So finally, our journey through Zechariah is almost complete. This morning we round the final bend and sprint for the line as we reach Zechariah 14. This is the chapter of which Martin Luther, the man who stood against all of Christendom, the man who took on Popes and Princes, the man who 504 years ago next month kicked off the Reformation by nailing his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Church, said in his 1527 commentary : ‘Here I give up, for I am not sure what the prophet is talking about.’ But don’t panic! Having made it this far, through strange scenes and complicated arguments, 6 visions and two oracles as Zechariah says again and again ‘Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts’, chapter 14 is actually surprisingly straightforward, and it beautifully sums up what God has been teaching us as a church family. There are two simple things for us to take away from this morning, and this book: here’s the first: God wins (so don’t panic).
GOD WINS (SO DON’T PANIC)! (14:1-15)
Here’s how our passage kicks off:
14:1 A day of the LORD is coming, Jerusalem, when your possessions will be plundered and divided up within your very walls.
From the start of chapter 12, Zechariah has been talking about what would happen ‘on that day’, a day when God would intervene decisively to overturn evil, strengthen and energise his dozy post-Exilic followers, and bring his master plan for the universe to completion, as Doug explained so helpfully last week. And as we read on into chapter 14, Zechariah tells us more and more about what’s going to happen on this ‘day’. It starts to look like a very long day – a day that goes on, and on, and on.
And that’s actually the key to making sense of this chapter. This isn’t a normal ’24 hour day’. This is the ‘day of Yahweh’.
This day of all days starts when Shoot, the Pierced One, the donkey-riding Davidic King shows up. This figure then kicks off a huge conflict, which goes on and on, through this very long day, until this ‘day of Yahweh’ finally ends with God winning and setting up an entirely new universe. If I can put it like this – the ‘day of Yahweh’ goes on for years – generations, even. The day of the LORD begins when Jesus steps into the world, is continuing now, and will go on until God returns to judge the living and the dead. The day is back then, and right now and not yet.
This is our day. This is our time. This is our world. And this chapter is describing our war.
Actually, 14:1 calls this day a day for Yahweh: the stage is yet for our God to stride out to demonstrate his power and glory to a watching universe, which is exactly what happens.
For Zechariah’s peers, verse 2 must have sounded very worrying.
They had just made it back from Babylon after 70 years, and now it looked like it was all going to happen again: 2 I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. But there’s no need to panic, because unlike the last time, when God said ‘Unfortunately, you have brought this on yourselves – I am sending you into exile’ this time, he shows up to rescue his people:
3 Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle.
We have seen glimpses of this kind of divine intervention before in the Old Testament. In Exodus 14:14, at the Red Sea, Moses says ‘Yahweh himself will fight for you, you need only be still’. David when he lines up against Goliath says repeatedly ‘The battle belongs to Yahweh’. But this even better, Yahweh himself actually shows up and gets down and dirty to join the fight. But make no mistake – it is a fight, and people will get ‘hurt’. And we need to remember that.
For some reason, we instinctively shy away from the idea that we are at war with the world, the flesh and the devil. We are more into engagement, and being sensitive to the outsider than thinking about the fact that we are embroiled in a cosmic conflict, and that God’s enemies are, by default, our enemies. But all the positive thinking in the world won’t change this – and we can’t forget it, at least not if we are being faithful to the Bible – because everywhere we go, we will find this war. We need to remember that it’s a jungle out there. It’s a war. That’s not the full story of what’s out there, but it is part of it.
The Bible insists that we are at war. And there are always going to be casualties.
The default position of every society on the planet is anti-god, which means the world is not going to love God’s people. And even if they were tempted, the Evil One would do everything in his power to stir them up to hatred. So yes, please be as nice as you can be. Please work hard to avoid being obnoxious. But please also get it straight in your heads that we carry the most explosive, provocative message in the world, and that we get to take it to people who will hate the message because ultimately they hate the one behind the message – they hate God himself. This is a war. The great news for us is, of course, that our God is not some lofty general, watching the course of the battle from the safety of a distant hill, using his one good eye to peer through a telescope at the misery of the cannon fodder below. Our God comes to fight with us. To fight for us. Oh – and he wins.
We can see what happens next in verses 4 and 5: On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. 5 You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. This is our God doing what he loves to do – rescuing his people. In the past, he split the Red Sea wide open into two halves. This time, Yahweh steps in to provide an escape route for the beleaguered remnant right down the middle of the Mount of Olives, allowing his people to run to safety.
It’s also worth pointing out that Yahweh comes from the east to do all this. When Ezekiel had seen the glory of Yahweh leave Jerusalem, it had gone east (Ezek 11:23; 43:2). Now Yahweh comes back the way he left. In the same way that the Garden in Eden was entered from the east, and the Tent of Meeting and the Temple were always approached from the east, Yahweh approaches his city Jerusalem from the east to take up permanent residence in it. And when Yahweh is on the move, no-one is left in any doubt of what’s happening, for the earth itself shatters before him, just as it had in the 8th Century, when Uzziah ruled Judah. God is on the move – and he’s bringing his ‘holy ones’ with him.
