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Hope in a Hopeless World

Published: 1 year ago- 29 August 2021

SERMON TRANSCRIPT

INTRODUCTION

Let’s be honest – there aren’t many good things about the pandemic. But I can think of at least one. I think the events of the past 18 months or so have reintroduced us to the importance of hope. I don’t know about you, but I’m really hoping that before too long, I can stop wearing a mask. I hope that before too long, everyone who’s part of MPC will be back, along with many new people, crowding into this room. I hope that a time is coming when the words ‘social distancing’ and ‘hotel quarantine’ are consigned to the dustbin of history. I hope that my daughters will be able to come home from Uni without going into isolation. I hope I can visit my Dad, and my in-laws in the UK. Hope is needed, and grows and flourishes when we face the fact that life right now isn’t all it should be. And that’s exactly what Zechariah’s generation needed to discover. Hope. But not hope in the national cabinet, or reaching a particular threshold of vaccinated adults. Not wishful thinking, or blind optimism. But solid, lasting hope in a person. These chapters are a pandemic-proof call to put our hope, our trust, our confidence, to invest our present and future in the Lord Jesus Christ. Over 500 years before Christ was born, Zechariah presents his peers with a stunning array of vivid pictures of the one to come – our Lord Jesus Christ. This morning, all we’re going to do is pick up and pull on the thread which links Zechariah 9 and 10 together. Some of the language and details are tricky as we’ll see, but the overall message is so very clear. Here are 3 portraits of Lord Jesus Christ, which hold out an expansive hope to us which will make throwing away our masks and shaking hands, and hopping on planes again seem like nothing. First, Zechariah calls us to…

HOPE IN THE ALL-SEEING JUDGE WHO SAVES! (9:1-9)

Zechariah 9:1-8 doesn’t seem at first glance to be all that riveting. It’s mostly a bunch of obscure place names: 9:1 A prophecy: The word of the LORD is against the land of Hadrak and will come to rest on Damascus 2 and on Hamath too, which borders on it, and on Tyre and Sidon, though they are very skillful. The bad news for these places is that they are about to be judged. So in verse 5, Ashkelon will see it and fear; Gaza will writhe in agony, and Ekron too, for her hope will wither… . Unless you’ve been reading 2 Sam 8, where they are named as towns in the time of David (around 1000BC), you won’t have heard of these places. Most of them are long gone. But that’s actually the point. This oracle is deliberately old school. Zechariah rhymes off a list of old place names which were synonymous with Israel’s traditional enemies. But they all have one thing in common. They are all punished by God. The cities of Samaria face the music, as do the settlements of the Philistine nation (even though by Zechariah’s day, it was a thing of the past). The point is that sooner or later, God the judge will catch up with those who oppose him. There is ultimately no escape from this God – it may take a while, but one day, the peoples of every nation tribe and tongue will bow before our God and King. Everyone will be judged – and judged fairly. There will be no complaints about some people getting an easier time than others. There will be no question of some people getting off with taunting or oppressing God’s people. On judgement day, no-one escapes – not the ancient enemies of God’s people, nor their current ones, nor their future adversaries. All past wrongs, all deceit, all injustice, all brutality, all political intrigue will be accounted for. A Judge who sees everything will show up and act. But even as judgement as rolled out, God something incredible for these enemies… .7 I will take the blood from their mouths, the forbidden food from between their teeth. Those who are left will belong to our God and become a clan in Judah, and Ekron will be like the Jebusites. These people were spectacular lawbreakers. But even bloodthirsty Philistines from Ekron, who have all kinds of prohibited cooked meats between their teeth will be saved. Even some of the Philistines will be part of the people of God – the judge of all the earth will save some, and then will secure his own people’s safety – 8 But I will encamp at my temple to guard it against marauding forces. Never again will an oppressor overrun my people, for now I am keeping watch. God himself will show up and act in both salvation and judgement. For Zechariah, that’s something to look forward to! And for us? We’ve already seen how this is going to play out… The Lord Jesus Christ, who is the judge of all humanity, has shown up, and he has saved some very unlikely people – people like you and me – as Paul writes this at the end of 1 Corinthians 1: 1 Cor 1:26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. … God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things… so that no one may boast before him. But that is only half the story – for a day is coming when, to quote Paul again, at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Yes, Jesus saves unlikely people, but he will also judge everyone. This is the one in whom we put our hope. Who do you think the most unlikely people on the planet to become Christians are right now? My guess is that many of us would opt for the Taliban, who even as we meet, are starting to hunt down every one of our brothers and sisters who has become a Christian since they were last in power. But you know what? I think there are other groups who may not have turbans or brandish M-60s, but are almost as unlikely to become Christians just now. They live on your street and they are called ordinary, suburban Australians. Resistant to the gospel. Oblivious to the reality that Jesus Christ lived, died, rose again and now rules the universe in power and authority. But the great news is that whether we are looking out the window or watching dreadful scenes from Kabul airport, whether we are talking about scary Islamic militants or Silent Australians, the Lord Jesus is the one who can save them, and who will judge them and all of us. So we do not give up – we keep praying, and speaking, and loving, and inviting and proclaiming – because our Lord Jesus is the Judge who saves! So let’s deliberately and decisively put our hope in the Judge who saves. And let’s… .

