A day of rest - Zechariah 5:1 - 6:8

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 20th May 2007.

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A few weeks ago I heard a true story about the antics of two junior doctors in the North of England. They prided themselves on being creative and courageous so they decided to make a flashing blue light for their regular mode of transport. They were sick and tired of being late for parties and meetings so they decided to keep a blue light in their car, just in case they were ever delayed. One day the inevitable happened. They were behind schedule and were convinced they would miss an important party if the accelerator pedal was not pressed down. So out came the blue light. It was placed on top of the car and from this moment onwards their progress was very quick. Until, that is, one of the junior doctors glanced out of his side window and noticed a police car, which had pulled alongside them. Initially, he was rather concerned but then had a brain wave. He reached into his back, picked up his stethoscope and started to wave it at the police officers in the car next to him. At which point, one of the police officers picked up his handcuffs and started to wave them at the junior doctors.

Sometimes there are no serious consequences when we pretend to be someone we are not. Sometimes it is all part of a joke and if taken in the right spirit life can continue as normal. However, in the first vision we will examine tonight from Zechariah 5, we are told clearly that pretending to be one of God’s people when, in fact, we are not, has eternal consequences that cannot be changed.

Look with me at verse 1 of chapter 5. “I looked again — and there before me was a flying scroll! 2 He asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll, thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide.” 3 And he said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished.  4 The LORD Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones.’”

Over the last four weeks God has been motivating us to continue our great mission of building his temple in this city. If we had lived in Zechariah’s day our construction project would have involved a physical building. The people of God in 519BC were commanded to build a physical monument in the city of Jerusalem. But today things have changed. According to the New Testament, the temple of God is the people of God. We are not to invest our tenners and talents in bricks and mortar. The greatest gift we can present to the next generation of Christians is not a beautiful building with lovely stained glass windows and intricately carved statues. The greatest gift we can present is a group of people who are spiritually mature and who are contagious in their enthusiasm for sharing the good news about Jesus with the contacts they know. In our day, the temple of God is the people of God. And so when the New Testament speaks of building the temple of God it refers to the work of evangelism and edification; bringing the lost souls home and then feeding these new hungry souls with the spiritual food of God’s life-giving word. And over these last four weeks God has been reminding us why we should do it.

But now in Zechariah 5 the focus switches to another key responsibility of God’s people. It’s true that we should be committed to God’s task out there, we should be committed to building the temple of God, we should play our part in the greatest mission of all, but in this opening vision of Zechariah 5, we are reminded that we also need to be committed to God’s task in here. Personal holiness is not an optional extra for the committed few. Covenant obedience is vital for the people of God. And, according to these verses, without it we demonstrate we are not genuine members of God’s Kingdom.

Let me explain what I mean. In verse 1, Zechariah sees a flying scroll. Scrolls were fairly common in the Ancient World. The Internet had not been invented, PDAs were a dream of the future and even the printing press at Gutenberg was still a few hundred years away. If you lived in the 6th century BC you preserved your important information on a scroll. Scrolls were fairly common in the Ancient World.

But notice what Zechariah actually saw. Not a standard piece of parchment that he would have stored at the end of his desk but a flying scroll which was 30 feet long and 15 feet wide. It was huge and it was flying above his head. And notice what it represented. Verse 3. “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely [by the name of God] will be banished.”

So it’s a flying scroll, it’s a big scroll and it’s got writing on both sides – something about stealing and something about misusing the name of God.

If we download other sections of the Old Testament into our brains at this point we might begin to understand the significance of what we are being told.

First of all, let me remind you of what we are told in Exodus 32. Moses has just come down from Mount Sinai after a personal meeting with the living God and do you remember what he brought with him? He carried two stone tablets which contained the Ten Commandments of God. And these tablets were inscribed with the writing of God on both sides.

