Ron Thomke - Durban 2007

Someone mentioned in their testimony this morning that she had been studying in the minor prophets and I have for some months been reading those books at the end of the Old Testament and this afternoon I would like to share with you some thoughts from Zachariah chapter 7. The chapter begins by saying that it was in the 4th year of King Darius. This would be after the Babylonian captivity, after they had opportunity to return to their homeland and the reconstruction would have been well along. The reconstruction of the Temple and of the city and it says in the 2nd verse “When they had sent to the house of God” and it mentions two names “and their men”. But it doesn’t say who sent them. Two men and their staff were sent to the Temple but later in the chapter it becomes evident that it must have been the people as a whole. Like the whole nation agreeing and sending two representatives and it says that they sent them to pray before the Lord but then in the next verse it seems to become immediately evident that the real purpose of this pilgrimage wasn’t to pray but it was to bring a request to the priests and to the prophet, saying: “Should I weep in the 5th month, separating myself as I have done these so many years?” The impression I get from that is that the people as a whole were sending these representatives to the priests and the prophet with this thought: “Do we have to, is it necessary that we fast and deprive ourselves so much? Do we have to put this much into it? Do we have to keep this up? This is a burden. Can we be relieved from some of this burden and this self denial?” That seems to be what they were saying. Should I weep in the 5th month, separating myself as I have done these many years? Does that seem sort of weak to you? I feel sure that there would be nobody coming to this convention saying “I hope I will be shown something so that I can make less sacrifice and still be acceptable. I hope I will hear ways that will let me feel that I don’t need to deny myself.” No one would come here with the thought in mind that I will be relieved from my responsibilities. That would seem like a very weak approach to the Lord. You know, we come, I’m sure, even subconsciously if you think about it, that we come here and that you’re praying that the Lord will show you new paths of usefulness and you’re praying that the Lord will show you how you can be more like Jesus. You’re here with the thought in mind that it may be opened up to you so that you could be more right and more solid. More of a help in the Kingdom and these are the things that you are hoping to hear. You wouldn’t think of the thought that maybe you will hear something that would show us an easier way to serve the Lord. Well that was my first thought that this was their petition, this is what they wanted to hear - some way to be relieved of this wearisome praying and weeping and sacrificing. When you go on in the chapter the picture becomes more clear and maybe we are being a little too hard on them in what we have said so far. It turns out that they have been doing this for seven years. So that connects it with the period of their captivity. So I begin to get the picture then that these Jews have been carried away into captivity and there were tears, a lot of tears. Sorry to be separated from their homeland, from privileges, bearing heavy burdens. A lot of tears were shed and a lot of separating themselves to the Lord, prayer and fasting and must be that somehow a collective thought came into their minds that maybe we could get together to do this. Maybe they couldn’t physically get together but if we would all on the same day of the month separate ourselves in a special way to the Lord and express our sorrow and our longing to be back in the homeland and back in Jerusalem. They must have had this feeing that they would get together in spirit in the 5th month and we will REALLY present our sorrows and our petitions to the Lord. In a way I can see why they might have thought that way. Wouldn’t it appeal to the Lord when all His people who had been carried away because of iniquities and disobedience and of them realising that what we are experiencing here, we deserve it, this is completely fair and just and in a sincere spirit of repentance. When there is a sincere spirit of repentance there would have been tears and if the Lord would have looked down and seen all His people in SINCERE sorrow and repentance and truly separating themselves unto Him. Maybe they couldn’t get together but every person, every heart bowed before Him at the same time. I can see that they would have felt that that is gong to touch the heart of God. We’re conscious of that when we’re together, that the Lord sees this group of people just because we’re so united in our worship and in our purposes and our focus is on Him. If we couldn’t get together but at this particular time we were all focussed on the Lord it would surely appeal to Him. So that was their attitude and I’m sure that was their thought and there probably was a measure of sincerity in their effort, to begin with anyway. To really appeal to God with a spirit of repentance and a feeling of need but now the captivity is over and now they’re back in Jerusalem. So can’t you just see their thought? Are we still going to keep on with this fast? This weeping and this sorrow that we have been going through - do we still have to do that? The captivity is past. So does that put some sense into those words in verse 3? Should I weep in the 5th month as I have done these so many years? The captivity is over now so is it alright to stop doing that? The response that this brought from the Lord through Zachariah was probably completely different from what they expected. They came with the thought, well the time for that is past now but in verse 4 it says “Then came the word of the Lord unto me (that was Zachariah) saying “Speak to all the people of the land and to the priests saying “When ye fasted and mourned in the 5th and the 7th month, even those 70 years, did ye at all fast unto Me, even to Me?” It is like the Lord was saying: “You have been doing this for 70 years but it wasn’t really unto Me.” You were going