A New Covenant through a Struck Shepherd
Passage: Zechariah 13:7–9
Sermon from Zechariah 13:7-9 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: Zechariah: Restoration & Return (Part 21)
Delivered on March 6, 2016
Zechariah 13. We’ll look a verses 7-9 this morning; and I think you’ll find these verses to be a fitting prelude to the Lord’s Supper. This passage ends on the new covenant relationship we have with God because of the work of Jesus. So let these words prepare you to eat. But let’s first read them.
7“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the LORD of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. 8In the whole land, declares the LORD, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. 9And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’” [Pray]
This is a very fitting passage for the life of our church—not just because we’re taking the Lord’s Supper this morning. Over time, I’ve talked with some of you, and while you believe that Jesus’ death takes away sin, you still struggle to believe that God isn’t angry with you anymore. You’re tempted to believe that there must be some wrath still left for you, and so your obedience and your praying and your doing stems from a fear of punishment and not from a place of rest, peace, thanksgiving, and joy in God.
Others of you have encountered some very hard trials and suffering in the last few weeks. You’ve received news that has greatly saddened, maybe even angered you for a while. And you’re having difficulty seeing the purpose of it all and whether God really has your best interest at heart. You ask, “How can this be love?”
And others of you need a good reminder of the relationship with God that you’ve been saved for. That we’re not just saved to do for God, we’re saved to be with God and enjoy him now and forever. Zechariah 13 will speak to each of us. And the way I’ve chosen to lay it out this morning is really the way it develops here in three main parts—redemption, refinement, and relationship.
First, let’s look at redemption. Verse 7 depicts our redemption: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me.”
Many of us are familiar with Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings. One of the climactic scenes in the Return of the King is when the riders of Théoden arrive to fight for Gondor. And just before the attack, King Théoden rides before his men and he summons them with these words: “Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden! Fell deeds awake, fire and slaughter! Spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!” Théoden summons his men to war.
We find a similar summons to war at the beginning of verse 7—“Awake, O sword.” Only, the king in this case is the Lord of hosts (cf. “arise” in Zech 2:14); and he doesn’t summon an entire army but his own sword to war. Quite a few times in Scripture, God’s sword functions as a symbol for his wrath. To awake his sword is for God to unsheathe that sword, to awaken his wrath, to bloody that sword against his enemies (Isa 34:6; Jer 25:29; 47:6-7).
Now in the larger context, it makes sense that he would awaken his sword. In Zechariah 11:17, he calls for the sword to strike the arm of the false shepherd who’s not caring for his people. In 12:1-9, the nations gather against God and his city to make war. In 13:4-6, the false prophets are exposed. There’s plenty reason for God to waken his sword, to pour out his wrath against his enemies.
But I want you to notice something really, really important. Verse 7 says that God awakens the sword against someone who doesn’t deserve it: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me [or, better, against the man, my companion; cf. Lev 6:2; 18:20].” What?! Who’s this? My Shepherd? My Companion? If he’s your companion, God, why did you awaken your sword against him? It’s the worthless shepherd back in chapter 11 that deserves your sword, not your shepherd. What’s going on?
What’s going on is this: before God awakens his sword against the world, he awakens it against his own Son. This is an Old Testament picture of our redemption. We know who the Shepherd is. Zechariah is pulling from the prophets before him. “My Shepherd” is the righteous King expected to come from David’s line. He’s promised in Ezekiel 34:23-24 and Ezekiel 37:24 and Jeremiah 23:5—and the New Testament knows this Shepherd’s name to be Jesus Christ, God’s only Son (e.g., John 10).
On top of that, in Matthew 26:31 Jesus quotes explicitly from this passage and says that it’s talking about him dying on the cross. This comes right after Jesus shares the Last Supper with his disciples. He tells them, Drink the cup, “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” They go out, sing a hymn together, and then Jesus says, “You’ll all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” Which is straight from the rest of Zechariah 13:7.
The Shepherd is God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He’s the one who stands next to God. John 1:18 even tells us that he was in the bosom of the Father from all eternity. But God the Father entrusted him with a mission, and the Son willingly agreed to that mission. The Father sent; the Son came. The Son put on flesh, so that God would summon the sword against him in our place. The Good Shepherd received what the bad shepherd deserved, but not because of sins that were his own.
