“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” So, allegedly, said the American author Mark Twain. As our eldest is about to turn 21, the statement gives me significant hope for the future. The slight problem is that Mark Twain certainly never wrote those words down, and in all likelihood never said them either – not least because his father died when he was 11. However it is a great reminder to younger people that older people aren’t necessarily stupid after all, and to older people that younger people do eventually grow and mature! Zechariah’s 3rd vision in chapter 2 is a great example of that – because in this vision, a young man learns something. In fact, according to verse 3, he learns something that is so important, so urgent, that one angel tells another to sprint after him to make sure he gets the message! I am pretty sure that this is the only place in the Bible where a heavenly messenger breaks into a run. Why the urgency? Because this message is so terribly important – because whether we’re younger or older, we all need to know that as human beings living in this messy, unpredictable, virus-ridden world, we are massively, gloriously out of our depth. We are NOT in control, and the sooner we realise that the better!
I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but thinking that ‘I’ve got this covered’. whilst it may be a particular temptation for young blokes, is actually never far from the surface for all of us who are still breathing. We want to manage, to fix, to sort things out, to control events and the people around us. So whether you’re a testosterone-driven young man who can’t wait to get out there and put the world to rights, or a steely young woman who is determined to get your own way in time with stealth and a sweet smile, or an older guy, who quietly and smugly assumes that you know best or an older woman, whose relational intelligence is such that given time, you can manipulate almost any situation to suit you, or none of the above, now would be a great time to face that when it comes to God’s sweeping plans for our world, we really are out of our depth. Which is why Zechariah’s third vision starts with forcing us to…
THINK BIGGER! (2:1-5)
The details of the vision this time are pretty straightforward – Zechariah sees a young man with plenty of enthusiasm who gets got the wrong end of the stick. This young man is then corrected by a couple of angels. Look with me at 2:1: Then I looked up, and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand. Back in 1:16, God had said that Jerusalem would be rebuilt, and even if no-one else is taking this seriously, this guy is! He gets his tape measure, and gets started. His energy and initiative are definitely to be commended. So often, it is vision and sheer enthusiasm of younger people that make things happen in church. But there is a bit of an issue, which becomes obvious when Zechariah gets involved in his own vision. 2 I asked, “Where are you going?” He answered me, “To measure Jerusalem, to find out how wide and how long it is.” 3 While the angel who was speaking to me was leaving, another angel came to meet him 4 and said to him: “Run, tell that young man, ‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it.
I don’t know a whole lot about building, but I do know that you need to start by measuring out the site carefully before you start. And that’s what this guy is doing. But as the man starts to do that, one angel says to another ‘no – stop him – don’t let him do that!’ Why not? Because no matter how well-intentioned this young man is, no matter how enthusiastic he is, he has got something really important wrong. His vision of Jerusalem’s future is far too small: Tell him he’s working on the wrong scale – there’s no point planning to build walls, because the rebuilt Jerusalem will be far too big to be contained by ordinary walls, and according to verse 5, I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will be its glory within.’
One commentator sums up what’s going on beautifully in her commentary on this passage: ‘This man has believed the prophet’s message that Jerusalem will be rebuilt, but he expects the new Jerusalem to be no different from the old one! He is merely copying what has gone before, and has no concept of the city whose builder and maker is God.‘ So before he goes too far, the angel dashes to break the news to him that God has far bigger plans for Jerusalem’s protection and expansion than he could ever have dreamed! There is no point in his trying to mark out the perimeter with poles and string – because there will no limits to this Jerusalem.
Right back at the beginning of the Bible, God had told Adam to cultivate the earth and fill it – now Zechariah sees a day when a rebuilt Jerusalem seems to have expanded to cover the whole earth, and it is teeming with all kinds of life, and is completely safe (so no walls are needed). You’ve got to love the young guy’s enthusiasm, but his grasp on the scope of God’s work in the world is painfully inadequate. He needs to think bigger – and what the angel said must have blown his mind. Put away your tape – you can’t measure the dimensions of the city of God. And more than that, God himself will be in it!
