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Fasting, giving, praying and all other Christian activities are great disciplines, but only if they are done for the right reasons. We are made acceptable to God through the work of Jesus Christ alone. True spirituality is acknowledging His grace, and we pursue these disciplines simply because we love God.
If You Think the First Christmas is Exciting, Listen Up to the Return of the King
The Good Shepherd's Rejection, Response, Replacement and Future Reign
Is Your Life Motto Consistent with the Life You Model?
Do They See God for Who He Really Is?
Don't Think Fast... If You Want to Know What True Spirituality Is
The Last 3 Night Visions: How to Avoid Going to Hell in a Handbasket
The Fifth Night Vision: If You Want Your Light to Shine Bright, It Won't be by Might
Jesus the Messiah: The Servant, the Shoot, the Stone, Our Savior
The Fourth Night Vision: Israel and You - Guilty as Charged, Cleansed by Grace
The Third Night Vision: A Word of Hope, a Word of Warning
The Second Night Vision: Horror for the Horns, Hope for Us
The First Night Vision: The Messiah Among the Myrtle Trees
Introduction to Zechariah
Lord, thanks for a chance to gather again tonight to study your Word. It is clear, it is powerful, and it teaches us about how we can rightly relate to you. I pray you, Father, would then allow us to have ears to hear, hearts to receive, and an obedient spirit to walk in a right way in response to what you have shown us. We love you, Lord, and thank you that you reach out to us though we are hardhearted and rebellious toward you. We thank you for Christ and the fact that he has bridged the gap. In Jesus' name, amen.
Last week was big and messy and broad and I know it! It had to be that way. Every now and then you need to see how this book fits together from Genesis to Revelation. You have to take a moment to understand the covenants, how God through his grace initiated a covenant with one man who he made a great nation through which all of the other nations of the world will be blessed. You see in Genesis 12, 15, and 17, this thing called the Abrahamic covenant.
We looked at that and saw how God later came through with some things like the Mosaic covenant and the Palestinian land covenant and the Davidic covenant where he promised specifically how he would accomplish the land portions of the Abrahamic covenant and the seed portions. The blessing portion, though, came through the person of Jesus Christ when he offered himself as a sacrifice for sin through which he then ushered in this new relationship based not on what the Israelites or anybody would do in pursuing God but on what Jesus had done.
We saw how we, as folks living (Gentiles, non-Jews) in 1997 relate to the Abrahamic covenant and relate to Israel and how specifically we are a separate people called the church made up of both Jew and Gentile who for a time God is using to do what Jews would not do and what the nation of Israel has never done, but one day God will use those people in the way he has intended. You have to see the big picture. You have to see how we fit in so you can go to a book like Zechariah.
When you read it you can think of what Paul said in another book in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 10, where it says these things were written for your instruction. In other words, "You are a people who have been commissioned to represent me to the world. I don't now bring the world to you. I send you into the world to go and tell them about my love for them, but learn from my previous relationship with the nation of Israel and what Israel did not do during the time I appointed unto them and asked them to be faithful, a nation of priests.
Look at the consequences of their disobedience. Look how I'm now asking you to do the same thing and look how eventually I'm going to be a God of my word and go back and through the person of Jesus Christ redeem that nation and reach the world through them as I first intended, but don't make the mistakes they made."
Zechariah, chapter 7, is where we will begin tonight. We're going to study the whole chapter. It is a great chapter for us with this in context. Let's learn from this nation which made some mistakes that we, frankly, continue to make as a "church" in America today. We think if we do certain things, look certain ways, and perform certain tasks, surely God will bless us and make us a pious, religious, and powerful people.
Not so! Israel was a very devout nation. One of the things we cannot assume is because we see that they did a lot of awful things that they did not attend church. They attended church like we've never dreamed about attending church. They called it a temple. They celebrated national feasts like we haven't dreamed about celebrating things as a nation together that focused on their God, but their God was kind of a God in name only to them. He wasn't real to them, so they paid him lip service, and they gave him token offering with their time and with their tongues.
What God was after that whole time was not their money and not their cows which they offered as sacrifices but their hearts. Not the things they would do and not even the things they wouldn't do but them. He had a problem with them because they never understood that. Zechariah 7 takes this people that is now back in the land after seven years of discipline, and he says to them again, "Would you stop trying to impress me with your endless acts of devotion and start knowing who I am and respond to who I am in love?" We'll see how it relates in so many ways to us.
Let's read this chapter together. "In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month…" Basically, know this. It is two years later than what happened in Zechariah, chapter 6, verse 15. Two years had lapsed. It took four years for them to rebuild the temple of God.
Back in the land they had been called by God's mercy back to Israel. He has given them another chance to be this kingdom of priests, this chosen people, a people from God's own possession through whom all of the nations of the earth would be blessed. He said, "Rebuild my temple so people can come and see who I am and where I can reveal to them my holiness and how you can rightly approach such a holy God and be made righteous in his eyes, not through the works which you do but by having faith that I will declare you righteous as you approach me the way I tell you to approach me."
He's telling them to go back and rebuild the temple. After two years of rebuilding the temple, what Zechariah is going to do here in chapter 7 (this prophet) is the exact same thing he did back in chapter 1 when they started to build the temple. That is, "Don't think that just because you are starting to build the temple that God is going to then make you a great nation. Don't think just because you're building this big building with a place you can have your priests serve me that necessarily my favor will be upon you. Don't just look religious; be involved with me."
