Finish the lyrics of this song by Elton John. ‘sorry’ … ‘seems to be the hardest word.’
It’s hard to be genuinely sorry.
Mark 1:14-15 “[Jesus] went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. [Saying, and here’s the words of His first sermon.] ‘The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.'”
In other words, the King is here!
Mark 1:15 “repent and believe the good news!”
Now if you’re yet to believe. Perhaps investigating. Perhaps sceptical.
We’re glad you’re here. And we’d love to hear your thoughts. And give honest answers to any questions.
Today, we’re going to the heart of the response God expects from us. And it’s not about doing good. Doing good on it’s own won’t do us much good. It’s actually about admitting we’re bad. That we can’t save ourselves. We need God’s forgiveness.
So God expects us to repent.
The scenes coming out of Afghanistan this past week are heartbreaking. And political leadership of the crises is bumbling at best.
Whatever side of the us political divide you fall. There’s a clear contrast between the present and previous presidents. In personality and in policies. Though one thing Trump and Biden have in common. Whether Capital riots or Afghanistan they seem utterly unable to acknowledge any wrong. To own responsibility. ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’.
Truth be told, not sure if we’re any better. It’s human to de-fault to ‘no fault of our own.’ We’re very good in finding fault in others. We’re not so good at looking in the mirror. When we do we turn the lights off.
One of the guys I read the Bible with one-to-one said recently ‘I built the house of excuses!’ Good way of saying it.
Repentance is the Greek word metanoia
meaning change of mind. It means to change your thinking about yourself and about Jesus. To change allegiance. To acknowledge you’re not the King. To acknowledge Jesus is. To acknowledge you’ve rebelled against the King by living as if you are! It means to turn our backs on sin and self. And to turn in trust to Jesus.
Which inevitably, automatically changes our behaviour.
Matthew 3:8 (cf. Luke 3:8) “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
The Apostle Paul said,
Acts 26:20 “I preached they should repent turn to God and [show] their repentance by their deeds.”
‘Repentance is whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.’
Now 550 years before Jesus began calling people to repent, God called people to repent through Zechariah.
1. ENQUIRY: FAST OR FEAST? 7:1-3
The first 6 chapters unpacked 8 weird and wonderful visions/dreams. In chapter 7 it’s been 2 years since Zech’s sleepless night. And it’s 10 years since Israel returned from exile.
a. Changing Times
And the times they are a changing.
80 years before Babylon attacked Judah, killed their king, destroyed their holy city, torched the Temple, and dragged the Jews off, 800km away, into captivity. Prisoners of war. Enslaved for 70 long years.
But the times they are a changing. 10 years ago, new emperor Cyrus, permitted Jews to return. They’re been home for a decade. Life’s ok. There’s signs of growing prosperity. The Temple’s being rebuilt. Life is much better.
The times they are a changing. So some Jews felt there should be another change. A change in religious activity. Specifically, fasting.
b. To Fast, or not to fast?
So verse 2, a delegation is sent from Bethel, 20km north of Jerusalem. Who come to entreat the Lord. To ask priests and prophets the question should we fast?
In the hard years of exile, Jews fasted a lot. Setting days aside to go without food. As a means to three things.
One, remember. Remember God, His greatness and His great acts in Israel’s history. And as such to also, secondly, repent. To mourn their sin, and the miserable situation it’s put them in. They “sat and wept by the rivers of Babylon, as they remembered” Fasting expressed repentance. Remember, repent, and thirdly, request mercy. Beg forgiveness, salvation. Beg for an end to the exile, Remember, repent, request mercy.
Fasting was meant to show where their heart was! Thankful, repentant, humble.
In exile they added several annual days of fasting. In the 4th
month, they fasted to remember the destruction of Jerusalem In the 7th
month, they fasted to remember the assassination of Gedaliah, governor of Jerusalem. In the 10th
month, they fasted to remember the brutal siege of Jerusalem The most significant was in the 5th
month, when they fasted to remember the destruction of the Temple.
In exile Jews did a lot of fasting.
But the times they are a changing. God heard their cry. Showed mercy. Ended the exile. They’re home. In the land. The city’s being rebuilt. The Temple’s almost complete. There’s peace.
The times they are changed. And the question is ‘should we still
It’s a fair and reasonable question. But there’s a couple of things to cause concern. The two guys asking are Jews with Babylonian names. That’s not so good. And note how they ask. Verse 3.