If he’s so close to God—as close as being called, “my companion;” God’s equal—then why did God strike him? It wasn’t because God found anything in him worth punishing. He struck him as a substitute. He struck him in the place of others like you and me. In fact, the Hebrew behind the word “strike”—“strike the shepherd”—is also used in Isaiah 53:4 when God offers up the Suffering Servant as a sin-substitute: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten [or struck] by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities…”
This is a picture of our redemption. God is holy, and as holy he must awaken his sword against his enemies—enemies like you and me who did deserve it. We are enemies because we were born in sin. We’re born with a rebel nature. And Ephesians 2:3 says, that makes us children who deserve wrath. We deserve God’s sword—and that sword is coming against the whole world in the future. But in his mercy, God also summoned his sword against Jesus, so that anyone who trusts in him now could escape the sword in the future.
You see, the cross of Jesus Christ is not just a bad ending to a failed ministry. It’s not just the results of unjust politics. The cross is God’s own design. In love he ordained a day to summon the sword against his own Son, but in the place of sinners like you and me. We call this propitiation: Jesus satisfied the wrath of God in our place.
And his death was so sufficient, so complete, so perfect, and so fitting to God’s holiness that for all who trust in Jesus, God’s sword has been quieted. Even before you were born, God’s love already provided for you what his holiness demanded from you. His holiness demanded that you pay a penalty for your sins; but his love offered his most costly possession in your place, his only Son.
This is part of the reason why Romans 5:1 can say that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. His wrath against you was completely settled in the death of Jesus. He’s no longer angry with you, believer. He delights in you. He’s one-hundred percent for you. If there’s a sword that he raises in your life, it will not be against you, it will be against all things that attempt to keep you from him.
Brothers and sisters, do you truly believe that God has no wrath left for those in Christ? Or are you tempted to believe another gospel, a false gospel that says God is still angry with you? A false gospel that says there’s still more punishment that you must do to yourself in order to assuage God’s anger—the cross wasn’t enough? A false gospel that says, Obey in order to avoid punishment, instead of, Obey because Christ already took your punishment!
Or do you see God as a demanding, impatient angry Father just waiting for an opportunity to smack you? How will you come to this table today? Will you come afraid of God’s condemnation? Or will come seeing this table for the gift that it truly is—a reminder to you that Christ bore your condemnation and there’s none left for you? That’s what the Lord’s Supper is for—to remind you that God has no wrath left for you; he awakened his sword against Christ instead.
There’s a brother I knew who once fell into immorality. He was having an affair and keeping it hidden. Walking in the darkness instead of the light. Eventually, though, he had to face the consequences of his sin. The Lord exposed him, and he repented publicly to the church. But something he said stuck with me. The sweetest morsel he had ever eaten came from the Lord’s Supper that night when he confessed. When he ate the Lord reminded him of the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ—that there was no wrath left for him, only peace with God.
When you have peace with God, you don’t care what other people think. You’re free to confess, free to walk in the light, free to eat at the King’s table. That doesn’t mean we continue in sin that grace may abound. We’re well aware from 1 Corinthians 11 that God’s discipline can be sever when we eat and drink on our own terms. There is a call for self-examination. But that self-examination is never to be apart from Christ. Grace abounds to even the chief of sinners. For those of you in Christ, the King invites you to his table this morning with his sword in its sheath.
Second, we see our refinement. Look at the rest of verse 7 all the way to the first part of verse 9: “Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land, declares the LORD, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested.”
Now, we saw a minute ago that Jesus quotes this first part in Matthew 26:31, not just in reference to himself but also in reference to the disciples (cf. also Mark 14:27; John 16:32). When he was crucified, all his disciples would scatter. Even his most faithful ones like Peter would forsake him. And so with this still in our minds, we come back and we read verse 7 and say, Whoah, wait a minute, what’s all this stuff now about God turning his hands against the little ones?
Well, Zechariah is building on the remnant theology of the prophets before him. For example, in Isaiah 1:25, we find this same idea of God ‘turning his hand’ against his people by taking them into exile. It was through the discipline of exile that he would smelt away their dross. So yes, a severe act of discipline, but its purpose was to make his covenant people righteous once again. It was to purify a remnant.
Ezekiel 5:1-5 is another example. Ezekiel shaves his head and divides up his hair into thirds. One third he burns with fire. Another third he strikes with the sword. And the last third he’s supposed to scatter to the wind, but within this last third he binds some to his robe. And this is symbolic of the exile. God would use the discipline of exile to purify a remnant for himself. Some would be cut off, but a few he would keep for himself and put them through further trial.
So, one of the ways God purified his people—so that the faithful remnant stood out—was by putting them through the “fire” of exile. Zechariah is pulling from this same imagery but applying it to a future people. Like the people of old experienced, the future people would have to endure a great refining process—something like an exile. Some would be cut off and perish. The trials will prove that they never really belonged to God.
