Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Who were the wise men Seeking?

Read Matthew 2.

Matthew's account of Jesus only briefly mentions that He was born at the end of chapter one.  The Holy Spirit moved Matthew on in the story-line to confirm the true identity of Jesus and the next major events.

Who is Jesus?  Who were the wise men looking for?  Who did the prophets say would come?
Note the four terms that are used to identify Him.

1. He is King of the Jews. (v.2)
This was the statement in the opening verse of the book.  "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David (the King), the son of Abraham (the Jews).  The wise men were looking for the earthly king of the Jews that the prophets said would come.  "...and the government shall be upon his shoulder..." (Isaiah 9:6).  Many have been confused by either ignoring this still future earthly rule of Christ, or by spiritualizing the thousands of Biblical prophecies concerning Messiah's earthly reign from Jerusalem, or by attempting to combine those prophecies with the kingdom of heaven.

2. He is the Christ. (v.4)
Jesus is the long awaited Messiah.  There existed many opinions about Him then, as there are now.  But the most important question of all time is one's personal response to Jesus when He asked, "'But who do you say that I am?'  Simon Peter replied, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'" (Matthew 16:15-16)

3. He is a ruler. (v.6)
The Jews looked for Messiah to kick the Romans out and rule over Israel in His first coming.  In John 6:15, the crowd intended to force Jesus to be their king right then.  But prophecies concerning His first coming included Messiah's suffering and dying for sin (Isaiah 53).  After the resurrection, even the disciples asked, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6).  He will do just that when He returns to earth in power and glory as the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Revelation 19-20).

4. He is a shepherd for Israel. (v.6)
This is one of four quotes or references to the prophetic writings in this chapter.  Micah 5:2 named the place of His birth and the millennial leadership He will provide hundreds of years in advance.  Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11)

Some time had lapsed between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the wise men.  The thought of a king being born for the Jews threatened King Herod and his dynasty.  Herod's question regarding "what time the star had appeared" seems to be an attempt to ascertain the child's age.  In verse 11, the wise men found Jesus as a child in a house, not a babe in a manger.  This explains why Herod killed all the children two years of age and younger.

As Jesus fulfilled hundreds of prophecies in His first coming, the Scriptures have substantially even more promises concerning His second coming.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Introducing the real Jesus

Read Matthew 1.

The overarching distinctive of Matthew's gospel is to present Jesus as the King.  Of utmost importance to being crowned as a king is one's birthright to the throne.  That is why chapter one begins with the human genealogy of Jesus. This is proof of His lineage as it traces His earthly heritage from Abraham to Joseph.

Much of the Old Testament's story-line is behind the names listed here.  Do not miss the unusual mention of four women among all the forefathers.  They each had stories of tragedy and redemption.
-Tamar (v.3) conceived twins from Judah, her father-in-law.
-Rahab (v.5) was a Gentile prostitute of Jericho, who came to believe in God.
-Ruth (v.5) a widow, also a Gentile, who embraced the faith of her mother-in-law.
-Mary (v.16) an unmarried, young virgin who miraculously became pregnant with Jesus.

There are five unmistakable claims in this chapter as to who Jesus is.
1. He is the son of David. (v.1a)
According to the covenant that the LORD made in 2 Samuel 7,  David's descendants are the perpetual royal family of the Jews.  Jesus is the fulfillment of this promise.  "He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." (2 Samuel 7:13)

2. He is the son of Abraham. (v.1b)
The unconditional covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants in Genesis 12:1-3 is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.  "...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

3. His human birth is of the Holy Spirit. (vv.18-20)
Though the earthly family is emphasized in the opening verses, twice we are reassured here that Joseph was not the father of Jesus.  Otherwise, Jesus would have been a sinner by birth (Romans 5:12).  Mary conceived as a result of the special work of the Holy Spirit in her body.  This was a miracle conception and a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy.  "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14a)

4. He is the Savior from sin. (v.21)
The name Jesus means savior or deliverer.  In the Old Testament, the equivalent is the name Joshua.  However, the angel's declaration is specific as to the mission in saying that this Jesus "will save his people from their sins."  To downplay awfulness of sin and the need for a personal savior is to discredit the very purpose of the first coming of Christ.

5. He is God in the flesh. (v.23)
Completing the quote from Isaiah 7:14, the angel declared that Jesus will be known as Immanuel, "(which means, God with us)."  Those who deny that Jesus was God in the flesh either do not know or simply do not believe the Scriptures.

