No Standstill When God Shows You Reality

These notes are from a talk on Zechariah by Simon Smallwood at the recent Reaching the Unreached [http://www.reachingtheunreached.org.uk/] conference in Barnsley. They are my notes from a talk so they may not accurately represent what Simon intended.

This is a ‘day of small things’ (Zechariah 4:10). At this point in history there was not much of God’s kingdom. Jerusalem was in ruins. The temple was destroyed so it seemed as of God was absent. Over a million people came out of Egypt under Moses, but now there are only 50,000. They were not free, but subject to their Persian overloads. And their neighbours were hostile. They had returned to Jerusalem with high expectations fuelled by the post-exilic prophets. But their dreams had not been realised. It had taken them 18 years to get where they were and they were nowhere.  Work on the temple had come to standstill.

God’s purpose required that he would come to his temple (Malachi 3:1-3) so God raised up two prophets to inspire work on the temple – Haggai and Zechariah. Zechariah’s ministry was one of revealing ‘reality’. Zechariah pulls back the curtain so that God’s people could see with his word what they could not see with their eyes. As a result of Zechariah’s ministry the work of the temple was completed in four years. Something the size of an English cathedral was completed in just a few years.

For most of us it is also a day of small things. We are constrained by a secular government and face hostile neighbours. The place where we live looks like a bomb site. We have unrealised dreams. Many are tempted to leave. ‘In the past year I have met more people leaving ministry on estates than moving on to estates’ (Duncan Forbes)

But the message of Zechariah for us is this: there can be no standstill when God shows you reality.

The past need not hold you back (1:1-6)
The people of Israel had returned physically to Jerusalem, but their hearts were still far from God. They had come back home, but they had not come back to him. The evidence of this was that the work of God’s house had come to a standstill. What we work on reveals what really matters to us.

Verse 4 contains an element of warning. But the emphasis is verse 3: an incentive to get going. ‘Therefore tell the people: This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Return to me,” declares the LORD Almighty, “and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty’ (Zechariah 1:3) Build my house and I will come to fill Jerusalem with my glory.

This is a small warning to us and a great encouragement. The danger we face is to be there in a deprived area and getting on with all sorts of good things, but not truly to give ourselves to being there and building God’s temple (which in the new covenant is his church).

It does not matter what we have inherited from the past (whether from our predecessors or our own mistakes). God promises to build if we return to him.

With the Lord your future is secure (1:7-17)
In Dagenham it is CCTV that keeps an eye on us. In Zechariah’s day mounted Persian patrols kept an eye of the Israelites. It seemed that Darius, the King of Persia, was in control. But Zechariah sees the Lord’s horses going out on patrol throughout the whole earth. The nations are like a drop in a bucket compared to the Lord’s empire (Isaiah 40:12-15). The destiny of all people is in God’s hands.

Israel felt small and fragile. They situation felt insecure. But God could comfort them with kind words because they were the object of his passionate, protective love. ‘I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion’ (14). When I saw my son being bullied in the playground my passion was ignited. This is the passion God feels for his people. With the Lord their future was secure. ‘Proclaim further: This is what the LORD Almighty says: “My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.”’ (Zechariah 1:17)

Insecurity and fear paralyses us. Losing sight of the Lord, Israel hardly dared press on with rebuilding Jerusalem for fear of reprisals. But this reassurance frees them to get on with God’s work. Since our well-being is guaranteed by God, we are free to work for him even in hostile contexts.

It is so disheartening when the world looks on with derision. The nations in all their complacency and security were facing God’s judgment. ‘The angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion but I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they added to the calamity.”’ (Zechariah 1:14-15) This should stop us envying the world. It may look secure, but it is actually on the edge of the abyss. We keep going because our future is secure, and we keep preaching the gospel because their future is insecure. So we keep going when God shows us reality.

No kingdom work can ever be insignificant (1:81-21)
God does not build his kingdom with (worldly) power and might. ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty.’ (Zechariah 4:6) The horns in 1:18 represent the power of empire. God does not confront the power of empire with power and might, but with craftsmen. What confounds the empires of this world is the building of God’s temple.

Every part of the temple under construction speaks of God. It prepares for the coming of the Lord to his temple. It would be reason enough to continue if all you see in a lifetime of ministry is one living stone because that living stone is a witness to the reality of God in the world and to the reality of his coming. This ought to be enough to get us temple-builders up in the morning.

Kingdom building knows no bounds (2:1-13)
When a labourer dug the first sod for the new Olympic stadium he could not imagine how it would unfold. It must have felt like a vast and thankless task. But back in the office the architect had the plans and artist’s impressions. These show what it will become. These offer inspiration. Zechariah 2:1-13 offer this vision, a vision of God’s plans.

In Zechariah’s vision a town planner is trying to work out where the walls should be. God’s response is that it will be a city without limits and which does not need walled protection for God himself will protect it.

In 400 years the Lord would come to this city and from there the gospel would go out to all nations over many generations and many, many people would come in to God’s kingdom. ‘Run, tell that young man, “Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it.”’ (4) ‘Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you.’ (11) This is the reality of which we are part.

Our view of God’s kingdom can become blinkered by what is going on in our patch. We can imagine that the church is in decline. We talk of living in a post-Christian era. This is de-motivating. We take on a bunker mentality.

We need to get excited about being part of God’s huge, worldwide project. Even if our part is slow-going, it is a privilege to be part of what God is doing.

There can be no standstill when God shows you reality. But we must let God’s word show us reality.
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