Secondly, let me remind you that the Ten Commandments are traditionally divided into two sections. The first four are concerned with our relationship to God and the second six are concerned with how we treat other people. So in this vision of the flying scroll the commandment about misusing God’s name would appear in the first section and the commandment about stealing from other people would appear in the second section. Or in other words, these two commandments mentioned in Zechariah 5 seem to be a summary of the Ten Commandments in their entirety.

Ten Commandments themselves were given to God’s people when they were rescued from the land of Egypt. Not saved because they were good enough. But afterwards they had responsibilities to live under the instructions of the powerful King who had rescued them. These instructions were for their greater good but, crucially, they showed their love for this King by being loyal to his wishes, which were expressed in his Word.

Ten Commandments were a summary of God’s intentions for his people. Look through the rest of the OT and you will find them expanded for different situations that the people of God had to face. Wilderness and in the Promised Land. Go back to the Ten Commandments and find God’s covenant plan for his people. So what we have in Zechariah 5, with this vivid description of a massive scroll, is a very picturesque way of referring to the covenant responsibilities of God’s people.

Why is it flying? Listen to what Zechariah’s angelic tour guide says in verse 3. “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land.” Then he goes on to describe the consequences for those who have disobeyed the covenant.

Examine the OT covenant God made with his people we will see that there are covenant blessings and covenant curses. That is, there are certain consequences for obedience and certain consequences for disobedience.

So what we have in Zechariah chapter 5 is not simply the covenant instructions of God but the covenant curses of God which are being sent out to the hypocrites amongst God’s people. Those who claim to be part of God’s family but whose lifestyle shows they are not.

Size. Identical to the place in Solomon’s temple where the law was most probably read and justice administered. See I Kings 6:3.

Do you get the picture? It is that image of the consequences of peoples’ behaviour coming back to haunt them. Yes they would love to hide from it but they cannot. The promises of God will always come true. Those of blessings but also those of judgement. And this is what is happening here. The judgement of God is finally reaching the hypocrites amongst his people. They claimed to be his but they disregarded his good instructions for their lives. And notice the terrible consequences for these people. Verses 3 and 4 are very sobering. So verse 3.  Every thief will be banished and everyone who swears falsely will be banished. Exclusion from God’s people. Pretended for so long but there will come a day when they will be found out and excluded. Or verse 4. “The LORD Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones.” Picture of ruin.

I said at the beginning that sometimes there are no serious consequences when we pretend to be someone we are not. But here we see the opposite. The danger of associating with God’s people and yet not truly being one of them.

Happen to anyone. I was reminded this week of the vicar who became a Christian through one of his own sermons. His name was William Haslam and he was a Vicar in Cornwall during the 19th Century. One day, much to his surprise, his gardener became a Christian and he didn’t quite know what to make of this. He visited a friend who told him bluntly that the reason why he didn’t understand what had happened to his gardener was because he himself was not a committed follower of Jesus.The following Sunday, Haslam climbed into his pulpit and announced that he would be preaching on a Bible question: “What think ye of Christ?” This is how he describes what happened next. “As I went on to explain the passage, I saw that the Pharisees and Scribes did not know that Christ was the Son of God or that he came to save them. Something was telling me all the time, “You are no better than the Pharisees yourself, you do not believe he is the Son of God and that he came to save you any more than they did. I do not remember all I said, but I felt a wonderful light and joy coming into my soul, and I was beginning to see what the Pharisees did not. Whether it was my words or my manner or my look, I know not; but all of a sudden a local preacher, who happened to be in the congregation, stood up and putting up his arms shouted out in a Cornish manner, “The parson is converted! The parson is converted! Hallelujah.” And in another moment his voice was lost in the shouts and praises of three or four hundred in the congregation. Instead of rebuking this extraordinary brawling as I would have done at one time, I joined in the outburst of praise.” He then describes how at least 20 people in the congregation cried out for mercy and professed to find joy and peace in believing, including three members of Haslam’s own family. The news spread like wildfire throughout the town that the Vicar had been converted by his own sermon! Can happen to anyone, even the clergy! How can you tell if you are a genuine follower of Jesus?