HOPE IN THE HUMBLE KING WHO DELIVERS! (9:9-10)

In 9:9-10, the scene changes abruptly to a striking figure who is riding on a donkey of all things. 9:9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Now I don’t want to insult you, but I’m guessing that like me, your knowledge of donkey terminology is probably quite limited. Did you know that a male donkey is called a jackass, and a female donkey a jenny? I do – now! And whilst you may not think that detail is of particular theological weight, in this case, you’d be wrong. In Genesis 49, as Jacob blesses his sons before he dies, we read these words: 10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. 11 Binding his foal to the vine and his jackass’s son of a jenny to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. Jacob says that Israel’s future depends on one of the descendant of his son Judah. He will one day rule. And what’s the King from Judah’s chosen mode of transport? He comes on a jackass, the son of a jenny. He rides on a pure bred donkey. That’s who shows up in this chapter – the donkey-riding king from Judah. He is righteous – morally admirable. He is victorious. And he’s also lowly. Zechariah urges his contemporaries not to despair, but to put their hope in a coming king, who would ride a donkey as a symbol that he is the heir of Judah. A good and tender king. A king who is ‘gentle and lowly of heart’. It’s fascinating that when the Lord Jesus came to Jerusalem, publicly announcing the climax of his mission, that he turned to this passage. We read these words in Matthew 21: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ It is astonishing in a way – the King, the person in whom who put our hope is unassuming and modest, and so deeply personally attractive. One of my favourite books is a short book called ‘Seeing and Savouring Jesus’. Even the title is a powerful reminder to me that at the heart of everything is the sheer tenderness and beauty of the Lord Jesus. To know him is to be drawn to him, and to love him. But let’s not make the mistake that his gentleness and humility make him ineffectual. He is the King who will subdue all comers. In verse 10, he deals with all opposition, whether chariots attacking the north (Ephraim) or warhorses in the south (Jerusalem): ‘the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.’ This humble king will bring real peace. According to verse 11, he will even be willing to spill is own blood to keep the covenant promises he has made to his people. And whether the ‘waterless pit’ is referring to Joseph, thrown in the pit by his brothers, or to Jeremiah, lobbed into a waterless well by those who wanted to shut him up, or perhaps more likely, to Psalms 40 and 62, where David describes his plight as being in the bottom of a pit, Jesus, the humble king, will get us out of the hole we’re in! Those who were formerly ‘prisoners who were marked out by their hope’ are freed and get double blessings. And the impacts of reign just keeps coming from verse 13: Rather than being the whipping boy of the ancient Near East, a day is coming when the people of God led by this humble King will be instruments of his judgement. 13 I will bend Judah as I bend my bow and fill it with Ephraim. I will rouse your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece, and make you like a warrior’s sword. The Greeks were starting to throw their weight about in this period. In 490BC, they famously routed the Persians at the battle of Marathon, which is, of course, 26 miles and 385 yards from Athens. But neither these new kids on the block nor anyone else will be able to defeat God’s king. 14 Then the LORD will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning]; the Lord GOD will sound the trumpet [the only time he does so anywhere in the Bible] and will march forth in the storms of the south.15 The LORD of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones, and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine, and be full like a bowl, used for sprinkling the corners of the altar. There is either lots of wine, as Yahweh and his people celebrate victory by drinking, or there is lots of blood, as they make a huge victory sacrifice. Either way, this is a huge win! The point is that the gentle and lowly king delivers his people, no matter who comes against them. Which is underlined by verses 16 and 17: 16 The LORD their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. 17 … … Grain will make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women. Through this humble king, God will deliver his people. We will shine in his hand like jewels, his prized possession, and people will gasp. On that day, men will be grain-fed and women will sip on slightly fermented low alcohol wine. We will be treasured and we will be content. This is one of those parts of the Bible where, even though God is speaking to a small group of people tucked away in the western corner of the Persian Empire, he really is speaking to us – because this is always how our humble king treats us. his people. He ‘delivers’ us – he finds us, he frees us, he cleans us up, he holds us up – like jewels sparking in a crown. In the book of Revelation, John hears an angel describe us as God’s people like this: “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal… . Do you see? We are the jewels. The treasured possession of our God. And because we have been delivered by out humble King to enjoy him, we will be utterly, uninterruptedly content – . 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. We will be satisfied, not with grain and new wine, but with the rich banquet of knowing God himself. No wonder Zechariah cries out not as the NIV unfortunately says ‘how beautiful we will be’, but ‘how great is his beauty!’ We really can hope in the humble king, for he delivers. But Zechariah isn’t finished yet – in chapter 10, he calls us to…

