A word from the past giving hope for the future
On Sunday our Church met for the last time as a gathered community. We were blessed to get an extra week of being ‘Church Family’ in the way we are used to. This week brings the knowledge, for a while at least, that things are going to be different. And like everyone else, we have no idea what ‘different’ will look like.
As always God’s timing and provision are perfect. He prepared a word from Zechariah to encourage us in these uncertain times. We discovered this little book packs a helluva punch and we praise God for this ‘booster shot’.
Setting the Scene:
The Israelites had done their time in exile and it was time to go home. Just over 850 years earlier Joshua led a horde to stake a claim on the Promised Land. Now, a handful were returning to rebuild a broken city with no walls and limited resources. Not only did they have to travel through unfriendly territory, they had to re-establish themselves where they weren’t welcome.
As you would expect, they were excited but they were also full of fear and doubts:
- Are we going to be safe?
- Are we really forgiven?
- How are we going to remain faithful when our ancestors couldn’t?
- What is the leadership going to look like now the throne of David has been demolished?
- How will we live Godly lives in a land completely changed after the exile?
- What is God’s ultimate plan for his people and the nations?
To answer these questions God raised up Zechariah – whose name means ‘God Remembers’ – to provide comfort and encouragement.
The book of Zechariah is full of incredible imagery. Whilst apocalyptic language adds to the adventure of reading God’s word, we need to be careful not to get lost in it and overlook the message the symbols carry.
Through the words of Zechariah’s God assures his people:
- Yes, you are going to be safe. Therefore, I challenge you to not be afraid because, not only are you going to be safe, you are going to have peace and prosperity. I will be your wall, your shield and the glory within.
- Yes, I have forgiven you. Because you have repented I have removed your sin. You are forgiven, chosen and commissioned.
- You will remain faithful by rebuilding the temple and getting back to practicing right relationship with me. Worship will be the centre of your life and it will keep you close by my side.
- I will raise up two men who will serve as my leaders – Zerubbabel, from the line of David, and Joshua, a direct descendant of the last High Priest. But I am setting up a new thing and I will send the True Shepherd who will lead you.
- You will lead Godly lives by legitimate fasting. That is, rather than ticking the boxes in the useless, time wasting practices you have been pursuing, you are to put down the desires of the flesh—practicing selfishness, greed, seeking your rights, your glory, your comfort, your well-being. In its place, you are to pick up the desires of the Spirit—practicing grace, mercy and compassion.
- The ultimate goal for my people and the nations has not changed since the beginning of time.
- My plan for the nations is relationship
- The purpose of my people is to be set apart to be used as salt and light
- My goal is my glory
Once God had reassured his people that he remembered the covenant made with their ancestors, reiterated his promises of comfort and prosperity, he re-enlisted them in his war as weapons to fight for the peace he’d promised.
Consequently, we may find ourselves asking similar questions:
- Are we going to be safe?
- Is the church going to okay?
- How are we going to remain faithful?
- How will we live Godly lives in this new culture?
- What is God’s ultimate plan for the Church and the nations?
Zechariah’s message to the returned exiles rings with the same truth for us today. Just as God does not change, neither does His message.
It is Time
In the same way we are to hold our heads up and walk on, into and through the chaos around us.
Why? Because we are also forgiven, chosen and commissioned.
How? By the blood of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit and in the love of the Father.
God still has a plan for the nations: Relationship
God still has a purpose for his people: Set apart to be used as Salt and Light
God still has a goal: His Glory
- Abraham’s family end up living in slavery for 400 years. God allowed this. And from it, he rescued and established his people.
- The northern kingdom of Israel was decimated and Judah was dragged to Babylon. God allowed this. And from it he restored His people.
- Christ went to the cross after torture and torment. God allowed this. And from it he redeemed his people.
- Today we are living in the midst of COVID-19. God has allowed it.
Ask the right questions:
Instead of asking ourselves why? This is another opportunity to ask what.
- What is the role of the Church here and now?
- What can I do?
We can ask ourselves who.
- Who am I going to look to in the confusion?
- Who am I going to be?
We can ask ourselves how.
- How am I going to be salt and light?
- How am I going to practice true fasting —grace, mercy, compassion— to those I meet with daily?
Time to Shine
As always, the world is watching. And, as always, we are being challenged.
- Do we believe God is who he says he is?
- Do we believe God can and will do what he has promised?
If so, we need to put our money where our mouths are and live it. Daily … moment by moment, as we step foot out of the boat into the chaotic waves that surround us, we keep our eyes on Christ.
This is not a call to be irresponsible. We are to respect those in authority and do what we can to help, to lower the curve and reduce the stress and anxiety of those around us. In other words, we are to do what we can, responsibly, to care for and keep ourselves and others safe, to obey the rules and use common sense.
Yet, I feel God is also challenging us to obey his command:
Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.Zechariah 8:13b
Time to Fast
And in addition to this, we are challenged to practice the fasting Zechariah encouraged: to step away from the desires of the flesh — selfishness, greed, seeking our rights, our glory, our comfort, our well-being. Then step into the desires of the Spirit—grace, mercy and compassion.
Just like the Jews returning from exile, we may feel vulnerable. We may have doubts:
- Will the church survive?
- Will this be an opportunity for the world to crush/dominate/attack us?
- What will happen?
I feel God is saying these questions are irrelevant. Just as he promised the Jews, he will be our wall. He will be our shield.
Time to Fight
We don’t need to protect the church. We need to BE the church.
Just like God promised those returning from exile, he would be their God and he would be their victory. He will also be fighting for us, be our stronghold and the glory within. We may be living in dark times, but the Light of the world lives within us. We are the body of Christ. His Spirit it with us.
God promised the return exiles peace and prosperity, but they had to fight for it first. We too need to put on our armour, pick up our weapons—prayer and the Word of God—and stand in the battle as God’s weapons.
Peace will come, for he has promised.
Prosperity will come, for he has promised.
Suffering and persecution will come, for he has promised.
He will never leave us or forsake us, for he has promised.
Time to Be the Church
Therefore this is our time to shine. So let us embrace the glory that dwells within us so that we may keep our focus on him and not on the waves of the storm that surrounds us. As members of his body, let us walk in his wake as he performs miracles and wonders releasing his love and power into a dark and thirsty world. For what better ground is there to receive salt and light, but that which is dark and thirsty.
There are many encouraging and challenging messages in this little book. But as we do life with C-19, I find this particular message potent.
Have you found any particular passages or books helpful in answering the questions and doubts flying around?