How important is it to know and place one's faith in the real Jesus?
Jesus claimed that those who believe in Him "may have eternal life." (John 3:15)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Preparing for the return of Christ

Read Malachi 4.

The day of the LORD contains two aspects.  It will be a time of judgment followed by joy.  In this closing chapter of the Old Testament, we are told that the power and works of all evildoers will be destroyed.  Like a devastating fire, all the influence of those who rejected God will be reduced to nothing.

Then, joy will be the experience of those "who fear my name."  When Christ returns, His righteousness will shine everywhere as the noonday sun.  What follows is a word of encouragement and two admonitions.

1. Restoration is coming. (v.3)
The righteous and holy rule of Jesus from Jerusalem will result in a healing of the people and for the land.  So great will be the blessings of this time, the people will be jumping for joy.

2. Remember to obey God's word. (v.4)
In the meantime, those revere and respect the LORD are to know and put into practice His expectations of how to live.

3. Review the signs of His coming. (v.5)
Those who chose to ignore 17 books of the writing prophets miss more than 25% of God's word.  In addition, much of the New Testament provides hope and confidence in our faith with details of the future from Jesus, many statements in the Epistles, and the book of Revelation.  As a result, they live incomplete and unprepared lives.  

The Holy Spirit through Malachi prompted Judah to be on the lookout for one who would prepare the coming of Messiah.  "I will send you Elijah the prophet."

Preparing the First Coming:
Concerning the birth of John, the Baptist, an angel of the Lord appeared to his parents and declared, "...he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah...to make ready for the Lord a people prepared." (Luke 1:17)  Then, Jesus commented concerning John, the Baptist, "...and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come."  (Matthew 11:14)   However, Israel rejected Jesus, as a nation.  But the offer was there.

Preparing the Second Coming:
Some time after John, the Baptist had been beheaded, Jesus took Peter, James and John up on a mountain.  There the curtain of His humanity was pulled back so these three could see the Deity of Christ.  Appearing with Jesus in that moment was none other than Moses and Elijah.  The disciples asked about the statement in Malachi about Elijah.  Jesus responded, "Elijah does come, and he will restore all things."  Then, he referred back to what He previously stated in Matthew 11:14.

As the Great Tribulation moves toward its climax, in Revelation 11 two powerful witnesses come upon the scene.  They will preach for 1260 days.  When reading their characteristics, it is hard not to see the descriptions of Moses and Elijah.

Jesus said, "I will come again" (John 14:3).  His appearing will be visible, personal, and powerful as He returns to set up His earthly kingdom.  And, we "we reign with him for a thousand years" (Revelation 20:6).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Where is the God of Justice?

Read Malachi 3.

At the end of chapter two, the people expressed confusion that evil doers seem to enjoy the blessings of God while they do not.  However, God had plainly presented their own unfaithfulness and their hypocrisy in even asking the question.  So, they cried out further, "Where is the God of justice?"  Of all things people should not be asking for God's justice for themselves but mercy from the LORD.  However, God has an answer.

He is sending "my messenger and he will prepare the way before me."  Jesus quoted Malachi 3:1 and identified this messenger to be John, the Baptist (Matthew 11:10).  This was during Messiah's first coming.  The scene abruptly changes as the descriptions jump to His second coming.  Then, Jesus will "come to his Temple."  It was not His Temple the first time.  This is another indication that the Temple in Jerusalem must be rebuilt.  Next, we learn that His coming will be as a Judge.

The first  priority of the second coming of Christ to earth will be to establish holiness (Zechariah 14:20-21).  Two analogies of His purification are given.  That day will be like a refining fire is to precious metal and soap that cleanses.  Jesus will not come as a babe in a manager and the suffering Savior.  In that day, He will mete out His earthly justice, "who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?"

Who are these who will deserve God's justice?  (v.5)
-oppressors of workers, widows and the fatherless
-the inhospitable
-those who do not fear the LORD

The purpose is to establish a holy culture in which Jesus will rule and reign over the world for a thousand years.  Note this judgment on earth should not be confused with either the Judgment Seat of Christ, which if for rewarding believers (2 Corinthians 5:10), or with the Great White Throne Judgment that will eternally send unbelievers into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

Another indictment follows as God accuses them of robbing Him.  He is poised to bless them.  But their failure to bring both their tithes and their offerings in support of the work of the ministry at the Temple brought more of God's discipline.

The closing of this chapter reminds us that this God of justice who keeps careful, individual records of all wrong doing also keeps the same records of those who are faithful to Him.  "For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do." (Hebrews 6:10)

Friday, June 19, 2015

How God evaluates Faithfulness

Read Malachi 2.

