We come today to what is the central theme of the book of Zechariah; to the question of the completion of the Temple and how this is to be accomplished. What we find here is a vision (vs1-4), a message from God (6-10a), and an explanation, to some extent at least, of the vision (10b-14).
You may remember that Joshua has been woken in the night by a series of visions. And it seems that since the previous vision, of Joshua standing before the Lord with Satan accusing him, Zechariah’s mind has wandered, and he’s fallen asleep again. But now the angel returns and wakens him, and as he looks up, slightly startled, no doubt with bleary eyes, he sees another vision.
As often happens in this style of writing, the angel asks him "What do you see?" It’s like he’s one of those annoying teachers you probably had at some time, who wants you to discover things for yourself, rather than just telling you what you should know. A bit like Julius Sumner Miller for those who are old enough to remember him. "Why is it so?"
Well, Zechariah looks up and says, "I see a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it; there are seven lamps on it, with seven lips [or channels] on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. 3And by it there are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left." It would seem from the further description in v12 that this isn’t a seven armed candle stick like the one in Solomon’s Temple, but rather these are oil lamps being fed by the oil from the olive trees standing on either side. We find the same picture in Revelation 1 where there are 7 lampstands representing the 7 churches. So the lampstand here probably represents the people of God, the nation of Israel. Then if we jump to vs11&12 we get a further description of what he sees. First, these seven, presumably these seven lamps, are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth. Now no-one really knows what that means, except that perhaps they indicate that God is watching what’s happening in the world, or perhaps even that he’s looking throughout the earth for his people who have been scattered and who will be called back when the Temple is restored. Second we’re told that the two olive trees on either side are connected to the lampstand in such a way that they pour oil through two golden pipes into the lampstand to keep it burning.
Well, Zechariah sees these but he doesn’t understand what he’s seeing, so he says, as you would, "What are these, my lord?" He’s just like you or me. He doesn’t have a clue what this is all about, so he asks. Well, the angel isn’t all that helpful. He says "Do you not know what these are?" And Zechariah replies "No, my Lord" So then the angel explains it all to him. "These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth" or "who serve the Lord of all the earth."
Now before we look at what the explanation the angel gives means, let’s sum up what we can work out for ourselves. The lampstand, as I said, stands for the nation of Israel. It’s a golden lampstand, which indicates how precious it is in God’s sight, The two anointed ones, literally ’the two sons of oil’, are Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor. The use of a lampstand as a symbol for Israel, also points us to the Temple, which is yet to be rebuilt. So the point of the vision is that the rebuilding of the Temple is dependent on the work of Joshua and Zerubbabel. Together they will bring about its rebuilding. But obviously there’s a lot more to it than just that. It’s a bit like one of those 3-D pictures that were all the rage a few years ago. Do you know the ones? On the surface they look like one thing, but if you stare at them for long enough you discover, if you’re lucky, that there’s a 3-D image in the background. Well, that’s what we discover here. There’s a lot more to this vision than at first meets the eye.
In fact the message of vs 6-10 begins to bring that out. This is one of those verses that most Christians have heard at some time or another. "He said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts. 7What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of ’Grace, grace to it!’" The task of rebuilding the Temple is going to be accomplished, not by the cleverness, or strength, or power, of those who have returned from exile, but by the power of God. Just as we saw last week, that the restoration of the nation was the result of the grace of God, so here we discover that the rebuilding of the Temple, as the sign of God’s presence with his people, will be due to the power and wisdom of God alone. Not that they won’t have to do their bit. The prophet Haggai who is prophesying at the same time as Zechariah, makes it clear that they need to be generous in contributing to the cost of rebuilding the Temple. It will be their arms and legs that will be needed to lift the stones into place. But the success of the project will be entirely dependent on God’s Spirit.
Then there’s a word for the pessimists among them. For the party-poopers. The obstacles before them may be great, but through the power of God they will be wiped away. "What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of ’Grace, grace to it!’" You may remember the prophecy of Isaiah, about the coming of the Messiah, where he tells us that every mountain and hill will be made low. In other words, every obstacle to God will be removed. It’s the same here. The mountain represents those things that stand in the way of God’s purposes being realised. But as Zerubbabel does his job, those obstacles will disappear. Have you ever had that experience, that as you pray, obstacles seem to disappear from your path? Well, that’s what will happen here. And the result will be cries of joy. Cries of Grace! Grace! Or Beauty! Beauty! If it were in Melbourne rather than Jerusalem it’s be "Bewdy! Bewdy!" This is a message to those pessimists who are thinking, "Oh, it’s all too hard. We’ll never manage it." To the ones who say "It’s all very well to talk about a big project like that but how will we ever finance it?" To them, God says, "Just wait. A day is coming when you’ll join in the cry of joy as the final stone of the Temple is put in place." It’s also a message of encouragement to Zerubbabel, not to be put off by the size of the task, or by the opposition of the surrounding nations or of the pessimists in his own ranks.
To those who are thinking, "we’re too weak, there aren’t enough of us", God says, "who is it who despises the day of small things?" It would have been easy enough to think that sort of thing wouldn’t it? When King David died, he left Solomon one hundred thousand talents of gold, one million talents of silver, and bronze and iron beyond weighing, for there was so much of it; as well as timber and stone. How could they match that with what they had now among the rubble of Jerusalem?
