So the LORD spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. Then the angel who was speaking to me said, ‘Proclaim this word: This is what the LORD Almighty says: “I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, but I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they added to the calamity.” Therefore, this is what the LORD says: “I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,” declares the LORD Almighty. Proclaim further: This is what the LORD Almighty says: “My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.”
You probably didn’t spot the insistent refrain running throughout these verses, any more than at this moment you are conscious that your heart is beating or that you are breathing. We find here again this affirmation that the living God is, and that he’s not silent. He is a speaking God. Our text begins with God speaking kind and comforting words to an angel (v.13), and then that angel in turn speaks to the prophet, and tells the prophet to speak words which come from God, “This is what the Lord Almighty says” (v.14) and that phrase occurs again two sentences later (v.16). But then once again, in the subsequent sentence we find the words, “declares the Lord Almighty” (v.16b) and then even once more, “This is what the Lord Almighty says . . .” (v.17). What an insistent fivefold refrain this is that the words before us are those of the Almighty one the Creator. Could they be? Is God able to make himself known unambiguously to men and women, and is he able to assist them to record exactly what he said? Can God do this? Because such claims occur throughout the entire Bible, especially the refrain, “Thus saith the Lord,” hundreds of times, that our Maker has revealed himself to mankind, making himself known through his servants the prophets.
We can know much about the divine nature of God from what we see in his creation around and above us. Also through our consciences we understand something of his righteousness, what he commends to us and those things of which he disapproves. I walked past a certain location last week, and as I was going on my way I thought of someone, “I should be visiting there,” and the thought wouldn’t go away. I slowed down, stopped and did a U-turn and walked back and visited that place. That was the voice of conscience even though the person I wanted to see wasn’t there. So in creation and conscience God addresses all mankind and by those standards all those who never heard of Jesus Christ will be judged and found wanting. But there is a more intimate revelation of God, more detailed, in which God tells us about his character, and his plans to save men and women and how we should live. It is in the Bible that he speaks to us through his prophets and apostles. He has particularly spoken to us in his Son Jesus Christ. “That is what I am like,” he says pointing us to his Son. “He will tell you what you must do to be saved. This is what you must believe about me. These are the sorts of decisions and attitudes and affections I approve of, and those others I disapprove of. Don’t behave like that. Don’t even think like that . . .” God speaks to us through his servants in the Bible. I have never heard the audible voice of God and I never will while I’m in the flesh, but I’ve known God often speaking to me through Scripture, especially when it has been preached to me. His truths have been made known to me. Kind and comforting words have come to me frequently. So God has spoken to his creatures in his world through Zechariah, and that’s the only reason we’re studying this book. What do we learn from the verses set before us today about this same God?
You will see that the Lord Almighty begins by responding to the reports that the inspecting angels have brought back to him about the religious and moral condition of the nations of the world that they were sent to investigate. Jehovah knew, of course, that the nations were utterly indifferent to him, but what the messengers had done was to underline just how anti-Messiah and anti-Jehovah they had become, just wanting to be left in peace – “we ain’t bovvered about ignoring God” – and so his anger toward them had grown. “I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they added to the calamity” (v.15). That is how he begins his words to them, but then he changes direction and continues in a more kind and comforting way speaking to his own people. He reminds Jerusalem and Judah about his relationship with them.
- GOD IS A JEALOUS GOD.
“Then the angel who was speaking to me said, ‘Proclaim this word: This is what the LORD Almighty says: “I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion” (v.14). Jealousy! Good or bad? What would be your feelings if you saw your girl friend smiling at other men, accepting dates from them, letting them kiss and caress her? Would it hurt you deeply? Would you be angry? Would you expostulate with her? “Why are you doing this? Aren’t you happy with me? Aren’t you satisfied with my love?” You tell her that you have given yourself totally and exclusively to her and that’s what you want in return. You have a proper righteous jealousy for her exclusive love. You are not going to share her with other guys. I read in the Times this week of a man telling his wife, the mother of their two children, that he was drawn to a particular man, and that he loved this man, and he actually introduced her to this man, and then he wanted to tell their children that he was homosexual and there was a man that he loved. He said, “It was very difficult for my wife.” I bet it gave her indescribable agony, but the article he wrote was all about his own pain, how he was torn, this wretched man who would not keep his wedding vows. No wife wants to share her husband with another woman, let alone a man. If she learns that there’s a woman devising schemes to see her husband alone then she sees the hazard lights flashing. She has a holy jealousy.
