Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Message of Zechariah I

Is Everything Okay?
The Message of Zechariah I
The Gospel Answer to Our Nagging Questions

Do you hate those awkward moments after a disagreement with someone? You know the type that I am talking about. Those arguments were you said some really stupid things or you did something really stupid. Before you parted ways you had made up, said your apologies, and moved on. But then whenever you get together again you can feel a little tension. It leaves you kind of wondering whether or not everything really is resolved.

I wonder how often our relationship with God is like this. Perhaps you live with a constant nagging voice that questions, “Am I really forgiven”? Maybe your little voice is more situational. You’ve messed up in your relationship with God and you know it. You get on your knees and you beg for His forgiveness. But it’s that type of sin that you just cannot seem to conquer. Your history is marred with these types of sins. You feel as if your life is one sick-cycle. You sin, you plea for forgiveness, you promise to never do it again, you actually fulfill that promise for a few days, and then before you know it you’ve done it again. As you get up off your knees this time you begin to wonder, does God really forgive me? So it is with each instance of sin. The question gets deeper and deeper and deeper. Is everything okay between us God?

That is the question that the people are asking in Zechariah’s day. Is everything okay with us God? They have just returned from exile. It is clear that this was their 70 year spanking. They know that they have been booted out of the land because of their disobedience. They know that they have messed up. But now the Lord has graciously begun moving them back into their land. But what do they do? Are they actually forgiven? Do they start rebuilding their city? Do they rebuild the temple? Do they return to the Lord like nothing happened, does God expect some type of sacrifice?

In the first 6 verses we see a clear answer as to whether or not they should return to the Lord. The answer is a resounding yes. “Return to me and I will return to you”, declares the Lord. But the question is still begging to be answered—how? How do we return? What does this restoration process look like? How forgiven are we?

And I believe we too are asking that question still today. Zechariah will answer those questions tonight in 8 prophetic visions to his people. But these answers will serve to point us to their greater fulfillment. We too will ask those questions. We will see what God’s answer is to the people in Zechariah’s day. But we will have the added benefit of going further. We will look to the Cross and see the gospel answer to our questions. And then we will look even further and see how these questions will ultimately be answered when the Lord comes back to reign for good.

Question #1: Is God still angry with us?

Also, I might mention that for the sake of time we will try not to get bogged down in all of the nuances of these visions. We will just paint a really quick picture and then move on to what this is referring to.

The first vision that Zechariah is given is a vision of horsemen. We learn from the text that their function is to patrol the earth. And what they find when they patrol the earth is that all the earth remains at rest. Then we hear the question. “How long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?” Do you hear the question? God, are you still angry with us? I know that you have brought us back into our homeland but are you still mad at me?

God then responds with gracious and comforting words. “Cry out, thus says the Lord of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered their disaster. Therefore, 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. 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.” Is God still angry with them? He is proclaiming to them my anger towards you is no more. My anger is no kindled towards the nations and my favor is now resting upon you. I am no longer angry with Jerusalem.

What about us? Can you not relate to this, Christian? We seem to know on the surface of our heart that God has forgiven us. But if we dig a little deeper we find that we are asking this same question as the exiled Jews--God, are you angry with me? We probably know in our heads that God is not angry with us. Our hope tonight is that this truth might sink deep and that its roots might go deep into your heart, into the very core of your being.

Let’s ask that question with the Cross as our background. Looking at the Cross of Christ we ask, “Is God still angry with us”? What we are really asking is this, does Psalm 7:11 still apply to me whenever I sin. “Does God feel indignation towards me every day”? I still sin. When I do, does God’s wrath flame up against me? We might know that our past sins are forgiven--all those dumb things we did before coming to know Jesus--but, what about now?

