Zechariah Part 1: The Coming Kingdom: The Coming Kingdom: A City Without Walls

Sermon by David Strain on February 10, 2014

Zechariah 2:1-13

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Now if you would please turn with me in your copies of God’s Word to the book of Zechariah, chapter 2.  If you’re using one of the church Bibles you’ll find that on page 793.  A good way to find Zechariah, remember, is to start with the gospel of Matthew and work backwards – Matthew, Malachi, then Zechariah.  Zechariah chapter 2.  And we’re going to read God’s Word in a moment, but before we do would you bow your heads with me as we pray together.  Let’s pray.

Our Father, we need to hear from You.  We are so inclined to attend to the myriad voices that clamor for our attention and seek to direct us, often to misdirect us.  We need to hear from You.  Would You pour out Your Spirit upon us and open to us Your holy Word?  Show us Christ, show us ourselves.  Sanctify us by the truth; Your Word is truth.  Save sinners.  Restore backsliders.  Strengthen those with weak knees and feeble arms and enable all of us to run our races with perseverance, looking only to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.  In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Zechariah chapter 2, reading from verse 1.  This is the inspired Word of Almighty God:

“And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand!  Then I said, ‘Where are you going?’  And he said to me, ‘To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length.’ And behold, the angel who talked with me came forward to meet him and said to him, ‘Run, say to that young man, ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it.  And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the LORD, and I will be the glory in her midst.’’

Up!  Up!  Flee from the land of the north, declares the LORD.  For I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heavens, declares the LORD.  Up!  Escape to Zion, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon.  For thus said the LORD of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye:  ‘Behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them.  Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me.  Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD.  And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people.  And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.  And the LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.’

Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and sufficient Word.  May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

A Message of Hope in the Midst of Despair
Well this evening we are continuing our study of the book of Zechariah.  About three months after preaching the introductory sermon with which the book of Zechariah begins in verses 1 to 6 of chapter 1, poor old Zechariah has a very rough night indeed.  As a series of dramatic visions, one after another, are given to him throughout the night of what translates into our calendar as February 15, 519 BC.  Last Lord’s Day Evening we looked at the first two of these strange night visions and the remainder of chapter 1.  And in both of them, the major focus of the message from God to His people was one of comfort and reassurance.  The Lord would restore His presence among them and He would judge their enemies and deliver them.  And today, once again now as we move into chapter 2 and the third great vision given to the prophet, the message speaks a word of deep and satisfying encouragement.  

And understand how very important such a message must have been to the people of God in Zechariah’s day.  They were living, remember, in the broken down, rubble filled ruin that was once the magnificent city of Jerusalem and they’d come back after seventy years of exile in Babylon to a burnt out, decrepit city, in the midst of which could still be seen the wreckage of what had been the glorious temple of the Lord.  They had been trying to rebuild, of course, but the work had stalled and ground to a halt while the land faced terrible famine and the people terrible opposition from the pagan nations that surrounded them.  They lived now no longer as an independent nation under the rule of a Davidic king, but as a puny, vassal province of the mighty empire of Darius I, the King of the Medes.  They must have been a pathetic spectacle – impoverished, deeply discouraged, wondering if they hadn’t lost the favor of God forever.  And into those dire circumstances God sent Zechariah with a message of hope.