7:3 “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
Sounds a bit like they’re ‘playing the victim’. Life’s been hard. But so has fasting. Surely we’ve done our time. Can’t we let it go. And move on.
‘Should we still have to fast?’ We’ve done it for ‘sooo many years.’ Sometimes when you want to get out of something, it shows you never were never really into it! ‘Must we still fast?’
2. REBUKE: FAKE REPENTANCE (7:4-7)
And God answers. With three rapid-fire hard hitting questions. Three counter punches.
Which tackle their attitude and actions. And expose their hearts
It’s difficult to know at times whether some news media are telling the truth. So much is labelled fake news. It’s hard to tell animal fur from fake fur? Or to spot counterfeit money? It’s a challenge to discern what’s real and what’s artifical?
Which is all most serious when it comes to repentance?
These guys fasted. And mourned. Going through the right motions but with the wrong motives. It was fake mourning. Insincere. Not genuine. Their hearts weren’t in it.
So three questions. First, verse 5. God asks.
7:5 “When you fasted and mourned for the past seventy years, was it really for me?”
7:6 “when you were eating and drinking, [verse 6] were you not just feasting for yourselves?”
Who you living for? me? Or yourselves?
Question three. Nothing’s changed. Verse 7.
Verse 7 “Are these not the [same] words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were [also] at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were [also] settled?”
In earlier times, in good times, God spoke these same words to your ancestors. They didn’t listen then. You haven’t listened now!
History repeats itself. Same old attitude. Their fasting was fake repentance.
And that’s the stinging rebuke.
For 80 years they fasted. For 80 years they remembered. For 80 years they mourned, and cried for mercy.
And God’s saying. ‘You look the part. But I know your heart!’
Jesus taught His disciples, Matthew chapter 6.
Matthew 6:16 “[That] When you fast, do not look sombre [gloomy] as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they’re fasting.”
It’s all a show. play acting. pretence.
Matthew 6:17-18 “when you fast, [Jesus says] wash your face, so that it [won’t] be obvious to others that [you’re] fasting “
I fear the activity most susceptible to hypocrisy is religious activity. We slip so easily into wanting to be noticed, recognised, applauded as good and moral. Our religious acts too easily become a means to twist God’s arm, to curry favour, to manipulate God into giving us what we want. No longer is our chief purpose to glorify God. Instead it’s God’s chief purpose to gratify
So fasting easily became, not an opportunity to mourn sin, but rather a way to twist God’s arm.
Jeremiah 17:9 “[Our] heart[s are wicked and] deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”
Said the prophet Jeremiah.
We may fool others. Even fool ourselves. But we won’t fool God.
Perhaps what you and I need to hear this morning is it’s not about you
. It’s for God.
Don Carson, a prominent Christian thinker and speaker writes in His book ‘A Call to Spiritual Reformation’. And I quote; ‘When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted. So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs – and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfilment. God simply becomes the Great Being who, potentially at least, meets our needs and fulfils our aspirations.
Modern Christianity has been redesigned to be all about us. Which is fake Christianity.
Perhaps we need a Copernican Revolution. Where we realise we’re not at the centre, the universe isn’t revolving around us
. God is the king of the universe. Who holds all things in His hands. Who controls all things. Around which all things revolve.
It’s not about you.
3. WARNING: HISTORY LESSON 7:8-14
The Lord rebukes them. And then warns them. With a playback from way back. A lesson from history.
Steve Turner is a philosophy professor and my favourite poet.
In one of his poetry books, he has a poem entitled ‘History Lesson’. Which goes, History repeats itself. Has to No one listens.
What’s clever is that the poem is repeated four times in the book.
a. Saying No to Food
So here’s the warning from history.
The Lord retells the story of a time before the exile. Where the fasting God wanted was not to abstain from food. But to abstain from sin. Especially the sin of mistreating others. Especially the vulnerable. Verse 9.
7:9-10 “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow the fatherless, the foreigner the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”
If their fasting had been for God it’d show in their behaviour. Actions that reflect God’s character, His commitment to truth and justice, to mercy and compassion, to protecting the vulnerable, to doing good. God’s people would have been like God.
b. Saying No to God
7:11-12 “but [verse 11, but] they refused to pay attention; [they] stubbornly turned their backs [they] covered their ears. [Verse 12] their hearts [we’re] as hard as [stone] [they] would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had [spoken] by his Spirit through the earlier prophets.”
God speaks. He commands them to love one another. And they refuse. backs turned. ears blocked. stubborn and hard-hearted.
