Zechariah – The God of a Second Chance
November 15, 2020
Marilyn Manning was attending a communications course when the instructor asked the group to list anything in their past that they felt ashamed of, guilty about, or regretted. The next week the instructor invited members of the course to read their lists aloud.
While this seemed to be a very private matter, there were a few brave souls. Marilyn said that as others read their list, by the end of the week she had 101 items on hers.
Next, the instructor suggested that they find ways to make amends, apologize to people, or take some kind of action to make right any wrongdoing.
While she was struggling with whether this had anything to do with communication, a man next to her shared his story.
His name was Jimmy. Jimmy grew up in a small town in Iowa. In that town was a sheriff that none of the teenagers liked.
One night, after drinking a couple of beers, Jimmy and two of his buddies found a can of red paint, and climbed the water tower in town, and painted for the entire town to see something really nasty about Sheriff Brown.
Their artwork was barely dry the next day before Sheriff Brown had them in his office. Jimmy’s two friends confessed and told the truth but Jimmy lied. He denied that he had anything to do with the incident. Of course, the sheriff didn’t believe Jimmy, but he was lenient and no one ever found out that the sheriff called them into his office.
Nearly 20 years later, Sheriff Brown’s name was on Jimmy’s list.
He’d long since moved away from that small town and he didn’t even know if Sheriff Brown was still alive, but he found his number and called him.
Jimmy told the class that the sheriff was surprised to hear from him and even more surprised to hear him confess to painting the water tower 20 years after the fact.
Both ended up laughing and they had a good conversation.
The sheriff said, “Jimmy, I always felt bad for you because your buddies got it off their chests, and I knew you were carrying it around all these years. I want to thank you for calling me…for your sake.”
After hearing this man share his story, Marilyn was inspired to clean up her list. She said she learned that it’s never too late to clear up the past and begin resolution. (A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Canfield, and Hanson, p. 328-329)
During the days of the prophet Zechariah, the exiles were beginning to return to Jerusalem.
Most, if not all of these people were the children of those that had been carried away from the city 70 years earlier.
They had been told about the city and its glorious temple. Now they were returning to find that it looked nothing like the stories of their parents. It was in ruins, still.
As they returned, they were hearing a message from the prophet Zechariah that it was not too late to make amends with God.
We have the exact date that he delivered his message. It was in December of 518 B.C., nearly 70 years after the Babylonians destroyed the city. Imagine that—70 years after their city had been destroyed and God was saying, “It’s still not too late to return to me.”
Everywhere the people walked in Jerusalem was a daily reminder of the destruction that occurred three generations earlier.
Zechariah linked the destruction and the exile to the people’s disobedience in the Lord. So, seeing those ruins every day ought to have reminded them that their relationship with God was in a mess, too.
So Zechariah said:
‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. 4 Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. 5 Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors? “Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’ (1:3b-6)
Seventy years later, God was saying through the prophet, “I’m willing to give you another chance. Learn from the past mistakes of our ancestors. Don’t do like they did and go your own way and then discover that you need Me in your life. Save yourself some grief. Return to Me right now before you drift further away from me and cause yourself more pain.”
This is about as plainly as Zechariah speaks because a large part of his message is among the most difficult scripture in the Bible to read and comprehend.
Zechariah is a book that records a series of dreams or visions.
You know, most of the time, I don’t even tell anyone about the dreams I have because most of them don’t make any sense.
In our dreams our subconscious is working, trying to sort through and make sense out of the real world.
These dreams of Zechariah are just as confusing on the first read. We have to look closer and to find their message.
The danger with this kind of literature is that we are tempted to assign meaning that is not present in the text. We are also tempted to skip and ignore these texts altogether because they are so difficult to understand.
For our purposes this morning, we don’t want to get lost in the weeds but try to see the bigger picture of the prophet.
One thing we learn through these eight visions is that God extends another chance to us through his rule.
We cannot unpack all eight of these visions, so let me highlight only a few for you.