Then, he has these series of visions where he encourages them about how he is mindful of their state and how he is going to make them a great nation in the future. After two years passed in the one night when he had those eight night visions in chapter 1 through chapter 6, there were a group of folks who come down from northern Israel and ask a question.
They say, "Now that we are two years into building this temple, can we stop these national fasts?" (Fasts they had imposed upon themselves) A fast is something we don't talk about very much in our society. A fast is when you voluntarily abstain in a classic sense from food. That is a normal fast, when you voluntarily say, "I will not eat." You'll either miss one meal or a series of meals.
In fact, in Scripture you have fasts that lasted a day, three days, seven days, 21 days, and up to even 40 days. Typically, it was just abstaining from food. There were a few times when you would do what is called a complete fast when you would abstain from food and water. There were congregational fasts when the believing Jews would come together and, as a people, they would all fast. There was a personal fast where individuals alone would fast. There were national fasts when kings would tell the whole nation not to eat.
In fact, it's interesting that early in our country's history two different times did the president of the United States call the citizens of this country to a national fast in order to seek God's face about his will for our country. Typically in Scriptures, a fast means abstaining from food for the purpose not of obtaining God's favor. That was never God's intention of a fast.
It wasn't to go on a spiritual hunger strike in order to manipulate God into performing for you to jump through hoops, but, rather, the purpose of the fast should have been biblically to say, "Lord, as much as I want to eat and as much as my body craves food and as much as three times a day I'm conditioned to go eat, even more than my desire to have physical strength is my desire to have spiritual communion with you."
In our society, fasting has kind of become something we think only radical and weird and extreme people do, but Jesus said you should fast. If you go to Matthew 6, he goes through three different things, two of which we often go to Matthew 6 to teach that we ought to do these things because Jesus says, "When you pray, pray this way. Don't pray long and repetitiously and in public so people see how devout you are, but pray privately so God alone can see what you're up to. Don't use your prayers as a means to try to convince the world how holy you are." Use your prayer as a time to commune with God.
He said, "When you give, you give in such a way that you don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." What a lot of folks would do was they wouldn't give dollar bills back then. They'd get all of the coins they could. They'd take a dollar and get 100 pennies. Then, they'd go into the temple by that big kettle drum they had in there and drop them in…Clink! Clink! Clink! Clink! Clink…so all the heads would turn to them and go, "Son! Look at how devoted that brother is. He broke his piggy bank and came in here today!"
He says, "Don't do that! You give in a way that only the Lord knows what you're doing when you give." Give out of a heart for what God is about not as a way to show the world how spiritual you are. "If you give or if you pray the wrong way," he said, "you've already received your reward for what you give."
That is why, by the way, on Sunday night we give the way we give. We believe giving is an important and necessary part of an appropriate worship before the Lord. We don't want to cheat you of that. To cheat you of the chance to give to God's work is robbing you not of a responsibility but of a joy and of an opportunity to participate in God's eternal work of which you will be eternally rewarded for, the Scriptures make clear.
Believe me. Let me tell you why we do not pass an offering plate. It's not because we think it's going to drive some of you away. It isn't because we think it would be too churchy that we don't pass the basket, but we do want to give you an opportunity to give because you are intentionally thinking when you come here, "As I go to worship the Lord, I want to give him not begrudgingly or under compulsion but out of a cheerful heart."
You can do that when you come in and come out. You know those boxes are at each of the doors. We want you to give in such a way that your neighbor doesn't know what you do. We don't want you to feel like you need to put your hand in whether you have money or not and pass the plate next to you. There is no pressure.
We know some people give once a year. We know some people give once a month. I don't want the person next to you, because you haven't given, thinking ill of you, but please, don't think the reason we do not pass the basket on a Sunday night is because we don't think it's important that you do give.
In fact, it's essential that you give, and it's not that we seek the gift itself, but we seek the credit it is to your account, as Paul said in Philippians 4. In Matthew 16, it says, "I expect that you will pray. Don't pray this way. I expect that you will give. Don't give this way but give out of a joyful heart, not showing off. Give sacrificially, consistently, weekly, and intentionally."
There's a third thing he mentions. That's fasting. He says, "When you fast, don't dress yourself in some nasty old clothes and walk around with a long face and go, 'Oh, man! I can't wait for tomorrow.'"
"Well, because I haven't eaten all day. I'm fasting for the Lord. I'm hungry. Sure I'd love to go to CiCi's with you and wipe out about six pizzas, but I can't. I'm fasting. What are you doing today?"
God says, "Don't walk around and don't look depressed. Don't moan about how hungry you are because you have received your reward in full." You're not doing it to seek God. You're doing it to show off. He says, "When you do it, you make every possible effort to not tell people that you're fasting." There are going to some folks you're going to need to have a conversation with that about. You just let the God you're fasting for know, and you go on about your business.
Then, he says there is a promise you'll receive in like token from the Lord which you sought to find for that. Ultimately, the purpose of fasting is to pursue the Lord…not to manipulate the Lord, not to gain favor from the Lord, but to seek him, and sometimes what you're saying is, "God, you are more important to me than this next meal or these next series of meals."
I will say it now because I'll forget it later. This week we're going to have a time. Honestly, I'm not as wild about this as the personal fast. We're going to have a congregational fast this week. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, whether you miss a meal or miss a day or miss all three, we're joining up with a lot of churches all across the country to participate in a prayer and fasting conference where we will pray for God's work around the world.
