Tag Archives: Zechariah

God’s People, part 140: Zechariah

Read Luke 1:5-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”  (Mark 9:24, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Zechariah 1Part 140: Zechariah. In the Gospel of Luke, we receive a unique Nativity account to the one that is found in Matthew’s Gospel. It is important to realize some facts about the Nativity before talking about Zechariah and his story. First, out of the four canonical Gospels, only two included the Nativity story. Mark does not, nor does John.

Second, Matthew’s account is quite different than Luke’s account. In Matthew, we have Mary, Joseph, King Herod, and the Wise Men as the predominant characters. There are no choirs of angels, shepherds, Wise Men, and certainly no manger in Matthew’s version. In fact, there’s not even a mention of Nazareth or any journey to Bethlehem. Rather, it reads as if Joseph and Mary were from Bethlehem and only ended up in Nazareth because they fled to Egypt from soldiers carrying out Herod’s villainous orders, later returning and settling in Nazareth.

In Luke, on the other hand, we have Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, August Caesar, Quirinius, Shepherds, Choir of Angels, Simeon, and Anna the prophet. It is Luke’s account that is most familiar to us as the Nativity story, but our typical picture also includes pieces of Matthew’s account blended into the story.

Zechariah, according to Luke’s account, was the husband of Mary of Nazareth’s cousin Elizabeth. He was a priest and a person who had status, power and authority in terms of the religious life of Judah. In fact, he was in the temple performing his priestly duties when an angel spoke to him and told him that he and his wife would have a child and name that child John.

Unlike Elizabeth, Zechariah had a powerful voice in society. He was someone of prominence and religious leader in the community. If someone wanted spiritual advice, they would go to Zechariah or other priests, not his wife. He was someone who was supposed to be in tune with God and someone leading the people of Israel in the act of repentance, sacrifice and worship. Yet, Zechariah did not believe what God was telling him was going to happen.

To be fair, who would believe that two older people, past the age where childbearing is a possibility, could bear a child? But Zechariah, steeped in the Jewish religious tradition must surely have known better, right? He knew the account of Sarah, of Rebecca, and other women who God blessed with children. Yet, he vocally refused to believe what he heard from the angel Gabriel that day.

As a result, God took away his ability to speak. I guess one could say God gave Zechariah a time out. In fact, Zechariah would not get his speech back until after his son, John, was born. We must keep in mind that Zechariah had no way of communicating to his wife, or anyone, what he heard that day in the Temple. As such, we can deduce that Elizabeth probably had no idea that she was going to get pregnant.

This is important to note because, when she did conceive a child, she went into seclusion (probably to protect herself from the community who would be marveling at such a miracle) and spoke the following words: “How kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace of having no children” (Luke 1:25, NLT). Did you catch that, Zechariah’s pride rendered him speechless, yet Elizabeth, in her humility, found her voice. What’s more, she instantly recognized, believed and gave credit to God for her miraculous pregnancy. Her reaction to the news, as it were, was on the complete opposite spectrum from her husbands.

The challenge for us is to reflect on our own faith in God. Do we have faith? Do we believe God is God? Do we believe, for instance, Christ’s words when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father”  (John 14:12, NLT). The challenge for us is to reflect on our own belief and to grow in our willingness to TRULY believe that God’s power is not only at work within us, but THROUGH us as well.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly.

PRAYER
Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

God’s People, part 139: Elizabeth

Read Luke 1:5-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed…when I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.”  (Luke 1:42, 44 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

elizabeth-and-johnPart 139: Elizabeth. Here, in the New Testament, we come across a familiar tune as we saw with women such as Sarah in the Old Testament. Elizabeth, who is Mary’s cousin according to Luke, is an older woman who is married to a priest named Zechariah. Luke says that both Elizabeth and Zechariah were righteous in God’s sight; yet, he also records that Elizabeth was unable to conceive a child and, thus, her and Zechariah never had a child. On top of that, Elizabeth and Zechariah were both very old.

We don’t know very much about Elizabeth other than that she is the much older cousin of Mary of Nazareth. I think, for that reason, it is important to pause and add some perspective to this story. In the end, the perspective will help us to look inward at ourselves and so that we might find areas in which we, as God’s people, can grow.

