Online Text Sermon - The Past and Future of the Jews, Zechariah ch.11 v.1-ch.12 v.14
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Past and Future of the Jews|
|Text||Zechariah ch.11 v.1-ch.12 v.14|
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I should explain that over a period now we have been making a broad survey of each of these prophets. We have come through the Major Prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Daniel. We then began on the Minor Prophets. They are called Minor Prophets because of the smallness of their length: not because they are less inspired but because they are short books. This evening I want to look at a point of Christian doctrine.
The great issue which faces us when we read and hear of these tremendous calamities and wars, such as has just happened in the United States (known as 9/11), is whether these things are from God, or are they simply the work of evil men? I don't suppose you spend much time listening to BBC preachers, any more than I do, but it would be altogether typical of the average modern BBC preacher that his line would be that this event in America has nothing whatever to do with God. He would say that God doesn't approve of it, God had no part in it, it was entirely and completely the work of wicked men. Is that right? The answer is that it is certainly not right. Nothing happens without God. Not a sparrow falls on the ground without God. The way to look at it is exactly as explained by Joseph in the Book of Genesis. I won't turn to it but the words are roughly these. His brothers, you remember, had sold him into slavery when he was a young man. God overruled it and made him Prime Minister of Egypt. Many years later when the brothers came for food and did not recognise him at first, he had the power to avenge himself, but he did not. When they were finally reconciled one to another, after a course of time, he said these very important words: "What you did you meant for evil, but God meant it for good." That is the way we must look at all evil events. The same is true of the cross, death, bloodshed and murder of Jesus Christ: men meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.
Let me explain just one theological word which we perhaps are not all familiar with. It is the word 'concurrence'. There is concurrence, always, between the actions of men and the action of God. What do we mean by concurrence? Concurrence means that God works and men work in the very selfsame actions. I hope you'll forgive the rather uncouth illustration, but - so that you see the point clearly - if I were to lift my hand with an instrument in order to strike somebody with malice and with wicked and criminal intent, the power with which I can lift my hand or my instrument is altogether from God. We can't move a muscle or blink an eyelash but the power is given by God. Concurrence means two powers acting together in tandem, in co-operation. The murderer who lifts up his hand to commit his wicked crimes is being, in a sense, given power from God to do it. Don't misunderstand me; God doesn't give him that power because He approves of the action. God gives him that power because God has a secret intention to do good through the evil actions of men. The difference is this - the motive. God's motives are always good, and the motives of wicked men of course are evil. That is the way we are to explain such events as took place this week in America. Men meant it for evil, but God has meant it for good. We know the familiar text, "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8, 28). You see, there's a purpose behind all events, great and small. As I quoted a moment ago, all the hairs of our head are numbered, not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father knowing about it. To suggest therefore that what happened in America was the work of wicked men, and God had nothing to do with it, is a form of atheism. We must have no part in that. God's providence is perfect. He works all things, in all things, and gives power to men to do these things, not of course approving of their motive or their evil intention, but overruling it because of a secret plan which these evil men have never dreamed of.
What concerns me this evening is, is there anything in the Word of God which may give us even a clue to what the secret intention of God is and His secret purpose in all these events such as happened a few days ago, and particularly in those events? I must confess here that I must speak with modesty and with certain reserve. When I'm preaching the gospel to you I can preach it with all authority and all boldness and all certainty, but when we're talking about matters of prophecy we are on different ground. I am going to present you with a case and an argument tonight - I hope from the Word of God honestly opened up and explained - but you yourself must make a judgment as to whether it is, in your view, biblical or not.
Let me take then chapters 11 and 12 as a whole. Both of these chapters were prophecies of things in the future when Zechariah lived. I won't weary you with dates just now; however they talk about widely different things. Zechariah 11, as I hope to show you in a moment, talks about events immediately prior to, and at, the ministry of Jesus Christ our Lord when He came into the world for the first time. Let me make it clear. Zechariah 11 - I believe I can show you without any doubt or hesitation whatsoever - deals with the coming of Christ into the world, the state of the world when He came, and the consequences of His ministry, up to and just after the Day of Pentecost. I think I can show you very clearly that that's what is being talked about in Zechariah 11.
