Chapters 12 to 14 of Zechariah are one oracle, or message, from the Lord to his people in the days of Zechariah the prophet who had returned to Jerusalem from the exile in Babylon. You’ll recall that the people had begun to rebuild the temple which had been destroyed years before when their enemies invaded the land and captured the city of Jerusalem. Now they were rebuilding the temple, but the work was difficult and there were many obstacles for them to overcome. And, while they had returned from exile, they were still living under the authority of a foreign king. And so, the people were despondent and needed to be encouraged. And the Lord encouraged them by sending them preachers like Haggai and Zechariah to declare his word to them. And those preachers spoke to the Lord’s despondent people about better days to come.
Last week we spent our time on chapter 12 and the first part of this one oracle which closes the book of Zechariah. And in that first part of the oracle, the Lord spoke to them about a future day. Do you remember? The phrase ‘on that day’ was repeated seven times. And I explained that the phrase, ‘on that day’ doesn’t refer to one day, because it embraces the whole of the time between the first and second comings of Christ. And, according to Zechariah’s vision, during that time the nations will come against God’s people to oppose and oppress them, but God will come to deliver his people. So, Jerusalem will become like an immoveable rock. And God will strike the horses of their enemy with panic. And the leaders of God’s people will be like a fire which destroys their enemies. And the Lord will shield his people in Jerusalem. And the feeblest of God’s people will be made strong like David. And the Lord will set out to destroy the nations. And whatever the nations do to attack God’s people will backfire on them and the Lord will deliver his people.
And what Zechariah foresaw and what he recorded for us in this oracle is not really about the city of Jerusalem in the land of Israel. He was referring to the church of Jesus Christ; and he foretold how an unbelieving world will oppose and oppress the church. I didn’t refer to Psalm 2 last week, but I should have referred to Psalm 2 last week. Psalm 2 is the psalm that beings with the words:
Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together against the Lord
and against his Anointed One.
The psalmist spoke about a time when the nations would gather together to attack the Lord and his Anointed King in Jerusalem. But the Lord laughed, because the nations cannot oppose him and hope to win. And in Acts 4, the Apostles applied that psalm to what happened to the Lord Jesus, when he was arrested by the Jews and put to death by the Romans. The nations took their stand against the Lord and his Anointed King who is Jesus Christ and they put him to death. But God raised him from the dead and exalted him to the highest place as King over all. And ever since that time, an unbelieving world has opposed and oppressed the church of Jesus Christ, which he is building on the earth. And despite everything an unbelieving world has done to destroy the church, the church is still standing. Nations come and go. Those who oppose the church come and go. But the church continues to exist, because God is in her as her ever-present help. And I mentioned last week the final battle which John writes about in Revelation 20 and which takes place right before the Lord Jesus comes again. At that time, the Devil will gather the nations for one final battle against the church. But the battle is over even before it begins, because the Lord sent fire from heaven to destroy his enemies and to deliver his people.
When the Lord Jesus came into the world the first time, the nations gathered together to kill him. And right before the Lord comes into the world again, the nations will gather together to destroy his church. And between those times, the church is continually harassed and opposed by an unbelieving world. But we can trust in the Lord to help us. And so, instead of being frightened, or discouraged, we can rest in the knowledge that our God knows all about it and has promised to protect us from all evil.
But you might remember that last week’s chapter ended with mourning. The people mourned over the one who was pierced. The one who was pierced is the Lord Jesus, who was nailed to a cross and soldiers pierced his side with a spear. But when he died, he did not die for his owns sin, because he never did anything wrong and he did everything right. No, he did not die for his owns sins, but for our sins and for all that we have ever done wrong. He took the blame for us. And when Zechariah spoke of mourning, he was referring to how sinners all around the world will hear of how he died for sinners; and they will be convicted of their sins and shortcomings; and will turn from their sins with sorrow because of what they have done wrong; and they will turn to the Saviour for forgiveness.
And so we come to today’s chapter which is in two parts. The first part is about cleansing from sin and the second part is about the shepherd and his sheep who are struck. We are cleansed from our sin because of Christ who shed his blood on the cross for our forgiveness. And the Lord Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd and the church is his flock and he and his church are struck. And so, once again Zechariah’s prophecy is about the Saviour, Jesus Christ who is the shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep and who is the Saviour who saves his people from condemnation and death and who gives us forgiveness and eternal life.
