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Lessons from Zechariah

Read this message transcript from the "Minor Prophets, Major Mission" message series

Ben McSpadden: Do you remember what you were doing four years ago today? It’s the end of July, so you were probably sweating. Or maybe you were on vacation, but what were you doing four years ago today. I know what I was doing. I was in the hospital, and my wife was doing a lot more. She was giving birth to our seventh child four years ago today. You know, every birth of a child you have memories; you have these distinct things about “Well, that’s what happened on this one and this one…” With as many as we have, sometimes we get confused on who that was, but on this particular one, it was very, very memorable. The baby is out, and he hasn’t said a word. He’s not breathing, and my wife is looking over at me going, “What’s wrong? Is everything ok?” I’m like, “I’m not a doctor; I can’t answer that question.” 


So, it was a very pivotal moment, and I don’t often get these kind of promptings, but I got this prompting from God that I needed to pray out loud. Normally, you want to pray; you don’t want to make a scene or anything like that, but the Lord was like, “You need to go over to that baby right now, and you need to pray out loud.” The nurse is taking him over to this little table, and she’s kind of working with him. The Lord said, “You need to pray, and you need to pray out loud.” So, it wasn’t this grand, huge thing; it was more like a lot of just nervousness. Lord, please save him. Let him breathe, please. The cord had been wrapped around his neck, and he wasn’t breathing. The nurse, she already called in whatever code it was; I don’t know if it was code blue or what, but she had already called in a resuscitation team. They were rushing in, and I was...Lord, please let him breathe. Save him, please. His lungs kicked in gear before another medical staff person touched him, and he was screaming and crying, and I was so thankful. Later, you pray they would stop screaming and crying, but in that moment, in that moment, I was very excited to hear those screams. 


Actually, we named him Zechariah. So I’m bringing it up; it’s his birthday today, and I’m speaking on the book of Zechariah. We named him after this prophet; the name has a great meaning. It means “the Lord remembers.” We named our child, Zechariah Moses, which means “the Lord remembers,” and Moses is this idea of “drawn out.” He drew Moses out of the water...was drawn out. He drew the people out of Egypt, and in a lot of ways, He drew the breath out of my son’s lungs to cause him to breathe. For us, Zechariah Moses, was... this was a huge thing. 


But what we find in the book of Zechariah, the prophet, his name means “the Lord remembers.” He’s got a really cool genealogy because his dad’s name...I’m probably going to butcher it because I’m not really good at pronouncing some of those. His dad was Berechiah, which means “the Lord blesses.” So you have “the Lord remembers” who is the son of “the Lord who blesses” who is the son of...so his granddad’s name was Iddo, which means “happy or lovely or timely.” What we find in this book is that the Lord is remembering His people, and He’s going to bless them. We’re going to hear about a lovely time, a really good thing that’s about to happen.


With this we hear about a future time that’s going to be lovely and good, and God’s going to remember His plan for His people. That is, we hear about the Messiah. In the Old Testament, they didn’t know who Jesus was. They just heard that there was this figure that was coming that was going to make all things right and was going to restore God’s kingdom, was going to restore God’s people to Himself. So they had what they called these Messianic prophecies, and Isaiah the prophet, he’s got a big book. He’s got lots of chapters; he’s one of the major prophets. We haven’t preached on him because it’s one of the bigger books. He had some of the most about the Messiah, but right behind him is this Zechariah guy who packs in a whole lot of the Messiah in 14 chapters...a whole lot. So, second to Isaiah, which is a much bigger book, is Zechariah...that has the most Messianic work, the most foreshadowing of Christ’s coming. It’s so interesting that his genealogy is granddad is happy, lovely; dad was blessing, “the Lord blesses,” and his name is “the Lord remembers.” So it’s just this really cool thing.


It’s during a time when the Israelites have come out of captivity. So if you go back and you listen to...we preached on...Haggai in this series, it’s about the same time. The prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, they were counterparts; they were the same time. What’s interesting about Zechariah is he’s not only a prophet, one who speaks God’s...speaks and reminds the people of what God has said...but he’s also a priest. That wasn’t always the same, but this guy is both a priest and a prophet. He’s here about the same time as Haggai, so they’ve been in captivity. They got in time out; they got put in time out because they had rejected God, and He had sent them to...the Babylonians had captured them and taken them off and they were being disciplined. God said He wasn’t going to leave them in time out; He was going to bring them back to their Promised Land. Zechariah is in that part where they’ve been brought back, and they’re rebuilding the temple. 


