July 8, 2001 Zechariah 13:7-9
7 “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.
8 In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it.
9 This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’”
One of the first stories recorded in the Bible involves the “sword of the Lord.” If you remember, after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, he placed a cherubim on the east side, with a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the tree of life. That’s kind of a scary picture. And one thing is sure - when God wakes His sword up, His sword starts slashing. Think of the firstborn of Egypt - how they all died in one night at the hand of the angel of death. Think of Sennacherib’s army - in one night the Lord put 185,000 of them to death. Imagine the piles of bodies laying everywhere! All Sennacherib could do was retreat to Nineveh - never to return to power again. When God uses His sword, this isn’t like some kid playing with a plastic sword. So when Zechariah prays, “awake, O sword,” it should perk your ears up. This is serious stuff. Today we’ll see how -
The Strike of the Sword of the LORD Turns Sinful Sheep into Silver Saints
I. As God struck the Shepherd
There was a period in David’s history where he had to run from his country and live with the Philistines - the enemy of the Israelites. However, David gained the confidence of the king while he was living there. As a matter of fact, he was so confident of David, that the king wanted him to help him fight against Saul and the Israelites. But when His generals caught wind of this, they basically said, “what are you doing? If he goes into battle with us he’ll turn on us and regain favor with Saul! They were afraid that while they were in the thick of battle David and his men would turn his sword on the king and the Philistines. They were very cautious as to who they were fighting next to - as they should be. One traitor behind the ranks can do more damage than 50,000 men on the other side.
Our God is holy. He is a Triune God. That means he is three persons in one Godhead. These three persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - are always on the same page. They always work in concert with each other - just like our hands and arms all work in conjunction to enable us to run and walk. That’s why we confess the Holy Spirit “proceeds” from the Father and the Son. He performs his word in accordance with the directions of the Father and the Son. At any rate - these three Persons - this one God - works together against the devil and the evil forces of this world every day.
The last thing we would want - would be a “break in the ranks” - so to speak - of the Trinity. Where one would turn against another Person of the Trinity. If you think about it - this would be morally impossible. For all three are all-holy and all-righteous. There is no way the Holy Spirit would have a disagreement with the Son - or the Son not wanting to do something that the Father thought was best.
Yet in the Word of the Lord for this morning that very thing appears to be happening. He says, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the LORD Almighty. The Lord tells his own sword - his own wrath - to awake against the man who is close to him! In vs. 8 he says, “strike the Shepherd.” On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he quoted this very verse and applied it to Himself - he - the one who was closest to God because he IS God - the Good Shepherd - would be struck by God’s sword. Jesus was struck that night by many things. Spiritual leaders blindfolded him and struck him in the face. Others slapped him. The soldiers struck him in the head again and again with their staffs. After he died, a soldier stuck a sword in his side. But none of these strikes were nearly as painful as when His Father took the sword in His hand - and pierced Jesus’ soul. With one mighty and precise blow, the Father severed His relationship with His One and Only Son. Jesus went from His dearly beloved son and was cut off from His Father’s favor - treated like a rebellious and evil Son. In that one moment, the Father completely withdrew his grace and favor from His son - and put Him through hell. This would be the most painful thing that the Son would endure at the hand of God. His own Father, His own God - deserting Him and putting Him through a living hell. This was the worst kind of pain and suffering that anyone could ever go through. At the crest of this pain Jesus cried out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Why did the Father awake His sword against someone who was on HIS side? Because He was serious when He told Adam, “the day you eat of that tree you will surely die!” He was serious when he said in Ezekiel 18:20 says, The soul who sins is the one who will die. He had to be just. Therefore, would I be wrong in saying, “it was your fault that the Father had to turn against the Son. I caused the Civil War of the Trinity.” Not at all. This is exactly what Paul says in Romans 6, You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God turned the sword against His Son - because His Son was acting as a substitute for us - the sinners of the world. When Jesus was being sentenced to death - you were being sentenced to death. When Jesus was going through hell, God was actually punishing YOU for your sins.
Just recently Timothy McVeigh was put to death for murdering hundreds of innocent people in the Oklahoma City bombing. Some felt this execution was unjust - unfair. There are those who support the death penalty and those who don’t. There were some who celebrated, others who mourned.
In the same way, there are some who accept this theology of the cross, and others who don’t. Some feel that a God who puts His sword against His Son is not right. For instance, an ELCA pastor from Sedalia, MO even went so far as to write, “God does not require death to give life. Only a petty, unforgiving God would need to enforce such a requirement. . . Any theory of atonement that would reduce God to a vengeful, revenge-seeker is idolatrous and small-minded.”
Call us small minded. Call us idolatrous. But we hold to this doctrine because we take comfort in this doctrine. Why? Because we know what we deserved! Our consciences make it clear. God’s Word makes it clear. Think of what a great comfort there is in that statement - “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me! Strike the shepherd!” Are you a shepherd? Even if you were, are you an equal to God - are you his neighbor? Jesus applied this verse to HIMSELF. This means that you have nothing to worry about. God did not waken his sword against YOU - he did it against His Son. This means that God will not use the sword of his wrath against you, because he already spent it on Christ. It means we’re free. When you pay for a car, you only pay for it once. If your parents buy you a car, you don’t have to pay for it again. That’s what Christ did for us. He made the payment. He took the punishment. The Shepherd was struck. God accepted that payment and raised Christ from the dead. The deal is done. This is something that we mourn over - because it was our fault. But it is also something that we rejoice over and accept. It means our debt is paid! The strike of the sword of the Lord on Christ has turned us from sinful sheep into silver Saints!