through a form, you were shedding tears and you were separating yourselves, everybody doing it at the same time on the same day. It was just a form you were going through but in your hearts you weren’t really doing it to Me. As much as to say: How can you quit it because it doesn’t mean anything to me anyway. That’s about what He was saying anyway but when you read something like this it is good to relate it to our own situation. Wouldn’t it be something if we came here and we’re looking back on years of meeting together and years of praying and years of taking the emblems . Wouldn’t it be a sad thing if the Lord would say “You have been doing it. You’ve met together Sunday after Sunday but you didn’t really get into My presence. You took the emblems week after week but you didn’t really worship Jesus. You prayed and you prayed and you prayed but you didn’t ever separate yourself in a way that I could speak to you.” That’s basically what He was telling them “You’ve kept this fast, you’ve kept it on the 5th and the 7th month and you’ve done it for 70 years but it wasn’t unto Me.” This speaks loudly to me that what we are doing isn’t just a form, something that we’ve done so often and we’d feel uncomfortable if we didn’t do it - meetings, the emblems, reading and praying and you just got into that pattern but we need to be sure that it is indeed unto the Lord, that we really get into His presence when we pray. It’s not just a matter of being on our knees or being in the closet but that we’ve shut the door and are really into His presence. In the next verse it says “When you did eat and when ye did drink, did ye not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves. I wonder if the translators had a little trouble understanding what the original language really meant there because if your Bible is the same edition as I have “for yourselves” is in italics which means those words were added because of trying to clear up the meaning and it wouldn’t have been clear without those words. It just seems that the Lord said “Whether you fasted or whether you feasted it was all for yourself, you really weren’t doing it for Me. It wasn’t unto Me. So here they come and say “Can we be relieved of this self denial that we’re going through?” And the Lord just said “Well it doesn’t matter to me because it hasn’t been unto Me anyway. It’s just been a form you’ve been going through.” They probably didn’t expect that response from the Lord through His prophet but less would they have expected what the prophet went on to tell them next. The word of the Lord by Zachariah, after he’s told them these things then in verse 7 Zachariah was saying to those representatives of the people and to the priests, the message to go back to the people. “Should you not hear the words which the Lord hath cried by the former prophets when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity.” Then he goes on to tell them what the Lord had spoken to their fathers years before. Their forefathers, generations before and the message of the Lord hadn’t changed. This fast of the 5th and the 7th month was a kind of new thing that had been brought in and something that they had done in trying to appeal to the Lord but now the prophet takes their mind way back before that to what the Lord had said and it hadn’t changed. Now isn’t that interesting. 
Generations before that the message of the Lord had not changed. We feel that’s so comforting to us because that’s just the way we feel. The Lord’s message to His people is the same message that it was even in the days of the scriptures. Then he goes on in verse 8 “And the word of the Lord came unto Zachariah saying, (and this was the same message that had been spoken to their fathers generations before) “Thus speaketh the Lord saying ‘Execute true judgement and show mercy and compassion, every man to his brother and oppress not the widow, the fatherless or the stranger or the poor and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.’” Do you see what the Lord is saying through Zachariah is “What matters more to me than your fasting or feasting, or praying or sacrificing, what matters more to me is how you are treating each other”. There are four things mentioned here which are basic principles for our relationship with each other, and with all men. Four basic things and you might say “That sounds like works to me. It just sounds like you’re bringing up good works and we’re not saved by works.” “By grace are ye saved and not by works.” It is true, these four things are basically what you would call good works but the way I see it is this. When we repent we are saved, not because we are so good but because God is so good. That’s what being saved by grace means. We’re not saved because we’re so good but we’re saved because He’s so good. There is nothing we can do to earn it or deserve it. We are saved by the grace of God but when we have been saved, we still have to go on living. We’re saved by the grace of God, forgiven, set free, but we still have to live. We have to go to work, earn a living and relate to each other. These four things are telling you about how your life should be lived AFTER you’ve been saved. It’s more like what Paul said when he said that we should walk in good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them and here it just sums it up in four statements - four principles of how to relate to people. In another place Paul says to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. A lot of people would puzzle about what he would mean when in one place he says we’re not saved by works and then in another place he says to work out your own salvation. How does that all go together? That is just what I’m trying to say that you’re saved but then you have to work it out. Like in the morning when you get up you have to decide whether you are going to pray or not. You’re saved but you still have to decide whether you are going to pray or not. You have to decide how long you’re going to pray and you’re going to have to decide if you’re going to pray in the morning or in the evening or both. There’s a lot of things there that you have to work out and this is a little bit about working it out. 