The problem with that is if you're really in it you can think, "I'm one of the folks who were here. Look at all of the folks who aren't." It's the same thing with our congregational prayer the first Saturday of every month. I'd love for everybody to be here, but we don't take attendance, and we don't make a comment if you're not here.
I don't believe just because you don't show up on the first Saturday of the month that you're not a praying person. You may not be, but the fact is, if you show up only the first Saturday of the month, that might be the only time you pray. I certainly hope not. I'd rather you not show up on the first Saturday and pray all of the time by yourself. There is a time to do both, and if you do come, you don't have to be fasting. If you do come and you are fasting, don't tell everybody how hungry you are because you'll lose the benefit of it.
These guys came down two years into the building of the temple, and they have a question for Zechariah. We found it in verse 2. It says, "Now the town of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech and their men to seek the favor of the LORD, speaking to the priests who belong to the house of the LORD of hosts, and to the prophets, saying…" They basically said, "Can we stop?" Stop what?
They said, "Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years?" There was one time God told the nation of Israel to have a national fast. It was what was called the Day of Atonement when God had the high priest sacrifice specifically in the Holy of Holies one lamb that was representative of the Lamb who ultimately would be Jesus Christ, the Lamb who would take away the sins of the people.
Every year in the Holy of Holies the high priest would go, and he would sacrifice the blood of this lamb over the Law, the tablets Moses had brought down from Sinai, because the people had violated God's Law and they knew it. God allowed their faith. They were doing what God had asked them to do to have innocent blood shed as a consequence to their disobedience and by faith that God would forgive them through this act which was a picture of a lamb who was without blemish who wasn't a lamb but was the Lamb of God who was eternal in existence (Jesus Christ himself), it was a picture of his sacrifice later on a cross.
One time a year, God said when he did this he wanted the nation to fast. He wanted them to be consumed with one thing on that day and that was seeking the Lord's face and crying out to him for forgiveness. When they went into exile, they came up with four other times they would fast as a nation. One of them is mentioned here in Zechariah, chapter 7, verses 2 and 3.
There was a time when King Nebuchadnezzar came and wiped out the temple and burned the city to its root. Basically, on that day the Israelites had no nation, so to remember that day when they were in exile, they fasted on a certain day in the fifth month. They said, "Now that we have fasted for these seven years…"
Their thinking was, "Now that we have manipulated God into seeing how religious we are…" because, "Look! He has brought us back into the land. Do we have to keep doing this on this day as a national remembrance or will he send us back into exile if we stop fasting on this day? We've kind of done what we thought this fast would do, and now that we've done it and God has us back here and we're two years into building the temple, do we need to keep doing it?"
The Lord responds in verse 4. It says, "Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying, 'Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, "When you fasted and mourned in the fifth…"'" Now, he mentions the seventh month which was another fast they had. If you care, it was when the guy Nebuchadnezzar appointed to be governor for the people, because there was no king anymore, one guy to be kind of a puppet king or a mayor of Jerusalem. He was murdered by a bunch of zealous Jews. In order to not make Nebuchadnezzar mad, they fasted on that day, too.
He said of these days they had fasted "…in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted?" Catch that. God is trying to question their hearts. In fact, God knows, "It wasn't for me that you fasted. For whatever reason you started this act of devotion, you continued it not because of a love and concern for me but because you thought it was some kind of religious Aladdin's lamp that, if you did it, I would stay off of your case."
Verse 6: "When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves?" In direct contrast to what they were commanded to do… First Corinthians 10:31 for us says, "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." That's what God says. "I don't care, Wagner, whether you eat tomorrow or whether you don't eat tomorrow, but whether you eat or don't eat…"
I don't care whether you give on your way out of this church tonight. Whether you give or don't give is your business, but if you don't give there ought to be a specific reason you don't give and it ought to have at the root of it the glory of God. If you do give, don't give because you think somebody's going to see that you didn't give.
If you give, give for one reason: because you love the Lord and you believe his name is being declared here and the gospel of Jesus Christ is being spread through the believers in this church and you're being ministered to here or you're being fed here through the worship, teaching, or relationship ministry of this church.
You see it being active in this community and all over the world, so you want to participate in God being glorified. That's why you give and not begrudgingly or under compulsion but out of a joyful heart because you love the Lord and you love his glory and God is gracious enough to let you participate in his name being glorified.
Verse 7: "Are not these the words which the LORD proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous along with its cities around it, and the Negev and the foothills were inhabited?" He ends his first little dissertation here in response to this question, "Should we keep fasting?" or "Can we stop? We're two years into building the thing. Can we now say, 'God! Enough! We no longer have to do these national fasts which we inaugurated while we were in exile. Can we stop being so religious, or if we stop, are you going to punish us again?'"
God says, "You don't understand. What you were doing you weren't doing for me. I don't care whether you do it or don't do it. Just do it or don't do it for me. Hasn't this been the way I've always been? I don't just ask you to fast when you're being punished. I ask you to fast when you're prospering, but in both times I don't ask you to fast when you're punished so I'll stop punishing you, and when you're prospering, I don't ask you to continue to fast or to pray or to worship me so I keep prospering you. I ask you to do it because I long for you to be in relationship with me and to seek me diligently."
I will say again there was one day God told the people they should fast to focus on him. In the New Testament there is not one. We are never commanded to fast on a specific day for a specific time, but we are commanded to fast for a specific reason: to diligently seek the Lord. Again, a biblical fast can only be done by a Christian if it's going to have any eternal benefit.