But then there would be the remnant—this last third. And because God loves them, he puts them through the fire but not so that they perish. Verse 9 uses a remarkable illustration: God will refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested.
In order to make precious metals shine, you have to remove the impurities. The only way to do that, though, is to put it through fire. Fire exposes and burns off the impurities. Then the metal is tested—its quality is judged after the fire. If impurities still exist, back into the fire it goes. And this process gets repeated until the refiner can see his reflection in the metal…
One of the ways God purifies us, brothers and sisters, is through the fountain we saw back in 13:1. But another way he purifies us is through the fire. We need both the fountain and the fire. This is why you and I face trials and suffering in this life. Our Refiner wants to see his reflection in you. He doesn’t just want wrath removed from you; he wants Christ reflected in you. But that also means fire. Not the fires of hell—no, Jesus took care of that on the cross—but the fires of trial, affliction, tribulation, suffering, exile.
You see, Jesus’ disciples didn’t stay scattered. Jesus rose from the dead three days later, and what do we see him doing but gathering his remnant—even Peter he restores. And later that remnant grows to 110 more, and then again to 3,000 more. And then you even get Gentiles joining this remnant too, as Paul preaches the gospel to them (Rom 11). This is the church. But a church that must walk through the Refiner’s fire.
The apostles were very familiar with this remnant theology and God’s refining work in the church through trial (Rom 8:17; 1 Cor 12:8-10; Jas 1:1-4). But likely the best example comes from 1 Peter. First Peter 1:17 even says that the present time is comparable to exile. The kingdom’s fullness hasn’t come yet, so in some sense we’re still in exile. And in this exile we have trials.
But listen to what he says about these trials in 1 Peter 1:6-7: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Various trials will test the genuineness of our faith just like gold is tested by fire. The encouragement, though, is that faith in the midst of trial is more precious to God than gold. Gold is going to perish, faith will result in praise and glory and honor forever. Yes, we won’t see all of that reward until the return of Christ. You will never get in this life all the answers that you’d like to have for your trials. But you can bank on this: if you’re united to Jesus: the tested genuineness of your faith will abound with praise, honor, and glory. There’s a goal for these trials, and that goal is glory, reward before your Father. What’s eighty years of trials up against an eternity of glory, praise, and honor? That’s Peter’s message.
And something else we can remember in trial is this—this comes from the first point we covered. If Jesus Christ is your propitiation, then none of the trials you face—whether it’s a migraine or cancer or lime or persecution or poverty—none of it comes from a God who is still angry with you. For those who are in Christ, it comes from a Father who wants to see his face in you.
Or how about Hebrews 12:10? “[God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” Your suffering, your various trials—they’re not meaningless. God the Refiner has a purpose for them, and that purpose is to make you more like Jesus. He wants the dross removed. He wants the unbelief removed. He wants the idols displaced by a love for himself. He wants your dreams to look more like his plans. He wants to see himself in you. And that’s an incredible love.
Richard Phillips put it this way: “God employs extreme measures to win our hearts fully to himself. He demands the most fervent devotion, and labors in our hearts until our greatest joy is to bask in the knowledge that God has cherished us to himself” (Phillips, Zechariah, 299).
I remember Rachel telling me shortly after she was diagnosed with MS, “God knows what I need to make me more like Jesus.” If God is sovereign, wise, and good, then he knows what we need to make us more like Jesus. I want that kind of faith when I encounter various trials; and many of you have demonstrated that faith as you’ve walked through various trials. We’re going to sing a song by John Newton in a few minutes titled, “I Asked the Lord.” Consider the words of that song in light of this passage.
Finally, let’s look at our relationship. We’ve seen our redemption; and we’ve seen our refinement. But both of these things are meant to serve a greater goal, namely, our relationship with God. Look at the rest of verse 9: “They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” I want to point out several things about this relationship.
Dependence on God
First off, notice the dependence on God. How fitting that, in a passage about refinement by fire, there’s also dependence on God. We cannot go through the various trials of this life in our own strength, at least not in any way that pleases God. We desperately need God. In fact, the trials he gives us make us more dependent on him. They bring us to the end of ourselves. They keep us on our knees. They draw us nearer to the Father in our helplessness. John Calvin put it this way: “The discipline of the cross is necessary, so that earnest prayer may become vigorous in us” (403).
The beauty of this relationship, though, is that God answers when we call upon him. When we depend upon him in prayer, he promises to answer us. What an encouragement to keep coming to him. What an incentive to keep depending on him. The God of the universe says, “I will answer you.”
