Now if you would, take your copies of God’s Word in your hands and turn with me to the book of Zechariah, chapter 8, page 796 in the church Bible. Zechariah chapter 8. We’re going to be reading and considering the whole chapter together. Before we do that, would you join me as we turn to God for His help in prayer. Let us all pray.
Our Father, we’re looking to You once again to pour out Your Spirit on us to come and feed us; we’re hungry and we’re longing for nourishment from Your Word. We’re prone to wander and we need the direction and instruction of Your Word. There are areas in our lives where we remain resistant and cold. Would You work by Your Spirit to melt our hearts and incline them to obedience? O Lord, show us again Your mercy and grace and sufficiency and the suitability of Jesus Christ for us as a perfect Savior and Redeemer in Your Word, and by it work in our lives that we may receive and rest on Him and doing so give praise and honor and glory to Your name. How we need You. Come and work by Your Spirit. Pour out Your Spirit on this assembly and wield Your Word with power in our hearts for Your own name’s sake. Amen.
Zechariah chapter 8 reading from verse 1. This is the inerrant Word of Almighty God:
“And the word of the LORD of hosts came, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the LORD: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts, the holy mountain. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the LORD of hosts: If it is marvelous in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous in my sight, declares the LORD of hosts? Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.’
Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Let your hands be strong, you who in these days have been hearing these words from the mouth of the prophets who were present on the day that the foundation of the house of the LORD of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built. For before those days there was no wage for man or any wage for beast, neither was there any safety from the foe for him who went out or came in, for I set every man against his neighbor. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, declares the LORD of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong.’
For thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘As I purposed to bring disaster to you when your fathers provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent, says the LORD of hosts, so again have I purposed in these days to bring good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah; fear not. These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the LORD.’
And the word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and justice.
‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD and to seek the LORD of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth on all our hearts.
Believing in God’s Unfailing Faithfulness
“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father! There is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not. As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be. Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.” We love to sing that here at First Presbyterian Church, sometimes though we find ourselves in circumstances when singing it may be one thing and believing it another entirely. Right? Let’s say you’ve had a hard day and you’re not sure tomorrow won’t be harder still. We are scared and really believing that God’s unfailing faithfulness never fails doesn’t always come easy.
We’re coming tonight to the second part of Zechariah’s sermon that really stands along with chapter 7 as the central pivot in the book of Zechariah - the transition between him speaking about the coming kingdom to speaking more about the coming King. And it’s the second part of the sermon that was preached in response to the embassy that came from Bethel asking for guidance about whether or not the people who’ve returned from Babylon really needed to observe the traditional fast day that had been held on the fifth month to commemorate the destruction of the temple. Now the temple at last was rising from the ruins. It was about halfway complete at this point. Things were getting better. The exile was over for many of the people. They’re returned to the land - “Surely the fasts no longer obtain, right?” That was their question. And Zechariah’s response has been to preach what is essentially a two-point sermon. They wanted a simple, “Yes or No” answer - fast or do not fast. They soon learned the hard way if you want a quick answer to a theology question don’t ask a preacher! So two chapters later they are still waiting for their answer.
Zechariah 7: A Summons to Holiness; Zechariah 8: Comforts of Future Grace
The first point of Zechariah’s sermon we considered last Lord’s Day Evening back in chapter 7. It was a call to repentance. Their fasting, when they engaged in it, actually did not express a heart longing for God. It was an outward performance at best. And more than that, it could coexist it turns out quite comfortably with shocking moral indifference in the rest of their lives. And at the root of it all, Zechariah has pointed out, lay a heart that was still unchanged by the Word that God had spoken to them - an impervious heart, diamond-hard is the way Zechariah describes it. A stinging expose. Stunning rebuke. But having preached to them the indictments of the Law so forcefully, the second point of His sermon which will be our passage for this evening here in chapter 8 proclaims some of the wonderful promises of grace. And as he does, as Zechariah does that, his point really is to say loud and clear one more time to the struggling people of God that He changes not, His compassions fail not - great indeed is His faithfulness. That’s the message he’s going to set before them - a vision of the future, glorious in its depiction of the age to come. This is what God will do for His covenant people who trust Him.
