Zechariah Part 1: The Coming Kingdom: The Coming Kingdom: Gracious and Comforting Words

Sermon by David Strain on February 3, 2014

Zechariah 1:7-21

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Now let me invite you to turn with me in your copy of God’s Word to the book of Zechariah chapter 1.  Zechariah chapter 1.  You will find that on page 793 if you’re using the church Bible.  We’re going to be reading verses 7 through the end of the first chapter.  Before we do, let me invite you to turn with me to God for His help in prayer.  Let us pray together.

Lord, we come to You now like those Greeks who came to the disciples saying, “Sirs, we would see Jesus.”  That is our prayer as Your Word is now spread before us as it’s read and proclaimed.  Would You help us to see Christ, to flee to Him anew, perhaps for the first time, to rest on Him, to know His presence and mercy and grace, to hear His voice, and hearing to believe and rejoice.  So come, and by Your Spirit, open our hearts to Your Word for the glory of Your own great name.  Amen.

Zechariah chapter 1 from verse 7.  This is the Word of Almighty God:

“On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying, ‘I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse!  He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses.  Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’  The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’  So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth.’  And they answered the angel of the LORD who was standing among the myrtle trees, and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.’  Then the angel of the LORD said, ‘O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’  And the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked to me.  So the angel who talked with me and said to me, ‘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 the disaster.  Therefore, thus 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.’’

And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four horns!  And I said to the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these?’  And he said to me, ‘These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.’  Then the LORD showed me four craftsmen.  And I said, ‘What are these coming to do?’  He said, ‘These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one raised his head.  And these have come to terrify them, to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.’”

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

Confusing Visions to bring Comfort and Encouragement

When I served in London, from time to time, one of my favorite things to do if I had a few hours to spare would be to visit the Tate Modern, which is there on the south bank of the River Thames in the center of the city.  Occasionally I would bring a friend along with me.  The Tate Modern, as you may know, is a massive, contemporary art gallery full of world famous modern masterpieces.  And we’d move through the gallery looking at the work – Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Joan Miró- I was an artist, an art student, and I’ll be absorbed in the paintings.  And then I’ll look over at my friend and confusion will be written almost invariably over their faces.  What in the world does it all mean?  Swirly splatters of paint on a canvas, big red squares – what’s going on?

Tonight we come to the first two in a series of eight night visions that were given to Zechariah in the course of a single evening.  If you’ve read a little ahead in the book of Zechariah you would have felt, I guess, rather like my friend in the Tate Modern.  We’ll move with Zechariah from gallery space to gallery space viewing image after visionary image full of strange metaphors, obscure symbols, and we’re left scratching our heads and wondering what can it all mean.  Maybe as we tour this gallery of prophetic images together we may be tempted to wonder if these bizarre dreams can possibly speak with relevance to us in our context and our circumstances.  Maybe we feel the images of Zechariah are, they’re just too abstract, too obscure to be of much use in the real world.  Well as I hope we’ll begin to see this evening, nothing could be further from the truth.

Zechariah actually signals as much himself in the opening words of our passage.  Look at verse 7 with me please.  “On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah.”  Isn’t it fascinating that Zechariah provides us with so specific a date, the most specific in the book.  These eight visions, we are told, happened in the course of what was presumably a rather long and restless night, the night of February 15, 519 BC – about three and a half months after the sermon with which the book opens in verses 1 to 6.  One pictures the prophet, who, the next morning, weary-eyed, with hair disheveled, yawning at the breakfast table after such a rough night, downing a great deal of coffee as he tries to get himself going so he can preach these eight visions.  But I wonder if you see the point that the very specific date here is trying to make.  It’s signaling to us that however obscure and inaccessible these symbol-laden visions may at first appear to us, they must not be written off as irrelevant plights of the prophet’s fevered imagination.  They can’t be dismissed as impenetrable abstractions that have nothing to say to us.  Zechariah 1 verse 7 will not let us walk away like art novices from the Tate Modern, you know, shaking our heads, dismissing the whole thing as too weird to worry about.  Because verse 7 tells us these visions were given to the prophet at a specific time for a particular people facing concrete circumstances.  That is to say, they are located in history and speak to an historical moment.  The record of this precise date here is a way to say to us loud and clear, “These really are visions for the real world, for real people facing hardship and insurmountable odds.”  So as we begin to study these night visions, let me plead with you not to breeze through Zechariah’s art gallery with furrowed brow, dismissing what you see.  The Lord has a word for us, designed to bring comfort and encouragement to hurting hearts.