HOPE IN THE STRONG SHEPHERD WHO STRENGTHENS! (10:1-12)

Understandably, over the years there had been a fair bit of agonising over what had gone wrong in Judah that had led to them ending up in Exile in Babylon. Here’s Zechariah’s not very complimentary take on his own people’s history: Look with me at 10:1-2 – Zech 10:1 Ask rain from the LORD in the season of the spring rain, from the LORD who makes the storm clouds, and he will give them showers of rain, to everyone the vegetation in the field. 2 For the household gods utter nonsense, and the diviners see lies; they tell false dreams and give empty consolation. Therefore the people wander like sheep; they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd. I hope you can pick up that Zechariah is not being particularly complimentary to his peers in these verses! In the words of Calvin, he is actually ‘reproving them for their brutal stupidity’. How does that stupidity show? It shows in the fact that they say they believe in the God who is the Lord of the Universe, which includes controlling weather systems, and even more specifically precipitation, and yet they won’t ask him for rain at the very time of year their crops desperately need it! That’s plain stupid in itself. But what makes things worse is that instead of crying to the God of heaven and earth, instead what do they do? They pray to their little household idols who are incapable of doing anything other than leading people astray. But interestingly, for Zechariah, the key thing isn’t their dumb idolatry. It’s the fact that they don’t have a shepherd. This is not any old shepherd. This the Shepherd, the one who is described in Ezekiel 34 like this: 34: 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. The basic problem before the Exile, and during the Exile, and after the Exile, in Zechariah’s day was really very simple: they needed God to send the Shepherd, the king from David’s line – the Messiah. They needed him to come and sort things out. Which is exactly what this chapter looks forward to. You can read about how God deals with the old shepherds in 10:3 “My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders (lit. ‘male goats’), for the LORD Almighty will care for his flock, the people of Judah, and make them like a proud horse in battle. Both here and in Isaiah 14:9, ‘male goats’ is a derisory term for foreign leaders. After the Exile, not only did the people of Judah appoint some pretty ropey leaders of their own. On top of that, they were also governed by all kinds of foreigners, who happily exploited them for generation after generation. But God says all that is about to stop, for he will send a new shepherd to straighten things out: 4 From Judah shall come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler. A new shepherd is on the way – he will be the cornerstone, the one who stops the house of Judah from falling down; he’ll be the tent peg that holds the tent of Judah in place; he’ll be the battle bow that repels the enemies of God’s people – he will be embolden all the leaders, and the people – we’ll all be like majestic steeds (verse 3), or in the words of verse 5, warriors in battle trampling their enemy into the mud of the streets.; they shall fight because the LORD is with them, and they shall put to shame the riders on horses. This new-found courage and vigour comes purely and simply from the fact that Yahweh, who cares for us, his flock, has given us a new Shepherd-King, whom we know to be the Lord Jesus Christ. And this new Shepherd who strengthens us is Jesus Christ himself, is the key to our growth, and joy, and energy. One of the biggest challenges of being a Christian has got to be maintaining our relationship with, and commitment to and affection for the Lord Jesus Christ himself. It’s actually one of the dangers of prioritising good things like refreshing our vision, or looking for a new senior pastor or even getting into our Bibles- the danger is that we forget that all of these things are really no more than means to an end – the end that we bring glory to Jesus Christ as we live for him, enjoy him and proclaim him in our watching world. So how is that going for you? Right now, is Jesus Christ himself the blazing centre of your life? Is he the core around which your life revolves? Is Jesus the first thing you think of when you wake up and the last who crosses your mind as you fall asleep? Is he the source of your joy and security and satisfaction and delight? These chapters are here to persuade us and cajole us to run to him. For he is the one who strengthens us, as he pulls us and keeps us together. In verses 6-9, God describes the moment which his people had longed for, but had scarcely dared dream of – the day when his people would be brought back together. When the Northern Tribes, decimated by the Assyrians in 722, and the Southern Tribes, carted off to Babylon in the run up to 586 would be reunited. Zech 10:6 “I will strengthen the house of Judah (in the South), and I will save the tribes of Joseph (in the north). I will restore them because I have compassion on them, and they shall be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God and I will answer them. 7 The Ephraimites (the Northern tribes) will become like warriors, and their hearts shall be glad as with wine. Their children shall see it and be joyful; their hearts will rejoice in the LORD. [They will win because Yahweh is on their side]. 8 “I will signal for them and gather them in. Surely I will redeem them, and they will be as many as they were before. 9 Though I scattered them among the nations, yet in distant lands they will remember me [as in Deuteronomy 30] , and with their children they shall survive and they will return. Through the shepherd-king, God brings his people home to him. We do tend to underestimate what God has done in making us part of his church. His grand salvation project isn’t simply about rescuing us as individuals, it’s about making a people for himself, a city, a bride – which means we really are in this together. We meet here this morning not just as people who happen to share a similar commitment, who prefer coming to hear a talk at the same time, but as people who together have been united to Christ. In Zechariah’s day, the great divide was between Northern and Southern Kingdom, that will go. Then it was between Jew and Gentile, and that would go. And today? Whether it’s young and old, or city and country, or anglo and everyone else every divide is smashed, as our strong shepherd makes us stronger together. See what happens in verse 10-12? 10 I will bring them home from the land of Egypt, and gather them from Assyria, and I will bring them to the land of Gilead and to Lebanon, and there won’t be enough room for them. 11 They shall pass through the sea of troubles and the sea will be subdued, and all the depths of the Nile shall be dried up. It’s the Exodus revisited, only this time the road back from Assyria through Lebanon, and the road back from Egypt through Gilead will be cleared. Israel’s oppressors – and in particular their pride and their power – will be dealt with justly – The pride of Assyria shall be brought down, and the scepter of Egypt shall depart. And then this to sum it up: 12 I will strengthen them in the LORD and in his name they will live securely [walk]” declares the LORD. The strong shepherd defeats all-comers, and strengthens us. To walk in his name. That’s the only place in the Bible we come across that phrase. The strong shepherd will strengthen us to ‘walk like Yahweh’ rather than being forced to walk like Egyptians or Assyrians or anyone else. Do you see how much our God does for us in this section? He says I will strengthen… I will save… I will bring them back… . I will have compassion… . I have redeemed them… I will bring them home… I will make them strong… I will help them to walk. I… I… I … I… This is our God. And how does he do all this? God does it all in and through the one who calls himself the good shepherd. And all this has been played out before our very eyes in the gospel. In John 10, Jesus describes his work in a way that fits beautifully with everything we have seen in Zechariah 10 – here’s what he says: John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John, who wrote down Jesus’ words about the Good Shepherd, also saw and described a scene for us in Revelation 7: 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This good shepherd, Jesus Christ, brings us together, and sets us free and speaks to us, making us strong. That’s why our great need is to hope in him.

