The Book of Zechariah
SIGNS OF DEAD RELIGION
1. With the seventh chapter of Zechariah we have come to the beginning of our second division (chap. 7 & 8) of the prophecy.
2. The first section began with a call to repentance (1:1-6). Then, the Lord gave the prophet Zechariah a remarkable series of eight night visions, which took him from his day all the way to the second coming of Christ.
3. These eight visions all took place in one night.
4. Since that eventful night, two years have elapsed (cf. 1:1 and 7:1).
5. Apparently the effect of these apocalyptic revelations was that the people rallied to the call to rebuild the temple, which was possibly more than half completed at that time.
6. The situation looked quite promising in 518 BC as the temple went up and all the obstacles were removed for its completion by the decree of King Darius, which confirmed the original decree of King Cyrus (cf. Ezra 6:1-15).
7. With things now going so well, some of the Jews who had returned from Babylon (“they” in verse 2) wondered whether it was still necessary to observe the solemn seasons of mourning and fasting commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
8. This forms the background to Zechariah 7 & 8. The Lord reminded them that He did not institute these fast days and that despite their outward show of religious externalism, their hearts were not right with God (cf. 7:11).
9. Tonight, as we continue on in our study of the book of Zechariah, we will see that in chapter 7 God does not directly answer their question concerning the fast days. He does in chapter 8.
10. However, in chapter 7 God does correct them in very strong language – language that is very similar to the preaching of Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and our Lord Himself.
11. Tonight’s message is entitled, “Signs of Dead Religion.”
I. THEY WERE CAUGHT UP IN RITUALISM (7:1-7).
1. Concerning their religious externalism, the Scofield Study Bible says, “The whole matter, like much in modern pseudo-Christianity, was extra-Biblical, formal, and futile” (p. 971).
2. Ritualism is gaining ground today with many of the new-evangelicals and charismatics, who are attracted to the candles, incense, fancy, colorful robes, getting up and sitting down, etc.
3. Ritualism appeals to the flesh and helps people feel “religious.” It is always a sign of spiritual decline.
4. The emphasis in church should be on preaching the Bible, not on rituals. The pulpit must always be front and center. When people get away from strong Bible preaching, they invariably drift towards ritualism.
5. It is interesting to note that in the NT there are no instructions on how to conduct a worship service. There is certainly ritualism no ritualism taught in the NT. We do not read of Paul or Peter wearing vestments or sprinkling “holy water” or incense, etc.
6. There is ritualism in the OT, but it all pointed to Christ. When Christ died on the cross, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. There were now no more rituals.
7. The expression found in Zechariah 7:3 – “these so many years” – indicates their weariness of these ritualistic ceremonies, which God had never instituted. God Himself was probably weary of them.
8. I think God is weary of hearing dead church members mumble through the so-called “Apostles’ Creed” and the so-called “Lord’s Prayer.”
9. These fast days had lost whatever spiritual purpose they once held, and now these Jews, represented by Sherezer and Regem-melech, desired to be free of them (7:2, 3).
10. Likewise, today millions of lost souls are weary of their religious ritualism – there is no joy, no peace with God, and no reality to their profession of faith. God is not in it. God has nothing to do with it.
11. After the question of fasts is raised, the selfishness behind their inquiry is exposed. In order to expose their religious externalism, Zechariah asks them two rhetorical questions (7:5, 6).
12. During the 70 years of the Babylonian exile, when they fasted and mourned “in the fifth and seventh month,” the Lord asked them, “did ye at all fast unto me?” (7:5).
13. The fifth month marked the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (cf. Jer. 52:12, 13).
14. Charles Feinberg grew up in an orthodox Jewish home and studied for years to be a rabbi before he was converted to Christ. He wrote, “The third day of the seventh month is still observed in orthodox Judaism as the Fast of Gedaliah.”
15. The Lord was asking them (“unto all the people of the land, and to the priests” – 7:5) if there was any spiritual reality to their fasts, or was it merely dead formalism and religious externalism.
16. Whether they were fasting or feasting, their hearts were not in it (7:6). There is certainly an application for Christians today – it is possible to go through the motions without any spiritual reality.
17. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31).
18. Christianity is a heart religion.
19. By ignoring the prophets, they were disobeying the Word of God (7:7, 12). Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.”
20. Second Peter 1:21 says, “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (cf. Zech. 7:12).
21. What good is fasting if we are disobedient to the Word of God?
22. The Jews failed to see the irony of their situation – Jerusalem was burnt to the ground because of their disobedience. They disobeyed the “former prophets” (7:7, 12), i.e., Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other pre-exile prophets.