The wording of verse 5 ‘I myself will be a wall of fire around it’ does, I think, echoes Exodus 3:14, where God announces out of the fire of the burning bush that ‘I AM WHO I AM’. This is not ‘the force’ protecting the city – this is the personal presence of Yahweh himself – which is emphasised by the final phrase ‘I will be its glory within’. The key feature of this city is that God himself is there. The focus is to be on God himself, not the walls.
I do think that over the past 30 years, we have made real progress in this area. I grew up in an era when the ‘church building’ was basically an idol. When we went into the main auditorium, a hush was supposed to descend – there was no talking, no laughing, no running, pushing or diving, and definitely no having fun of any description. Not in the church. But gradually, we have come to our senses, and recovered the fact that the church is the community of God’s people, and the building where we meet is just a rain – or in our case, more often a sun-shelter. We’ve got the fact that the focus isn’t on the walls. But it’s a bit harder to remember that the heartbeat of our life together is that God himself is among us in all his glory.
From the beginning of the Bible, God has been in the business of revealing himself. Adam and Eve get to live and breathe in his very presence. Every movement of the Old Testament is designed to bring us to the place where we not only recover what we have lost, but get to see even more of God’s glory. The tantalising encounters of Moses, and David, and Elijah, and Isaiah with God, the experiences of Israel with the fire and cloud, and the glory descending on the Temple, all point us inexorably to the fact that this God wants us to see him and know him, and taste that he is good, and be blown away by his glory. John Piper comments: ‘The ultimate good made possible by the death and resurrection of Christ, and offered in the gospel is ‘Behold your God!’ The gospel allows us to see God – the God who is with us – and taste that he is good! The angels run after this young guy to make sure that he gets this. It’s not ultimate about the city – the walls – or the comfy seats. It’s about God himself revealing himself to us!
This vision is designed to make sure that Zechariah, and his contemporaries in the long, listless lull that followed the return from Exile, and all of us who follow on, think bigger as we see the scale and the scope and ultimate goal of what our God is doing in the world. God’s plans are not simply to add a few people to the church in SE Queensland – God is committed to building a people without number from across time and space that no auditorium or stadium could ever hold. And God is committed to doing this by showing up and revealing his glory to people like you and me.
In 2 Cor 6:16 Paul writes For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. That’s why Paul in 1 Corinthians 14, says the result of outsiders coming in should be that they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
The obvious challenge then is to make this truth, this reality, the blazing centre of our lives together. For God has said of us, his church 5 And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will be its glory within.’ No wonder the angel runs to get this message across. We are built to seek and pursue and know and delight in the God of all glory. We need to realise the scale and scope and ultimate goal of what our God is doing as he reveals his glory to our world. We need to embrace the fact that we are part of something so huge we will never comprehend it; We need to think bigger – we need to put away our measuring tape for a minute and remember who we are!
REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE (2:6-9)
From verse 6, Zechariah delivers God’s interpretation of the vision, which really speels out three implications of ‘thinking bigger’. The first homes in on remembering who we are as God’s people.
As in chapter 1, as we saw last week, God calls his people to come home: 6 “Come! Come! Flee from the land of the north,” declares the LORD, “for I have scattered you to the four winds of heaven,” declares the LORD. 7 “Come, Zion! Escape, you who live in Daughter Babylon!” Now remember, the people Zechariah is speaking too have already moved back from Babylon. The fact that Babylon itself had actually been smashed up by the Persians in 539 BC, underlines that it isn’t the literal city of Babylon that’s the problem. It’s the ‘spirit of Babylon’ they need to worry about. For the second half of the OT, and all of the NT, Babylon is a a symbol of everything anti-God in the world. God warns his people about breathing in too much of the determined, organised opposition to him which filled the ancient air. They must come home to him. Wherever they are, they need to remember they aren’t Babylonians, they are the people of God.
That must have been easier said than done. Pretty much all the adults in Zechariah’s day had been born and bred in Babylon. Their parents had been born in Babylon. Their grandparents had either been born in Babylon, or had ’emigrated’ as kids. In one sense, they were Babylonians. Let’s think about that for a moment. It’s like your forebears arriving here in Australia in the 1940s. Your family has now been here for generations. Your parents were born here. You were born here. You are Australian. What would it be like if at the end of this year, you had to drop everything and go back to the old country, wherever that is. How do you think that would feel? We’ve been in Australia for 10 years, and already, Ireland feels like an age away. Our girls have Aussie accents. I really do care about State of Origin. I even occasionally chose a lamington at morning tea. Living somewhere gets under our skin. But God says through Zechariah, you may have gone to school in Babylon, you may speak with a Babylonian accent, but you are my people. ‘Zion’ he calls them. Zion was the small hill in Jerusalem where David built his palace which became a shorthand not for a place, but God’s people. And that’s who we are.