So as we consider the message of these first two visions that comprise the remainder of the chapter, I want to highlight with you four things.  First in verses 7 to 11 – the picture of the Lord’s presence.  The picture of the Lord’s presence.  Then in 11 and 12 – the problem of world peace.  The problem of world peace.  13 through 17 – the promise of Zion’s prosperity.  And then in 18 to 21 – the pattern of God’s penalty.  The picture of the Lord’s presence, the promise of world peace, the promise of Zion’s prosperity, and finally the pattern of God’s penalty.

I. A Picture of God’s Presence

Look at verses 7 to 11 first.  Here is a picture of God’s presence.  Zechariah’s eyes immediately fixed on a man riding a red horse.  That’s an unfortunate translation, by the way.  We’re not to imagine a surreal, bright crimson stallion.  If you’re an Alabama fan here, it’s not Crimson – don’t get excited!  It’s not red.  The word really just means chestnut brown.  These are ordinary colored horses and this mysterious figure rides into the myrtle grove in a glen, then he dismounts and stands and walks among the trees.  And behind him are three other troops of horses, each grouped by color.  Red, that is, chestnut brown, sorrel, and white.  And just as an aside, Zechariah’s response to this vision really ought to provide for us comfort as we try to make sense of it all.  As verse 9 makes plain, he is as baffled as we are.  He asks the interpreting angel who’s there to interact with him over the details of the vision, “What are these, my lord?”  And the angel promises to explain.  “I will show you what they are,” he says.  

The Angel of the Lord

But he’s interrupted before he gets the chance by the man standing among the myrtle trees.  In fact, as this vision develops, we’re not permitted to take our eyes from this mysterious figure for very long at all, are we?  He is the one who fills Zechariah’s gaze in verse 8.  He then interrupts the interpreting angel in verse 10.  It is to him that we learn in verse 11 that the troops of horsemen report.  “They’ve been patrolling the world,” he says – that’s their function; much like the network of dispatch riders that kept the Persian Empire informed and united.  These are angelic, reconnaissance units who return with vital intelligence on the condition of the nation.  But it is not to God that they bring their intelligence. It’s to the man standing among the myrtle trees that they report.  They call him, verse 11, “the angel of the Lord.”  

The angel of the Lord, as you may know, is an important figure in the Old Testament scriptures.  In Exodus chapter 3 verse 2 we’re told it was the angel of the Lord that met Moses in the burning bush.  But in verse 4 of that chapter it is God Himself who calls from the burning bush to Moses and Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.  In Genesis 16 verses 7 to 13, Hagar is met by the angel of the Lord who speaks to her saying, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered,” and Hagar responds in verse 13 by calling the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing.  For she said, ‘Truly I have seen Him who looks after me.’”  In seeing the angel of the Lord she sees the Lord Himself.  In gazing upon the angel of the Lord in the burning bush, Moses sees God and so he hides his face.  The angel of the Lord, as it turns out, is the Lord revealing Himself to His people. 

Eden Restored

And here we meet Him standing among the myrtle trees.  It’s not hard, I think, to hear there an echo of Eden when God walked among the trees in the cool of the day, remember, enjoying intimate fellowship with our first parents.  Well that was a beautiful communion that had been shattered by Adam’s sin.  Eden was lost and forfeited and they were exiled from the garden sanctuary of the Lord.  As Israel’s history tells us, in His marvelous condescension and grace God came to dwell once again, despite Adam’s sin, and because of the provisions of His grace He came to dwell once again in the midst of His people, not this time in a garden, but in the temple, in Jerusalem.  And yet here too, Israel’s sin and covenant breaking brought judgment.  And the temple was destroyed and the presence of the Lord among them forfeited and the people were sent into exile into a strange land.  And it is to such people who have come back from a long, hard exile, broken and weary, that Zechariah brings the message of this vision. The Lord had promised them in Isaiah 55 and 13 a time when, instead of the thorn bush will grow up the pine tree, instead of the briars will grow up the myrtle tree.  He promised them Eden restored, do you see?  A time to come when He would dwell in their midst once more.