In verse one, Zechariah saw a man with a measuring line in his hand to tell him he was measuring the width and length of Jerusalem. He saw a wall of fire around an unwalled Jerusalem and a radiant presence within.
What does this mean?
In this world, God is the one that does the measuring. God is the one that does the judging. I think you know that not a single one of us measures up to the standards set by God’s son Jesus.
Romans 6:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
The Lord Jesus set a standard for all of us by living a sinless life, by giving his life for humanity on the cross, and by conquering death through his resurrection from the dead.
Jesus gives each of us a second chance to measure up in God’s eyes when we confess our sins to God. That is the very moment that the Holy Spirit finds a new address in our lives. That’s when the Lord begins to rule our lives.
That’s when God finds a new standard for measuring our lives.
No longer does God see our imperfections. Instead, God sees Christ within us. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:1
The Holy Spirit, which has been compared to tongues of fire, mysteriously comes into our lives the moment we first confess our sins to the Lord. The Spirit is the presence of Christ, the guarantee that God has given to us another chance to allow Him to rule every aspect of our lives.
The wall of fire that Zechariah saw in his dream around the city may have represented God protecting the city since its walls were no longer standing.
God proves his rule over and over when He places his hedge of protection around us even after we have allowed the enemy to come in to plunder our lives and tear down our defenses.
God does not abandon us. God wishes to give us another chance through his rule. Through His Spirit, God reaches out to reclaim us.
The second way Zechariah wanted the people to know that God was giving them another chance was through God’s word.
Throughout this book, Zechariah is constantly saying, “And the word of the Lord came to me.”
Some people wonder why God’s word never comes to them. There’s an easy explanation.
Let me explain it to you.
Right now, there are dozens, perhaps more than a hundred radio signals out there in the atmosphere. Can you hear them?
I don’t hear them. But all you need is a radio receiver that finds the right frequency, and suddenly, there is a word coming to you.
That’s our problem. We don’t hear God’s word because we don’t tune ourselves into God’s frequency.
My friend, let me tell you that God’s word has been spoken for thousands of years to those who are inclined to listen.
Jeremiah wrote this about God: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3
The problem with Israel is that they did not do that. Zechariah’s message was to remind them that because they were stubborn and arrogant and tried to be self-sufficient, they got into the mess they were in, which allowed the Babylonians to come and destroy their city.
Had they tuned their lives to God’s frequency and obeyed what God said, that would not have happened, according to the prophets.
Now 70 years later, Zechariah is challenging the people. He’s asking them if anything has changed.
Look at chapter 7:5-6.
“When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?”
It’s a sad day when our worship is no longer about Jesus, but instead, we have allowed it to become about us.
It’s a sad day when we lose focus on why we are here and instead, all the attention, energy, and passion, has to do with whether we are satisfied with the way we worship or what happens during the brief time we are on the church campus.
Admittedly, a lot of what Zechariah had to say is difficult to understand, but there is one time that he spoke so plainly that all of us can read it and have no trouble understanding the meaning of the words.
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppose the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.” (7:9-10)
Ladies and Gentlemen, I submit to you that if Christians were to live out these words in radical ways, the world might think that the Christian Church had transformed.
Instead of rhetoric, there would be a revival. Instead of just demonstrations in the streets, there would be demonstrations in our daily lives of reaching out to those different from us in every way. Instead of worrying about changing others, we would be repenting of prejudices. Instead of just disagreeing with those different from us, we’d find ways to love them.
Zechariah said to Israel, “You were scattered with a whirlwind among the nations because you didn’t do these things before and your city was destroyed. Now, I’m giving you another opportunity to get this right.”
Although Thomas Edison was not the first person to come up with the idea of the light bulb, he was the first person to make a bulb that would last more than just a few hours.
Edison and his team worked on his invention for years and it took him hundreds of attempts to finally get it right.