And if you scan through the chapter there is a repeat line, a repeat refrain if you like, going through the whole passage. Ten times Zechariah repeats the formula - so common to the prophets when they introduce their oracles. “Thus says the LORD of hosts” over and over again - verse 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 14, 19, 20, 23. “Thus says the LORD of hosts.” These promises and pictures of the future are not wishful thinking on the part of a prophet who’s had one late night too many seeing obscure visions. That is not what this is, neither are they an exercise in the manipulation of the proletariat by the privileged bourgeoisie an attempt to increase the productivity of the labor force by offering them pie in the sky if when they die if only they’ll keep working. Not at all. This is the voice of God, the very word of the Lord. “Don’t take my word for it,” Zechariah is saying. “God Himself is making this promise to you. Don’t look at the evidence around you even for proof of a brighter future yet to come. Don’t rest your hope in the strength of your own arm. Rest your hope in the promises of God alone.”
Complements in Sanctification: Law and Gospel; Rebuke and Reassurance
And so Zechariah takes the opportunity. This question about fasting presents to invite the people in Jerusalem not to build their future hope on their present practice, nor to found their current confidence upon the exigencies of today’s circumstances. That’s a lesson I think we, all of us, need to learn - not to found our security, our assurance, our peace, our confidence for tomorrow on today’s circumstances. It is, remember, “Blind unbelief that is sure to err and scan God’s works in vain. God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.” Let God provide the anchor, the sure anchor for your hope - not what your eyes can see but what His Word has promised. That’s the lesson of Zechariah chapter 8. Fill your eyes with future hope and it will change you here and now. What a beautiful compliment that is to the message of chapter 7. Here in chapter 8 the comforts of future grace stand in perfect agreement with the summons to holiness from God’s Law in chapter 7. Law and Gospel join hands in promoting the obedience and godliness of God’s people. We need to be both warned and wooed. We need to be both exhorted and encouraged. We need to be both confronted and comforted, both rebuked and reassured. And so with the stinging challenges of God’s Law still ringing in their ears from point one of Zechariah’s sermon back in chapter 7, he now comes to them with promises of grace upon grace that find their climactic fulfillment and inauguration in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Law and Gospel are not enemies in the Christian life but the very best of friends and they completely agree in this matter of sanctification, of changing us, that we might be obedient and faithful servants of the Lord.
Let’s look at the passage together. I want you to notice, first of all, the three tableaus that Zechariah paints here in the chapter, each of them bringing out a different facet of the glorious future awaiting the people of God.
I. First Tableau: A New Jerusalem
The first of them is there in verses 1 to 8. It is a picture of the city of Jerusalem that is yet to be and look particularly at verse 3. God declares that He has returned to dwell in the midst of the city once again, and the surrounding verses really are simply a description of what happens in the life of the people of God when God comes, when He returns to dwell in our midst with renewed grace and power, when God comes after having withdrawn His blessing for a season. Look what happens; three things. Number one, there is a renewed relationship with God. Verse 2, “I am jealous for Zion with a great jealousy. I am jealous for her with a great wrath.” The Hebrew word, as you probably know, for jealous is the same word as the word for zeal just like the English word zealous and jealous share the same common root. God isn’t some envious, jilted lover overcome with a fit of jealousy, but He is filled with holy zeal for His beloved people who He will not share with another. His wrath is kindled against all who threaten her. What could be more comforting than that? Here is the perfect husband, the archetypal bridegroom. He will fight for His bride, His church, His people. He is zealous for her purity and jealous of her affections. He will defend her against all and any. It’s an image that of course finds its climactic expression in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the bridegroom who will go all the way to the cross to save and sanctify His bride. Nothing will stop our God from guarding and keeping us. He will go so far as the cross itself to secure us as His bride. Here’s a truth to found your hope upon - the jealousy of God is the refuge of the saints. The jealousy of God is the refuge of the saints. He loves His bride and He will fight for her.
