Rev. Erik Veerman
From Feasting to Fasting
A quick word of thank you to Charles for stepping in last week to preach. And thank you for your prayers. I’m doing much better.
This morning, we’ll be wrapping up chapter 8 of Zechariah. You’ll find that on page 947 in the church Bibles. These verses conclude the section that began in chapter 7. The question had been asked, “do we still need to fast?” As a reminder, a fast is when you abstain from food for a period of time, so you can focus on God and prayer. Well, God’s answer to their question was not a simple yes or no. That’s because true religion is not a list of rules to follow to make yourself good with God… no, rather true religion begins with your heart, a Biblical understanding of heart, which then works its way out in your life.
At the end of chapter 7, God explained that the previous generation didn’t have a heart for him, even though they thought they were religious. And at the beginning of Chapter 8, God revealed that despite their empty religious practices, his covenant promises were still there. Remember, he revealed to them the beautiful city of the new Jerusalem. God promised that his people would experience the rebuilt city. Ultimately that was a picture of heaven. The message was: don’t just go through the ritual motions, but rather pursue the things of God with hearts that know him and believe in his future promises.
So, we get to these last verses of chapter 8, and God does a full circle back to their original question about fasting.
So now, let’s now turn our attention to God’s word. Zechariah 8:18-23
STAND Hear now these words, the inspired word of God.
Reading of Zechariah 8:18-23
Between 2006 and 2007, a 5-star hotel in Thailand hosted a series of extravagant dinners. It was described as "epic extravagance" In fact, the gourmet dinners were titled “Epicurean Masters of the World.” Epicurean meaning luxurious indulgence.
For one of the dinners, fine foods were flown in from 35 different countries. The 10-course meal was prepared by six world-renown chefs. It included:
• Crème brulee of foie gras
• Imperial beluga caviar
• Veal cheeks with truffles
• Belons oysters, Brittany lobster and Bresse chicken
Each course perfectly paired with the finest of wines from around the world
The price tag? In today’s dollars, a mere $35,000 per person.
Maybe that’s not your type of cuisine. Instead, imagine your favorites. Kids, endless fruit loops, perfectly cooked pizza with cheesy crust. Or for you steak lovers, bone-in filet mignon.
In the Scriptures, God promises his people the most extravagant banquet in heaven. It will be a spiritual feast in eternity. And God promises that he will celebrate this amazing banquet with his people. The Scriptures call it the marriage supper of the lamb, as. Or sometimes we refer to it as the great wedding feast with Christ – the lamb of God.
When our Lord returns on the clouds of heaven, we will celebrate this feast with him. It will be a wedding reception of sorts. Christ will be the bridegroom and his church will be the bride. It will involve a great celebration - joy and gladness. And the banquet will be full of people from every tribe and tongue and nation. And the best part… it won’t cost a single penny. No, the wedding feast will be free. It will be open to all who believe by faith in Christ Alone. The entrance fee will be paid by Christ himself who will welcome and receive all who trust in him alone.
But even here and now, on earth, we have a foretaste of that future banquet. Our gathered worship this morning is a taste of heven. We’re worshiping God together, communing with him, being spiritually fed, and responding with joy and gladness in anticipation of the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Well, the end of Zechariah 8 alludes to a future spiritual meal. It speaks of a time when their fasting would become feasting… when people from all nations would come to celebrate. For the people in Zechariah’s time, it was a future promise of feasting.
But for us today, that time has arrived. It’s both a now and a not yet promise. We are celebrating now because Jesus has come. We are, in a sense, engaged to him. Jesus has promised marriage. We are the betrothed. And because of that, we can look forward to the future marriage supper of the lamb with all of God’s people feasting together.
That’s what these verses point us to. And they answer two questions for us.
1. How do you become a participant in the wedding feast, now and in the future?
2. How do you prepare for the future wedding feast?
So, how do you become a participant in the feasting and how do you prepare for the future feast?
I want you to keep those question in mind. We’ll come back to them latee. Let’s begin, though, with their situation, Zechariah’s audience, and what these promises meant for them. Doing so will give us a better understanding of the feast, and how to answers the questions.
The first thing to note is all the fasts that God mentioned to them. In verse 19, he mentions fasts on the fourth month, the fifth, the seventh and tenth. That’s a lot of abstaining from food. What’s interesting is to go back to the beginning of chapter 7. Just flip back one page. Chapter 7 verse 3. The original question was this: “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month?” But what we find out as these two chapters progress is that they weren’t just fasting on the fifth month, no, actually, they fasted 4 months out of the year.
And all of these fasts were connected to the exile 70 years earlier.
• The fourth month fast was a remembrance of when the walls of Jerusalem were breached and their king was captured.
• The fifth month fast pointed back to when Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King, took control of the city.
