I The Eight Symbolic Visions, A The Commencement, 2 Particulars of the Call, Text: 1:2-6, Title: Overtaken

Introduction

It is generally understood that the message of the Old Testament prophets was repent or else. This is also the way the gospel is introduced in the first century at the commencement of Jesus’ ministry. John the Baptist came saying, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” In Matthew 3:7-10 we read his words to the religious leaders of the Jews, But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. In Matthew 4:17 after Jesus’ baptism and temptation we learn that he began to preach the same message, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” The New Testament ends with the book of Revelation in which Jesus addresses the seven churches in Asia Minor with the exact same message of repentance. Repentance tends to be undervalued as a saving grace. it is not a pleasant topic. We are quick to accept the gift of forgiveness and salvation offered through the atoning work of Christ, but do we really have to repent first? Thus begins the message of Zechariah the prophet and the irony of it is that the children of Israel had recently returned from 70 years of captivity in a foreign land because of their refusal to repent, and now here they are again repeating the cycle of doom. Zechariah’s first words are, “The Lord was very angry with your forefathers.” Donald Grey Barnhouse once mentioned that a Sunday School teacher asked a class what was meant by the word "repentance."  A little boy put up his hand and said, "It is being sorry for your sins."  A little girl also raised her hand and said, "It is being sorry enough to quit." The people of God had not quit and were still stubbornly ignoring the warnings. God is going to give them encouragement and hope through Zechariah, but first he must plow the soil of hard unbroken hearts in order to plant the seed of life. When the soil has been watered with the tears of repentance then He plants the seeds of life. What can we say about such people? They were displeasing, deaf and defenseless.

I Displeasing People

Zechariah makes clear in verses 2 and 3 that as long as these people refused to repent and change they would be far from the Lord though they were in the land and building His temple. The Lord was very angry with your forefathers. Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. A visitor at a fishing dock asked an old fisherman who was sitting there, "If I were to fall into this water, would I drown?" It was a queer way of asking how deep the water was, but the fisherman had a good answer.  "Naw," he said.  "Fallin' into the water doesn't drown anybody.  It's staying under it that does." God was angry not because they fell into sin but because they stayed in it. In the sight of God, falling into sin doesn't condemn anybody, but staying in it does. Think of the story of the prodigal son who wasted his inheritance in riotous living and ended up feeding with the pigs. Yet when he returned his Father saw him afar off and rushed to receive him home and celebrated his repentance. Jesus said there was rejoicing in heaven over sinners who repent. In Isaiah 1:4 God says to his people, Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord;  they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. God compares them to a dumb ox who does not know who feeds and cares for him. Yet God says to them in 1:18, “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” In 57:15 God adds, I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. In spite of these warnings and assurances spoken long before, they persisted in their stubbornness. God says that if they return to Him He will return to them. Their sins have separated them from God, as we read in Isaiah 59:1 and 2, Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated  you from your God. If they repent, as Isaiah declared, they will find that their holy God is delighted to dwell with them.

II Deaf People

Verse 4 reminds us that the people were willingly deaf, Do not be like your forefathers, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. Has it occurred to you why the prophets and preachers in the Bible are always saying “hear” the Word of the Lord. Could it be that people do not listen.The great commandment to love the Lord with all of our heart soul and strength also reiterated in the New Testament actually begins with the word “hear.” It is called the “shema” which is Hebrew for hear, and we read in Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. When Jesus tells the parables of the kingdom of God in Matthew 13, His disciples ask why he teaches in parables and he replies that the truths are only for those who have been enabled to see and hear the mysteries of the kingdom     and he quotes Isaiah the prophet in verses 13 and 14, This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears.” Lost sinners are dead. Lost sinners are blind. Lost sinners are deaf. Sin makes them hold down or suppress their innate knowledge that they are created by God. This Paul tells us in Romans 1:20 and 21, For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. No wonder they were deaf to the words of the prophets. They could not hear because they would not hear. My dear wife is partially deaf. She wears two hearing aids. It is a real handicap which I never thought much about until it was in my family. I have no desire to be deaf, but I have discovered that there is one small advantage. When you don’t want to hear loud and unpleasant noises you can turn off the hearing aids. Unrepentant sinners have turned off the hearing aids, and only the Holy Spirit can fix them by bringing new life.

III Defenseless People

Finally in verses 5 and 6 the God shows His people how defenseless they are in repeating the sins of their fathers, Where are your forefathers now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your forefathers? Then they repented and said, “The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.” The prophets had predicted the judgments that would fall from foreign nations such as Assyria and Babylon. Assyria was in the ascendency in the ninth century BC and in the seventh Babylon replaced them. Both nations subjugated and displaced the Israelites. Zechariah’s first point is that what the prophets predicted actually took place. His second point is that the people realized that this was a judgment from God, “The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.” The third point of the prophet is that the people finally repented. From the worldly viewpoint it was too late. The world hates grace and therefore despises death-bed repentance. Dwight Moody used to tell a story he heard from Andrew Bonar, a minister in the Free Church of Scotland in the nineteenth century. Bonar related that in the Highlands of Scotland, sheep would often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they couldn't get out of.  The grass on these mountains is very sweet and the sheep like it, and they will jump down ten or twelve feet, and then they can't jump back again and the shepherd hears them bleating in distress.  They may be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass.  The shepherd will wait until they are so faint that they cannot stand, and then they will put a rope around him, and he will go over and pull that sheep up out of the jaws of death. Moody asked why the shepherd waited so long. Bonar replied that going sooner would cause the foolish sheep to dash right over the precipice and be killed. Moody’s conclusion was that this is the way with men; they won't go back to God till they have no friends and have lost everything. So it was with Israel. They had to lose everything before they would turn back to the Lord. When a famous evangelist was caught in sleazy sensual sins the worldly cynical press had a field day. He repented but they wrote that they could not buy all of the sadness and tears and recriminations because he did not come forward with his problem before somebody had pictures proving it. Anybody can be repentant when caught, they said. God is not cynical. The Psalmist declares in 86:5, For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee. This Jesus proved in the hour of His greatest suffering and agony when he heard the plea of the condemned thief on the cross next to His. We read in Luke 23:39-45 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. Curious and prophetic that Luke should immediately record the rending of the veil in the temple. The way into the holiest and into fellowship with God and into Paradise was opened and guess who went through first? A triumph of grace and evidence that it is never too late to repent, but often we need to be made defenseless before we will act.