A Renewed Relationship with God
And look how His restored presence, zealous for the love of His people, impacts them - verse 3. “Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city and the mountain of the LORD of hosts, the holy mountain, the faithful city.” The love of the jealous bridegroom who will not share His bride with any other, produces in the church the very faithfulness He desires. God, the jealous God, dwells among His people, and when He does His adulterous people want no other lovers. They are satisfied with Him; He is enough. When He comes in restored mercy and grace to dwell among His people once again.
A Renewed Relationship with One Another
And then secondly, there’s - so first of all, a renewed relationship with God, secondly there’s a renewed relationship with one another within the covenant community. Verses 4 and 5 - “Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” Peace has come, do you see? War is over; strife is ended. Life, long and full, is the norm. Children playing safely, the elderly resting secure. Elizabeth Achtemeier gets at the point well I think. She says, “God’s kingdom will not have come on this earth until its streets are fit for its children, but by the same token, it will not have come until its children are fit for its streets.” That’s what God is doing. That’s the point. Here’s a picture of what He is about. He is building a kingdom in which His people find a safe home and dwell together in harmony and unity and love.
A Renewed Relationship with the Surrounding World
There’s a renewed relationship with God, a renewed relationship with one another, there’s thirdly a renewed relationship with the world around us. Verses 7 and 8 - “I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and righteousness.” God is going to gather His scattered people from all over the world into the restored city. It’s a picture that builds on the idea of the Jewish return from exile but it awaits a latter day for its climactic accomplishment when people from every tribe and tongue and nation will stream to the city of God, the church of Jesus Christ, as the Gospel is proclaimed to the nations.
“Nothing is too wonderful…”
Taken together it is a breathtaking picture, one that must have seemed almost too good to be true to those who first heard it, but look at verse 6. “If it is marvelous in the sight of the remnant of the people in those days, should it also be marvelous in my sight, declares the LORD?” Now once again it’s helpful to notice how this word translated there “marvelous” or “wonderful” is used in the Hebrew Scriptures. Genesis 18:14, when God announces to Sarah in her old age that she would have a son, He answers their incredulity saying, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” That’s the same word, marvelous. “Is anything too wonderful for Me? Not for Me. There are no boundaries and no constraints upon all that I can do,” as we were hearing in the children’s catechism. He can do all His holy will. Similarly, Jeremiah uses it in Jeremiah 32:17. He’s told to buy the field in Anathoth, even as the Babylonians are besieging the city. What a time to invest in real estate! Why bother? You’re never going to see that land again, Jeremiah! And the reply comes back, “There is nothing too hard, there is nothing too wonderful, too marvelous for the Lord.”
Certain Promises and Pleading Prayer
So here in Zechariah 8 God says through the prophet that although the remnant of Jerusalem might think these promises, this picture of a city yet to come is just too marvelous to contemplate, they need to remember that there is nothing too wonderful for God. As Jesus puts it when His disciples asked Him, “Who then can be saved?” He said, “With man it is impossible, but nothing is impossible for God.” We need to learn, don’t we, to gauge our future expectations by the certainty of the promise of God and by the measure of the power of God rather than by the reach of our own vision. Nothing is too wonderful for the Lord. Do you believe that? Nothing is too wonderful for the Lord. Garrison faith by remembering and proclaiming to yourself, “God’s promises will not fail, for nothing is too wonderful for the Lord.” And so Zechariah gives them a picture of a renewed Jerusalem, a revived community with God dwelling once again in their midst and the people of God streaming into the city from all over the world. And so it is still in the church of Jesus Christ when God comes in the presence and dynamic of the Holy Spirit to revive His work in the midst of the years. His wayward bride is once again known among the people as the faithful city. Peace reigns between her citizens and the elect people of God are gathered in. How we need to pray that God would come and descend upon His church in power and reviving grace like that once more, don’t we? That there would be unity among us and the awareness of the very presence of God resting heavy upon His church as His Word is proclaimed and the elect gathered streaming into Zion as the Lord makes His presence and glory known in His church. How we need to pray for such a day. Here’s a motive to pray; here’s a motive to plead with God that He might rend the heavens and come down and visit us again with His presence and power in reviving, renewing grace. Do you pray for revival? Do you pray for a restoration of the presence of God among His people?