I will tell you there are physical benefits to fasting which your corner pagan will benefit from if they fast. It will help cleanse your body. It will do a lot of things doctors say are healthy for you if you do it for the right period of time in the right way, but if you want to fast to lose weight or you want to fast to cleanse your body, don't try to tuck God in the corner and see if you can cash in at both places. Just be man or woman enough to acknowledge what you're doing!
Don't try and play games with God. He knows what's going on in your heart. We are not commanded to fast on any one particular day, but we are commanded to fast a certain way for a certain reason. By the way, let me encourage you with this to think a little bit outside of the box. As I said, biblical fasting always involves primarily abstaining from food, but some of the more difficult fasts in my life…
The fact is there are lots of times when I get involved in work or play and I miss a meal and go, "I'll declare that a fast." I kind of want the benefit for it. In other words, what I'm saying is there are lots of times where missing a meal, as hard as it is for me, is not always the most difficult thing for me.
Some of the times when I declare a fast before the Lord, I'll declare a fast from television. For the next week I'm going to eat what I want to eat, but I'm not going to watch television at all, or I'm not going to read the newspaper at all, or I'm not going to read magazines, or I'm not going to do something that takes my time, not because it's necessarily evil but because the time I would normally take for that I'm going to take to pursue your face and to seek your face for this week.
Now, be careful. I would encourage you if you determine to do this… By the way, it's a wonderful discipline. It's called a spiritual discipline. It's a means through which God shares his grace with us. It is not an end. You never do these things thinking, "If I do them, I will have shown how great of a spiritual man I am, and God will give me great things because I have done this." No. It's a means through which God allows us to pursue him.
I would encourage you, if you determine to try and do this, to not try right out of the chute, whether it is with food or some other object or thing, to do it for a day. Take it for a period of hours and use that time you get hungry. Say, "God, I'd love right now to go get something to eat, and it would probably take me 30 minutes to go there and get it and eat it or bring it back. Do you know what I'll do, Lord? I'll take that physical hunger and use it as a picture of what should be more and more in my heart a condition of my spiritual hunger."
If I would take 30 minutes to run out to a fast-food place, grab me a sub, come back, and eat it, let's take these next 30 minutes to go right here. Man doesn't live by bread alone but by every word which comes from the mouth of God. Try do it for a meal. Take one lunch this week. If you have an hour take that hour and leave your office like you usually do.
Go into your car and read. As you sit there and experience some hunger, just say, "God, as hungry as I am right now for food, you are more important to me." Maybe you have a specific thing you want to seek God's will or God's leading on. Just sit there. You'll read and write and journal and listen.
Maybe you'll fast from listening to the radio on your way to and from work. Maybe just try it on the way to work. Don't bite off more than you can chew the first time. It says in Ecclesiastes to not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought (chapter 5, verse 2) to declare a matter before the Lord. "For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few."
Don't walk out of here tonight all fired up saying, "God, I'm not going to listen to The Ticket for two weeks." Then, Switzer gets canned. "Oh, God! You don't understand! I have to hear this press conference." Be careful! Make a vow but be careful about the conditions you put upon it and the length you put upon it. If you make a vow, stick it out. It says in Proverbs it's a sin for a man to make a vow and then afterward to consider the seriousness of it.
It's a verse I always quote when I'm standing right here to marry a couple. "You guy are about to make a covenant vow. It's a sin for you to say it is holy and then afterward, three weeks later when she annoys you… This is a serious deal. You can think about that right now, and if you don't want to do this, that's fine. Stay right there. I'm going to turn around up here and give vows to whoever comes." Now, I've never had a bride or a groom not follow me those eight steps, but one day, if I did, I'd say, "You are a wise man, and you are a lucky woman that guy told you now that he understood how serious the vows were he was about to take."
Here's the second thing he says in verse 8. "Then the word of the LORD came to Zechariah saying, 'Thus has the LORD of hosts said, "Dispense true justice…"'" In fact, there are four things and there is the first one. "You want to be a holy people?" "Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another."
He lays it out. You want to be a godly people? Then, don't fast. Don't rattle your money in the offering box. Don't show everybody how pious you are by when you pray to pray for seven minutes while everybody else prays for two. I love the saying that the man who prays often in private prays little and short in public. There are some guys, when I ask them to pray, I feel like they're trying to get their quiet time fit in there. Just pray and say, "Amen." Go home and go through your prayer journal.
He says, "This is what true spirituality is. It's not praying long, but true spirituality is, when you spend time with the Lord, you would dispense justice." If someone is going to describe your life, would they describe you as a just individual? In other words, you make things right. You do things right and when you don't do things right you go back and make amends. Is that a characteristic of your life?
Do folks ever say, "That is a just individual; he does what he ought and when he doesn't do what he should have done, he goes back and says, 'I've made a mistake, and I want to do all that I can to make restitution in this area and to reconcile the wrong I have done'"? God says that is an attribute of a godly man.
Do you know why it's an attribute of a godly man? Because it's an attribute of God, and if you have God on your heart, you're going to have on your hands what God has on his. Justice. Here's a second one. Kindness. It's the word chesed. It is a big Hebrew word. You learned one! Chesed. You know it.
It is the most important word, I think, in your Old Testament, because it's the word God uses to describe his covenant relationship with his people. It is covenant love. It is kindness that is agape love in the New Testament, basically. It is unconditional, unmerited, purposeful love that is patient, that is kind, that does not boast, and is not arrogant, that is not jealous for its own selfish things.