And it begins in verse 1 with the words:
On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
The phrase ‘On that day’ links this chapter with the previous one and it tells us he’s still referring to the time between the first and second comings of Christ. And, as in the previous chapter, when he refers to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, he’s referring to the church of Jesus Christ, made up of believing Jews and believing Gentiles who are united together under Christ the King. And for the members of Christ’s church, there is opened up for us a fountain. Whereas a stream might dry up, a fountain flows continually. And this is no ordinary fountain, because this is a fountain to cleanse God’s people from sin and impurity. The word sin refers to the ways we disobey God’s law by falling short of doing what he has commanded and by doing those things which he has forbidden. And all of us are sinners because every day we sin against the Lord in thought and word and deed. We are all lawbreakers; and sinning against God, disobeying God, comes naturally to us, because we’re born into this world as sinners, inheriting from Adam his fallen, sinful nature. And because we’re sinners who sin against God continually, we’re impure. We’re unclean. We’re morally unclean and covered in guilt. And nothing impure or unclean is fit to come into God’s holy presence.
After David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband to be killed, he wrote Psalm 51 where he says to God:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
He was aware of his sin and guilt and he longed to be cleansed from it. He wanted to be washed and made clean. And so, in the psalm, he went on to say:
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
He mentions hyssop because the Old Testament law required that, in some cases, a hyssop branch should be dipped in the blood of an animal and the blood should be sprinkled on the unclean person to make him clean again. And David wanted the Lord to do that to him. But every one knew that the blood of an animal could not really make a sinner inwardly clean. The blood of an animal sprinkled on your body could not cleanse your guilty heart and your guilty conscience. And that’s what David wanted and it’s what every person needs if we ever hope to come into the presence of God in the new heavens and earth. Our hearts need to be cleansed and we need to be made morally and spiritually pure. Think of Adam and Eve who sinned against the Lord and who were sent out of the Garden. They could not dwell in the presence of God, because they were unclean sinners. And that’s the way we all are by nature. By nature we’re sinners and we sin against God continually and we are not fit to come into his holy presence.
And so, here’s a wonderful announcement for guilty people everywhere: a fountain has been opened to cleanse from sin and impurity. And Zechariah’s promise of an open fountain was fulfilled by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ into the world, because when he died on the cross, he laid down his life as the ransom to pay for all that we have done wrong and he shed his blood to cleanse us. Sprinkling unclean people with the blood of an animal in Old Testament times was for the time being only and it was to make do until Christ came into the world to shed his blood on the cross for guilty sinners. On the cross he shed his blood to cleanse us from all our guilt and shame. And whereas in Old Testament times they had to make do with sprinkling a little bit of blood, now there has been opened up for us a fountain for cleansing, which means it will never end, but will flow continually. This means that there is no end to the cleansing which Christ provides. This means his ability to provide cleansing and forgiveness to sinners will not run out; and his forgiveness flows out to all who trust in him. Think about your life. Think of the worst thing you have done. And think of the thousands and thousands of little things you have done wrong. And then consider that, as well as those things, there are many more things you have done wrong which you’re not even aware of. But whatever you have done — the big things, the little things, the things you don’t even know about — all are washed away because of Christ who gave up his life for sinners and who shed his blood to cleanse us.
The fountain is opened and we are washed by it whenever we trust in Christ. And that’s important. A running tap is no use to the man who is dirty unless he goes to the tap to be washed. And Christ’s fountain of forgiveness is no use to sinners unless they go to Christ and trust in him. What is it some of us used to sing as children?
Deep and wide, deep and wide,
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.
Jump right in, lose your sin
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.
Christ is the fountain and because he shed his blood for us on the cross, we can lose our sin and guilt for ever.
Verses 2 to 6
And after forgiveness, there’s renewal. After God pardons us for our sins he comes into our lives to renew our obedience. And that’s what verses 2 to 6 are about, because in these verses Zechariah talks about the removal of idolatry and the removal of false prophecy from among God’s people.
One of the reasons the Israelites were sent into exile seventy or so years before Zechariah was preaching was because they worshipped idols and false gods; and they listened, not to the true prophets from the Lord, but to false prophets. And so, here’s Zechariah speaking of a time when idolatry and false prophecy will be removed from among God’s people. On that day, God says in verse 2, I will banish the names of the idols from the land and they will be remembered no more. And then he goes on to say that he will remove both the prophets and the spirit of impurity from the land. The spirit of impurity is the opposite of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired true prophecy, but the spirit of impurity inspired false prophecy. So, after cleansing his people from their sin and impurity, God will enable them to give up their idolatry and their false prophecy. He will enable them to give up their sins and to walk in his ways. In fact, his work to renew them will be so thorough that the names of the idols will be banished and the people will remember them no more.
