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Move from the Past (but don't Forget...)

Major Lessons from the Minor Prophets  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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We live in a post-modern world where it is easy to get sidetracked from the things that are really important in our lives. The word post-modern seems to be a term that is thrown around in all kinds of circles (art, advertising, and Christianity especially), but what does it mean? Basically what it entails is a way of thinking that breaks away from what is considered “socially acceptable.” We see this more specifically in Christianity in which we now live in a society that “social Christianity” no longer exists. What do I mean by that? There was a time when it was practically a social requirement that you attended a church somewhere and it was a place to make social connections. It would be common to hear, “So-and-so goes to such-and-such church.” For many people it was about keeping up appearances and making social connections. Today, that is not the case. People can make social connections in other ways (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and they have their own views of what constitutes spirituality and religion and tend to lean on practicing their faith in private.
This mindset has gotten people distracted from what is really important and has caused many Christians to lose sight of coming together as a body to worship together and serve together. It has created a society of individuals that have become focused on person needs and desires and has caused people to drift away from pulling together for the greater good. We live in a day where celebrities use their fame as a platform to voice their opinions and not actually pull together to create the change they desire to see in society as a whole.
The nation of Israel faced a similar issue. For seventy years, they had been held captive in Babylon because of their lack of faith in the one true God, and he dealt with that by allowing a nation to come in and destroy everything they had worked hard at building and that meant something to them. Now they are finally allowed to return to their homes and star rebuilding and run into opposition from outside forces, then discouragement sets in, and they lose heart in what they really needed to do and that was to rebuild their temple and restore worship. They eventually gave up on rebuilding the temple and returned to their lives, and as we saw last week, they were barely scraping by, and God used Haggai to call them back to what was really important.
Once they went back to the main task at hand of rebuilding the temple, the next pressing goal was to return to worshipping God, and this is where Zechariah comes into the story.
Zechariah was a fairly common name in Old Testament times and means “The Lord Remembers.” He was a member of the Great Synagogue which was a ruling council of 120 elders of the time (which would later become known as the Sanhedrin). He was a contemporary of Haggai and prophesied around the same timeframe as he did. He is one of three post-exile prophets (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi), and the prophecies are addressed to the people returning from the Babylonian captivity that are starting to rebuild Jerusalem.
Haggai and Zechariah differ in the aspect that Haggai called the people to ficus on rebuilding the temple and Zechariah called the people to cleanse themselves so they could return to true worship God. Zechariah is also mentioned by Jesus in when he pronounced woes onto them for their hypocrisy and told them in verses 34 and 35 the He sent prophets and scribes and they had killed some of them and that some of them had been flogged for their calling of the people to repentance, and He mentions Zechariah specifically by saying, “whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.”
This book was written to the advance party of about 50,000 Jews that were returning to Jerusalem to rebuild after king Cyrus of Persia had declared they could return with the assistance of Persia. When Cyrus died, Darius took the throne of Persia and continued to allow them to return to Jerusalem with his blessing and support of resources and protection.
Zechariah can be broken up into two major sections: (1) chapters 1-8 deal with the present situation the Jews were facing and is similar to Haggai in focus in that it is diagnosing a problem and giving the people advice to correct the issue at hand, and (2) chapters 9-4 are more apocalyptic in nature and deal with a future redemption of the nation.
In chapters 1-8, Zechariah receives eight visions, and these are different that dreams in the fact that he is actually awake when he receives the visions. This would be similar to Peter;s experience on the roof in Acts where God told him that dietary laws no linger applied and very similar to John’s vision of the final revelation on the island of Patmos. we see this very clearly in chapter four where this is actually a dialogue between Zechariah and the angel that presents the vision where the angel presents the vision and then asks him if he understand, and at that point, Zechariah typically answers “no” and gets an explanation.
Zechariah 1:1–6 ESV
1 In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying, 2 “The Lord was very angry with your fathers. 3 Therefore say to them, Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. 4 Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. 5 Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? So they repented and said, ‘As the Lord of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us.’ ”
In this text, we see the time frame of the prophecy which is about 522 BC, which would place the fist six chapters happening before 520 BC, and chapters seven and eight about 518 BC.
Verse 2 begins what God is speaking to Zechariah, and he opens with the statement, “ The Lord was angry with your fathers.” This is explaining what caused the exile to Babylon, and then verse three presents the listener with an if/then statement and the very familiar prophetic phrase, “Thus declares the Lord of Hosts” in a reference to God’s sovereignty. The statement that follows says, “Return to me and I will return to you.”
Verses four through six call the listeners to remember what those that had gone before them had done and how they rejected the former prophets. Basically what God is saying is, “Don’t do what they did, and neglect to turn away from their evil ways.” In verse five and six, God makes a comparison to people and His word. He calls them to focus on where are those that have gone before them, and look to see that they are no longer with them, and yet His word endures beyond life itself, and in the last part of verse 6, we see that the people respond to God’s word and return to Him.
God is calling these people to a very important point, and that is:

In order to confront the issues of the present and future, we must recognize the past and return to the Lord.