The first thing he said was “Execute true judgement.” Maybe what comes to your mind from that short statement … If you think that in your life someday there may be two people who know you, people who trust you, people who like you and they’re having a conflict. There’s a disagreement between these two people and they know you and they trust you and they like you and they come to you with this problem. They want you to fix it, they want you to settle it, who is right, and if that ever happens you want to have true judgement and that’s the first picture that comes to your mind “Execute TRUE judgement.” If you think about it a little bit more, this thing about executing true judgement has a lot more to do with how you order your own life than it has to do with making decisions for other people. Judgement is making decisions and true judgement is making the right decision. It’s choosing and life is full of choices. There’s continually the choice to make between right and wrong. You have to choose which is right, you have to make a choice. True judgement chooses what is right. You have to make a choice between what is false and what is true and maybe one of the most difficult decisions to make as God’s people is to decide between what is important and what is MOST important. You probably know, the same as I do of people who have been destroyed, people who were walking in God’s way and now they’re far from God’s way and the thing that destroyed them was something that was important. They were completely consumed by something that was important but their involvement in something that was important caused them to neglect the thing that was MOST important. That’s the place where we need judgement. We need to judge, choose between what is important and what is most important. Do you see what I mean when I say this of executing true judgement has a lot more to do with how we order our own lives, how we choose, make decisions regarding our own living. True enough, maybe sometimes we have to help someone else with a decision or as an arbitrator but more important is day after day, hour after hour we have to make decisions regarding our living. Why has it put the word ‘execute’ in there? Execute is a pretty strong word isn’t it? In my thinking it is put to me in connection with executing true judgement means do it. Get on and DO IT! True judgement isn’t just knowing what is right and what is wrong, knowing what’s true and what’s false. The word execute means … ‘you know it, now do it!’ Well that’s one of the basic things about how to work out our salvation. One of the things that had been spoken to the fathers of these people, their ancestors and now it was being repeated to them when they were wondering, do we have to keep on with the fast. 

Then he also said “Show mercy and compassion every man to his brother.” I think we’re all inclined to be a little bit hard on other people and very easy on ourselves. If someone else makes a careless mistake we wonder “Why did they do that? Why are they so careless?” and if we make the same mistake we hope people will just overlook it, we’ll do better next time. Wouldn’t you say that is what mercy and compassion is about? So often we are hard on other people, hard toward their weaknesses and hard to others mistakes. Probably we don’t intend to be hard, probably it’s not our intention to be mean but I suppose the reason we many times don’t show mercy and compassion toward a brother is because we are thinking more about ourselves than we are thinking about him. What he has done has made it inconvenient for us, it’s embarrassed us or people are going to think badly about us who go to the meeting because of what he did and so we kind of have a hard attitude towards our brother but it is because we are thinking about ourselves. I wonder if the first step toward showing mercy and compassion toward our brother, the first thing we need to do is to get our attention off ourselves. We heard some nice things this morning about being focussed on Christ. So often our life is focussed on ourselves and that’s when we get hard on other people because we’re thinking about everything that happens, how it relates to us, how it is going to affect us and the focus is on ourselves. It is interesting but last night before the meeting John was saying “I hope they don’t turn that spotlight on here above the platform. SO often in public presentations there is a spotlight on someone. In YOUR life….WHERE'S the spotlight? Is the spotlight on yourself or is the spotlight on the Lord? That will make so much difference on how you are towards your brother’s mistakes and weaknesses and it is really how you will get started in showing mercy and compassion to your brother. Another way of getting at that same thought has been very near to my heart. After some studying in the early chapters of Revelation and enjoying so much the spirit of worship around the throne and with the Lamb standing that had been slain - when the Lamb is presented before the one on the throne, there is such an atmosphere of worship. I just love that and feel that that would be such a wonderful thing if we could get into that spirit of worship like as described there. When you do that, when you really get into a spirit of worship toward the Lord and toward the Lamb then the spotlight will be completely off yourself. There will be NO focus on self when you are truly worshipping God. That all ties in again because when you are worshipping God you are going to be merciful and compassionate towards your brother. 

