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A Verse for the Year (1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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January 1, 2024 3:00 am

A Verse for the Year (1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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January 1, 2024 3:00 am

The new year provides a unique opportunity for new beginnings. Whether you make resolutions or not, join Alistair Begg on Truth For Life to explore a verse that’s sure to encourage and empower everyone who seeks to do God’s will in the coming months.


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Happy New Year and welcome to another year of Bible study along with Alistair Begg on Truth for Life.

Whether you make New Year's resolutions or not, today we're going to explore a verse that will encourage every believer who is seeking to do God's will in 2024. I said to the angel who talked with me, what are these my Lord? Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, do you not know what these are? I said, no, my Lord. Then he said to me, this is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, not by might nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts.

Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel, you shall become a plain, and he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of grace, grace to it. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, the hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundations of this house.

His hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you, for whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth. Then I said to him, what are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand? And a second time I answered and said to him, what are these two branches of the olive trees which are beside the two golden pipes from which the golden oil is poured out?

He said to me, do you not know what these are? I said, no, my Lord. Then he said, these are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth. This is the word of the Lord. OK, and we'll pray before we look at the Bible. Father, we do thank you this morning for those who gave their lives proclaiming that Jesus died and rose. We stand on the shoulders of those who looked away from themselves to you, the living God. And we pray that you will help us now as we turn to this part of the Bible that we might have clarity in our thinking and in our understanding that we may have humility of heart, which welcomes its truth, however painful it may be, and that we might learn to live in the light of it. And indeed, that our individual lives and the life of our congregation will be marked by all that we turn to now, for we pray in Christ's name.

Amen. Well, the starting point, the verse to which I shall draw your attention initially, is the sixth verse of Zechariah chapter four. This verse has been on my mind for a couple of weeks now. This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, not by might nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. I actually went back in my records to see whether I had ever addressed this verse in this forum and discovered that I had, as I'm sure none of you will recall, in the first couple of Sundays of 1989.

And then we would have been back in the high school. And so obviously, all that time ago, my mind at the tail end of the year and looking into the new year was clearly running along similar lines. I looked at the material that I preached on that occasion to realize again why it was that Spurgeon said to his students, keep your old sermons to weep over them.

And that I was able to do and able to draw very little help from it at all. But anyway, this is not going to be an exposition of this chapter, nor even of this verse. I want to make three observations this morning, and I hope there will be clarity to the development of my thought. Zerubbabel, to whom the word of the Lord comes, was the governor of Judah.

He, along with Joshua, had been entrusted with the responsibility of completing the work of restoring the temple after the exile. And when I tell you that, your immediate reaction may be to say something along the lines of, well, that's all very, very well. But aren't we supposed to have something this morning along the lines of 10 resolutions for a new year? Do we really have to go back into these symbolic visions and so on? I thought we had bade them farewell in the Book of Daniel. Well, we're not going to bury ourselves here, nor are we going to study Zachariah in the coming weeks. But I do want you to know that my task, our task as Bible teachers, is not somehow or another to make the Bible relevant. Some of you under your breath may have listened as I read chapter four and said, I can't wait to see how he makes this relevant. There is no possibility of the Bible teacher making the Bible relevant because the Bible does not have to be made relevant because the Bible is relevant. And the task of the Bible teacher by unfolding the text of Scripture is to show how relevant the Bible is, which is a very different task and an immense privilege. Now, the symbols that are here, we're now going to delve into, make a comment or two in prospect of it enough to get you started.

You can continue on your own. Obviously, this golden lampstand, which is of significant proportions, is very familiar in the mind of the Jewish person, both in Zachariah's day and to today. Menorah stood outside the Holy of Holies for the people of God as a perpetual symbol of the function of God's people to be a light to the nations. And so this emblem here at the very heart of what is the, I think, the fifth of nine visions, which are making up the early chapters of Zachariah, is an understandable symbol. The notion of this mountain becoming a plane in verse seven may well be representative of the physicality of what they encountered in going back to the rubble in Jerusalem, but probably symbolic of the challenges and difficulties that were being faced by them.

And under the leadership of Zerubbabel, this mountain would become a plane. And then, of course, these olive trees, which provide for the lamp the constant necessary supply of fuel so that the light may shine. That the trees themselves are symbols comes to us clearly at the end of the chapter, where the question is asked concerning who these olive trees are. And the answer is given, these are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth. In the context of Zachariah, I imagine that it is both Joshua and Zerubbabel themselves who are the conduits, if you like, of the blessing that comes to the people.

Conduits they may be, but the source is from God himself. With that said, let me also remind you that the historical context here may be understood by a little homework, by reading not only Zachariah, but also the previous prophecy of Haggai, which is much shorter, and also refreshing your memory in turning to both Ezra and to Nehemiah. And all of that confirms the fact that here we have the people of God having now returned to Jerusalem after the exile, and finding that what they have come back to bears very little resemblance to what some of them had left, and very little resemblance to what they had been told about by their forefathers who had died in Babylon. Judah was sparsely populated, maybe 50,000 people at this time, a much smaller company, and a much smaller geographical space, about 34 miles from north to the south and 40 miles from the east to the west.

