Zechariah 4:6-10 - Delight in Small Things, Rejoice in Great Things (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Delight in Small Things, Rejoice in Great Things
When we started our study of Zechariah, I thought maybe we would get to chapter 9 by Palm Sunday. Chapter 9 verse 9 is the prophecy of Jesus riding on a donkey into the city of Jerusalem – with people aving palm branches. That happened 1 week before his crucifixion.
Well, we didn’t make it to chapter 9 – we’re about half-way there. So, we’re going to have Palm Sunday part 2 later in June.
This morning, we’ll finish chapter 4, which is the fifth vision. Last week, we focused on what Zechariah saw in the fifth vision. He saw an elaborate lampstand – kind of like a candelabra. It had 49 flames. It was fed golden oil from two olive trees - oil that never ran out. Here is the small version of a Jewish lampstand. Picture 7 of these all connected and that is sort of what Zechariah saw.
The lampstand represents God’s people – the Jewish people in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. We are vessels, filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s what the oil represents, God’s Spirit. The oil comes from the two trees which most likely represent Christ in his priestly and kingly roles. In the vision, the lampstand is lit and the flames represents (for us) the light of the Gospel
So last week, we focused on our identity and purpose based on the elements of the vision. We are to be lights, a city on a hill, shining God’s Gospel through his Spirit. It’s what we’ve been made for. To be the church is to be faithful Gospel lampstands.
The second emphasis of this vision is our mission. Our mission is very connected to our identity. In other words, who God created us to be is very connected to what God has called us to do. So that is where we are headed this morning.
We’ll be focusing on verses 6 through the beginning of 10. I’ll begin our reading in verse 1 this morning.
You can find Zechariah 4 on page 944.
Reading of Zechariah 4:1-10
How should the church go about changing the world? I mean, the world needs changing. We all agree with that. We don’t have to look far to see evil, to see godlessness, arrogance, hatred, corruption, vanity, sensuality, and immorality. How do we, the church, combat and fight these things and bring change to the world?
•Do we fight as cultural warriors against the ideologies and practices of the world? Loudly trumpeting everything that is wrong with the world, thereby trying to convince the world of what is right and good.
•Or are we to enter into the culture that we might win it over from within thereby changing the very fabric of society. Is that the way to change the world?
•Are we to seek change by fighting for and fighting against laws? By working the political systems and being political crusaders for truth and righteousness. Is that the way that we will see change?
•Or is our approach to change the world completely opposite. Do we fight the world by not fighting at all? By being a community that is wholly other – being pacifists. So radically counter cultural that our very existence draws the world to sees what it could be like and thereby changes the world.
Which path should we take to cause lasting change?
About 10 years ago –James Hunter, professor of religion and culture at the university of Virginia, wrote a book titled To Change the World. In it he analyzed the same question. He went through each way that the Christian community has sought to change the world. He showed how each has failed in different ways. He revealed how each approach misses the mark and fails to change culture. He named names and organizations. Believe me, he got critisized from all sides. Well, except from the pacifists, who were being, well, pacifist. Overall, Hunter called out misguided strategies and understandings of culture and how each approach has failed.
But if every approach so far has failed, how then do we change the world?
Well, the problem we have is not the strategy. No, the problem is the question. The questions assumes that it’s the church’s responsibility and mission to change the world. It’s not. We can’t. In fact, the more we try, the further we get from God’s calling for the church.
Our missiology gets all messed up if we think we’re called to change the world. Our missiology is our theology of mission. If we think that the church’s mission is to be cultural change agents, then we either accommodate truth seeking to be relevant…. or we leave a wake of destruction behind us seeking to win the fight… or we completely retreat from the culture seeking to be wholly other.
And what Zechariah 4 does is keep us focused and aligned with God’s call for his people.
You see, the returned exiles were tempted to think that God was going to restore the earthly nation of Israel and fully restore the temple. They all knew the history of Israel in the unified kingdom days – and all its power and might. Add to that, the oldest generation of returned exiles had even seen the wonder of Solomon’s temple before it was destroyed. So they were tempted to think they would be influential again; the dominating force in the region or the world with the glory of the former temple.
But those dreams all came crashing down as year after year nothing improved. This was a good thing for them. God brought them to a place where he could direct them on his mission – not theirs.
That’s where the fifth vision God gave Zechariah comes into play. So far the visions have taught them about God’s providence, protection, presence, and salvation, among other things, and now God leans in to their identity and mission.
Who were they to be? God people – lampstands filled with his presence, the Holy Spirit, united to God and to one another. They were to be vessels of light. Not to shine their glory and power. No rather, shining God’s glory and displaying His spirit at work.
