28 Aug Zechariah: A Purpose-Driven Life
Majoring on the Minors
Zechariah: A Purpose-Driven Life
August 25, 2019
M. Michelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church
Click below to hear the sermon.
Leo Tolstoy is regarded as one of the great novelists in world literature. He wrote many books of lasting significance, including War and Peace. Most people would consider him a success by every human standard. He was married to a beautiful woman, fathered 13 children, and lived in luxury on a lavish estate.
In the middle of this life, Tolstoy experienced something of an existential crisis. The things that once brought him meaning—raising a family and becoming a successful writer—no longer held the same importance for him. He became unfaithful to his marriage. He began to drink and gamble to excess. He sought answers in philosophy, Eastern wisdom, and the opinions of his fellow novelists, all to no avail. This crisis led him to the brink of suicide.
Eventually he found the answer to his existential dilemma among the peasant people of Russia. He observed that they found meaning in the Christian faith. Tolstoy became a follower of Jesus, and in 1887, wrote an essay which he titled, A Confession. In it he writes, “The meaning of life is to be found in the fact that God has a purpose for us.”
Like Tolstoy, the prophet we encounter this morning, Zechariah, wrestles with these big “meaning of life” questions, particularly wondering if history and our place within human history has purpose and significance.
Granted, of all the Minor Prophets we’ve read this summer, Zechariah might be the hardest one to figure out what he’s talking about. Scholars struggle to identify the overall unity of the book. And then there are the last six chapters with images that are about as difficult to understand as any text in all of scripture. Horses patrolling the earth, four horns scattering Judah, Satan accusing a high priest, stones with seven eyes, a flying scroll, a woman in a basket, all in the midst of discussions of key dates and condemnations of wicked shepherds and crowns and fasting in certain months and promises of glorious prosperity.
The Protestant reformer Martin Luther wrote two commentaries on Zechariah’s prophecy. His first commentary, in Latin, was written in 1526 A.D., and in it, Luther provided extensive commentary on the first 13 chapters of the book with nary a word about chapter 14. The following year he published a second commentary in German in which he added a brief section on Zechariah’s final chapter. He introduced chapter 14 with the candid admission, “Here in this chapter, I give up, for I am not sure what the prophet is talking about.” That’s encouraging news for us if we’re reading Zechariah; a little less comforting for those of us tasked with preaching it.
Zechariah writes at the same time as the prophet Haggai who we met last week, and Zechariah is focused on the same event: the rebuilding of the temple. A remnant of Jews has returned to the land from exile and they’ve been slacking. They have not restored God’s temple, so Haggai and Zechariah tell them to get a move on. “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” (1:16).
You’ll also encounter some of the same people we saw in Haggai: Zerubbabel the Governor of Judah and Joshua the High Priest. And, like last week, the promises of God’s Messiah, God’s dwelling with his people, and the transformation of the people are all hoped-for, not-yet-realized promises. While Haggai focused on hope as the people wait for restoration, the present reality still falls far, far short. It looks like Judah’s best days are in the past; many of the people are still scattered in foreign nations; and there is still corruption and wickedness among the people and their leaders. It’s hard to hold onto hope when everything around you is falling apart, and that is precisely the situation into which Zechariah prophesies.
The specifics of our situation are different, of course, but I think we all know how Zechariah feels. When things are falling apart, we know what it is to wonder if there is a point to all this. Is there a plan, and if so, how do I fit in it? Is there purpose to the tragedies and pain we endure?
Zechariah believes that there is. First, he trusts that God is at work, regardless of what is visible to the naked eye. All of God’s people who are scattered? God is going to gather them back in. The priests are full of sin and wickedness? God will take away their iniquity and make them clean. Jerusalem is in ruins and the temple lies useless? God will restore both city and temple and dwell again in the midst of his people.
But Zechariah sees something else. God is going to do a new thing, he says. It’s easy for us to miss because we don’t understand the imagery. “Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. And say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both”’” (Zechariah 6:11-13).
This is something new. A crown on the high priest? A high priest on the throne? This is mixing what shouldn’t be mixed. To this point God had sharply separated priest and king. The priest’s domain was the temple and the king’s was the palace, and the two were to each stay in their lanes, to use a phrase from my blog a couple of weeks ago. But here, it’s like a bolt of lightning flashes between them, intertwining them.
Then there is the meaning of “the Branch,” the one who builds the temple and bears royal honor. What is that about? The prophet Jeremiah helps us here. “Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (23:5-6).
This is a reference to what God will do in Jesus, the royal son of David who is also our Great High Priest. As promised, he will rebuild the temple, the temple of his body, in three days. In the meantime, Joshua and the other priests are a sign, a down payment, a promissory note, which God will make good on when Christ comes.
There is a second surprise and that has to do with the meaning of Jerusalem. No doubt the immediate concern in Zechariah is the rebuilding of the city itself. But here, too, we see rumblings, lightning flashes that indicate something more than meets the eye. Listen to Zechariah 2:1-5:
“And I looked up and saw 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, and another angel 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.”’”
“Jerusalem without walls.” Literally, “Jerusalem without borders”, filled by multitudes, with God as the glory in her midst. A Jerusalem of many nations and peoples of every tongue flocking to the holy city to seek the Lord of hosts.
The picture Zechariah is painting here is that when Jesus, the Branch, the son of David, the priest-king comes, he will build a different kind of city and a different kind of temple. He will build a city, a kingdom for all people and the temple he’s building will be made up of people, made of living stones.
A priest with a crown. A Branch who will reign. A king on a donkey. A shepherd who is struck and pierced. A Jerusalem without borders, made up of people from all nations. And in the end, a promise: “On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one” (14:8-9).
Many people are convinced that the secularists have it right, that history has no ultimate purpose, that history is cyclical. It just happens; round and round it goes. Some people embrace the view that history is evolving, moving in an increasingly progressive direction, though it is hard to maintain that view if you watch much of the evening news. Zechariah is putting forward an altogether different worldview, that human history is moving toward a consummation in which God’s kingdom will be fully and finally established in Christ. There is a grand arc of history, but that arc is subject to the eternal purposes of God. And because God’s purposes are threaded throughout our lives and our world, we can live, indeed we are called to live, with confidence, with hope and with expectancy. We can live in the sure knowledge that no matter what happens, we are held by God.
Christian author Anne Lamotte wrote a moving tribute to her childhood friend, actor Robin Williams, after Williams’ shocking suicide five years ago. If you’re familiar with her writing, you know that she can use some salty language at times and can be rather unconventional, but her remarks surrounding the actor’s death ring true: “Live lives worth living. Stop hitting the snooze button. Don’t squander your life on meaningless, multi-tasking b*s*.”
I think Zechariah would agree. We’ve got one shot at living this life. Make it count. Invest your life—your time, your gifts, your resources—in things that matter and in things that last. Invest yourself in the kingdom of God both now and for the future. And remember Tolstoy: “Life has meaning because God has a purpose for us.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.