Sunday, November 21, 2010

November 21st - True Religion

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Pastor Aaron Preaching
Todd Love
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Text – Zechariah 8

Zechariah 8 is a great chapter to look at for Thanksgiving this year. We have such a beautiful look at promises of God in this chapter, some of which are fulfilled, some of which are yet to be fulfilled, probably in Heaven, and we have much to be thankful for.

This is complex chapter, quite long, with a LOT of information in it. It was very tempting to teach it over two or three weeks, but the theme of this passage is that true religion is very rewarding and that God is faithful, so I’m going to try to teach it all at once. This lesson is probably going to feel somewhat disjointed because there is so much to teach and we have so little time. It will also be kind of strange because some of these promises are hazy as to when and how they will be fulfilled.

I think you could adequately summarize chapter eight with one sentence, “Because of the coming Messiah you will someday somehow get an amazing gift which you will love!” It doesn’t give us the exact timing, the exact present, or the exact means, it only tells us it will be amazing.

This is a direct contrast to chapter 7. Does anyone remember what Zechariah 7 was about? Worthless religion. What is worthless religion? Doing things from a selfish motive, obeying God only to receive blessings. What then is true religion? Obeying God because he is worthy whether we get anything or not. What is the irony of true religion? When you do things from the right motive not expecting to receive anything, you receive much.

We see that worthless religion ends in desolation, ultimately in Hell, but today we’re going to see where true religion ends. Let me take this moment to say that it is becoming popular today to say that “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” That is half true. Christianity is a relationship with Christ, but it is certainly also a religion, it is the only true religion. Let’s look at the verse that says so.

James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Let’s look really quickly at the etymology of religion…if you know one thing about me, it’s that James 1:27 is my favorite verse, and that I LOVE etymology. Religion either comes from Re-logeo, or Re-ligare; Re, meaning, of, and logeo, meaning word. Or Re, of, ligare, something that draws together. Either way, we see that we are people of the Word, or people drawn. I want you to see very clearly that there is false religion and true religion, that true religion is loving people and hating sin. What happened in Zechariah 7 when the people of Bethel were told this? They got angry and wouldn’t listen! Why? Because they aren’t being rewarded directly for their works. And last before we go into chapter 8, what are we rewarded for? Christ’s works.

Let’s read chapter 8 in sections:

Zechariah 8:1-8 And the word of the LORD of hosts came, saying, "Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the LORD: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts, the holy mountain. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the LORD of hosts: If it is marvelous in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous in my sight, declares the LORD of hosts? Thus says the LORD of hosts: behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness."

The first thing we see is that in chapter 8, Zechariah says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts…” over and over and over and over again…in chapter 7 the people wouldn’t listen to the Word of God through the Holy Spirit, and so God wouldn’t hear them; in Zechariah 8 we are hearing the Word of God through the Holy Spirit and we must listen because God speaks no idle words.

For time’s sake we’re not going to read Hebrews 12, but let me paraphrase it for a moment. It says if we try to approach God via the law, it’s like walking up Mount Sinai with blazing fire and lightning and God’s booming voice, and we will surely die. If, however, we approach God via the grace of Christ, we are welcomed into the New Jerusalem: Heaven. This here is certainly meant where God says that old men and women shall live in the city, and children will be playing all over the place, because it will be a city of peace; a city of grace.

Remember at this point that Jerusalem is utterly in shambles. It is a very dangerous place to live because it has no walls, and at this point because of the return from the Babylonian exile there would likely be very few old people, because the journey would just be too hard on them. In view of Heaven we see that we will be without fear of danger, and we will live to exceedingly old age. We have a great privilege over Zechariah here because we understand the resurrection much better than he, knowing that we will inherit imperishable bodies that will never die. Zechariah, and Isaiah, looked into the future and saw people living for eons and eons, and used some amazing language to describe it, Zechariah saying the age must require they use staffs to walk, and Isaiah says it this way,

Isaiah 65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.