And this is what God does in his people, isn’t it? Do you remember how Paul described the believers in Thessalonica? He said they turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. Once they worshipped idols. They offered them sacrifices. They prayed to them. They worshipped them. Then they heard the good news of the Saviour and they realised that the gods they were worshipping were false gods who can do nothing; and they realised that the God and Father of Jesus Christ is the true God. And so, they turned from their false gods to the true God. And it’s the same today, because an idol is anything that someone puts in the place of God. And people today put all kinds of things in the place of God, but mostly they put themselves in the place of God, because the most important thing in their life is self. It’s me first and no one is going to tell me what to do, because I will decide. And yet, when God converts us from our sin, he not only cleanses us from our sin and guilt, but he comes into our lives by his Spirit and he enables us more and more to deny self and to say ‘no’ to ourselves and what we want and to do his will here on earth.
And there are still lots of false prophets today. They may not call themselves false prophets, but they claim to speak the truth when what they say contradicts the truth of God’s word. And if it contradicts God’s word, it must be false. So think of all the people who rely on human wisdom instead of the wisdom that comes from God and which is revealed in his word. And relying on their own wisdom, they try to teach us about the world and about ourselves and about who we are and what we should do. And all around the world, people give their attention to these teachers and they build their lives on what they have heard from them. But then God comes into their lives and he enables them to believe in the Saviour so that they’re cleansed from all their sin and guilt. And he doesn’t stop there, because he opens their minds to the truth of his word and one of the things they now love most of all is to hear God’s word read and preached because they know that God is speaking to them and he’s teaching them what is true and what they need to believe and what they’re to do.
In verse 3, Zechariah speaks of a time when a false prophet is discovered. And if anyone would stick up for this false prophet and would plead for mercy, it would be the man’s parents, wouldn’t it? Parents are normally ready to overlook all kinds of sins in their children; and they make all kinds of excuses for their children. But Zechariah speaks about a time when a false prophet’s parents will hand him over to be disciplined. In fact, they will carry out the discipline themselves. His own parents will stab him, he says in verse 3. This conveys to us the change that takes place in people when God comes into their lives and changes them. They will let nothing stand in the way of their obedience to the Lord. As one commentator puts it, not even an emotion as strong as parental love will stand in the way of their obedience to him.
And verse 4 tells us about a time when whoever was a false prophet will be ashamed. And so, he’ll no longer put on a prophet’s garment of hair. He’s perhaps referring to Elijah’s garment of hair; and perhaps false prophets dressed like Elijah in order to deceive the people. You know, if they looked like a prophet, they must be a prophet. But now they are ashamed of what they once did and they give up their old habits. And if someone comes and asks them to prophesy, they’ll say I’m not a prophet; I’m only a farmer. And Zechariah refers to wounds on their back. Perhaps they used to cut themselves as the prophets of Baal did when they wanted Baal to send fire from heaven. But now they’re ashamed of their scars and they will not admit where they got them.
And so, Zechariah is speaking of a time when God’s people are cleansed from their sin and impurity and God has come into their lives to renew them in their obedience to him. Once they did as they pleased and lived sinful and disobedient lives. But now that they have been washed and pardoned, they want to do God’s will and to walk in his ways. And so, they have given up all idolatry and they have turned away from all false prophecy. Having been cleansed of their guilt, they now want to maintain the purity of their lives.
And this is what happens when sinners are converted to faith in Christ, because God pardons our sins and accept us as righteous in his sight for the sake of Christ who died for us. And he gives us his Spirit to renew us and to make us more and more willing and able to do God’s will here on earth. Though our obedience in this life will never be perfect, nevertheless we are sorry for our sins and shortcomings and we look to Christ to cleanse us from our sins. And our heart’s desire is to do his will more and more. And as we join together for worship week by week and as we hear the reading and preaching of his word, he increases that desire in our hearts and he uses his word to shape us and to mould us and to transform us into his image so that we become like him. And in the end, when we come into his presence in glory, he will glorify us and make us perfect so that for ever and for ever we will do his will.
