July 14, 2019 [Pentecost 5]  Zechariah 13:7-9  J.D.Roekle

 

7    “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,

against the man who is close to me!”

declares the Lord Almighty.

“Strike the shepherd,

and the sheep will be scattered,

and I will turn my hand against the little ones.

8    In the whole land,” declares the Lord,

“two-thirds will be struck down and perish;

yet one-third will be left in it.

9    This third I will bring into the fire;

I will refine them like silver

and test them like gold.

They will call on my name

and I will answer them;

I will say, ‘They are my people,’

and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’ ” 

 

Weapons in God’s Arsenal

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          When the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius destroyed the city of Pompeii (in A.D. 79), many people were buried in the ruins. Some took cover underground, and the place became their burial chamber. Those who chose a high hiding place were also unable to escape destruction. But a Roman sentinel was found at the city gate, his hands still grasping his weapon. That was where he had been placed by the captain. While the earth shook beneath him, while the flood of ashes and cinders overwhelmed him, he stood at his post; and it was there he was found a thousand years later. 

          More impressive than that is the fact that our God has never left his post.  He continues to watch over us as he has since the day our hearts started beating.  And God uses his full arsenal to ward off those enemies that try to destroy us.  That doesn’t surprise us, does it?!  We have come to expect that from God.  And he reassures us of that. 

          What is surprising about God is when he uses some of the weapons in his artillery on his own.  In fact, he used them on his one and only Son.  And he even uses them on us.  But let’s understand that God is not using them to destroy us.  Far from it.  He is using his weapons in order to transform us. 

          The prophet Zechariah in this book from Scripture is addressing the people who had been gone from Israel for 70 years.  They had been taken into captivity by the Babylonian Empire.  And now, they were allowed to go back.  Back to their native land.  Back to Israel.  And as they returned, the Lord wanted to make sure that his people would know his love. 

          Think about how you express love to someone.  You may simply relay it with what you say.  You may express it in something you do/have done.  You show love for a neighbor by giving them a helping hand.  And expressing love to someone does not always involve a pleasant experience.  You may have to speak to someone about a harmful path they are going down in order to draw them back. 

          But the love you express, while not always pleasant, never involves an act of violence against your loved one, does it?  You and I would normally think of someone doing physical harm to a loved one or neighbor as the opposite of an act of love. 

          And yet, isn’t that precisely what God did?  “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the Lord Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” 

          These words are surprising, aren’t they?! The Lord Almighty raises the sword against his shepherd.  Do you recognize who he is talking about?  He’s talking about Jesus. 

          In fact, Jesus quoted this verse on Maundy Thursday.  As he was seated in the Upper Room with his disciples, Jesus quoted this verse as he said: “You will all fall away.”  You may remember that it was Peter who spoke up and said that even if everyone else would fall away, he never would

          Jesus prediction came true as Jesus was arrested and the disciples scattered.  Even Peter fell away as he denied Jesus. 

          But what was the point of all this.  Did God have Jesus arrested, crucified, die, and be buried in order to get rid of his followers?  Of course not!  In fact, it was just the opposite. 

          Because we sin, we deserve the sword of God.  We deserve to be struck down.  To be killed and suffer the depths of hell as a result.  When God struck the Good Shepherd, Jesus, down, it was an act of love on his part.  He struck his Son down, so that we would be spared. 

          Even now, our sinful minds want to reject this truth.  Because the truth is, following Jesus means that we too will endure the cross.  Following Jesus can mean trouble in this life.  So what is our natural inclination?  Why should I put up with all this grief!  Why should I endure hardship! 

          Well, God has an answer for you.  He tells you to focus on the end goal.  That one day you will enter into his glory with him.  In the meantime, he wants you to know that he is working on you.  You are his handiwork. 

                    How does he work on you? Consider how he worked on the people of Israel and the disciples.  First of all, consider why God allowed the people of Israel to be sent into captivity in Babylon in the first place.  It wasn’t because he hated them.  It was because he loved them. 

This was a refining process.  He wanted to separate the precious metal from the dross.  The dictionary defines ‘dross’ as: foreign matter, dregs, or mineral waste, in particular scum formed on the surface of molten metal.”  In order to remove the dross, the impurities from gold or silver, extreme heat is applied. 

By allowing the Israelites to be taken into captivity, the Lord was working on extracting the impurities.  Outside influences from other nations had crept in and introduced other gods.  Many of the Israelites had fallen away from God.  But there was a remnant of them that remained true to God.  So that those remaining true to God wouldn’t also fall victim to false gods, the Lord allowed the captivity. It refined their focus on all of God’s promises, and especially the promise of the Messiah who was to come and save them. 

The disciples also were a work in progress.  Through their years with him, Jesus was constantly working on refining them.  And it all came to a head during Holy Week.  Jesus was arrested and the disciples scattered.  They feared for their lives.  Then on Easter morning, we see them huddled in a room trying to make sense of all this.  Jesus finally appeared to all them twice, one with Thomas and once without. 

What was the purpose in all this?  It was to refine their understanding of who Jesus was and why he had come.  And this refining worked.  In our Gospel lesson, we see Peter confessing Jesus as “the Christ of God.”  Yes, Jesus was the one anointed to do the work of God.  To save us.  And Thomas confessed something even more about Jesus when he said “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus was truly God.  The Son of God. 

          You and I need refining too.  God refines us through trials and tribulations.  It may be through physical pain and suffering.  God may allow you to suffering sickness in order to refine you…drawing you to himself. 

It may also be in the form of your faith being challenged.  Think of how that happens.  Someone challenges your faith.  You are forced to respond.  As you respond, you are forced to think about it more deeply.  You are led back to recall what you have learned.  You are led back to your Bible or catechism or to your pastor.  It is through that process that doubt disappears and trust in Jesus is confirmed and strengthened. 

          When you face these kinds of challenges, remember that God has a good purpose in mind with them.  The hymnwriter expresses it well:

 “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,

my grace all sufficient shall be thy supply. 

The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design,

they dross to consume and they gold to refine.”  (How Firm a Foundation) 

 

          The ancient city of Pompeii was just in the news this week.  Experts have recently discovered that there are 7 to 10 unexploded bombs from World War II somewhere in the ancient site, most likely in an area that hasn’t been excavated yet. The guard found under the ashes with his weapon in his hands won’t be any help keeping people away from the danger that those unexploded bombs pose.

          But you can rest easy today and every day.  You have a God who has powerful weapons in his arsenal designed to transform you and keep you safe.  He used his mighty sword to strike down our Savior in our place; while he uses his mighty fire to refine us.  There’s no need to flinch at these powerful weapons because God is using them to further his kingdom. 

          Remember how God used these weapons in the lives of the disciples.  They paid off.  After Jesus rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, the disciples were commissioned to spread the Gospel.  Without their shepherd, Jesus, you would think they might just cower in a corner.  They didn’t.  They were persecuted and told not to preach about Jesus, but they kept going.  The book of Acts (5:41-42) tells us: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” 

          As children of God who are also refined by God’s fire, you can carry on with the Gospel.  Live it and proclaim it to God’s glory!  Amen.