The Holy Spirit guided the Apostle Paul to write, "Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful."  The immediate context of that statement has to do with the stewardship of the God-given message and ministry.  Indeed, all of life is a stewardship from God.  And, each person will be held accountable for how well they managed all that God gave to them.

Malachi presents a series of indictments directly from God.  Chapter two addresses three areas of failure to be good and faithful stewards.

1. Faithful to God. (vv.1-9)
After revealing the sloppy and sinful manner in which the business of the Temple was being conducted, God next spoke pointedly to the priests.  "This is a command for you."  God's name had been treated with disrespect.  His word was not followed.  These priests had violated their calling and charge.  The LORD established the priesthood with the tribe of Levi.  He made a "covenant of salt" (Numbers 18) with instructions on what they were to do and how it was to be done.  Instead, these men only had a job and went through the motions, disregarding God's word and expectations.  Their service was to flow from a heart that desired to "honor my name" (v.2).

In great contrast, the LORD reviewed the qualities of one who would serve Him faithfully.
-"He stood in awe of my name."  The very mention of God's name should strike a holy respect.
-"True instruction was in his mouth."  They were to teach God's word and not vary from the truth with the changes in culture, personal opinions, or what other thought.  See also verse 9.
-"...walked with me in peace and uprightness."  This refers to how one lives their personal life.  Living for God will be visibly evident to everyone.
-"He turned away from iniquity."  Sin in one's life is not to be rationalized on any level.  It is not to be tolerated.  It is a spiritual cancer to be shunned.

2. Faithful to one another. (vv.10-12)
This nation of Jews shared a physical and spiritual heritage.  By creation, God was their Father and they had a human obligation to each other.  By calling and covenant, they traced their family tree to Abraham.  They obviously were not treating each other as family.  The LORD had provided specific instructions concerning their behaviors toward one another, but they ignored them.

In the New Testament, the family of God is determined by mutual faith in Jesus.  The term "one another" appears repeatedly in the instructions about Christian behavior.  The true Christian life is lived in dependence on and serving each other.

3. Faithful to one's spouse. (vv.13-16)
They questioned God as to why He did not bless them after all they did for Him.  He responded with their lack of faithfulness to their marriage vows.  First and foremost, they had intermarried with those who did not have a mutual commitment to the LORD.  This is forbidden in both the Old and New Testaments and shows a lack of faithfulness to God.  Marriage is a covenant relationship of a man and a woman before God for life.  The NIV translates verse 16 this way: "'I hate divorce,' says the LORD God of Israel."

Each time, the indication is that their worship and offerings were meaningless and rejected due to their lack of obedience in these areas.  May we daily live throughout each day faithful to the assignment and relationships He has given to us.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

2 indictments from God

Read Malachi 1.

The people began to question God's promises and plans.  They wondered if serving God was worth it.  Their practices of worship became cold, routine, mechanical observances while ignoring God's requirements.  So, the LORD employs a series of indictments against them to pierce their hearts of stone.  And, each time the response is, "Who us?  Wherein did we ever do that?"  Forty-seven of the fifty-five verses are spoken by God.

Indictment #1: I have loved you. (vv.2-5)
That does not sound like an accusation until you read the response.  The LORD made the statement because He was not receiving any love return.
Response: How have you loved us?
Answer: I chose you.
It was His own sovereign decision to establish  an everlasting covenant with Abraham and his descendants.  The choice of Isaac was due to being the sole son of Sarah.  Then, He chose Jacob over Esau.  From there the twelve sons of Jacob and their families carry the promise of the covenant.  God presented that selection as exhibit A for proof of His love for them.

Indictment #2: You have despised my name. (vv.6-14)
God compared His name and reputation to that of an earthly father and an authority in their lives.  When their names are mentioned it demands due respect.  A child carries the father's last name for life and has a responsibility to protect the family reputation.  So important is the protection, use and glory of His name that it is mentioned five times in these fourteen verses.
Response: How have we despised your name?
Answer: By offering polluted food upon my altar.
Response: How have we polluted you?
Answer: By saying the LORD's table may be despised.
This exchange is particularly directed at the Temple priests.  They knew the demands of the Law regarding acceptable sacrifices.  Yet, they deliberately sinned against God ("is that not evil?").  The sacrifices brought by the people were to be the best, the finest, without spot or blemish.  These disobedient priests allowed animals to be offered that no one wanted and had little value; the blind, lame, sick, or even taken by force from someone else.  The LORD stated concerning those who try to offer Him less than their best, "Cursed be the cheat."