It doesn't act unbecomingly. It is not provoked. It doesn't seek its own. It doesn't take into account a wrong suffered. It is the kind of love that always rejoices in truth and righteousness and never rejoices in unrighteousness or lies. It bears all things. It believes all things. It hopes all things. It endures all things. It's the kind of love which never, ever fails. He says, "Do you want to be a spiritual people. Live out 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Live out my love for you."
By the way, I want to tell you don't pervert love in your mind. Love does not mean you always do the warm, easy, drippy thing. Love means you do what is best for that individual even if that person doesn't want it done. You, in your wisdom and with the counsel of God and the principles he lays before you in the Scriptures, will do the most loving thing.
There's a great story. I love the idea. Someone asked this of me before. What does it mean when it says you should turn your other cheek when somebody strikes you? I'll tell you what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean if you're a loving person you're going to sit there and be somebody's punching bag. Christians are not to be the boxing dummies of the world. We are not to be the pigeons to which the world can just walk on. In the midst of a fight, I tell folks what you should do if somebody punches you in the face.
My belief is what that Scripture means is specifically you should not allow that individual to act in a way which is not to his benefit. If you respond to that punch in the face by saying, "You're going to get yours right now, and you're not going to humiliate me in front of my friends and family, and I'm going to inflict upon you the same pain you inflicted on me," then we are acting in what seems to be a very fair and just way to us in the world, but we are acting in that way in an unbiblical manner.
If, on the other hand, you do all you can to resist that man to protect yourself to stop him from inflicting harm upon his person or his name, as somebody who is made in the image of God, I don't find any problem with that. I think you can seek to protect yourself, and sometimes if you have to knock him out to do it, you have to knock him out to do it, but be very careful lest you convince yourself you're doing it to protect him from harming his name by doing evil to you when, in fact, what you're doing is letting vengeance seep out through your hands. I think it's a heart issue much more than it is a hands issue.
There's a great story about a guy who used to be a boxer over here. He would consistently do great destruction to his foes. He determined it was too violent a sport to be into when he came to know the Lord. He went back home to his homeland in Ireland. He became a Christian and a preacher and an itinerant pastor.
He used to go into bars and sit and witness to guys. There were a bunch of folks who didn't know exactly what he did when he was in this one bar, and they started to give him a hard time because he wasn't drinking with them. He sat there very quietly. He incurred more and more abuse from these two guys who were popping off and drinking.
The one guy walked up to him and fired a punch at him right on the jaw. Being a tough guy and a boxer, he had taken a lot of punches, so he just stood there and took it. He turned around and did this. The guy fired away and hit him on the other side of the jaw. He said, "The Lord gives me no further instruction." He punched him. Now, he took the law literally, but he missed the intention of it right there.
The idea is don't seek what seems right to you and feeds your flesh. Vengeance is the Lord's. You ought to be an individual who is always seeking to do the loving thing. What I want you to understand in this is love, gang, isn't always easy. It isn't always what the person wants. I think what Matthew 18 talks about as church discipline is better said as church love.
If you know a brother or sister who is living in sin and who has destructive patterns and behaviors in their life, you go to them in love and you reprove them. We as a church and we as believers need to see that as loving. That's the way the Lord sees discipline, and he disciplines you even as a father does the son whom he loves.
The story goes of a dad who was accused of being abusive because when all of the other dads in the neighborhood would go out and let their kids swim in the fishing hole he never would. He'd have them out there working in his pasture. Somebody went to him one day and said, "What kind of dad are you? How come you don't let your kids go out and play with everybody else when you've got more than enough corn already? You don't need your boys working in the field all day long."
He looked back and said, "I'm not raising corn; I'm raising boys." He was trying to teach those boys about industry and work and responsibility, so he didn't care what others perceived him to be doing. He felt like it was the loving thing to do to teach his kids about working in season to prepare for the harvest.
He says, "I want you to be just. I want you to be loving." That second word (compassion) there… I'll just throw this out. "I want you to have chesed love, a covenant love. I want you to have compassion." The word for compassion is the same root word in the Hebrew as womb. "I want you, in effect, to have the kind of kindness like this motherly tenderness to meet the need in every way of those you're in the midst of as the womb does the child it carries. I want you to feel, even as the womb feels the pressures and the movements of the child, the pain and the sufferings of those who are around you."
That's what God calls us to do. That's what true compassion is: when I make your hurt my hurt and when I rejoice with those who rejoice and when I weep with those who are weeping. Do you see the pain of others in this body as that way? Are you just? Do you have a commitment to love them biblically? Do you feel their pain?
Somebody got elected claiming he did. God doesn't want you to use that because it's a smooth, political campaign. He wants you to use that because it's the cry of your heart to care for others who are part of his body or for others he died to make part of his body. Look at this last one. It's even tougher.
He says, "Do you want to know what true spirituality looks like?" He says, "…and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another." Specifically, I like what the NIV says. It says, "Do not [think] evil against each other." That's hard to do, isn't it? That doesn't mean if you're sitting there and you see somebody do something that doesn't seem right to you that you go, "That doesn't seem right," and you go, "I'm not a godly person! I thought that."