In other words, not much bigger than the greater Cleveland area, depending on how you want to calculate it. And as a result of that, the context to which they return is not a shadow of what it once was. And Haggai actually asked the question of the people to whom he writes, Now who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now?

Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now, he says, I want you to be strong, turning again to the word of the Lord, to Zerubbabel. You have the same thing when you read in Nehemiah. If you remember many years ago when we studied Nehemiah, Nehemiah takes on the charge of the rebuilding project, its leadership there, and one of the first things he has to say to the people is, take a look at this and realize the trouble we are in. Do you see the trouble we are in? Or you can see the trouble we are in. The problem was, of course, that they did not really see the trouble they were in. They thought the trouble just had to do with the buildings, with the geography of it all, but the real trouble was a profound trouble of heart.

And the issue had to do with where they were in their relationship with God. And that actually is what we see here this morning. I have three words for this Sunday, even as I had three words for last Sunday. This morning, we have return, resource, and reign. Okay?

Three Rs. Return, resource, and reign. And hopefully it will become apparent as to why those are good enough headings. First of all, under this notion of return, we need to go to the first chapter of the book. I'm going to deal with one phrase in chapter 1, one also in chapter 14, and one or two here in chapter 4, thus creating the impression that we really know what we need to know about Zechariah.

In actual fact, we're just getting started. In chapter 1, the Lord is speaking again through the prophet Zechariah and reminding the readers that he had been very angry with their fathers. And therefore, Zechariah is told to say to the readers, "'This is what the Lord of hosts declares. Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.'"

Now, this is quite interesting, isn't it? Because the historical context is that these people have now been repatriated. Cyrus has made it possible for them to go back to the land, to go back to Jerusalem, and yet having returned, the word of the Lord to them is to return. They had returned, and now God's word is return. But of course, you understand the distinction.

You can see it. They had returned to the place where they wanted to be, but they were not what they needed to be. They were where they wanted to be, but they were not what they needed to be. The real issue is not that we go back where we want to be, but that we are under God the people we need to be. And the return is a return to him before it is a return to anything else. And the only reason for an exhortation to return is on account of the fact that there is a separation which has taken place. The people of God would have thought it is because we are no longer where we want to be, that we are as we are.

But in actual fact, they could be as close to the proximity of that which represented security to them, and yet be separated from God. And so he says, I want you to return to me, and I want you to understand that this is of vital importance. Essentially, it is a call to repentance, to repentance, to not do what others had been doing, to forsake what they had been tempted to engage in, and to bow down before both the exhortation of God and then to enjoy the promise of God.

You must return to me, and you will discover that I return to you. Now, the word of the prophet, of course, is a hard word. I mean, straight out of the gate, he is issuing a call to repentance. Why? Because it is necessary.

It is necessary. The false prophets did not issue calls to repentance. The false prophets made their money, if you like, by telling the people what they wanted to hear. God says through Jeremiah, you shouldn't have anything to do with these false fellows, because what they do is they heal the wounds of my people lightly, saying, peace, peace, when there is no peace. It is absolutely no help to be told that all is well with you if all is not well with you. And clearly, all is not well, so the word of the messenger prophet to the people of God is to return to him.

James actually says the same thing. God says, you draw near to God, and God will draw near to you, but draw away from God, and he will be as far away from you as you can imagine. Turn from him in rebellion, disobey his word, go your own way, plan your own course, chart your own destiny, and don't be surprised that it seems as if God is as far removed from you as possibly could be, and there is no engagement with any building or any company that will be able to close that gap. That's why the development of the kingdom of God and repentance are always held together. Remember, Jesus begins his ministry with the statement, the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand or is near, repent and believe the good news.

The first word of the Lord Jesus Christ to the people who gather to listen to him was a word to repent. Well, what had been going on with these people? Why did they have to return to him? Well, because they were separated from him. In what way? Well, they had gone back, and they had seen the circumstances, and they had seen the challenge that they faced, and they were tempted to down tools almost immediately because of the pressure that was on them. You can read of this in Ezra.

You can read of it in Nehemiah, Sanballat, and Tobiah, the Ammonite, the unholy trinity, came at them again and again and again, and so they were tempted to say, you know what? I think we'll just give up on this. I don't see that it's making much progress at all.

I think we'll just try and make the best of a bad job, and we're back here. It's not what we thought it was going to be. It's nothing like what we hoped it would be, and so why don't we just do something like everybody else? Why don't we remodel our kitchen? Why don't we panel the family room?

Why don't we just build a nice guest apartment above the garage? Let's just do something like that. This is far too hard a battle. We're building this wall. If I'd known it was like this, I think I would have stayed in Babylon, just like the people remember coming out of Egypt. Oh, we had great food back in Egypt, and we'd come out here. It's a dreadful place.

