12 : 1 - 14
We are coming towards the end of our spiritual journey with Zechariah. It has been an interesting and lively experience in which the Old Testament has come alive. However, these last few chapters are a bit frazzled compared with the first three-quarters of the book. This is welcome in a sense because it roots the words of the Bible in real situations with real people involved. And we know that where human beings are involved there is always a fair measure of chaos. Look at how the al-Megrahi affair has unravelled. Look at Scotland’s football team. Read The Courier on a Thursday - all life is there - you see it all. Government seems to be a complicated task in which imperfections and bad judgement determine much. The Church too is often contradictory in its life and message. So - our task is to try to take out of the real social situation in which Zechariah lived and prophesied ie., preached - anything that clarifies how things were and what they may still mean for us today.
Verse 1 begins with the large sweep of statement of faith - that which Judaism gave to the world - the knowledge of the Living God. Where would we be without this knowledge? Try to imagine the world without it. No 10 Commandments, no Psalms, no Jesus, no Sermon on the Mount, no Christianity, no Church. And that is how Richard Dawkins wants it to be - and the National Secular Society which provides celebrants for humanist funeral services without prayers and without any sense of eternal life.
The Lord, says Zechariah, brought the universes into being - big enough to do that - set the earth in the precise position that allows life to form - and gives us human beings an eternal spirit within us allowing us to imagine and apprehend and relate to the Living God. That is the first part of our Christian Faith. That we are not confused or deluded in believing in God along with more than 80% of all humanity. But it is the nature of God that matters - God is good - God is love. That too, is what Judaism gave to the world. You just need to compare this with African ancestor worship and spiritualistic religion, Druidism, Indian religions and assorted paganism to see what Judaism gave to the world or rather - what God gave to the world through Judaism - revealing God to the Chosen People first and through them to everyone else.
Can we prove it? No. And if we could, God would no longer be God but equal to ourselves, measurable and understandable according to what we know at the beginning of the 21st century. God is much bigger than that.
Verses 2 - 5 suggest that Jerusalem will resist its future enemies. It is positive thinking. It is what football managers must do before games - say that they intend to win the game - even if they think they will actually loose. Athletes, golfers and tennis players do this too. They say that you have to compete in a positive frame of mind or you will certainly lose. Zechariah is trying to strengthen the faith of the people. He is also declaring that the people of Jerusalem are strong because the Lord Almighty is their God.
Verses 6 - 9 evoke history, recalling the days of King David’s Middle east Empire which stretched from the Mediterranean to the Arabian desert. Fundamentalist Zionist Jews today want that empire to be restored. We have to say that this has never happened. Jewish history from the 6th to the 1st century BC was not one of impregnable security and political and military success. This was a dream - like Martin Luther’s dream. I could stand here and say that I dream of Scotland being great again with the knowledge of Jesus Christ at the centre of its national and cultural life, informing its schools and being a blessing to family life. Why not? It might happen some day. I think that that is what Zechariah is doing. He is inspiring and uplifting the people. If you don’t think or say that something will happen - it is less likely that it will.
Also - it is important to remember that Zechariah was very brave in his outspoken encouragement of Jewish re-establishment at that time. There were spies from other nations and empires around, listening to everything that was going on. Zechariah was the national prophet and was exposed in a dangerous environment. His main task was to urge the completion of the building of the Temple which did happen in 515 BC. He probably was there to see it officially opened. He probably preached. So - to that extent - his inspirational preaching was effective.
Verse 10 is fascinating because it has the phrase 'They will look on me, the one they have pierced'. This is quoted directly in John’s Gospel 19:36,37 in connection with the crucifixion of Jesus and the spearing of his side by the Roman soldier to make sure he was dead. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled…'They will look on the one they have pierced'. No-one can say that Jesus made this part of scripture come true. It happened. What is even more interesting is that Zechariah suggests that those who look on the body of the pierced person have regrets about it. They mourn their bitter loss as a parent mourns for a departed child - that pain which is probably the greatest in the human condition. Looking against the New Testament we can see evidence that this happened. Firstly a Roman sergeant major said of Jesus just after he died 'Surely this was a righteous man' (Luke 23:47). And in Acts 2:37 we learn that as a result of Peter’s first great sermon 'When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”' Peter replied 'Repent and be baptised, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'.
But is Zechariah talking primarily about himself? Is he actually prophesying his own untimely and violent death? Is he is in effect saying “You’ll miss me when I am gone”. It is possible. No-one knows how Zechariah’s life ended or when. Or is this perhaps indication of national mourning a some future date? It could be. It is mourning on a large scale like that after Princess Diana’s death.
But at the same time there are spiritual blessings of grace and answered prayer. Indeed, repentance is a grace and a spiritual gift in both Old and New Testaments. In the Gospels, there are stories of weeping people. It is said that in the Christian revivals of the Hebrides in the late nineteen forties and fifties people were seen to weep extensively as God’s Holy Spirit touched them. The Psalms are full of tears. Jesus wept. Many great Christian saints have cried before God. I myself have often. Recently. It is a cleansing process which brings peace and strength to continue.
Bereavement tears are not a sign of weakness but of the release of inner emotions perhaps not expressed for some time. At Jerusalem you can visit The Wailing Wall. It is a place of pilgrimage. Of reverence. Of sorrow. Of history. Of repentance. Real Christianity has a place for tears and for weeping. It is authentic. Not to be ashamed of. Indeed, it is a sign of grace and of God’s loving action in our lives.
O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel he promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.
Weeping is for a time, a season. It is temporal. Christian joy is everlasting and eternal.
Jesus said 'I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no-one will take away your joy'. (John 16:22). The writer of Hebrews says 'Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God'. (Hebrews 12:2). Paul said 'Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say again rejoice!'
Christianity is a success story. It is about spiritual victory. Inasmuch as we live within the will of the Living God and serve the Lord Jesus faithfully, we will share in its victory.