II. Second Tableau: A New Eden
And then the second tableau Zechariah paints pushes the horizons of the future hope still further beyond the hope for a future revival to something still more wonderful. Verses 9 to 13 - this time it’s not just the image of a revived, renewed city; it is now the image of a restored Eden that is set before the people. God reminds them of how bad things were when Judah wandered away and the Lord judged them, verse 10 - “Before those days there was no wage for man or wage for beast, neither was there any safety from the foe for those who went out or came in, for I set every man against his neighbor.” It was a terrible season of distrust and suffering and hardship in the life of God’s covenant community. But notice verse 11 and 12. “But now” - things have changed - “But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, declares the Lord of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.” You remember the words of the curse of God on Adam’s sin in Genesis 3:16? “Cursed is the ground because of you. In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you and you shall eat the plants of the field.” The day is coming, Zechariah is saying, when the New Jerusalem that God is building among His people will come in all its consummated beauty and all the effects of Adam’s sin will be forever expunged. “Not thorns and thistles anymore, but the vine giving its fruit and the ground yielding its produce. Instead of the thorn bush shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” - Isaiah 55 and verse 33. It’s Eden restored.
A Coming City and a Perfect Garden
So Zechariah wants to rivet the eyes of God’s people on their immediate future now that God has returned to dwell among them in the expectation of revival and spiritual renewal, but then he wants to focus their gaze still further out to a still further horizon. The coming city will eventually also be a perfect garden. It’s what the apostle John sees in Revelation 21 and 22, isn’t it? He’s describing the New Jerusalem. Revelation 21:2 - Just as God had returned to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem in Zechariah’s day so in the city to come, John says, “He will dwell in the midst of His people. They will be His people and He will be their God” - 21:3. And through the midst of the street of the city, also on either side of the river, will grow the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree will be for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it and His servants will worship Him” - Revelation 22:2-3. The ruined city of Jerusalem that the men of Zechariah’s day were rebuilding was the barest glimpse, a mere type of that future city.
The Church of Jesus Christ: New Jerusalem and New Eden
And the church of Jesus Christ in our own day is that city, the New Jerusalem, the anti-type under construction as it were. Christ is building His church, but one day the city will be complete. It will descend from heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. It will be both city and garden - a New Jerusalem and a new Eden. The curse on Adam’s first transgression will be gone. It’s what heaven will be. Whereas the first Adam disobeyed in the pristine garden of the unfallen world, a second Adam has come and obeyed among the thorns and briars of a fallen world. The second Adam has fully paid sin’s penalty that the first could never satisfy. And while the first Adam died under sin’s curse, the second Adam rose to resurrection life signaling to us all that because of Him, because of Jesus, everything sad is going to come untrue. Because of Jesus death is swallowed up in victory. Because of Jesus the leaves of the tree will be for the healing of the nations. Because of Jesus there’s a better world coming. Have you forgotten? In the midst of all your daily toil, in the midst of the weariness and sweat of your brow as you eat the produce of the land, there’s a better world coming. Cling to the promises of God. Because of Jesus everything sad is going to come untrue.
III. Third Tableau: A New Homecoming
Then there’s the third tableau that Zechariah paints in verses 20 to 23. The first of the New Jerusalem, the second of a new Eden, now the third a new homecoming. Look at the text. “Thus says the LORD of hosts: People shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD and to seek the LORD of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples, strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”
Zechariah’s building on the recent experience of the people to whom he is preaching - the exiles. They’ve come back to Jerusalem from their captivity in various parts of the Persian Empire and he’s saying that homecoming prefigures another, a homecoming on a global scale. It will involve peoples, inhabitants of many cities, strong nations, men from nations of every tongue. They will be exhorting one another to go to the house of the Lord to enquire of the Lord. Just like the ambassadors that arrived at the beginning of chapter 7 - they’d come up from Bethel to entreat the Lord and to seek Him, only now it will be urgent. They’ll take hold of the robe of a Jew at a ratio of ten to one saying, “Let us go with you. We’ve heard that the Lord is with you.” They want to know the God of covenant grace for themselves.