23. They established their own fast days to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem (brought on by their own disobedience), and they were still not obeying God!
II. THEY WERE IGNORING THE BASICS (7:8-11).
1. This is a theme taught throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation (cf. Matt. 23:23-28; James 1:26, 27).
2. Our Lord expounded upon these principles in His Sermon on the Mount.
3. Many churches have money, beautiful facilities, and big programs, but they are not winning souls and they give little to missions. By neglecting the basics, they have lost sight of their purpose for existing.
4. First, the question of fasts is raised; then the selfishness behind their inquiry is exposed; and finally, the call to repentance is announced (7:8-10).
· “Execute true judgment” (7:9; cf. 8:16).
· “…and shew mercy” (7:9). Micah 6:8 says, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
· “…and compassions every man to his brother: And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless…” (7:9, 10; cf. 8:17).
5. Keeping these precepts cannot save anyone. But if one is truly saved, he will keep these precepts.
6. But the people of Israel would not listen – “But they refused to hearken…” (7:11a). They would not listen to God. They would not listen to the Word of God. They would not listen to the prophets of God (7:11, 12).
7. “Pulling away the shoulder” (7:11) signifies defiance, disobedience, and rebelliousness. We picture a bratty child refusing to listen to his parents.
8. Nehemiah 9:26-29 says, “Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations. Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies. But after they had rest, they did evil again before thee: therefore leftest thou them in the land of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them: yet when they returned, and cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and many times didst thou deliver them according to thy mercies; And testifiedst against them, that thou mightest bring them again unto thy law: yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments, (which if a man do, he shall live in them;) and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear.
9. Zechariah 7:11 says, they “stopped their ears, that they should not hear.” This reminds us of the stiffnecked Jews who killed Stephen in Acts 7. Acts 7:57 says, “Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him.”
10. Sinners like to “stop their ears” but God will still hold them accountable. I think one of the reasons sinners like to listen to loud rock and rap music is they are trying to “stop their ears.”
11. I knew a fellow on a construction job that always turned down his hearing aid whenever the foreman spoke to him. He didn’t last long on that job (or any job).
12. Sinners can only get away with this sort of behaviour for just so long before God moves in judgment.
13. In Isaiah 6:10, the Lord says he will “make their ears heavy.”
14. In Acts 28, the apostle Paul quoted Isaiah 6. He said, “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing.”
15. Paul is speaking of spiritual dullness.
16. One of the most solemn warnings in the Bible is Proverbs 29:1, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”
17. This brings us to our third and final point. God judged them because they were caught up in dead ritualism; they were ignoring the basics; and they had hearts of stone (7:12).
III. THEY HAD HEARTS OF STONE (7:12-14).
1. A hard, stony heart results in faces that are “harder than a rock” (Jer. 5:3).
2. I heard an interesting story about President Abraham Lincoln. A trusted advisor recommended a candidate for Lincoln’s cabinet. Lincoln declined and when asked why, he said, “I don’t like the man’s face.”
3. The advisor replied, “But the poor man is not responsible for his face.” To this, President Lincoln said, “Every man over forty is responsible for his face.”
4. Some people have hard faces from years of sinful living. And along with hard faces and hard hearts, they also have hard necks.
5. Jeremiah 7:26 says, “Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers.”
6. Jeremiah 17:23 says, “But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction.”
7. As preachers we often have to “butt heads” with stiff-necked, hard-hearted sinners (cf. Ezek. 3:4-9).
8. These stubborn sinners had “made their hearts as an adamant stone” (Zech. 7:12). An “adamant stone” was so hard that it could cut through rocks. “It could not be graven itself, or receive the character of God” (E.B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets).
9. This stubborn disobedience brought down “great wrath from the LORD of hosts” (7:12), i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity.
10. Second Chronicles 36:16 says, “But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy.”
11. God cried but they would not hear (Zech. 7:13). But then when they cried, God would not hear (7:13b).
12. This is an important Bible principle (cf. Pro. 1:24-28; Jer. 11:11, 14; 14:11, 12).
13. Because they would not listen to God, He “scattered them” (Zech. 7:14), just as He said He would (cf. Deut. 4:27; 28:64).
14. God gave the children of Israel the Promised Land. It was “a pleasant land” (7:14), but God made it desolate because of their sin.
1. Our Lord said in John 4:24, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
2. The Israelites were worshipping God, but not in spirit and in truth. Like many today, they were worshipping Him in disobedience and hypocrisy.