I. Let God’s Promise Correct our Perceptions

Look with me first of all please at verses 1 to 5.  Here we are being called to let God’s promise correct our perceptions.  Let God’s promise correct our perceptions.  God had promised to rebuild Jerusalem and restore the prosperity of His people at the end of Zechariah’s first vision.  In chapter 1 and verse 16, God told the prophet, “’I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy.  My house, the temple, shall be built in it,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.’”  The surveyors measuring line that served as an emblem of the renewed building effort now becomes, in the second vision in chapter 2, an image that is picked up and made use of.  Look at verse 1.  “I lifted my eyes and saw and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand.”  He’s going to measure Jerusalem, we learn, to see what is its length and breadth.  But as he goes to measure the city, the interpreting angel who assists Zechariah in understanding the visions is approached by another angelic figure.  This second angel that you see speaks in the remainder of this chapter in the first person as the Lord Himself, which leads us to conclude that though He is not labeled such here, He’s not merely an angel but He is once again the Angel of the Lord, the one who is identified with God and is yet distinct from God, the one who, in the clear light of the New Testament Scriptures we know to be the pre-incarnate Christ, the Lord Jesus.  And He commissions Zechariah’s interpreting angel, verse 4, to run and catch up with the young man with the measuring line because it would seem the young man’s approach to evaluating the dimensions of the city is altogether wrong-headed.  His metrics, we might say, are all wrong.  

Now the young man’s identity, the young man with the measuring line, his identity is not all that clear but it does seem likely that he is a representative figure. He stands for the people of Judah, perhaps, caught up in their enthusiasm for the restored city that God had promised them.  And here he is with a measuring rod and he wants, with some eagerness, to get the measure of the city that God will provide, so much so that the interpreting angel has to run to catch up with him.  But catch up with him he must, because the Angel of the Lord wants God’s people to understand that their perceptions are based on the wrong measurements altogether.  The measuring rod is, if you like, the emblem of conventional wisdom, of human expectations.  But the Lord wants us to see that His promises concerning His people are far more expansive than any human measurement could ever comprehend.  And that is a vital lesson for us to learn.  God’s promises are far more expansive than any merely human measurement could ever comprehend.  

Defying Conventional Wisdom
In 1983 an aging sheep farmer from Australia named Cliff Young took his place at the starting line among the athletes at the beginning of an ultra-marathon.  And ultra-marathon, you may know, is 545 miles long and usually takes about seven days to complete.  The athletes will sleep at the side of the road on the racecourse, they will sleep for periods of six hours and then run for eighteen, and then sleep for six and run for eighteen and so on.  It’s quite an ordeal.  And as Cliff Young lined up to begin the race he really stood out from the crowd.  While all the other athletes were dressed in the latest running gear, covered in the logos of their sponsors with the high-tech running shoes on their feet, Mr. Young wore overalls with galoshes over his ordinary work boots just in case it rained.  He was thirty years older than the other competitors.  It was the first competitive race he’d ever run in.  Mr. Young actually didn’t run at all; he shuffled, barely lifting his feet from the ground.  

And so as you might imagine, when the starting pistol fired, Mr. Young, unsurprisingly, was left in the dust.  Pretty soon he’d fallen way behind the pack.  But while the other runners slept, you know that six hour sleep at the side of the road, he just kept shuffling along.  He’s never been told the way to run an ultra-marathon is six hours of sleep and eighteen hours of running.  Actually on his farm when a storm approached he would have to try to beat the weather and he would run down his sheep on a two thousand acre farm, on foot, often outrunning the weather, taking him three days.  And on those three days he never stopped running.  He ran for three whole days straight.  And so, he just kept going!  And on the last night of the race while the other athletes were sleeping, Cliff Young passed the opposition.  He ran, with his distinctive shuffling gate, for five solid days and he not only won the race but he beat the ultra-marathon record by two whole days.  All the conventional wisdom ruled old Cliff Young out completely – work boots on his feet, overalls on his back, shuffling along at a snail’s pace, taking no rest.  There was no way, according to conventional wisdom, that Cliff Young would finish the race never mind win it.  But conventional wisdom does not always provide the best metrics, does it?  Sometimes our perceptions need to be adjusted in light of better data.  

The young man with the measuring line in Zechariah’s vision is a reminder to us not the judge the kingdom of God according to conventional wisdom.  The measuring line suggests that God’s people, at this point, expected a city very much like the one that had previously been destroyed – you know, a walled fortress city, capable of withstanding the military power of their oppressors.  That’s what they were looking for; not at all what God promised.  His kingdom, as it turns out, will be characterized, look at verses 4 and 5, by two important things.  

