Past Judgment & Future Salvation Inspire Present Fidelity for Worldwide Worship
Passage: Zechariah 7:1–8:23
Sermon from Zechariah 7:1-8:23 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: Zechariah: Return & Restoration (Part 11)
Delivered on November 15, 2015
My plan is to cover chapters 7 and 8 this morning. So, everybody pretend you just had a shot of espresso… These two chapters repeat many of the themes that we’ve already discussed in more detail in chapters 1-6. But even more important is that chapters 7-8 are one piece.
It begins with a handful of Jews entreating the Lord’s favor, and it ends with all nations entreating the Lord’s favor (7:2; 8:21-22). It begins with a question about fasting, and it ends with an answer about feasting (7:3; 8:18-19). It begins with the people’s failure to uphold the covenant, and it ends with a new people fulfilling the covenant (7:9-10; 8:3, 12-13, 16).
So, both chapters are one piece and convey a single message. Now, at the risk of serious reduction, I’ve tried to summarize that message like this—you can see it in the title: past judgment and future salvation inspire present fidelity for worldwide worship. That summary will become clearer soon enough, but for now we need to understand the question that rises in verses 1-3. So let’s begin there. It says…
A Question about Fasting
1In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. 2Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the LORD, 3saying to the priests of the house of the LORD of hosts and the prophets, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
That’s the question that initiates everything we’re about to read. And their question makes sense. Ever since Jerusalem fell, Israel had a routine of fasting. Only the fifth month gets mentioned here, but by the end of chapter 8 we see that they fasted in the fourth and the seventh and the tenth month as well (7:5; 8:19). They had a routine of fasting since they went into exile—weeping over the destruction of Jerusalem, crying out for God to stop the punishment for these seventy years of exile (7:3, 5).
Well, now the exile is over. They’re back home. Two years have passed since Zechariah shared his very promising night visions (1:7; 7:1). The second temple is about half-way finished (8:9; cf. Ezra 6:15). And if worship was soon to be restored in Jerusalem, the people better start figuring out what’s acceptable worship and what’s not. Should we keep fasting, or not? Seems like a good question to ask God.
A Heart for God Is Essential
But there’s more to this question than what’s on the surface. God sees a deeper, residual problem in their question; and he exposes that problem with three soul-searching questions. The first soul-searching question comes in verse 5: “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?” Then a second soul-searching question in verse 6: “And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?”
His questions begin piercing the heart of the matter. Their worship is empty if it’s not done for God. Any religious act—even self-denial—is empty if it’s not done for God, to please him, to honor him, and to serve him with a whole heart. So the real question isn’t so much about whether to continue fasting, but why. Can God say of your fasting and your praying and your giving and your weeping and your feasting and your traditions, that it’s all for him? Apparently, he couldn’t say that of Israel.
Past Judgment Inspires Repentance
Which leads to one further soul-searching question; and this one probably hits the hardest. But in order to feel its gravity, we need to read to the end of verse 14—verses 8-14 give weight to the question he asks in verse 7. So first the question in verse 7…
7Were not these the words that the LORD proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous, with her cities around her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?” 8And the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, 9“Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, 10do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” 11But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. 12They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts. 13“As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the LORD of hosts, 14“and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.”
Notice that in verse 7 Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous; but now in verse 14 the pleasant land was made desolate. What happened between verse 7 and verse 14? God’s judgment happened. And the reason his judgment came upon them is that they didn’t have a heart for God—they refused to pay attention to God’s word. They went through the motions of worship and sacrifice and feasting and prayer and song and lamentation, but their hearts were far away from God.
A Heart for God Leads to Compassion for Others
How do we know that? Because their life didn’t reflect God’s character toward others. That’s what we get in verses 9-10—God’s just character working through his covenant people. Israel was supposed to be a community reflecting God’s just character to the world—rendering true, not false, judgments. This word, “kindness” (?esed)—that’s usually the word translated “steadfast love;” and it’s applied to God everywhere in the Bible to speak of his loyalty to his people. It’s the essence of covenant devotion. If the people were truly fasting for God, then their lives would have reflected God’s steadfast love toward each other.