Shockingly, God said in verse 10, if this type of behavior continued it would be just as well that the doors of the Temple be closed and, therefore, there would be no need to build a fire for the sacrifices.  Just stop all this ritual that disregards God's word!

This should give us all pause to think about how we approach worship today.  Worship is to be a demonstration of one's love for God and an obedient lifestyle.  Otherwise, repentance is required.  Coming before Him unprepared to give one's best is unacceptable.  Worship and giving are inseparable.  So let us be prepared...
1. To give Him glory and praise
2. To give Him ourselves
3. To give Him the first and best of our resources

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

12 characteristics of Jesus' 2nd Coming

Read Zechariah 14.

In the last days, pressure upon Israel will be unprecedented.  It will not be merely one nation that will come against them, it will be a world-wide coalition.  Verse two explains that the LORD "will gather all the nations against Jerusalem."  Things will get a lot worse before they get better.  The armies will converge at Armageddon and the Jews experience up to 50% in losses.

As the prophecy of Zechariah concludes, the Holy Spirit had him write down no less than a dozen items that will characterize "that day."
1. Jesus will appear to fight for Israel. (v.3)
The Apostle John described even more of the prophetic scene.  "Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse!  The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war." (Revelation 19:11).  He will not be alone-"...and all the holy ones with him" (v.5).  The army of heaven will be with Him, along "with all his saints" (1 Thessalonians 3:13).

2. Jesus will stand on the Mount of Olives. (v.4)
This is the very place where He ascended into heaven after the resurrection.  At that time, angels appeared to declare, "This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." (Acts 1:9-12)  His return will be earthly, visible, personal, and powerful!

3. Jesus will split the Mount of Olives. (v.4)
This division will create a new valley and, apparently, be used to aid the Jews in escaping the battle.

4. Jesus will demonstrate His control of the universe. (vv.6-7)
It will be a very strange day as far as the environment is concerned with supernatural wonders.  Jesus, the Creator, in the beginning said, "Let there be light."  Therefore, it is not unusual that all the elements of His creation are at His command. (Colossians 1:16-17)

5. Jesus will provide "living water." (v.8)
Water will flow from Jerusalem in two directions, east and west.  It will provide year around nourishment for agricultural production the world has never seen.  Other prophecies indicate that there may be medicinal properties in the water, as well.

6. Jesus will reign as king over all the earth. (v.9)
On that day, He will be universally recognized and as the Kings of kings and LORD of lords.

7. Jesus will change the topography of the land. (v.10)
Israel's land will be flattened, except for Jerusalem.  The city with the new Temple will be an even more exalted location.  

8. Jesus will end all threats against Jerusalem. (v.11)
After centuries of persecution culminating with Armageddon, the Prince of Peace will rule.  No longer will Israel suffer threats of annihilation.

9. Jesus will destroy all the enemies. (vv.12-15)
Those who have come to do battle against the Jews will find themselves destroyed by panic and by plague.

10. Jesus will give the spoils of the war to Israel. (v.14)
The world's wealth that resourced the war against the Jews will then provide for their abundance.

11. Jesus will be worshiped. (v.16)
Even Gentiles families will come to bow before Christ.

12. Jesus will be treated with honor everywhere. (vv.20-21)
"Holy to the LORD" will not be limited to worship at the Temple.  He will be honored everywhere and in everything.

For us today, the Apostle Peter admonished believers in Jesus to "...honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15)

Friday, June 12, 2015

5 prophetic statements from God, the Father

Read Zechariah 13.

From Zechariah's view, all future events blended into one continuum.  Today, we can see the separation of those prophecies as they have been fulfilled and will unfold.

"On that day" the people of Israel will experience personal cleansing from sin according to verse one.  Then, the LORD will cleanse the land of all false worship.  Radical change is always an indicator of true repentance.  All false prophets and evil will be removed.

The rest of the chapter (vv.7-9) is a poem recapping the first and second advents of Christ.
1. God, the Father, called the Messiah as "my shepherd."
Throughout the Old and New Testaments this analogy is used for God's care, provision, and protection of His people.  Today, church pastors have the human responsibility to watch over the local flock of God.  But the Apostle Peter looked forward to that future day "when the Chief Shepherd appears" (1 Peter 5:4).

