Do you think Christmas is coming this year? Yes? How do you know? After all, today is not Christmas. So, how can you be sure that Christmas is really coming? Ah, the snow on the ground announces the arrival of the winter season, and Christmas falls in the winter season. The wall calendar hangs open to December, and you can now see the number ‘25’ approaching. Stores roll out Christmas trees and wreaths, ornaments and lights, candy and cards. Shoppers scour stores and websites for presents. Snowflakes and wreaths twinkle on light poles down Main Street. You might have a Christmas tree at home— maybe with presents already tucked under it. So, can you be sure Christmas is coming? Yes! Because various signs signal its arrival.
Signs reveal a promise reaching completion. The signs of Christmas lead to Christmas Day. God plants signs in the sky, on earth, and in life to signal an very important arrival: Christ is coming! Each sign invites you to Patiently Ponder God’s Promise. That promise of Jesus’ arrival has been unfolding for centuries. You now stand closer to the completion of that promise.
The Righteous Branch has come. Soon, The Righteous Branch brings justice.
When God makes a promise, he keeps it. God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. [H]e speaks and then act[s]. [H]e promises and [then] fulfills (Numbers 23:19).
God had made a promise to Abraham. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:3). That ‘blessing’ promised is Jesus. People will benefit from Jesus. Yet, Abraham’s son is not the Savior. Instead, the promise passes from generation to generation. From Abraham to his son, Isaac. From Isaac, to his son, Jacob. From Jacob, to his son, Judah— and so on.
Soon, Abraham’s descendants blossom into a nation and God repeats his promise: If you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in his ways [then] the Lord will establish you as his holy people (Deuteronomy 28:9). That is the purpose for God’s Old Testament worship laws, diet regulations, and Ten Commandments. These commands keep the nation close to him; they prevent the people from wandering into unbelief. Quite simply, God sets apart Israel as different from every other nation on earth. No, not because Israel possesses some superior trait. Rather, God sets them apart because they carry the line of Jesus. All the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you (28:10).
God’s promise continues. If you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees […then] the Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth… (28:15, 49, 52).
Fast forward 600 years. Far-away-nation-Babylon camps outside the city walls. Siege towers choke off food, supplies, and water. Leaders scramble for alliances. Judah is dismantling the royal palace to refortify the walls (33:4). The nation’s on the brink of total collapse. Wouldn’t you think someone could just connect the signs? Obey God and he remains with you. Disobey and he withdraws. Signs of destruction trumpet to Israel: “You have broken God’s commands. Your God is coming against you in judgment!” And no one cares.
Do you know why? Because they have heard this all before. God had sent streams of prophets who trumpeted “Destruction!” and “Captivity!”— but it never came. After a while, they went “promise-blind” — kind of like “nose-blind.” You know, like when your nose gets used to the smells of your house that you no longer notice them? You light a new candle and it smells great, but after a while you no longer notice it. You’re used to the smell. You have gone “nose-blind.” Judah mistook God’s patience for complacency.
Is it any different for us? You know the signs that signal Jesus’ return. Wars and rumors of war, famines and earthquakes, false teachers, increase of wickedness, love growing cold (Matthew 24:4-14). You heard them repeated last week. They were read a year ago and the year before that. For some of you, you have heard these signs for decades, maybe your entire life! You turn on the news and watch these events unfold, but Jesus is not here. You begin wondering: “Is he really going to return?”
Little-by-little, the heart can go ‘promise-blind.’ Hear these words enough and soon you no longer think God is serious about his judgment. That is seen in our thoughts— thinking we will always have another day to finally make God a priority in life. That is seen in our behavior— that we can live without marriage, that an addiction never harms us, that we can thump our proud chests. That there will always be another day, a better opportunity, a greater convenience to confront sin. Thinking (and acting) as though God is not serious about his promise to return really calls God a liar. It does not believe today will be the day Jesus returns. It considers God’s patience as complacency.
God keeps his promise. Look at Judah. Destruction sweeps over them. Their walls crumble. Their buildings burn. Some die. Some are captured. Others live in the ruins. A nation promised Jesus appears to have lost everything. Abraham’s once-thriving family tree is cut down to nothing more that stump. Dead. Done. Without any chance to return.