• The seventh month fast was when the Judean governor was killed. After that point there would be no more Judean ruler.
• And finally, the tenth month fast pointed back to when it all began. The initial siege of Jerusalem
You see, they were all weighty things. And all of it connected to the downfall of Judah and Jerusalem. And not only that, the very reason that it all happened was God himself. God used the Babylonians to punish Israel for their covenant disobedience. So for four months out of the year, the exiles fasted during the day, in a sense grieving what had happened. The fasts pointed to death and destruction and subjugation… and this went on for 70 years. Imagine being born in that time. Much of your life would have been under this gloomy cloud of sadness and lamenting.
That’s a lot of discouragement and despair. And remember back in chapter 7, God pointed out that their fasting had become selfish – they were self-focused and not God focused. Their fasting had become a pity party for what had happened to them. Kind of like Winnie the Pooh’s friend, Eeyore. Always gloomy despair. It’s easy to be an Eeyore, isn’t it.
With all that as the backdrop, imagine how they would receive the end of verse 19. All those fasts, house of Judah, “shall be… seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts!” It’s kind of like it had been raining for 70 years straight, with dark, ominous clouds, but God promised that the sun would come out! It’s a promise not just that the lamenting would end. But that it would be replaced with celebration.
The verb tense here is important. The fasts “shall be” feasts. It was a future promise for them of not just an end to their sadness, but to the start of joy.
And this is where these verses connect with the rest of chapter 8.
Everything that they were lamenting in the fasts would be undone.
1) First, the overthrow of the nation would be reversed. God promised to return to rule and reign. He would be king again and bring peace
2) Second, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple would be reversed. The temple would be re-built and the city restored. Ultimately, as we considered, this would be realized in the new Jerusalem in heaven.
3) And third, the exile itelf would be reversed. In the exile, the people were scattered - many became captives in Babylon. But now God promised that he would restore the people. He would bring them home. And in fact, he would add to their numbers, people from all over. That promise of people is what the final verses cover, we’ll get to that in a minute.
So, to recap, all the doom and gloom in the fasts will turn into joy and celebration in feasts. That’s because God would bring about a restored presence, a restored city, and a restored people.
I was thinking about an interaction between Sam Gamgee and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. By the way, this will be my once-a-year Lord of the Rings reference. After the ring of power had been destroyed and after the great battle was over. Sam found himself safe – he was alive. He’d been rescued. Good had won over evil. And when Sam awoke, there was Gandalf at his bedside.
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?"
“A great Shadow has departed," said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as Sam listened the thought came to him that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.
Will everything sad become untrue? No. But sadness will become untrue. The mournful fasts will turn to joyful feasts. And they will be more joyful and more cheerful not despite the lamenting fasts and what they represented, but in a mysterious way, because of them.
A big part of this promise is the promise of a restored people. The feasts will be a great celebration, partly because of all the people that will be present.
Verses 20-23 give us a picture of people pouring in to Jerusalem.
• They are coming from “many cities” it says in verse 20. And we get this image of people grabbing other people by the hand. “Come join us… We’re headed to Jerusalem… you don’t want to miss out!”
• They were going out of their way to other cities to tell other people about the feast. Word has gotten out.
• And it’s not just the cities of Judah, from which people would be coming. No, it mentions “strong nations” verse 22.
• And in verse 23 the image is of 10 men holding on to the robe of Jew, seeking to come with him to Jerusalem. People from the nations that were enemies desired to join this pilgrimage to the feast in Jerusalem.
I like the imagery one commentator used to describe it… a magnet. Jerusalem was drawing people from all over - north, south, east, and west. “…from every tongue,” verse 23. They were all being compelled. It’s as if you were on top of mount Zion next to Jerusalem - every direction you looked, you saw people making their way to the city… to the banquet.
This restored people was alluded to earlier in the chapter. Go up to verse 7, “thus says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.” From all over, they would come.
This may remind you of Zechariah’s third vision. Jerusalem’s walls were no longer made of stone and brick, rather her walls were walls of fire. A wall that could expand and could encompass all the people that were being drawn to her.
This is part of the encouragement God was giving them. Through his Covenant faithfulness, God would not only restore a remnant of his people, but God would multiply their numbers.
What a feast! A restored city. The presence of God overseeing its peace and prosperity – myriads and myriads of people from all over. From far off lands and from enemy nations, all drawn to the city and all celebrating with joy and gladness.
They asked, “Should we continue to fast?” God answered by redirecting them to the amazing feast that would come in his restored city and with his renewed people.
Let me remind you that Zechariah was prophesying 500 years before Christ. Much of the promises of these two chapters, 7 and 8, have been fulfilled in Christ.
• A couple of weeks ago, we considered Jesus as the perfect covenant keeper. He was the one who turned the covenant curses into covenant blessings. That’s because through the ministry of Christ on the cross, God fulfilled our covenant responsibilities, which we could not do. That was the beginning of chapter 8.