You see the analogy don’t you? God has no room for open relationships. God cannot and will not endure infidelity among his chosen people. He is not going to share their love for him with their love for Baal or Molech or Dagon or any other of the gods. He’s a jealous God. Please understand that he is not an envious God. Jealousy is possessive and protective; it can be good or bad. Bad jealousy is a husband annoyed at his wife going to church, enjoying godly worship and fellowship. His envy of her causes him to put obstacles in her way of going to church. He arranges trips on a Sunday and pulls the children after himself, all to prevent her from hearing the Bible preached. She smiles and says to him, “Honey, I don’t go there for the people, though I do appreciate them. I go there to worship God, and you should be coming with me too!” Keep smiling and be wise.
God’s jealousy is a positive grace; he yearns for us; his jealous concern for our love protects us from grieving him and quenching his influence in our lives so that we lose him. Let me compare God to a king who discovers a Cinderella, a peasant girl who’s forced to do long hours of menial, thankless work, but he sees her beauty and he falls in love with her, and he delivers her from her life of slavery. He proposes to her, marries her and makes her his queen. He is jealous of her subsequent lifelong response, that she shows an exclusive, warm, constant fidelity and adoration of him as her loving husband, the one who rescued her, exalted her and supports her day by day. He has a holy jealousy that she should treasure him in return and not share her favours with other men at the royal court. That jealousy doesn’t come from any weakness in him. It does not say that his love wasn’t strong enough to let her behave in any way with any men she chooses, but that there is this one thing he insists on, that she cleave to him alone in return, as he cleaves to her alone. He cannot imagine her bearing other men’s children. Wouldn’t you want to be married to a husband like that?
Jealousy is central to the fundamental essence of who God is. That makes God our own loving God. There are many reasons why you should bow and serve the living God alone, why you should say to him, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee,” but the paramount reason is the fact that the jealous God demands the undivided allegiance and affection of his people. This is the Lord who knew all about us long before we knew him. He is the one who fell in love with us and chose us, determining that he would have us as his bride. We were defiled by sin, but he determined to clean up our lives. We were criminals, and yet he would forgive and justify us. We were paupers but he would give us a magnificent inheritance. He would withhold nothing good from us, and the only way all that was possible was his coming into the world in his Son and living a humble life and dying an atoning death on the cross, taking our place, bearing our shame, delivering us from our slavery and making us free. He was watching us in love long before we knew him, and he planned how he would come into our lives and turn us around and make us his own. He arranged our very first meeting with him, and he worked in our hearts a growing love for and a trust in him. He joined us to him for ever. He is the one who asks for our love in return. “Take myself and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.” I am saying that at the core of his being, at the very centre of his personality is an inextinguishable blaze of love that we call the divine jealousy.
It means God will do all he can to protect this one-to-one relationship. He will avenge it whenever attempts are made to break it. Jehovah’s love for us is a passionate energy whenever he finds himself provoked or snubbed or grieved. He will take action against anyone, any idol, anything which prevents him receiving our love. His anger at whatever threatens our loving relationship with him is directly in proportion to his passionate affection for us. Jealousy in God is not a ‘green-eyed monster’; it is not petty, not pathetic, not vindictive. It is not an attempt to control us. Our response is not telling God that he should be more broad-minded. God’s jealousy is magnificent when we consider him the infinite omnipotent Lord and us specks of dust. It is the cry of a broken-hearted lover who will tolerate no rivals in his relationship with the one he came for and gave everything to have, dying for her, living for her, and praying for her for moment by moment.
That relationship of marriage, throughout Scripture, is how God describes his union with his people. He begins by speaking of his jealousy and then he emphasizes his marriage to them, and that marriage is there both in the Old Testament and in the New. It is in the ten commandments, in the second commandment where God forbids us to make a graven image, bowing before idols, he says, “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” And then in Exodus 34 he says, “For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Ex. 34:14). The actual covenant he makes with his people is a marriage document. Through the prophet Jeremiah he says, “Turn O backslidden children . . . for I am married to you.” The book of Hosea is built on this theme. In the New Testament we are told that we Christians are married to Christ; “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 Cor. 11:2). God is jealous for you now, jealous for your walk with him, for your spiritual welfare, jealous for you in every temptation, when every smiling face and gentle question and twinkling eyes might draw you away from your walk with him. God is jealous that you should be robbed of the riches of knowing his love for you – love that passes understanding. Wouldn’t you want to be loved by a God like that? What sort of God would he be who didn’t care what god you had a crush on this month, that sometimes you amused yourself by sizing up the priestesses in their temples where fertility rites were practiced every hour, or that you were sacrificing precious things to worthless idols, or that you were getting involved in a god who encouraged suicide bombing who promised your husband an endless supply of virgins in the life to come. What would you think of a god who valued your service so little that he shrugged when you left him for gods like that? The poet wrote,
The Lord our God’s a jealous God, he loves with jealous fire.
