have cried out, “But when, oh when, will these promised days arrive? When, oh when, will ‘The Lord Our Righteous Savior’ come to deliver us from evil and bring justice and righteousness to the land?,” let us remember what Peter wrote: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”[32] Because Jesus doesn’t want anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance, he hasn’t yet returned.

Therefore, dear sisters and brothers, on this first Sunday of Advent, let us anticipate—let us look forward to—his return with patience and hope, knowing that such anticipation is part and parcel of the joy to be found in his actual return;

Let us live our lives in a manner that will please him even as we long—even as we strongly desire and look forward—to his return;

Let us trust in his goodness as we yearn—as we intensely long to be joined to him—to see him no longer by faith but face-to-face.

Let us be patient as he is patient and, with him, share the Good News of who he is with those he brings into our lives knowing that he is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Let us pray that he might use us to bring his life to those who are dying, his salvation to those who are yet choosing to live in evil.

Let us pray.

Benediction: Romans 15:5–6: May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[1] Note, for example, David’s repentance upon being confronted by the prophet Nathan for having Uriah the Hittite killed in order that he might have Bathsheba, his wife, after having committed adultery with her, in Psalm 51:1–6:Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.” The account of Nathan’s confrontation is found in 2 Samuel 12:7–9: Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.”

[2] See, for example, Isaiah 4:2: In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel; Isaiah 11:1: A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.; Zechariah 3:8: Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.; Zechariah 6:12–13a: 12 Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. 13 It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne.

[3] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Jeremiah 33:17 (For this is what the Lord says: ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel,…). The note references Jeremiah 23:5: “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.; Jeremiah 30:9: Instead, they will serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.; 2 Samuel 7:12–16: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” 1 Kings 2:4: and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’

[4] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Jeremiah 33:17. References provided are 2 Samuel 7:16:  Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.; 1 Chronicles 17:11–12: I declare to you that the Lord will build a house for you: 11 When your days are over and you go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. 14 I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.

[5] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Jeremiah 23:6.

[6] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Jeremiah 23:6.

[7] Jeremiah was probably born ~645 C.

[8] Luke 1:41–45: 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

[9] Luke 1:26–35: 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.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be calledthe Son of God.

[10] Matthew connects Jesus with David by beginning his Gospel declaring, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.” See also Luke 1:30–33: 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.”;  Luke 19:37–38: 37 When [Jesus] came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” John 1:47–49: 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

[11] As Jesus said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Acts 24:26–26: 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

[12] Jeremiah 33:6.

[13] Jeremiah 33:8.

[14] Jeremiah 33:10–11.

[15] Jeremiah 33:12.

[16] Jeremiah 33:15.

[17] Jeremiah 33:16.

[18] Jeremiah 33:16.

[19] Revelation 12:9: The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

[20] Genesis 1:26–27: 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

[21] John 6:47.

[22] 1 John 5:10–13. Emphases added.

[23] John 14:6: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

[24] Acts 4:12.

[25] Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

[26] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on John 8:56. See sermon preached on September 6, 2020, Faith that Works, on Genesis 22:1–19.

[27] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on John 8:56. If it is one event, they suggest it may be to Genesis 12:1–3 [Abraham’s calling]; Genesis 17:17, 20 [circumcision established]; Genesis 22:8, 13–18 [Abraham’s offering up of Isaac]. Confer Romans 4:13–21. The Zondervan NIV Study Bible is in agreement with the Crossway in stating, “Jesus probably was not referring to any one occasion but to Abraham’s general joy in the fulfilling of the purposes of God in the Messiah by which all nations on earth would receive blessing.” It, too, references Abraham’s call in Genesis 15:1–3.

[28] See sermon preached on July 25, 2021, God Inexhaustible! on Exodus 3:11–22/John 8:51–59.

[29] John 8:58. In hearing Jesus say this, the religious leaders, thinking he was but a human, rightly picked up stones to stone him for this was the punishment that one who claimed to be God deserved. See John 8:59: At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

[30] Ephesians 1:4–5:For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—

[31] Matthew 28:18–20.

[32] 2 Peter 3:9.