Now it could possibly be that this is Yahweh is coming with his ‘hosts’, his angelic armies. In the context, however, it seems much more likely that this is referring to the faithful few, those in Judah who trusted Yahweh – this is the remnant. The situation envisaged is basically that of Isaiah 35:10 and 51:11:
Those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. Yahweh will come, and win and he’s bring his people with him. Do you see who Zechariah is talking about? He’s talking about us! It isn’t that we do anything, but we do get to join in the celebrations and enjoy the spoils!
Fiona occasionally laughs at my habit of using the word ‘we’ to refer to the sports teams I support. So when my native Northern Ireland wins at soccer, or Ulster or Ireland at rugby, or Manchester United at football, or Queensland in Origin, or Australia in the Ashes, for me it isn’t that they won – we did! We smashed them! Not that I actually do anything to contribute, unless settling down on the sofa to watch counts – but I still get to share in the joy, to bask in the victory – which is exactly how it is for us in this great war, which becomes clearer at this section continues.
We do nothing to contribute, but we get to share in the joy! That’s got to be a good deal. And it’s all because this is a fight which God wins!
What happens next is pretty spectacular: 6 On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. 7 It will be a unique [lit. first] day-a day known only to the LORD-with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light. This is a description of the sun, moon and stars grinding to a halt. When God wins, there will be no more darkness, but everlasting light. Isaiah had already glimpsed this:
Isa 60:19 The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. 20 Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. This is what happens when God wins!
It is as if the whole of the Old Testament is being strip-mined for images and expressions to describe how dramatic the climax of history will actually be.
14:8 draws on Genesis 2, and Joel 3, and Psalm 36, and Ezekiel 47, as On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. ‘Living water’ is fresh and life-giving, and since the time of Eden, they have been a symbol of the life that God himself pours out on us. But do you notice where this water comes from now? This water flows out of Jerusalem itself. It seems that the entire city is now like Eden, the place where people like us meet with God himself. And as is always ultimately the case, it is God himself who is at the centre of this vision:
9 The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name. That’s Deuteronomy 6. Yahweh will show up and make it completely obvious that he is the one and only God. Unique. Supreme. Peerless. Utterly victorious. Α day is already in progress during which God wins, and is revealed as the blazing centre of all things.
I don’t know how you’ve found working through Zechariah, but if you get this one stunning picture then our time will not have been wasted: this is our great God in all his royal splendour. God has given us this book, he has given us himself in the Lord Jesus and poured out his Spirit on us, so that we might see and savour him. It really is all about him. John Piper in his marvellous book God is the Gospel puts it like this: “The ultimate aim of the gospel is the display of God’s glory and the removal of every obstacle to our seeing it and savouring it as our highest treasure. “Behold Your God!” is the most gracious command and the best gift of the gospel. If we do not see Him and savour Him as our greatest fortune, we have not obeyed or believed the gospel.” This chapter is about God winning, beating all-comers and removing every obstacle for us, so that we can see him. Our God is the King of all the earth. His name is the only name worth knowing, worth saying, worth trusting.
The astonishing thing is that as we meet together in this comfortable if slightly crumbling building to open up this book, and read, God the King shows up to speak to us, to show himself to us, to thrill us, to move us, to correct us, to humble us. To invite us to eat bread and drink wine to impress on us that he is the living, dying, rising King, who offers us freedom and forgiveness, who has given us life. God himself meets us in the gospel. This is why God fights this battle. This is why God steps in. This is why God comes down. To meet with his people. To meet with us. To remind us that our God is King over all the earth. That he is the all-conquering God of all comfort. Have you got that?
Just in case you haven’t Zechariah adds verses 10-11: 10 The whole land, from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem, will become like the Arabah. But Jerusalem will be raised up high from the Benjamin Gate to the site of the First Gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the royal winepresses, and will remain in its place. The picture of the Arabah is of a safe, lush valley guarded by impenetrable cliffs. On top of that, the City of Jerusalem will be restored, and established as the pre-eminent city in the world, just as, yes, you guessed it,
Isaiah said in 2:1-4: It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. God has won. There is real peace with him on earth, and he is living with his people, as he has promised was back in the covenant blessings of Leviticus 25:18-19 and 26:5-6. 11 It will be inhabited; never again will it be destroyed. Jerusalem will be secure. War is over. God has won.
As the great battle comes to an end, Yahweh, the great King, re-runs the Exodus – God’s enemies experience plagues, and end up being plundered by the people of God: Zech Zech 14:12 This is the plague with which the LORD will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. You don’t mess with a God like this! God will force his enemies to turn on one another, will cause chaos among them, and, in a repeat of Exodus 12:35-36, will make them hand over their ill-gotten gains to his people. 13 On that day people will be stricken by the LORD with great panic. They will seize each other by the hand and attack one another. 14 Judah too will fight at Jerusalem [even some of the locals will find themselves on the wrong side for a while, as was spelled out back in 12:2-5] The wealth of all the surrounding nations will be collected-great quantities of gold and silver and clothing. 15 A similar plague will strike the horses and mules, the camels and donkeys, and all the animals in those camps. And then it’s over.
