The Land – Hoping for Restoration

After King Solomon’s death around 900BC the people of the tribes of Israel had separated into two kingdoms; one in the north called Israel, which had its capital at Samaria and the other in the south called Judah, which had its capital at Jerusalem.

The northern kingdom of Israel was later destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and most of the people were dispersed throughout the Assyrian empire while other people from the empire were settled in their place.  The people called the Samaritans in the New Testament are descendants of those whom the Assyrians settled in the conquered land of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Now, around the mid-600s BC, the Babylonian Empire, which supplanted the Assyrian Empire, is coming for the land of Judah.  This is the time in which the prophet Jeremiah lived.  He was given a word of the Lord to proclaim to the people that judgment was coming against the people of Judah for their sins, just as it had previously come for the people of Israel (Jeremiah 33:1-16).  

And this judgment is coming in the form of the Babylonians.  The text calls them the Chaldeans, because this is the group of people who formed the Babylonian empire, having their roots in the region of what is now southern Iraq.  It’s the same region that the patriarch Abraham had been called out of over 1,200 years before.  Now these Chaldeans are coming to Judah to expand their empire.  They’ve already conquered Assyria and taken all the lands of that empire, and now Judah and Jerusalem are next.

It’s a scary time for the people of Jerusalem, because the city will be the main focus of the Babylonian attack.  They had attacked a couple times previously, taking prisoners from the more prominent families; in fact, the prophets Daniel and Ezekiel were taken prisoner and foretold the coming destruction of Jerusalem from Babylon.

Now much worse is coming for Judah than what had befallen them before.  Before Judah’s final fall in 586 BC, the city of Jerusalem would be besieged for two years.  And after it falls, the Babylonians will destroy the city, its walls, and its temple and carry off the spoils of the temple as well as most of the people into captivity in Babylon.  

So, Jeremiah tells all the people of Judah and Jerusalem what is going to happen.  He tells them that judgment and destruction is coming, but he also gives them God’s promise of restoration.  The city will be destroyed and the people taken away into captivity, but the Lord promises to restore them.  The people will learn that Yahweh, the Lord, is not like the pagan gods.  He is “Yahweh who made the earth, Yahweh who formed it to establish it – Yahweh is his name.”  Yahweh is translated as LORD in all capital letters in our Bibles.  It means basically “He who is” or “He who causes to be.”

So, this “He who is and who causes to be” promises the people of Judah that He will cause them to be again.  He will bring them out of their captivity and restore them to this land that He will also restore.  Not only that, he promises restoration both to the people of Judah and the people of Israel.  He promises that He will “cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against [Him]” and “forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against [Him].”

So sure is this promise that Jeremiah himself, even though he was the bearer of a painful message of destruction to the people of Judah, bought land for himself in Judah.  How amazing an act of faith in God’s promises is this?  The land would be overrun by Babylonians and made a part of their empire; they will destroy everything in their path.  And yet Jeremiah buys land.  Jeremiah’s purchase is related in chapter 32.  After buying the land, Jeremiah says, “Thus says Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of Israel: ‘Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time.’  For thus says Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of Israel: ‘Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land’” (Jeremiah 32:14-15).

This is how sure the Lord’s promise of restoration is, that even the prophet who announces destruction buys land in faith in the promise that the land will be restored to Yahweh’s people again.  And so in chapter 33, in our reading for today, the Lord expands upon this promise of restoration.  He says that He will forgive the sins of His people, cleanse them of their sins, restore the land, and make happiness and singing be heard again in the land.  He says he “will restore the fortunes of the land as at first” and paints a picture of shepherds and flocks and prosperity.

Then, the Lord says, “Behold, the days are coming, declares Yahweh, 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: ‘Yahweh is our righteousness.’”

So, the Lord – Yahweh – promises a righteous Branch of David.  That is, he promises that a descendent of King David will come and bring justice and righteousness.  He will restore the land and it will be called “Yahweh is our righteousness.”

Now in our Gospel reading today we see this righteous Branch of David (Luke 19:28-40).  Jesus Christ has come in the fulfillment of God’s promises.  He is descended from David and yet fully God; He is Yahweh in the flesh.  And in our text, he is heading to Jerusalem to be crucified for the sins of all people.  He will die in order to forgive sins and cleanse us of our sins and guilt.  So, as he approaches the city his disciples praise him, saying “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  The disciples here are echoing what the angels announced at Jesus’ birth when they proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14).  