If we thumb over to the New Testament we see that Jesus Christ has indeed made peace with God on our behalf. We see in Romans 5:1 that, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In case you did not get it the first time Paul echoes that truth in 5:9 when he says, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God”. This means that if we are in Christ then our question is answered. Is God still angry with us? No! Why? It is because the blood of Jesus Christ has appeased the wrath of God. We have been reconciled to God. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself…”

These are only a couple of verses. This is so clear throughout the entire New Testament that we have to be foolish and blind to miss it. In fact I wonder where we get this concept that if we sin as Christians that God becomes angry with us. It certainly is an Old Testament concept. But the Old Testament was written before the Cross. Now that Jesus Christ has taken the wrath of God upon Himself I wonder where this thinking comes from. The clear biblical teaching, both Old and New is that if the sin has been atoned for (paid for, pardoned) then it is no longer held against you and the wrath of God is appeased.

This is not awaiting a further fulfillment but more so a further realization. Ultimately we will experience the full presence of God in the New Heaven and New Earth. And then we will know. We will know for certain that he is not angry with us. We will hide no longer. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” So, we must see that in the future we will fully realize this. Even now when we look to the Cross we can see that all of God’s anger towards us and our sin was poured out upon Jesus. Christian, God is no longer angry with you. Forget your stupidly subjective feelings. The objective truth is that God is no longer angry with us because of the Cross.

Question #2: Do our enemies still have power?

Perhaps you see that God is no longer angry with you. But God was not our only enemy. The Israelites knew that just because God was no longer angry it did not mean that the surrounding nations would be happy with them. The surrounding nations still posed a significant threat. Could the Israelites be certain that the rebuilding process would not be dashed to pieces by surrounding nations? Is God going to stop their enemy?

We learn in 1:18-21 that God is going to punish the nations that had scattered them. He was going to put an end to their rule and dominion. He would deal with their enemies. But, what do we care? How does God telling the Israelites that the Babylonians will be conquered help us? We must look a little deeper and see what it is that God is accomplishing. We must see that our greatest enemy is as nothing to the Lord. Even our great adversary--the devil--that prowls around seeking to devour us has been triumphed over.

But the power of our adversary seems so real. The world system seems to win. It seems as if Satan is having his day. Even in the lives of Christians it seems as if Satan still has control. Brothers and sisters this should not be. The Word of God speaks as if Satan has been cast out of our lives and that we are no longer under his dominion but we are now under the rule and reign of Christ Jesus. Satan has been defeated.

As Jesus was hours away from his arrest and subsequent death he said, “now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” We read in Colossians 2:15 that Jesus, “having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” But even though our ownership has changed the adversary is still trying to win us back over to his side. Daily, he still seeks us out, and attempts to devour us. He has been disarmed, but he is still the ruler of this world and has not yet been chained. Therefore, this particular point is awaiting a much greater fulfillment.

In Revelation 20:10 we see the fate of our adversary. “…And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” That is his fate. He will be defeated. His head will be crushed.

So, does our enemy still have power? Yes, sort of, but he should not. He has no more power than we give him. He is cunning, he is crafty, and he ceases power and control but he has no more power than we give him. He has been disarmed and he only has power when we give him weapons. But ultimately he has no power. Ultimately he has only that which God allows. He will one day be overthrown completely and his subversive activity will be ended.

Question #3: Is there any way to be made whole again?

But in the mean time our sin causes lots of havoc. Sin does have consequences. Just ask the Israelites who had been in captivity for 70 years and come back to a destroyed city. What once was beautiful is now but dust and ashes. The glorious temple is no more. The walls of the city have been torn down. They have nothing left in their city. God is there any way that we can be made whole again?

God answers this underlying question with a vision of a man with a measuring line. He is measuring the width and length of Jerusalem as if he is getting ready to build something great. Then angel says to run and tell Zechariah, “Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it”. God is going to rebuild Jerusalem. They then ask, “What of our walls God”? “And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst”.

But we learn that God’s intent for the restoration of Jerusalem is even greater than just bringing back the Jewish people. The Lord then says, “And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.” This promise extends to us. The Lord not only intends to restore the Jewish people into Jerusalem but also to bring into the fold many who are far off; like you and I.

How familiar does their question sound? How many times have you wondered whether or not God can make you whole again? Are you going to bear the consequences of your sin forever? When my wife was in a singing group at HLG one of her solo’s was a song called “Strong Enough”. In that song she asks a question that I have asked a million times,

Will my weakness for an hour make me suffer for a lifetime?Is there anyway to be made whole again?If I'm healed,renewed, and find forgiveness find the strength I've never had Will my scars forever ruin all God's plan?