This is not complicated. This is the day of Yahweh. There is a war going on.
As Paul says in Ephesians 6, 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. The work of the church of the Lord Jesus will never trundle along unopposed. Any time significant kingdom progress is made, we can expect a Satanic backlash. But the outcome is settled. God wins. Which brings us to the final scene of the chapter and of the book. What happens when God wins? We worship!
WE WORSHIP! (14:16-21)
I don’t know if you think much about where history is headed, or what the purpose of the universe is. Whether you do or not, the great news is that at the end of this book of Zechariah, we get a glimpse – and what do we see? Let me spoil the surprise: we see people delighting in God forever – we see people caught up in treasuring and enjoying and celebrating God. We see people worshipping.
I confess that as a boy growing up in church, the idea of endless worship left me pretty cold – church that goes on forever wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time! The problem was I hadn’t really got the fact that worshipping God – treasuring and enjoying and celebrating God – is the ultimate happiness, and it’s what God has laid on for us.
Jonathan Edwards once wrote that Happiness is the end, the goal of creation… . For certainly it was the goodness of the Creator that moved him to create; and how can we conceive of another end proposed by goodness, than that he might delight in seeing the creatures he made rejoice in that being that he has given them? And what does that happiness consist of? Being caught up in delighting in God together.
In 14:16-19, Zechariah describes a completely remarkable scene: After the war is over,
16 Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. 17 If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, they will have no rain. 18 If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The LORD will bring on them the plague he inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. 19 This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.
People from every language, tongue, tribe and nation will worship the King, Yahweh of hosts. They all get to join in the feast of Sukkoth (Tabernacles), the big celebration in Judah after the Exile, which was all about celebrating the generosity and kindness of Yahweh the King. All nations are welcome to join in – some will, and some won’t, but if they won’t? And if they don’t? They will experience the curses of the covenant (including no rain). They will be excluded. This is how it will work for every clan, people group on earth. We cannot ignore this – those who will not worship God will be excluded, but those who do? Irrespective of our ethnicity or origins, we are brought right to the heart of the family of God.
Or to put it in terms of verses 20-21, we are caught up in a tide of holiness flowing out from the city of Yahweh himself. Earlier in the Old Testament, the High Priest’s costume is inscribed with the words Holy is the Lord. But now?
20 On that day HOLY TO THE LORD will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, Not just the High Priest but even the horses get to wear shiny jangly holy stuff. More than that, even the cooking pots in the LORD’S house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the LORD Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them. In earlier days, the Temple vessels had been specially consecrated for special use – but now? All crockery, like the horses bells, will be holy. And on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the LORD Almighty. Canaanites were famous for two things – trading, and being crooked. But after God wins, no more crooked money traders in the Temple. Hypocrisy will finally be rooted out, as God creates for himself a people to worship him – and to do it forever.
You know you could actually say that the message of this chapter really is the message of the whole Bible in miniature – the storyline of the Bible is the story of a war which God wins, which leads to never-ending worship. From Genesis 3 to the last battle of Revelation, God’s people are protected, and nurtured and disciplined, and brought into the immediate presence of God to gasp in awe and delight. This is what God is doing in the world. That’s why this chapter of Zechariah is alluded to over and over again in the New Testament, especially by Jesus himself, as he announces that the King and the Kingdom has come, and that he is the one who can give us living water, the light of the world, the one who both cleanses the Temple and is the Temple, the one who stands on the Mount of Olives and chooses to die for his people, the one who will come to rescue everyone who belongs to him. The Lord Jesus, the Son of David, comes to enable us to worship God.
Zechariah 14 makes it very clear that ultimately, the goal is to worship God.
John Piper, again, this time in a book called Let the Nations be glad, writes this: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more.” Mission isn’t ultimate, worship is.
This is what God is about – he is working up to a day when countless people from every age group, ethnic group, nationality will be standing together singing our hearts out like never before! This is exactly what John saw in Revelation;
Rev 7:9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” 13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes-who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'”
The battle we’re involved in now – which John calls the Great Tribulation – leads to worship. If we press on in his strength, this is our destination. Everything leads to worship. This is what we’re made for. And every time we gather like this, as God’s people, around his word, we get a little taste of this – a foretaste of this heavenly gathering. And on days like today, we hear the word preached, and then share in bread and wine, as the word is visualised for us, as we taste and see that God is good in the gospel, it’s as if we’re almost there.
The great news us that our God, Father, Son and Spirit fights for us – and he wins – so that we might worship him, now and forever. So hear him as he says to us Return to me and I will return to you. He has arranged all of history to make this happen. He created the universe to make this happen.
The marvellous truth is, as someone once said, that Man’s Chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. Let’s come to his table now. Let’s pray.