Then the next one that he mentions is “Oppress not the widow or the fatherless, the stranger nor the poor.” GOD CARES ABOUT DISADVANTAGED PEOPLE and we are so glad He does because so often we are the poor and needy when we come before the Lord. I remember years ago that I didn’t like that thought of feeling needy. I don’t like that feeling and wish I didn’t always come feeling so needy. That’s what appeals to the Lord. We are needy, we have so much need and it’s being poor in spirit that will mean the Kingdom to us. Those Jewish people in those days, they wanted money, they wanted to build a strong nation, they wanted to have strong defences, beautiful cities and they didn’t mind oppressing and exploiting other people in order to achieve that. It’s just something about those people, they were clever enough and they could exploit those people, the disadvantaged and the Lord took notice of that. He cared enough about that that He very expressly told them “Do not oppress the widows, the fatherless, the stranger and the poor.” You will notice in the other things that are mentioned here as we’re going through these four basic things about how to order their lives and that would still apply to us today, quite often it mentions ‘your brother’, this is about how you treat your brother but notice in this one it is about how you treat the stranger, this includes the stranger. Don’t feel that because someone doesn’t see what you see and doesn’t feel what you feel or doesn’t live according to the way of God that has been revealed to you, don’t feel that you have a right to oppress him or mistreat him or exploit him. Oppress NOT the widow, the fatherless OR the stranger. You know, one thing that has come into play in a lot of our lives is that there are people who are disadvantaged and they feel that that entitles them to special consideration. We realise that if you are openly generous and liberal with people like that, instead of helping them, you spoil them. So we react to that but really there is a balance there – (going back to that other one about showing mercy and compassion towards your brother) - what are you going to do when your brother is really doing something that is not right? He knows it is not right and the neighbours know it is not right. Couldn’t showing mercy and compassion show that you are approving it, that you’re condoning it, you’re supporting him in it? Well just like helping the poor and so on, there’s a right balance needed there. Thinking about if your brother is doing something that’s not right. THERE’S A RIGHT WAY TO REACT TO ANOTHER PERSON’S WRONGS. There’s a right way to react to it and there’s also a wrong way to react to it. When the Lord says be merciful and compassionate it’s like He is saying “Don’t react in the wrong way to another person’s wrongdoing!” We have seen cases where someone did wrong and someone who was very upright and a conscientious person reacted to that wrongdoing in such a way that they made their own spirit worse and they were actually more wrong than the person that had done something wrong, just by their reaction to it. There’s a right way to react to another person’s wrong. There is a right way to respond to another person’s need. You’ll say “Now how’s he going to explain that? What’s he going to tell us what to do?” I’m going to tell you that I don’t know but we need very much the direction and guidance of the Spirit in order to keep the right balance in these rather delicate situations. When someone has done something that isn’t right and just knowing how to help the needy and if you don’t do it just right it is going to spoil things. Well we need the guidance of His spirit to know what to do. We really do. We have to live close to the spirit to be able to fulfil what these things are talking about. 

The last one then is “Let NONE of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.” To me, one of the most common ways of imagining evil in your heart is if someone has hurt you and there is something in you that wants to get even, within the rules of course but still want to get even. Imagining evil against your brother in your heart. Remember that testimony this morning about praying for people that you don’t like to pray for? To me that was the same kind of thing that this is talking about here. When a set of circumstances build up where, if you just let yourself go, your thoughts towards another person get more and more wrong. Just in your mind, just in your thoughts but it’s not right and it’s not good to feed on and it’s not helping you but you just kind of keep thinking of it. To me that is what this is talking about, imagining evil against a brother in your heart. The Lord is concerned about what’s going on in our heart. We’d be inclined to say that even if we’ve got bad thoughts in our hearts towards someone else but we can honestly say “I’m nice to them, I always speak to them, I always shake hands with them, I’m not doing anything against them” but the Lord knows what’s going on in your heart. We’d feel like it is such a victory if we don’t say the bad words, don’t say the mean things and don’t work against them in any way, just as long as it doesn’t get beyond our own thoughts and our own heart. Notice that the Lord put that right there to those people in the Old Testament. Let NONE of you imagine evil against his brother, IN YOUR HEART. The Lord is very concerned about what is going on in our hearts. Just for a moment you’ll notice the next words in verse 11 “But they refused to hearken.” Isn’t that something? This morning we heard about the importance of what you hear and how you respond to it. “But they refused to hearken.” Now it’s a comfort to me what that is saying and when these words were spoken to the fathers, the ancestors way back It goes on to explain that that is why they ended up in captivity but Zachariah doesn’t tell us how the people that were involved here in chapter 7, he doesn’t tell us how they responded. That leaves us with the option of thinking that now, this newer generation, when they heard these words that they responded well to it. We just like to think charitably where we can. It doesn’t say that the people in Zachariah’s day refused to hearken and I hope that wouldn’t apply to us either, that after the Lord’s kindness and mercy in speaking to us here these days. I hope that we will be those that hearken and really execute, rather DO these things we’re listening to.