Communion Presbyterian Church ARP

Return to Me - Zechariah 1

INTRO: A young child; living in the home of a “passionate” Father can be a life of inner turmoil.

Imagine the thoughts of a young child when they hear from their father, “I am upset with you!   Come here right now!”

“Now if he’s upset at me, and I get anywhere near him, I am going to get disciplined in some way… Why would I go to him?”

Why would any of us go toward the God of the universe, of whom we’ve read in Psalms 7; “feels indignation everyday!?”


Why would a child go to a father who is upset?  Because there is a greater bond between a child and father than between a policeman and a criminal.  A child who is the source of a father’s indignation, can also trust that coming to him in obedience, humility, and repentance will be the trigger of a father’s compassion and mercy.  The coming to a father in repentance, though he is upset, will be the action that begins to restore a fragmented relationship and will contribute to a fruitful relationship of deeper love and trust.


So here comes Zechariah the prophet.  He and his friend Haggai have been raised up by God to encourage the remnant of Israel to re-build God’s destroyed temple, and live as the people of God; to finally get this relationship with God right; because over Israel’s long history – there just didn’t seem to be an extended period of time where Israel ever lived faithfully devoted to the Lord.


And while the rebuilding of the temple is actually happening; both Haggai and Zechariah discern a devastating quality of even the returning remnant, and it is summed up in the following question:  You’ve returned to the Land, and you’ve returned to work; but have you returned TO ME?


Haggai told them in his book: building a holy place for a holy God is sort of pointless if the people building it don’t care about holiness!  The Lord was calling the remnant to build a holy society that defines all of life – not just a segmented life where God gets his building and we get our own homes to do what is hypocritical!


So Zechariah will also chime in on this theme: (pray)


1:1 In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying, 2 "The LORD was very angry with your fathers. 3 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. 4 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. 5 Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers?”  …


Zechariah begins his prophetic work by addressing a prevalent matter for all of God’s people in every time – and that is related to maintaining covenant relationships by acknowledging the role of   à  repentance. 

In the Hebrew, it is the word, Shuv – it means to return, to return in order to renew a covenant relationship – this is not a casual concept, it is the core of our worship service – our whole order of worship is built upon the principle of Covenant Renewal!


Churches such as our own will make this an early priority as we gather for corporate worship – We respond to God’s Call to Worship by acknowledging our need to confess of our sins of commission and sins of omission – WHY?  Because God has shown us what He requires of us, He has called us to a life of worship and service BUT we know that in thought, word, and deed, we have not maintained pure devotion in our relationship with Him and with our fellow man.


Beginning a worship service with the practice of confession communicates a value:  the value that we actually DO seek to please God in our worship by recognizing that our daily lives – which are an extension of that worship – has not reflected our true desire to have Him above all other Gods.


Now we take confidence in this confession because we have an advocate who stands in our defense – Jesus the Just. And we appeal to God’s mercy on account of the saving work of Christ – So our initial coming to God in salvation never would have happened unless our relationship changed from Cop to Criminal TO Father to Son!  When we realized that the God of the Universe who was upset with us had actually made us his Son in Christ – we knew exactly to whom we should bring our confession and lack of righteousness – to the Father who loves obedient sons, even if we had lived like criminals!  The Father welcomes us and adorns us with his love and favor because we admit that we had not lived up to our true calling – but desire to do so because He loves us!


Another important detail of Zechariah’s intro is that we must acknowledge that God alone rules over all.  The phrase “Lord of Hosts,” which Zechariah will use 53 times in his book, means that God reigns over all the majestic hosts of heaven, and over all the hosts of men.  SO when it comes to deciding to whose drumbeat we will march, if we are not in cadence with the Lord of Hosts, we will be marched over. 


God is # 1; and must be regarded as our # 1 authority and priority.  If we are making all kinds of life decisions without properly considering what God’s word and commandments say – and sometimes that requires wrestling long and hard with what we ought to do; but if we reach conclusions and decisions about what to believe and how to live without considering God’s word on it – that comes with a guarantee:  we will soon be in competition with God rather than advancing his kingdom.  The very reason for God’s sending the prophets to us, the reason why we have an extended library of books called the Bible is because God is very gracious in teaching us about consequences of decisions. 


SB: I think there is an interesting apologetic related to the phrase, “the prophets.”  We receive God’s word from different voices and from different settings, BUT they all speak of maintaining faith with God, keeping His commands, walking in His ways, observing His statutes.  We don’t just have one single OT prophet claiming to be divine in anyway – they always point consistently and always direct attention to God singly – to the Lord of Hosts -- and finally to Christ.


Even Moses, who is probably the chief of Prophets was disqualified from entering into the Promised Land in case we might think to revere him – But it is apparent that each of these spirit inspired prophets could uniformly express the truth of God and HIS character and will to His people – I don’t find this type of revelation of truth in other religious systems.  They always seem to have a single person who receives a divine epiphany in a private way – never a concert of individual voices speaking in harmony with each other over time.  (Just an observation…)


There is something else we can say about TIME here that is important to Zechariah.  It has to do with God’s faithfulness to keep his covenant and Israel’s consistency to wander from her commitments to God.


DO NOT be like your fathers!”  Meaning your forbearers, your ancestors.  Don’t be like Joseph’s brothers, don’t be like those who rebelled against Moses, don’t be like those who didn’t enter the Promised Land, don’t be like those who rejected Samuel as prophet, don’t be like those who chose a King like Saul, don’t be like those who divided the kingdom of Israel, don’t be like those who didn’t respond to Jeremiah ---- that’s a lot of people who they should not be like!


