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Jexit: Judah Comes Home
It Is Time To Move Forward
A sermon on Zechariah 8:1-23
There is an iconic image from the Vietnam War. It is of a 10 year old girl running towards the camera and screaming - she is one of many victims of a napalm bomb.
Her clothes have been burnt completely off and she needed to spend more than a year in hospital having countless painful skin grafts and other surgeries to help her survive.
Her name is Kim Phuc. She is now 53.
At 19, she became a Christian … and she credits her faith for helping her embrace life again.
"I really want to thank God that he spared my life when I was a little girl," she says. "Whatever happened to me, I have another opportunity to be alive, to be healthful, to be a blessing, to help honour other people."
Another opportunity to live. That is important isn’t it.
When we have gone through difficulties in life it can be hard at times to move on can’t it.
Maybe you have had a really tragic circumstance in your life, or a faith crisis.
Perhaps it was the result of moral failure, or huge consequences for the rest of your life as the result of poor decisions.
You let yourself down. You let others down. You let God down.
But that was in the past, and now you are here.
And the question we are asking is “How do you move forward?”
This is one of the issues that was being faced by the people who had returned from Judah.
They have gone through a really difficulty.
70 years in exile. But now they are on the other side of that situation.
The exact moment we have in mind here is spoken of in Zechariah 7:1-3
1 In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. 2 The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord 3 by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
It is 7th December 518BC.
The people have returned from Babylon in 538BC - 20 years earlier … they started building the temple and had the foundation, but then got discouraged and stopped.
After a lot of messing around the finally began to build the temple in earnest in December 520BC … two years ago.
We will get to it in a further sermon but the temple will be finished on 12th March 515BC … just over 2 years from now.
They are about halfway through the building project.
So if we picture the situation we can imagine the building taking shape and good progress being made.
People are noticing the change.
In light of the progress Sharezer and Regem-Melek ask a really good question.
Do we need to keep fasting?
In the Old Testament the act of fasting was connect with repenting from sin and acknowledging the consequences of sin.
Fasting was also connected with times of mourning-especially when a death had occurred.
We know that while the people were in exile they regularly had times of fasting. In fact they had four fasts. And the month of these fasts coincided with events connected with the destruction of Jerusalem.
3 In the ninth day of the fourth month … 7 They killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. (2 Kings 25:3, 7)
This is significant because it means the line of king David on the throne has been cut off.
There is a fast which remind people of this event.
On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the Lord … (2 Kings 25:8-9)
This is the fast that Sharazer is talking about … the temple is destroyed.
In the seventh month, … all the people from the least to the greatest, together with the army officers, fled to Egypt for fear of the Babylonians. (2 Kings 25:25-26)
Once this has taken place it means there is no more possibility for a Judean person to rule in Judah. All who could have possibly taken the role have fled to Egypt.
The fast is a reminder of this void.
So in the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. (2 Kings 25:1)
The fast here is a reminder of the beginning of the process.
So on these months in exile for 70 years the people had been having a fast.
Remembering the reason for the fall of Jerusalem … which came as a result of sin.
Remembering all that had been destroyed … including the temple.
Mourning over the broken relationship that they now have with the Lord.
BUT …. now they are back in the land. And the temple is really taking shape.
Do we need to keep on acting the way that we were?
That is the context. Now let us find some answers.
Zechariah 8:1-23 (read)
We are going to read the section in small pieces.
Each of the sections starts the same way
This is what the Lord says:-
1 The word of the Lord Almighty came to me.
2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.”
I am burning with zeal and anger. God passionately cares for us.
He zealously places a guard of protection. He gets angry when an enemy tries to hurt us.
He cares so much.
If he had a fridge … there would be a picture of us on it.
When he pulls out his Samsung Galaxy Phone … it is full of pictures of us. And Gods goes around and shows everyone.
In the days of Zechariah the people are being reminded that God loves them – and he is going to protect them and care for them.
We are the priority of God. We are called the apple of his eye … the apple of the eye is the reflection you see of yourself in the eye of another person.
Scripture says God gave his son, because he so loved the world. God’s Son is second and we are first.
If God is for us … who can be against us?
For our sake He will destroy death and Satan and Hades.
That is God’s zeal … and it changes our perspective on how we act.
3 This is what the Lord says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.”
I am coming back to give a new name
We all know a man called Ali Hajiali. Well maybe you know him as Alex King.
No longer a Muslim, but now a Christian.
When you get a new name, you know that something important has happened.
What was Jerusalem know for?
Desolation. Destruction. Sin. Rebellion.
But the past doesn’t apply anymore.
Jerusalem becomes the place of Truth and Holiness.
The Lord makes it new. The nation is getting a fresh start. The past does not determine the present.
Don’t think about the destruction, we are here now.
When John wrote to the church at Pergamum … a church which was faithful to the name of Jesus … the message was as follows:-
I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Rev 2:17)
We all get this new name.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor 5:17)
Newness of life … it changes our perspective on how we act.
4 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. 5 The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”
I will rebuild the community
This image is a powerful one because it means that stability has come to the nation.
Old people can only sit around if the nation is working well.
It means that they are being cared for properly and society is prospering.
It means that the vulnerable are being shown respect and care.
They are being cared by the society.
Young people playing and laughing in the street means there is hope.
People are not worried about the future of their children, or the expense involved.
Families are growing and the nation is growing.
The small group which left Babylon has security and hope.
God is rebuilding the nation.
When Jerusalem fell there was a lament
11 My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within; my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city.
12 They say to their mothers, Where is bread and wine?” as they faint like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their lives ebb away in their mothers’ arms.