I ran across this verse in the New Testament, actually, and Paul is writing to the early Christians, and he’s talking about what’s...these things that have happened in the Old Testament. They’ve been written down, and He’s talking about a different time frame, but this really… What Paul is about to say applies to this whole series that we’ve been looking at and what we’ve been learning. This is what Paul says, “All these events…” ...talking about the Old Testament and all the things that happened prior to Christ and that we can read about in the Bible… “...All these events happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us, who live at the time when this age is drawing to a close.” We live in a different time, but the things that God allowed to be recorded throughout history and we can still read today, these were written for us. These events happened so that we could have a warning. 


Then it says; Paul says, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin.” The human experience hasn’t changed a whole lot. It’s had a few nuances, but we still tend to think we are smarter than God. We still tend to want to do things our way. We still tend to have a problem with lying to our neighbors or wanting what our neighbor has and thinking we deserve it. The Bible has been talking about that for a long time, and we still struggle with it today in our relationships and how we deal, even with sexuality. That was happening way back when, so the human experience hasn’t changed a whole lot. 


We’re pretty basic in how we rebel against God. So he says, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin. But remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.” We’re to remember God is faithful. These things that we learn about the prophets and what went on in those times in history, they’re written to us as warnings, but it’s also to remind us to stand strong, that God’s faithful, that we’re not abandoned to our own sins. Yes, we still have to battle it; we’re still the ones having to stand up, but God equips us to do that. We’re not left all by ourselves without being equipped to handle these temptations, these challenges, and we need to remember what others have walked through. 


We need to remember what God has done; we need to remember that God can and wants to help us. But often we forget; we often...our pattern is to reject. You have a listening guide there in your handout to help you follow along. Our pattern as a human species, as a people, is to reject God. We want to reject God because we want to do things our way. Zechariah, he knew this about the people in his time and so right in the very first chapter, he’s warning them. He says this, “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out…” So Zechariah knows he’s just in a line of people. There were prophets before him, and he’s a prophet now in his time. He’s declaring these things to his people, and he says, “ Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.”’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord.” 


They already have this history, right; people have already messed up before them. Zechariah is saying, “Watch it! Don’t do...don’t be like that.” He’s warning them; don’t reject God like those who’ve gone before us have rejected Him. It goes on a little bit later, and there’s a very sobering statement. This is one of the...it’s sobering and scary...one of the scariest verses in the Bible. This is what Jesus...excuse me, what God...says in chapter seven of this passage. He says, “‘As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,’ says the Lord of hosts.” Now that, whoa...you mean we can reject God’s voice to the point that He quits listening to ours? That’s a warning...that’s, that’s...wow, that’s kind of scary to think that God can go deaf when we stop listening to Him. These things were written down to warn us.


We need to be honest with ourselves; we need to ask: Is there anything I’ve been ignoring God about? Maybe He’s been trying to get my attention, and I keep giving a deaf ear to what He’s been saying. Maybe it’s not all of life; maybe it’s one particular area of life. Maybe it’s how I’m treating my kids or treating my wife or what I’m doing with my co-workers or my boss or my finances. Maybe there’s something that I’ve been ignoring God about. This verse should really wake me up. He’s been calling out, and when I called to Him He would not hear. Have I rejected any of His ways in some part of my life? I need to really think about that. You know, but God’s heart is not to turn a deaf ear to us. There’s some good news in this. I just...hey, if you quit listening to God, He’s going to quit listening to us...mic drop. You know, that would be a downer. We are Hope Church; we have hope. There is some good news here, but this verse right here serves as a warning to get our attention. 


He doesn’t want to turn a deaf ear, but if we keep rejecting Him, He’s going to honor our wishes. If we keep saying, “I don’t want You in my life...or at least, I don’t want You in that part of my life…” He’ll let us have it. He’ll walk away from that if we continue to reject, but God’s heart is really to help us. He’s patient; He wants...He’s patient to accomplish His work. So if you’re here today and you think I really don’t want God in my life or I really don’t want Him in this part of my life, let this verse be a yellow flashing warning sign: “...As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear.”


But if you’re here today and you hear that and you’re just scared to death that God may have stopped listening to you and your prayers, I want to share some good news. I don’t want to leave you with that. I want to share some good news because God’s purpose is actually to restore. Sure, we have a pattern to reject, but God’s purpose is to restore...restore our relationship with Him. He states that He wants to bring His people back to a good place. That first verse I read in Zechariah about him warning the people don’t be like your fathers. The verse right before that, there’s this hint of hope and good news. He says...God’s telling Zechariah to say this to them. “Therefore say to them, ‘Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.’”


