I explained last Sunday morning that what I want to do this year for the services around Christmas is to think about how the Lord Jesus fulfils God’s promises in the Old Testament. In those parts of the Old Testament which deal with the history of God’s people, we read about certain things, such as the covenant God made with his people; and the kings God gave to his people; and the temple he commanded them to build; and, of course, we read about the earth he created. But all of those things were spoiled because of our sin. So, the people broke the covenant. The kings were sinful and did what was wrong. During the exile, when the people were sent out of the Promised Land because of their sin and rebellion, the temple was destroyed. And the whole of creation has been ruined because of our sin. So, all of those good things which we read about in the Old Testament have been spoiled. However, in other parts of the Old Testament, and especially in the prophets, we read about a new and better covenant; and we read about a new and better king; and we read about a new and better temple; and we read about a new and better creation. So, the Old Testament tells us about certain things which have been spoiled. And the Old Testament also tells us of better things to come. But, when the Old Testament comes to an end, none of those better things have happened. And they haven’t happened because all of those promises about better things to come depend for their fulfilment on the coming of the Lord Jesus. He’s the one who established the new covenant. He’s the one who is the new king. He’s the one who is building a new temple. And whoever believes in him belongs to God’s new creation. And so, that’s what we’re thinking about in these services around Christmas. Last Sunday morning we thought about how the Lord Jesus established the new covenant. Today we’re going to be thinking about how the Lord Jesus is the new and better King.
It’s worth stating at the beginning that God is King over all. He’s the one who made all things and he’s the one who rules over all of his creation. According to Psalm 2, he is the one who is enthroned in heaven. Psalm 47 tells us that God is the King of all the earth and he reigns over the nations and is seated on a holy throne and the kings of the earth belong to him. Psalm 93 says that the Lord reigns and he is robed in majesty. Psalm 99 says the Lord reigns and he sits enthroned between the cherubim. And so, the Old Testament makes clear that the Lord God rules and reigns in heaven over all that he has made.
However, early on the Old Testament, God revealed that a human king would rule on his behalf. In Genesis 49, for instance, Jacob was speaking as a prophet and he foretold how the sceptre will not depart from Judah nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs. It’s a little obscure, but he was saying that a king would come from the tribe of Judah. In 1 Samuel 2, Hannah, the mother of Samuel, foretold how God will give strength to his king and will exalt the horn of his anointed. And an unnamed prophet in the same chapter foretold how God would raise up a faithful priest to minister before God’s anointed one. God’s anointed one is the king. So, it was always God’s intention to let a human king rule on his behalf. In fact, when he gave his laws and commandments to Moses, he included laws in Deuteronomy 18 about the king who would one day rule over them.
You might remember from our studies in 1 and 2 Samuel that when the Israelites asked for a human king to rule over them, Samuel was not pleased. And neither was the Lord. But they weren’t pleased with the Israelites, not because the Israelites wanted a king, but because they wanted the wrong kind of king. They wanted a king like the nations had, instead of the kind of king the Lord wanted. Nevertheless God gave them what they asked for; and Saul was made the first king of Israel. It soon became clear that he was not the right kind of king and David was made king in his place. And David was a much better king. He was someone who loved the Lord and who wanted to do God’s will. The Lord was with him and helped him to overcome their enemies and he established peace in the land. And you’ll remember how David brought the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem and he wanted to build a temple for the Lord where they could gather to worship God.
Nevertheless, though David was a good king, he was not a perfect king. Among his sins was the time when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and then he arranged her husband’s death on the battlefield. And after Nathan the prophet confronted David about his sin, he wrote Psalm 51 which begins with the words:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions
and my sin is always before me.
David was a good king, but he was not a perfect king and he was a sinner like everyone else who needed forgiveness from the Lord.
Solomon, his son, who became king after David, was known around the world for his wisdom. But he very foolishly married foreign wives who led him astray so that he worshipped false gods. Then, after his death, the one kingdom of Israel was divided into two. The northern kingdom continued to be known as Israel, while the southern kingdom was known as Judah. Both kingdoms were ruled over by two sets of king and you can read about the kings of Israel and Judah in the books of 1 and 2 Kings. 1 and 2 Chronicles focus on the kings of Judah. Some of the kings were good kings who loved the Lord and who wanted to do his will. And so, we read about such kings that they did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. However, many of the kings, if not most of them, were wicked. And so, we read about them that they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Think of Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel who began to serve and worship Baal and set up a temple for Baal in Samaria. Then there was Manasseh who worshipped the starry hosts and who built altars to them in the temple of the Lord. And there was Jehoiakim, who was the king in the days of Jeremiah, who cut up a scroll which contained a prophecy from the Lord and he burned it in the fire. These are only some of the many wicked kings who ruled in the north and the south.
The Lord was patient with the kings and the people and sent them prophets to remind them of his will. But they did not listen and the kings and the people despised the word of the Lord. And so, the Lord eventually did as he said he would do, and he sent their enemies to invade the land and to take them away into exile. The northern kingdom fell first to Assyria; and then the southern kingdom fell to Babylon. And so, instead of having their own king, the were ruled over by foreign kings.