Verse 6 is the key verse. “Not by might or by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” They had been tempted to think their efforts were the key ingredient and that their power would be displayed. But no, they needed to trust in the Lord for it’s his mission and his Spirit who give them success in it.
As we focus in on these middle verses of the chapter, there are two things we learn about our mission.
•First, what is our mission?
•And second, how does God accomplish that mission through us?
These verses answer both questions. Zerubbabel mentioned here was the governor of God’s people – and God had given him the task to rebuild the temple. That was his mission. But the task had significant hurdles, so God also revealed how he would accomplish that mission through them.
And I’m saying “our mission” because if you remember, these visions had a near-term focus and a long-term fulfillment. The near-term focus was God’s immediate mission for the returned exiles in Jerusalem. But that points to the longer-term fulfillment of God’s mission for his people today, the church. Last week, we talked through the connection between the lampstand and the church. We’ll see more connections this morning.
So, what is our mission and how does God accomplish that mission through us.
One thing is pretty clear here, when the angel said “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” that didn’t mean doing nothing. It doesn’t mean just sitting back and “let go and let God.” No, they had a task at hand. And they were to move forward with that task but trusting the Lord in the work and letting his Spirit accomplish God’s mission for them.
What was that task? It was to rebuild the temple. We see that in verses 7 and 9. Zerubbabel was to continue the work of rebuilding the temple. In the second half of verse 7, it says Zerubbabel “will bring forth the top-stone.” That’s referring to the final temple-stone, the capstone, which will be put in place.
And verse 9 confirms that. God promised that Zerubbabel would complete the rebuilding effort. So their near-term focus was the actual temple in Jerusalem.
In other words, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, they were to continue the work of rebuilding the temple. Mind you, it was only 500 years before the promised Messiah would come - Jesus. But God still had a purpose for the temple. So the people’s immediate mission was to complete the rebuild.
Now, at this point, you may be asking, “ok, how does this mission, rebuilding the temple, relate to the vision?” That’s an important question. Remember how the pattern has worked? There’s the vision itself – what Zechariah saw – and then the oracle that explained each vision. So this middle part of the chapter is supposed to help us understand the vision. But how does it all relate? The vision is about this elaborate lampstand with oil and olive trees. The end of the chapter goes back to the trees and golden oil. But the middle of the chapter seems disconnected. How does the temple project relate to the vision?
Well, it’s this – the elaborate lampstand in the vision pointed to the temple. Remember, the actual lampstands were in the temple. They gave light to the temple. So the vision in part represented the temple.
And the vision connects to the temple rebuild mission because the light of the lampstands is the mission. Rebuilding the temple would restore the light – the presence of God with all the priestly and ceremonial activities. A rebuilt temple would again reveal God and the coming Gospel. So there is a direct connection between the vision of the lampstand and Zerubbabel’s task to rebuild the temple.
And as we considered last week – the vision also connects to us, the church. As God’s people, we are the lampstand vessels filled with the Holy Spirit, shining the light of the Gospel.
Our mission is in parallel with Zerubbabel’s mission. His task was to build the physical temple. Our task is to build the spiritual temple.
Let me say that in a different way. Our mission is building the church. But the church is not a physical building – we learned that from the third vision. No, the church is God’s people. We are a temple of the living God. As 1 Peter 2 tells us, we are “living stones being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Or as Ephesians 2 says, we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. In whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
Our mission is not to change the world. Our mission is to be built up into a spiritual house, united by God’s Spirit. We’re to be building God’s church according to his design and his purposes. Being lampstand lights of the Gospel. Worshiping him. Reflecting him. Pursuing him. Declaring his salvation. Establishing new local lampstands – new congregations. That’s to be our focus.
Zerubbabel was the governor, but God did not call him to rebuild the nation of Israel. No, because when Jesus came 500 years later, he declared that his kingdom was not of this world. No, their mission was focused on the temple as a final preparation for the coming of the messiah. And our mission is to be focused on the church – to be faithful Gospel lights in our worship and ministry.
Let me go back to James Hunter for a minute. After rejecting the ways that the church has tried and failed to change the world, and after rejecting that goal itself, Hunter comes back to ask then, “what is our mission?” He says our mission to be faithfully present within the world – faithful to bear witness to the world – in word and deed. And if I could add to his defined mission – faithful to the Gospel call to build the church – the temple of the living Lord and be lampstand lights of his grace.
That is our mission. And to be sure, God may use our church-building mission to impact the world around us. But it would not be through our might or power but rather by his Spirit.
Accomplishing Our Mission
And that brings us to an important second question. How does God accomplish that mission through us?
Because think about how hard the mission is to build the church. It’s a daunting task. The hurdles and opposition can be overwhelming. We considered some of the hurdles last week – persecution and cultural hostility all over the world.