That was when Jerusalem fell. But this is now. Now there is life. Stability. Hope. Security for the Family. Community.
You are the body of Christ.
We each have a place.
We are part of the plan.
We can encourage and help each other … together as we serve the Lord.
The oldest to the youngest are cared for … it changes our perspective on how we act.
6 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “It may seem marvellous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvellous to me?” declares the Lord Almighty.
Sometimes it is difficult to believe in the power of God.
To know that he is really working.
To really believe that he has the capacity to bring about change.
But that is the story of the bible isn’t it.
Open to any page and you see the power of God.
The have come back from Babylon.
There is a temple forming.
They have financial help from the Persia authorities.
Restoration from the rubble.
He is the one who spoke the universe into place.
He holds the seas in the palm of His hands.
He is the one who moved nations to bring Judah home.
The temple is being rebuilt … being paid for by Persia!
It is easy for God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!
You can’t out-pray God … it changes our perspective on how we act.
7 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. 8 I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.”
We know from history that there are still plenty of Jews who are not back in Judah.
A little later in Zechariah 10:10 the Lord will say, “I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria.”
That is a powerful truth if you know the history.
The people who went to Assyria went there 200 years ago.
At the time it wasn’t called exile … for exile means to go and come back.
Rather it was called a conquest. They were removed from the land and were not expecting to come back.
They were completely scattered among the nations.
But now there is a new promise. To regather the people from oblivion.
God is going to bring back those who have been forgotten.
And the people in Egypt.
They went there in desperation and fear. They had made big mistakes and had nowhere else to go.
They should have been in exile with you, but they didn’t listen and lived in rebellion. But I will bring them back.
God was summoning everyone home.
All of these people. They are lost. Broken. Forgotten. Homeless. No nation. No people. no land.
The Lord is going to change it all.
The Lord is going to rebuild his people.
Despite what they had become.
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The past. The consequences. The poor decisions.
There is a place for the broken … it changes our perspective on how we act.
9 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’ This is also what the prophets said who were present when the foundation was laid for the house of the Lord Almighty.10 Before that time there were no wages for people or hire for animals. No one could go about their business safely because of their enemies, since I had turned everyone against their neighbour. 11 But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as I did in the past,” declares the Lord Almighty.
12 “The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people. 13 Just as you, Judah and Israel, have been a curse among the nations, so I will save you, and you will be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.”
In this section Zechariah gives a bit of a mini-sermon.
And the main point of the sermon is clear.
You read it in verse 9 … I will strengthen you.
The same point is made in verse 13 … I will strengthen you.
How does this strength come.
First they look back … to the temple foundation.
Everyone was discouraged, and the enemies were causing havoc.
But that time is long gone. For now the temple is growing - and all who work on it are paid.
And agriculture is returning.
And the rubble is being removed.
There is progress. Life is getting back to normal.
Remember where you were. Now look at where you are today.
There is change. There is growth. There is progress.
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
I am not who I was.
I can be strong and have strength through the Spirit of God I am not what I was.
We are not locked into the past … it changes our perspective on how we act.
(I’m running out of time so let’s speed through the next few)
14 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Just as I had determined to bring disaster on you and showed no pity when your ancestors angered me,” says the Lord Almighty, 15 “so now I have determined to do good again to Jerusalem and Judah. Do not be afraid. 16 These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; 17 do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the Lord.
God is saying, I’m going to help you get through. I’m going to help you to be faithful.
The purpose of the exile was to remind the people of the consequences of what happens when they are not living in faith and being faithful to Him.
But when God shows up … and we understand the impact of His grace … everything changes.
The change is a gift of grace. A blessing that is going to make all the difference.
God was going to help the people - it was called his new covenant.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.
I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.
That is the new covenant promise – and for us this means we have been given the Spirit of God.
So today as we seek to move forward we have the gift of this Spirit that enables us to change.
Not by works, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.
The Lord will give us all that we need to remain faithful … it changes our perspective on how we act.
18 The word of the Lord Almighty came to me.
19 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.”
I will turn fasts to feasts. We talked about the fasts at the beginning.
Sharezer and Regem-Melek only ask about one fast … the one on the fifth month.
Zechariah gives a response regarding all of them.
No more fasts. That is changed,
It is time for celebration. It is time to bring back all the festivals. It is time for joy.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7).
The peace of God that allows us to move on from the past.
The sin and mourning from the past is now gone … it changes our perspective on how we act.
20 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, 21 and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’ 22 And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.”
23 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”
I will cause the nations to want to know me
This is an amazing transformation of attitude.
The nations are coming to faith.
The nations were the place of the former enemies.
The nations who brought about exile.
The nations who were constantly hindering.
Now they are coming to Jerusalem to find out about God.
Even more amazing, the people of those nations are saying to each other, “Let’s go and find out about the Lord. Come with me I am going”.
The powerful come. The vulnerable come. Those who feel hopeless come.
One faithful member of God’s family is teaching 10 seekers.
What an amazing encouragement for that small remnant that came back.
They thought they were insignificant. They look to the temple and wonder what difference it can make.
This little remnant which has come back from exile in such small numbers.
God is going to use them to transform the spiritual focus of the world.
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
Who are they?
These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Those who feel small in number are not insignificant … they transform the world.
From Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth.
It changes our perspective on how we act.
Do you need to move forward?
From a really tragic circumstance, or a faith crisis.
From the result of moral failure, or consequences of poor decisions.
Knowing you let yourself … and others … and God down.
What do you do in the middle of all of that.
This is what the Lord Almighty says.
The past is gone. It is a new day. It is a new era. It is a new time.
This is what the Lord Almighty says.
Listen to Him
Because that is all you need