Sermons

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Sermons

Jun14
9. God will dwell with his people
Series: MAJOR MESSAGES OF MINOR PROPHETS
Leader: The Rev. Dr. William Norman
Scripture: Zechariah 8:113
Date: Jun 14th, 2015
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Let us pray. Living God, help us so to hear your holy Word that we may truly understand; that, understanding, we may believe, and, believing, we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord. Amen.


We have our work cut out for us today. A Jewish scholar, Solomon ben Isaac, who lived from 1040 to 1105 A. D., said this about Zechariah, “The prophesy is very abstruse, for it contains visions resembling dreams which want interpreting; and we shall never be able to discover the true interpretation until the teacher of righteousness arrives” (quoted in Smith, Word Biblical Commentary: Micah—Malachi, 167). I am 100% certain Solomon ben Isaac did not have me in mind when he made that statement. Having said that, I am still certain there is a word in our text that very much applies to this time and place.


Zechariah is a common name, especially among priests and Levites, following the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon. The name likely means, “Yahweh remembers.” Zechariah is a contemporary of Haggai, the prophet examined last week. Zechariah also writes to a people who have gotten a start on rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem but who have been discouraged and who very much need to trust again in the promises of God.


The book of Zechariah has influenced familiar texts in the Christian Scriptures. The most famous is, no doubt, Zechariah 9:9 which is quoted as part of the Palm Sunday story. …your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey,  on a colt, the foal of a donkey. One scholar suggests that other than the prophet Ezekiel, Zechariah has influenced the writing of Revelation more than any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures. There are then lots of places where we could land in this book; I have chosen chapter eight. One scholar refers to the first eight verses as containing “five brief messages of hope.” I found it impossible to resist preaching such a positive message.


The first message of hope is in verse two. I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy. Here is one of the words from the Bible with which we need to take some time. According to the Pocket Oxford Dictionary that sits on the shelf just behind my desk, to be jealous is to be “afraid, suspicious, resentful, envious.” Most of us have grown up with an understanding that jealousy does not paint a pretty picture. If you had siblings you were likely told not to be jealous, that you got your fair share. Your parents may not have known much Shakespeare but they believed in the truth of what Iago said to Othello: “Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”


 So that’s what you got told Monday to Saturday and then you went to Sunday School and learned the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 20:5 you learned that God was a jealous God; in your reading of the Bible you may have even come across Exodus 34:14 in which we are told the Lord’s name is jealous. How come my mother told me that jealousy is an unbecoming trait that I need to grow out of but the Bible says God is so consumed with jealousy it has even become God’s name?


In the Bible the jealousy of God is the divine quality that compels God to do whatever is necessary to make sure the people of God give their worship and covenant loyalty to no other. This, of course, is to the ultimate good of God’s people because it is in being loyal to the one true God that salvation is found. As St. Augustine put it, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”


There is one more aspect to this message of hope. God expresses his jealously for Zion, the city where God makes his dwelling. I think to fully understand this idea we need to hear the second message of hope, in verse three. I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. I find it interesting that the Hebrew word translated dwell is literally the word tabernacle. Some of you may be a step ahead of me, but when I read this I thought immediately of what John says in the prologue of his gospel about Jesus. And the Word became flesh and lived (literally tabernacled) among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.


For me this truth expressed by John points to the significant hope that is ours in Jesus. We know that through Jesus, God makes his dwelling among his people one by one and that in the lives of those who are committed to Jesus, God is present in whatever city, town or village in which those followers of Jesus live. Ultimately we also know that God has promised a holy city, a new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven. It is John writing at the end of his life that proclaims this promise to us. See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell (tabernacle) with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them (Revelation 21:3). Our jealous God, who wants to give his presence to his people is leading us, in hope, to an eternal city in which we will dwell with him.


As I have often explained in a Bible Study, we are living in the in-between times; Jesus came as a baby, died and was raised to life, but he has not returned as Lord and King. We are to live in this time as people whose attitudes and actions are shaped by the knowledge of what is to come. Which brings me to the third promise of hope. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Near the end of April I was waiting for the bus at the Yonge/Blythwood corner and took notice of the improvements made in the parkette. I made a mental note: if the weather ever warms up I must tell Rachel and Christopher about this place for the boys to enjoy a few minutes of play after church. It’s a good thing for a city to have places for boys and girls to play.


Let’s remember the context of this promise. There once was a time when Jerusalem was filled with people of all ages, including children and the elderly. But after the exile the first to return were of necessity those who could withstand hardship and longs hours of work. The promise that is given by Zechariah tells of a city in which children and the elderly will once again be at home. It is, friends, a godly thing that this church is partnered with others in providing for children in Lawrence Heights two weeks where they will have times to learn and to sing and to make friends and to play. As we live in anticipation of the holy city, the transformed city, we will do what we can to make our city a place where the elderly can live to a great age and the girls and boys find a place to play.


I love the next promise. Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the Lord of hosts? Here is a theme that is another thread running through the Bible. The first story in which this theme appears is central to the formation of the people of God beginning with Abraham, or should I say Abram. Some of you will remember this great story. God has called Abram with his wife Sarai to travel to a place that God will show them. Note the emphasis on the word will; this is an act of radical faith and trust.


As these two senior citizens get even older, God promises they will have a child and changes their names to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah thinks the promise is so outrageous that she laughs. God’s response is to ask if anything is impossible for God. For me the most delightful detail of that story is that they name the child Isaac, which means laughter. It has always struck me that even though Sarah is scolded to an eternal city in which we will dwell with him.


