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Rejoice! God Is With Us!

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Rejoice! God Is With Us!

Responsive Reading:  Isaiah 35.1-10


Text: Zechariah 8.18-23 ~ “The fast…shall be joy and gladness and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah…for …God is with you.”

Introduction: How many times do we find ourselves practically frozen with fear because of the events and circumstances around us? Everything looks like it is falling apart. Nothing appears to be going our way. We face great and overwhelming odds! But the Lord gently reminds us, “Fear Not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We should never fear, for God is with us!

This is God’s Word to a small, insignificant, poor and seemingly defeated remnant. They were a stiff-necked, hard-hearted people who the Lord dealt with severely in judgment. But, because He had compassion on His people, He stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, King of Persia to release them. 50,000 return, but run into all kinds of troubles. So, they cease all work after having built only the foundation of the Temple. The Lord now comes on the scene through His prophet Zechariah to instill hope and confidence in the Lord by reassuring them that the “Lord Remembers.”

The immediate context is this question of the continuation of these fasts, which illustrates the misunderstanding of the people of their God and His presence with them. The Lord answers their question with now the 4th and final answer – the fasts shall be feasts. We often confuse providential divine events with being troubles, mistakes and sorrows by only looking at these events superficially instead of seeing God’s bigger picture. What God is doing in the book of Zechariah is showing His people the bigger picture and how He controls all things and is moving events and people according to His good pleasure, which is always for our good.

I want to speak to you under the topic – Rejoice! God is with us. I want us first to consider this amazing promise of a transformation from fasts to feasts. Secondly, I want us to recognize the proofs of this promise. Finally, I want us to identify the cause of this miraculous transformation.

I.     The Promise of Transformation

“The fast(s)… shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts…”

There shall be a transformation from fast to feast.

A.    Historically, they were divinely released to rebuild the temple of God. They were at this point nearly complete in the task. Everything was coming into place. God had demonstrated to them through the 8 Night Visions the Success they were to have. So, the question arises, should we continue fasting? But it is the way the question is asked that reveals the truth of their devotion to God with the additional – “as we have done these so many years?”

B.    In order to consider this glorious transformation from fast to feast, first, we need to consider the nature of the fast in contrast to the feast in our text. A fast is specifically not eating. But the motive of these fasts is most important here.

·         God only established fast was for the Day of Atonement.

·         This does not mean that other fasts should not be established, either personally or corporately (Nineveh or a local assembly).

·         These fasts were established to mourn and sorrow over the destruction of the wall, Jerusalem, the temple and the murder of the Governor. The question is was this the right motive? Or were they misguided in their motive not only to fast, but also to sorrow? We will answer this later.

C.    The Lord comes with His Final Answer – the fasts “Shall Be Feasts.” What was sorrow shall now be joy. What was sadness shall be gladness and what was once misery, cheerful. The Lord promises the fasts to be transformed into feasts.

·         The term feast indicates an appointed and fixed time or season of assembly for the definite purpose of festivity. There is something to celebrate. The congregation comes together in festivity.

·         Specifically, something occurs and replaces what were these events of sorrow with that of joy, gladness and cheer. There is something to cheer about.

·         But notice there is a transformation, not simply a replacement. What do I mean by that? It is a turning of something into what it once was not, not simply a replacement of the same and it affects the entire circumstances. In the physical, this may not mean much, but in the spiritual it monumental. For example, Nicodemus. Physical birth and Spiritual birth. “That which is born of flesh is flesh; and that which is born of Spirit is spirit.”

D.    Common errors in this area of transformation

·         Notice, this change was not just some sentimental inner feeling. “I feel better knowing that things are not as bad as they seemed,” This kind of thinking ignores reality.  

·         Not is it a change in their psychological outlook. “I now have a different outlook on things – I understand that I must think positive in order for there to be a positive outcome.”

·         It is not a change to humanistic action. “We have acted diplomatic and fostered a change by reaching out to the enemy.” “We have developed such a monumental feat. Let’s raise up a memorial to Nehemiah and his skills as a true leader.”

·         It is not a change due to hedonistic pursuit (pursuit of pleasure so as to eliminate suffering). I mention this because of the phrase John Piper has coined Christian Hedonism. Our chief end is to enjoy God. “Our failure all along was that we were not enjoying God enough. Now things have changed because we enjoy God more than we did before.” 