What it means is you don't harbor that thought. You don't believe that thought for a moment, but if you have a twinge of doubt in your mind because you saw a brother or sister do something that looked a little bit irreverent or a little bit ungodly and it bothered you, you go to that brother or sister rather than think ill of them and say, "I need to visit with you. I need to share with you. I have a question about why you did that or why you said that or why you used that tone or why you walked by me without say, 'Hi.'"
There are times I walk by folks here. I'm thinking about something. Maybe they'll say, "Hi," to me, and I honestly just didn't hear them. I'll get a letter sometimes a week letter saying, "You arrogant, self-righteous person! How could you be so insensitive?" I'm so glad when they sign their name because I know who it is so I can call them up and go, "Forgive me. Tell me what happened. Where was I? What did I do?"
Thankfully, they signed their name so I'll maybe share with them about the manner in which they got my attention so we could talk about it. The ones that really hurt are folks who maybe saw me do something that didn't speak of Christ, but I just hear about it out there. I don't know who it is, so I can't go to them, not because I'm zealous that my good name would prevail but I'm zealous for the name which I represent. We are not to even think evil of one another. That is why the Lord calls us and tells us to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
You have not blown it as a godly person if you have doubt about another's walk with Christ. You have blown it as a godly person if you just say, "I'm writing that person off. They are a 2-percenter and that's all they're ever going to be. They are lukewarm in their faith, so I shouldn't expect more of them." Then, you go and carry that thought about them out there and maybe you're quick to say that or bring it up in a conversation, or even if you never say it you let that heart reside in your heart. The Scripture says, "If you think that of them, go, and make it right."
Now, if you find out that is indeed who they are, that's another deal entirely. Then, you move into Christian love as defined in Matthew 18. Let's move on. That's true spirituality. He says, "You guys didn't do that." Specifically, he's saying, "Your forefathers didn't do that," and he kind of lays out the progression of a hardening heart in verses 11 and 12.
"But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing." I love that. Gang, one guy said true spirituality is a dogged attentiveness to familiar truths. John Stott, who is a great theologian and has meant a lot to the church in the twentieth century, talks about the way pastors ought to prepare week after week for the body. He says, "The pastor ought to worry over God's Word and over their teaching like a dog does over his bone."
Have you ever seen a dog around a bone? He can't take his eyes off of it, so he has it buried and tucked away where no one can get it. They want to look at it. If you call them away because there's something over there, they'll always look at it. They'll get over here. If you move it really quickly, my dog will go nuts like, "Where did you put that thing? Where did it go? I knew if I left it for three seconds it would be gone! I'm going to make sure it's right."
What God said is, if we're truly a spiritual people, we ought to have a dogged attentiveness to what is a familiar truth, mainly the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected on the third day for the redemption of humanity, that you are saved by grace through faith alone, and you are concerned to keep that message crystal clear, and you don't ever become hardened in your heart or in your communication of it.
Have you a dogged attentiveness to that very familiar truth, or has it kind of grown weary and old and familiar to you to the point where you just let somebody say a vague thing? They mention the name of Jesus. "Okay. Jesus. Great. Boring." Off you go. By the way, in our culture that's going to become a bigger and bigger issue.
People say they follow Jesus. You need to know this. When you hear the name of Jesus spoken well of, and you're going to hear his name spoken of much, much more by people in greater numbers who don't mean by Jesus what you and I mean when we say Jesus. To get people to follow Jesus anymore is not going to be enough. Hear me when I say this.
We need to make sure people are following the biblical Jesus. When somebody stands up… Most people won't say, "I love God. I follow God." There's a clue they're not really willing to show their hand. When somebody says, "Yes, I love Jesus." In fact, I can remember when I was a kid in the 1970s.
We went on our big West Coast tour and went to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We went through the Rockies and down to California and Disneyland and swung back through Las Vegas and hit a little town in Utah called Salt Lake City. We went to the tourist attraction in that town, which happened to be a little tabernacle of a group of folks call the Mormon Tabernacle.
You'd walk into the little tourist center and guess who their star is. Jesus, a big, beautiful, white, 6-foot-6 Jesus. You walk in, and if you don't know your faith well, you'd go, "Hey! They are one of us! This is a church of Jesus Christ." That's the way they come on and sell themselves, but they don't mean by Jesus what you mean, hopefully, by Jesus.
You don't think he's an angelic half-brother of Lucifer. You think he's God incarnate and part of the Trinity who died for your sins and who is now restored at the right hand of God and will come back one day to rule and reign over the world and judge the living and the dead whose name shall be exalted above all names. You will one day not be a God like he is a God but you will be like him (declared righteous in the presence of God yourself).
What would you say if I said to you, "Do you like Barney?" Raise your hand if you like Barney. Raise them. Go on! Don't be ashamed. Barney Fife…deputy sheriff, a great guy, funny… Raise your hand. Let me ask you again. How many of you love Barney? Raise your hand. That little one-bullet Joe.
If I told you I loved Barney… He's funny. Every time he's on he's my favorite character. You'd go, "What in the world is that brother doing watching a big purple dinosaur who has an annoying voice?" Make sure when people use a name you know what they mean by that name and that they define that name your way.
You get two people in a room and they both say, "I love Barney," but one loves a purple dinosaur and one loves a deputy sheriff, one of them has to see a psychologist and one of them I'll hang out with. It's not enough for me to hear somebody say they love Jesus. Do they love the biblical Jesus, the Jesus who is divine and revealed in the Scriptures?
"'But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts.
And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen,' says the LORD of hosts; 'but I scattered them with a storm wind among all the nations whom they have not known. Thus the land is desolated behind them so that no one went back and forth, for they made the pleasant land desolate.'"
