Rev. Erik Veerman
Foresee the Future, Press on in the Present
Please turn to Zechariah chapter 8 for our sermon text reading this morning. You’ll find that on page 946 in the pew Bibles. We’ll be focusing on verses 1-17.
This is a continuation of what was happening in chapter 7. A group from nearby Bethel had come to Jerusalem to ask about their religious practices. With the temple being rebuild, did they need to continue their ceremonial fasts. God answered by warning them about false religion. That’s what chapter 7 revealed. True religion and false religion. Part of God’s warning was not to be like their ancestors who broke God’s covenant because of their empty religion.
Chapter 8 continues God’s answer. Chapter 7 was the bad news with the warning. And chapter 8 here is the good news and the promise. God’s covenant faithfulness will win the day.
Let’s now turn our attention to God’s Word.
Reading of Zechariah 8:1-17
The city of Warsaw, Poland was decimated by World War II. By the end of the war, 60% of its population had been killed. That’s 800,000 Warsaw residents. 250,000 others had been deported. 100% of the railways and bridges were obliterated. 95% percent of Warsaw’s theaters and cinemas gone. 90% of industry and healthcare buildings destroyed… the list goes on. Hitler’s army intentionally destroyed the historic downtown. The city looked like a war zone for years. It had once been a thriving city. For most of its 1000 year history, it enjoyed prosperity and peace. But in a matter of 6 years, it lay in ruins. On the outside, a rebuild seemed hopeless. Poland even considered moving its capital to another city, but they didn’t. No the people of Warsaw and Poland pressed on with hope.
In November of 1946, just over a year after the war, a photographer set up his camera in the middle of Warsaw. In the background, buildings all around were half-destroyed. Debris and dirty snow littered the streets. This photographer found a couple of wooden posts and secured them with whatever he could find. Between the wooden posts, he hung a metal pole. And he draped this beautiful mural over it. It had green trees and a beautiful lake, with a large mansion in the background. Quite the contrast to the city around him. He then placed a chair in front of the mural and people would come, sit in the chair, and he would take their picture with the beautiful back drop.
There's a famous photograph of the whole scene. A Polish woman sitting in the chair with a huge smile, holding flowers as the photographer hunched over his camera. The picture shows it all - the idealistic mural, the photographer, the woman, the snow, the destroyed buildings of Warsaw in the background. And you get a sense that while they may have been living in devastated city, there was still hope left for the future.
It’s really a picture of our text this morning.
Jerusalem had been devastated. God’s people wavered between hope and despair. Many skeptical of whether Jerusalem would again prosper. Yet through these verses, God painted for them a beautiful picture of a restored city, flourishing, and at peace. And God called them to stay strong, promising that Jerusalem would again prosper, way beyond what they could imagine.
That’s the call for us today – to take hold of the future promises of a new Jerusalem in heaven… and therefore to press on in the present, knowing it will come about.
These verses have present promises, and future promises. And all of these promises are reinforced by the Lord’s declaration.
Look at verse 2. Notice that it begins with the phrase “thus says the Lord of Hosts.”
And notice that verse 3 begins with the same phrase. And verse 4 the same things. Do you see that? The phrase “thus says the Lord” is repeated 7 times. Verses 2,3,4,6,7,9, and 14. What God is saying is that these promises are true and will be true. God is assuring them of that.
One of the present promises is there in verse 3, “thus says the Lord: I have returned to Zion.” Zion was the prominent mountain next to Jerusalem. It represented the general area. Sometimes Zion is used interchangeably with Jerusalem or with God’s people. So, God was pronouncing to them that he had already returned. He was already with them.
And all throughout the rest of these verses, God declared future promises. Over and over God says “I will” and “it shall” or “there shall” or “you shall.” And those future promises are connected with Jerusalem, the city.
So, in other words, God promised that his presence was in Zion already, and he promised a future for Jerusalem. They were to look at the future promises of Jerusalem, but live in their present situation, knowing that God was with them.
I hope that gives you a sense of the overall purpose.
And isn’t that what we’re called to? God promises us heaven. An eternal home. With all the messiness of life and the world around us, we have that hope and we can live in the present knowing of the future.
1. Covet the Covenant (8:8)
But where does it all begin? That ability to live in the present with the future in mind?
For God’s people, it begins with knowing God’s covenant promise.
Let me direct your attention to the back of the bulletin. You’ll see an outline.
1. Covet the Covenant
2. Foresee the Future
3. Press on in the Present
Really, these two chapters, 7 and 8, have a lot of parallels with the visions in the first 6 chapters. The visions gave the people a lot of promises. The promise of God’s presence. The promise of the temple and salvation, the promise of protection and people and peace.
But Zechariah’s visions never answered the question, “why?” Like, why would God make all these promises? I mean, God’s people had rejected him. Why would God promise to restore them?
Well, chapter 8 answers the question, “why?” Why? Because God is a covenant keeping God. His covenant faithfulness will prevail.