First, it must be noted that there is a trend in the Bible to paint the women as being the ones who are barren. It must not be passed over that the Bible was written mostly (if not entirely) by men, and the society in which it was written was very much a patriarchal society. What does that mean? Patriarchy is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line.” Thus, the focus is centered much more on Zechariah than it is on Elizabeth.

With that said, Luke is somewhat aware of that in his Gospel, for he tells how Zechariah ends up as the one who is silenced and Elizabeth becomes the one who has the voice. In fact, one cannot fully appreciate that until they realize that the society in which this Gospel was written was patriarchal. With that said, the Bible is filled with accounts of barren women, but there are no accounts of infertile men.

This was not necessarily intentional, but it does reflect the way that their society looked at men versus women. If a couple could not have a child, it was the woman paid the social price. She was considered “barren” and not able to have a child. If you stop and think about it, it is quite possible that Elizabeth was fertile and it was Zechariah who was infertile. Luke records that Elizabeth was barren, but how did they really know it was her and not her husband who was unable to reproduce.

I state this not to counter what the Bible says, but to make us aware of how easily we can scapegoat and stereotype people in way that are not so healthy. Regardless of who was infertile or not, God caused a miracle to happen and Elizabeth and Zechariah conceived and gave birth to a child. The challenge for us to reflect on how society informs who we are, both positively and negatively. In what ways do our social norms, rules and regulations form in us biases that are not of God? In what ways do we judge people based off of our social standards as opposed to God’s? Let us reflect and tweak where God is call us to change.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Christ is our footing, our foundation, our structure, our walls, our ceiling, stairs, windows, and doors. Make Christ your home, not society.

PRAYER
Lord, immerse me in your presence and help me to make you my home.

God’s People, part 108: Zechariah

Read Zecharaiah 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Because of the covenant I made with you, sealed with blood, I will free your prisoners from death in a waterless dungeon.” (Zechariah 9:11)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 108: Zechariah. As with all of the prophets, we really know very little about who Zechariah was. The main purpose of the prophetic writings was to warn people of the dangers of their sins and to steer people back to God. That is never an easy task. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others have found out, people resist being told they are wrong; in fact, they often violently and vehemently resist it. We are seeing this unfold before our very eyes as people stand up for the justice of immigrants (and others) and the absolutely vitriolic reaction people are having to that. Don’t believe me? Here’s an experiment for you: post #blacklivesmatter or #allfamiliesmatter or #justiceforimmigrants as your Facebook status and see what reaction you get.

What we do know about about Zechariah is that he probably came from a priestly family. His father was the son of Berechiah, who was the son of Iddo. Iddo was a Levite and a priestly figure, mentioned in Ezra 8:17, and it is believed that he returned from exile with Zerubbabel. Berechiah, no doubt, would have carried those priestly duties on from his father; therefore, many scholars believe that Zechariah was a priest, in a lineage of priests, as well as a prophet.

Zechariah began his prophetical career during the second year of King Darius the Great’s reign and is the prophet that the Old Testament book of the same name is attributed to. It is in that book that we see the focus of Zechariah’s prophetic ministry and the kind of opposition he was up against.

In the first section of the book (Chapters 1-4), Zechariah lays out Israel’s history in order to present the returned exiles with a stern warning. They had, as was discussed in the last devotion, been returned to their homeland and commissioned by King Cyrus to rebuild the holy Temple. Yet, years had passed and a new king was ruling and the Temple had still not been built. This was because the the people were debating over whether or not to let the Samaritans build it, as they had offered. The debate seriously stalled the construction project.

Zechariah, therefore, was instrumental in getting the people back on track regarding the rebuilding of God’s Temple. At the same time, so was the high priest Yeshua. We will get into Yeshua’s story in more detail in a couple of weeks; however, suffice it to say that Yeshua was against stalling the rebuilding of the Temple and wanted to see it built without the help of the Samaritans. As such, he was up against a very divided people. Some of those people were in support of him and some were in support of further negotiations with Samaritans.

Zechariah denounced the opposition and firmly pronounced that God had appointed Zechariah and was on his side. Furthermore, the prophet exposed the real culprit behind the division: SATAN. Zechariah proclaimed, “And the LORD said to Satan, ‘I, the LORD, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you. This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire.’”

