Who Is God, Part 4

God is holy. God is love. God the Father and the Son are One. These are some profound truths about our God. They are essential to know if you desire a full, balanced, and rewarding relationship with Him. If you believe in God, yet believe in error concerning some point of doctrine, your relationship with Him will never be what it could be. The enemy of all believers is really ignorance.

Here’s another doctrine surrounding God, though it is itself its own doctrine:

But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power to testify about me with great effect, to the people in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, about my death and resurrection. (Acts 1:8 | TLB)

That’s our Lord speaking to His disciples shortly before He left them. He called the coming of the Holy Spirit, “the promise of the Father,” and this promise would be fulfilled in the very next chapter:

Seven weeks had gone by since Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the Day of Pentecost had now arrived. As the believers met together that day, suddenly there was a sound like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them and it filled the house where they were meeting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on their heads. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages they didn’t know, for the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. (Acts 2:1 – 4 | TLB)

This amazing “promise of the Father” was really the promise of power; power to testify about Jesus Christ. And it takes supernatural power to share your faith with others. It’s not easy to be a witness for Christ, especially in these days of intolerance, laughably called “tolerant,” and political correctness, which is anything but correct. The disciples were promised power to share Jesus with the lost, and within a chapter, the believers gathered in the Upper Room were baptized in and filled with the Holy Spirit, who gave them that promised power to “speak in languages they didn’t know.” Onlookers were amazed; they thought this group was drunk! But others had another reaction:

How can this be?” they exclaimed. “For these men are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking all the native languages of the lands where we were born! (Acts 2:7, 8 | TLB)

We can discuss what “speaking in tongues” is all about another time, but for now, what happened here on this particular Day of Pentecost was a fulfillment of what Jesus had spoken of earlier. His followers were given the miraculous ability to speak other languages so that the Gospel could be heard by the thousands of visitors in Jerusalem for the celebrations.

But is this first recorded incident of the Holy Spirit enabling believers to do the will and work of God? Or is what happened in Acts just another incident in a precedent already set by God? There’s an obscure verse found in the writings of an ever more obscure Old Testament prophet:

Then he said, “This is God’s message to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty-you will succeed because of my Spirit, though you are few and weak.’” (Zechariah 4:6 | TLB)

A famous quote, which evangelical scholar D.A. Carson claims his father, a Canadian minister, coined, should be kept in mind when you’re studying any particular verse, but especially a verse like this one. The quote goes like this:

A text without a context is just a pretext.

With that clever maxim in mind, let’s look at just what prompted the prophet Zechariah to say what he said.

Who was this Zechariah?

Unlike a lot of minor prophets, we actually know some important things about Zechariah.

Subject: messages from the Lord. These messages from the Lord were given to Zechariah (son of Berechiah and grandson of Iddo the prophet) in early November of the second year of the reign of King Darius. (Zechariah 1:1 | TLB)

Right away we know that Zechariah, whose name means “Jehovah remembers,” was a professional prophet, who came from a long line of prophets. And we know that he was preaching during the reign of King Darius. King Darius was the Mede who let the Jews return to their homeland after the 70 years of captivity had run its course. So, now we know the date of Zechariah’s ministry: 520 BC.

In the historical book of Nehemiah, we read of various priests who left Babylon to return to the land of Israel after King Darius issued his decree:

Here is a list of the priests who accompanied Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah, Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, Jedaiah.

The following were the clan leaders of the priests who served under the High Priest Joiakim: Meraiah, leader of the Seraiah clan; Hananiah, leader of the Jeremiah clan; Meshullam, leader of the Ezra clan; Jehohanan, leader of the Amariah clan; Jonathan, leader of the Malluchi clan; Joseph, leader of the Shebaniah clan; Adna, leader of the Harim clan; Helkai, leader of the Meraioth clan; Zechariah, leader of the Iddo clan; Meshullam, leader of the Ginnethon clan; Zichri, leader of the Abijah clan; Piltai, leader of the Moadiah and Miniamin clans; Shammua, leader of the Bilgah clan; Jehonathan, leader of the Shemaiah clan; Mattenai, leader of the Joiarib clan; Uzzi, leader of the Jedaiah clan; Kallai, leader of the Sallai clan; Eber, leader of the Amok clan; Hashabiah, leader of the Hilkiah clan; Nethanel, leader of the Jedaiah clan. (Nehemiah 12:1 – 7; 12 – 21 | TLB)

Now we have some historical and geographical context. Zechariah was likely a young man in 520 B.C. and had come to Jerusalem as a child in a caravan from Babylon. The Book of Ezra sheds a little more light on what young Zechariah’s ministry was all about:

But there were prophets in Jerusalem and Judah at that time-Haggai, and Zechariah (the son of Iddo)-who brought messages from the God of Israel to Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) and Jeshua (son of Jozadak), encouraging them to begin building again! So they did and the prophets helped them. (Ezra 5:1, 2 | TLB)

He, along with his pal Haggai, who also has a book in the Bible, were recruited by God to encourage Zerubbabel, who was a kind of civil governor, in getting on with the daunting task of rebuilding the Temple, which had lain in ruins for some 70 years; since the Babylonians had invaded Judah and Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar, who hauled off most of the Jews to Babylon as exiles.

The Jews that had returned home faced many hardships. Not only the Temple, but most of Jerusalem and Judah had been destroyed and the land overrun by squatters, who weren’t overjoyed that they had come home. The surrounding nations didn’t want the Jews to rebuild and did their best to discourage that from happening. You can imagine how depressing it must have been to see your parent’s home a pile of rubble. The Jews that had left their homes and jobs in Babylon only to face poverty, homelessness, and very real danger, were discouraged, frightened, and frustrated.

And on top of everything else, when Darius issued the decree allowing the Jews to return home, many, probably most of them, didn’t want to leave Babylon. They had lived in exile for 70 years. That means the generation that had lived in Judah and had seen the glory of the Temple, was long gone. Those who chose to return had no memory of living in Judah; no memory of the Temple. Two generations had grown up in exile. They now had homes and jobs and families. You can read about this in the book of Esther. They were prospering in what was Babylon, and had no desire to leave their lives to return to….what? A pile of rubble? So, you can see that the intrepid group that did return to Israel was the minority. They were the group going against popular opinion. These few exiles, in returning home, were swimming against the current.

A parable’s meaning

The first part of chapter 4 is devoted to a strange vision or parable that Zechariah had involving lampstands and olive trees. This was the fifth vision Zechariah had, and if you think it was a confusion one, you’re not alone. Even the prophet didn’t understand what God was showing him.

What is it, sir?” I asked. “What does this mean?” “Don’t you really know?” the angel asked. “No, sir,” I said, “I don’t.”. (Zechariah 4:4, 5 | TLB)

In answer to Zechariah’s question, the angel responded in a very curious way because he didn’t seem to answer the question:

Then he said, “This is God’s message to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty-you will succeed because of my Spirit, though you are few and weak.’ Therefore no mountain, however high, can stand before Zerubbabel! For it will flatten out before him! And Zerubbabel will finish building this Temple with mighty shouts of thanksgiving for God’s mercy, declaring that all was done by grace alone.”. (Zechariah 4:6, 7 | TLB)

That was God’s word of encouragement to an overwhelmed Zerubbabel: Don’t worry about your circumstances (the mountain), because God’s Spirit will give you success.

That’s what the vision was all about. As the lamp was fed with oil without human effort, so God’s Temple would be rebuilt and restored, not by the strength or ingenuity of Zerubbabel or anybody else, but by the power and provision of God. Now, of course, the people had to work, and they did, and it was hard work. The Temple wasn’t going to miraculously appear. But God’s promise was that success was guaranteed.

By the power of God’s Spirit working through human agents, like Zerubbabel and all those who engaged in the arduous task of building the Temple, the mountains of obstacles that stood in the way would be flattened.

But in that coming day, no weapon turned against you shall succeed, and you will have justice against every courtroom lie. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord. This is the blessing I have given you, says the Lord. (Isaiah 54:17 | TLB)

Jesus Himself encouraged His followers with a similar admonition:

In reply Jesus said to the disciples, “If you only have faith in God-this is the absolute truth-you can say to this Mount of Olives, ‘Rise up and fall into the Mediterranean,’ and your command will be obeyed. All that’s required is that you really believe and have no doubt! Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you have it; it’s yours! (Matthew 11:22 – 24 | TLB)

Of course, we know there are caveats to what Jesus said. But His point is well taken. If you have the faith, pray in faith believing, and praying in the Spirit according to God’s will, you can’t lose. Recall what Paul said about this very topic:

And in the same way-by our faith-the Holy Spirit helps us with our daily problems and in our praying. For we don’t even know what we should pray for nor how to pray as we should, but the Holy Spirit prays for us with such feeling that it cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows, of course, what the Spirit is saying as he pleads for us in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans. What can we ever say to such wonderful things as these? If God is on our side, who can ever be against us? (Romans 8:26 – 28; 31 | TLB)

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