What God is saying is simply the same thing he said in Zechariah 1, which is, "Now that you're starting the temple, don't think that's all I want. Repent so I don't have to discipline you." Two years later they're halfway through the process, and they're saying, "Can we quit fasting?" He says, "Don't you know that I never wanted you to start fasting in order to make yourself righteous in my eyes? I want you to have a relationship with me. Repent! Understand what true godliness looks like so I don't have to do to you what I did to your forefathers."
It isn't just about building a temple. It isn't just about fasting. It isn't just about coming regularly on Sundays to church. It isn't just about carrying your Bible when you come on Sundays to church. It isn't just about carrying a worn Bible that is underlined. It isn't just about carrying a notepad with a pen and taking notes with your worn Bible that is underlined.
It isn't about carrying your worn Bible that is underlined with a pen and taking notes and dropping money in the little boxes they hide at this church when you come. It is about having a heart that is moved out of a relationship with that God you have met in the Scriptures and through relationships and worship and teaching at that church and then practicing justice and kindness and compassion and brotherly love for one another.
You must have that foundation of a relationship with Jesus Christ or you can be just till the cows come home and not think of evil of people, and it will mean no good to you, but if you have that relationship with Jesus Christ and you claim to have that relationship with Jesus Christ, he says, "If I am in your heart, what goes on with your hands ought to be what would happen with my hands."
The mystery of the ages ought to be the work of Christ continues through you, his people (the church). Don't confuse Christian activity with Christianity. Don't confuse having KLTY on all five preset buttons in your car with being a spiritual person. Don't confuse fasting regularly with devotion. Let me give you a couple of quick principles I scribbled down that I think capture these ideas.
1._ We are made acceptable to God through the work of Jesus Christ alone and not through any work we do_. We are made acceptable to God through the work of Jesus Christ alone and not through any work of our own. That includes fasting, giving, worshiping, attending Bible study, teaching Bible studies, pastoring a church, and being a missionary. It all goes out the window if you do not have that faith core relationship with the biblical Jesus Christ.
You know the verse well, don't you? In fact, Ephesians 2:1 starts by saying, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…" The question becomes…What can a dead man do in terms of works? Nothing! There is no hidden virtue in Bible reading that if you don't respond to the truth in that text will ever get you into heaven.
Do you remember what was going on in Luke 18? It's a very familiar story about the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee stands before the Lord in the temple as loudly as he can reading his resume in prayer before the Lord. "O, Lord, I thank you that I am a righteous man, that I fast regularly twice a week, that I tithe to great extents, and that I'm not wicked as people like that tax collector over there. I thank you that the things I do, God, make you love me," was his cry.
Not 20 yards away from him Jesus says there was a sinner, a guy who stole from people, who went to the temple and was reduced to the point where he realized who he was. He threw himself before the mercy of the court and said, "O God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner! I am vile! I have lived for pleasure and want and have hardened my heart against you."
Jesus says, "Which one of these two do you think God relents upon? The one who turns to the work of God who is poor in spirit and not the one who is up there giving a resume by talking about how much he fasts and how much he gives." If this guy's faith is genuine and real, that tax collector when he stand up is going to want to do all he can to serve that God who has saved him from his wicked state.
There will be days he will declare a personal fast so he can diligently seek the Lord instead of feed his little belly. There will be days he'll declare a fast so he can not spend money on a Blimpie and take that money and give it somebody else who didn't eat. There will be days he won't eat at all and will take that money and give it to the work of the Lord because he loves that God, but he'll never believe those things make him righteous.
They are a right response of a forgiven sinner. Turn with me to Isaiah 58. Let me show you. This is the most classic place in the Scripture where you find a picture of what God says he's basically looking for. It's much clearer in the NIV in this one section. I'm going to read it. Here we go. Chapter 58, verse 1:
"Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. 'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?'
Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?"
Do you hear what God is saying? "I'm not impressed with your empty pious acts of devotion, this formal spiritualistic religion you have invented which is nothing to me. It's devoid of any spiritually eternal meaning because you have no relationship with me." He says, "If you want to fast, this is the kind of fasting I choose. You fast from injustice. You fast from oppression on the enslaved. You fast from self-indulgence and share your food with the hungry," to paraphrase those last two verses.
What the Lord is saying right there is simply, "Don't think some activity you do is what is going to impress him." No. What impresses him is that you have dealt with your corruption. These people are saying, "God, why haven't you honored our religious devotion? I go to BSF, Metro, Sunday nights, Sunday morning, and I'm in a couple of Bible studies I teach myself. Why haven't you blessed my life?"
He says, "Because it's all form to you. All you do is go there and listen and nod your head and say, 'That's great,' but it hasn't hit your heart yet, and you haven't reduced yourself yet to a person who needs Jesus Christ and you seek him and cling to him and say, 'God, today guide my path. Think for me. Biblically change my mind. I don't want to be conformed anymore to the world and the lusts of my flesh, but I want to be transformed by the renewing of my mind.'"
That's what I meant when I said, "Think for me," because Christianity is not a mindless faith. It is a faith where he says, "Use your mind to study God's mind, God's will, and God's way." If you submit anything to the Lord that is a work of your own, then you will find yourself wanting before him. We are made acceptable to God through the work of Jesus Christ alone and through no work of ours.