Covenant Fulfilled: Blessing to the Nations
In the background of this whole chapter informing the language of it is the covenant that God made with Abraham. In verse 13, God says through Zechariah, “As you have been a byword of cursing among the nations so I will save you and you will be a blessing.” It’s echoing Genesis 12 verses 2 and 3 - “I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” It’s that covenant promise that Zechariah now here at the end of the chapter pictures coming to fulfillment. The people of God that had once been the object of scorn among the nations now become the instruments of worldwide blessing. Ten men from nations of every tongue pleading with every one of God’s covenant people for access to the God of grace.
These are the days in which we live, brothers and sisters, these new covenant days, when the Spirit has been given to the church and Peter can stand up to preach to Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia and Judea and Cappadocia and Pontus and Phrygia and Pamphilia and Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene and visitors from Rome as they hear the good news about Jesus that Peter preaches. What do they do? They cry out saying, “What must we do to be saved? Let us go with you. We want to know the God of grace, the Lord of hosts who is your God.” Jesus told us the fields are white unto harvest. Maybe some of us have stopped believing Him. Since the resurrection of Jesus Christ the world has been witness, you know, to an extraordinary expansion of the church and today there are more people alive professing faith in Jesus Christ right now than the whole membership of the visible church worldwide in every previous age combined. And still the church is growing, by God’s grace, in this place. It’s growing around the world - in Africa, in Latin America, and Asia. The harvest is plentiful. These are the days of the new covenant when the nations stream to Zion that they may learn of the God who alone can save them.
Glorious Visions and Transformed People
And as Zechariah fills our vision with all of this - revival under the restored presence of God, heaven, the New Jerusalem, the new Eden to come, a worldwide harvest of souls from every nation, as he shows us all of that, what difference should it make? Verse 16 - “These are the things you should do.” Here’s the answer to the “So what?” of all of that. If you take hold of the promise of the future, how should they affect you in the present? Verse 16 - two things.
A People Marked by Integrity and Justice
Zechariah says, number one, be a people marked by integrity and justice. “Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate.” If that is what the kingdom will perfectly be one day, that is what we are to be as its citizens and strive to become more and more in these days in which we live. The world is watching. Do you live like a citizen of the New Jerusalem? The nations take hold of one of God’s children saying, “Take us with you! We want to know your God,” but they will not do that for people whose lives betray the profession their lips make. Do you live like a citizen of the kingdom? We are to be a people marked by integrity and justice. If heaven is a place of holiness, those who plan to dwell there ought to make the pursuit of holiness our primary business.
A People Marked by Joy and Celebration
And then secondly, Zechariah says that if you take hold of the promises of God it ought to affect you and make you a people marked by joy and celebration; people marked by integrity, but also a people marked by joy and celebration. Verse 19 - “The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth month and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and justice.” At last, at long last, you know the answer has come. About their fasting, they began with this question back in chapter 7. They’ve had to wait awhile for Zechariah to get the point; maybe you know the feeling. Well here it is, the time for mourning is over. The time for mourning is over; now is the time for joy.
So as we close, let me ask you, if the generation who heard these promises of still distant blessing for the most part were to replace their mourning fasts with feasts of joy, surely we who enjoy the beginning of the fulfillment of all that Zechariah pictures here in the coming of Jesus Christ, surely we ought to rejoice still more with joy unspeakable and full of glory as we receive the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls. Get a hold of God’s promises and you will find you can sing after all with faith as well as words, with confidence as well as with lip alone, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father! Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!” Will you pray with me?
Our Father, forgive us please for making the limits of our own vision the reality of our own circumstances, the limits of our faith in You. Forgive us for, like Peter, looking at the waves instead of looking at the face of our Savior who bids us come to Him. No wonder we are sinking. Rivet our eyes on Christ in whom all of these promises begin to be fulfilled, and would You grant to us as a church again the outpouring of Your Spirit, the weight of Your presence dwelling upon us and among us and revive us that the nations might stream to Zion, that people may long to know as Zechariah pictures them, pleading with one of God’s covenant children, “Can we come with you? We want to know your God” or as they said to Peter, “What must we do to be saved?” Oh for those questions to be asked of us! Would You so work among us? Make us people of integrity and people marked by joy, for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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