Verses 8-9 are notoriously tricky, but here’s how I think they should be translated: 8 For this is what the LORD Almighty says: “After glory sent me to the nations that have plundered you-for surely whoever touches you touches the pupil of my eye – 9 I will surely raise my hand against them so that their slaves will plunder them. God explains that when his purity and glory demanded that he walk away, withdrawing his presence from his people Israel, he did not give up on them. In fact, he remains extremely sensitive to anyone touching them. To touch God’s people is to poke your finger in the eye of God. I hope you can see what that says about us – we are inestimably precious.
My dad had a thing about anyone touching his feet – as a child, I used to think it was really funny to try to sneak up and tickle them when he wasn’t looking. Until one day, I startled him, and as his reflexes took over, I got kicked in the chin. Most of us are like that about our eyes. Someone in your house this morning were to stick their finger in your eye, not only would it be an invasion of personal space, I’m guessing that you would flinch, and react in a fairly extreme way. That’s the kind of reaction that messing with his people produces in God. He will act to punish those who mistreated his people: he’ll raise his hand against them. And when that happens, says Zechariah, you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me, and that the words I say are true. Then you’ll know how precious you are to God.
Now of course, things have moved on a little for us. We aren’t smarting over the fact that the Babylonians came and deported us for seventy years. We aren’t trying to work out how to live as God’s people even though we have Babylonian accents and degrees from Babylonian Universities. But we do need to remember who we are, particularly as we still live and breathe in Daughter Babylon. Every day we inhale deeply an atmosphere which is as toxic and unnoticeable as Carbon Monoxide, which says that we get to choose who and what we are, that we are accountable to no-one but ourselves, and that what we see is all there is – that there is no accountability, no judgement, and no God.
Which is why when the NT picks up this vision, it reminds us that we belong to God, and not ‘Babylon’. Revelation 18 picks up the language of this chapter directly: 18:1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. 2 And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. 3 For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” 4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; 5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. God will act not just against those who opposed his people in the 6th Century, but will hold all who rebel against him accountable. And as for us? We need to remember who we are. And live as God’s people here and now – for the day of the Lord is coming. As God’s people, we know better – so we must not live as if sin doesn’t matter; as if today is all there is; as if life is all about us; as if God did not exist. Rather, we should remember that we are God’s precious, chosen, empowered people, who have been bought by the Lord Jesus, who will never let us go. And when we remember that, we should…
SING AND REJOICE! (2:10-12)
2:10 “SING and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the LORD. Why are Zechariah’s contemporaries to sing (and the word really dose mean sing, rather than yell)? Because God is coming back. After years of absence, he is moving back in with them. As we’ll see as the book goes on the first instalment of that is rebuilding the Temple as a symbol of his presence with his people. Truth be told, it will be a fairly second-rate Temple but it doesn’t much matter – because it’s only as symbol. Whether we’re talking about the Tabernacle in Exodus, or Solomon’s Grand Temple, or its demountable replacement in Haggai and Zechariah they aren’t the real deal. They are all just pointing forward to a living breathing person in whom we can meet God – the one John describes as the Word who is made flesh and tabernacles among us – the one in whom we see God’s glory, full of grace of truth.
And when Jesus, the true Temple comes, he starts to build, and he builds a people in whom God’s presence is made obvious, as the promises to Abraham are fulfilled and people from every nation are gathered together, until the day comes when the whole universe is reconciled to God, and the cosmos itself becomes the ultimate Temple, the new Jerusalem built by and in and around Jesus, and we hear the words at the end of the Bible in Revelation 22 “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… . And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. This what Zechariah is talking about in 2:11 – 11 “Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you. Zechariah is convinced that people like us will hear his words, and we shall know that the LORD of hosts sent him. And we shall sing and rejoice. And he was right.