·         This is solely due to a change in occasion. Reality has changed that now there is no cause for sorrow, only for joy, gladness and cheer. You remember in Joel that the Lord sends His army of locusts and destroys everything and then He tells them, “I will restore to you the years that the locust ate up!” In other words, what was utterly destroyed, I will restore. It is more succinct in Isaiah 61 – I will comfort those who morn and give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Or in our Responsive Reading – “blind eyes shall see, deaf ears shall hear, the lame shall leap, the dumb shall sing!” Or in the New Testament – “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a New Creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” What is the change in occasion? We are getting to it.

II.    Proofs of the Promise

Verse 20 – “It shall yet come to pass…”

“Yet” – This is an emphatic statement upon God’s Word, although you are so very few, and the temple unfinished; although its completion depends, in human sight, upon the will of their pagan masters; although the rival worship at Samaria stands and invites to coalition, and it all appears contrary to all expectations – you are weak and I am strong! You will see proof:

A.    People shall come, not as mere individuals, but as a congregational unit from nations of people.

B.    AND – they will be inhabitants, that is, dwellers. The word for inhabitants indicates those who marry. They are marrying and settling down. They come with intent, intent to stay and raise a family and become part of the community. They come to remain. They are sold out in this move.

C.    Spiritually speaking, these are devout unto God. Look at how they got here. Verse 21 – they shall say to another, “Let’s go speedily to pray and seek the Lord.”

·         “Speedily” signifies the manner in which the pursue their new abode. It is with haste, not able to waste any time and with an idea of continual pursuit, not allowing anything to impede their progress in the matter.

·         Notice too, their purpose – to pray and to seek the Lord. To pray is linked with “before God” which is literally – to the face! This is quite different than the Israelites in the wilderness, “Moses, you go for us.”

·         Also, they go to seek the Lord. This is to search out by any method, but specifically by means of worship and prayer. The manner in which they come will be to strive after God in worship. This in stark contrast to the question of the fasts in the beginning –  “Do we have to continue fasting like we have been all these years?” It is a difference in devotion. One lacks it, the other has nothing but devotion to God.

Verse 22 – Reiterates what the Lord has said, as if to say, “Yes, many will come, from far and wide, every nation, every tongue to pray and seek the Lord. These are the proofs of the fasts turning to feasts. But what Caused the transformation from mourning to joy?

III.  The Cause of Transformation

We said that there was a change in occasion. They had an occasion for mourning and fasting and now God says that will be changed to feasts of joy, gladness and cheerfulness. What was the change in occasion?

A.    We can answer that by asking this question? Why did the multitudes come? Well, they came to pray before God and to seek the Lord. Couldn’t they have done this where they were? The prophecy has them coming to Jerusalem. (verse 22) But, Christ tells the woman at the well, that no longer will you worship the Father in Jerusalem. What gives here?

B.    What else did Jesus tell the woman? The hour cometh, when ye shall neither worship in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem…but the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” It is not the place, but the person. What brought the change was not a what, but a Who! 

C.    Why did the nations come? Look at verse 23, They will come, “ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you (WHY?) for we have heard that God is with you.”

1.       The presence of God is fundamental to this prophecy.

                        – I will return to you

1.16 – I am returning to Jerusalem with mercy

2.5 – I will be a wall of fire all around her and the glory in her midst.

2.10 – I am coming and I will dwell in your midst and verse 11

2.       The presence of God is fundamental to salvation. Emmanuel – God with us! In Luke Zacharias preaches, “through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us.” And then, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

3.       His Presence is fundamental to true devotion and worship. No special city will do and no special temple will do. He must be present. How extraordinary this is! We are in the Old Testament. But this is the spiritual reality in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. Therefore, what does this tell us of what is ahead. It tells us nothing will change. God’s presence is fundamental and the idea of a physical temple and city is preposterous. The terms, the house of Judah and the city of Jerusalem refer to the Spiritual Jerusalem, the Church. The Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly.

4.       Finally, the presence of God is fundamental to our existence, life and preservation. With God in our presence, what do we have to fear? Isaiah 35.3-10


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