2. God, the Father, called the Messiah "the man who stands next to me."
This is a term found elsewhere in the Old Testament and refers to one who is a relative, kinsman, and in unity.  It is a statement of the deity of Christ and His eternal nature.  Of Jesus, the Apostle John wrote, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1)

3. God, the Father called for the Messiah to be killed.
The crucifixion was God's plan all along to pay for sin once and for all.  "...we esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace; and with his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:4b-5)  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced the agony of the cross praying, "Not my will but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)

4. God, the Father, predicted that Messiah's followers would desert Him.
When Jesus prepared the disciples for the sobering events that would shortly take place, He quoted this very verse from Zechariah in Matthew 26:31.  That was when Peter rose up and declared, "Though all fall away because of you, I will never fall away."  But he did, along with the others, just as the prophecy said.

5. God, the Father, predicted a time of future of refinement for the Jews.
The horrendous losses of life that will take place during the Great Tribulation is compared to the purification process of gold.  The remnant will be a godly nation who will enjoy a personal relationship with the LORD.  He will be theirs and they will be His.

For us today, the Apostle John wrote this encouragement to believers in Jesus: "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What will happen on that Day?

Read Zechariah 12.

This chapter may be the most compact prophecy concerning the Jews in all the Bible.  It is "the word of the LORD concerning Israel."  The trigger phrase is "on that day," which is repeated throughout this oracle, and refers to those future events surrounding the second coming of Christ.

Overarching the prophecy is the reminder that God is not only the Creator of all things but He is also the Almighty Controller.  And, it is personal.  He even "formed the spirit of man within him" (v.1).  Therefore, the LORD's ability to raise up and put down entire nations is without question for the Omnipotent God of the Bible.  As He is Omniscient, He can accurately communicate in advance here what will take place.

1. All nations of the earth will gather against Jerusalem. (vv.2-9)
As one example, one can imagine what would happen if suddenly Israel took over the Dome of the Rock, destroyed it, and began building a new Temple.  Or, if Israel began reclaiming all the territory promised to Abraham and his descendants as listed in Genesis.  Whatever the cause, the nations of the world will one day unite in an attempt to fight against Israel and to destroy Jerusalem.  This is the battle of Armageddon.

However, the collective military might of the world will utterly fail.  It will not be because of Israel's military superiority or cunning.  "The LORD will give salvation to the tents of Judah..." (v.7).  The Jews will be supernaturally empowered to fight.  "...the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David" (v.8).  God states, "...I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem" (v.9).  Jesus will appear with His heavenly armies and crush all the enemy forces (Revelation 19:11-16).

2. Israel will experience a period of deep repentance. (vv.10-14)
When Jesus reveals Himself in the heavens, the Jews will "look on me, on him whom they have pierced."  The weeping and mourning will be traumatic for every person as they realized that Jesus really is the Messiah.

3. Israel will be cleansed from all sin. (13:1)
The Jews will welcome the forgiveness, paid for by Christ on the cross.  That fountain of His shed blood alone has the power to "cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

William Cowper penned the old and graphic hymn.
"There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel's veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains."

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A tale of two Shepherds

Read Zechariah 11.

In his most famous song, King David wrote in Psalm 23, "The LORD is my shepherd."  A good shepherd leads and feeds his sheep.  He cares for and defends the flock against any and all who would harm them, even to the point of sacrificing his own life.  It is a common metaphor in the Bible of God's love and faithfulness to His own people.

When Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10) appeared, He was nationally rejected.  Verse 8 tells how deep the rejected would be, "They also detested me."  This echoes what Isaiah wrote of Israel's response to the Messiah in His first coming: "he was despised and we esteemed him not" (Isaiah 53:3b).  The reference to thirty pieces of silver (the price of a slave) would be offensive to a faithful shepherd.  It is an unmistakable prophecy fulfilled by Judas' betrayal in Matthew 26:14-16.  Therefore, the Good Shepherd of the Jews will remove Himself from them as a nation for a time.  He will not provide for them nor protect them.  "I will no longer have pity" (v.6).

To illustrate the message, two named shepherd staffs are used.  Each of them is said to be broken.
1. Favor.
God's favor in verse ten refers to His "covenant" with the Gentile nations that kept them at bay and provided protection of Israel.  If God withdraws that protection, the Jews indeed would be like lambs headed for the slaughter.  The Holy Spirit had the Apostle Paul call this spiritual period as "a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in." (Romans 11:25)

2. Union.
In verse fourteen, the second named staff refers to the oneness of Israel and Judah.  They divided into two kingdoms after the death of Solomon.  Experiencing the scattering of the north and the exile of the south, reuniting the two would have been a desirable goal.  But the Persian Empire controlled them. Then, the Greeks rose to power.  Finally, the Romans moved in to dominate and once again destroy Jerusalem along with the reconstructed Temple in A.D. 70.