If our children don’T listen. If they ignore us. If, while we’re talking, they were to turn their backs and walk away, we’d take it personally.
‘Cos we love them. We’re in a relationship. We’ve got God given authority over them. We’ve got God given responsibility for them.
When we ignore God. refuse to listen. Turn our backs, cover our ears. God takes that personally. ‘Cos it’s a rejection of Him. Of His authority and His love.
7:12-14 “So [verse 12] the Lord Almighty was very angry. ‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ ‘I scattered them among all the nations, they were strangers.'”
The land was left desolate.
Rebellion, rejection, unrepentance. It’s got serious consequences.
So that’s the history lesson. A warning. To learn from their failures. Not to repeat them. c. Repent!
The implicit command is repent.
And Zechariah repeatedly through this book calls them to do so. Throughout the OT God repeatedly says, ‘Don’t harden your hearts.’ Which is repeatedly repeated in the NT, especially in the letter of Hebrews.
You got Spotify? Or Apple music? On your playlist, the ‘need’ to repent – the ‘command to repent – should be ‘on repeat’. Don’t harden your heart. Repent. Listen. Obey.
Repentance is not something that’s ‘ticked off a list’ – done, sorted, move on. Repentance isn’t merely renouncing this or that particular sin. Repentance is renouncing self. It’s the re-orientation of your life around God, under God. And because the self is like a boomerang – always making a comeback as the controlling centre of our lives – we got to have repentance on ‘repeat’.
‘True repentance is a continued spring, where the waters of Godly sorrow are always flowing. [And] My sin is ever before me.’
Repentance is not an ‘every now and again thing’. Repentance is an ‘ongoing, all the time, all of life thing’. By definition it is whole hearted. Affecting every atom of our being, every corner of our lives, every moment of our time.
Charles Spurgeon, great preacher of the 19th
century. He said. ‘proof of the conquest of a soul for Christ will be found in a real change of life. If the man does not live differently from what he did before, both at home and abroad, his repentance needs to be repented of and his conversion is a fiction.’
The sign of true repentance is joy. Because, as the prophet Isaiah declares.
Isaiah 66:2 “[The Lord looks] with favour [with grace on] those who are humble and contrite in spirit, who tremble at [God’s] word.”
As King David affirms.
Psalm 51:17 “a broken and contrite heart God will not despise.”
With grace, forgiveness, salvation the Lord turns Godly sorrow into joy, and mourning into celebration.
4. PROMISES: FASTING TO FEASTING
Which is where chapter 8 takes us.
Chapter 8 is a 10 point sermon giving reasons to rejoice. And it’s God’s sermon. As each of the 10 points is prefaced with “this is what the Lord almighty says ” Through His mouthpiece Zechariah to His people Israel, this is the word of the lord.
ten points! Ten promises to bring us joy. Outlining the movement from fasting to feasting, from mourning over sin to the joy of salvation.
Which comes here in two stages. The first 7 promises speaks to what has already begun. The last 3 speak to the consummation or completion in ‘those days.’ In the future.
a. Reasons to Rejoice Now (8:1-17)
We start with reasons to rejoice now. The first point of the sermon is foundational. Verse 2. The Lord says.
8:1 “I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.”
The Commander-in-Chief of the cosmic armies is jealous. Not the jealousy of a control freak or a neurotic teen. This is righteous jealousy. That burns to care and protect their beloved. That burns with faithfulness for their beloved. That burns with commitment to His people.
Which is wonderfully reassuring. God loves His people! He isn’t indifferent. Or apathetic. God is passionately, deeply, exclusively committed to His children.
And He’s come back home. Point two. Verse 3. God has returned. He dwells in Jerusalem.
Afghanistan was deserted by it’s Western allies. Victim-blamed by the us President. Desperate, terrified people. We’ve seen the images.
In Kabul there’s no children playing in the streets. There’s no fun, just fear.
But point three. Where God dwells is a safe place for the most vulnerable. The elderly take their place. Verse 4.
8:5 “The city streets [verse 5] filled with boys and girls playing “
Point four. Verse 6. God’s saving acts, to His people, are marvellous and miraculous. To God, they’re ordinary. Run of the mill. It’s what He does. God saves.
Point five. God’s people were scattered in exile. Yet now verse 7. God saves and gathers His people. From the east, the west, from all over. He brings them home. And says,
8:8 “[you] will be my people “
I will be your God.
And so point six, verse 9.
8:9 “Let your hands be strong “
And verse 13.
8:13 “[Don’t fear], let your hands be strong.”