Well now, Zechariah 12, taking it as a whole for the moment, deals with something entirely different. And there's no way you can make sense of chapter 12 unless I say to you that, in my most considered opinion, after years of considering these chapters and trying to study the Word of God, I say most respectfully that I believe that Zechariah 12 speaks about an event still future to us but drawing near. And that is the bringing in of the Jewish people, as a people, back again to faith in Christ. So between Zechariah 11 and Zechariah 12 I, with all my heart, am trying to do my best to understand these chapters. I believe that between chapters 11 and 12 is a period of some 2,000 years. Chapter 11 deals, as I say, with what happened when Christ first came. Chapter 12 is what will happen when the Jews, as a nation, are brought in again to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Of that I think there can be no reasonable doubt because we have a whole chapter of the Book of Romans devoted to this very theme. And the Apostle Paul in Romans 11, I think you will agree, makes it abundantly clear that God's purpose for the salvation of the world, in His wonderful wisdom, has taken the form of three distinct periods, or epochs if you wish.
The first of these periods of history was from Abraham to Christ. During that period virtually no one belonged to the true Church apart from only the Jews. There was just a trickle of Gentiles, like Ruth, and Rahab the harlot who was a Canaanite, and some others - the woman of Zarephath, and Naaman the Syrian, and a few others who came in. But they were just exceptions to the rule. In that period from Abraham to Christ it was Jews and only Jews who were in the true Church. Now I'm not saying that all the Jews of that period were converted. Some of them were nominal, just as church people today are often merely nominal, but it was in that nation that the Church was, they were God's people. I don't think anybody here would dispute that.
The second period of history in which God makes it clear He is going to save the world, is the very reverse of what I've just said. From the Day of Pentecost - right on and on and on, till some period future to us whose date we do not know: the second period - God has largely cast off the Jews, and it is to the non-Jewish world that the Gospel has come. Therefore we are living in a period of the Gentiles, the times of the Gentiles. The second period is the time of the Gentiles. The Jews are mainly shut off in unbelief. That doesn't deny that there is a trickle of Jews being saved. In all generations a tiny number of Jews have been saved. Rabbi Duncan, the great professor, went to Hungary in Budapest, as you may know, in the nineteenth century, and he preached in Latin to many learned Jews, and a number of them were wonderfully saved. The same is true of course today. Many have been saved in Russia. But now the bulk of the converts who make up the Church in the second period of God's dealings with the world are Gentiles. Here is the mystery referred to at the end of Romans 11. Paul says, "Brethren, I would not have you ignorant of this mystery... that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." Jesus Christ our Lord says almost the same words. He says, "Jerusalem", pointing to the city, "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21, 24), indicating that there is going to be a time somewhere in the future, which the great God has purposed in Himself, in which the Jews will come back into the Church. That period will represent the third and final period of history and of God's dealing with mankind. During that third period, as we will clearly see, not only Gentiles but also Jews, together, both, together, will be brought in, and that will be the high watermark of all God's dealings with mankind. Nobody knows how long that third period will last - perhaps for some hundreds of years, we don't know - speculation is worthless and harmful to us, but God has told us that there is this good day coming, there is this bright day coming of the ingrafting again of the Jews into the Christian church.
There are many references to it in Scripture - Romans 11 is certainly the clearest but not by any means the only one. That means that today and in this second period of history which I referred to a little moment ago, the Jews are in an ambiguous position. They are still looked upon by God as chosen for blessing; but in the meantime they are largely excluded from the blessing which is going to come upon them one day. Paul puts it in a perfect phrase in Romans 11. He says, "They are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes" (Romans 11, 28). You see the ambiguity of that present position? The Jews are enemies to the gospel so that we Gentiles can come in. But they are still beloved for their fathers' sakes. "The gifts and calling of God", he says, "are without repentance" (Romans 11, 29). God who chose their forefathers - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David - will bring them in again. "There shall come out of Sion [heaven] the Deliverer [meaning the Holy Spirit] and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins" (Romans 11, 26-27). Well now, that is a theme which brings us immediately into these two chapters. I want to take you, obviously very briefly and quickly, through the meaning of these chapters.