It is important to understand that throughout Old Testament and the New Testament, the word satan is not a name but a title. The Hebrew word, שָׂטָן(pronounced saw-tawn’) literally meant “the accuser” or “the adversary”. This role is played by different entities in different ways throughout the Old Testament (for instance, in the story about Balaam’s donkey, the Angel of the LORD stood in the road as an adversary, blocking Balaam’s way forward); however, there seems to have been a being that was an adversary to God and to God’s people.

This being, forever known as Satan, was a divider and conquerer. His role was to divide God’s people against themselves and keep them from obeying and following God. Thus, as we learn from Zechariah, Satan’s chief modus operendi division.

This is important for us to understand as God’s people in today’s time. Satan has not gone anywhere and this adversary of ours is still operating in the same way: THROUGH DIVISION. Think about that. Take a look around the United States of America and around this world. Look at social media and at our political climate.

 Most importantly, look at the church and look at our own relationships with the church, as well as with our families and friends. Let us be challenged to realize the truth behind Zechariah’s warning. Let us assess our own lives, our own attitudes and our own positions. Do we see the handy work of God, or do we see the foul play of the devil. Let us, like God, rebuke Satan and move toward peace and unity around Christ’ mission.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

In 9:9, Zechariah also prophesied that, sometime following the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, the Messiah would come riding into the holy city on a donkey and it’s colt in holy victory This prophecy was clearly fulfilled a few hundred years later by Jesus of Nazareth.

PRAYER

Lord, like you I rebuke satan’s divisive meddling in my life in your name and turn my eyes firmly upon you. Give me the strength to continue to do so and keep me on your path of righteousness. Amen.

God’s People, part 107: Haggai

Read Haggai 1-2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then the local residents tried to discourage and frighten the people of Judah to keep them from their work. They bribed agents to work against them and to frustrate their plans. This went on during the entire reign of King Cyrus of Persia and lasted until King Darius of Persia took the throne.” (Ezra‬ ‭4:4-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 Part 107: Haggai. In order to understand Haggai’s prophecy, one really needs to understand the historical and religious contexts that it was written in. As with all of the books in the Bible, Haggai was not written in a vacuum. In fact, Haggai lived and prophesied at the same time as Zechariah. Malachi lived and prophecied about a century later. Ezra was also a contemporary of the prophet and wrote of him and Zechariah being influential in the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple following their return from exile.

Let us look at the context surrounding Haggai’s prophecy. The year was 520 BCE, sixteen years after the Jews were first allowed back frome exile to Jerusalem. If you recall, this was put forth into motion under the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who was regarded by the Jews as God’s anointed king, the messiah. You will also recall that upon sending them back to their homeland, Cyrus commissioned them to rebuild their Temple to their God as well as to rebuild Jerusalem.

Sixteen years later, the Temple still had not been built. Upon returning home, there was a dispute between the Jews who returned and “the local residents” in Jerusalem. The dispute arose over who should have a part in rebuilding the Temple and how that Temple should be built. Thus, the Temple building campaign was halted for sixteen years.

It is this that Haggai was addressing. He found it egregious that God’s Temple lay in ruin, while the people of the land regained their homes and their prosperity. God had come through for them, how could they not come through for God. The issue is less to do with a temple building itself and more to do with faithfulness to God.

Were the Jews who were liberated from Babylon/Persia going to remain loyal to God, or were they going to fall right into complacency? What’s more, Haggai was calling them out on not having the moxy to stand up to the dissenters and do what they had been commissioned by God’s anointed king, Cyrus, to do.

By the way, it is important to note that Haggai is not the only book in the Bible to record these disputes. They are recorded in Ezra and also Zechariah. In fact, in the latter book, the “local residents” or “the people of the land” were opposing the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Yeshua. The opposition against them rose up after they listened to Haggai and Zechariah and decided to move forward with the Temple building campaign. To do so, they rejected the “people of the land’s” request to build the Temple and placed the building of the Temple in the hands of the ones who had been liberated from exile.

