A New Beginning (5) – Small beginnings with world-changing results

Bible Readings 

  • Revelation 11:1-12
  • Zechariah 4:1-14

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

In 1920, missionary Dr Kennith Fraser and his wife Eileen, went to Moruland, now part of Sudan.  Dr Fraser understood that the locals had to develop a complete Biblical worldview. As a medical doctor, he built a hospital immediately when he first arrived, but even before that was completed, he built a small school and started teaching a few boys. He and his wife, from the beginning, also took the gospel to the villages.  Dr Fraser died in 1935.  

50 years later, another missionary, Dr Peter Hammond, tells that the people of Moruland were so evangelised that you could leave your wallet on the road outside the market place and someone would bring it to you and nothing would be missing.  A new missionary to the area asked for and then threw Dr Hammond’s wallet out the window of their ute, which landed on the ground outside the market place. Indeed, it was returned with nothing missing from it.

We usually measure success by evaluating past efforts against present results. Success, according to Biblical understanding, is not measured against the end result, but rather by the fact that we start with the work and keep going for as long as God allows.  The parable of the sower helps us to understand this.

The sower goes out to sow.  The seed does not belong to the sower, nor the places where the seed fall.  There is nothing he can do to make the seed grow, and the crop does belong to him.  Christ declares:  

“Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself, the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.” (Mark 4:27–28, NIV)

And then this statement: 

“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30–32, NIV)

From a Biblical perspective, then, success is measured not by the result, but by faithful labour under God’s direction.  Dr Fraser did not live to see the end result of his work, but he was successful because he began well, and ran the race for as long God granted him the grace.

Between 520 and 475 B.C. – Disappointment and Discouragement

God’s people returned from Babylonian exile in 520 B.C.  God wanted them to live as his people by doing things according to his will.  First, they built the altar for worship, then they started to rebuild the temple.  Years later they completed the work on the city walls.

Over the last few weeks, the Word of God taught us that between the work on the altar and the work on the temple, 20 years past with noting done.  The foundations were overgrown with weeds.  The people experienced opposition from all sides and lost courage.  Their priorities got mixed up and they cared more for their own homes than for the glory of God.  God then sent Haggai and Zechariah to once again rekindle the flame of hope.  Haggai’s message was from God: 

“I am with you, declares the Lord.” (Haggai 1:13, NIV)

Zechariah’s message from God was:  

“I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion.  Therefore this is what the Lord says:  ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 1:14, 16, also 8:2, NIV)

God provided two outstanding leaders, High Priest Joshua and civilian leader, Zerubbabel.  Alongside them served the governor Nehemiah and the scribe Ezra.  These needed encouragement too.  So, the Lord provided for them in the form of visions through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.

The day of small beginnings

On the lonely hill where the temple once stood was just an altar.  The economy was bad.  Pest and plagues swept through the country, and inflation was rampant.  The spirit of the people was broken, and many of them turned away from the Lord to intermarry the people of the land.

Commentators are not so sure about the meaning of Zechariah 4:1 where the prophet says the angel found him sleeping, but perhaps even Zechariah had the spirit of Elijah under the broom tree.  

The vision was that of a golden lampstand placed upon a bow.  It had seven lights; there were seven tubes feeding oil from two olive trees into the bowl.  This meant that the wicks of the lamps would not go out.

Zechariah was puzzled, not because he had never seen a lamp, olive oil, or an olive tree before.  He wanted to know what it signified.  The angel answered: 

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6, NIV)

There might be two ways to understand these words.  

  • Whenever Zerubbabel felt discouraged, he had to understand that his mission was God’s work.  God will accomplish his work not by human strength or ability, but by his Holy Spirit.  
  • On the other hand, Darius had declared that people throughout his empire had to support the work by giving what was needed to finish the project (Ezra 6:8-12).  So, Zerubbabel could never say all the resources of Persia were at his disposal for him to begin and complete the work by his own ability and the abundance of material and human support.

No, from the beginning to the end his mission was God’s work for which God would supply — because the bottom line was nothing less but the glory of God.