In Heaven Isaiah sees that our lives will last so long that at 100 years old it will be like we’ve just started life. He also sees that anyone cut off from Heaven will be condemned. I love that God’s language, saying that it will be marvelous in his sight, just as it will be marvelous in ours, since he will be our God forever more having put away all sin and unfaithfulness for his saints.

Our next passage is wonderful, knowing that if we have such a promise coming as Heaven, how ought we to live? Before we read it, what do you think? Let me ask you this, what is one thing which you won’t be able to do in Heaven? Tell someone how about the excellencies of your Saviour. Therefore if we have a promise of glory, Glory-land as Heaven is translated in Africa, we ought to live godly lives with affections set on Heaven.

Zechariah 8:9-13 Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Let your hands be strong, you who in these days have been hearing these words from the mouth of the prophets who were present on the day that the foundation of the house of the LORD of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built. For before those days there was no wage for man or any wage for beast, neither was there any safety from the foe for him who went out or came in, for I set every man against his neighbor. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, declares the LORD of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong."

God reminds the people that during the exile they did not work for reward because there was no reward to be had, and that they were always in danger for their lives. He gives now the opposite, stating that his people will be like fruit trees, one tree producing tons of fruit. Check this out, Jesus is going to paraphrase this in Matthew 13, knowing that most fruit trees and vines only produce about six times themselves, but he’s going to say that his people are so much more fruitful:

Matthew 13:23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

Let’s pause here for an application. The gospel of peace has been sown in your heart, you have found reconciliation with God, yours is the kingdom of Heaven purchased for you on Calvary’s cross. Now Christ is saying that you should go forth and bear fruit, and not just a little fruit, but at least thirty times whatever someone does nice for you, even as much as one hundred times. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but we only have one life, and it will soon be past, and only what is done for Christ will last. Live a life of fruit bearing, fruit of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control and seeing others come to faith in the Living Christ.

How many of you feel like the world really respects Christ’s church as much as it deserves? The church has never been respected, despite the fact that without the light of the church, the world would be in abject darkness, and we are the byword of the world, the joke of humanity; Vladimir Lenin, the communist, called Christians, “Useful idiots.” The atheist community calls us “dims”, television constantly makes fun of Christianity, and often they are genuinely making fun of stupid traditions, but we have no reason to fear living an unfruitful life if we’re genuinely redeemed, because in this passage God says he will save us and make us a blessing. Live as a light in the world, even when the world ridicules you, let the work you do be done well and so that it will last.

Think about it this way, God’s name is constantly used as a curse word, it is the only name blessed forever and yet the world tries to drag it down into the mud. Does that limit the amount of good which God does, causing it to rain both on the just and the unjust? No, because they don’t respect his name doesn’t limit him at all, just as a lack of respect towards our efforts won’t dampen their impact at all.

How can we know that God’s future promises are true and that he has given us a task to do which will not be in vain? That’s what comes next:

Zechariah 8:14-15 For thus says the LORD of hosts: "As I purposed to bring disaster to you when your fathers provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent, says the LORD of hosts, so again have I purposed in these days to bring good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah; fear not.

We can trust God’s promises for the future because we see that he has always been faithful in the past. When he told Israel he would punish them, he did, when he said he would save them, he did. God’s faithfulness is shown in his past actions and we can trust that in the future he will remain faithful, because there is no shadow of change in him.

In the next passage he points us once again towards the truth, not towards us earning his favor, but since we have his favor in Christ we now ought to do these things;

Zechariah 8:16-17 "These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the LORD."

God wants us to tell the truth, judge rightly, love justice and peace, not plot against one another, and hate lying, because he hates lying. Let’s camp out on this idea for a minute, does God just hate lies, or does he hate the one who lies? As Pastor Aaron said last week, does God send lies to Hell, or liars? Check our Proverbs 6:16-19, this is one of the most amazing passages in scripture:

Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

These aren’t sins, though God does also hate sin, these are the person that sins. Haughty (proud) eyes are people that think too highly of themselves, lying tongues are obvious, Proverbs 12:22 says that lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, hands that shed blood are violent at least and murderers at most, the heart is the core being of a person and Jeremiah tells us that ours is desperately wicked, feet are nothing without the brain that direct their path, the false witness is the liar, and the divisive one is a gossip or other such person who seeks to incite argument where no argument should exist.