Carved images and foreign gods provoke his holy ire;
But his is an unselfish love for those redeemed by blood;
He wants first place in all our hearts, since this is for our good.
Isn’t it a comfort to us to know that how we live matters to the living God, the mighty Creator, that he is anxious to see us keeping our vows and following him as our God and Saviour and living for his honour? Anything that threatens your good as his faithful bride will be opposed by his omnipotence. The Lord looked at the church in Ephesus (one of the seven churches of Asia Minor) and he assessed the life of that congregation of Christians and he said, “You have left your first love,” and to the church in Laodicea he said, “You are no longer cold or hot; you are lukewarm in your love for me.” He wants them warm in their affection; he wants them fervent and zealous. He doesn’t want their early ardour to be a sad memory of what used to be. Return to your first love! So the messenger from heaven addresses Zechariah and he says to him “I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion” (v.14). Tell the people that he hasn’t ceased loving them with an intense exclusive passion even in these dark days.
- GOD CAN MULTIPLY HIS PEOPLE WITH GROWTH.
When God loves you like that then there’s bound to be fruit and we see it in verse 16, a verse that is book-ended with two statements confirming that this promise is spoken by God himself. “Therefore, this is what the LORD says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the LORD Almighty” (v.16). See how he underlines it by that repetition that he is the author of those words. You see that there is no exhortation or command in this verse, none whatsoever. He is not whipping the people into activity or chastising them for their lack of progress. This is a declaration of what the Lord intends to do: “I will return . . . the measuring line will be stretched out.” No power on earth or in hell can prevent the Lord blessing and working when he has made up his mind.
D.L. Moody, the American preacher of 150 years ago, had a warm sermon on the eight ‘I wills’ of our Lord. Now, when many people say ‘I will,’ they soon break their promise, but when we come to the ‘I will’s of the Lord, he means it. He may be speaking here with Zechariah before his incarnation when we see him riding his red horse. Or he may be speaking a half a millennium later when Christ was in his state of humiliation as a man on this earth. Everything the Lord Jesus has promised to do he is able and willing to accomplish; he is going to do it. Let me remind you of these ‘I wills’ of Christ, his promises made to every Christian and guaranteed by his shed blood and resurrection.
The first ‘I will’ occurs in Matthew 11: 28: “Come unto me all ye that labour, and I will give you rest.” You children help me now. That is number one. What number is it? You say with me, “ONE!” The next ‘I will’ is found in John’s gospel, “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” What number is that children? TWO! The next ‘I will’ is found in Luke. We are told of a man who was full of leprosy who came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” There is faith for you; and the Lord touched him, saying, “I will; be thou clean;” and away went the leprosy, as if it had been struck by lightning. What number is that children? It is number THREE. The next ‘I will’ of our Lord is in Matthew’s gospel. “Whosoever, therefore, shall confess me before men, him I will confess also before my Father which is in heaven.” What number is that children? FOUR! Another ‘I will’ was given to those early fishermen. The Lord said, “If you will follow me, I will make you fishers of men.” What number is that children? FIVE! The next ‘I will,’ a very precious one, is, “I will not leave you comfortless,” down here in this dark world he is going to keep cheering us. What number is that? SIX! The next ‘I will’ is found in the 4th chapter of John: “I will raise him up at the last day.” These bodies of ours are going down to the grave; yes, but they are not going to lie there long: the Son of God will wake them up. What number is that? SEVEN! Then the last of Mr. Moody’s collection which is a very sweet promise of Jesus; “I will that they may be with me where I am.” The thought that I will see him in his beauty; the thought that I will meet him in heaven, that I will spend eternity with him, is the sweetest of them all. What number is that children? EIGHT! But eight is not as pleasant a round number as we could get, is it? Let’s add two more, and here’s the first, in Jesus’ great promise; “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” What number is that? NINE! And is there one more? Of course, there are many more ‘I will’s of Christ, but here is one from John 14; “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him, and show myself to him.” A promise that Jesus will keep loving us not for the years of time alone but for eternity. What number is that? TEN!