Then God points us back to his unbreakable Word: ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah… Understand, ‘the days’ God mentions are ‘the days’ that come in the future. 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.’
On the right day and at the right time, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under God’s law, so that he might redeem, that is, ‘buy us back,’ from the consequences of God’s law (Galatians 4:4). The seemingly dead, dry, lifeless stump of Judah re-sprouts. Abraham’s family tree stretches all the way to King David. King David has a son. His son has a son, and his son a son, and his son a son— all the way to Joseph standing over the manger of Jesus.
Patiently Ponder God’s Promise. The Righteous Branch has come— just as God promised. A fulfillment like that demonstrates God is serious about all of his Word. If God kept that promise, then will he not also keep his final promise? The Righteous Branch comes to bring justice.
Jesus does what is just and right in the land. He dies. That does not seem right, does it? Do you know what would be just? What would be right? It would be ‘just’ for Jesus to abandon his followers who do fail to keep God as the priority of their trust. It would be ‘right’ for Jesus to stop spending so much time with sinners who struggle with unfaithfulness, with drunkenness, with pride, with greed. It would be ‘just’ and ‘right’ to sweep all humanity away under God’s judgment. Instead, Jesus allows judgment to sweep over him.
Jesus, the Righteous Branch, lives ‘just.’ He obeys God’s worship laws, diet regulations, and Ten Commandments. His entire life is ‘right.’ The Father even holds Jesus up and says, “This is my Son! I am well-pleased with him!” (Matthew 17:5). And this Righteous Branch is cut down and dies. That is what rebellion against God deserves. Judgment. Punishment. Death— and Jesus, the Righteous Branch, endures all of it in your place.
The Righteous Branch brings justice— just as God promised. Look at the tomb. This place holds death, but on Easter, re-sprouts to life!
Then, God keeps another neat promise. In those days… Again, remember the timing here. Verse 15 says: “In those days I will send Jesus.” After “those days” of Jesus, come “days” after him. In those days [during the time of and after Jesus] Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which she will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.
God tells you that in the days after Jesus, you have a new name: The Lord Our Righteousness. Think about that for a moment. I think we understand God forgives us. [A]s far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12). But God does not stop there! You do not stand before God merely faultless, without crime— naked, so to say. God puts righteousness on you. He looks at you and sees Jesus. And he is pleased.
“Righteous” is not the only name you have. The Bible often uses special names to describe the closeness you have with God (see Romans 9-11). God uses two special names here. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. Just like God saved Old Testament Judah from their enemies, God saves you. (1) First, you are saved through faith in Jesus as Savior. Faith trusts Jesus lifted off sin. God will not bring up your teenage regrets. He will not pull out his list of your failures as a parent. He does not demand change before you can enter heaven. Because of Jesus, you are saved— meaning, you can look forward to meeting Jesus without fear. (2) Second, this “saving” refers to Jesus’ final promise. Jesus will “save” (or, “deliver”) you from this world and into heaven.
Until that great Day, you live in safety. Jesus has already freed us from our sins with his blood (Revelation 1:5). So, the devil cannot say you are not good enough for God. Sin cannot shame you. The world cannot point out your flaws Jesus has broken any accusation, every shortcoming; he has covered your life with his! You are safe! When Christ returns, this safety will be seen with real eyes. Never again will the devil tempt or trouble us. “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16-17).
Patiently Ponder God’s Promise. The Righteous Branch has brought justice and removed sin. If he did that, he will return and do what is just: bring you home to heaven.
Signs reveal a promise reaching completion. The signs of Christmas lead to Christmas Day. It would be quite foolish to see these Christmas-signs, and reject their announcement. You would be unprepared for Christmas Day! See the signs and prepare.
God plants signs in the sky, on earth, and in life to signal an very important arrival: Jesus is coming— just as God promised. Patiently Ponder God’s Promise. Look back and see that God kept his promise. The Righteous Branch has come. What’s left? For the Righteous Branch to come again. This time not as a little baby. Rather, as the King who brings justice. You will hear what is just: “Come” (Matthew 25:34).