This morning, I want to submit you with two simple points from the text that can apply to our lives personally and corporately:

Return to the Lord (1.3)

God is calling His people here to return to Him. Not only were they returning home, but in essence they were returning to Him. Last week we talked about the necessity of the temple for the Jews: no temple, no God, and by extension, no worship. If the people didn’t have the temple, God was not with them, and that affected their worship. In essence, they may have been going through the motions of worship, but their hearts were not in it because they were not in the presence of God because He had no dwelling place among them.
The New Testament idea of returning to the Lord is repentance, and if you can remember from a few weeks ago, we talked about what true repentance was and that was turning FROM one thing TO another. It is one action with two results. Here, the people are being called to turn from their empty, habitual worship, to a true heartfelt worship.
Notice, that is followed by a promise from God,
Zechariah 1:3 ESV
3 Therefore say to them, Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.
If we return to God, God will return to us. Now, I now that seems counter-intuitive because God’s word promises that He will never leave us or forsake us, and that Jesus promised that He would be with us to the very end f the age, but I think we miss the point here.
The people of Israel were filled with massive complacency. Their mentality was that since they were God’s chosen people, they were secure in the knowledge that God was there with them. While this is true, they didn’t quite grasp the concept that God’s character demands obedience. See, if we look at their history, it speaks volumes to us today. They would get caught up in false idol worship over and over again, and God would remove His blessing from them.
The same exact thing applies to us today, and I’v e heard this many times, and I have even used this myself at times, “Once saved, always saved.” That is a sign of a person taking advantage of a good thing. That is a sign of complacency and spiritual laziness. It’s the mentality of, “I can do whatever I want because God promises that I am safe and secure in my salvation.” That is simply a misguided thought process.
True faith that is based on true repentance will affect a change inside a person. The entire mindset of a person should change, and that is what causes us to engage in a meaningful worship experience with God. We are called to worship God above everything else and worship Him in truth:
John 4:24 ESV
24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
God’s character demands a deeper than superficial worship experience with the believer, and when we just go through the motions of coming in and singing a few songs, hearing a bible lesson, and then going on about our business, it is empty worship and we have gotten complacent, and we still feel just as empty when we leave as when we walked in the door. Worship happens all day every day in the life of a believer. It doesn’t make us any less saved if we get in a rut of life and mired in sin, but we do miss out on so many blessings because our worship is clouded, and when it is clouded, it is impure.
The grace in all of this is the promise found in the second part of verse three: “and I will return to you.” Maybe you’re not feeling as blessed as you should, take a look at where your life of worship really is. Do you make excuses for not worshipping? Has something caused you to be distracted? The Jews faced many distractions and it got them exiled to a foreign country for seventy years, do you find yourself in a state of exile and feeling far away from God? Return to Him today and He promises that He will return to you.

Remember how the situation came to be. (1.4-6)

God then calls their attention to the past in verses four through six. He says, “do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out...” The people were stubborn and stiffnecked and neglected to heed what God was saying to them through the prophets, and God makes it a point to tell them that the people “did not hear or pay attention to me...” (v. 5).
There are several important points we must pay close attention to here:

Address the past issues that brought the situation on.

God is calling them to pay attention to what brought the situation on and learn from that. It has been said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” We must address the past and the events that get us to where we are now so that we can learn not to let things happen the way they did before. Remember the glory days of the church? What happened that we are no longer at that point? What events precipitated the dwindling of attendance? We must call to remembrance of those issues so that we don’t let them happen again if we are to continue to move forward.

Heed those that are in positions of spiritual leadership.

We must not get this confused with the old mentality of “pastoral authority.” WE must take great care here to remember that God has put spiritual leaders in churches for a reason, and when someone stands on the platform to speak, they are speaking on behalf of God (or should be anyway). Now, I know that I am by no means perfect and I have the tendency to interject my opinions instead of truth, and my goal is to keep much of my opinions down and focus everything on truth, but we must always continue to remember that modern-day prophets are pastors that preach the truth of God’s word. How are we treating those that God has put in a position of authority? When we come to Sunday morning worship service or a bible study, are we interested in learning what God is speaking to us, or are we more concerned with visiting with each other for the hour? The bottom line to this, and this is scripturally clear, is those that preach and teach God’s word are speaking for God, and how we treat those that preach and teach God’s word is how we treat God.

God’s Word lasts

Verse six brings us to a key point here. People come and go, teachers come and go, pastors are only temporary, but God’s word endures through the ages:
1 Peter 1:24–25 ESV
24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
When everything else goes away, God’s word is still there. It never changes, and it will always be applicable to the life of the believer.
God is faithful and when He makes a promise, we can be sure that he will stand by that promise. Look at chapter two for just a few moments. At the beginning of chapter two, we see the third vision of Zechariah. In it, there is an angel with a measuring line, and a second one appears to be helping the first. Zechariah asks them what they are doing, and the angel tells him that they are measuring Jerusalem and the promise we see here is that it will once again be filled with people even though it has no walls. We must understand the importance of that comment in verse four because for them, for a city to not have walls, it was left without protection, and we will recall in Nehemiah how he was broken over the fact that Jerusalem had been rebuilt, but yet it had no walls and therefore had no protection from outside forces.
Verse 5, however, brings the promise of protection they need:
Zechariah 2:5 ESV
5 And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst.’ ”
Not only is this a promise of protection, but it is a promise that God will reside among them. Verse 6 talks about the destruction and scattering of the northern kingdom, and verse seven calls the people to return to Zion (Jerusalem) from Babylon, and God promises again to deal with those that have oppressed His people in verses eight and nine. In verses ten through twelve, the people are called to celebrate in God’s promises if they return to Him. He promises to dwell with them, and that eventually many nations outside of Israel will join in the celebration and they will be His people as well, and verse thirteen calls the people to silence before the Lord because He is there with them.
God calls us to return to Him, and He promises protection. Protection on a couple of levels:
On an eternal level we are promised protection from eternal condemnation through faith in Jesus Christ, and on a temporal level, we are promised that God will exact vengeance against those that have oppressed His people. The eternal protection we have is a an immediate guarantee, and the temporal protection is at a time of God’s choosing and at His pleasure.
God calls us all to return today to a state of true worship above everything else. Have you just been going through the motions? Are you here out of habit because you don’t know what else to do with your Sunday mornings? Turn from the habitual practice of empty worship and truly seek God’s glory among His people.
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