Ten “I will’s’, ten wonderful promises which our Lord makes to every single one of his disciples! Oh thank God for this blessed religion; thank God for the blessed Christ; thank God for those blessed ten ‘I wills.’ “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;” “I will; be thou clean.” “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out;” “Whosoever, therefore, shall confess me before men, I will confess also before my Father which is in heaven;” “I will raise him up in the last day.” “If you will follow me, I will make you fishers of men;” “I will not leave you comfortless;” “I will that they may be with me.” “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him, and show myself to him.” May God give us grace to believe all that our Lord has promised.
I am saying to you that this same Lord before he took frail flesh and lived among us made two promises to Zechariah, “I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt” (v.16). The Lord has decided that it will be so. This is the Lord who once at a time of judgment on this wicked city a century or so before the life of Zechariah had “determined to do this city harm and not good” (Jer. 21:10), who said, “I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm” (Jer. 21:5). Now what a change! He is going to return to this city – “I will” – and not now in judgment but with mercies. Now he has chosen Jerusalem (v.17). Here again this theme in Zechariah again emerges, that the greatest need of this people was not alliances with mighty nations, and dynastic marriages of convenience with kings’ daughters, and large armies and strong walls around the city. No, their greatest need was the presence of the Lord among his people. “I will never leave you . . . I will be in your midst.” Apart from his presence there can be no restoration, no holy land, no holy city, no holy temple because it’s his presence alone that sanctifies, and provides the vitality, the energy, the assurance and the comfort. The Glory-Spirit is the life-giving Spirit. He is the one from whom all blessings flow. He is the hub; the Lord returned to Jerusalem will mean the cities of Judah will also be blessed. And Zechariah has much to give thanks for. He can see there before him the Angel-rider, the Lord of angels, the judge of the nations, the advocate of God’s elect, and hear him making intercession for the myrtle community, in the wilderness by the deep, and now the promise comes from the Lord that he is coming back! The Lord who deserted the city after decades of pleading with them to love him and obey him is returning to Jerusalem again, and the great temple that he permitted to be destroyed – “There my house will be rebuilt.”
You are going to know this, God tells Zechariah, though a city and a temple takes decades to build. Certainly you are going to see a measuring line. He makes it very tangible. It is not a vague promise that he is going to rebuild the Temple . . . sometime . . . A man is going to appear with his servant carrying his master’s bag, and he will bring out a clay tablet and a marking stick. Then the boy will bring out a measuring line which at this time would have been marked in divisions of cubits and a hundred years later began to be measured in furlongs. This surveyor would send the boy off releasing the line and then he would record on the clay tablet with his marker stick the dimensions of the building, north, south, east and west and its courtyards. They would then go back to their office and he would write out a permanent plan on papyrus, and then a chief builder and a committee of the leaders in Jerusalem would check out the plans. In other words, when you are going to erect a magnificent building like Jehovah’s Temple you don’t turn up one morning with wheelbarrows and cement and bricks and start to build. There has to be planning and the materials have to be quarried and the cedars of Lebanon have to be cut, and the impact of the surrounding buildings or ruins on the Temple mount itself has to be considered. So you start with the measuring line.
Sometimes I think my whole ministry here has been taking the measuring line and measuring the dimensions of the living temple of God which is slowly being erected. I think there had been a lot of ruins that needed to be demolished first, and plans and dimensions and foundations had to carefully laid out. I cannot stress the importance of this. These were the lines of God, his blueprints and plans within which men have to build Christ’s church. These were the parameters, and there were the plans drawn up. They are not fancy; they are not childish; but they are not at all utterly plain and unattractive. Here are the boundaries within which we work – the beatitudes, the fruit of the Spirit, the ten commandments, the letter to the Romans, the saving work of God in Christ. They are the foundation and they are also the plum-line by which this living temple is to be measured, and they are the capstone. Grace is God’s omnipotence working to build his church, and grace will finally top the building. These are the plans and the way ahead. Do you see them? Do you understand them? Do you appreciate what a beautiful structure is a loving, holy, worshipping, caring congregation of God’s people, the living temple and all the stones fittingly joined together? Maybe we are not seeing a mighty building yet, but you do see the measuring line and you do hear the words of the promise, the mighty ‘I wills’ of God. “I will return to Jerusalem with mercy and there my house will be rebuilt, and the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem, declares the Lord Almighty” (v.16).