The Jews will turn to "a foolish shepherd" (v.15).  He will do nothing but harm them for his own advantage.  Revelation 13 and the following chapters describe how God will fulfill His dealing with this false spiritual leader.  All of these will be preparing the Jews for the second coming of Messiah.

The good news is that individuals have, can and will place their faith in that One Good Shepherd who indeed gave His life for us.  While we await His return, we may cast all our "anxieties on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Words of compassion from the Good Shepherd

Read Zechariah 10.

The prophecy looks forward to a complete and prosperous restoration of Israel.  It will come about after an horrendous fight and the arrival of the Messiah in His second coming.

During those days, people will be looking for help and guidance.  The leaders will be taking the nation away from the LORD with the worship of false gods, lies, false dreams, and "empty consolation" (v.2).  All of those things will prove to be nothing more than "utter nonsense" (v.1).  In response, God will  pour out His anger against those who influenced His people into sin.  Why?  Because these are His chosen people and like a good shepherd He "cares for his flock" (v.3).

Verse four gives a fourfold description of the Messiah.
1. The cornerstone
Jesus is the starting point of building one's faith.
2. The tent peg
Jesus is the anchor that holds secure through every circumstance and change in life.
3. The battle bow
Though Israel will fight the enemies, it is God's power that will bring the victory.  Jesus will appear ready to do battle, unleashing "the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty" (Revelation 19:11-16).
4. The ruler
Jesus, the Prince of Peace will reign from Jerusalem on the throne of David "and the government shall be upon his shoulders" (Isaiah 9:6).
Israel will be victorious coming out of the Great Tribulation "because the LORD is with them" (v.5).

There are four comforting statements here regarding that future restoration of Jews.
1. "I will bring them back." (v.6)
God will do this out of His great compassion for them and will treat the Jews "as though I had not rejected them."
2. "I have redeemed them." (v.8)
The requisite for restoration is redemption.  The nation will repent and be saved by Jesus (Romans 11).
3. "I will bring them home." (v.10)
This is a geographical return for the Jews, not a spiritualized one.  They will enjoy the land God promised to Abraham and his physical descendants "till there is no room for them."
4. "I will make them strong in the LORD." (v.12)
Then, as a godly people, they will walk in obedience to Him.

These last four highlighted statements is God's desire for every person of every nation.  He wants everyone to experience His forgiveness and restoration.  He wants everyone to repent and "come home" to Him.  That is when people find new life and the Holy Spirit's power to live for the LORD.

Friday, June 5, 2015

History in Advance

Read Zechariah 9.

True prophecy is history in advance.  Now, the anticipation builds.

Two prophetic announcements comprise the closing chapters of the book of Zechariah.  The first focuses primarily on the first coming of Messiah (chapters 9-11).  The second presents the Messiah in His second coming (chapters 12-14).

While Zechariah lived and wrote this book during the days of the Medo-Persian Empire, this prophecy foretells of the next empire.  Amazingly, Greece is even named in verse 13.  This corresponds exactly to Daniel's prophetic interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream.  God used Alexander the Great to fulfill the conquering judgments against Syria and Philistia, who cities are mentioned here.  Though Jerusalem could also have been a target of the Grecian invasion, the LORD promised to personally protect the city.  "Then I will encamp at my house as a guard, so that none shall march to and fro..." (v.8a).  For obvious reasons, the second part of verse 8, with its promise that "no oppressor shall again march over them," seems to refer to God's ultimate protection of the Jews during the Millennium.

There will come a time when the LORD will "stir up" the Jews to fight against Greece (v.13).   This is most certainly a reference to the inter-testament revolt by the Maccabees.

Like so many Messianic passages, the two advents of Christ are melded together.
Two powerful prophecies:
1. The first advent of Jesus.  (v.9)
The announcement that the "king is coming to you" depicted Him as riding on a donkey.  Hardly the picture of a royal entrance.  Messiah is described in three ways: righteous, a deliverer ("having salvation"), and humble.  He offered Himself to Israel.  This verse is quoted in Matthew 21:4-5 as Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a fulfilled prophecy in what is commonly called "the triumphal entry."  Though a public celebratory welcome took place at first, the week ended with rejection and crucifixion.  The Jews officially spurned Him as their king.

2. The second advent of Jesus. (v.10)
It is when Jesus comes again that He will rule and reign as the Prince of Peace.  Implements of war will be "cut off."  The land and people of Israel will be abundantly restored ("double").