This bothers devout men, it annoys moral men, but it absolutely becomes a stumbling block to religious men. There are certain guys who say, "I don't accept it. I don't accept that I need a Savior. If God doesn't want my attendance at church, my giving, and my being obedient, then God can take it and shove it." Woe to that man who doesn't need the grace of God. Let me give you another one quickly.
2._ Motivation and attitude make or break everything we do_. I'm going to quote Hebrews 11:6. It says, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." If you aren't doing it (giving, serving, loving, studying, praying, fasting, Communion) because you love Christ and believe by faith this is how he would have you spend this time, it is worthless. It is a pious act of formalism devoid of any spiritual merit. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Motivation and attitude are everything.
3._ God is insulted by our self-righteous efforts to buy him off_. He is absolutely insulted by our self-righteous efforts to buy him off. He is not a mafia don looking to provide you protection. If you give your 10 percent, which is an unbiblical number… In the New Testament, you are never told to give 10 percent.
You are told to give everything you can out of a heart of love. If that fleshes out to be 10 percent in your camp, God bless you. If it turns out to be more, God bless you still. You give what is right for you to give, but if you think in your giving that's what's going to assure you a date this weekend, you have trouble coming.
If you think giving is going to ensure you from getting audited, you have trouble coming. If you give thinking you're not going to stand before the Lord and have a consequence and judgment delivered for your sins because you gave sacrificially, you have another think coming. God is insulted by our self-righteous submission of things we have done. He is not an extortionist who is wanting us to pay for protection from him.
Let me read you this quote by a Puritan. He says, "In vain will ye fast, and pretend to be humbled for our sins, and make confession of them if our love of sin be not turned into hatred; our liking of it into loathing; and our cleaving to it, into a longing to be rid of it; with full purpose to resist the motions of it in our heart, and the outbreakings thereof in our life; and if we turn not unto God as our rightful Lord and Master, and return to our duty again."
This guy says that we must never try to immerse ourselves in the spiritual discipline as an attempt to drown out God's voice about forsaking a sin. It is a perversion of fasting or of anything (giving, taking Communion, baptism, worship) to try to use it as a balance or as a self-punishment for a sinful part of our life we are trying to continue to feed.
Let me make it this simple for you. If you came to church tonight because last night you were immoral and adulterous or in an unfaithful relationship or because you're addicted to pornography or because you're a homosexual and you think if you go to church you won't be judged for it, you have another think coming to you. You can't buy God off with your faithful attendance. I don't care how much you drop off in the bucket or how faithful you are to show up in these pews.
The Lord wants you to come, humble yourself before him, and say, "I need you in every area of my life, and I don't want to just do this so people think I'm godly. I want you to know in my heart I'm serious about it." God is insulted when we think we can do something that would bridge the gap between him and us.
I think he's also insulted when we say we believe he has bridged the gap through the person of Jesus Christ and we never respond to that with acts of love and devotion as a way of showing our care for him and seeing every word we get to speak as a chance to glorify him, every time we go to eat to eat in a way that glorifies God, every time we fast to fast in a way that glorifies him.
When we spend every dime, we ought to say, "God, you died for me. What can I do for you? I want to determine if this dime is spent in a way which will glorify you. Should I buy this CD or not? Should I give this money this weekend to the church or not? Everything for you, Lord. Everything."
We need to get Jesus Christ out of the church. By that, I simply mean if you see your time with Jesus as compartmentalized and limited to this time of the week, we have again done you a gross injustice. Get Jesus out of the church and into every area of your life. Biblically, there is no such thing as a secularization of life. He is not to be in any way prominent in your life. In other words, he shouldn't cover 20 percent or 40 percent of your life. He should be preeminent, ruling in every area of your life.
There is a time to gather with the body and to make Christ preeminent and obvious in your life in this way, but when you go to work tomorrow, I want you to know when you go it is an act of worship. When you give later, I want you to know it is an act of worship. Don't compartmentalize your life. Everything you do is in response to what he has done for you. Whether you eat or whether you drink, whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God. Let's pray.
Father, I thank you for chances to come tonight together and see again what you call true religion. Father, thank you that you're not looking to have us buy you off through meaningless acts of devotion, things that would never, ever pay the debt we have before you, but things which give us an opportunity, however feeble our efforts and our sacrifices might be, to show the extent of our love for you.
Father, you have given all for us. All we say now in return as an expression of faith in you is, "Will you allow us to grow more and more in our faith so it makes sense that everything we have we would then give to you?" Father, I pray you'd free people up from the bondage of the belief that if they really loved you they'd write a check for everything in their savings account, but I pray you would deepen in their soul and in their conviction that if they really love you every penny in that savings account they would put in your hands and let you direct how they should live.
I pray I do that. I pray that every member of our body, Father, thinks through how we can faithfully serve you in every way in church and out of church, around Christians and away from Christians, while we're singing hymns and while we're driving in traffic. Whatever we do, may this week, because we truly want to live for you, do all for the glory of God. Step by step, Father, let us live for you this week.
In this second volume of "Sawing through the ZZZs", Todd Wagner unravels one of the richest, most complex of the minor prophetical books, revealing a timeless message of hope to all who will hear. Using night visions, oracles and symbols, God gives the prophet Zechariah a warning to the struggling, disillusioned nation of Israel freshly returned from exile in Babylon. This glimpse into their immediate and distant future exhorts them - and us - to repent, obey and persevere. The Lord is near to His own and this prophetical work concludes with a glorious look at the Messiah and the hope of His triumphant return.