Alfred Place Baptist Church

4:1-7 The Spirit & The Menorah: Streams of Mercy, Never Ceasing

Then the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep. He asked me, ‘What do you see?’ I answered, ‘I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.’ I asked the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ He answered, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ ‘No, my lord,’ I replied. So he said to me, ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty. ‘What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of`God bless it! God bless it!
Zecharaiah 4:1-7

This is the fifth vision in the book of Zechariah, and we now move from the Holy of Holies (where the high priest was cleansed and clothed with righteousness) to its historical sequel, the pouring out of the Spirit and building and expanding the house of God by the Spirit’s power. Clearly what Zechariah saw was not a dream because the messenger from God wakes him up from his sleep and then the prophet tells us what the divine vision was that he saw before him.

When Zechariah opened his eyes the first thing he saw was a kind of standard lamp. He was familiar with the one that stood in the Temple. It is called a menorah and its design is a stylised tree with a central trunk and three branches on either side. It was made of gold, ‘solid gold’ says our version, generally ‘pure gold’ is the preferred translation, pure in the sense of high quality gold, or pure in the religious sense as ‘set apart’ for use in the Temple. Menorahs were made by moulding a sheet of gold over a wooden form which gave them strength and stability and lightness. Then somehow there were seven lights on it and seven channels to the lights. There was certainly a reservoir at the top of the lamp-stand and gravity fed the olive oil through the pipes that led to the seven or perhaps to forty-nine lights. The necessary oil was one of the offerings that the people brought daily to the Temple, and it was poured by the priests into the receptacle at the top.

That menorah was the first thing that Zechariah saw, but then we come to something quite distinctive. Two olive trees stood to the right and left of the menorah, and the fruit of those trees was raining down into the receptacles constantly providing the oil that was needed to keep the light shining brightly day and night. Those trees represent the divine provision and the presence of God right alongside his covenant people – just as in the first vision the horsemen were seen standing right among the myrtle trees, the covenant people of God. The presence of the divine glory and this heavenly provision had to be the focus of this harassed people if they were to keep spiritually strong. In other words they were not to wobble and start to look to their army or to military alliances or to dynastic marriages but their confidence was to be in this fact that God was right alongside them to the right and to the left, and the Spirit of God was constantly coming to them and meeting all their needs. The great word of application from God to the prophet is this, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

1. GOD’S PEOPLE ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

This is what the lampstand symbolises. You remember how our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount tells those young disciples, “You are the light of the world.” You can imagine their sense of  shock when he bluntly told them that, their objections to their sudden elevation. They had followed the Lord for just a few months. They had little experience of being his disciples. They had not preached. They had not suffered as Christians. They did not understand the kingdom of God. They did not realise fully who he was, why he had come or why he had to give his life as the Lamb of God. Yet Jesus said to them, “You . . .  you are the light of the world.” He would never take those words back even when they behaved badly and wanted to nuke a Samaritan village that had rejected them, or when they all deserted him and left him in the cruel hands of soldiers. They, and they alone, still had this high vocation. They were the light of the world. If he had said to them, “I am the light of the world and if you walk in me you will not be walking in darkness” then they’d have agreed. He did say that, but here he says something more startling. If he’d said, “Hold forth the light of the gospel,” then they would have nodded. That is what they wanted to do, and what every Christian wants to do. But the Lord Jesus looked at them and told them that they were the light of the world. The covenant community is to shine its light in the world, like the menorah lit up the Holy Place in the Temple. There was no other light there but that single lampstand. There is none other name and none other light than men and women who are united to Jesus Christ by faith.