Once he knew he had the correct filament, he and his team worked 24 straight hours of meticulous, painstaking work to make just one bulb.
When it was finally completed, Edison gave it to a young boy lab assistant to carry it up the stairs to another part of the facility.
Step by step, the boy cautiously watched his hands, obviously frightened of dropping such a priceless piece of work. You’ve probably guessed what happened— the boy was concentrating so hard on making sure that the bulb didn’t slip from his hands that he forgot to watch his feet.
He tripped at the top of the stairs and dropped the bulb and it shattered. It took the entire team twenty-four more hours to make another bulb.
What did Edison do? He turned to the lab assistant and asked him to carry the bulb up the stairs again. Edison knew that the boy was probably devastated by the first incident. So, he decided to give the boy a second chance. (http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/s/second_chance.htm)
The boy didn’t deserve a second chance. What Edison gave him was a gift.
That’s what comes to us from the Lord. Second chances come to us from the Lord not because we deserve them, but because God is a God of grace and mercy.
Zechariah wanted the people to know that God is a God of second chances. God would extend His grace through a special individual in the future.
That special individual was recognized in the New Testament as Jesus.
Let me show you two occasions where the Gospel writers see Jesus in the book of Zechariah. There are more, but I only have time to show you two.
The first one is mentioned by Matthew in the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
There is a stark contrast drawn between Jesus and other kings. For example, Jesus did not come in arrogance or even demanding that people follow him. He came in humility and invited people to follow him into the Kingdom of God.
The day he came into Jerusalem to the thunderous ovation of the people of the city, it was not in some heroic manner, not on a chariot, or on a great horse to prove his status.
Instead, he came with humility, riding on the foal of a donkey.
Imagine the goosebumps Matthew must have gotten when he realized that Zechariah had prophesied that this would happen. Matthew wrote:
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.’”
Secondly, the Gospel writer John sees Jesus in Zachariah 12:10, where
Zechariah said that God would pour out a spirit of grace and supplication upon the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
This means that God would place his favor upon them as a people and that would lead them to be a people of prayer.
Then, God identifies himself as one whom they had pierced.
If you pierce someone, it means that you have wounded that person. This is interesting language from God. How can you wound God Almighty?
Zechariah was saying to Israel that God was so connected to them and that he loved them so much that when they sinned against them, it pierced the soul of God.
It’s like when you are connected to a spouse in a one-flesh relationship but your spouse becomes unfaithful to you, that unfaithfulness pierces your soul.
Likewise, our unfaithfulness to God wounds God’s heart. It’s not because God needs us, it’s because God hurts for us.
God knows that our poor choices mean we have not chosen what is best for our lives and we will suffer for it. So, our sin grieves Him because God hurts for us.
John the evangelist picked up on these prophetic words. As God came to us in the flesh through the person of Jesus Christ, John was the only disciple that witnessed the passion of Christ.
John likely watched as Jesus carried the cross up the hill to Golgotha. He watched as the Romans nailed him to the cross and as the blood ran down his face from the crown of thorns placed them upon his head. He watched as they mocked him and spit upon him. He must have also been there as one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear to make sure he was dead.
John wrote these words: 31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
When we read John 3:16, we need to remember that when it says that God loved us so much that he gave his only son for us, it means that in a very literal way. God’s soul was pierced long before Jesus’ side was pierced. In a very literal way, God was pierced for us because he loved us.
Jesus’ body was pierced; it was broken open so that you and I might have a second opportunity at putting our lives back together.
This morning, some of you need a second opportunity. You have missed the mark. You have strayed from God. Your heart is not where it should be.
Right now, the Holy Spirit is speaking to you and telling you what it is that you need to do.
God is still that God of grace and supplication. Will you be the person that prays for healing? Will be humble yourself and come to Jesus and ask Him to give you another opportunity with Him?
Why wait until you are walking among the ruins to hear a word from God? If that’s where you are right now, why wait any longer before you come seeking another opportunity to live your life for the Lord?