This caused an irrevocable division between the liberated Jews and “the people of the land”. As a result, the latter group eventually split off and built their own Temple on Mt. Gerizim near Shechem. These people, by many scholars, are believed to be the Samaritans and it is during that time where bitter enmity built up between the Judaeans and the Samaritans. That enmity would carry on for centuries, and would be included in some of Jesus’ own teachings (e.g. the parable of the good Samaritan). In fact, it was in the region of Mt. Gerizim that Jesus converses with the Samaritan woman in John 4.

Thus, we can see how this short prophetic book by Haggai had such a profound impact on shaping what would go on to be known as the Second Temple period in Jewish history. It was during this time that the One who IS GOD’s Messiah, would live, teach, die and resurrect in FULL GLORY. This only happened because the God’s people humbled themselves and listened to the warnings of God through the prophet Haggai. They were willing to meet human resistance head on in order to remain loyal to God their LORD.

We are faced with the same charge, to remain loyal when the people of the land are calling us to do things differently than God would have us do. Will we heed God’s warning and build a SANCTUARY for all people, or will we follow the divisiveness of Satan, which is calling us to do things in a way that appeases the current world order? Reflect on this honestly; choose this day, and all days, whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem.” Jesus of Nazareth (John‬ ‭4:21‬ ‭NLT)

PRAYER

Lord, steer me along the right path and give me the courage to remain loyal to you at all costs. Amen.

Fulfilled: Spy Wednesday

Read Zechariah 11:12-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver.” (Matthew 26:14-15 NLT)

When we read the Gospels, we get a sense that Jesus saw himself as a savior of his people. We can see how he he lived, how he taught, and how he ultimately took on the role of God’s suffering servant. We see that he claimed not only to be a teacher or a prophet, but that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. What’s more, Jesus claimed to be one with, and the same as, God Almighty, the great I AM.

His disciples not only believed, but were transformed by their relationship with Jesus and, in turn they helped tranform the world. Jesus’ views were not only his own, but ones steeped in his Jewish beliefs and his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day this week, let us look at the prophetic connection between Jesus and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

006-judas-betrays-jesusSpy Wednesday. In Zechariah, we see the prophet giving up on his office as prophet. He had been embattled serving the people of God. They were divided over who should be high priest, many hardened their hearts toward God, and Zechariah felt that the time had come for him to simply let them have their own sinful way. This was not done because Zechariah was a quitter, but because God had given them the choice between their ways or God’s way, and they had clearly chosen.

Thus, the Lord God was speaking through Zechariah, when he said that he would remove the good shepherd and replace him with a useless, lazy, selfish one (Zechariah 11:16-17). As a result of their hardened hearts, they ended up following the prophets and leaders of this world, to their own demise. Thus, Zechariah requested, “‘If you like, give me my wages, whatever I am worth; but only if you want to.’ So they counted out for my wages thirty pieces of silver” (vs. 12). Continuing on, Zechariah declared, “And the LORD said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’—this magnificent sum at which they valued me! So I took the thirty coins and threw them to the potter in the Temple of the LORD (vs. 13).

Yet, Zechariah’s situation aside, this particular verse was foreshadowing what was to happen to Jesus of Nazareth through one of his closest friends and disciples, Judas Iscariot. It was on what has become known as “Spy Wednesday”, that Judas met with the high priest and the Pharisees to plot against Jesus. Judas agreed to betray his Lord and master in exchange for none other than thirty pieces of silver. Thus, Judas became like a spy. He became a wolf among the sheep and waited for the right moment to betray Jesus and have him arrested.

This, of course, was directly following Jesus’ revealing to his disciples that he was going to be “handed over to be crucified.” It was also following Jesus scolding his disciples for their chastizement of the woman who anointed his feet. In Matthew, it is written that the disciples became indignant because such expensive perfume could have been sold and given to the poor. Jesus put the disciples back in their place and praised the woman for her compassion toward him.

The question that puzzles many is this, why would Judas betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (about $600 in U.S. currency…a handsome amount in the ancient world)? Maybe it was because, as Jesus continued to press and antagonize the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem, Judas feared that they would all go down with Jesus. Maybe, for Judas, Jesus wasn’t doing enough against the Romans and he was among those who wanted to see a physical, bloody revolt. Maybe Judas, along with some of the other disciples, were indignant toward Jesus for the woman anointing him, or maybe for other reasons. There is, of course, the possibility that Judas was always a snake in the grass, was greedy, and looking for any opportunity to find a way to betray Jesus and gain money and status for doing so.