So we the light of the world. In what ways?

i] The gospel that we have is the message of truth illuminating a world lying in darkness. The psalmist says that God’s word is a lamp to his feet and a light to his path. He knows who God is because he has breathed out his self-revelation in the Scripture. The whole process of its composition was directed by God. The prophets said, “Thus saith the Lord.” To the jot and to the tittle Jesus said that the Scriptures were inspired. We know who we are, that we are made in the image and likeness of the God of the Bible. We know why things are as bad as they are and why men treat other men and women as they do. We are a fallen and rebellious race. We also know how things can be put right, that our Creator loves this groaning world and has sent his prophets to tell us so, but in the fulness of time he sent his own Son to preach to us, and also to become the Lamb of God and take away our guilt and blame by offering his own life as out substitute. Jesus died for our sins, according to the Scripture. God also gives us the Holy Spirit to give us life, and understanding, and new energy to live for him and prepare us for a new heavens and a new earth. We hold forth this message to the whole world like a bright lantern and then the people that walk in darkness can see for themselves a great light. The gospel that we believe in makes us the light of the world. Use the lamp of the word of God! Take it with you to school and to work and to university. Shine it onto every issue that you meet. We are also the light of the world in this way –

ii] The new life we live makes us a radiance in the gloom of a fallen world. How do we live? Not perfect lives, alas, but new lives and different lives from the world. For example, we have different ideas of what beauty is from our civilisation. Peter tells Christian women, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (I Pet. 3:3&4). Again, we will gain enemies because of what we believe and say, but we love them. We pray for them. If they are mean to us, if they are bullies in the class or on the bus we overcome that by being good to them. We loan them our coloured felt pens. If they are in need we try to help them; we will carry a burden for them a second mile. If they are violent we don’t retaliate, we turn the other cheek. When the Lord Jesus was being crucified he asked his Father to forgive them for they didn’t know what they were doing, and Stephen followed his Lord when he was stoned to death asking God not to lay this sin to their charge. That dying and his words made an ignorant hateful man like Saul of Tarsus deeply convicted; he was kicking against the goads of conviction. That is how he began to change. The reformers forgave the men preparing the fires on which they were to be burned to death. We are a merciful people because we have obtained mercy. We forgive those who have offended us seventy times seven. We speak up for every class and kind of people, for the rights of the unborn child, for the freeing of the slave, for the protection of little children working in factories and mines, for the rights of women. We seek to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. That is the light we radiate to the watching world. The day after Matthew Brennan of Clonmel was converted he went back to his work on a building site and he said to a labourer, “Please pass me a brick . . .” “Please!” An unheard of word on the lips of a brickie. “Are you all right?” he was asked, with a dozen pairs of eyes drilling into him. He told them he had got born again by Jesus. We are shining lights by our individual lives and in our families. Here is Paul’s great exhortation to young Timothy; “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (I Tim. 4:12).

iii] The new life we live is particularly displayed whenever we congregate in a local church. We meet in Jesus’ name and he always attends and is at work in our midst. He makes himself known to us in the Christ-like atmosphere that he produces. There is life from heaven, and pure love for one another, and a consciousness of God as we pray to him. We sing his praises and listen to him as he speaks to us in his word. Jesus told his followers that men in the world will know that we are his disciples when they see the love that we have for one another. We meet together to break bread and drink the cup and so show his death for our sins, that the cross of Calvary is the heart of our testimony and our only hope of salvation. We meet to baptize new converts, men and women, boys and girls who have heard of Jesus Christ, and seen the change in us, people who have been convicted of their sin and know they need the Lord to become their teacher and guide and high priest before God. They want to announce to the world this great change that they want to be washed and cleansed of their sins through Jesus’ royal death and that this is symbolised by baptism. They are not ashamed of the gospel any longer. In the fellowship of the church they can minister to one another with the gifts that God has given them and also they can receive ministry from one another, and all this activity in every true gospel congregation is another powerful means of us being the light of the world.

So that is the meaning of the symbol of the lamp-stand. In such ways as I’ve described to you God’s people are always the light of the world. Jesus warns them about hiding their lights under a bucket. Remove the bucket! Let your light burst forth. Be what you are! So Paul addresses the Philippians like this: “become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Phils. 2:15). People of God shine! Hold out the word of life to a dying Aberystwyth. This is a crooked and depraved generation, but God has delivered you, and so shine as you should! The world needs you, and God has commanded you to shine. Then what else does this vision tell us?

