Vol. IX — No. 38 September 22, 1968
Then came the word of the Lord of hosts unto me, saying, Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye tested and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me? And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat, for yourselves, and drink for yourselves? Should ye not hear the words which the Lord hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and the cities thereof round about her, when men inhabited the south and the plain? And the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.
In Christ Jesus, whose Word shall remain even after heaven and earth pass away, Fellow Redeemed:
How many new books did your children bring home with them from school? Chances are that they have a new arithmetic book or a new mathematics book, for we know that the old way of treating these subjects has been replaced for the most part by the new math. Possibly there is a new science book, because advances are made so rapidly in this field that the books are out of date almost before the ink is dry on the page. Social studies books have been changing rapidly to keep up with the social revolution in this country. In addition to the changes in textbooks in old, established courses on the curriculum new books and new courses are constantly being introduced to keep up with the continuous increase in knowledge and information and technical know-how.
What a contrast when you come here to this House of God for instruction and for worship! The Scripture readings were read to you from the same book that children of God have been using throughout the New Testament era and parts of it for centuries before in the Old Testament. The translation that we use has been in use for more than three and a half centuries. The text that has just been read to you was written some five centuries before Christ and so is presented to you this morning as a message that is some 2500 years old. What a contrast between the unending process of disgarding books because they are out of date or obsolete because of newly discovered knowledge or outmoded because of changing social patterns and our use of the same book that children of God have used ever since it was set down in writing beginning some 3500 years ago.
We all should realize that what, by the grace of God, is being done here in our church is becoming more and more rare in churches that still call themselves “Christian.” It is widely and loudly claimed that the Bible is not relevant for modern man. Yea, the word “relevant” has been worked to death to make the point. So-called “Christian” theologians have been applying what are called scientific methods of research and new discoveries of science to the Bible in an effort to make its message relevant, fitting, appropriate for modern man in this age of science and technology. These are the people who have undertaken the task of remaking God in the image of modern man and remolding His Word to make it palatable to the modern mind.
In sharp and considered contrast to these trends we say with Isaiah in the Old Testament, “The word of our God shall stand for ever,” (Is. 40:8) and With Peter in the New Testament, “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever.” (I Peter 1:25) And we furthermore add that the Word of our God, as recorded in the Holy Bible, is always relevant to man—ancient, medieval, modern—at all times, in all places and under every circumstance. Our text, which is 2500 years old, gives us an opportunity to demonstrate this. Let us consider it from this point of view:
Human nature does not change. Man was created in the image of God, but he lost that image when he sinned. Since then parents have brought forth children and children are conceived and born in the image of their parents. That which is born of flesh is flesh. It can’t be otherwise.
One human tendency that remains ever the same is to reduce worship to mechanical ritual. The word of the Lord, as recorded in our text, came to Zechariah as an answer to a question posed by a delegation that had come to make inquiries concerning fast days. During the Babylonian Captivity the Jews has observed special days of national fasting, one in the fifth month to mourn the day the temple and city of Jerusalem were destroyed by fire and another in the seventh month to mourn the murder of Gedaliah and the Jews that had been left in the land. The people had returned from Babylon and were engaged in the work of rebuilding the temple and Jerusalem, It seemed inappropriate to continue these days of mourning over national disasters when the present appeared to be more a time of rejoicing.
The Lord answered that question by asking a question that surely caused the people to do some soul-searching. “When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” What are the implications of this question? Does not the Lord with that question charge his people with converting their fasting into a mechanical ritual? “Did ye at all fast unto Me?” Or did you just fast because that was the expected thing to do on that particular day of the month? Read the first chapter of Isaiah for a scathing denunciation of this very human tendency—to reduce meaningful worship to mechanical ritual. Man always tends to do that! How easy it is to participate in the liturgical portion of the service in a mechanical way while the mind and heart remain a blank or wander hither and yon. Who has not sung a hymn without following the words in his mind? Who has not confessed his faith in the words of the Creed or prayed the Lord’s Prayer without giving the confession or the prayer even the slightest mental attention. We are that way! That is why a word spoken by the Lord 2500 years ago is relevant, fitting and necessary for us today.
