Pastor Mike Yamamoto
Good morning, everyone. Today marks the beginning of Advent, which is the celebration of the period of waiting in anticipation of the birth of Jesus, God’s gift of salvation to the world.
The Scripture for today’s message comes to us from one of the prescribed Advent readings, from Jeremiah 33:14-16.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, 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: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”
The word “righteous” or “righteousness” appears three times just within these three verses. My message today will focus on that.
Introduction: Who Is Righteous?
In keeping with Pastor Andrew’s love of quizzes, I would like to start today’s sermon with a short, simple quiz. Who is righteous? Please take a moment to think about that question, and then tell me if you think the following people are righteous.
Crush (from Finding Nemo): Certainly, he knew how to live and how to talk (“Righteous! Righteous!”). But just saying the word does not make a person (or animal) righteous.
Pastor Andrew: Certainly, the pastor of our church, devoted husband and father, is righteous. But given a certain recent incident (next slide), I, for one, cannot call him righteous.
King Zedekiah: Well then, certainly, the last king of Judah before the Babylonian captivity whose name literally means “The Lord is our righteousness”. But unfortunately, the Bible says that “he did evil in the sight of the Lord”.
So then, who is righteous? We’ll come back to this later, because before we even try to determine the answer to that question, maybe we need to first define what the word means?
Google Search defines “righteousness” as “the quality of being morally right or just”. Synonyms include such words as: fairness, goodness, respectability, honor, and virtue.
But for our sake, and more importantly, the Bible defines “righteousness” as one of the chief attributes of God. Its chief meaning concerns ethical conduct.
With people, we would call it “morally right or just” behavior, and nothing more. It is just an act or deed, born out of a choice to do what is fair and good. But with God, it is born out of his holy nature. Because he is holy and without sin, his actions are naturally righteous.
In other words, as human beings, we have to try hard and make a conscious decision to do what is right. It doesn’t come from our nature, because we are sinful. God, on the other hand, is holy and righteous. Thus, his actions are always right and just.
This righteousness of God is what is being mentioned in our text today. It is the prophecy of Jeremiah, and by this declaration, we can understand a few things:
1. It is God who defines righteousness for us. He has declared it through his laws and commands.
We shouldn’t try to define for ourselves what we think is right and good. The Bible says that “our heart is deceitful above all things”, and that none of us can know if our intentions are right or good. We do not have such moral capacity, because by nature we are sinful.
And we certainly shouldn’t look to what our current society has to say. If we were to use the term “moral compass”, then our society has no “due north”, and our search for what’s right and good will just have us spinning in any and all directions.
So who are we to look to? As Christians, we look to God who has defined righteousness for us in his laws and commands through the Scriptures. He is the only one who has the authority to define it, because he himself is the embodiment of righteousness, as we looked earlier.
Here are but a few of the hundreds of laws and commands in the Bible regarding righteous living. I’ve chosen these, because they are simple and succinct, yet very comprehensive.
He has shown you, all of mankind, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to live justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. -Micah 6:8
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” -Matthew 22:37-39
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep his commandments, because this applies to every person. -Ecclesiastes 12:13
And not only has God defined righteousness through his Word, he has modeled it in his actions that we can read about in the Old Testament and through his Son, Jesus Christ.
And like the fact that he is the only one who has the authority to define righteousness, he is also the only one who has the authority to model it, because due to his holy nature, everything he does is righteous.
2. It is God who models righteousness for us. He is the ultimate example of righteousness.
If we are ever in need of what righteousness looks like, we need not look any further than the life and example of Jesus Christ, the Holy God in human form. If we ever need a physical example of a righteous action, we simply need to ask ourselves, “WWJD?”
“What would Jesus do?” This became a popular thing in the 90’s. Christians were wearing “WWJD” jewelry, clothes, tattoos, etc. And as cheesy as it sounds, I thought it was a very simple but effective strategy to keep our actions in check. Basically, a catchy slogan to serve as a reminder of what we should be doing and how we should be acting as Christians.
I think it helped Christians to read and refer back to the Scriptures for counsel and advice regarding our behavior, and to look specifically to the life and example of Jesus.
You’re out of printer paper at home. You notice that your workplace has a whole stockroom full of copier paper and office supplies. You figure your company won’t go bankrupt because you take home one lousy ream of copier paper. But you ask yourself, “WWJD: What would Jesus do?” Of course, Jesus would never steal, let alone steal copier paper.
You and your co-workers are eating together during your lunch break, and one of them starts talking bad about the boss. Others start chiming in. You feel the urge to want to chime in, too, because you have similar gripes. But you ask yourself, “WWJD: What would Jesus do?” Of course, Jesus would never gossip or talk bad about someone behind their back.
The reality is that there are many temptations that confront us throughout the day, temptations that require our response. Will we act according to what is convenient or what we feel entitled to? Or will we act according to God’s definition of what is right and good?
The point is, God has given us the ultimate example of righteousness. It would serve us well as Christians to look intently to the Scriptures and model our actions after Jesus.
BUT! Please also know that there is a greater point, a greater truth at work here. Our right actions don’t make us righteous. No matter how good our actions may be, and no matter how many good deeds we do, it doesn’t make us righteous, simply because we are sinful by nature.
So then, coming back to the opening question, “Who is righteous?” No one is. We are condemned by the truth of God’s Word in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous. Not even one.” That’s the plain cold truth. No matter how righteous our actions may be, we will never be declared righteous by God based on those actions alone.
3. It is God who declares righteousness. We are made righteous because of what he has done.
In the Gospels, there’s the story of the rich man who approached Jesus and asked him, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why are you asking me about what is good? There is only One (meaning God himself) who is good.”
The rich man had the notion that by doing good things, he could be declared righteous and go to heaven. But Jesus’s very short and simple reply is very telling of what he was thinking. A little Yamamoto paraphrase:
“Why are you concerned with which actions are good and which aren’t? Don’t you know that it’s impossible for you, or for any human being, to go to heaven based on good deeds? It’s impossible for any human being to go to heaven, because the requirement is that you do every good thing perfectly and always. One bad deed, or even one good thing that you forget to do, and you’re disqualified. Basically, the problem isn’t what you do or don’t do. The problem is who you are. You’re sinful. You’re bad. You were broken from the moment you were born, and no amount of fixing with good deeds is going to make you good enough to be declared righteous and go to heaven, because that requires perfection, and perfect you are not.”
Don’t get me wrong. We should do our best to do what is right and good, at any and every opportunity. The Bible encourages us in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Our actions should always strive to be righteous, for the sake of proper conduct as expected of us by God.
But proper conduct was never meant to be the condition for entry into heaven, because God knew that we could never measure up perfectly. So instead, God made a way for us to him in heaven—through repentance, through forgiveness, through faith.
The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8,9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one may boast.”
And that brings us to the wonder, the joy, and the miracle that is Christmas. In the coming weeks as we continue in Advent, we will focus on how through faith in Jesus Christ, God declares us righteous. And as our Advent reading today declared, “The Lord is our righteousness.”