So no matter how messed up you think your life might be, no matter how messed up you think your marriage is or your parenting is or your work is or your finances are or how bad you’ve really messed relationships over in your life, if we turn to God He will turn to us. When we say, “God, we need your help.” He knows that, and He comes, and He helps us. He remembers; the Lord remembers. So even when we deserve punishment, God is willing to cleanse us.


Now, Zechariah is an interesting book because it has all kinds of visions in it. There’s like eight visions, and some of them are kind of weird. There’s a lady in a basket being taken off to a place by other ladies with wings, and it gets kind of weird. But all of these eight visions, they are talking about God’s going to cleanse His people of their sin, and there’s one that is a little less weird. We’re going to look at here, and it’s about Joshua. It’s not Joshua, the guy that took the reigns after Moses led the people into the Promised Land. This is Joshua, the high priest at this time, so Zechariah is a priest. This is kind of like his supervisor, and he has a vision of Joshua, and Joshua is standing in these filthy rags. Right next to him is the Accuser, Satan, and Satan is about to accuse Joshua before God. This is a vision, a dream, that Zechariah is having, and Joshua being the high priest at that time...the high priest represented all the people to God. He was...he was God’s representative to the people. He was sort of the bridge, so when we talk about later Jesus Christ as our High Priest, well prior to Jesus’ coming there was an actual high priest, human high priest, that kind of did some things. And, he represented. He’s in these filthy rags, and he’s standing before God and Satan’s about to accuse him. What we see is God rebuking Satan, and we find out what God’s going to do with those filthy rags. And, we see it in this next verse: “He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ Again he said to him, ‘See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.’”


This is huge. He went from rags to party clothes, and Satan was going to rebuke. Satan was going to accuse, and God stopped it and said I’ve had enough of that. He takes the filthy garments, the sin of the people, and He removes it from them. He cleanses the people in this dream, and He not only...He doesn’t bring them to some zero, like you get to have a do-over. It’s a do-over, but it’s with fine clothes. It’s with blessing; God doesn’t just come and give us...get us to a neutral spot with Him and wipes our slate clean, but He’s...Jesus says, “I come to give life and give it to the fullest.” There’s blessing here. God is going to bless even though the devil had every right to accuse. The sin was there. The devil’s a really good attorney; he knows the law, and he wants to trip us up in it every time. He was going to use that to accuse all of God’s people, and God said, “No. I’m removing the sin and the filth of my people and giving them new clothes.”


God doesn’t just want to save us by the skin of our teeth; He wants to prosper us. He wants to bless us, and His desire isn’t to just do this for His chosen people that we read about in the Old Testament. We stand on the other side of the cross, so we kind of know somewhat how the story’s going to go. But at this time, they knew they were the chosen people and it was foreshadowing some things, but even in these passages before Christ has come, God is dropping hints. My plan is bigger than just one people. I’m going to redeem all nations, and He’s going to bring many more people into His fold. 


We see that a little later when in the last part of Zechariah we see a couple of instances where he’s talking about the coming Messiah and what God’s going to do related to the nations. He’s talking about some Philistine cities; the Philistines were not popular. I mean, Goliath was a Philistine, and we know that he went down and we were glad for that. But even those people who were seen as outsiders and wicked, God says He’s going to bring them into His fold. It says this: “I will take away its blood from its mouth, and it abominations from between its teeth; it too shall be a remnant for our God; it shall be like a clan in Judah, and Ekron…” ...which is a Philistine city… “...shall be like the Jebusites.” ...those people who lived in Jerusalem who were made a part of God’s people.  


So God is showing that He’s not only going to redeem His chosen people, but He has a plan for many nations. It’s very exciting; I’m not an Israelite. There’s hope for me in this verse; many of you are not Israelites here. There is hope for you...to take the things that make us filthy and dirty, and He’s going to bring us into His family. We sing His praises because of that. But there’s also hope specifically for the Israelites, too, but it’s going to pour out beyond them. He talks about, a little bit later. He says, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, ...when they took on me on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” This is referring to...again, they don’t know what it’s going to be like. 


They are just getting a foreshadow, but you and I, we kind of get the backstage pass. We know this is talking about Jesus Christ, and when Jesus Christ dies on the cross, He’s the firstborn of a new way of living. He’s defeating the dead, and they are going to weep for Him. I mean, there were several Israelites who were followers of Jesus in that first century, and when He died on the cross, they wept bitterly. His own mother, his disciples were weeping bitterly. He’s going to pour out a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy on them. There’s going to be some mourning because of what Jesus Christ has to go through for us. 