Sometimes people try and keep the rules without a love for God and without the Spirit of God. But it’s far more common for people to associate with God’s people and not actively seek to keep God’s good instructions that we find in the Bible. They have a sort of respectable Sunday religion but anything more is considered a little bit fundamentalist and we can’t have that, can we?

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

It’s not good enough to be involved in the work of the church. We need to know the Lord Jesus personally and one of the ways we show this is by keeping his good instructions in every area of our lives.

Now at this point you might be thinking to yourself, “Well, that’s me stuffed Lee. There goes my assurance. Given that I battle so much in my spiritual life and so often I fail to keep God’s instructions then what you have just said leaves me very uncertain about where I will spend eternity?” Well, if that’s you then please listen to what we are told in verses 5-11. “Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, “Look up and see what this is that is appearing.” 5:6 I asked, “What is it?” He replied, “It is a measuring basket.” And he added, “This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.” 5:7 Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman!  8 He said, “This is wickedness,” and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed the lead cover down over its mouth. 5:9 Then I looked up — and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth. 5:10 “Where are they taking the basket?” I asked the angel who was speaking to me. 5:11 He replied, “To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When it is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.”

I love the way God has deliberately placed this vision after the previous one. Left thinking that we must show our love for God by keeping his good instructions. But this vision of the woman in the basket is an encouragement to us that although right now we are freed from the penalty of sin and the power of sin, we are not yet free from the presence of sin. Total victory is not to be our experience right now. There is a battle going on. Some fights we will win and some we will lose. 

New Christians worry that they seem to sin more than they used to. This is often not the case. They are simply more concerned about what they do and realise they are now beginning to fight the battle.

Encouragement of this vision is that there is a day coming when God will remove sin from his people forever. This is at the heart of what this vision is about. So look at what he sees. Verse 6.  A very small measuring basket. And inside is a fully grown woman. Too big for the size of this basket and must be pressed down. Ugly sight and distorted.  Symbolises the iniquity of the people or wickedness of the people. Great picture of sin. Promises to provide pleasure but in the end it is a wrecker. Wrecks and distorts lives.

Shouldn’t be surprised at this. Microphone has been designed for a purpose. I can use it to project my voice or stir my tea. If I do the second then I will ruin it.

Sin does this to our lives. Yet the wonderful promise of verse 9 is that sin will be removed once and for all. Previous vision had a flying scroll but now he looks up and sees two women with wings like storks and they lift up the basket very high in the air and fly it far away.

Storks were migratory birds in that area of the world and they had massive wings. Also unclean animals so very appropriate for this task.

Where do they take the sin of God’s people? Verse 11. Country of Babylon. Build a house for it and set it in a special place.

Very appropriate when you think about it. Babel references. Place of human arrogance against God. House is being built – God’s house is being built so a comparison is being made. Set in place – that’s what happens to idols. Put it all together and we are told that at some point in the future we will see the sinfulness of sin for what it is. Defiance against God, idol worship. We will hate sin.

That’s my problem. I still sin so often because I do not hate sin as I do. I don’t feel the impact of how I am relating to God when I rebel against him.

We need to feel this more in our battle. Not just boundaries but an emotional hatred of sinful acts.

Day coming when sin will be removed. Sin will be seen for what it is and we will therefore know perfectly the joy of being redeemed.

Would you be able to sing for eternity?

Amazing Grace: “When we've been here ten thousand years…bright shining as the sun. We've no less days to sing God's praise...then when we've first begun.”

Is this how you feel? Not the only thing we will be doing in the New Creation. But one day we will understand the sinfulness of sin and the magnitude of God’s rescue and then we will have every reason to sing God’s praise for all eternity.

Or at least we will if we meet God as one of his friends. Because according to the last of Zechariah’s visions, recorded for us at the beginning of chapter 6, there are devastating consequences planned for God’s enemies.