As I have often explained in a Bible Study, we are living in the in-between times; Jesus came as a baby, died and was raised to life, but he has not returned as Lord and King. We are to live in this time as people whose attitudes and actions are shaped by the knowledge of what is to come. Which brings me to the third promise of hope. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Near the end of April I was waiting for the bus at the Yonge/Blythwood corner and took notice of the improvements made in the parkette. I made a mental note: if the weather ever warms up I must tell Rachel and Christopher about this place for the boys to enjoy a few minutes of play after church. It’s a good thing for a city to have places for boys and girls to play.


Let’s remember the context of this promise. There once was a time when Jerusalem was filled with people of all ages, including children and the elderly. But after the exile the first to return were of necessity those who could withstand hardship and longs hours of work. The promise that is given by Zechariah tells of a city in which children and the elderly will once again be at home. It is, friends, a godly thing that this church is partnered with others in providing for children in Lawrence Heights two weeks where they will have times to learn and to sing and to make friends and to play. As we live in anticipation of the holy city, the transformed city, we will do what we can to make our city a place where the elderly can live to a great age and the girls and boys find a place to play.


I love the next promise. Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the Lord of hosts? Here is a theme that is another thread running through the Bible. The first story in which this theme appears is central to the formation of the people of God beginning with Abraham, or should I say Abram. Some of you will remember this great story. God has called Abram with his wife Sarai to travel to a place that God will show them. Note the emphasis on the word will; this is an act of radical faith and trust.


As these two senior citizens get even older, God promises they will have a child and changes their names to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah thinks the promise is so outrageous that she laughs. God’s response is to ask if anything is impossible for God. For me the most delightful detail of that story is that they name the child Isaac, which means laughter. It has always struck me that even though Sarah is scolded to an eternal city in which we will dwell with him.


As I have often explained in a Bible Study, we are living in the in-between times; Jesus came as a baby, died and was raised to life, but he has not returned as Lord and King. We are to live in this time as people whose attitudes and actions are shaped by the knowledge of what is to come. Which brings me to the third promise of hope. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Near the end of April I was waiting for the bus at the Yonge/Blythwood corner and took notice of the improvements made in the parkette. I made a mental note: if the weather ever warms up I must tell Rachel and Christopher about this place for the boys to enjoy a few minutes of play after church. It’s a good thing for a city to have places for boys and girls to play.


Let’s remember the context of this promise. There once was a time when Jerusalem was filled with people of all ages, including children and the elderly. But after the exile the first to return were of necessity those who could withstand hardship and longs hours of work. The promise that is given by Zechariah tells of a city in which children and the elderly will once again be at home. It is, friends, a godly thing that this church is partnered with others in providing for children in Lawrence Heights two weeks where they will have times to learn and to sing and to make friends and to play. As we live in anticipation of the holy city, the transformed city, we will do what we can to make our city a place where the elderly can live to a great a


ge and the girls and boys find a place to play.


I love the next promise. Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the Lord of hosts? Here is a theme that is another thread running through the Bible. The first story in which this theme appears is central to the formation of the people of God beginning with Abraham, or should I say Abram. Some of you will remember this great story. God has called Abram with his wife Sarai to travel to a place that God will show them. Note the emphasis on the word will; this is an act of radical faith and trust.


As these two senior citizens get even older, God promises they will have a child and changes their names to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah thinks the promise is so outrageous that she laughs. God’s response is to ask if anything is impossible for God. For me the most delightful detail of that story is that they name the child Isaac, which means laughter. It has always struck me that even though Sarah is scolded for her laughter, there is something comedic about the outrageous promises of God.


Of course there is another tie here to the story of our Saviour. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that despite her being a virgin she is going to  give birth to a son. Part of his message is to assure Mary that nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37).


To those who heard this prophet’s message it must have seemed like a total impossibility that God could or would bring restoration and peace to Jerusalem. It is, friends, simply one attribute of our faith that God asks us to trust him that if it is his will to accomplish the impossible, then the impossible will be done. It is then a characteristic of a Christian that we are people of hope.


The fifth word of promise tells us at least two important things about God. God says that God’s people will be gathered from the place where the sun rises to the place where the sun sets. Of course, if one is standing in one spot, you get the sense of the sun travelling from east to west each day. But if you had the right vehicle which could travel the right speed you could watch the sun rise and then head west keeping the setting sun always just ahead of you.


How do you think of this? There are two wonderful possibilities—either that God is gathering his family from all over or that no matter how far one goes from east to west, there are members of the family of God, faithful servants of God’s kingdom of grace and righteousness.


The last paragraph of our text is bracketed by an expression of God’s desire and intention for us, that our hands be strong in God’s service. We hear it first in verse nine: Let your hands be strong and then in verse thirteen: Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong. The purpose of the prophet is to provide encouragement to God’s people. This particular expression, let your hands be strong, is an ancient expression. Some of you might remember that this saying was used as part of the story of David.


The young man David had been anointed as the next king of Israel and had come into the service of Saul, but Saul turned against David and tried to kill him. In a surprising twist, Saul’s son Jonathan becomes David’s ally and strengthens his hands in the Lord. In other words Jonathan reminds David that no matter the momentary appearances, the will and purposes of God would be accomplished in David’s life. Here again is a great concept for the Christian that I think Paul may have had in mind as he finished off his first letter to the church in Corinth. Chapter fifteen is surely among the greatest writing of Paul. He speaks first about the resurrection of Jesus, then about the resurrection of believers who have died and then about the sort of body we will have in the resurrection. He finishes all of this with a wonderful statement of encouragement. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.


Friends, Jesus of Nazareth, who died and rose again is nothing less than almighty God in human form. The Holy Spirit is nothing less than God sent to shape us into full maturity, measured by the stature of Christ. God is with us, may your hands be strengthened in the Lord.