However, the Lord did not abandon his people and he remained faithful to them even though they were unfaithful to him. He sent them prophets to encourage them with the promise of better things to come. And the passage we read a few minutes ago from Jeremiah is just one example of the kind of thing the Lord announced to his people in those days.
Jeremiah was alive and ministering in Judah in the years leading up to the exile. In chapter 22, the Lord spoke a word of judgment on three of the last kings of Judah: Shallum in verses 10 to 12 of chapter 22 who was also known as Jehoahaz; Jehoiakim in verses 13 to 19; and Jehoiachin in verses 24 to 30. Shallum was defeated by the king of Egypt and taken away to Egypt. God says about him in verse 10 that he will never return to his native land. Jehoiakim was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and taken away to Babylon. God pronounced a woe on him in verse 13 and foretold in verse 18 that none will mourn for him. Jehoiachin’s reign was very brief and he too was taken to Babylon. God says about him in verse 25 that he will hand Jehoiachin over to those who seek his life and he will hurl the king and his mother into another country where they will both die. The very last king in Jerusalem was Zedekiah, and like the kings before him, he did what was wicked in the eyes of the Lord.
And so, those final kings, like many of the previous ones, were wicked. And so, in verse 1 of Jeremiah 23, the Lord pronounced a woe on the shepherds who are destroying and scattering his sheep. He’s referring to the kings, because the kings were often likened to shepherds. And just as a shepherd was appointed to care for someone’s sheep, so the kings were appointed to care for God’s people. But they did not do what they were supposed to do and the Lord was pronouncing his judgment on them. Moreover, in verse 3, the Lord says that he himself will gather his flock from the countries were they were scattered and he will bring them back to their own pasture. In other words, he will bring his exiled people back to the Promised Land of Israel. And they will become fruitful and will increase in number. Though many of them had been killed and others were scattered, he will bless them again. And in verse 4 he promises to place shepherds over them, leaders, who will care for them. And so, his people will not be afraid or terrified and none of them will go astray, because these leaders will look after them. And we know that after the exile, God sent them faithful men like Ezra and Nehemiah and Zerubbabel to lead them.
However, in verse 5 the Lord announces that the days are coming when he will raise up to David a righteous Branch. And this righteous Branch will be a king who will reign wisely. We’ve come across the image of a Branch or root before. Zechariah prophesied about a coming Branch and Isaiah spoke about a root which would grow out of the stump of Jesse, who was David’s father. The idea is that this wise king will emerge from the royal line of David. He will be descended from David. And unlike those wicked kings in the past, who did what was wrong, this king will be righteous and will therefore do what is right. And he will reign wisely and he will do what is just and right in the land. And so, in his day, Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. In other words, the northern and southern kingdoms will be re-united under this new king and they will live in peace and safety. And this wise king will be known by the name:
The Lord Our Righteousness.
That is, ‘The Lord is Our Righteousness’. So, this wise king will be identified with the Lord. He will bear God’s name and he will come in the name of the Lord to do for God’s people what God would do for them, which is to save them.
Christ the King
Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord announced that the days are coming when he will give his people a new king. And in due course, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce to her that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit and God will give her child the throne of David and he will reign for ever. In other words, her son will be a king. When the angel appeared to the shepherds, he announced good news of great joy because the Saviour has been born. And the Saviour is Christ the Lord. ‘Christ’ is a title for God’s Anointed King. And after the Saviour’s birth, wise men came from the east to see the new king who was born. Jesus Christ is the promised king and when he rode into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, the people welcomed him as their king. But many did not recognise him or accept him, because he did not come as a conquering king to destroy his enemies with a sword and spear, but he came to die on the cross, because the way to save his people was for him to give up his life to pay for our sins and for him to shed his blood to cleanse us from our guilt. He himself had no sins, because everything he did was wise and just and right. And so he did not die for his own sins, but for our sins. And after dying on the cross to save us from the condemnation and punishment we deserve for our sins, he was raised from the dead to give us life. And right now he rules and reigns in heaven above over every power and authority. And he rules over all things with wisdom and justice and righteousness for the sake of his church here on earth, which is made up of men and women and boys and girls from every nation, but who have been united together under him.
As our king, he rules in our hearts and enables us to repent and to believe the good news of the gospel which is proclaimed in his name. And having added us to his kingdom through repentance and faith, he sends his Spirit into our lives to enable us to walk in his ways and to do his will. And he rules over all people and events in order to work all things together for our good. And he promises to be with us always to help us. And so, our king will never abandon us, but he will protect and defend us always.
And one day he will come again in glory and with power to destroy his enemies — all those who did not believe in him — and to gather together all of his people, scattered across the world, and to bring us into the new heavens and earth where we will live with him and reign with him for ever and ever and there will be nothing to harm us ever again.
The people of Israel had kings ruling over them. But many of them were wicked and none of them were perfect. And so, God promised them a new and better king to come. And that new and better king is the Lord Jesus Christ, who comes to you now in the preaching of his word to give to all who trust in him the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom. And just as the wise men rejoiced to see the star, which signified that a new king had been born, so we can rejoice because Christ our King gives eternal life to all who trust in him.