Yet, it goes on further, and it says, “On that day there shall be a fountain opened up for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” That fountain, I mean, when you start reading the book of Zechariah, you realize there’s a shepherd that’s going to be slaughtered… It gets pretty gory. We’re PG on Sunday mornings, but this fountain represents Jesus’ blood, and it’s that blood that covers us and cleanses us from our sins. So, he’s saying, “This is going to happen. There’s going to be a fountain poured out, but it’s going to make a way for people. It’s going to make a way for people to be restored, and God was making a way for our relationship with Him to be restored. 


Sometimes we forget about that relationship, and we can slip into those habits just like our predecessors, the Israelites, when they got off track. They get into this religious mode, and they check boxes. We stop short of everything God intended with some of those really meaningful things. We get caught up in the ritual, and we miss the deep meaning of what God intended. We can hear about the Good News, and I can walk you through how you can ask for God’s forgiveness. You can pray something like this: “God I admit that I have rebelled against You, and I need You. I need You to come into my life; I know there’s no other way to be made right with You except through Jesus Christ, His blood. I want to ask for Your forgiveness for You to be Boss of my life.” I can tell you; that’s a prayer you can pray. 


I can tell you that how you can get traction with God is to get time in His Word, start reading in the book of John, then Acts and Romans. You can get some traction in your walk with God and spend time with other believers. I can tell you all those things, and those are good. But if you’re not careful and you’re just checking a box, you’re missing out on when you come to the God of the universe Who is not far off but very near, He wants to relate with you; He wants to love you. He wants to be in a loving relationship with you. When He calls you to do these things and be a part of a group, it’s so that we can express not only that love to Him but to each other because it’s pouring out. 


We don’t want to get in “check box” mode; we think though sometimes if we do certain things...I’ll just check this box; I’ll be fine. In our effort to do the right things we kind of miss the heart of what God intended. We hear about the commands; we hear about the different disciplines that we can do, and we miss it. We miss the fact that there is a Person asking us to do some of these things, not because He’s a control freak but because He knows these things are helpful for us. He knows these things, as we do these things, they’ll bring blessing to us. They’ll help us approach life in a way where we can really love other people, and we can celebrate Truth. 


As we recognize that God is in...He’s in the business of restoring and we praise Him and thank Him for that, as we walk along, and some of you have been walking with God for a long time, we want to be sure and not forget. We want to remember. We want to remember what God intended. As we turn to God, we want to go beyond our outward action and really wrestle with our inward attitudes. We want to wrestle with our inward attitudes. We talk a lot about Heart Attitudes and attitudes and approaches to relationships because it’s so key here. It’s not just an outward action. In fact, right smack dab in the middle of this book of Zechariah, this element comes up. 


They’re asking about an outward action; they see the temple being rebuilt, and they come to Zechariah, and they say, “Ok, does this mean we don’t have to do the fasts anymore?” They had some cyclical fasts; every year at certain months they would fast to remember what happened to the temple and how it had been destroyed and everything. It’s like, well, it’s almost being rebuilt; do we have to do that again? Do we have to keep doing that, or can we stop? God really knows that the question is deeper than that. It’s not about “Do we need to keep checking this box?” He recognizes what’s going on in their heart, and that’s the hard part, is so many times we try to play games. We’ll ask questions, and there’s really a deeper motive there, but we can’t game God. 


He sees right past that, and He doesn’t let us get away with it either. He didn’t let the Israelites get away with it. So, He didn’t answer their question right away when they said, “Do we have to keep doing the fasts?” Here’s what He says, “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month ad in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?” He said it wasn’t really about Me; you were doing this for yourself just to make yourself feel better. You were just checking a box. They’d asked God if they needed to keep fasting because it looked like the temple was being completed, but God knew the real question wasn’t about fasting but it was where their heart was in all this. That was His question back to them. Where’s your heart in this? They were tired of having to keep up with some actions. They were really forgetting about the opportunity to say “thank you” to God for all that He had done in their lives.

 

You know, fasting, it helps us focus. Have you ever fasted? Many people, they have to fast because the doctor says, “Ok, we’re about to have this procedure, so don’t eat for a couple days.” And it’s miserable, right? You don’t want to not eat. They do that so that it clears things out and it helps things get in the way of the procedure or that you don’t have bad side effects or worse, after the procedure and recovery. But when you fast for spiritual purposes, it really helps clear out distractions in life. It brings about focus and remembering what’s important. Fasting has been used by God’s people throughout history to get a better understanding of what God wants in a certain time. It was an act of drawing near to God to know Him better. 