Another word we see here is “mercy” or “compassion.” It’s comparable to the concern a mother would feel toward the fruit of her womb. It goes beyond what ought to be given, much like God’s love for his people goes beyond what ought to be given. Sinners deserve nothing but punishment, but God gives up his only Son to redeem them. He is a God of compassion. If the people were truly fasting for God, then their lives would’ve reflected God’s compassion toward others.
We even get examples of how God’s kindness and mercy would’ve compelled the people to show care for the oppressed. The widow, the orphan, the sojourner, the poor—these are people that don’t have someone to protect them. They didn’t have welfare or CPS—these were very vulnerable people. And God’s compassion should’ve compelled them to care for these people and take them into their homes.
Isaiah had said the same thing earlier in Israel’s history: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house…?” (Isa 58:6-8). If the people were truly fasting for God, then their lives would’ve reflected care for the oppressed. As one writer put it, “The true measure of any society is the way it treats those who cannot protect themselves” (Gowan, “Wealth and Poverty,” 351-53).
Israel didn’t measure up so well. They didn’t share God’s compassion; their heart didn’t beat in sync with God’s heart. And God is pleading with them not to repeat the hypocrisy of the previous generation, because all it brought them was judgment. The past judgment of exile should serve as an example, and inspire them to true repentance. His three soul-searching questions—that end on a note of judgment—are meant to re-center the people’s passions on God and his glory and his justice toward all.
God wants our hearts, not just our rituals
We can learn much from this, church, can we not? First Corinthians 10:11 says that these things happened as an example, “but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” We can learn from this.
We can learn, for instance, that what God really wants from us is our hearts, our undivided devotion to him. He doesn’t want tears of self-pity, but brokenness over self-centeredness. He doesn’t want—as Paul calls it—worldly sorrow, but godly sorrow that leads to repentance. It’s one thing to weep over the loss of your temple, or to weep over the terrible circumstances of exile, but many times such sorrow amounts to selfish regret. All that really grieves us is how badly it affected me, how hard it made my life, how negatively it affected my reputation. That’s worldly sorrow.
God wants godly sorrow that leads to repentance
But godly sorrow focuses on the offense that our sins cause God. Godly sorrow is full of contrition, and actually leads to repentance from sin, and then to a turning toward God for forgiveness and grace to help us live in ways pleasing to him. Let these three soul-searching questions penetrate your heart, too. Learn from past judgment—learn from the judgment that fell on Jesus Christ in your place—that God doesn’t tolerate religious hypocrisy. He wants all of you, not just your rituals.
God doesn’t want mere outward rituals, he wants inward righteousness and love for neighbor. We can’t be a people who say soli Deo Gloria with our lips, all the while ignoring mercy and compassion and justice for the oppressed. We can’t go through the motions on Sunday and overlook the orphan and the widow and the poor Monday through Saturday. James says, “religion that’s pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
God wants compassion toward others
Now, that’s not to say we do these things in order win a right standing before God. No amount of good deeds can make us right before God. Only the work of Jesus Christ wins us a right standing with God. But we have to remember that if God has shown us such compassion in Christ when we were helpless and lonely and without protection, should we not extend the same to others? If God adopted us as sons into his family when at one time we were strangers and exiles, how could we not at least pray about how we might care for the orphan?
We set aside money annually in our budget for families to adopt orphans. Might the orphan find a place in your empty nest? Might you provide a home for the widow? Might you give your time and energy to the fatherless, so that they see a godly man and learn how to love God and lead a family?
If you’re not able or qualified to adopt, how might God be leading you to help those who can? We’re starting a ministry to the orphanage in Haiti next year. There are opportunities to preach and lead from week to week in some of the nursing homes in our area—talk to Wes Duggins for more information. Are we prepared to support true widows, like 1 Timothy 5 teaches us. We even meet on the other side of the street from an elementary school, and I wonder if there are ways we can help with winter clothing for children who don’t have any? Can someone lead us this year in initiating that?
God isn’t interested in superficial rituals, but a heart of compassion. And the past judgment of exile should inspire us to repent and obey in the present. That’s chapter 7. But that’s only half of God’s answer to the question about fasting.
