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Echo Evangelique

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An Invitation to Return to the Lord

Text: Zechariah 1:1-6

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Key Concepts:

  • The context behind the invitation
  • The Lord urged His people to return to Him
  • What does it mean to return to God?
  • What good does it do to rebuild the temple if God isn’t there?

There is something unique about invitations that make us feel special. When we are invited to something, we feel wanted and accepted. An invitation is a powerful way to reach out to others. Jesus routinely invited people to follow Him and was Himself often invited. The book of Zechariah contains such an invitation (1:1-6) from God to His people. The theme of the book, as is often the case, is uniquely tied to the name of the author. Zechariah means the Lord remembers. That is the theme of the book; for God remembers Israel. He remembers His people. He has not totally forsaken those whom He had chosen. God, through Zechariah, issued an invitation for His people to return to Him, instead of just returning to the land and their reconstruction project. Why is this invitation important?

The context behind the invitation

Judah was conquered and taken into exile to Babylon for seventy years. However, God promised Israel, after their time of slavery, to return them home. “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah…” (Ezra 1:1-4, NIV). This prophecy spoken by Jeremiah was fulfilled seventy years after the captivity as promised. King Cyrus released Israel to return to their land. Eighteen years after the decree, the people had not yet completely returned home. Zechariah’s ministry began about sixteen years after Daniel’s, and forty years before Esther. Those who returned did not finish building the temple, nor the walls. A small remnant was sent instead to complete the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Throughout the project, they were threatened and harassed. At that point, the Lord sent Zechariah to let Israel know that they had not been forgotten, nor overlooked.

The Lord urged His people to return to Him

The people returned as refugees to the devasted charred ruins left by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies (Lam. 2: 1-9). As the refugees are looking at the remains of their city, Zechariah told the people that the Lord has been angry with their forefathers. Indeed, the devastation all around made it easy for the people to realize the consequence of God’s anger. How did they make God so angry? What did they need to do differently from then on? “… ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you” ... “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.” But they did not hear nor heed Me,” says the Lord” (Zec. 1:3-4, NKJV). God refers to Himself as “the Lord of hosts.” This is a military expression which speaks of God as the general of a great army. This is to remind the people that the destruction of the temple was an act of war by the sovereign Lord Himself. God could have defeated the Babylonian army, but He intentionally chose to destroy Jerusalem instead. God wanted His people to know that the hand that disciplined them, was the same hand that would cherish them.

What does it mean to return to God?

The people had abandoned their God, although they did not stop going to the temple. They were still praying and offering sacrifices. However, their hearts were far away from God (Is. 1:2-4). ““Where is the certificate of your mother’s divorce, whom I have put away? Or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you?”” (Is. 50: 1, NKJV). Israel was guilty of unfaithfulness to their God and He gave them over to their adulteries (Is. 29:13). The people were going through the motions. They willfully lived in sin without any concern for God. They assumed that, regardless of the condition of their hearts, God would be glorified as long as they continued their religious activities. Jeremiah informed them that was not so. In fact, he preached a sermon at the very doorway of the temple to remind the people how God had destroyed their former place of worship because their worship was unacceptable (Jer. 7: 8-10). He warned them that to change their worship to God or see their new temple destroyed as well. Zechariah also reminded them that how they worshiped God was more than just ceremony. His message urged the people to turn to God and rebuild their relationship with Him rather than just the temple. It means to repent from sin, from idolatry, from pride.

What good does it do to rebuild the temple if God isn’t there?

Ezekiel described a time when, ‘ikabod’- the glory of God had departed, and destruction inevitably followed. What good does it do to go to prayer meetings, bible studies when your heart is not right with God? How do you remedy that? “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (Jmes 4:8-10, ESV). It is not the ceremonies and rituals of your worship, it is the posture of the heart (Is 57, Ps. 50,). “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart. These, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51: 17, NKJV). It is always about humbling yourself and seeking God. It is about valuing God above everything and everyone else. The gospel also tells us to leave sin, to forsake the world, to give up our dreams even if we must break relationships. We do this to gain Christ who is the pearl of great value for which we gladly sell everything. Paul echoes that same sentiment. “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8, NKJV). Our love for Christ should matter more than anything.

In conclusion…

As we look forward to returning to our church building, we should make sure our hearts return to God first. The building is not worth anything if God is not in it. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps. 127, ESV). Zechariah also issued an invitation to remember. “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord” (Zec. 1:4-5, ESV). The prophet wants us to remember three warnings from history: the warning of disobedience, the ancestors heard but did not obey. Secondly, the warning of delaying. Often, we procrastinate in obeying. Lastly, the warning of divine judgement. The people were stubborn in their disobedience. Instead of making excuses for our sins, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” (Jmes 1:19-21, ESV). The people even killed the prophets who challenged their sinful way instead of repenting. We are invited to remember that God has judged sin in the past. God does not put up with disobedience. He does not tolerate delay. When He promises divine judgement, if there is no repentance, His discipline will ensue. Therefore we are invited to recognize that God is always right. “But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers?” (Zec. 1:6, ESV). God will not be mocked, what a man sows, a man will reap. You can stubbornly remain in your sin, but the day will come when “every knee should bow, … and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10, NKJV). True repentance always exonerates God and accepts full responsibility for its own sins. Sooner or later, you must repentant. Will you wait till it’s too late? John the Baptist bore this same message of repentance; so did Jesus, Paul and Peter. For, they knew that unless you repent, you will all perish. Will you accept the invitation to return to the Lord?

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