“For the many not the few”. “Forward together”, and “Change Britain’s Future”. Those are the slogans that have appeared on election manifestos over the past couple of weeks. They contain details of the policies and plans that each of the political parties promise to implement if they get our vote on June 8th. They typically promise grand things, don’t they - a transformed NHS, a thriving economy, world-class schools, and so on.
And of course, political pundits and economic experts debate whether all those promises could possibly be delivered. Are they all achievable and affordable? Do all these promises really stack up? I think its fair to say that most people take all these manifesto promises with a fairly large ‘pinch of salt’.
Our Old Testament reading today was taken from Zechariah. Zechariah was a Jewish prophet who lived around 500BC, speaking and writing down words God gave him to share. Zechariah is not a book many of us know well, and yet it is one of the most frequently quoted Old Testament books in the Gospels. It’s a book that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all seem to have taken very seriously. That’s because Zechariah can be read as God’s manifesto. A manifesto containing remarkable promises for God’s people then and now. Promises that God would keep, promises that God himself would pay for. Promises we can totally trust today.
Let me pray before we look at them: Father as we look at the words of Zechariah this morning - promises that came from you – help us to believe them, trust them, and appreciate the price you paid to make them come true. Amen.
1. God’s promises to his people
When Zechariah first heard from God, the Jewish people were in a fragile state. They had just returned from their exile in Babylon, and begun to rebuild their lives in the Promised Land. Our friend Nehemiah (who we looked at earlier this year) had helped the people rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and a new Temple was under construction in the city. They were also enjoying a time of relative peace and stability. For once, the neighbouring superpowers were leaving them alone, and the Jews could enjoy being physically back at home.
But God’s people lacked spiritual security. After all, they had been sent into exile 80 years earlier because of their sins against God. How could they be confident that God had forgiven them? How could their relationship with God be fully restored? You might say they were suffering from spiritual ‘anxiety’ and a chronic lack of assurance.
We all need similar reassurance ourselves. We may not have literally come back from exile in Babylon, but like them we’ve all sinned and in need of God’s grace. This side of Heaven even the most-committed Christian sometimes needs reassurance that we are right with God.
So listen to the wonderful promises God makes to us in the book of Zechariah. Promises of a future Saviour, a fresh start and a global family.
- A forthcoming saviour
The first manifesto promise God makes to his people is that he will send a Saviour. Someone who would restore their relationship with God and keep them spiritually secure.
The book of Zechariah paints a beautiful portrait of this forthcoming Saviour:
- For example, God says that he will be like a Priest – he will be a mediator between God and man. Someone who offers a perfect sacrifice for sin to keep God and his people on good terms. In Zechariah chapter 3, for example, God speaks to the current High Priest - a man called Joshua - and says to him: “Listen - you and your fellow priests are symbolic of one who is to come - a servant I will send.”
- And in chapter 9, Zechariah famously promises that this future saviour will be a king as well as a priest. “Rejoice greatly, Jerusalem!” he writes “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey”
What is even more enticing is that this coming Saviour will in some sense be God himself. When this humble King comes to Jerusalem it will be God personally coming to lead his people. For example, listen to this promise in Zechariah chapter 2. “Shout and be glad, Jerusalem. For I am coming, and I will live among you,’ declares the Lord.” And in chapter 10 Zechariah promises that God himself will shepherd his people: “the Lord Almighty will care for his flock, his people”.
- A fresh start
As well as a forthcoming saviour, Zechariah also includes wonderful promises of a fresh start for God’s people. Words that Zechariah’s compatriots longed to hear. Words that we long to hear whenever our behaviour has fallen short in some way.
In Zechariah chapter 3, God actually makes the astonishing promise that he “will remove the sin of this land in a single day.” On one day, at a single moment, God says he will do something for his people to wipe away all their guilt and cleanse their conscience. As we heard in our reading from Zechariah this morning: “on that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” On that special day, God promised to pour out his grace at Jerusalem.
- A global family
But its not just God’s people in Jerusalem that will benefit from this great day of grace. Because in chapter 2 of his prophecy Zechariah writes that: ‘Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day”. God’s family will ‘go global’ says Zechariah - people from many nations will be adopted into his family from that day on. God’s grace will spread out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Salvation will begin among the Jews, says Zechariah, but it certainly won’t stop there.
To Zechariah’s first hearers God’s manifesto promises must have sounded quite extraordinary. How on earth could they be fulfilled. Surely God was promising more than he could possibly deliver - like an over-ambitious politician in election season?!