But to those who are thinking it’ll never happen in our lifetime, he says: "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. 10For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel." Not only will it be finished, but it will be Zerubbabel who’ll finish it.
Now before we go on to look at what this means for us, I just want to point out how this vision and it’s explanation and the message that goes with it all hang together. The unifying idea of the whole chapter is that of the Spirit of God. You see, oil is a symbol of God’s Spirit. That’s why oil was used for anointing kings and priests. So the olive trees, what are later referred to as the sons of oil, are a sign that God’s Spirit is behind the renewal of the temple. God has anointed Joshua as High Priest, and Zerubbabel as governor, and his Spirit, working through them, will bring his plans to fulfilment.
Well, let’s think for a while about how we read a passage like this. It’d be easy enough to take it and apply it to the latest building project wouldn’t it? So we could say to those who think that building the toilet block is taking far too long, that they should just be patient. We may be starting slowly, but don’t despise the day of small things. Before you know it it’ll be finished. Or perhaps it’s a word to us about how to actually do the project. Start in a small way. First do the steps and the disabled access ramp, then move on to the bigger job of building the toilet block, etc. Just take one step at a time. In fact you could apply this to any project you may have. If your aim is to spring clean your house, well, that’s a big job, so just start in a small way. First clean up the laundry, then the family room, then move on to the rest of the house, bit by bit.
But that would be to misunderstand what this passage is all about wouldn’t it? You see, what’s at the heart of the message of Zechariah, and at the heart of this vision, is the idea that at the centre of God’s world lies Jerusalem, and in particular, his temple, the place where God will dwell. And so we find at the end of chapter 8 this picture of the end of all things: "In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you." So at its heart, this vision is about the coming of God’s presence to dwell with his people, to be a blessing to all nations. But it’s more than just the physical temple, too. Do you remember what God said to David when he suggested building the Temple in the first place? God sent Nathan the prophet to say this: (2 Sam 7:11-14 NRSV) "The LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. 12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me." God promised to build the house that David thought was needed, but it was more than just the physical Temple. The house that God would choose would involve his only begotten Son.
Well, that’s what we discover as we study the gospels. What did we learn earlier this year when we were looking, in particular, at John’s gospel? We learnt that Jesus Christ has come to fulfil God’s intentions for the Temple. He said "Destroy this Temple and in 3 days I will raise it up again." When the disciples, through Peter, made their great confession of Jesus as the Christ, he said to them, "On this rock I will build my church." God is still in the process of building a house for himself on the earth, but it’s no longer a physical building is it? No, he’s building a church. So we talk about the church being edified. That is, built up. The reading from 1 Peter that we had today speaks of us being living stones, being built into a spiritual house, so we can be a holy priesthood. This is what this prophecy of Zechariah, this vision, is about for us here in Wattle Park, on this side of the resurrection. It’s about us being built into a new Temple; a spiritual temple. It’s about God’s Spirit working in our midst to build Christ’s Church.
When Paul came to Corinth what did he do? He didn’t put up a building. Listen to what he says in 1 Cor 3:10: "According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ."
Are you a builder? Are you working hard here to build up the body of Christ? Are you building on that foundation. If you are, are you confident about the outcome? Or are you so overwhelmed by the obstacles before us that you doubt we’ll achieve much? Are you so aware of our weakness, of our lack of resources that you think we’ll never make it? That’s one of my greatest temptations, I think. To look at the resources we have and think, we just can’t do it all. We’ll never get there. To feel tired before we even begin something because I know how few people there are to share the load. Well, if you’re like me then you, like me, need to hear the word of the Lord: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts." Or as the verse that’s on the bottom of our Mission Statement says: "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." (Eph 3:20-21)
Or are you a pessimist? Are you one of those who can see all the obstacles before us? ’It’s so hard to convince people of the truth of the gospel.’ ’People are so hardened to anything to do with Christianity.’ ’They’d much rather listen to some New Age philosophy than to the gospel.’ ’The demands of Christ are so great.’ ’The claims of the uniqueness of Christ are such a stumbling block to our hyper-tolerant society.’ ’How will we ever break down the obstacles to faith?’ Etc.
But what does God say? "What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of ’Grace, grace to it." God is building his Church. God’s Spirit is the one who has to do the convincing, not you or me. We may not see the finish of the work in our day as Zerubbabel did, but we will see people being added to the Church, if we’re faithful in doing our bit. And what’s our bit? Well, it’s exactly what it was for Zerubbabel and Joshua and the people who followed them. That is, to do our part in building and to give generously to pay for others to do it. To share the gospel with our friends and family and neighbours; to bring people here to St Theodore’s so they can hear the gospel preached; to encourage one another to follow Christ; and to financially support missionary organisations as well as our own parish in the work of preaching the gospel.
And what will be the result? The result will be that we’ll see the church growing. You know there’s a lot of pessimism around about the future of the Church at the moment. Church attendances have been dropping, Churches have been closing, so that some people are beginning to think that it’s all a lost cause. But let’s not forget that this is God’s Church. If we look at those places where the gospel is consistently preached we’ll find that those Churches are in fact growing. And as they grow it’s to cries of joy: "Grace! Grace! Beauty! Beauty!" Jesus said "I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
This word to Zerubbabel and Joshua is also a word to us. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts. 7What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of ’Grace, grace to it!"
"Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."
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