Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Tuesday, 22 December 20:
From Fast to Feast – A message from Zechariah rightly timed for this Christmas season:
Zechariah 7:5-6 — “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?”
Those who had returned from 70 years of captivity were now asking whether they should continue to fast and mourn as they had done for so many years. Through Zechariah, The Lord responds to them as He has done so many times before – “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10) “Love covers all offenses.” (Proverbs 10:12)
For 70 years, the Israelites appealed to the Lord for a change in their circumstances, but what God intended for them was a change in their hearts – He desired love from them and the knowledge of Him rather than empty ritual, empty works and empty sacrifices. They didn’t need to return to their land, they needed to return to the Lord.
Chapter seven of Zechariah ends with the problem – despite countless warnings and disciplines, the Israelites simply could not adhere to God’s law and faced the wrath of God – “They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. ‘As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear.’” (Zechariah 7:12-13) This wasn’t a problem just for the Israelites, this is the peril of all of mankind – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
However, chapter eight of Zechariah provides the solution to the problem – the unmerited grace of God. “Behold, I will save my people…. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.” (Zechariah 8:7, 8) Nine times in chapter eight, God says, “I am…. I have…. [or] I will.” God takes the initiative in salvation and God fulfills the requirements for salvation. There is nothing anyone can do to earn salvation nor is there anything anyone can do to add to their salvation – it is an unmerited gift from God –
- Romans 5:8 — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- Ephesians 2:8, 9 — For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
- John 6:44 — No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.
- 1 John 4:9 — We love because he first loved us.
So what should be our response to God’s “Amazing Grace”? God says thorugh Zechariah, rejoice in the Lord; turn your mourning into celebration and your fasts into feasts; serve God wholeheartedly and glorify God by being a light to others –
- Zechariah 8:16-17 — These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord.
- Zechariah 8:19 — Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast…. shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace.
- Zechariah 8:23 — Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’
Paul said it another way, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1, KJV).” The only reasonable response to God’s grace, the only response that makes any sense at all, is to live as holy, acceptable sacrifices before the Lord – “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
We were once in captivity to sin, pitiful and mournful; but through the grace of God through Jesus Christ, we have been saved. No longer should we act as if we are still in captivity, sinful and sorrowful. This Christmas season is another opportunity to celebrate Jesus, share Jesus, and glorify His name by demonstrating the love of Christ as our Christmas Gift to others.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 22 December 20: Give the gift of Jesus to everyone around you this Christmas season.