I am taking the youth through the night visions of Zechariah 1-6 on Sunday mornings these days. Its a lot of fun! I’m reminded of God’s wisdom in communicating to us in such rich and diverse genres as we find in the Bible. The pictorial nature of Zechariah, though at times bizarre and difficult to understand, communicates at levels where mere prose cannot. I’ve been encouraged and surprised at the student response. Its cool to see the pictures and images communicating in broader, emotional ways, even when we are not fully sure of all the details of interpretation.
This week we talked through the fifth night vision in Zechariah 4, which is God’s encouragement to Zerubbabel and all the people in their task of temple reconstruction. Some 20 years after return from exile, God’s people were discouraged and underwhelmed at what return from exile meant. Compared to their pre-exilic state, what they are now working towards seems like “small beginnings.” Through Zechariah, God is encouraging them to keep going. He reassures them of his plans for restoration and salvation (night vision #1), justice for those who had mistreated them (#2), prosperity and size (#3), and cleansing and re-establishment of the priestly order (#4). Now God establishes Zerubbabel and pledges that the temple reconstruction will be completed. Through all of this, the abiding message is a call to renewal of covenant relationship after the disruption of the exile. “Return to me, and I will return to you” (1:3).
What struck me during my sermon prep this week was the connection between the truth of Zechariah 4:10 and the gospel. In the NLT, the verse reads, “do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” Like the people who had returned from exile, we can so easily despise God’s work. This is not just an isolated truth in some weird part of the Bible, disconnected from the larger narrative. No, in Zechariah 4:10 see a glimpse into the larger pattern of how God often works. God often does His greatest works in ways that can easily be characterized as “small beginnings.” So often throughout the Bible, and in our lives, God says, “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (4:6). God shows up in a way that is contrary to human pride and expectation. And therefore, we actually need spiritual eyes in order to perceive what God is doing. Perhaps that is why Jesus so often said, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Implication: not everyone can actually hear what He is saying.
On Sunday we talked about how Bethlehem was the ultimate day of small beginnings. When God came for our salvation, when God accomplished the greatest miracle in the history of creation, you might think He would come on a chariot with all His might, but instead He comes as a helpless baby. You might think He would come with with accolades and pomp, but instead He comes into a dirty manger. Who was there to witness the greatest event in human or angelic history? Mary, Joseph, some shepherds, a few travelling kings, and … the farm animals.
Amazing. The One who spoke the world into being arrives, and there isn’t even enough room for him in the Inn. God shows up, and nobody even knows. The greatest event in history, the one we will sing about for all of eternity, and its so easy to despise. Its a day of small beginnings.
Lord, help us to see things as You see them. Give us eyes to see, ears to hear, the beauty of small beginnings. May we rejoice in what You rejoice in, not what worldly pride rejoices in. And may we always be willing, with you, to be misunderstood, obscure, and hidden.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.