Knowing these things and more, the Apostle Peter asked believers in Jesus, "..what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming day of God..." (2 Peter 3:11-12)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Imagine a time when...

Read Zechariah 8.

The overarching purpose of Zechariah is for the people to complete the work in rebuilding the Temple.  The motivation is to prepare themselves spiritually and behaviorally for the plans God has for this nation.

Chapter eight contains the conclusion of a series of four messages that came directly from the LORD.  These cast vision of what the future will include for the Jews.  They served to encourage the people during Zechariah's time but looks forward to the coming reign of Messiah.

Message #3: The Restoration of Jerusalem (vv.1-17)
Just as sure as the disaster came, so will God bring "good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah" (v.17).  He paints a beautiful picture where young and old can enjoy safety in the streets (vv.4-5).  The LORD made three promises:
1. His presence will be there. (v.3)
This is not referring to His Omnipresence but the geographical presence of His glory.  God removed Himself from the Holy of Holies in the Temple before it was destroyed.  This reassured the people of the return of His glory.  In the near term, He would again occupy the Holy Place.  In the Millennial Kingdom, Jesus will sit on the throne of David.
2. His peace will be there. (v.12a)
After all the wars, the Jews can finally live in their homeland and be about the business of rebuilding.  However, in context, they are still under Persian control.  In the New Testament, they were under Roman domination.  This promise has an eye toward that future time when the Prince of Peace will be in charge.
3. His prosperity will be there. (v.12b)
When God disciplined His people, He withheld blessings upon the land.  But here is the promise of a time of wonderful production for the people.

Imagine a time in Jerusalem when there is no fear (v.15b).  When the word of God gives specific places and people, there is simply no way to spiritualize these prophecies and maintain Biblical integrity.  All will be fulfilled.

Message #4: The Rejoicing in Jerusalem (vv.18-23)
Verses 18-19 answer the question the delegation asked in 7:3 concerning their self-imposed time of fasting.  In that future day, all fasting and mourning will be turned into feasting and celebration.  The Pharisees asked Jesus about why His disciples did not practice ceremonial fasting.  "And Jesus said to them, 'Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.'" (Matthew 9:14-15)

Imagine a time in Jerusalem when Jesus returns and all Israel worships Him.  There will be no more fasts.  The Gentiles from all the nations of the world will want to come to Jerusalem to seek God's favor.  Instead of being despised by so many, people will be asking Jews, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you" (v.23).

While we wait, imagine that the world would seek out believers in Jesus today because they "heard that God is with you."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why am I doing This?

Read Zechariah 7.

Revisiting our routines can be a healthy exercise for us mentally, emotionally, and, perhaps, spiritually.  Reexamining our motives is a good thing.  Too often people trap themselves into doing the same things the same way and become unable to explain why.  Thinking people eventually will ask themselves, "Why am I doing this?"

Construction of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem was underway.  It would require four years to complete.  About half-way into the project, a question was asked about fasting.  This particular fast was self-imposed and not ordered by God.  It began with the sincere motive of memorializing the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.  But that was over seventy years ago.  Now, they questioned whether or not they should continue the practice.

This chapter begins a series of four messages marked by "the word of the LORD came."  It is interesting to note that God did not provide an answer to their question in this first message.  He addressed it in message #4 (8:18-19).  God had something else He wanted to say to them first.

Message #1: 3 Questions (vv.1-7)
Each of God's questions is meant to drill down to their real motives for fasting or feasting.  The "why" they were doing it was more important to the LORD than the "what."  This is the danger of religious rituals.

Merely showing up and going through the motions and reciting certain words by rote does not mean that anything happened that pleased God.  For instance, most liturgical practices began with the good motives of teaching, training, and remembering specific Biblical truths.  But over time, Bible teaching ceased to be the priority and routine became a substitute for the true worship of God.  The people know the routine without being able to open their own personal Bible and explain why.

Contemporary churches have nearly as many routine practices and requirements as liturgical ones, though most do not realize it.

The purpose of fasting is to humble oneself before God, usually in repentance and/or grief.  One either loses their appetite for food due to an adversity or disciplines themselves to spend that time in prayer instead of eating.  God had ordered certain fasts under the law.  But again, the fast mentioned in this chapter was not one of them.

God's question to them was, "Are you doing this for Me or for yourself?"

Message #2: 3 Reminders (vv.8-14)
While He has their attention, God reviews a bit of history for these questioners.  If they are going through the ritual of fasting for memorial purposes, what do they remember?  Do they remember why Jerusalem was destroyed?  Do they remember how faithful God was to send His messengers, the prophets, to warn the people?  Do they remember His admonishments to them?

