Monday, November 25, 2013

Jesus: the Branch

Imagine a dried up stump. Or a city devastated and uninhabited where the voice of children playing or the sound of the wedding march is unheard.  This is the image of Jerusalem while her citizens were in exile (Jeremiah 33:10-12). The city God chose for his holy temple was a ruin.

What could God say in this situation?  What promise could he make or renew that would make a shred of difference?  The punishment of exiling an entire country was breathtaking.   A nation whose backstory is their freedom from captivity sent back into captivity by their God-the entire book of Lamentations is dedicated to the horror of it.  

But God did have a pair of promises to renew.  He recalled to them the promise he made to the family of David and to the family of Levi (Jeremiah 33:17).  To David's family he had promised a son to sit on the throne of Israel for all time.  This promise seemed abandoned when the reigning sons of David were hauled off in chains first to Egypt and then to Babylon (2 Kings 24-25, 2 Chronicles 36).  He also recalled to them the promise he made to the family of Levi that they would stand before him as priests (Exodus 32, Numbers 3:5-13). That promise also seemed to be discarded as the temple was looted and then destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.  

God calls the renewal and fulfillment of these promises "The Branch."  This term is used in five Old Testament passages, Isaiah 4 and 11, Jeremiah 23 and 33, and Zechariah 6.   In characteristic fashion Zechariah has the most vivid picture.  A gift was brought from the Babylonian captives back to the struggling Jews trying to rebuild Jerusalem.  From that gift the gold and silver was taken directly to the house of Joshua the Levitical high priest.  Much of the glory of the priesthood must have been lost with no temple to serve in, yet in the whole of Zechariah we see Joshua as a person embodying hope for the future.  The gold and silver was taken that very day to make a crown to set on the head of Joshua, symbolically uniting the offices of priest and king and then the Lord said this:

Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH!
From His place He shall branch out,
And He shall build the temple of the Lord; 
Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord.
He shall bear the glory,
And shall sit and rule on His throne;
So He shall be a priest on His throne,
And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.

Then the crown was taken for a permanent memorial to the future Branch represented by Joshua.  

Jeremiah and Zechariah have made two ideas perfectly clear.  First, God has not forgotten his covenant with David and Levi.  Second, in some glorious future God will somehow unite the two promises into one person.  That person is Jesus.

The moment when Jesus announced he was the king coming to sit on David's throne is in all four gospels. On a donkey's colt he rode into Jerusalem one week prior to his death.  Now to us that may not be potent imagery but to the Jew on the street it was as if he came in with a herald, a crown, a robe, and a scepter.  They would have remembered these words from Zechariah. 

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The best explanation of Jesus taking the second role, that of priest, can be found in the book of Hebrews.  In fact nearly half of the book is dedicated to the idea that Jesus has replaced the Levitical priesthood by virtue of his sinless sacrifice (Hebrews 4-10). 

When the old Testament prophets identified Jesus as "The Branch" it was a promise of renewal.  Zechariah promised that the Branch would rebuild the temple. Jeremiah prophesied he would be everything a king should be (Jeremiah 23). Isaiah announced that in the Branch's kingdom lions and lambs would lay down together (Isaiah 11). In perhaps the most stunning prophesy of all Isaiah also said that the Branch would make the residents of Jerusalem holy (Isaiah 4). Although a number of kings instituted reforms intended to produce holiness, the sad commentary of the Old Testament is they all failed. This King will succeed.

Like many old Testament prophecies there was an unforeseen twist, one that has great meaning for us today.  Not only did Jesus come to reign on David's throne and offer the one sacrifice that could save us eternally, but he came to create in us a nation of royal priests. 


We stand an echo of our Savior.  A people who are children of the King; each one a prince or princess in their own right.  Beyond that we are a nation of priests; each one not only able but obliged to stand between God and the world.  We offer sacrifices of praise and living sacrifices of our lives, and we present prayers that shake the world (Hebrews 13:15, Romans 12:1, and Revelation 8:1-5). Waiting for the return of our Savior, we are the seeds of renewal in the world, working for holiness, righteousness, peace.  We are the temple of the living God-the place where the world comes to meet God and from which God stretches out to rule the world. 

That dry stump?  That deserted city?  It's full of life.  It's teeming with people.  The Branch has come and his kingdom lives. 

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.


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