II. As God strikes the Sheep
That’s kind of a neat thought, isn’t it. “I’m a silver saint. Hey everyone - don’t touch me - I’m silver. You might tarnish the goods.” I have never owned any silver. But I know that that’s how people treat silver. They have to worry about it tarnishing. They only bring it out for special occasions. That’s how some people expect God to treat them. He bought me. He redeemed me. He made me precious - like silver - in his sight. You might expect that now that God has used His sword to put his Son to death, he would put it away. But God takes a different approach.
Look at what Zechariah says he does: In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; First of all, God said that he would use His sword to strike down two-thirds of the whole land and make them perish. These words in the Hebrew are not pleasant words. Being cut-off and perishing - there’s nothing positive about it. It carries with it the implications of being separated from God’s family and suffering in hell. There are examples of God doing this throughout the Scriptures. When Hophni and Phinehas slept with the women of the temple - God didn’t waste any time in putting them to death. When Ananias and Sapphira lied to God he put them to death on the spot. Why would God do this? There’s a passage where God says, Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction;
This reminds me of a dog we owned when we were in Norton. We didn’t pay anything for this dog, but we decided to take care of it. We fed it, gave it a place to sleep, and took care of it. But Charlie the dog kept running away. Then when I would paddle his rear when I found him, he would come back and pee on my carpet for disciplining him. It’s as if he expected us to pamper him and spend every waking hour with him. Even though I liked this dog, I didn’t have the time to pamper him. So we finally gave him away. So many people act like our dog. But the example isn’t half as bad as what the world does. God paid a great price for the sins of the world. He offered it to them for free. He feeds them. He clothes them. He does more than they deserve. But many still aren’t happy with him when he doesn’t cater to their wants. Although he has paid for salvation - some people don’t want that salvation. Two-thirds of the world - in other words a majority - rejects the idea of salvation by Christ. Some of them take His grace for granted. Others try to get there by what they do. Would you blame God for keeping his sword awake for this rejection?
Yet Zechariah goes on to say - one-third will be left in it (the world). 9 This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. You would think that we who believe in his death would be spared from his sword. That we would be treated like precious silver and babied. Look at what God says, “ok, you’re like silver. But now - I need to refine you - burn out those impurities so I can have a finished product - not a raw product.” And so, instead of putting his sword away, and treating us with kid gloves, God takes his sword and opens it up on us!
Why does he do this? When a new calf is born, sometimes it doesn’t come to and breathe well right away. And so what a farmer will do - is to take a stick and jab it up the nostril of the calf. This jabbing irritates the calf - gets his heart pumping - hurries up his breathing. As a result, instead of dying, the calf is stimulated and raises to life. Zechariah said the Lord would “test” the remaining third. That word means to “test, try, probe, examine, assay, i.e., to try and learn the genuineness of an object by examination, and observing reaction to a standard.
Like that calf laying on the ground, we sometimes hover closely with spiritual death. If God were to treat us like the way we treat silver, our faith would tarnish and die. But instead, God pokes us - prods us - uses his sword to see what our faith is made of. This takes work! With Adam and Eve, all they needed was a tree to be made complete. But since we are sinful, this takes more work. So Jesus sends sickness. He allows trials. These force us to either lay down and die or stand up and live. When Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, the disciples said, “they were offended.” But Jesus said, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; They showed that they were really dead. But after the disciples made it through some persecutions, they started rejoicing in persecution instead of running from it. The poking and prodding made them stronger. That’s what God’s sword does for us. It doesn’t kill us. It makes us call on his name. It makes us stronger.
The message is plain to us. Don’t think that just because you’re silver you deserve special treatment from God - like he should treat you like his god because he bought you and redeemed you. God is not an American. He doesn’t deify his possessions. He will not. Don’t expect God to put you up on a shelf and polish you with white gloves. Don’t expect him to use you only for special projects. He’ll use you to feed the poor. He’ll use you to water the plants. He’ll use you to pick up manure. Just because you’re a Christian - God isn’t going to put His sword away. He’ll use his sword to test you and purify your silver. The picture of heaven in Revelation is not of people who lived care free lives. Instead, Revelation 20 says, I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God.
A sharp double edged object in the hands of a soldier can kill the enemy. But in the hands of a surgeon, that object can be used to save lives. It can open up the skin so that the surgeon can go in and perform surgery. The sword can be used for massive destruction or healing. The sword of the LORD can also do both. God has used His sword to cause great destruction on those who have rejected Him. He has also used it to crucify Christ - and with that same blow crucify the world. With that same sword He still uses it to refine his people. The strike of the sword of the LORD turns sinful sheep into silver saints. It’s a fact. Like a heathen, you can die from it. Or like a Saint, you can live with it. My silver Saints, live with it. Amen.