I named this point “Covet the Covenant.” Covet in a good way, here. Desiring it. Always thinking about God’s covenant promise. Longing for it.
We find covenant language in two places in this chapter. First, at the very beginning of verse 2. God says he is very jealous for Zion. That language is covenantal language. Back in Deuteronomy 4, God said to his people, don’t worship other gods and forget my covenant. Why? Because I am a jealous God.
The idea is that God is jealous in love. God’s people had walked away from him. But he was jealous. He wanted their affection. He wanted them to want him as their God.
Back before Amy and I got married, I rented a room from a friend. And he was dating a nice girl. But she broke it off. She decided that he wasn’t the one for her. Of course, my friend was distraught. He came home and he talked, and I listened. And as he was talking, something changed in him. He decided he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. So he reached out to her… and they got together to talk. And he said something like “you may think you don’t want me, but I want you and we’re going to keep dating.” And do you know what she said? “Ok!” I think he was very surprised. They’re married now with kids.
Now, for you single guys out there, that doesn’t always work.
But for God, he was jealous for his people. God desired her back. And he would not give up. That is God’s covenant faithfulness, pursuing his people.
The end of verse 8 is really the key covenantal promise here. It says, “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness”
God established a covenant promise. It’s a relational contract that he would not let them go. It answers the “why” question of the visions. Why? Because I promised, says the Lord, and I will never go back on my promise.
Ultimately, this covenantal promise is fulfilled in Christ.
• We could not fulfill our side of the agreement. We rejected God and his commands just like the previous generations that were exiled. But Christ came. He fulfilled the demands of the covenant on our behalf.
• All of the consequences that the previous generation endured for breaking God’s covenant… Jesus endured for his people.
• The death and exile from God’s presence that they suffered, Jesus suffered for us on the cross.
And through that, through Christ, God fulfilled his covenant faithfulness for his people.
This is the foundation to all of God’s promises.
Related to these verses, it’s why and how God’s promises have and will come to pass. Everything about the promised Jerusalem that we’re about to see, will come true, because God promised it and he’s a covenant keeping God.
It’s a call to believe in what Christ has done and to believe in the promise of what he will do.
Believe in his promises. Covet the covenant.
2. Foresee the Future (8:3-13)
Ok, point number 2: Foresee the future.
Because of his covenant faithfulness, God promised that he would restore Jerusalem. But rather than just say “I’m going to restore the city,” he painted for them a word picture. Like a beautifully painted mural of a beautifully restored city. It’s for them to hang on their walls and display in the city. It’s an overwhelming picture of the future. He wants them to envision what the future city will be like.
It’s all throughout these verses.
• Verse 3 – “I will dwell in her midst.” “She shall be called a faithful city, a mountain of the lord” God will be there with his abundant blessing.
• Verses 4 and 5 paint a picture of an abundance of people of all ages. Old men and women will again sit in her streets. They will be sharing their wisdom. Her streets will be full of boys and girls playing, with no fear of harm.
• Verse 6 – “Marvelous” is the word used. The city will be marvelous for the people and marvelous God himself.
• Verse 7 – God will gather people from all over – east and west. And added to that, we’re back to verse 8, God’s covenant promise of a restored relationship with him. We’ll spend more on the people part at the end of chapter 8.
• Verses 10 and 11 – protection from their enemies and abundant resources to go around.
• And last, verse 12 – peace and prosperity. No more war, but peace. Remember, besides the destroyed city walls and temple, the land was also barren. That was part of God response to breaking his covenant. But the future promise is the prosperity of the land. In verse 12, the rain will come and water the earth. It will overflow with food in abundance.
So peace, prosperity, protection, people, and presence. This would be the new Jerusalem for them.
But I think you would agree, this is a very idealistic picture. Is it too good to be true?
When we started our study of Zechariah, one of the things we talked about was how prophecy is fulfilled. There is usually both a near-term and a long-term fulfillment. The near term is often a shadow of the long term. A shadow meaning it’s like the long-term fulfillment, but it’s weak and incomplete.
The picture here is of a Jerusalem way beyond what could be fulfilled on earth. That’s because the picture is looking past a restored earthly Jerusalem to a heavenly Jerusalem. Yes, for them, there’s still the near-term promise that Jerusalem’s walls would be restored and the temple rebuilt. But this picture goes way beyond an earthly Jerusalem to the new Jerusalem in heaven for us: An eternal heavenly city, the river of life flowing through it, with perfect peace, overwhelming prosperity, people from all over with no more fear or sadness or sickness or death, with the light of God’s presence everywhere.
This is a picture of the new Jerusalem for you.
In our homes, we hang up pictures of the past. Sometimes on the wall going up the stairs. Or picture frames scattered around… you know, wedding pictures; family portraits from long ago; trips or favorite vacation spots. Pictures also helps us remember dear loved ones gone from this word. Memories of past. On our devices and social media, we display pictures of the past.