I am looking now at Zechariah 11. What is referred to in this chapter is the period before the first coming of Christ, and verses 1 and 2 refer here to a storm - Zechariah 11, 1- 2. This storm is the symbol of all the political agitation which would shake the Jewish state immediately prior to the coming of Christ. In verses 4 to 14 we have Christ actually coming. I will spend a bit more time on these. Take verse 4. God the Father is speaking to his Son: "Thus saith the Lord my God; Feed the flock of the slaughter" (Zechariah 11, 4). The flock of slaughter means the Jews at the time when Christ first came. They are called the flock of slaughter because they were ready for judgment at that time. Christ is being invited and commanded by His Father to feed them just a little bit longer. "Whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, Blessed be the Lord; for I am rich: and their own shepherds pity them not" (Zechariah 11, 5). Their ministers, their shepherds, their preachers, their religious leaders, had no pity on them - the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes, these people whom Christ continually castigated for being hypocrites - they had no pity on them. They could not feed their souls because they themselves were graceless men. They could not lead them in the paths of truth because they themselves had no spiritual understanding; we see that in verse 5. "For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the Lord: but, lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour's hand, and into the hand of his king: and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them. And I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, O poor of the flock. And I took unto me two staves; the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bands" (Zechariah 11, 6-7). I cannot obviously deal with every word in every verse, profitable as that would be on this occasion, but the summary of that is this. The Lord Jesus Christ having come into this world accepts the responsibility of feeding the Jewish people. Putting it in another way and using an expression in one of the parables of Christ's day, we could say this: this was the Jewish last chance. God had sent all these prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and all these others - Christ was the last prophet! "They will reverence my Son" (Mark 12, 6). That was the hope that heaven had when Christ came. They had killed all the others but surely they will reverence my Son. Jesus Christ therefore refers to the fact: "I will take on the responsibility of feeding this flock and feeding their souls." You notice in verse 7 the reference to the staves or sticks - one is called Beauty and the other is called Bands.
"Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my soul lothed them, and their soul also abhorred me" (Zechariah 11, 8): "Then said I, I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another" (Zechariah 11, 9). We see here that the Lord Jesus Christ is rejecting the Jewish people - you'll see why in a moment. He is saying, "I shall no more look after this people; I've looked after them for hundreds of years. Now I'm turning away from this people and I'm turning to another people." However, He says, there is still the poor of the flock (Zechariah 11, 7), but the rest of the flock he regards as doomed for the slaughter because of their reprobate unbelief.
In verse 10 we see the Lord Jesus Christ taking these two sticks or staffs; one was called Beauty, and He says: I "cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. And it was broken in that day" (Zechariah 11, 10-11). The covenant was represented by the stick and the breaking of the stick symbolised God as breaking off His special relationship with Israel. All through these centuries of the Old Testament history, Israel was special because of the covenant. But now, says Christ, I will smash the covenant; I will no more treat them as being my special chosen people. I will turn to others."
Verse 11: "and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the word of the Lord" (Zechariah 11, 11). These poor of the flock were the elect Jews; these were the people who did hear our Lord's voice and did acknowledge He was the chosen Messiah. There were some of them - a small number, the apostles, for instance: Peter, James, John and the others - but the great bulk of the nation rejected our Lord.
Now we come to verse 12, which is very moving indeed: "And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver" (Zechariah 11, 12). That of course was an exact fulfilled prophecy because that was the price that Judas Iscariot sold our Lord for. The Lord speaks about casting "it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord" Zechariah (11, 13). Now you don't need me to remind you that that is exactly what happened. Judas Iscariot, representing all the leaders of the Jewish nation whom he agreed and covenanted with to betray our Lord, received that as his reward - 30 pieces of silver, the price of a slave who was gored by an ox "as a goodly price", says Christ, "that you sold me for." It was an insult of the highest possible degree.