She then gives a very biblical answer, by asking another question:

Is He not strong enough?Is He not pure enough?To break me, pour me out, and start again

We learn from Scripture that if anyone “is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come”. But you ask, what if we screw up the new creation? What if we sin again, and keep sinning after we have been saved? 1 John 1:9 says that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
And we see the greater fulfillment of this in Revelation 21 when it says that God will, “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Question #4: Am I really clean? Can a holy God use an unholy vessel?

The fourth and fifth vision in Zechariah is the climax of the section. It deals with the unholy nature of the servants of God. This vision deals with the dirty high priest. The next vision will deal with an unworthy political leader.

The dirty high priest is the central problem that is addressed in this vision of Zechariah. If the high priest is unclean, who can make atonement for sin? If he cannot make the atonement how can the people be forgiven? The high priest was supposed to be above reproach. He was supposed to be undefiled and a holy man. Certainly, we understand that he was unholy in some regard—he was human. This is why the high priest would offer a sacrifice for his sin as well. But in the eyes of his countrymen the high priest was to be undefiled. The thought would be that if the high priest (who is supposed to mediate between God and myself) is unclean, what chance do I stand of being acceptable to a holy God?

Joshua here is symbolic of the people of God. And his problem is our problem. How can I be not only accepted by a holy God, but also used in His service? How can we who, like Joshua, are defiled sinners hope to serve a holy God?

The actual text here is saying that Joshua is standing before God, trying to do his priestly duty but he has dung smeared all about his garments. He defiled in the most disgusting and vile way possible. So what hope do we have of being clean God? If our best man has excrement smeared all upon him, then what chance do we pitiful sinners have? Can we really be clean? Can you really use an unholy vessel like me?

What God does in the life of Joshua is but a foreshadowing of what he does in the life of the believer. We see that the angel of the Lord strips Joshua of his filthy garments. This is symbolic of our removal of sin. This is what we see in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The Lord has removed our filthy garments by the Cross; so that we stand clean before God.

You see, We have the advantage of being able to look backwards, whereas Zechariah had to look forward. The book of Hebrews certainly helps us to see in what way the Day of Atonement was incomplete. It was never meant to take away sin fully—it was pointing to something greater. To a day where there would be a Greater High Priest and where the Lamb of God would take away the sin of the world. We know that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. The brutal acts are not what are incomplete. It would take a much more brutal act and far more precious blood than that of a bull or lamb to take away my sin and yours. The problem lies in the fact that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins completely. That is why they would have to do it year after year. This is the point that Hebrews 10:11 is making, “And every priest stands daily at his service offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” They are merely pointing to that which can take away sin.

Furthermore, a finite sinful priest cannot offer an enduring sacrifice. The central problem is that they die. That is why Hebrews 7:23 says that “the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office”. The incompleteness of the Old Covenant then is that the blood of bulls and goats can never completely remove human sin. Nor can a finite sinful priest offer an enduring sacrifice. There must be a great sacrifice and a greater priest offering it. And this is precisely who Jesus is and what Jesus does.

Hebrews 7:24-28 lets us know that Jesus not only holds his priesthood permanently but he is able to “save to the uttermost those who draw near to God, since He always lives to make intercession for them”. That means that Jesus Christ is in heaven today making intercession and pleading my case to the Father. But not only is Jesus the greater priest He is also the greater sacrifice. Hebrews 9 helps us to see that He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” And again, “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. And we see the summary of all this in 10:14, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified”. Or to use the language of Zechariah, “I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day”.

This, the atonement and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, where God made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf is the basis for our forgiveness and all the promises of God. When Romans 8:1 says there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus it is because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ that we can have the promise. When the Psalmist says, “as far as the east is from the west so far does he remove our transgression from us” it is because of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that we have that promise. And again in Isaiah when God promises to make our sins of scarlet as white as snow it is because of the Cross of Jesus Christ that we have this promise. So we see then what God meant when He told Zechariah that he was going to remove his filthy garments.

