Jeremiah 23.1-8 — “The Righteous Rod of the Good Shepherd”

“The Righteous Rod of the Good Shepherd” — Jeremiah 23.1-8 — September 8, 2019


In our passage today from Jeremiah, we hear a continuation of what we heard last week from Jeremiah 17. It would be good to sit down and read chapters 21-25 in one sitting to get the entire context. Prior to this passage, God has been pointing out the hypocrisy of his people and how they had put their faith in being able to talk about religious things, but they continued to follow the desires of their own stubborn hearts. 

But here, Jeremiah makes it clear that it is often the very religious that cause the most harm. Here we hear him bring the leaders of the people to the courtroom and indict them for their negligence and selfishness. 

Jeremiah 23.1-8

There are three beholds in this text. They are in each of the three paragraphs of our passage. They form the three points for today’s message.

1) Behold, the Lord is the Good Shepherd [vv.1-4]

The first thing we hear is the word “Woe”. This is the same thing Jesus said against the leaders of his day. Matt. 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” The very ones who were supposed to lead in serving others were more concerned with paint and polish rather than the depths of the heart.

Did not tend those under their care. They were concerned only with their popularity and benefit. Not like Paul, we heard a few moments ago, who took the time to write a letter on behalf of an escaped slave, Philemon.

Note the contrast between what the shepherds [prophets, priests, and kings] do and what God does. Scattered. Driven away. Not attended to them. I WILL: Attend to you for your evil deeds. I WILL gather. I WILL bring them back. I WILL set shepherds who will care for them.

Much of the reason Israel faltered was because they put confidence in the flesh. They assumed that their leaders were right. This is not much different than today. We see in the willingness of people to blindly follow a politician. But in the church, we see people blindly following without testing that leadership with what the Bible says. God has reveled his will to us in Scripture. It is available to all of us. // There are a myriad of leaders in the church teaching people what they have fancied in their own minds. Just like the prophets God speaks to in Jeremiah, “They speak in my name, but I did not send them.” Even the Apostle Paul himself encouraged people to test everything that he said. Not in an antagonistic way, but in a way that all of us—leader and those led—have one standard. One Shepherd. All shepherds are accountable to him. If we don’t have it, then we are left wandering the hillside going our own way. Whatever we think is right we will do. 

2) Behold, the Lord is the Righteous Shepherd [vv.5-6]

We see that the Lord does something else for his people. “I WILL raise up for David a Righteous Branch.” David is mentioned because it is not merely a shepherd. But, like David, a shepherd who is king. This is in stark contrast to the king of Judah at this time we saw in chapter 1, King Zedekiah, which literally means “The Lord is Righteous.” 

This is not particular to Jeremiah. Harmony and unity in Scripture. Around Christmas time, we hear the prophet Isaiah’s famous prophecy:

Is. 11:1    There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,

and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and might,

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

...

5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,

and faithfulness the belt of his loins.


And this is what Jesus refers to in John’s Gospel. Jesus wasn’t just pulling this image out of thin air. It was imbued with OT prophecy power: John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Faltering steps will be made firm. 

3) Behold, the Lord is OUR Righteousness [vv.7-8]

I left a very small detail out in the previous point. Zedekiah means “The Lord is Righteous.” But that’s not what the Lord said about the Righteous Branch, is it? “The Lord is OUR Righteousness.” A small but extremely important detail. 

You see, it’s easy to look in the past and say, “God was really faithful to Israel to bring them out of Egypt.” That was the tendency we see in v.7. But there is an ever-fresh application of salvation to those who will claim the Lord as their righteousness. “As the Lord lives, who brought us from Babylonian Exile.” 

The same is true for you and me. We cannot eat manna from yesterday. We cannot depend on a salvation for our grandparents. Even today, God calls you and me to cry out to him. For him save us. 

Was this not the call of Jesus we heard in Luke 14 moments ago. “Whoever does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” 

We just baptized four amazing, young ladies. They are amazing fo sure. But each one of them have confessed that they are not righteous. Sure, some of us may be considered good compared to others. But we must not settle for what the Pharisees settled for: To clean the outside of the cup, while we follow our own hearts. 

The Good News of the Christian faith is not: Be better than your neighbor. Be nicer today than yesterday. Make sure you are morally upright. No. It claims that the Lord is MY Righteousness. 

Perhaps you have bought into the lies that you can be good enough. If you depend on your ability to be righteous enough, God’s demand is that you and I be perfect as he is perfect. What we see in our passage is that he does not wink at sin. Whether someone is a king or a slave, all must be perfect. And when we look in our hearts, and we’re honest with ourselves, we see that we don’t have it together. Sure, maybe more than the person living next to you. But you ain’t perfect as God is perfect. 

Even now he calls you and me to confess our sin, our hypocrisies, our self-righteousness, and to cry out to him for fresh mercy as OUR Righteousness.

// Isa 40.11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;

he will gather the lambs in his arms;

he will carry them in his bosom,

and gently lead those that are with young //

Jesse Winchester