So what happens then at verse 14? "Then I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel" (Zechariah 11, 14). What's that? Well the second stick which he breaks is the unity amongst the people. The Jewish people were very united for so much of their history. They fought together, they supported one another and they protected one another. They were a very well integrated people. But at the time of Christ that unity broke down, and it was the work of God. He broke the bond of fellowship and unity and love between the nation. This is an application for our own country; this is what's happened to Britain today: they are all pulling in different directions. It's an ominous thought. Society is just destroying itself and nobody seems to do anything about it or care about it. It's a sign that God is breaking something. He did it to these Jewish people as a consequence of the fact that they had rejected Christ.
About verses 15 to 17 I must hurry enough to say that the Jewish people had rejected the Lord Jesus Christ as being their Messiah and sold Him for 30 pieces of silver. Their judgement was that God would send to them a shepherd in the land who would be a foolish shepherd: "I will raise up a shepherd in the land, which shall not visit those that be cut off ..." (Zechariah 11, 16), but leave them to themselves. "Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock!" (Zechariah 11, 17). Who is this foolish shepherd? It is ministers of the gospel, so called, or religious leaders, who are blind leaders of the blind. You see now how it all fits together. At the end of this first period of Jewish history when the Jews rejected Christ, Christ broke these sticks symbolising the unity of the nation and the divine blessing, and He said, "I will not feed you any more. You have rejected my teaching; I reject you. I'm casting you off to destruction and I'm going to give you over to reprobation, and your ministers and your teachers in future will be blind leaders of the blind." That of course is what's happened. For two thousand years the majority of the leaders of the Jewish religion have rejected Christ, rejected the teaching in the New Testament, won't even listen to the name of Jesus but, in the old days, used to spit and call Him "so and so"; they wouldn't name His name - the Son of God.
I can't spend any more time on that, but two thousand years passed by, or perhaps a bit more than that, and we come to chapter 12. Here is the end of this second period of history. You see how it fits together? Chapter 11 is the end of the first period of the history of the salvation of the world, and chapter 12 is the end of the second period - the gathering in of the Jews again. What have we to say about this section here? Notice God here tells us that He is very interested in Jerusalem: "I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it" (Zechariah 12, 2-3).
I want to point out this reference to a burdensome stone. In ancient times, athletes, before they were allowed to compete in their athletic games, had to show their strength and their fitness and their prowess by lifting a very heavy stone, or a piece of brass as it sometimes was. A man who could lift this stone showed that he was strong enough to be a competitor in these games - either throwing or running or jumping or whatever. If you couldn't lift it you were disqualified from the very start. This is the illustration, apparently, that God is showing us here: the Jewish people, symbolised by Jerusalem their capital, are a burdensome stone for all people. They are "a cup of trembling to all the people round about" (Zechariah 12, 2). You notice here the Jews again are right in the centre of world importance; and you notice also here at this point that they are the object of much hatred. People are trying their best to hurt them, to wound them and to do them harm.
Well now, I'm not prophetic and I'm not claiming infallibility, and I leave it to your judgement, my dear friends. I'm not trying to foist an opinion of my own upon you, but with the utmost respect I say it, I put it before you: it seems to me that what we have in verses 2 and 3 and immediately following that, the period of human history just before the conversion of the Jews back to faith in Christ; a preparatory period immediately prior to the engrafting of Israel back into its own olive tree, to use the phrase of Paul in Romans 11. It seems to me that that's a help to us. If that interpretation is at all correct it would fit certainly into the events that we see before our eyes today. After nearly 2,000 years of being scattered all over the world, when the Jewish people were in their ghettos, they were forbidden to live in ordinary human society, they were locked up in these special parts of cities all over Europe and elsewhere. They were ostracised, hated and spoken against; they were persecuted. There were pogroms and supremely in the Second World War, that dastardly act of Adolf Hitler whereby he sought to annihilate every Jew on the face of the earth - what we call the Holocaust - when six million Jews died. Immediately following that, in 1948, the State of Israel was set up. And so the Second World War was the last satanic attempt to destroy the Jewish people on the face of the earth. Almost immediately afterwards the State of Israel was set up. That must be by the providence of God. Every war which they have had to encounter with their enemies - the enemies of the Jews surround them on every hand in Israel - and yet whatever their enemies have done, they have been flattened and crushed but they can't do anything to dislodge Israel. They are trying all the time to destroy them from their country in Israel, but they're not succeeding.