But here in verse 8 is a picture of that moment at last.  Here is the Lord’s presence once again among His people in the garden sanctuary of the Lord made new, the curse undone, dwelling with them in the new and intimate communion.  What a comfort to the beleaguered population of broken-down Jerusalem that vision must have been.  “Will we ever get the temple built?  Will we ever recover the blessing of heaven?  Have we lost God’s favor forever?”  Here is God’s answer.  He comes and He stands in the myrtle grove, walks once more in the garden in the cool of the day, does not desert His people.  He comes to us in mercy and in restoring grace.  It’s of course a picture that would wait to be fulfilled climactically not in a rebuilt Jerusalem temple but in the coming of Jesus Christ.  It is in Jesus, as God Himself took flesh, that He came and dwelt among us most fully.  One thinks here of the vision of the apostle John in the book of Revelation that Sandy Willson preached to us from this morning in Revelation chapter 1 where John says, “I saw seven golden lampstands and in the midst of the lampstands, one like a Son of Man.”  The lampstands, John goes on to explain, remember, are an image of the church.  Here is Jesus, walking among the lampstands, the God who came in Christ, His presence among His people, with us in our trials.  That is Zechariah’s message in this first part of the vision.  He is the Lord.  Here ultimately is Jesus Christ, standing in Eden restored, in fellowship with the suffering people of God.  Here is the Son of Man who walks among the lampstands who never, ever deserts the church.  

You have been brought to the end of your resources, you’ve felt deserted by God, you’ve sinned, you’ve fallen hard, and you’ve begun to wonder if there is any way back.  This is God’s answer, believer in Jesus, fallen, guilty, ashamed, repentant, believer in Jesus, wondering if you haven’t perhaps fallen beyond recovery, let this truth speak to your heart.  Zechariah’s message, God’s message – nothing, not death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Nothing.  He never leaves us or forsakes us.  And as you return to Him, as He promises, He will return to you.  He is with us always, to the end of the age.  It’s a picture of the Lord’s presence.

II. The Problem of World Peace

Then secondly and more briefly, notice the problem of world peace.  Look at verses 11 and 12.  The angelic reconnaissance troops report back to the angel of the Lord, the intelligence they have gathered.  “We’ve patrolled the earth,” they say, “and behold, all remains at rest.”  Things are quiet among the nations.  Darius, the Persian emperor, the new Persian emperor, has put down the rebellions that have opposed him. The world is by and large quiet.  And that sounds like good news, right?  If you turn on CNN or FOX News tonight and the reporter said, “There are no armies in the field.  All is quiet.  The world is at rest.”  That would be good news.  But not if you are an oppressed minority under the bootheel of a cruel, imperial dictatorship.  It’s not good news if you long for deliverance and liberation and freedom.  You don’t want quiet.  You want revolution.  So as word comes to the angel of the Lord that the powers that be stand in status quo.  He, with grief, verse 12, begins to intercede on behalf of his people.  “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?”  Now that cry, “How long?” is the paradigmatic cry of the suffering church in every age, the plaintiff cry of the psalmist.  Psalm 35:17 – “How long, O LORD, will you look on?  Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions?”  It is the anguished cry of the church, martyred, waiting for vindication in Revelation chapter 6 and verse 10.  They cried out with a loud voice, “O sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”  The cry of the suffering church in every age – “How long, O Lord, will you allow injustice to reign and sins to go unpunished?  How long?”

The Cry of an Interceding Lord

But notice carefully here it is not the cry of the church.  Here it is the cry of the church’s Lord.  Here’s the angel of the Lord, here is Jesus Christ interceding, giving voice to our cries, articulating them with grief and longing.  I think the message is clear, isn’t it?  The one who is with us, verses 7 to 11, never ceases to pray for us, verses 11 and 12.  Not only will Jesus never desert you, He will never stop interceding for you.  “Before the throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect plea.  A great High Priest whose name is Love, who ever lives and pleads for me.  My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart.  I know that while in heaven He stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.”  He ever lives to make intercession for us.  Some of you are carrying secret burdens.  Some of you are living with chronic illness or a loveless marriage or a wayward child.  Some of you struggle with same-sex attraction and you don’t know who to trust to talk to.  You’re tired and you’re scared and you’re sore.  Look to Jesus.  He never stops holding you before God’s throne.  He loves you and He pleads His wounds on your behalf.  He never stops pleading for you.  He’s always crying out over you, “How long, O Lord?  Come in grace and mercy to deliver.”  

III. The Promise of Zion’s Prosperity 

The picture of the Lord’s presence, the problem of world peace, then thirdly notice in verses 13 to 17 the answer of God to the angel’s prayer.  Here is the promise of Zion’s prosperity.  The Lord answers, notice, with gracious and comforting words.  The Father, it turns out, cannot deny the prayers of the angel of the Lord.  Jesus’ prayers are the mirror of God’s decrees.  The Lord will judge the nations and defend His people.  Verse 14 – “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 the disaster.”  The picture of His presence that we saw in verse 8 has now also become the promise of His presence in verse 16.  “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.”  The temple will be rebuilt, work on Jerusalem will resume, and prosperity will return to the land.  