Would your life be one that’s characterized by dependence on God? If not, have you forgotten that you have access to him through faith in Jesus Christ? Have you let pride creep in, pretending that you don’t need God, that you can whip life without God? God’s new covenant people depend on him, they cry to him. They see themselves as helpless without him. They pray, because they have this incredible access to the God of the universe who has saved them and answers them.
For those of you whose prayer life has dwindled, I would ask you to seriously consider the promise of an answering God here. When you come to this Supper, reconsider the relationship God won for you in the death of his Son. He listens to your requests and he answers. I see it every week as I pray through the membership role in this church. God doesn’t always answer in the way I expected or even wanted; but he’s answering prayer every week. Consider his promise to answer you.
If no prayer life exists for you, I would ask that you seriously consider whether you’re part of God’s people at all. You may not be praying because no true relationship exists to begin with. If that’s you, go back to verse 7: look at your Savior, repent, and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will know this relationship.
Personal and intimate
This relationship with God is also personal, intimate: “They are my people…the Lord is my God.” There’s a sense of belongingness to one another. In fact, this is covenant language that’s used elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Exod 19:5-6; Ezek 36:28; Jer 31:33; Hos 2:23). It’s God’s way of showing his personal devotion to his people and their devotion to him because of his work of grace in their hearts. But if you look up places throughout the Bible where this same language appears—they are my people; the Lord is my God—you find that this relationship is quite intimate.
Leviticus 26:12 uses it alongside God walking among his people, which suggests a reversal of humanity’s fallen condition (cf. Gen 3:8). Deuteronomy 26:18 uses it alongside God calling Israel his “treasured possession.” Hosea 2:14-13 compare this relationship to a marriage—God takes his once unfaithful people, and he betroths them to himself as a bride to a husband. In that context, these words become like wedding vows. And even within Zechariah 2:11, this relationship comes as the result of God coming to dwell in their midst (cf. Ezek 37:27). So it’s personal and intimate.
We need to hear this too, because there can be a tendency to turn God into a mere object of study, when he has revealed himself as one to be personally loved, cherished, and enjoyed. As J. I. Packer puts it in Knowing God,
One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of him…We find in ourselves a deep interest in theology…We read books of theological exposition and apologetics. We dip into Christian history, and study the Christian creed. We learn to find our way around the Scriptures. Others appreciate our interest in these things, and we find ourselves asked to give our opinion in public on this or that Christian question, to lead study groups, to give papers, to write articles…Our friends tell us how much they value our contribution, and this spurs us to further explorations of God’s truth, so that we may be equal to the demands made upon us. All very fine—yet interest in theology, and knowledge about God, and the capacity to think clearly and talk well on Christian themes, is not all the same thing as knowing him…
…Knowing God is a matter of personal dealing, as is all direct acquaintance with personal beings; it is a matter of dealing with him as he opens up to you, and being dealt with by him as he takes knowledge of you…You can have all the right notions in your head without ever tasting in your heart the realities to which they refer; and a simple Bible reader and sermon hearer who is full of the Holy Spirit will develop a far deeper acquaintance with his God and Savior than a more learned scholar who is content with being theologically correct. The reason is that the former will deal with God regarding the practical application of truth to his life, whereas the latter will not” (Packer, Knowing God, 26, 39).
Finally, this relationship is also communal. That is to say, this covenant relationship isn’t one that’s just between God and me; it’s between God and us. The whole covenant community is saying, “The Lord is my God.” As someone else once put it, [Christianity] is not a “me and God” religion; it’s always “us and God.”
They’re even praying together as one people—it’s, they will call…I will answer them. There’s a good reason to come this evening to pray together. You showed up in force to hear sound doctrine last Sunday—praise God! But let’s also plan to make prayer a similar priority in the regular life of this church.
We need to hear things like this in a culture that feeds us so much individualism, and social media outlets that are constantly fostering more individualism, regardless of how “connected” we may feel. Yes, God saves individuals, but those individuals are part of a people he has given to Christ. They are bound together in Christ under a new covenant. They all share in this relationship.
And that’s also part of the reason we come together at this table this morning. First Corinthians 10:17 says, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The cup of blessing that we bless, the bread that we break—it’s a participation in the blood and body of Christ that belongs to the whole redeemed community.
So let us all eat together with these things in mind: because of the struck Shepherd, Jesus Christ, we have experienced redemption. That redemption has set us apart to be refined by fire, not because God is angry with us but because God wants to see his reflection in us. And all of this is serving our dependent, personal, communal relationship with God until Jesus comes again. Let’s eat together.