We can only speculate Judas’ motivations; however, we do know that the Judas regretted his decision so much that he took his own life. The blood money he was paid went to pay for a field, fulfilling the words of Zechariah in a new and most sorrowful way. The challenge for us is to look inward on this Spy Wednesday! Are our intentions pure? Do we follow Jesus for the sake of following the Lord, our Savior? Do we follow Jesus for the glory of God and for the Kingdom of God? Or do we have alterior motives for following Christ?

Do we seek out God’s agenda, or are we secretly trying to find ways of working in our own? Are we sheep in Christ’s fold, are are we wolves that have found our way in? Are we Christ’s own, or have we become snakes in the grass? These questions are not comfortable ones; however, they are important to ask. I think that we can find moments in our lives where we are truly aligned with Christ, and others where we are not. Let us be honest this Holy Week and pray for God to remove the inner-Judas that exists within all of us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We have two choices in love, faithfulness and betrayal.

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for the times I have betrayed in you in my thoughts, in my words, and in my deeds. Guide me toward a life of faithfulness. Amen.

Adversary

Read Zechariah 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NRSV)

lionI just got finished participating in an observance of Memorial Day in my community. Prior to the observance that the memorial park, we start off with an ecumenical service at the Presbyterian Church in my community. This year it was my turn to preach and so, in preparation, I began by reflecting on Memorial Day, on those who gave their lives in defense of their country and its interests, as well as on our society.

Instantly two Scriptures came to mind. The first was that of Jesus being accused of being an agent of Satan by the religious leaders in his day. That Scripture can be found in Luke 11:14-17. The second Scripture is of the division that came to mind was that of Zechariah 3:1-8, where the people are divided against the new high priest, Joshua (Yeshua in Aramaic and Jesus in Greek). Though this is not the same Jesus, from Nazareth, this Jesus is experiencing people throwing accusations against his leadership as the High Priest.

This latter text is the one that is most revealing in terms of what  I want to write about today. In that text, God has it out with the people through the voice of Zechariah. “The Lord rebukes you, Adversary,” Zechariah proclaims. “The Lord, who chooses Jerusalem, rebukes you, Adversary!” The fiery prophet’s word must’ve sounded quite harsh to those on either side of the division.

There, in the midst of the division, Zechariah denonces the “Adversary”. Now, this English word may not sound too harsh on the surface; however, the English is derived from the Hebrew word “Satan” (והשׂטן, pronounced shaw-tawn). In other words, Zechariah is denouncing and rebuking the work of Satan, the Adversary, the arch-enemy of good, amid the people of Jerusalem.

One thing to note here is that Zechariah is pointing out the key function of the Adversary’s role in opposing God. This key function is creating division. While God is trying to establish the divine Kingdom on earth through unity and peace, the Adversary is actively standing in the way of us reaching God’s divine purpose through division and disunity.

How terribly tragic that is. Just pause for a moment; just pause, close your eyes, and begin to reflect on the division you see going on in the world around you. Look at the political climate in our country. For each of the political candidates out there, there is a group of people who hate them. What’s more, they hate those who support the candidates they hate.

Look at the Church, for the church is terribly divided. Now, we in the church all talk about Christ’s call for unity, about the need to “worship without walls”, and yet we divide the body of Christ over politics, over polity, over doctrine, over gender, gender identity, over human sexuality, over theology, over race, over views on other faiths, and just about every other thing imaginable.

Here’s the thing, when we get divided, we are failing to follow God and choosing to follow the Adversary. Let that soak in. When we are divided we are NOT following God or Christ, but are following the Adversary. That is not to say that we cannot disagree on issues. That is human and can be quite healthy in the life of the church. BUT DIVISION IS NOT! Our challenge is to, like Zechariah, rebuke the Adversary and choose to be an agent of unity and peace, rather than an agent of division.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If we don’t unite in Christ we are bound to fall, with the Adversary, in division.

PRAYER
Lord, protect me from the Adversary and keep me far from the sin of division. Make me an agent of unity and of peace and of love. Amen.