I don’t know if you’ve broken all of them, beloved, I know I have; but thanks be to God that I have been washed in the blood of Christ and sanctified by the Spirit of our God. Therefore, as new creatures, the Apostle Paul gives us one of my favorite exhortations in all of scripture.

Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Finally, we see if we should be doing things just to earn Heaven or get closer to God. The modern church would do well to read this passage because in Christianity today (astray?) we have ever manner of person telling us we need to read our Bible or pray or fast or do a quiet time to get nearer to God; one person on facebook even claimed they were drawn closer to God through Yoga, which is utterly ridiculous because Yoga is satanic and a tool of the devil. Complete this sentence, “You who were far off have been brought near by”... the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13) What brought us near? Was it fasting, Bible reading, or prayer? It was Christ; you can’t be any nearer than IN the kingdom, which we are if we are in Christ. So God through Zechariah finally answers the question of whether we should fast to earn his favor:

Zechariah 8:18-19 And the word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying, "Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace.

We have rested in Christ from trying to earn Heaven, knowing that he has utterly earned it for us. So instead of fasting on Yom Kippur like the Old Testament saints would, now we celebrate days like Thanksgiving, even though not all people remember to thank God always, we ought to especially during feasts remember that Christ has done all of the work and all that is left for us is to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

In everything we are doing, we ought to be loving truth, and peace, seeking to exalt the name of our Saviour who in Revelation 3 and 19 is called Faithful and True, and who is the Prince of Peace.

Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a time for fasting. We just don’t do it to earn God’s favor, because we already have God’s favor. Providentially the first time I ever fasted was for something we looked at in this lesson. I couldn’t understand how God can both hate and love a person, so I fasted about it and studied by Bible diligently over 25 hours. At the end of the fast I was amazed at how focused my mind was and how I was consumed with the Bible, and I discovered that God’s hatred is in emotion, but his love is in action. Check this out, if I were in a war and captured an enemy soldier who the day before had killed my friend, there is no way I’m going to call him friend or give him a hug or love him in emotion, truly I hate him in emotion, but I am going to love him in action by ensuring his safety, shelter, and sustenance. God loves his children who have been saved in emotion, but he utterly hates his enemies; extending to them a love in action, a charity, that if they will repent and believe they will be reconciled to him since his Son was crushed in their place.

So you can still fast, just do it for the right motives, because you’re already justified, not to become justified. Hopefully we’ll be doing a youth-group fast sometime in the spring.

Last point, we see that as we live these God glorifying and thankful lives, that it will draw others to the kingdom. This is ultimately what we want, for God gets a little glory by crushing his enemies, but he is greatly exalted in converting an enemy into a friend. We seek repentance rather than wrath, since Christ has already faced an infinite wrath in substitution for his saints.

Zechariah 8:20-23 "Thus says the LORD of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, 'Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD and to seek the LORD of hosts; I myself am going.' Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'"

The world, seeing the joy and hope in us, will enquire of our beliefs. We must be ready in season and out to tell them of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. We must not turn them away when they seek diligently for God, rather we ought to be answering their questions and telling them the truth, explaining that there was hatred from God towards them, but that Christ has appeased it so that there is peace now if they will repent and trust in Christ.

Finally, I heard an amazing sermon once by an old dead guy, who unfortunately I couldn’t find the sermon for you. It was either by Whitefield, Wesley, or Spurgeon, or the like. They preached to a large group with many children in it, they preached basically, “Oh children, if your parents will not come with you to Christ, then you must leave them and come on your own.” This is similar to what Zechariah is preaching here, that we should seek God, but if you won’t go, I myself am still going.

Beloved, let this be your life, exhorting everyone you meet to enter Heaven with you by the narrow gate, but if none go with you, you still will go to him who loved you and gave himself for you. This is true religion.