A Vastly Populous City and Secure City
First, we’re told that it will be a vastly populous city.  “Jerusalem shall be inhabited,” Zechariah says, “as villages without walls because of the multitude of people and livestock in it.”  Encircling this city with a defensible wall would be impossible, so vast will its population be.  In fact, as verse 11 will go on to explain, it will be a city that will encompass nations.  The New Jerusalem, the kingdom of God, will embrace citizens from every tribe and language and people.  Within its company there will be neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, for Christ will be all and in all.  It will be a populous city; a vast, countless population shall inhabit this city.  And it will be, secondly, a secure city.  Verse 5 – “’I will be a wall of fire all around,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be the glory in your midst.’”  God Himself is going to protect the city. The measuring rod of verse 1 implies conventional thinking about the kingdom of God, a city protected by walls, its people limited to the returned exiles.  The message of the Angel of the Lord is that the kingdom of God is a countless multitude, a kingdom that needs no walls of merely human construction, for the Lord will protect it and He will be with it and dwell within as “glory in their midst.” 

Measuring the City’s Strength 
Aren’t we tempted, aren’t we tempted to evaluate the church like the young man in Zechariah’s vision with the measuring rod of merely human standards.  “You need the latest gear,” they told Cliff Young, as they lined up for the race.  “You’ll never get far using those methods,” they said.  That’s how we sometimes think of the church, isn’t it?  We look for what Rick Phillips in his commentary on Zechariah calls the “ABC’s of Church Growth” – Attendance, Buildings, and Cash.  That’s how we measure church strength and church vitality and church health.  That’s how we know that God is with us – if we’re big and rich and strong, right?  But here we’re being reminded that actually the true measure of the church has nothing to do with scale, nothing to do with wealth, nothing to do with power, and everything to do with the presence of the glory of the living God, dwelling in our midst.  That’s what we most urgently need, isn’t it, if we are to be a church in which God will bring the nations to make them His people.  We need the presence of His glory dwelling among us.  That’s the true mark of church health and church vitality.

The Risky Business of Trusting God
It seems true of our private lives, isn’t it?  Trusting God’s promises can feel like showing up at an ultra-marathon in overalls wearing work boots on our feet – hardly adequate for the demands of the race.  “Life is so challenging and you want me to trust these ancient, abstract promises when the truth is I prefer my self-protection mechanisms?  Here I’ll hold back, I’ll keep people at arm’s length, I’ll keep my heart well out of reach.  I prefer my self-protection mechanisms to the risky business of trusting God.  I prefer to find my security in my work.  I’ll work till I drop.  I’ll sacrifice relationships.  I’ll neglect my family and my friends because this is the one thing in my world that I feel like I can control.  I prefer to find my security in my work rather than the risky business of trusting God to be a wall around me and a presence dwelling with me to keep me.” And on and on and on we manufacture self-made alternatives to trusting God, one after another.  But those who try to manufacture their comforts and their security, in the end, find neither comfort nor security, while those who trust in the Lord run their race to the finish line. While other runners fall behind, they run the race and cross the line and win the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  They know God’s promise of protection – His wall of fire around them, His promise of presence, glory in their midst.  They know those promises aren’t abstract and ethereal and vague.  They know that God has kept His Word and will do so again and again.  They know because they can point to the cross where those promises were perfectly performed.  There they see what God has done, to what lengths He has gone, to save them and keep them and make them His.  And they know, in light of the cross, that the promises of God are more solid, more real, more secure than any self protection mechanism we might ever care to invent.  So first we’re being taught here to let the promise of God correct our perceptions.  You can trust Him; everything else is a mirage.  His promises are sure and when you trust them you will cross the finish line in the end.  Let the promises of God correct our perceptions.