But this side of history, we know God has kept his promises, don’t we? Now that we have the New Testament in our hands we know how God has fulfilled the words he spoke through Zechariah. Now that we have 2,000 years of Church history to look back on, we can see how God’s promises have unfolded.
For example, Zechariah’s promise of a Saviour was wonderfully fulfilled with the birth of Jesus Christ - when God really did became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus was fully God and fully man – the perfect mediator between Heaven and Earth, our great High Priest. Jesus also called himself the Good Shepherd, and invited all to follow him. And of course, Jesus fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy of a humble king when he rode into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday.
But it was the first Good Friday when God’s promise of a fresh start was fulfilled. Because it was on that single day that the floodgates of God’s mercy opened. That was the day in Jerusalem when sin was totally atoned for, when free and full forgiveness became available to anyone who puts their faith in Christ.
And since that day in Jerusalem, we have seen the creation of God’s global family, as people from every nation have looked to Jesus and joined his people. From Jerusalem to Japan, from Israel to India, people all around their world have been joining God’s family through faith in Christ. Its been like a tidal wave through history, which will continue until Jesus returns in glory!
2. God’s promises are paid for by himself
Anyone here who’s a parent of young children will know that we often make promises to our children. So in the summer months we promise that we will give them get them an ice cream, take them on holiday or perhaps visit a theme park. And of course we know full well that we will have to stump up the cash to make those promises a reality. Our children don’t have their own source of income – they are totally dependent on us for the payment of any promises we make.
The same principle applies to us and God. If God is going to give us all that he has promised, its all down to him. We have nothing to offer. We cannot save ourselves. It relies entirely on his efforts, not ours.
And so Zechariah describes the price God would pay to keep his promises. He would be betrayed, struck and pierced. He would personally pay the price for sin, so his people could experience a fresh start:
- So in Zechariah chapter 11 we read that God’s good shepherd would be betrayed for “30 pieces of silver”. Exactly the amount that Judas received for betraying Jesus - 500 years later.
- And in Zechariah 13, the prophet says “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” – a prophecy fulfilled when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane and his disciples fled.
And then, in verse 10 of our passage today, comes the climax. Astonishing words spoken by God himself: “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”
It’s a poignant prophecy, one that appears elsewhere in the Old Testament too. And nowhere is the purpose of this piercing made clearer than in Isaiah chapter 53: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
The four Gospels tell us how and when this poignant prophecy came to pass. It was fulfilled when Jesus was nailed to the Cross at Jerusalem. It was fulfilled when his hands and feet were pierced by nails, and when his side was pierced by a Roman soldier’s spear. God’s promises come at a price – and God paid that price himself in the life and death of Christ. No wonder he said, “I am the Good Shepherd - who lays down his life for his sheep”.
You see, the only reason God can offer anyone a fresh start is because Jesus has already paid the price for our wrongdoing. His death has satisfied the demands of justice, so that we can experience God’s grace.
So as I finish this morning, I hope we’ve seen from Zechariah how God made marvellous promises to his people. Promises that were fulfilled and paid for through the life and death of Christ - 500 years after they were first written, a great reminder the words of the Bible are inspired!
But what do we do now? Well here’s three things:
- Firstly, believe God’s manifesto promises! If you are not yet a Christian, believe them for the first time. Receive the fresh start offered to everyone who turns to Jesus as Saviour. Become part of God’s global family, the church. And if we are already Christians, keep holding onto God’s promises. Whenever guilt or doubt assail you, hold on to the words of assurance that God spoke through Zechariah and fulfilled through Jesus.
- Secondly, share God’s promises! This week is the week of “Thy Kingdom Come” – week when the Archbishop of Canterbury is encouraging us to pray for people to become Christians. Please do pray, but also try to be the answer to your own prayer. Tell people the great promises God makes to every believer in Jesus. Share with them how you personally have found Jesus to be your good shepherd, your great king,. Tell them about the fresh start in life he has given you. And tell them about the privilege of being part of God’s global family - part of a worldwide church that even has an outpost here in Gidea Park!
- Thirdly and finally, remember the price of God’s promises. Remember what Jesus went through to take away our guilt and give us a fresh start. Give constant thanks for his sin-bearing sacrifice. And share in the Lord’s Supper (as we shall do shortly) to remind yourself what Jesus went through for you. He was pierced for our transgression, his punishment has bought us peace.