So what is it that should make us sing? Two things – it’s tasting the reality of God’s presence now through the gospel of Christ, and the prospect of experiencing the full-blown version, as we get to gasp at and delight in God’s glory in Christ forever in the new heavens and the new earth. We sing because God dwells with us now, and because we know we will enjoy him forever
We all need to take seriously the fact that the Bible insists that when the gospel is proclaimed and affirmed by his people, God shows up. Something real happens to us through the gospel – when it is proclaimed and received in word and sacrament. Right now, we are the Temple of the Living God – our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are present by the Spirit, God is both in us and among us when the word is proclaimed. Our God is the God who comes down to us, who meets us, and who makes us sing.
John Owen, the English Puritan in a work called The Nature and Beauty of Gospel Worship writes this: In the spiritual worship of the gospel the whole blessed Trinity and each person distinctly… afford communion with themselves unto the souls of those who worship.’ Through the gospel, we get to taste what we will enjoy forever. And that makes us sing, and rejoice – because we know that God is with us. Have you got that? I hope you have. That’s why every time we gather, we need to ensure that we are reminded of the gospel , because it is through the gospel that we taste and see that our good God is with us, and that we sing and rejoice.
Zechariah longs for his peers to sing like this – which is why he adds 12 The LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. Judah as a state had been decimated, reduced to the tiny Persian province of Yehud. Their capital city had been flattened, and was a pale shadow of its former glory. What reason was there to sing? Because God is working to make sure not just that they will get back to the land, but that they will get him back.
God says don’t panic, I will again be your God, and you will be his people. God will even choose his rejected people, described as Jerusalem, again. God again picks up his treasured possession, which he had thrown away, and holds it close to his breast. This is why they should sing. And we should add our voices to those of Zechariah, and his contemporaries, as we take up the gospel song of the 24 Elders and the Living Creatures in Revelation 5, who sing a new song to the Lamb, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’ When we see the enormity of what our God has done and is doing and will do, we should run home to him, and sing and rejoice, and then, somewhat surprisingly, we should ‘shut up!’
SHUT UP! (2:13)
Zech 2:13 13 Be still before the LORD, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.” God is on the move. Where is he going? Actually, he is coming to us in the Lord Jesus Christ, as revealed in the gospel. But for Zechariah, to be confronted by God himself in action is such an awesome thing, that it should reduce all of us to silence.
This third vision started with a well-intentioned young man trying to do stuff for God – and it ends with silence before God. At the end of the day, we have to realise that we are out of our league. That there is nothing we can say. We are undone. Overwhelmed. This is not meditating quietly as a means to encounter God. This is being shut up by God. Not choosing to be silent, but being silenced. This is the realisation that nothing we can say is worth saying. This is being mastered by God, blown away by God, the God who comes to meet us in the gospel.
Sometimes, our greatest need is to get to the point where we know we have absolutely nothing to say. Where we are confronted by our own brokenness, weakness and foolishness, where we are confronted by God’s overpowering beauty, holiness and awesomeness, and we have nothing,
There is a sense in which we cannot approach God in the first place, we can’t come to God at all, until we have been silenced by God. Until we have been confronted and convicted, even broken by the gospel, we have nothing to say to God. Before he does anything else, our God must silence our protests of innocence, our defence of our motives, our placarding of our own innate goodness, our boasting of our achievements. All that must stop, before we can come to God in faith. God must silence us, before he gives us anything to say or sing. As Martin Luther wrote in his Lectures on Romans – This is to give God honour and glory – that we become silent and stop praising ourselves as if we amounted to anything.
And sometimes, even as those who are God’s people, who have been following him for years, we need to come back to the point where we realise that we are nothing and have nothing, but he is everything. Even our singing needs to stop, as we gaze at the God who does not need us and yet stoops down to cherish us and make us his own. Sometimes, we just need to shut up.
So this is the challenge that Zechariah 2 leaves us with. We need to think bigger – God is doing something so utterly global and spectacular and sweeping that we need to put our little measuring tape away, we need remember who we are, and to sing and rejoice in the God who comes to dwell with us, who gives himself to us, and to be beautifully, tenderly silenced by our God. For at the end of the day, it really isn’t about us – it is about our God and King – the one who silences us, and comes to dwell with us, and makes us sing. He is all we’ve got. He is our everything.