2. GOD’S PEOPLE ARE PROVIDED FOR BY CHRIST’S FULNESS.

This is the main purpose of this vision. Zechariah is shown something else. Let me illustrate it like this; we have little candelabra in our homes. Perhaps we have a mini chandelier with four branches, but frequently a bulb has burnt out in one and so there is less light. There were seven lamps in this menorah but every of them is blazing away. The light in this lamp-stand never flickers or fades. The reason for that is not because every morning there is a line of people with clay pots full of oil that they have brought to the priests to be poured into the reservoir. No hands supply this menorah, not even a high priest’s. What we have instead are two stately olive trees on each side of the menorah and their olives constantly drop rich oil into this receptacle at the top of the lamp-stand keeping it full to the brim, so that the light never fades because it is constantly being supplied by the outpourings of grace that never fail.

Those two olive trees stand for God, maybe you can think of them as representing the Son of God and the Spirit of God, or better, that they represent our Lord in his divine nature and human nature that are there in heaven and alongside the church. They are there in one indivisible Person. He is God and so his fulness is one that is infinite, everlasting and unchangeable. He does not grow feeble and barren in old age. His fulness is eternally immeasurable. Yet it is the fulness of the man Christ Jesus, the man who knew suffering and death and received from heaven its all-sufficient strength for that. There at the right hand of God and with us is bone of our bone fulness, and flesh of our flesh fulness, the fulness of one who was tempted in all points as we are, of one who remembers that we are dust because he was dust. The flavour or fragrance of the oil of these olives is essentially human, it has the scent of Adam about it, and yet it is also divine!

So if you need more patience then I tell you that as the fulness of every grace is found in Christ, then you must go to God and ask the Saviour to give you more of his patience. If it is long-suffering, gentleness, goodness or forgiveness that you need then you go to the God-man today and you confess your sin to him and ask him if he will fill you more and more with those graces. If it is bravery you need to endure the uncertain future, comfort to wipe away your tears, wisdom to make decisions and give advice to those in your family who come to you with their questions, if it is more faith, more hope, more love, more truth to dilute your errors, then take your emptiness to God and say to him, “You have told me to let my light shine before men, but I am spluttering and flickering in areas of my life. I feel at times I am being extinguished. Give me oil in my lamp; keep me burning, the oil of your vast resources, the oil of the one who sympathises with my grief and to the sufferer sends relief.”

That is where you’ll be helped in receiving from Christ’s fulness, and grace for grace. John speaks of this in the opening chapter of his gospel. While he begins by focusing on the Word who was in the beginning with God, and was God, who made all things he then introduces us to John the Baptist who tells us what he thinks of Jesus the Messiah. What struck John most of all as he prepared people for the ministry of the one coming after him, the latchet of whose shoes he was unworthy to untie, was this “From the fulness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:16&17). “All I am and all we disciples of his are, we owe to him.” How will you ever get by on your own? How will you cope with marriage, and a job, and parenthood, and ill health, and old age, and dying on your own? Imagine if one week God decided he would take every little bit of spiritual help from you, that he would wipe your mind clean of every thought of the Lord Jesus and the Bible, that you would see nothing of God in creation by day or night, that  your conscience was going to be silent and it simply told you to do whatever you wanted, that no one said a Christian word of comfort and truth to you, that all the influences and memories that were most precious to you concerning the reality of the Saviour working in you and in those you love were all obliterated, and all you had was the telly and the daily paper, then wouldn’t you become suicidal and  fearful and groan, “Return O holy dove return, sweet messenger of rest!”?

But by contrast, the very opposite scenario would be full of encouragement, that you cried mightily to God and asked him to give you far more grace and truth than you’ve ever known before. How God would answer your prayer! What if you prayed like Philip Bliss:

More holiness give me, more strivings within;
More patience in suffering, more sorrow for sin;
More faith in my Saviour, more sense of His care;
More joy in His service, more purpose in prayer.

More gratitude give me, more trust in the Lord;
More zeal for His glory, more hope in His word;
More tears for His sorrows, more pain at His grief;
More meekness in trial, more praise for relief. 

