Fuel injection - Zechariah 4:1-14
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Ten days after the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, an American church leader stood in the rubble at Ground Zero and, quite understandably, was overwhelmed by the aftermath of one of the most horrific events in history. Bill Hybels was invited by New York City officials to witness for himself the grim scene of twisted metal and rescue workers digging through the chaos. He uttered two words again and again – ‘No way!’ He could not believe the scale of the disaster and found himself repeating the phrase ‘No way!’ again and again. He was amazed by the dedication of the rescue workers, many of whom were still digging after ten days, with bloodied hands and blistered feet – ‘No way,’ he thought to himself. Later in the day, he was driven to a designated place several blocks away from the rescue effort, where family and friends were posting pictures of loved ones on a crudely constructed bulletin board that ran for hundreds of feet along the pavement. Again he said, ‘No way!’ No way should men, women, and children have to live with this kind of loss and grief.
Where is hope in a broken world? Bill Hybels had repeated the words thousands of times before, but now in the face of this overwhelming tragedy they appeared more urgent than ever. The local church is the hope of the world. Not education. Not a degree. Not military power. Not even a new labour Prime Minister who is a genuinely nice guy. But local churches spread throughout God’s world.
One of the common reasons why God’s people become demotivated or disheartened in the service of God is that they lose sight of their big purpose in his big plan. So often we seem small and insignificant. We hardly get a mention on the news and when we do it’s either about scandal, heresy or frivolous nonsense. We seem irrelevant to many people’s existence. The chance of success in our efforts often seems as likely as a British entry doing well in the Eurovision Song Contest. And so it is only natural to wonder if local churches are worth investing in. When time is short and possibilities many then why should we commit to the activities of a local church on a consistent basis? The answer from Zechariah 4 is most encouraging. In yet another technicolour vision we are told very clearly that the local church is the hope of the world.
Look with me at verse 1. “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. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.’”
One of the features I love about books like Zechariah is that it stretches our imaginations to the limit. I used to read these when I was growing up in Scotland – when the preacher would get boring I would flick to the last book of the bible and try and imagine what was going on. All fine and well but now as someone who is really interested in finding out what God is teaching us in the Bible I find understanding these visions a challenge.
Much easier if God had simply written them down as a list of bullet-points and we could put them on the big screen.
We must trust that he knew what he was doing when he arranged the Bible as he did. This style of writing may be more challenging but it keeps the Bible fresh and makes it memorable. However, it does require us to visualise and think hard as we try and work out what God’s picture in these verses actually means.
Encouragement for us – Zechariah didn’t have a clue either! Saw the picture but he didn’t grasp what it meant. We know this because look at what he does in verse 4. “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.”
The angel then proceeds to give an explanation of this picture which has just been shown. Does this in three stages:
1. God’s power (Vs 6-7)
2. God’s people (Vs 8-10)
3. God’s providers (Vs 11-14)
What I want to do is take you through each of these explanations and then at the end put them all together so we can visualise the whole picture and say – “Ah, that’s it. I get it now.” Like putting a jigsaw together. Piece by piece and then at the end I want us all to have one of those light bulb moments when suddenly everything clicks into place.
Start off by thinking about God’s power (Vs 6-7). Zechariah is given a message in verse 6 to pass on to one of the leaders of the Jewish community at this time – a man called Zerubbabel.
We know from other parts of the OT that Zerubbabel was descended from the kingly line of David. Not a king at this time because of the political situation. But alongside Joshua the high priest he was one of the leaders of God’s people who had the responsibility of motivating them to keep on with the task of building the temple.
Being a leader can be a tough job. I’m still a young boy really but even in my brief experience I know how difficult it is to keep on going sometimes. Sometimes it’s great and sometimes you want to bang peoples’ heads together. Imagine how it felt for Zerubbabel. They had tried before and failed. Small number of people. Not like the glory days. Surrounded by enemies and always fearful of intervention from the big guns of the Persian Empire. Much easier to keep your head down. Much easier to go through the motions and yet for the fire in the heart to go out – to have little confidence in the success of the project. And that’s why verses 6 and 7 were so vital for him to hear. “This is the word of the LORD [the covenant keeping God – the God who keeps his promises] 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 [one of the last stones to be put in place] to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!”
Simple and straightforward message. Keep on going with your mission because I will empower you to complete it. Don’t look to some inner strength of military power – as if – but keep trusting that I will help you by my Spirit.
Any obstacle will be removed – if it is the Lord’s will to remove it.
Great encouragement and a challenge to God’s people.
When we are feeling overwhelmed and the odds seem stacked against us then we can be hopeful.
When we feel inadequate. Can God use me?
We can also take risks.
My finances here – when Melvin offered me a job there were three difficulties – no job, no money and no house. Had to raise three years wages up front.