Rituals and remembrances may have their places, but what pleases the LORD is when Biblical beliefs are demonstrated in our behaviors.  Verse 9 is reminiscent of Micah 6:8.
1."Render true judgments,
2. show kindness
3. and mercy to one another."

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The coming King

Read Zechariah 6.

The word of the LORD was revealed to Zechariah in a series of eight visions in a single night.  Their purposes served to give encouragement in the near-term and hope for the nation's future.

Vision #8 concerns four horses of different colors.  Their assignment is to "patrol the earth" (v.7).  Except for the mention of the chariots, these appear to fulfill the same role as those mentioned in chapter one (1:8-10).  It underscores the fact that beyond this physical realm, God is at work.  There is a spiritual war that constantly takes place.  "The LORD of all the earth" (v.5) has full knowledge of what is happening everywhere.  His angelic messengers are on patrol to protect, to intervene, and/or mete out God's judgment.

The north and south are the only directions mentioned here.  Presumably, the immediate objects of attention are Babylon in the north and Egypt in the south.

Four horses of the same colors are seen again in Revelation 6.  There, each of them has a rider.  During the Great Tribulation, they will be instrumental in implementing God's judgment upon the earth.  This will be done to deal with the enemies of God, to prepare the Jews to be a holy nation, and to introduce Jesus in His second coming.  Then, He will establish His earthly kingdom, as promised.

In order to give tangible hope for the advent of Messiah's reign, Zechariah was told to make a king's crown of gold and silver.  The precious metals were receive from a delegation of Jews who just arrived from Babylon.  The crown was then placed on the head of the High Priest.  Three items to keep in mind to understand what is happening and what is not happening here.
1. They were not reestablishing the kingdom of Judah.
The "holy land" (2:12) was part of the Persian Empire and fully under that control.  Reestablishing another kingdom would have been viewed as rebellion against the empire and resulted in a swift military reprisal.
2. Joshua was not qualified to be king of Judah.
He was a Levite, a priest, and held the office of High Priest.  One must be of the tribe of Judah in the lineage of David to serve as king.
3. Therefore, this was a ceremonial gesture pointing to the Messiah.
Verses 12-13 are prophetic statements.  The real King is one "whose name is the Branch."  He is a branch of the royal family tree.  Matthew 1:1-"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham."  This is a clear and certain statement that Jesus has a legal right to be King of the Jews.  The crown was placed in the Temple as a reminder of hope.  One day the Messiah will rule and reign from the Temple in Jerusalem.  He will serve as both priest and king, just like the order of Melchizedek.  See Genesis 14 and Hebrews 7.

With all of these encouragements of the blessings God has stored up, the chapter ends with a challenge to "diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God."  What blessings must be waiting for us today?  Let us be diligent in our obedience.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Purity comes before Blessings

Read Zechariah 5.

Throughout the night, the visions kept coming to the prophet concerning God's work in Israel.  The term "day of the LORD" has two aspects: judgment and joy.  The previous three chapters have majored on the good news to come for the nation and two of its leaders.  Chapter 5 focuses on God's dealing with sin in the future.

1. Vision #6: Personal sin shall be judged. (vv.1-4)
There are two particular individual sins named.  We are not told why these are singled out, but they must have been rampant enough among the people to warrant such mention of judgment.
-Stealing.  Not only was this a sin, but it specifically violated the eighth commandment (Exodus 20:15).  Taking what does not rightfully belong to us is a sin against God, against the other person(s), and damages our character.  There is no benefit.  A healthy culture depends upon the respect for the property of others.
-Lying.  This seems to indicate falsely swearing.  Perjury, telling a lie under oath, especially in misusing the LORD's name is condemned in Exodus 20:7.  Mostly this is done for self-protection.  But publicly lying before God and witnesses is nothing but cruel, deliberate harm.  An indicator of a culture's deterioration is the loss of the value of words and their definitions.  "Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." (Ephesians 4:29)

2. Vision #7: National sin shall be removed. (vv.5-11)
Sin is personified as a woman in a basket with a tight lid.  This is a picture of God loading up all the evil the Jews picked up in exile and escorting it right back to Babylon from which it came.

A key purpose of the Great Tribulation will be the cleansing and preparation of Israel for the Millennial Kingdom.  As foretold in Revelation 17-18, a rebuilt Babylon will be the center of the world's evil.  God's judgment in that day will be decisive and severe.  God's purposes always begin with purity first.  This is true personally and nationally.