More purity give me, more strength to o’ercome;
More freedom from earth-stains, more longings for home;
More fit for the kingdom, more used would I be;
More blessed and holy, more, Saviour, like Thee.
Philip P. Bliss 1838-76

What a difference crying for the Spirit to fill you would make! How you’d understand my preaching then, and have a better grasp of the apparent antinomies of Christian doctrine, such as the divine sovereignty yet also the human responsibility. You’d see them both in all their unreconcilable glory if you went to God and told him you needed to be filled with truth and understanding. It is all there in Christ isn’t it? Without measure or end, vaster than the whole cosmos, and it is for us! You don’t think that Jesus is weak in his patience and that he needs more longsuffering and kindness or any grace, do you? You are not praying that Jesus would be filled with any virtue. He is infinitely filled to super-abundance, but you and I are not. So we go to him and we ask him to fill us, “Even me . . . even me . . . let some drops descend on me” drops of gentleness and understanding. Address Christ’s fulness! Let me use this illustration:

Imagine that on just one night in the year the population of the world could see the moon and stars – one night in 365. What excitement built up in every part of the world as that night approached and how everyone went out of doors and sat and stood and lay back and looked at the heaven waiting for the horrible total blackness to end! They would have been thinking and planning, “Where is the best place in the world to go to see the stars at night?” and many would have bought plane tickets to go to the most cloudless places on the planet and stay in hotels – maybe deep in the heart of Texas where the stars at night are shining bright! What oohs and ahs of delight would greet that glorious sight! All night they lay back and gazed at it and passed the binoculars and telescopes around and at dawn were so sad that they would have to wait another year before they saw such a spectacle again. But we know that every night we can go out and look up and see the moon and stars, and so we don’t make a fuss about familiar glory. We barely glance at them. Now wait for my application . . . think of what would happen if God said that just on one day in every year he would hear and answer our prayers, just for one single 24 hour period. How we’d plan carefully that day, our intercession, our adoration, our confession, our thanksgiving, and then list all the things we wanted God to do. Would 24 hours be enough? The whole world would be locked in prayer for that one day each year. But you know that God hears and answers our prayers every hour and every passing moment, and we take that privilege for granted and many of us fail to pray at all. I am saying to you that the fulness of every grace is found in Jesus Christ, and every day we can go to him and ask for the graces that we need.

Then the Lord inquires if Zechariah is understanding all this, as I can ask you, “Don’t you know what these are?” And Zechariah tells him honestly, “No, my Lord,” (v.5). Isn’t it essential to be straight with God, to tell God you are missing out on what others are receiving? Tell God you want to understand. So let us see God’s answer . . .

3. IT IS NOT BY MIGHT, NOR BY POWER, BUT BY GOD’S SPIRIT

So he said to me, ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty.” (v.6). Let’s just realise who was this man Zerubbabel. There was no king in Jerusalem, but there was a governor and his name was Zerubbabel. The high priest was Joshua and these two leaders had the responsibility of rebuilding Jerusalem, its walls and houses and Temple. The people had been back for twenty years. The glamour and excitement and spirit of adventure had long gone. Now they were in for the long haul and meeting disenchantment and weariness within, and opposition without. These two men had the task of directing the people, encouraging them, and building up their morale. So the previous chapter focused on Joshua the high priest and how God made him fit for his religious work by removing his sin and clothing him with righteous robes, and now Zerubbabel the governor was made fit for his leadership of the people and for all his civil duties and his work as a magistrate with this vision and these great words, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord.”

There is really no difference between the words ‘might’ and ‘power.’ They are synonymous. They embrace every human resource; every human skill; all material and psychological and religious activities, anything man can organize. They also represent the powers of winds, and volcanoes, and seas, and rivers; hydro electricity, and nuclear power, and oil, and gas. These two words embrace the armies of the world, its navies and air-forces, the power of the media, and all the might that’s at the disposal of totalitarian governments. Everything that man can do is here called “might and power” because it is mighty and powerful. Think of huge liners and rockets and jumbo jets and 16 wheel juggernauts. Think of the power of instant communication from Australia to Europe, from Asia to the Americas. Think of the whole of education and what power is in ‘the academy’ even in our town. Think of the power of money, the power of music, the power of mind manipulation and oratory, the power of tradition, the power of the law. There is all of human engineering and it is not that.

