Summary: Is Jesus first in your life? Is it all about you, or all about Him? Have you lost your first love, been living for you, turned your back to Him? God looks at all of our lives, and He asks, “Is it really for me??”
Was It Really For Me?
August 31, 2008 Zech 7
One of the really healthy, but challenging, things about preaching through a book of the Bible is that I don’t get to just preach the words of encouragement and promise that make us feel good. Preaching right through a book forces us to take note of the words that are confrontational and challenging and convicting. This morning’s passage, Zech 7, is that second kind.
1 On December 7 of the fourth year of King Darius’s reign, another message came to Zechariah from the Lord. 2 The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech, along with their attendants, to seek the Lord’s favor. 3 They were to ask this question of the prophets and the priests at the Temple of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: “Should we continue to mourn and fast each summer on the anniversary of the Temple’s destruction, as we have done for so many years?”
The first six chapters of Zechariah have recorded a series of visions, most related to the work of rebuilding the temple of God that had been destroyed when the Israelites were conquered by the Babylonians. The date at the beginning of those visions was late fall, 520BC. Those visions ended with chapter 6, and we are now entering a new section of the book, and the date on these is 518BC – two years after the series of visions, and about half-way through the temple reconstruction.
A delegation arrives in Jerusalem with an important question about the way the Israelites had been worshiping. The question tells us that the people had created a new annual worship ritual, where they would fast and mourn on the anniversary of the temple’s destruction. And now, with the temple on the way to being completely restored, and already functioning as a temple, they wanted to know if it was time to end that annual practice.
So far, so good, right? A legitimate, understandable question about something important. Should be a fairly straight forward reply. Except for one thing: God has a way of always slipping past the things that we think are important and confronting us with the things He thinks are important. God has a way of caring far more about the attitude and motivation than the form, and perhaps, if that had been foremost in the minds of the people, they wouldn’t have needed to ask about the external form. Perhaps, if they had been focused on the heart of that annual worship time they would have found ways to remember the heartbreak of the destruction of the temple but couple that with celebration at the progress being made on reconstruction, and thus have been in touch with God’s heart on the matter. God’s answer is revealing…
“The Lord of Heaven’s Armies sent me this message in reply: “Say to all your people and your priests, ‘During these seventy years of exile, when you fasted and mourned in the summer and in early autumn, was it really for me that you were fasting? And even now in your holy festivals, aren’t you eating and drinking just to please yourselves? Isn’t this the same message the Lord proclaimed through the prophets in years past when Jerusalem and the towns of Judah were bustling with people, and the Negev and the foothills of Judah were well populated?’”
How’s that for an answer to a simple question about whether to end the annual fasting and mourning on the day of the temple’s destruction? “Was it really for me?”
See what I mean about God having a way of slipping past the things we think are important and confronting us with the things He thinks are important? The question that came was about the form, the externals, and God’s response was all about the heart.
God is continually calling us away from self-centeredness, and it is a battle we continue to fight. A battle we must be diligent in. We all have this tendency to slip back to thinking about ourselves, putting ourselves first, looking at the world as if we are the centre of it. And it seems that is exactly what the Israelites had been doing: “even now in your holy festivals, aren’t you eating and drinking just to please yourselves?” That is a convicting question.
I suppose we could look at the Israelites in this passage and shake our heads at them. We could wag a finger, thinking “you Israelites… you just never seemed to get it right did you… God had been telling you all along this “same message proclaimed through the prophets in years past” and you still haven’t gotten it…” We could respond to them with a smug superiority.
But to do so would be doing exactly the same thing – focusing on the external and missing the heart.