Future Salvation Inspires Fidelity to God
The other half comes with chapter 8. And it’s here that we see how future salvation also inspires present fidelity to God. Chapter 8 basically shows us that what God commands his people to be, his grace will also cause them to become. You see, there’s a movement to these chapters. He just laid them low by exposing their religious hypocrisy that’s worthy of judgment; but now he lifts them out of the dregs of their guilt and shows them what grace is capable of doing in them. So, let’s look at this future salvation one promise at a time. I won’t cover everything, but you’ll get enough to see what’s going on.
God returns to the city
First, we see God’s return to the city. Verses 1-3, “And the word of the LORD of hosts came, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the LORD: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem…” God’s coming back to dwell with his people. In fact, his future promise is so sure, that he speaks as if it’s a done deal—“I have returned.” And when God chooses to dwell in his city, things fundamentally change about that city.
God makes the city new
Which is where another promise comes in: he makes it a new city. Keep reading in verse 3: “and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts, the holy mountain.” Literally, Jerusalem will be called the “City of Truth.” In 7:9, the people were supposed to render true judgments—judgments that were faithful to God’s word, that didn’t show favoritism, that weren’t biased. That’s not the way they used to run the city, and it’s also why they got exiled.
Well, all of that now gets reversed when God dwells there. The city becomes a City of Truth. God’s presence so sanctifies the people in that city that the city gains a new reputation—City of Truth! The Lord’s mountain! Why? God fundamentally changed the people in it, so they relate to one another in truth and righteousness.
People play in God’s new city
And that means people play in that city. That comes with another promise in verse 4, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” That’s a big deal. Old people and young people were some of the first to perish whenever a city got captured. They were the most vulnerable. But now we see gramps and grandma living to a ripe old age and chilling in the streets without worry. And the kids are playing.
Who said the Bible doesn’t say anything about play? One of my favorite music albums is called The Grand Narrative by Heath Hollensbe. And he has several songs that take you through creation, the Fall, and Jesus’ saving atonement, and then the next song is called “Covenant.” And the best part of the song comes right at the end—after God makes a new covenant with his people—the music fades out and you hear the laughter of children playing with their Daddy. That’s brilliant artistry and creativity, and it comes from places like this—if you’re a musician, help us get these things.
The city is full of boys and girls playing in the streets—meaning, there’s no fear of people hiding in the alley ways. There’s no fear of child molesters and human traffickers. The parents don’t have to worry about the neighbors, and the kids never have to worry about crime. The idea is that if the old and the young enjoy the city’s peace, then everybody enjoys the city’s peace.
God makes a new covenant with his people
Another promise: nobody from God’s elect will be missing. God will save every one of his people and establish a new covenant with them. Verse 7, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.”
You should know that language—“they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” It’s the language of a new covenant relationship (Exod 29:45-46; Jer 31:33; Hos 2:23). The barriers keeping them from having a relationship with God will be torn down. The sin that separates people from God will be taken away. He will once again enter into the most intimate of relationships with his people—Hosea compares this covenant relationship to the intimate experience a wife shares with her husband.
God reverses the curse and brings prosperity
Or another promise—God reverses the curse of the Law on his people and brings them prosperity. And the prosperity he brings them simultaneously fulfills the covenant he made with Abraham back in Genesis 12:2 that Abraham would be a blessing to the nations. This one starts in verse 11,
11But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, declares the LORD of hosts. 12For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. 13And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing.
Isn’t that a beautiful picture of grace? God’s grace turns self-centered hypocrites, who once lacked God’s compassion for others—God’s grace turns them into a people who are a blessing to others. It’s fantastic!
God will turn their fasting into joyful feasts
In fact, these promises of future salvation are so fantastic, that there’s no longer any room for mourning over the past. Verse 19 says that “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.” God will do such a work of salvation, that fasting will become obsolete. God will turn their times of sorrow into seasons of joyful feasts. It won’t just be a few days here and there of celebration, the whole new era will become a time of celebration over the Lord’s work.