Then God speaks to all of that; “But none of that is the way my kingdom comes in. Those are not the means by which the human heart is enlightened, and illuminated, and convicted, and born again, and made holy, and enabled to love God, and love his fellow man. None of those ways whatsoever! They cannot do it. They are utterly impotent to bring a clean thing out of an unclean thing. They can no more change the spots of a leopard than transform a child of darkness to a child of light. It is not by human engineering that anything eternal and heavenly is achieved. You cannot please God without the Spirit of God. You cannot understand the things of God without God’s Spirit. It cannot be done. God has not given that to religious geniuses; the gurus don’t have it. Don’t think of flying to the Himalayas. Unless a man be born of water and the Spirit he cannot see the kingdom of God. You must be made alive by God’s Spirit to live for God and with God. And if you are to grow in usefulness and godlikeness and every grace and virtue then it is by God alone that this can be achieved. All mankind is being hemmed in to God, to the fulness of him that fills all in all. We must have the love of God; we must have grace of the Lord Jesus Christ; we must have the power of the Holy Spirit. Remember what our Lord said on one occasion? “Without me you can do nothing,” and nothing means nothing.

So we are not talking of correctly understanding theology, and right exegesis, and understanding the Old Testament. We must have that, but before that we are confronted with man’s innate helplessness, and blindness, the impotence of every one of us when we are face to face with God, and try to please him, and do anything worthwhile for him, to know his blessing on our lives then first we must have God in order to please God. There is nothing that you can attribute solely to your I.Q. or to the ability of man, his mind, his eloquence, his personality. No. “Thou must save and Thou alone.” You must have the grace from the Holy Spirit if you are to be saved and justified and sanctified. It is not by might; it is not by power, but by his Spirit says the Lord of hosts. So we labour and mortify and study and learn and avoid every occasion for temptation. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but we look to the Spirit to work in us to will and to do of his good pleasure.

 Tis Thine to cleanse the heart, to sanctify the soul,
To pour fresh life in every part, and new created the whole.
Joseph Hart

Then let us ask him to do it, with increasing earnestness and hope. Has Jesus Christ ceased for a moment pouring out his Holy Spirit on all flesh? Isn’t God more powerful than all that men can do? Who can stay God’s hand and stop him doing what he has decided? So let us go with boldness to the throne of grace and find mercy for us and our loved ones and grace to help us all in these needy days. What hope the power of God gives us, and so you can see how Zerubbabel would have been touched by the final words God spoke to him.

4. WHAT ARE MIGHTY MOUNTAINS BEFORE THE POWER OF GOD?

God taunts mountains! “‘What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of`God bless it! God bless it!’” Joshua and Zerubbabel were facing mountains of opposition, the Everest of Babylon, the greatest empire in the world and they in Jerusalem living in a little valley under its shadow. Then there were the lesser mountains of the surrounding hostile tribes, and the other mountains of the spirit of discouragement and weariness and doubt in the hearts of their own people. All of these were mighty mountains, and we all know many such today, but what are they when set beside the power of omnipotence? God made the mountains. “Let there be mountains,” and there were such. And if he should say, “Let the mountain become level ground before my servants” then who and what can resist God? What are you O mighty mountain?

We look at Islam and Hinduism, and the Christians cults, and sacramentalism, and humanism and militant atheism, and materialism, and hedonism – all the mountains of the gods which our family and friends are serving and we in our little Christian valley with our doubts and struggles, living so imperfectly, trusting in God so weakly. Let us go to the two olive trees. Let us cry for heavenly oil. Tell the Lord, “You chose us and you told us that we were the light of the world, then give us power to shine before the watching world, give us love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control. Increase all these graces one hundred fold. Give us wisdom. Give us authority to speak. Give us courage. Give us endurance. Make the mountains around us that so intimidate us, level ground. Send in the heavenly bulldozers! You have begun a good work in us, then complete it. Place on our work your capstone and we will shout, “Praise God! Grace! Grace! God bless it!” For God began the work and God will complete always what he began. Who can resist his work? Never forget that the work is the Lord’s and it is not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit says the Lord.

1st December 2013      GEOFF THOMAS