In the first vision we met a group of horses who were on a surveillance mission but now in chapter 6 we are shown a group of chariots on a mission of war.

Chariots were the storm troopers of the day.

Listen again to what we are told in verse 1. “I looked up again — and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains — mountains of bronze!  2 The first chariot had red horses, the second black,  3 the third white, and the fourth dappled — all of them powerful.  4 I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?” 5 The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world.  6 The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.” 7 When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth. 8 Then he called to me, “Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.”

It’s not a difficult picture to understand when we remember the conclusion of the surveillance emission in chapter 1. They found the world in self-sufficient rest. But this is a vivid way of describing a day when the enemies of God will be completely destroyed.

Features to notice

o Bronze mountains. Bronze pillars in Solomon’s temple. Or simply a metal of strength.
o Send out by the God of the whole world.
o Four groups. Assumption is that they go to all corners on a search and destroy mission.
o According to verse 8, a special emphasis on their work in the North. Big enemies came form here. Assyrians, Babylonians and the Perisians. Even the biggest enemies are gone. Rest is experienced.

You may not consider yourself as an enemy of God. However, the Bible teaches that unless we actively submit to the rule of Jesus rule then this is exactly what we are.

We may be enthusiastically religious, or apathetically agnostic or even militantly atheistic but unless we actively embrace Jesus as our King then we are choosing to live as rebels in God’s world.

We may decide to leave the word ‘God’ out of our conversations entirely or we may choose to worship a God or even a set of gods that either we or other people have invented. But either way we don’t allow the true and living God to rule our lives in his way until we allow Jesus to be our King. And this is why the Bible teaches that everyone who is not a Christian is an enemy of God.

And yet here is the good news! If some of you had died yesterday then you would have met Jesus as one of his enemies. But God has deliberately delayed the day of your death so that you could be here this tonight and listen to this message about how you can change your behavior before you meet him.

He has deliberately delayed the day of your departure so that you can stop rebelling, lay down your arms, and surrender to the loving rule of Jesus before it is too late.

He has given you an opportunity to change your destiny. So how will you respond?

Each of us is waiting for an appointment we cannot avoid. We will stand before God. But we do have a choice: either we can meet him as an enemy or we can meet him as a friend.

You may ask, “Are you trying to scare us into believing?” I think that is the wrong question. Not, “Am I trying to scare you?” but “Is there anything to be sacred of?” And if you believe what is written in Zechariah 6 then yes there is something to be frightened if we don’t surrender to the rule of Jesus.

Also not the whole picture – Jesus is our loving ruler and he wants us to take refuge with him and be reconciled with our Creator – which is brilliant. It is the blessed life – the happy life. But the whole picture does also include the consequences of not submitting to Jesus’ rule when we can.

You might ask, “Why are you so blunt?” It may partly be my temperament and the fact that I live in Yorkshire. But It’s more. Let me tell you an illustration that may help.

Imagine the scene. Little toddler runs away from parents and is heading towards the traffic. What does the father do? “Sam, stop right there. Don’t move.” May be tears, feelings of hurt. But later the dad says, “Sam the reason I was so blunt was that you were in great danger and didn’t realize and I care for you enough to protect you.”

In the German city of Friedberg there is a beautiful church with a magnificent organ. Many years ago (19th century) an old man played the organ. Every day – three tiers of keys and an old man playing. One day a young man walked in and strolled to the organ. He asked the man if he could be allowed to play the organ. Second time then third time – embarrassed. Okay – just for a moment. He stood beside organ stool and he listened in amazement.  Who are you? My name is Mendelssohn. Old man replied: “Dear me - to think that I almost never allowed the master to play.”

Will I allow the master to play the tune?

How do you need to respond tonight?

o Believer who is trying. Be encouraged. The battle is a good sign. Perfection is an eternal state. But keep on trusting the master to play the tune.

o Perhaps you have been pretending.

o Perhaps you are an enemy who needs to come home.

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