Now we've come back to Jerusalem. Look at it. It's so small. Look at the place.

It's all broken down. Let's just do something else. Well, you say, where are you making this up from?

You've got a fertile imagination? No, I said to you, I have to read Haggai, and at Haggai, that's exactly what Haggai says to the people. He says, are you going to panel your family room and neglect the house of God? Is that how you want to deal with this situation? You better return to God. Well, is this a problem about paneling family rooms?

No. It is about laying down the kingdom business and taking up our own personal business. In other words, they've decided that in point of fact, it really is too much. And their problem lies in their desire to become normal. Normal. To be like everybody else. Let's just be like everybody else.

Now, if you're not careful, you'll miss this. When people say to me, I love it that you're so normal, that's not usually an encouragement to me. It's not usually.

It may be in certain contexts, but it often isn't. Because what they're saying is, there's nothing distinguishable about you, Beck. You just sound the same as everybody else.

You look sound the same, and in every other way. You see, the people of God are not normal. The people of God are peculiar. The people of God were peculiar in all of their dimensions. God made them and gave them signs of peculiarity to show in the fabric of their life the distinction that existed in the core of their life. But when the distinction in the core of their life was no longer there, all they had left were the externals.

And when they then tired of the externals, then they said, why don't we just do it the same way everybody else does it? That's why when the word of the Lord comes to them, when the book of the law is opened up, when Ezra reads from the book of the law, and they realize that all the things that they have been neglecting, they're brokenhearted. And now my house has to say to them, don't weep.

You shouldn't weep. The joy of the Lord will be your strength. And God has not brought you to sadness here in order to leave you there, but in order so that you might get up and get on and do what you're doing, that you might return to the Lord. Now, it's kind of an old word, but it is a real word, the word backslidden, sliden back from where we were. The call to return to the people of God is a necessary, realistic call. We must put the hat on as it fits, individually and as a church.

Loved ones, all that has gone on in the last thirty-five or forty years is as nothing unless we respond to the word of the Lord through Zerubbabel to his people to make sure that we are engaged with, that we are repenting of our sin, that we are returning to the Lord, that we are constantly going back in the same way that you sustain a marriage by saying, I'm sorry, I was an idiot. Please forgive me. Let's try this again. I love you.

Do you love me? Let's go. It's a constant series of new beginnings, of reparations, of restorations, of returns, and a marriage that goes down is a marriage where the people have refused to return, when they needed to return. And that's what had happened to the people. And the word of the Lord from Zerubbabel to the people was, you tell them, don't mess this up like their forefathers did, that's why they were in Babylon, but instead have them come back to me, return to me, and I will return to them.

You see, they were where they wanted to be, but they were not what they needed to be. God is concerned that we become what he desires for us to be, far more than about the geography of things. You're listening to Truth for Life, and that is Alistair Begg with the message he's titled A Verse For The Year.

We'll hear more from Alistair tomorrow. Well, we learned today how in Zechariah's day, God's people became overwhelmed and were tempted to just be like everyone else. That's a temptation that is prevalent in our day as well. And that's why at Truth for Life, our mission is to open the scriptures each day to help you come to a better understanding of God's word and apply it in your own life. Our prayer is that God's spirit will work through his word so that unbelievers who listen will come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, believers will grow in their faith, and those who need to turn around will repent and return to God. As the new year begins, we want to recommend a devotional to you that we think will provide spiritual encouragement for you every day throughout all of 2024.

It's titled Refreshment for the Soul. This is a daily devotional that is taken from the works of Puritan pastor Richard Sibbes. He was known in his day as the Heavenly Doctor. His works have had lasting impact on the lives of Christians all over the world for centuries. For example, Charles Spurgeon said Sibbes never wastes the students time.

He scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands. You'll find your spirit is refreshed and revived as you begin or end each day reading from this classic book. For example, the reading today explains, we must have the whole bent and sway of our souls focused on God.

He will have no wavering. The devil is content with half because if we give in to sin, then he is sure that he has enough. But God will have the whole heart.

There's a whole lot more, but that thought alone is worth pondering as you go about your day or as you end your day and lay your head on your pillow. You can ask for your copy of the devotional book Refreshment for the Soul when you visit our website at slash donate. Now our offices are closed today, but Alistair wanted to offer a few words. As we conclude another year of teaching the Bible here at Truth for Life, we're grateful to God for his provision and faithfulness, and we hope that you've benefited from the program throughout 2023. We hope that listening has helped you grow in your relationship with the Lord Jesus. And on behalf of all of us, we wish you and your family a blessed and a healthy new year. Indeed, thank you Alistair. I'm Bob Lapine. What's the one essential requirement for doing God's work? You'll want to listen tomorrow to find out. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-01 09:56:33 / 2024-01-01 10:05:25 / 9

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