We see that God does not only remove his filthy garments and leave him there naked. But He also, “will clothe you with pure vestments”. This is what we call imputed righteousness. This is the act of God whereby he credits the righteousness of Christ to the account of the forgiven sinner. It is where we stand before God not in our own righteousness but the righteousness of Christ

The clean clothes that Joshua is given is the righteousness of Christ. This is what Romans 4 was talking about, that the righteousness of Jesus Christ is credited to our account by faith. This is what 2 Corinthians 5:21 means when it says that “he made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf (that’s the atonement), so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That is the positive aspect—in Him (Christ) we are the righteousness of God. This is what we will deal with in Romans 10:3-4 when Paul says that the Jews of his day (and sadly still ours) are “ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” That means that our righteousness is not our own, it is the righteousness of Christ that is given to us. That means that all of my failures, my failings, my sin, everything is covered not because I am righteous, or because I am trying really hard but because Jesus Christ never failed. That means that because His obedience is given to me and He is 100% righteous that means that in Christ I am 100% righteous. This is what Colossians 3 means when it says that we have died and our life is hidden in Christ. We are hidden in Jesus. This is a precious truth. It is comforting to know that God did not save me, give me a clean slate and then I must somehow make myself holy. I can so often struggle with thinking that way. John Bunyan, the man who wrote the classic Pilgrim’s Progress was tormented with uncertainty about his standing with God. And then this doctrine broke into his soul and from that day on he was free. Perhaps some of you feel today as Bunyan did. You look at your filth, you look at your sin, and you wonder how God can accept me. Christian I am speaking to you as well. This is our answer to the question I gave earlier. How can I a filthy sinner serve a pure and holy God? Listen to what Bunyan says:
One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [=lacks] my righteousness, for that was just [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “The same yesterday, today, and forever.” . . .Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God [e.g., Hebrews 12:16-17] left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.

Hebrews 12:16-17 once tortured Bunyan. I will start in 15, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes troubles, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears”. Bunyan was tortured by the thought that he had, like Esau, blown it. He was perhaps like you and I sometimes and struggled with looking at the weight of his sin and realized that in his life he was immoral and unholy. He knew that he was sinful and could not deny that. But when the truth of not only the atonement but also that righteousness of Christ was given to him it freed his soul.

Focus if you will on what Bunyan said about the unchanging nature of this. “I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he lacks my righteousness, for that was in front of him.” Meaning that because he saw Jesus Christ instead of me, (because we are hidden in Christ), God does not see us unrighteous but everything that Christ is in all of his holiness we are.

My hope tonight is to get you to not look at your subjective feelings but at the outward work of Christ. We will begin dealing with the 5th vision and the rest of Zechariah next time. But for now you are urged to think about where the answer to these questions is found. The answer is not found in how you feel.

If you are in Christ and you feel like God is still angry with you then tell your feelings to shut up. You need to believe the gospel. The gospel says that because of Jesus God is no longer angry with you. If you are in Christ and you feel like the enemy has power of you then you need to flee from his lies. He has no power except that which you give him. He has been disarmed by the power of the Cross. If you are wondering if God is able to restore you and make things whole again and you continue to feel as if you have blown every chance of holiness then tell your little voice to shut up. Look to God who restores. Look to the God who calls things that are not as though they are. And lastly if you continue to feel unclean and not forgiven then you must look as John Bunyan did to the righteousness of Christ.

Every sinner in here tonight has the same hope—the righteousness of Jesus Christ being given to us. I close with Mark Dever’s definition of a Christian.

“A Christian, therefore, knows that if he were to die tonight and stand before God, and if God were to say, ‘Why should I let you into my presence?’ the Christian would say, ‘You shouldn’t let me in. I have sinned and owe you a debt that I cannot pay back.’ But he wouldn’t stop there. He would continue, ‘Yet, because of your great promises and mercy, I depend on the blood of Jesus Christ shed as a substitute for me, paying my moral debt, satisfying your holy and righteous requirements, and removing your wrath against sin”.

Thy righteousness is in heaven!

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