Jeremiah spoke of this day too, in Jeremiah 31:12-14: “They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD…I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness.” What turns fasting into feasting is the goodness of the Lord. He’s at the heart of their gladness.
And in some sense, this new era of celebration has dawned with the coming of Christ. We certainly don’t experience it in full, but we still experience it by faith. Does that mean our fasting has stopped? Not necessarily. Jesus and the apostles practiced it and largely assume it to be a part of the believer’s life. But never do they give a legal prescription for how it should be done, only that when it’s done, it should be done for the right reasons and with the right motives. And I think our passage gives us much insight. That is, when you fast, make it a time to humble yourself before God, a time to turn away from self-centeredness, and a time to ask for renewed strength to do God’s will till he brings the final feast.
Future salvation inspires present fidelity
So this is the vision he gives to his people of their future salvation. This is what his grace will make them become. This is the city to which they belong. And such a vision should inspire them to present fidelity, to passionate obedience. You ever been driving down the road, and pass by some barbecue joint, and you smell the aroma of the meat cooking, and your hands start doing this on the steering wheel—“I think we ought to go back there.” God is giving them a whiff of their future—he’s giving them a new appetite for what’s really worth living for—and that moves your hands and your feet and your heart to start living radically different than the way you were living before.
So for example, in verse 13 God tells them, “Fear not, but let your hands be strong.” Keep rebuilding the temple, in other words. It may not be the final temple in God’s kingdom, but it’s still an important part of God’s saving purposes. And if this is where he’s taking everything, then give yourself to his kingdom purposes. Or, verses 16-17, “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the LORD.” Or again, the end of verse 19, “Therefore love truth and peace.”
Each of these commands stand on the vision of their future salvation. Future salvation inspires present fidelity. Why love truth and peace now? Because you belong to the City of Truth! That’s what the future kingdom is like. That’s what the cheerful feasts are about! That’s the world God is bringing for you!—is the idea. And when you live that way, the world will want to know your God.
Present Fidelity Is for World-Wide Worship
We’re not obeying as an end in itself, we’re obeying because we want the world to worship God with us. That’s what Israel was supposed to be, and that’s what God says he would make Israel to be in verses 20-23.
20“Peoples shall yet come,” he says, “even the inhabitants of many cities. 21The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD and to seek the LORD of hosts; I myself am going.’ 22Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD. 23Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”
And this leads us to one final point in chapters 7-8, and that is this: past judgment and future salvation inspires present fidelity for worldwide worship. Chapter 7 began with only a handful of Jews coming to entreat the Lord’s favor about fasting. They’re concerned with little days of fasting among themselves; and God basically shows them that his purposes are way bigger than they can imagine. God does this when we humble ourselves before him. He exposes our self-centered rituals and then blows us away with his future grace. Who knew that such a little question about fasting from a handful of Jews would result in such a promise of future glory on such a global scale?
And this is really where you and I enter the picture, church. Verse 23 uses that special phrase again, “in those days” to speak of the future. And from the New Testament’s perspective, we are the nations who have taken hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you;” and that Jew’s name is Jesus Christ. Literally, the Hebrew says that “ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a man, a Judean.”
He’s using categories and images known to their day to speak of the future. People from all nations will become part of God’s covenant people, and they will enter only by their relationship to one man from Judah, namely, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, Jesus Christ. Joyce Baldwin writes, “The intensity of their desire for God is indicated by the verb take hold of…It’s used of Moses snatching the serpents by the tail…and of David taking the lion by the beard…They cannot afford to let go!” (Zechariah, 167). This is a picture of faith: it takes hold of Jesus’ robe, and says, “I’m not letting go. You’re my only hope to find favor with God.”
Why is he our only hope? Because he is the only Jew whose hands are strong to finish God’s work. He is the only Jew who rendered true judgments. He is the only Jew who spoke truth, and made for peace, and did not devise evil in his heart. He is the only Jew who loved no false oath, and who pleases God in everything he does.
