A sermon based on Zechariah 13:7-9
Sunday, March 1, 2015 – Lent 2B
Caius had been in the Roman army for a long time. He had seen many a battle. And he was still alive. And through it all his trusty sword had been his constant companion. He cared for that sword like it was his child, cleaning it after every battle, oiling it to keep the rust away. It was like a trusted friend and he even spoke to it. "You did well today. You fought bravely and bit hard. Thank you for defending me and helping me to bring the victory."
Now if it seems a bit odd that someone should talk to a sword, then you might want to consider our text for this morning. In another prophecy of Zechariah, the Holy Week prophet, God speaks to his sword. He cries to it, "Wake up! It's time to act! It's time for you to strike the one that's close to me. It's time to strike the shepherd."
Of course it wasn't a literal sword to which God spoke in Zechariah's prophecy, but a symbol of the suffering and death that would come to Jesus. Our holy week prophecy for consideration this morning is found in Zechariah 13:7-9…
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.' "
I. The Sword Will Strike
Hundreds of years before the events took place, Zechariah described the events of Jesus' suffering and death with such clarity.
This morning we hear the prophecy that Jesus himself quoted in Matthew 26:31: Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: " 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' And picking up again in verse 56: "But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Clearly, the shepherd of Zechariah's prophecy in our verses for today is still the Good Shepherd whom we heard about last week. It's still Jesus. He was close to God in every way. No sin kept him distant or separated. Yet the sword would strike him nevertheless…
"Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!" declares the Lord Almighty. "Strike the shepherd…"
Parents are supposed to love their kids. Parents are supposed to protect their kids. But God sent a sword against his own Son. And not to discipline him like a human father might spank a human child. God sent a sword against his own perfect Son!
Why?! Why would God do this? How could God do this to his perfect Son?
Well, you know the answer: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…" (John 3:16)
The sword would strike the perfect Shepherd who was close to God because it was part of God's plan to save his "little ones," that is to save us. God loved us who so often like to scatter when we feel threatened.
Like roaches, who scatter when the light goes on, we too often run scared when the Light of the World asks some sacrifice of us or asks for us to crucify the sinful nature. We like to run back to the comfortable dark. We like to run to "safety" where the persecuting world will leave us alone.
But when we run from the Good Shepherd, we have no one to rely on but ourselves. And while it may bring peace for a time in this life, it will devastate us forever. Jesus put it this way, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Matthew 16:26)
And for being so willing to forfeit our souls to avoid any discomfort for the sake of Jesus we deserve to have God call upon his sword to strike us down… forever in hell.
But… "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…" (John 3:16) So he called upon his sword to strike Jesus instead of us: "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!" declares the Lord Almighty. "Strike the shepherd…"
And so, we are rescued! We are saved from God's sword! We are saved from his wrath! We are saved from the hell we know we deserve! And we are saved because the Good Shepherd took the blow for us!
And now, we're eager to live for him, no matter what persecution or pain it may bring…
II. The Sheep Will Scatter
This is what Jesus has come to do: He came to rescue lost sinners from their own sin and from death and from hell. He didn't come to save his sheep from all suffering and pain. In fact, he made it clear that
"the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you:" he told his disciples, "'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." (John 15:19-20) "In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God…" (John 16:2)
The Shepherd was attacked. His sheep will be too. When a wolf bites a shepherd and takes him down, you can be sure that it will go after the sheep next. The disciples heard that warning from Jesus, but they didn't like it. They were hoping for a different kind of Savior—one that would give them power, and prosperity, and comfort, and ease, and their best life here and now. And so, when their expectations were crushed, they ran.
Zechariah prophesied, "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land," declares the Lord, "two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it."
When people heard that Jesus would not be the kind of Savior they were hoping for, many rejected him. John 6(:60,66) says, "Many of his disciples said, 'This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?' … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him."
So, how do you receive him?
Are you looking for a Savior who will make all your problems go away? Who will give you health, financial security, bliss in every relationship, and happiness in every aspect of life?
Well, what if he won't give you those things? What if he allows pain and sorrow and disappointment and frustration to hit every aspect of your life? (After all, he never promised those things to you. Instead he promised, "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." John 15:19-20) So if—or better, when—such persecution comes, will you scatter like the 2/3 that Zechariah said would be struck down?
No. You won't. You will stay with Jesus. You will take it on the chin. You will take the persecution that comes. And you will be better for it.
You will be refined by it. "This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold."
It won't be pleasant as the fires burn. It won't be fun when the persecution comes. But in the end it will make our faith stronger.
History tells us that all but one of the eleven disciples were martyred for their persistence in clinging to Jesus. But we're also told in Acts 5:41 that they rejoiced "because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name."
In suffering you won't run from him, because you know he would never run from you. Instead you'll call on his name. You'll pray to him and he will answer you. He will give you a stronger faith to face to the challenges that come your way. For he has declared that you are his people. He has promised that when you call on his name he will answer you!
So when my faith grows weak and flickers like a candle, I will say, "The Lord is [my] God." When death rears its ugly head and my confidence is shaken, I will say, "The Lord is [my] God." When satan comes and tells me I am lost for what I've done, I will say, "The Lord is [my] God." For I know that every bad thing the Lord allows to come my way is really meant to drive me closer to him.
So, rejoice, dear friends when you are refined in your faith through the problems and persecution that you face. As Peter, who once ran from Jesus, but later was restored, said, "These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 1:7)
And rejoice that you are already refined of sin because the Father put the sword to his own Son and struck the Good Shepherd in our place. Now God says of us, "These are my people." And we say of him, "The Lord is our God." In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.