What are we being told?  Aren’t we being told that the meek shall inherit the earth?  Aren’t we being told that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will one day be revealed to us?  Aren’t we being told that the church militant will become the church triumphant?  Aren’t we being reminded that the way things are, are not the way things will always be?  That our suffering will one day give way to celebration and the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, the true Zion will come down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband and the dwelling of God will be perfectly and completely with men and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes?  What a day that will be!  But we need to hear again and cling to that precious promise.  We are, perhaps, world-weary.  Do you feel like that?  World-weary.  One day soon a change is going to come.  One day soon.  One day soon God will restore the Holy City, His Church, and the people of God from every tribe and language and nation will stream to Zion and dwell there in peace and its gates will never be shut and nothing accursed will live there, but the throne of God and the Lamb will be there and His people will worship Him.  And there will be no nights, for the Lamb will be its light. No night, for the Lamb will be its light.  While you sit among the rubble of the broken down city of God here, Zechariah is saying, brothers and sisters, cling to the promise of Zion’s prosperity to come and know the day is nearer now than when you first believed.  Press on, labor on, keep going!  “Do not grow weary in well doing, for in due season you will reap if you do not give up” – Galatians 6 and verse 9.  

IV. The Pattern of God’s Penalty 

The picture of the Lord’s presence, the problem of world peace, the promise of Zion’s prosperity, and then finally in verses 18 to 21, here’s the pattern of God’s penalty.  Zechariah’s second vision presents us with the ancient world’s emblems of power and strength – four horns. The interpreting angel explains what they mean.  They are, verse 19, “the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”  Verse 21 – “they are the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.”  The four horns are the political powers that oppressed God’s people.  But then Zechariah is shown four craftsmen.  It’s not hard to see the rubble-filled building site that was still the city of Jerusalem as Zechariah preaches these words.  In his audience were the craftsmen working on the broken-down city, facing a herculean task.  They must have felt weak and hard pressed. Nehemiah 4:17 tells us of their labors that the enemies of God’s people pressed all around them with such opposition that there were times that they had to build with one hand on their swords and their other with the tools of their construction labors.  

But these four craftsmen, Zechariah says, aren’t like the workers on the city streets.  Verse 21 – “They have come to terrify, to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.”  Like the builders of Jerusalem, the Lord is also building His kingdom, but His craftsmen are not so easily daunted by the horns of the world.  For each enemy arrayed against His people – four horns.  There is craftsman, four craftsmen, to defeat them.  Whatever the opposition, Zechariah is saying to the people of God, there are supernatural resources to match and overcome it.  The good news for the suffering people of God then and now is that those who will pose them will be undone and overcome for He that is in us is greater than He that is in the world.  The good news is that God never forgets His covenant with our father Abraham.  “I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will dishonor, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” – Genesis 12 at verse 3.  

It is never safe to oppose the church of Jesus Christ

The warning of the passage is that the pattern of God’s penalty is such that it is never safe to oppose the church of Jesus Christ or to stand against the kingdom that He is building.  Whatever the nations throw at us, and hard things may well be coming for us in America, whatever the nations throw at us, whatever horns may rise up to scatter us, the Word of the Lord through the prophet Zechariah is that our King will match the enemies of His kingdom blow for blow and He will triumph in the end.  Jesus Christ is building His church and hell’s gates will not prevail against it.  The picture of the Lord’s presence, the problem of the world’s peace, the promise of Zion’s prosperity, and the pattern of God’s penalty.  These are visions, brothers and sisters, designed to say to you, whatever your circumstance is now, lift your eyes to the hills, see where your help comes from.  Your safety comes from the Lord who made the heavens and the earth and you can trust Him.  You are secure in His hand, so press on.

Will you pray with me?

Our Father we bless You.  We bless You that You have given Your Son for us, that He is with us always to the end of the age, that He is the Son of Man who walks among the lampstands, He is the angel of the Lord who walks among the myrtle trees.  He is with us, and one day will be with us most fully and the dwelling of God will be with man and we will live together in the restored Zion that is to come.  How we long for that day.  Help us not to grow weary in well-doing til that day dawns, but enable us to press on with our eyes fixed on the author and finisher of our faith.  For we ask this in His precious name and for His glory, amen.

Please stand and receive the benediction.

And now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all now and forevermore.  Amen.

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