Try or die mentality. Not everything will work but we can believe in a God who is powerful and who can act.
Speaking in Cambridge on Friday. Girl who thought she was a Christian but didn’t believe in the resurrection. If you believe in a Creator then a resurrection isn’t very difficult. The same with removing obstacles.
Other extreme is pride. Don’t trust the Lord. Obvious place where we see this is prayer – or lack of it.
First piece in the jigsaw – it is all about God’s power.
Secondly, it is all about God’s people. We see this in verses 8-10. “Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. ‘Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb-line in the hand of Zerubbabel. (These seven are the eyes of the LORD which range throughout the earth.)”
What has all this to do with God’s people? The seemingly obscure reference at the end of 10. These seven are the eyes of the LORD which range throughout the earth.
Seven what? Refer to the vision of the lampstand and its seven lights around the bowl (Verse 2).
What does all this mean? Clearest explanation is what we are told in the book of Revelation. Chapter 1 John sees a vision of seven lampstands and we are told that each lampstand represents a local community of God’s people. Seven because it signifies the number of completion.
Lampstand represents God’s people. Makes sense of the difference between Rev 1 and Zech 4. In Rev there are multiple lampstands because the people of God have been spread out but at this point in history they are concentrated in one place.
Lampstand is very appropriate – we are the light of the world. Shining by living distinctively in a dark world.
Also called the eyes of the Lord. Odd phrase and not easy to understand but let me tell you what I think it means. We know that God is all-knowing and can see everything. But this would be an odd thing to say about God’s people – it is not through their reconnaissance that God knows everything.
But it is through them that God has a personal presence on planet earth. He doesn’t need them or us but he has chosen to use his people for a significant purpose. They are his eyes on the ground.
I’ve already mentioned prayer tonight but let me mention it again in connection with this responsibility of being the personal presence of God
We often see things which prompt us to pray. Does it make any difference? Yes. God has ordered the world in such a way that our prayers make a difference and the world is different as a result.
James 4:2, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.”
They and we have a very significant responsibility. Light of the world and God’s personal presence.
Frequently, this can be dismissed as empty rhetoric. Small and marginalised. Look around. That’s why verse 10 is vital for us to hear. “Who despises the day of small things?”
They had the problem. It looked so tiny and felt so insignificant. They were almost right. It was tiny but it wasn’t insignificant.
We must acknowledge the truth. These are the days of small things. We do hope and pray for bigger days. But right now these are not insignificant. Nothing ever is in the Kingdom of God.
Now this doesn’t mean we never have to stop a ministry if it is small. We still have to make tough choices.
Our work for God’s Kingdom is significant. Our presence in the office is key – we are God’s personal presence in this world. Keeping your temper. Not gossiping. Asking how people are. Being generous with your time.
As a corporate community – as we do good deeds so that people praise our Father in heaven.
God’s people are the hope of the world. God’s people empowered by God’s Spirit to complete God’s mission.
Raises the question: How does God’s Spirit empower God’s people?
Well, before we answer that for us today, living after the Day of Pentecost, let me show you the answer in Zechariah’s day. Its in verses 11-14. What I’ve called, God’s providers.
“Then I asked the angel, ‘What are these two olive branches beside the two golden pipes that pour out golden oil?’ He replied, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ ‘No, my lord,’ I said. So he said, ‘These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.’
Zech has grasped some of the picture. Spirit and the people. But he is still confused by the olive trees. Represent two people through whom the golden oil (representing the Holy Spirit) will come to empower the people for their mission.
Seems most likely that these are Joshua and Zerubbabel.
What has this to do with us? Turn with me to 6:9-13.
In the future – one person who is both priest and king. He will build the temple of the Lord. There is another temple to be build. The people of God. Build in numbers and into maturity.
How? By leaving behind his people, filled by his Spirit.
Jesus returning to heaven and being asked by the angels what is plan is to change the world. A small group of people empowered by the Spirit.
That’s why the church is the hope of the world.
All have the Spirit at conversion. However, we are commanded to be filled by the Spirit.
Ephesians 5:18-20, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The image is not a glass that stuff is poured into. But the influence of the person Spirit in our lives. How does he get this control? Prayer. But listen to what we find in…
Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”
Word of God dwelling in you richly.
As you teach and admonish one another. Talk about it over coffee. Is there a culture of not talking about spiritual things? Keep the sermon notes and talk about them.
But as we do these things the Spirit will take more control of us and we will burn like bright lights in God’s world.
Not by might nor by power, not by strategies or structures, not by music nor by gimmicks but by my Spirit says the Lord. So with this conviction let us pray that God’s Sprit would fill us and lead us into the greatest mission in the world. Let’s pray.
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