Yahweh has come in the flesh; “Yahweh who made the earth, Yahweh who formed it to establish it” has come to restore it.  Jesus Christ is Yahweh incarnate, come to restore the land.  So, when the Pharisees urge him to rebuke his disciples Jesus says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”  The stones would cry out because Jesus has come in fulfillment of all the promises of God to restore all the earth, all creation.  The stones would cry out because Jesus is also restoring the land.

Our view of what Jesus did on the cross and empty tomb is often too small.  We tend to think that Jesus died for our sins and therefore we will die and go to heaven.  That’s true, but it’s also too small of a hope.  Jesus did a lot more than this.  He is the Creator in the flesh who died for his creation to cleanse it and restore it to himself. 

All throughout the Old Testament there is a huge focus on the land.  God creates the earth.  He places Adam and Eve in a garden that He made for them, in a specific spot of land.  He calls Abraham up out of Ur of the Chaldees and tells him to go to a land that He would show him.  He promises Jacob that he would give him and his descendants this land.  He brings the descendants of Jacob, the people of Israel, up out of Egypt to inherit this promised land.  When the kingdoms of Israel and Judah are destroyed, He promises to restore them to the land.  All throughout the Old Testament, God’s promises have a location that is focussed on land.

Yet somehow when we get to the New Testament we seem to forget about this focus on the land.  Many Christians think that the Christian hope is simply to die and go to heaven.  What about the land?  This “small” hope of going to heaven misses the whole first part of the Bible and the focus on the land.  The very stones cry out for restoration, because the sin of Adam and Eve cursed all creation.  The land is cursed and marred by sin and cries out to be cleansed and restored, along with the people who belong in the land.  St. Paul picks up this theme in Romans chapter 8 where he talks about how all creation is yearning for restoration, because it too was marred by the sin of Adam and Eve.  The very stones are crying out for salvation!

So, Jesus comes as Yahweh in the flesh and as the righteous Branch of David to restore the land.  And this restoration does not all come at once.

In the Old Testament, the people of Judah after being taken away into Babylon were eventually restored to the land after Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonian empire and allowed the people to return home to rebuild their city, its walls, and its temple.  But, things were still tough and the land was only partially restored.  It still awaited for a final restoration.  The very stones were still crying out.

The final restoration which this Old Testament restoration was a type of and pointed to began to be ushered in with Jesus Christ.  His death and resurrection has begun this final restoration when the land – all the land, the entire creation – will be restored.  But, that final, full restoration is not yet complete.  We still live in a land that is cursed and marred by sin.  The very stones are still crying out to be restored.

But, God has established His advance teams on the earth.  The land is still important.  We dwell in a restored land in the Church.  Each local manifestation of the Church on earth is where God dwells in the midst of His people.  It is the land promised to the faithful.  The land is still important, and here in the New Testament era this land is the Church; and it’s still “earthly.”  We can still touch and feel this land and reap its harvest, because we have Yahweh in our midst through the waters of Baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.  This is the harvest of the land, and it’s plentiful.  

Have you ever wondered why it’s bread and wine?  Why not just plain grain and grapes?  Bread and wine show the fruitfulness of the land and of the people in using the fruit of the land.  It shows that the land has been restored as at the first and that the Lord dwells with us in this land.  Yahweh is physically present in this land with us through the incarnate Christ with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.  

So, the Church is the holy Jerusalem that is called “Yahweh is our righteousness.”  This is the whole identity of the Church and her people, that we do not have a righteousness that exists in ourselves because we are sinners, but that we have Yahweh as our righteousness.  This Yahweh who came in the flesh to die and rise has given us His righteousness as ours; He has both forgiven us and cleansed us and works this sanctification in us.  Therefore, as His gift to us, “Yahweh is our righteousness.”

And like the people of Judah who were brought up out of captivity into the promised land, so too have we been brought up out of the captivity of sin and death and the devil into the promised land of the Church.  And like the people of Judah who in this land awaited still a fuller restoration, so too do we await this final, complete restoration, just like they do, even though their bodies now lie in the dust of the earth.  We all await the return of Yahweh Jesus Christ when he will complete what he started on the cross and empty tomb.  For on that day the promised land will encompass the entire earth and all creation.  

Everything that we have awaited for will then be complete.  Everything that the very stones cry out for, everything that all the dead of the Old and New Testament Church cry out for, everything that we cry out for – namely the restoration of the land and our place in it – will be completed.  “Yahweh who made the earth, Yahweh who formed it to establish it” will return for it to resurrect our bodies and bring us into the fully restored land to dwell in it forever with Him and each other.  Amen.

 

(Image: By User:Bluemoose – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=333105)