It was the same for Zerubbabel and the people. Verse 7 speaks of a great mountain. Well, that figurative mountain captures the hurdles that they faced; the intimidating opposition to the rebuild; and the seeming impossible effort to take the pile of rubble and rebuild the temple.
But the Lord says this, “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain.” In other words, God will take down the seemingly insurmountable mountains. He is the one, through the work of his Spirit, that will overcome the obstacles. He will pave the way for the mission to be accomplished.
Our natural instinct is to focus on the mountains. To figure out how the church should deal with them. Whether to fight against the mountain; or build the church on the mountain; or run from the mountain and find a place where there are no mountains.
Each of those approaches is just trying to solve the problem by our own might and power, verse 6. When we try to build the church in our own strength and power, then we’re not letting the Holy Spirit work God’s purposes through our faithful following of God’s mission for the church – being Gospel lampstand lights to the world. You see, the temple would be rebuilt. The church will be established. Not by our might, nor by our power, but by God’s Spirit.
But the other thing we learn here, is that God accomplishes the mission in ways that we don’t expect. We’re often caught up in the world’s evaluation of what’s successful. Numbers and dollars. And that can be discouraging! That bring us to verse 10.
Some have said that the beginning of this verse is the most well-known verse in the entire book. I think that’s possible. Maybe you’ve heard it before. “For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.”
They were not to despise the day of small things. And there were many small things. You see, their task seemed so insurmountable that even the small things were a discouragement to many. The rebuilt temple would be a prime example of that. When the temple was finished, just a couple years after these visions, many wept. Not tears of joy, but tears of sadness. It wasn’t nearly the glorious temple of Solomon.
We read from the prophet Haggai earlier in the service. Speaking of the temple, the Lord said this through Haggai, “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?” That’s how many saw the rebuilt temple – as nothing. As a shadow of its former glory. Weak from the world’s perspective. Even despite the rebuild, many were discouraged.
But the Lord had called them not to despise the day of small things. They weren’t seeing or recognizing the work of the Spirit and what God promised he would do.
We think our efforts in the church are small and feeble. Or we think the ministry and discipleship doesn’t seem to be making a difference. Or all our gospel witness is all falling on deaf ears.
We get discouraged and even the small things just highlight for us that the big things aren’t happening. That’s because we are evaluating them through the world’s eyes.
But God says to us, “no, do not despise the day of small things.” Beloved, it’s the small things through which God is working. We can’t see of all the things that God has done and is doing. So we need to delight in the small things. God is at work.
Back in Haggai chapter 2, God said to them this, “Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you.” And then God made this amazing promise, “The latter glory of this house [the rebuilt temple] shall be greater than the former…. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.”
The promise was not that the physical temple would become more glorious. No, the promise was that God would be spiritually building up a new temple. First Christ himself, then his people. They would be his church. People from every tribe and tongue and nation. This new temple, the church, would be established all over the world. And God would be using the small things to accomplish great things.
The world sees many of our pursuits as a waste of time – like worship, like prayer, like studying the Bible. But through the small things, God is doing a grand work. Like answering prayer. Like growing us in holiness. Like 7 of our kids this morning declaring their belief in Christ and their commitment to the Lord’s church. That may seem like a small insignificant thing to the outside world, but it’s a big thing in God’s kingdom.
But this is the way that God works to build his church.
And isn’t this the way that the Gospel works?
Consider 1 Corinthians chapter 1 – “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men… God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;”
The king and creator of the universe, Jesus, was born into the world as a weak child. A small thing to the world… Or think of the weakness displayed in his death. From a worldly perspective, how could either of those things accomplish anything? But through those seemingly small and weak events, God was at work to accomplish grand things – salvation, changing hearts and minds, calling a people to him, building his church - one small brick at a time being added to the spiritual building, a house made without hands. You see, it may be our mission to build the church and to be faithful lampstand lights but none of it happens through our efforts. None of it. No, it’s all through God’s work and his Spirit. It’s all founded on Christ and his atoning ministry on the cross and his conquering resurrection. it’s all by grace. Did you notice that? At the end of verse 7. God promised that Zerubbabel would lay the final temple stone. The capstone. Then the people would shout “grace, grace to it!” Yes, they would recognize that none of it would be through their own strength and power. No, they would shout that it was all by God’s grace.
Even though Zerubbabel and the people were being faithful to rebuild the temple – it was God at work through them, paving the way for them. Even though we seek to be faithful in building the church – none of it is through our efforts. No, rather, it is the grace of Jesus through the Holy Spirit that makes it all happen.
May we be a people focused on God’s mission for us – not changing the world but being a faithful church in our worship and ministry. And may we rely, not on our own strength, but on God’s grace and Spirit, rejoicing in all the ways that God is working - the small things and the great things as he builds his church.