Another human tendency is to reduce sorrow over sin into self-pity. “When ye fasted and mourned…did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” Fasting was supposed to be an outward manifestation of inner grief and sorrow over sin against the Lord God. The Lord’s question forced the people to ask themselves whether their fasting was this or whether it had become just an expression of self-commiseration and self-pity over national calamities. One of the shrines of the Jews today is the wailing wall at Jerusalem. Jews from all over the world make pilgrimages to weep and wail and pray at the wailing wall. But the wailing is over national misfortunes, not over having rejected God’s Son when He came among them. What about our penitence and repentance? You children, when you do something wrong, are you sorry because teacher or parents catch you and punish you or are you sorry because you have sinned against the Lord who bids you honor and respect and obey those He has set over you. We adults—how easy it is for us to weep and lament over our misfortunes and feel downright sorry for ourselves! And how often is that not a cover for a lack of sorrow and a lack of tears that we have again and again sinned against our God and justly deserve the consequences of our sins. The question of the Lord, “When ye mourn, did ye mourn unto He?” is as fitting and necessary and relevant for modern man as it was for the men of Israel centuries ago.
Another human tendency is to imagine that God can be propitiated or appeased with man’s works. This heathen notion is an incurable part of man’s thinking. “When ye fasted and mourned—did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” Did you think you could propitiate Me, appease Me, gain My favor, satisfy Me, buy Me off with your fasting and mourning? Isn’t this the very tendency that our Lord exposed in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican praying in the temple? Five hundred years later this tendency to think of worship as works of merit had solidified and become the chief plank in the doctrinal platform of the religious leaders of the Jews. They rejected and crucified God’s Son because they believed that they could satisfy God and create righteousness for themselves by faithfully doing the many acts of worship required in the law and formulated in tradition. Modern man is no different. The faith of the ecumenical movement and the ecumenical faith of natural man is that man can gain God’s favor with worship and service that man himself designs. It is universally devoutly believed that God can be bribed, that He can be bought off with the petty and miserable works and efforts of man. Yea, the Word of God, which is as old as the hills and which will survive when the hills are no more, is relevant for modern man. We need it; everyone needs it to correct this human tendency that imagines that God can be bought off with the efforts of man.
The unfailing relevance of the Word of the Lord can furthermore be seen in this that—
And what is it that God has demanded of His people since the beginning of time? Repentance and faith and a life in conformity with His will! Observe how the Lord impresses this upon the people in the days of Zechariah. They had asked about fasting and mourning. The Lord, in effect, told them that the continuation or discontinuance of those customs was a matter of their own choice. He did point out with His question that their whole point of View had become infected by natural human tendencies. Then He continued, “Should ye not hear the words which the Lord hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and the cities thereof round about her, when men inhabited the south and the plain?” The Lord reminded them of messages that He had sent to than by prophets a century before their time. The Lord didn’t at all feel that those century old words were out of date and no longer relevant. Not at all, for the Lord always speaks the same to men.
Read the message of the prophets! What are they but a call to repentance and faith? Isaiah cried out in the name of the Lord: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well!” That’s a call to repentance! “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins he as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Is. 1:16-18. What is that but a call to faith in the mercy and grace of God promised in connection with the Saviour and fulfilled in Christ Jesus, God’s Son. Five centuries later the voice of John the Baptist arose with the message: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matt. 3:2. When that voice was silenced, the Lord Jesus took up the same message. Repentance and faith remain the message of our Lord. Turn from your sins, and turn to the Lord Jesus for forgiveness, for righteousness, for peace, for hope, for life. This is as relevant for modern man, as it was for Old Testament men.
God always expects that His people live a life in conformity with His will. “And the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute judgment and shew mercy and compassion every man to his brother: And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor.” Five centuries later God’s Son sat down on a level spot up in a mountain and opened His mouth and said: “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” Matt. 5:7. It’s the same message. From Mt. Sinai it sounded forth: Love your neighbor as yourself. The prophets repeated it and laid it out. Be fair and square with one another in all your dealings. Don’t take advantage of the downtrodden and lowly. Modern man needs that message today, as he has needed it in every generation. It is a perpetually relevant message for man because it is God’s message.
“Let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. So said the Lord through the mouth of His prophet Zechariah. And through the mouth of His Son five centuries later He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” Matt. 5:8. Paul wrote to young Timothy: “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” II Tim. 2:22. The message remains the same! How can it change? For our God never changes. Jesus Christ, the sane yesterday, today and forever. The Word of God is always relevant! It speaks to you and to me. May our response always be: “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth!” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.