II. Let God’s Summons Awaken our Urgency

Secondly, look at verses 6 to 9.  Here is a call to let the summons of God awaken our urgency.  Let the summons of God awaken our urgency.  The Angel of the Lord continues to speak.  This time, though, he addresses himself directly to God’s people with a word of summons and a word of alarm.  Verses 6 and 7 ring with urgency, don’t they?  “Up! Up!  Flee from the land of the north.  Up!  Escape to Zion, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon.”  God has His people in exile still, the angel is saying, and they too must leave Babylon and come and be part of the new Zion that God is building.  “The symbolic significance of Babylon,” writes Barry Webb, “goes back to the story of the Tower of Babel, the forerunner of Babylon in Genesis 11, and runs right through Revelation 18 where Babylon stands for Rome, and hence, the pagan world, the enemy of God and the people of God. Babylon,” he says, “is the world in its determined, organized hostility to God, a world on which God has already passed judgment.  To leave Babylon, therefore, and to go to Jerusalem, is to break solidarity with a world that rejects God and flee to Him for mercy and protection.  It is to be like the pilgrim in Bunyan’s famous story who flees the City of Destruction and run to the Celestial City or like Abraham setting out from Ur.  It is to cast in your lost with God and His people, to set out resolutely for the New Jerusalem, the city of God.”

A Word of Warning: Flee from Babylon!
Some of us, I fear, are still living in the City of Destruction.  God has an urgent word for you.  There is an alarm sounding – Up!  Flee!  Escape to Zion!  Head to Celestial City!  Judgment is coming on the world and the only safe place is to join yourself to the people of God, to become a member of the new society God is building through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son.  There is no other hiding place.  That’s why, incidentally, The Westminster Confession of Faith says that outside of the visible church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.  The church, the New Jerusalem, the city of God, is a community of exiles who have fled from Babylon.  It is the society of prodigals who have come home at last.  To claim that you’re one of them but to refuse to belong to the visible church is to give the lie to your fine sounding profession.  You cannot be at home in the world and not be subject to the judgment God is bringing.  But it’s equally true that if you find a home in the church, through faith in Jesus, you could not be more secure. You could not be more secure.  

A Word of Comfort: The Church of Jesus Christ, the Apple of God’s Eye
That’s the message of verses 8 and 9.  “Thus says the LORD of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eyes:  ‘Behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them.  Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me.’”  In verse 8, the Angel of the Lord literally tells us the glory sent him to the nations who plundered Judah.  There he is to pronounce a word of judgment over them.  The Lord of hosts, Almighty God Himself, is sent to the nations.  Who can send God anywhere?  He’s sent, in our text, by the glory.  I think glory there should have a capital “G.”  It’s a reference to God the Father.  That’s what we were told back in verse 5, remember? “I will be the glory in your midst.” It’s a glimpse of a truth that becomes much clearer in the light of Christ’s coming.  It shows us here, doesn’t it, the essential unity and diversity that exists forever in the blessed Trinity.  God the Father, the Glory, will send the Angel of the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, verse 9, to judge the nations.  He will shake His fist over them and those who once despoiled God’s church will face a terrible reversal – judgment is coming.  

Did you catch, however, the reason for this stunning declaration of coming wrath?  It’s there at the end of verse 8.  Why is the Lord sent with such vehemence to judge?  It’s because the church, the New Jerusalem, the city of God is the apple of His eye.  If we might paraphrase the passage a little crudely, we might say that to lift a finger against the church is like poking God in the eye.  It will elicit a violent reaction.  That’s what the text says, isn’t it?  “He who touches you, touches the apple of my eye.”  The point is, you could not be in a more precarious position than to live at peace in Babylon. You could not be in a more precarious position than to live at ease as a citizen of the world, in rebellion against the claims of King Jesus.  The Angel of the Lord, the Lord of hosts, Jehovah, Jesus, the One who came once to bleed and die, to rescue sinful men and women like me and like you, is going to come again to bring the wrath of the glory, a judgment of God the Father on all who do not trust Christ.  You couldn’t be in a more precarious position than to live at peace in Babylon. But for the very same reason neither could you be more secure than to find your refuge in the Celestial City, the church of Jesus Christ.  The church is the assembly of all those for whom Jesus died.  You are, the text says, “the apple of His eye.”  You live at the very center of His gaze.  He never takes His eyes from you.  He delights to fill His vision with fresh sights of His bride, the church.  He dotes on you like a bridegroom over His bride, over His beloved.  Do you belong to His people?  Are you a citizen of the kingdom of heaven or are you living still among the daughters of Babylon?  Are you a Christian?  Is Jesus your Savior?  Are you the apple of His eye?  There is no more urgent question you could ever be asked.  To answer it in the affirmative is to find eternal security, but to answer in the negative is to face certain and terrible judgments.  