• But these concluding verses of chapter 8 are also fulfilled in Christ. All of the fasts will be turned to feasts because in Christ, he is building his church and restoring his people.
What I’m saying is that Zechariah 8 is being fulfilled now. People are coming to God, through Jesus, from every nation, streaming into spiritual Jerusalem – the church. Chapter 8 is a Gospel promise – the hope of Christ for salvation for all who believe.
You know, sometimes we think that the Old Testament was just about the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. And we think that the promise of the Gospel for all people, all nations, all languages is only a New Testament thing. But really it was God’s plan from the very beginning.
• It’s all throughout the Psalms.
• The other prophets revealed that God’s promise was for the nations.
• And here in Zechariah 8, it’s plain as day. The promise that “10 men from the nations from every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew” is speaking about the promise to the world. You see, God revealed himself through Abraham and his family and through Israel. Jesus was born to fulfill the Jewish promise of a messiah. And so, in that way, it is through Israel that the nations have been blessed.
And beloved, that’s us. I know we have a couple people here with Jewish heritage. But for the rest of us, we are the fulfillment of these last few verses in Zechariah 8. People have sought us out. They’ve invited us to come to Jerusalem and celebrate and feast. We were the ones holding on to the robe of a Jew, saying, “let us go with you… for God is with you.” Remember, this is not a promise of physical Jerusalem. No the promise here is both a spiritual Jerusalem, all of God’s people, and an eternal Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem in heaven.
So in these verses, there’s both a near term and a long term fulfillment of the feasting.
• The ultimate fulfillment is the marriage supper of the Lamb. That’s the consummate banquet in heaven, when Christ returns.
• But we are also living now in the partial fulfillment of these verses… God is gathering people to his church, now. We are feasting now with joy and gladness, but it’s just a foretaste of the marriage supper of the lamb.
• First, God promised that their mournful fasting would turn to joyful feasting.
• Second, God promised that people would come from all nations to join the celebration.
• And third, these promises have been and will be fulfilled in Christ.
But let’s come back around to the two questions… because they are the questions for us.
First, how do you participate in the feasting, both now and in heaven?
And, second, how do you prepare for that great wedding feast?
On first question, this offer is open to all. All are invited to spiritually feast. In verses 21 and 22, the people were coming from all over. They said, “let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts.” Entreating him and seeking him. In fact, those phrases are repeated twice – the second time in verse 22. There it starts with “seeking the Lord” and then “entreating him.” Seeking him is searching the Lord out. Going to him. And entreating his favor means asking him. Requesting that he receive you. That word “favor” in the original Hebrew parallels word for “grace” in the Greek.
In other words, Jesus invites you to come to him and receive his invitation, his grace. The table of feasting is open to all who come to him by faith. And in the context of Zechariah as a whole and chapter 7 and 8 in particular… that includes turning from your hollow religion and rejection of God and committing your life to him
And I want to highlight a little phrases in verse 21.
“let us go at once” There’s no waiting. The invitation is now. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. If you haven’t sought the Lord, turned your life to him. Seek him and his favor, his grace, now is the time. Jesus invites you to come.
The second question for us is this: how do you prepare for the feasting? In other words, if you are the Lord’s, he’s promised you that great feast. Besides enjoying the foretaste of that great feast in our worship with joy, what else should we be doing to prepare?
Well, the answer to that question is at the end of verse 19. Look at it. The last sentence of the verse. “Therefore love truth and peace.” When I first read that, it seemed out of place. I was asking myself, “how does that relate to the feasting?” Then I realized, this is what ties chapters 7 and 8 together. It’s the answer to the fasting question. God was calling them to love. Not a “feelings” kind of love that our culture is obsessed with. No, this love is the covenantal kind of love that God has for us - a deep down commitment to truth and to peace. It connects it all together because this love of God and his truth and his peace is what we need to be seeking. It’s the summary of the new Jerusalem that we talked about two weeks ago – a city founded on God’s truth and in his peace.
• Their prior generation did not love truth and peace – that’s why their religion was hollow and hypocritical and why God exiled them.
• God was calling them to love truth and peace, because that’s the test of true religion.
And when we love God’s truth and his peace lived out in the church – that’s when our feasting will be the greatest. In other words, the more the church looks like the eternal Jerusalem, the greater the foretaste of the marriage supper of the Lamb. Love truth and peace.
• White truffles
• Kumamoto Oysters
• Chateau Briand
• Kopi Luwak coffee
• Turkish delight
Those may all sound delicious, but they will be nothing compared to the feast in heaven… with the joy, gladness, cheerfulness, truth, and peace that will accompany it. May we rejoice now and pursue that truth and peace as we await that day. Amen.