CONCLUSION

Those to whom Zechariah spoke really needed this message. Apathetic, struggling, despondent, bruised and shaken. Fed up with not shaking hands and wearing masks and not being able to cross borders. They needed hope. We need hope. And Zechariah gives it to us – hope in an all-seeing judge who saves people, a humble king who delivers, and a strong shepherd who strengthens us. Hope in the Lord Jesus. The enduring, defining issue of our lives before, during and after COVID is this: is Jesus Christ our living hope? Does his nature, his character, his instruction, his example, his death, his resurrection, his rule and his agenda dominate everything we do? Is he our hope? In these chapters, see his beauty, his tenderness, his power, his lowliness, his splendour, his authority and run to him. Listen to these words from the peerless Jonathan Edwards, from his sermon The Admirable Conjunction of Diverse Excellencies in Christ Jesus preached in August 1736:
What are you afraid of, that you dare not venture your soul upon Christ? … What is there that you can desire should be in a Saviour, that is not in Christ? What excellency is there wanting? What is there that is great or good; what is there that is venerable or winning; what is there that is adorable or endearing; or, what can you think of that would be encouraging, which is not to be found in the person of Christ? … What is there wanting, or what would you add if you could, to make him more fit to be your Saviour?… . In Christ infinite greatness and infinite goodness meet together, and receive lustre and glory one from another. His greatness is rendered lovely by his goodness., and his infinite goodness receives lustre from his greatness. And how glorious is the sight, to see him who is the great Creator and supreme Lord of heaven and earth, full of condescension, tender pity and mercy, towards the mean and unworthy! Thus is Christ. Though he be the great God, yet he has, as it were, brought himself down to be upon a level with you, so as to become man as you are that he might not only be your Lord, but your brother, and that he might be the more fit to be a companion for [people like you and me].
Let’s hope in Christ.