III. Let God’s Presence Inspire our Praise

Let God’s promise correct your perceptions, let God’s summons awaken your urgency, and finally and more briefly, let God’s presence inspire your praise.  Look at verses 10 to 13 please.  In verse 10 we’re told God Himself will dwell in the midst of His people and then it’s repeated, that same promise, in verse 11.  It’s being emphasized, underlined for us. “This is important,” the text is saying.  “I will come and dwell in your midst.”  And nestled between those two promises in verse 11b is the announcement that “many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day and shall be my people.”  You see what Zechariah’s been told?  He’s been told that a day is coming when the pagan nations that surrounded them, that then oppressed and opposed them, will turn from being the enemies of God’s kingdom and become citizens within it.  And the key to that transformation will have to do with the dwelling of God in their midst.  When God comes to dwell among them, the nations will become fellow citizens of the New Jerusalem.  That day, of course, dawned, not with the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple – that was, at best, a bare shadow of the fulfillment of this promise.  God would soon come to live among His people, not in bricks and mortar, but in the flesh and blood of the Man, Jesus Christ.  In Him, God would take flesh and literally dwell among us.  The true temple that was the flesh of Jesus Christ was torn down at the cross, bearing God’s judgment and wrath on behalf of His people and rose in victory that sinners like you and like me might have the gates of citizenship in the kingdom of God’s New Jerusalem thrown wide to us.  “Once we were not a people,” Paul says in Ephesians 2, “but now we are the people of God.  Once we were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, but now, we who once were afar off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  Now we are no longer aliens and strangers; now we are fellow citizens and members of the household of God.”

Responding to this Glorious News: Sing and Bow Down in Silent Wonder
How do you respond to a truth like that?  How do you respond when God tells you just what He’s prepared to do to make you His child, that He will come personally and take flesh and dwell in our midst?  What should you do as you see God born a Child to the virgin and grow to be despised and rejected of men?  What should you do as you see Him crucified and bleed and die for you?  How do you respond as the stone is rolled away and the Son of Man ascends to glory to prepare a place for you?  What do you do?  Two things – verses 10 and 13, verses that bracket this whole section; they tell us how to respond.  Verse 10 – “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion    !  For behold, I will come and dwell in your midst.” And verse 13 – “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for He has roused Himself from His holy dwelling.”  What do you do when God comes to dwell among us in Jesus Christ and rescues us in His lifeblood?  You sing and then you bow down in silent wonder and holy awe.  You tremble and you rejoice.  You quake and you celebrate.  That’s what the Gospel does in a heart that embraces it.  It makes us sing and it takes our breath away.  Do you know the reality of the glory of the Gospel of grace?  If you do, it will inspire your praise and make you rejoice.

Let the promise of God correct your perceptions, let the summons of God awaken your urgency, and let the presence of God inspire your praise.  Will you pray with me?

Our Father, we thank You that You have come and have stepped onto the scene of history, dwelling among us in the Man, Jesus Christ.  We pray, O Lord, as we cling to Him now, that You would rekindle in our hearts a song of joy and teach us to tremble in reverent awe at Your mighty work in the Gospel of grace.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

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