As the people were working to rebuild the temple, they were needing to see past that. They were needing to rebuild their relationship with God. They needed to rebuild their character, so God challenges them. He doesn’t answer their question; He challenges the heart of the matter. This is what He says; this is really what He’s looking for. He says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let one of you devise evil against another in your heart.’” These things are related to what’s going on in their heart. 


It’s one thing to measure some outward actions about one thing, like fasting. Did you eat or did you not eat? And there’s all kinds of fasts; you know, you can do a fast from food and still drink. Or you can do a fast from no drink, no food. I’ve done even...I’ve done media fasts where I just except for work-related responsibilities, I don’t look at email. I don’t watch tv, and I’ll take a fast for a couple of weeks, and it helps. It kind of helps clear the mind and think...get focused on what is God saying and what is He about to do? It’s easy to measure those things. Did I or did I not eat breakfast this morning? That can be helpful but the harder thing...it’s another thing to measure if someone is showing kindness and mercy. I mean, really, from their heart. It’s harder to measure an attitude at times; sometimes it’s very apparent. But the opportunities to approach people and show kindness...there’s so many nuances and facets. You can’t simply say, “Yes, he was kind.”...or no, he wasn’t. I’ve known people to be really nice to people because they’re about to set them up for a trap. It’s called manipulation. Sometimes outward actions are not the thing to measure, and if you’re devising evil in your heart, it will come out eventually.


Nothing will be left hidden, but only you know what’s going on in your heart...you and God. You can game me, and you can game other people, but you can’t...you can’t game God. So God is really wanting His people...and again for us, we need to think about…are there areas in our lives where I’m doing the right action but my attitude is way off? My attitude with my wife, my attitude with my kids, with my boss, with my extended family, with my friends...it’s way off. I’m doing...maybe going through the motions, but I’m doing it with a really bad approach. God...He wants...He’s not trying to just lock us into some rules. He really wants there to be a heart that’s transformed. That’s what He...to bring about restoration, and when you’re heart is transformed, it’s health to you and your bones. It’s good for you. To carry around bitterness, that just eats you up. God wants to restore us from the inside out. 


He wants to restore us, and the interesting thing is...so He kind of gets them in between the eyes. You’re asking about fasting, and I want you to treat your neighbor right. I want you to celebrate Truth and peace and real kindness. He talks about… He’ll get around to the fast, but it’s very surprising. This is what He says; He says, “And the word of the Lord of hosts came to me saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace.’”


They asked if we have to keep doing the fasts, and He says your heart needs to be made right. Then, He doesn’t say for that you have to fast even more. He is so patient and kind; He says I want you to get at the heart of it, and this is where I want you to go. And guess what? Eventually I’m turning your fasts into feasts, people. In the midst of knowing our wickedness and our wrongdoing, God is so loving and kind, and He has planned a great thing for us...great things for us. He is...He is...his steadfast love is just amazing. So they’re asking the wrong questions and He says, you know, your heart, that’s what I’m after. And by the way, I’m planning a big party, and you’re invited. I want you there.


I’m going to have the band come up, and we’re going to sing some songs about singing praise to God. This is an opportunity for us to say “thank you” to God, not just to go through the motions but to say thank you. But as they’re getting ready and everything, I want you to consider a couple of questions that we looked at today. Our pattern is to reject. Is there anything in your life where you might be rejecting God? I mean, you didn’t reject Him this morning; you came to church. But there might be another area of life where you’re just not letting Him have control of. Are you rejecting God in an area of your life? Do you need to turn back to God in an area? Do you need to fast? Maybe it’s a media fast. Maybe it’s a food fast. Maybe it’s a different kind of...but do you need to get some focus in your life? Put aside some things that aren’t bad; food’s not bad for us. It’s good for us; it’s pleasurable, but maybe you need to put aside some good things for a little bit, for a time so that you can get a focus on what God is calling you to.


Let’s turn to God this week as He calls us to turn to Him, and He will turn to us; and we can better understand how to walk with Him. Let’s thank Him for His patience and His plan to turn our fasting into feasting. Let’s pray. Lord, we thank You so much. We thank You for Your steadfast love. It is wonderful; it is amazing that while we were Your enemies You died for us. And You...You make a way for us to be part of Your family. Those of us who are far off have been brought near, and we thank You for that. We are never too far gone; if we still have a pulse, we still have a purpose, and You desire to restore a relationship with us. And we are grateful for that. As we go out this week, help us to understand if there’s any place that we’re rejecting You, and help us, help us get away from that and turn back to You…and not just in action, Father, but with all our heart that we would love You and we would love those You send across our path. As we continue to worship, may You be honored in the singing and in all that we do this week. We pray these things in Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.