See, the circumstances seemed insurmountable.  Listen to verse 7:

“What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel, you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!” (Zechariah 4:7, NIV)

Because of God’s work through his Holy Spirit, the work will be completed:  

“The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.” (Zechariah 4:9, NIV)

Don’t fix your hopes on human efforts

God’s work is never crowned with success because of human effort and insight or material input. Human involvement is always insufficient to bring the Lord’s plans to fruition.  Our efforts will never affect God’s will.  Jesus commanded the disciples to stay put in Jerusalem to receive the Spirit; it is by His empowerment that they would be able to be witnesses of the Gospel into all the world (Acts 1:8).

The golden lampstand with its ever-feeding oil to keep the wicks burning is what enables the church to accomplish its mission.  Although the work might seem small and insignificant at any point in time, in the scheme of God’s redemptive plan all efforts by the power and direction fo the Holy Spirit are destined to be successful.  The main point for us to remember is to begin and continue with what God wants us to do. If we begin and continue trusting Him, the seed of Gospel success is sown.  We will not always see the end results, but that’s not the point.  We are never the point; the best we can do is to be a comma—God is the point.  We speak a word, but God completes the sentence.

When Zechariah asked about the olive branches and the feeding tubes, the angle answered:

“These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.” (Zechariah 4:14, NIV)

In some ways, this is a surprising response.  Everything up to this point suggested that the oil and the olive trees symbolised the work of the Holy Spirit—and it is.  But here it refers, in the narrower sense, to the High Priest Joshua and the leader Zerubbabel.  These two witnesses are directed by the Holy Spirit.  Joshua, the priest,  and Zerubbabel the prince, in the line of David, together are the means of bringing new hope to the community. Then, in another sense, the whole community becomes the lampstand shining the glory of God into a dark work caught up in sin.

The high priest pronounced forgiveness so sinners may have access to God’s presence; through the prince, the temple is completed and the lampstand is allowed to shine out to the world. Two ‘messiahs’ (or anointed ones) have their roles co-ordinated; neither is adequate without the other, but the two functions were to be brought together in the person and work of Christ, our eternal King and High Priest.

According to our reading of Revelation 11 the church fulfils the roles of the two witnesses, 

“And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. They are ‘the two olive trees’ and the two lampstands, and ‘they stand before the Lord of the earth.'” (Revelation 11:3–4, NIV)

God, Himself is their protection: 

“If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.” (Revelation 11:5, NIV)

Proclaiming the Gospel results in opposition as we saw last week, but those who oppose us are nothing in comparison with Him who protests us.  

World-changing results

The prophecy of Zechariah is full of references to the Messiah King, Jesus Christ, and it can not be understood as a prophecy for national Israel only.  No, the scope of the book is too wide. It has a vision on the ultimate world-changing effect of the cross of Christ on world history.  It talks about the “Lord of all the earth” (4:14) and not the Lord of Israel only. 

“And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.” This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you because we have heard that God is with you.’ “ (Zechariah 8:22–23, NIV)

This kingdom will grow like the mustard seed; it is like the yeast in the dow.  There will be a harvest up to a hundredfold.

Conclusion

My dear brother and sister, the question is not whether we are doing great things for God; the question is if we have at least started doing what He expects of us and if we will be busy when our Lord comes again.  The question is not how much we achieve, but how much we trust the Spirit to accomplish the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our High Priest.  

When you are discouraged, and should—as we saw last week—the adversary whispers discouragement in your ears, fix your eyes upon Jesus, put your hand to the plough, stick your hand in the bag of and sow the seed of the Word.  The results are God’s.  Always keep your faith focussed on the growth of the Kingdom of God.  It might have started as a small building project, but in the end, Christ will rule with an iron sceptre; He will trample upon the nations, He will judge the living and the dead—because He is God.  On that day your Saviour will present you before the Father who will then, because of Christ’s righteousness the Father will invite you to receive your eternal inheritance.  There will be gathered a multitude which can not be counted.

It might be said of you what the Samaritans said to the woman who met Jesus at the well:  

“We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42, NIV)

May God use your witness as He gives it wings by his Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 February 2020

 

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