- GOD’S PEOPLE WILL KNOW OVERFLOWING PROSPERITY.
God hasn’t stopped; he goes on to say, “Proclaim further: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem’” (v.17). The people lived in times of economic stringency, and Zechariah has a promise to them of transformation, of overflowing prosperity, of wine and milk and corn and grapes and olives and meat in abundance. In the Old Testament, the land flowing with milk and honey and the glorious Temple in the magnificent city of Jerusalem were signs of the far more glorious new heavens and earth where God’s people would dwell in righteousness for evermore. So this promise is looking ahead to all the triumphs of the new covenant and recreation, and Eden consummated.
What is the future for every Christian? All things working together for our good; we will be enabled to do all things through Christ who strengthens us; nothing will separate us from the love of God; all grace will abound towards us always. Overflowing prosperity! What we are looking forward to for the rest of our lives and for eternity is the extravagance of God’s love and the prodigality of his grace, and the expansiveness of the blessings he will confer on us. We are going to be hyper-conquerors through him that loved us. Not merely coming out on the victory side, and certainly not just surviving, but more than conquerors. And this is typical of new covenant language. We will enjoy the peace of God – and that passes all understanding. We will know God’s blessing resting on us – and that is exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. We will rejoice in the Lord – in terms of joy unspeakable and full of glory. God will supply all our needs – according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. With such promises as these the Lord who chose us comforts us. Zechariah is reminding us that the gospel is a feast, that God’s grace is extravagant.
Think of the great foundation gift on which our whole salvation rests, God’s gift of his own Son to be our Saviour. He did not spare him in his love for such pathetic people as us! On many levels it is the most prodigal action that the world has ever seen, the most extravagant, the most apparently wasteful thing that men have ever thought about. God did not spare his Son but gave him and everything else to sinful people. There was no reason for that, no prudence about that, no moderation and sagacity there, no restraint; it was sheer extravagance. It is quite absurd and quite ridiculous, God not sparing his sinless Son but sparing twerps, hypocrites and criminals like us. Think of the utter carelessness of the abandonment that arose out of God’s total jealous commitment to your love and mine! Here we are, blasphemers and adulterers, and what does God do? He sends his own Son, his only Son, the Son whom he loved so much. He could look into the eyes of his Son and see his own image, and he saw in the eyes of his Son the response of his Son’s love to his own love. There was never a love like the love of the Father for his own Son, a Son so lovable, and a Father so loving. There never was such an affectionate relationship or so sensitive a parent or loving a child and yet, God gave him up and gave him so unreservedly to that limitless anathema, and that pain, and that punishment that the Son received, from which God never eased the affliction until it was all over and he breathed his last. So God’s Son became the great sin, and the great sin-bearer, and the outcast, and the banished one, sent into the far country because he was bearing cosmic sin. That is the extravagance of grace. That is the foundation of all the follows and all the blessings that fall upon us. Because with his Son God gives all things to us, and so we overflow with this prosperity and constantly receive comfort from the Lord who chose us.
It seems to me that the God who affirms this to Zechariah is responding to the glory of the Calvary that was going to occur, and that is why the words of comfort can never be bare statement but they must be an extravaganza. It is as if Golgotha were saying to God from the fall of Adam to the last sinner saved, “Can you match that?” It is as if the love of the Son who bore my sin were saying to the Father, “Can you follow this?” Can you give the people you have chosen a comfort that is commensurate with the price I am going to pay for them, a redemption that matches the love that the Cross exemplifies.
There is a great level at which I can say that God could never get over the cross of Christ, either in prospect as here, or in retrospect as now. God himself is thrilled at what his Son was going to do at Calvary, the splendour of his Son’s devotion, the magnificence of the Messiah’s love and devotion, the stupendous courage that sustained him, as for the sake of the chosen people he entered into that darkness all by himself, and to know all the persuasion that the cross has always applied to God. It constrained God to forgive king David his sin and forgive me all mine, and give blessings worthy of that sacrifice. A matchless sacrifice pleads for a matchless salvation; the extravagance of the sacrifice pleads for the extravagance of blessing. The prodigality of the cross pleading for an equally prodigal redemption. The cross addresses Jehovah’s grace and says, “Follow this! Match the price paid by Jesus! Bless the people as my sacrifice deserves,” and so there is an overflowing of eternal prosperity; everlasting comfort comes to those God has chosen.
13th October 2013 GEOFF THOMAS