Well, God is giving us pictures of the future to hang on our walls. Pictures of the new Jerusalem to come in all of it’s splendor. Pictures of joy and celebration and peace. And we need to hang them on our walls, next to the pictures of the past. We need to see the future pictures when we wake, and as we walk down the stairs. It needs to be the background of our phones. This Zechariah 8 mural of the future celestial city needs to hang on our living room wall. Like the woman in that 1946 photograph of Warsaw… we need to imagine ourselves in the mural with the beautiful lake and trees. She probably took that photograph and hung it on her wall.
Foresee the future. Through God’s covenant faithfulness, he will bring it to pass. Eternity in God’s presences with the peace, prosperity, people, and protection of the new Jerusalem.
3. Press on in the Present (8:3,9,13,15,17)
Why is this helpful, though? Why would God paint for them and us this beautiful future city?
The answer is this: So that we can press on in the present. Having the hope of the heavenly city, imagining those future pictures throughout our house will help us press on in the present. We’re at point #3.
Scattered through this future visualization are commands for the present.
Look at verse 9. “Thus says the Lord of hosts. Let your hands be strong, you who in these days have been hearing these words.” Let your hands be strong. In other words, continue the work. Seek to faithfully continue in your labors here in the present.
Have you heard that saying before “He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthy good.” Actually, our heavenly mindedness should result in earthly goodness. Living out and working out our faith in the present.
The command to “let your hands be strong” is repeated down in verse 13. Verse 13, by the way, is the conclusion of the picture… it says “so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong.” It’s like a big therefore statement. I showed you all these things… THEREFORE do not fear, let your hands be strong. Press on in the present, knowing where you’re going in the future.
That phrase “do not fear” is also repeated down in verse 15. So I have purposed to bring good to Jerusalem…. Therefore “fear not.” Do not fear what is going on around you, but persevere as you strive for the future.
On our family vacations, we like to explore new places. Last summer we drove all the way to Oregon. We’d never been there before, and we wanted to see Crater Lake, and the Columbia River Gorge, and Mount Hood, and Willowa Lake. We’d seen pictures of those places, but we wanted to be there. It’s a lot of work to plan. Amy prepares the food and packs the RV. I plan the route and accommodations and get the vehicle ready. We know that on the way, we’ll run into rain and heat waves and traffic. Every trip, we’ve had some kind of mechanical problem.
But having the destination in mind with pictures, helps us not to fear the dangers on the way. It motivates us to work in the present, looking forward to the future. And when we finally arrived in Oregon, it was all worth it.
Pressing on in the present is having that vision of the future – the new Jerusalem in our hearts and minds and working toward that destination in the present.
Part of the immediate context was continuing to rebuild the temple and the city. That’s why they were to keep their hands strong. But it’s not the only thing that God told them to do. Verses 16 and 17 expand on that. And God is very direct. “These are the things you shall do…” and then God lists several things. Speak truth… render true judgments… do not devise evil… and love no false oath. They were to live out God’s commands in their lives… in the present.
Some of you may recognize the list. It’s a similar list to chapter 7. Remember, one of the tests of true religion is demonstrating our true faith in what we do and say. It’s repeated here because the future vision of a new Jerusalem should also spur us on toward truth, justice, and peace and not evil or false promises.
So, to summarize, pressing on in the present is really two things:
1) First, pressing on in the work and ministry that God has called us to as his people, his church… despite the threats and difficulties around us that could cause us to lose hope.
2) Second, pressing on in our lives, living out God’s commands… despite the temptations and other situations which could cause us to fall into sin or evil.
And a main motivation for both pursuits comes from the promised new Jerusalem – the beautiful heavenly city of God to which he will bring us. It’s a promise that we will realize one day. God has promised it and he is a covenant keeping God. If you know and believe in him, you are part of his people. He has jealously pursued you, and he will not let you go.
It’s now been about 75 years since World War 2 ended. The people of Poland, with some outside help, pressed on in the rebuilding of their capital. The work began in earnest in the late 1940s and continued for over 30 years. Warsaw’s downtown district was meticulously rebuilt. They even used paintings from decades earlier. Destroyed monuments were reconstructed. People from all over Poland donated time and efforts to rebuild their capital. Over time, Warsaw turned from a war zone to one of the leading cultural and economic centers in eastern Europe. Today, its metro area is home to over 3 million and its once again thriving.
The people of Warsaw and Poland had a picture in mind of a restored city. With that vision, they pressed on for years with strong hands. And they saw their vision become a reality.
Theirs was an earthly vision which they hoped would come true. Our is a heavenly vision which we are assured will come true. How much more so, then, should we press on seeing this picture of a beautiful new Jerusalem. As God’s people, it will be our, because of the covenant promises fulfilled in Christ.
So, Covet the Covenant – desire Christ, the covenant keeper, who by his blood has made you eternally his if you believe in him by faith.
Foresee the Future – Be amazed at the wonders of the new Jerusalem to come in heaven.
And Press on in the Present, pursuing God’s calling and his commands, knowing that his promises are eternal and true… for “thus says the Lord of Hosts.”