Be strong. Have courage. The hard times are over. These are new times of safety, fruitfulness and plenty.
So be encouraged. God is blessing you.
8:13 “and you will be a blessing.”
Times have changed. Point seven. God brought judgement and disaster. But now? Verse 15.
8:15 “now I have determined to do good again to Jerusalem and Judah. Do not be afraid.”
Literally it says God has turned. And purposed to bring good.
God’s turned or returned. And He calls people to turn. Turn from sin. And return to Him. Which will mean, verse 16, they’ll love what He loves, and hate what He hates.
Now these first 7 points of the sermon paint a picture of what’s already begun. God is committed to His people. He keeps His covenant. He keeps His promises. He has returned. They’re rebuilding the Temple. God is blessing His people.
There are reasons to rejoice. Here and now.
b. Reasons to Rejoice Then (8:18-23)
But the here and now is only a taste of what’s to come. We’ve reasons to rejoice then.
Point eight. Verse 19. Fasting will become festivals. Mourning will give way to joy and gladness. Life with God in eternity is one big continous party. With wall-to-wall love, truth, peace, joy.
Point nine. The men from Bethel entreated the Lord that they may drop fasting. In verses 20 people gather from all cities and all nations. They seek the Lord, and entreat the Lord. To accept them by faith.
God’s big party will include
Revelation 7:9 “a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language.”
And point ten. Finally. Verse 23.
8:23 “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'”
Here’s the reversal of the Tower of Babel. Gathering the scattered.
Here’s the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham. Israel blessing the nations. Drawing the nations. ‘Cos Immanuel. God is with us.
ten point sermon. God’s promises. believe ’em. Take God at His Word. And rejoice.
‘Cos these promises are yes and amen in Christ. They’re fulfilled in Him. And the future’s secured in Him.
Jesus is the Temple. God with us. Among us. In person.
And when Jesus returns. The new Jerusalem, the new Heavens and Earth will be the Temple. And, Revelation chapter 3;
Revelation 21:3 “God’s dwelling place [will then be] among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be their God. [And] There will be no more death mourning crying pain.”
There’ll only be joy. And rejoicing.
CONCLUSION: AND SO?
I can’t presume to know where each of you is at. Though perhaps you’re carrying burdens. Perhaps you’re weighed down by sin. Perhaps heavy laden by guilt? Perhaps sin that only you and the Lord know about.
Well, sinners like you and me, we need to hear God’s Word here in Zechariah.
Zechariah’s hearers lived 500 years before Jesus. They had not seen Jesus. They didn’t know the power of the indwelling Spirit promised in the New Covenant. They could only look forward. On the basis of God’s promises. But we, 2,500 years later, we know God’s promises are fulfilled in Jesus. They’re yes and amen.
Jesus was the one who stood before the wrath of God, shielding sinners with His blood. That He took God’s anger at our sin, at our unrepentance, at our rebellion. God laid that on Him so that we could go free, so that we could be gifted with repentance.
And that is the response God desires from us.
Acts 17:30 “[God] commands all people everywhere to repent.”
Jesus calls everyone to;
Mark 1:15 “repent “
Change your mind. Change your mind about yourself. Change your mind about Jesus.
Turn your back on sin. Open your ears to God. To listen to His word, Listen and obey. To remember what His done. To grieve and mourn over what you’ve done. And to cry out for mercy.
‘Cos we have His promise. He says, ‘Return to me. And I will return to you.’
God says, ‘Come home’. But when we do, the door is already open. In fact, the door is off it’s hinges. No! Actually, the Father is outside on the deck waiting for his prodigal sons and daughters to come home. To welcome them. Embrace them.
He never turns a repentant sinner away.
2 Peter 3:9 “[‘Cos God] is patient , not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Mark 1:15 “repent and believe.”
Take God at His Word. Take God at His promises. Which are ours in Christ Jesus. Trust Jesus to save and rescue.
We’re to repent and believe. We say no to sin. And we say yes to Jesus.
c. Good News!
And then. We’re to
Mark 1:15 “Repent and believe the good news.”
It’s good news. News to make us glad. That gives us reason to rejoice!
Because in the gospel, God’s blessings are lavished on us. Count your blessings one by one. Count your blessings, every one. I know Christ through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. My sins are forgiven by His precious blood. And I enjoy life everlasting.
And when God welcomes us and embraces His prodigal sons and daughters. He throws A party. He kills the fattened calf. He says, ‘We have to celebrate. When a sinner repents.’
Have you? Will you?