Verses 7 to 9
However, the Lord does not renew our obedience by his word alone, but he uses the troubles and trials and circumstances of life as well. And that’s what verses 7 to 9 are about. In verse 7 the Lord addresses a sword and tells it to awake. Up until now, the sword has been resting in its scabbard, but now it’s to wake up and strike who? It’s to strike the Lord’s shepherd, who is also described as ‘the man who is close to me!’ And after the shepherd is struck, the sheep will be scattered. And, of course, we can imagine a flock of sheep in a field, scattering in fright when an enemy comes and kills their shepherd. But the Lord Jesus applied these very words to himself and to his disciples in Matthew 26. When he was speaking to his disciples during the Last Supper, he said that all of them will fall away on his account. And then he quoted Zechariah 13:7 about how the shepherd will be struck and his sheep will be scattered. He is the shepherd, the man who is close to the Lord Almighty, because he is God the Son, equal to his Father in glory and honour and he was with the Father from all eternity in the Blessed Trinity. He’s the shepherd. And striking the shepherd refers to his death on the cross. Notice, of course, that it is the Lord Almighty who gave the order to strike the shepherd, because it was the Father’s will for his Son to suffer and die, because there was no other way to save us from our sin and misery than for his Son to suffer and die in our place. So, while the Jews arrested him and the Romans executed him, his death on the cross was all part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world.
And then, when the guards came to arrest the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, all of his disciples deserted him. They scattered. And God’s people are still a scattered people, because we’re scattered throughout the nations. And in the last line of verse 7, the Lord says he will turn his hand against his little ones, which is a phrase which he uses in Isaiah 1:25 of how he turns his hands against his people to purge away their dross and to remove all their impurities. In other words, the Lord Almighty turns his hand against his people to refine us and to remove our sin and to purify us.
And that’s confirmed by what we read next, because in verse 8 the Lord says that two-thirds of his people will be struck down and will perish. And we know how the church, down through the ages, has been persecuted by an unbelieving world and many believers have been killed for their faith. But what about the third that is left? What about believers who are not killed for the faith? The Lord says that he will bring the third that is left into the fire. So, they too will suffer by undergoing troubles and trials of their own. And the Lord brings them into the fire to refine them like silver and to test them like gold. Silver is refined in the fire to purify it; and gold is tested in the fire to determine whether it is genuine. And the Lord is saying that he will use the troubles and trials of this life and all the afflictions his people suffer to refine and to test his people. Just as he struck the shepherd, so he will strike his people. But just as striking the shepherd led to salvation, so the striking of his people will lead to their purification.
And we find a similar thing in the book of James, where James tells us to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds, because the testing of our faith leads to perseverance. And we find a similar thing in 1 Peter, because he writes about our trials and how they have come so that our faith may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Christ comes again. God tests our faith with trials, not only to see whether it’s genuine, but because this is one of the ways he purifies our faith and makes us holy. And we find something similar in the book of Revelation, which speaks about all the troubles and trials which God sends upon the world in these, the last days in which we’ve living. And everyone suffers the same afflictions. So, think of what we’ve been going through with the Covid-19 pandemic. It affects everyone, believer and unbeliever alike. God sends these trials on unbelievers as temporal punishments for their unbelief and sin. But he sends the very same trials on believers to refine us, because when the day of trouble comes, we’re to give up our sins and we’re to turn to the Lord and we’re to call out to him for mercy and help.
And so, the chapter ends with the Lord announcing through Zechariah that his suffering people will call on his name. They will call out to him in worship and in faith, calling on him to have mercy on them and to help them. And God will answer them. He will say about them: ‘They are my people’. And they will say about him: ‘The Lord is our God’. These are covenant words. God has covenanted and promised to be our God and to treat us as his treasured possession. And so, in our time of need, we should call out to him, believing that he will hear us and answer us and will work all things together for our good and for his own glory and he will use even our troubles and trials and hardships to renew us in his image so that we will reflect his glory on the earth, which is what he made us to do. And sometimes when he turns his hand against us, it hurts us. And sometimes the fire burns us. Sometimes the troubles and trials he sends into our lives are almost too much for us to bear. And we wonder, ‘Does he really love me?’ And while we may not always understand his purposes for us, the one thing we know for sure is that he loves us, because he sent his Son to be our Good Shepherd and to lay down his life for us. And he has opened for us a fountain of forgiveness which will never ever end.