This I think is what we discover in verses 6 and 7: "In that day will I make the governors of Judah like an hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire in a sheaf; and they shall devour all the people round about, on the right hand and on the left" (Zechariah 12, 6). Now look at these words, which I can hardly read without emotion: "...and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem" (Zechariah 12, 6). It fits exactly our Lord's words: "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21, 24). And that happened? In Robert Murray McCheyne's time, when he and friends from Scotland went to the Middle East and to Jerusalem, there were just a few Bedouin Arabs and some others living in Jerusalem. The Jews were scattered all over the world. I hope you realise this. The phenomenon of Jews coming back to Palestine is a very recent one. They were not allowed to come back for centuries. They had to be locked up all over the world. Lithuania had plenty, and so forth. But now, they're back. Look at these words again: "Jerusalem shall be inhabited again even in her own place, even in Jerusalem" (Zechariah 12, 6). You see the emphasis there? This is a new day dawning. The Jews are back again in their own land, says God, and God is saving them providentially.
"It shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem" (Zechariah 12, 9). That's where I want to bring in recent events. If one thing is clear about the terrible *events in America in the last few days it's this: it's the Jewish factor. Why did these people do what they did? It's surely as clear as day. It's because America is pouring billions of dollars into preserving Israel, and they're hated for doing so in many countries of the world. Of that, my friends, there's not a shred of doubt. We too in Britain are lumped up with that. It wouldn't be at all surprising if the things that were happening in America could be brought into British soil because we and America are, amongst all the nations of the world, supportive of the Jews, and not least because of our tradition of understanding the Scriptures to teach that they are still precious.
Now of course, of course, we're not suggesting for a moment that we are to hate anybody in the world; we're not have a bad opinion of Palestinians or Iraqis or Afghans or anything like that - we're not saying these things in the sense of stirring up hatred for anybody, we must love all the nations - but you see, unless people understand the Scriptures they will not support Israel. They will think that what's happening in Israel is something which they have the right to destroy. This is the attitude, you see, that people of these Middle Eastern countries have. 'We want to destroy Israel. They've no business to come back to Jerusalem. Get rid of them out of the land!' But our point is simply this: if it is the will of God prophesied of, they will never do it. Their endeavours will be futile. But all who help Israel must expect to pay a heavy price. We will be hated for it, and all the nations of the world that don't sympathise with this point of view are likely, for all we know, to gang up against this people who are still beloved for their fathers' sakes, for whom there is a great future and a great destiny in store.
I must wind up. How can I do that? Well, by saying to you that in verses 10-14 and verse 1 of chapter 13, we have the grand event for which true Christians ought to yearn. It is the conversion of the Jews back to Christ. "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced" (Zechariah 12, 10) - that is Jesus Christ, pierced by the nails upon the cross. You notice this reference to weeping and mourning (Zechariah 12, 11-14). The word 'mourning', keeps on recurring. They are all weeping and crying. Why are these Jewish people weeping? Why are they crying? Well of course because they are saying to themselves, 'Our fathers were so blind; our rabbis were so blind. For two thousand years [or whatever] we have been misled. Jesus was our Messiah', and they now love Him of course and trust in Him, and the effect of that is seen in Zechariah 13 verse 1: "... a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness."
How does all this relate then to recent events? Well I think just in this sense: that if the picture I have portrayed to you is a biblical one, if it is true and fair - I've done my best to be true and fair - then may we not be right in thinking, dear friends, that we're getting very close to the day when the Holy Spirit shall be poured upon Israel again. We're in the throes of that period immediately before it, may I suggest. And when it happens, the Bible says it will be "life from the dead". All the nations in the world will be blessed with spiritual revival. Don't we long for that day? Let us continue then to pray that God would bring these things to pass, and let us understand that the problems of this hour are ordained for wise reasons.
Oh God who hast, according to thine eternal decree and purpose, ordained the casting off of thine ancient people and their ingrafting again. Hasten the day, and O that our eyes may live to see it, and our ears to hear it.
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