That qualifies him to be the recipient of all God’s promises. God’s presence, the new city, the peaceful play, the new covenant, the blessings of Abraham, the joyful feasts—they all belong to Jesus, because he obeyed God fully, even unto death for you and me. He didn’t come simply to receive God’s promises for himself. He came to die that he might share God’s promises with those who didn’t deserve them—that’s you and me, if we trust in him. Jesus laid down his life to pay the penalty for your sins, so that you might inherit all these promises.
And he rose again from the dead on the third day, so that your fasting would give way to a never-ending feast—so that the sickness you feel over your sins might give way to total healing; so that grief you feel over your hypocrisy might give way to an eternity of happiness; so that the tears that fall from your eyes over the brokenness of this world—like we saw in Paris over the weekend—that the tears might give way to unending joy; so that your gut-wrenching hatred of racism might give way to laughter and play in the streets of gold without fear. Jesus Christ is bringing that day, brothers and sisters. It couldn’t come soon enough.
But until then, let these chapters inspire present fidelity to God’s word, that more peoples—that ten men and women from every tongue might grab your robe on the way to the City of Truth. That’s not to say you’re Jesus, it’s to say that you’re an extension of Jesus on earth while he reigns in heaven. This is the draw that our lives and our message ought to have on others. Our lives and our message ought to be one big magnet, drawing all the nations to Jesus.
Spread the news about God’s global glory in Christ
In the same way that Zechariah charges Israel to give themselves to God’s purposes, so the apostles charge us to give ourselves to God’s purposes. Part of that is the repentance we looked at earlier. Part of that is the compassion we looked at earlier. And part of that is spreading the news about God’s global glory in Christ. God has made a way for all peoples without distinction to approach his throne; Jesus is that way. He is the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through him. Christ gave his life—the righteous for the unrighteous—that he might bring us to God.
And the nations are responding. I finished the book of Acts this week, and it ends on the note of “Therefore, let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, they will listen.” That implies a herald—namely, us—to preach God’s salvation to the nations. And when I say nations, I don’t just mean those far away without access to the gospel. Yes, take it there too. But I also mean the people you share a fence with. Find ways to get into their lives and serve them and pray for opportunities to bring them with you to the City of Truth.
Setting your hope on the City of Truth
And speaking of the City of Truth, what an amazing future hope to give each other daily and to give to other people daily. It’s very relevant to a hundred different scenarios, and would be a great segue into the gospel at work or at the coffee shop, wherever. For example, one big topic in the news has been systemic racism present in society, whether intentional or not. And some have wrongly responded with violence and much hatred; and others have wrongly responded by not listening or showing any sympathy towards the oppressed.
But in the midst of all this, there’s an evangelical pastor named Thabiti Anyabwile. And just this week a secular magazine called, The Atlantic, held a summit surrounding the question of race and justice in America. And they invited Thabiti to contribute to the discussion, after he wrote a response to an article they published. And on center stage, Thabiti was able to share the gospel with thousands of listeners, and part of his message to them went like this:
My sort of case for hope builds on the fact that there is coming the greatest most perfect criminal justice ever known. That when Christ comes and establishes his reign, there will be no more injustice, there will be no more crime. Everything that has been crooked will be made straight. Everyone who has transgressed his law will be held to account and all of us will give an account on that day. And we will either stand in his judgment for our sins, or we will be forgiven, because another has stood in our place, namely Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for our sins, was raised from the grave on the third day. And all those who trust in him will be reconciled to God and enjoy eternal life…
In one sense, the case for hope requires us, particularly as a Christian…it requires us to build our hope on something more permanent than the transient things of this life. To place our happiness beyond the reach of our enemies, and to see that there really is a moral arc to the universe and it bends toward justice. In the broadest sweep, that’s the case for hope.
Thabiti’s words point people to the City of Truth that we read about today. And it’s the same City that we can point others to as well—the City where all oppression ceases to exist, the City where all wrongs are made right, the City where peace rules forever, and justice is upheld for each and every individual. Let this hope guide your tongue in public. Let this hope inspire patience with your enemies. Let this hope move you to pray, “Thy kingdom come!” Let this hope move your hands to work hard for the oppressed. Let this hope increase your hunger for God’s kingdom. Jesus promises us this, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”