Those folks constantly forfeited the blessings of God, yeah, you ought to avoid that.  Try obedience to the law, try protecting the weak, try welcoming the alien, try being a peculiar people instead of being a predictable people.


So here we have the angry God, speaking through a faithful prophet, calling a returning remnant to not only return to the land – and I can imagine them saying – “How much closer do you want us to get to You?  We are on your holy hill, we are building your holy place, we’re about as close as we can get to you – what else do you want?”  Well, God wants more than proximity – He wants the type of returning that acknowledges past faults, and a humble dependence upon His rule.


Can we stop right here and make direct application to the Prodigal Son?  That’s what the God of Israel wants for His people!  Children admitting that they have squandered grace and privilege but still want to return simply to serve in the lowest place possible if it is just under the covering of God’s love and care.  That is how we all return to the Lord, and this is how He returns to us!  Don’t be like the older brother!  Be like the repentant son who really knows the value of being close to the Father.


By God’s grace the people respond to Zechariah’s message:

6 …So they repented and said, “As the LORD of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us."


The people rightly confessed that the Lord who rules over all has indeed done what He said He would do to us because of our sinful ways.  And in response to this confession and cleansing, the book of Zechariah takes a turn into the Apocalyptic!


7 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying, 8 "I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses. 9 Then I said, 'What are these, my lord?' The angel who talked with me said to me, 'I will show you what they are.'


In review of the genre of Apocalyptic literature which we have treated here:  It is a literary form employed by the Jews when they were being oppressed by foreign powers. It reveals how God is truly in control of the world – even though to the physical eye, that could be in doubt.  Apocalyptic literature should be understood in light of the Jewish Eschatological Hope – in other words, the Jews were taught that in days of trouble, God would gather all people for judgment and salvation, a Messiah figure would arise to deliver the saints of God and establish an earthly kingdom of paradise, and finally God would dwell with his people.  And finally, the visions of apocalyptic literature are confusing, non-linear, and rarely understood by the person witnessing the visions presented – so an angel is always at hand to help with the interpretation – with that… verse


10 So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, 'These are they whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth.' 11 And they answered the angel of the LORD who was standing among the myrtle trees, and said, 'We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.' 12 Then the angel of the LORD said, 'O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?' 13 And the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.


Did you keep track of the characters?  Zechariah is there, and angel is at his side to help with interpretation.  There is a man riding a horse who is standing among the horses and myrtle trees.  Other horses are there who patrol the earth (I don’t know if they have riders, would make sense if they did, The horses could be graduates of the Balaam Academy).  Then there is the “Angel of the Lord” who is distinct from the “Lord of Hosts” asking a question concerning God’s favor toward Jerusalem.


Now here we could do an extensive excurses on the being identified as the “Angel of the Lord.”  But I’m not – I’m just going to give you two options – either it is God himself – but that has problems, especially because we see here the Angel of the Lord and the Lord of Hosts speaking to each other.  The other option is that this is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ – which raises more questions AND most of them having satisfying answers—but that’s for a future Sunday School class.


And why myrtle trees?  Oh, I’m excited to tell you something about that – but you’ll need to wait until we get to the book of Esther…


14 So the angel who talked with me said to me, 'Cry out, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. 15 And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. 16 Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the LORD of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. 17 Cry out again, Thus says the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.'"


So we have a heavenly account of an assessment of the kingdoms of the world.  The horses have ridden throughout the earth and the report is that the nations have taken advantage of the grace of God – the nations have known ease but they have not acknowledged the God who provides such a grace.  So the Lord announces that His House will indeed be completed because God is once again being merciful to Jerusalem, -- their repentance coincides with the 70 year curse of Jeremiah! 


But a future day of judgment is coming.  A measuring line would mark off those who will receive or be denied of God’s blessed salvation, which we would anticipate would be carried out by the Messiah.  And then the final announcement is of a revitalized nation is heard, again, with the kind of prosperity envisioned by all the prophets, Israel will be the land directly blessed by God because He would be at the center of her devotion!  They would in fact know the Lord because He would be dwelling in their midst.


And this brings us full circle in our opening of Zechariah.  Why return to the Lord?  Because He will not always be angry.  He has chosen to bless a people whom he will find faithful – an Eternal Remnant.  However, he will judge the oppressors and at the same time, provide relief for those who long to be in the presence of their savior. 


All of these apocalyptic visions, all of this eschatological language provides for us, who are members of Christ’s kingdom, those who are living stones of His TRUE temple, prophetic words of hope because of the faithfulness of Christ;


but also a moment of reflection.  Are we really disconnected from an OT people because we are not building a literal structure to the Glory of God?  Was that ever what God ultimately wanted?  A building, a ministry, a program, a world wide evangelistic crusade?  Or a people who would walk humbly, love mercy, and do justly?  A people who live by faith, hope, and love?  A people who repent and believe? 


Listen, I’m a full time minister, I WANT to build a congregation that honors God, and lead a family that honors God, and establish ministries that honor God – but in the midst of all that working, and planning and dreaming and hoping to honor God through some program, I don’t need to be like our OT brethren substituting the desire to present some THING to God that will please Him – while all the while, avoiding the fact that God wants ME to honor him from my heart, soul, mind, and strength, so that what I whatever I devote myself to  – I have started with a proper foundation – with Christ being the cornerstone.

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