Pastor Keith's devotional goes through the books of the Bible a chapter at a time. Each day he shares thoughts and insights from a pastor’s perspective that are intended to be encouraging, challenging, and life changing. Here’s how Pastor Keith's daily devotional works best:
Really, it’s as simple as that. Okay, here we go…
After returning from exile to Jerusalem (a city that had been totally destroyed and ravaged) it must have been easy for the Jews to resign themselves to the cold hard fact that the best days of their nation was behind them. Hope? What hope? It’s pretty clear that God must have known the discouragement, depression, and darkness that had filled their minds because he sent prophets like Zechariah to tell them that one day he would bless them with perfect peace and prosperity. Isn’t that how God still works today? When we find ourselves recovering from one of life’s disasters down and almost completely out, he sends us encouragement and the assurance through his Word and Spirit that life is going to get better; we need only wait for it. But then again, would we really expect anything different from a loving God?
“O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong.” (v.13)
It must have been so refreshing for the Israelites to hear that their future wasn’t going to be as bleak as they though it was going to be. God was going to save them out of despair and disaster. Not only that, but he was also going to make them a blessing. They were even told they had nothing to fear. Okay, so since all that was a sure thing, they could just relax, whistle a tune, and go about their business, right? Wrong. The fact of the matter was that God was encouraging them so that they would pick up the work of rebuilding the temple, something they had laid down years before. O great; so it seems the reason God blesses us is actually so that we can be put in position to used by him to accomplish his work…so he’ll receive glory. Well, when you think about it, that’s actually a win-win deal, don’t you think?
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” (v.23)
All right, when is the last time ten of your [international] friends begged you to pick them up on a Sunday morning to take them to church? Well, that’s pretty much what God said was going to happen in Israel; ten men, not necessarily friends, would step in the road to block your car, while you were driving to the temple to present a sacrificial offering, offer prayers, and otherwise worship God, and plead with you to take them with you. Wow, I think we’re thrilled if one random person we meet even thinks about coming to church. Today, let’s be glad and encouraged that brighter things are on the horizon for us than what we can see right now. Why? The reason is because God has promised an amazing future to those who love him.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11)
If you happen to take a stroll down a museum wing that houses biblical kings who had the distinction and dishonor of having a hardened heart towards the will and ways of God, you’ll see busts of the Pharaoh of Egypt (Ex 7:13-14), King Sihon of Heshon (Dt 2:30), King Zedekiah of Judah (2 Chr 26:13), and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Dan 7:19-20). As it so happens to be, though each of these leaders had seriously hard hearts, there’s actually someone else, well, an entire nation actually, that was said to have had not just your run-of-the-mill hardened heart, but a diamond-hard heart. Wow, what could be harder than that? To get a glimpse of that nation’s heart, you don’t need to go down another wing of the museum, but simply open the Book of Zechariah and read about, yep you guess it, the Israelites.
They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. (v.12)
As the story goes, one day a group of men came from the town of Bethel to inquire of the priests and prophets in Jerusalem as to when they should weep and fast before the Lord (v.3). They basically wanted to know if they should just keep doing what they had been doing while they had been in exile for the last seventy years. Well, that sure sounds like a sincere question, doesn’t it? The problem was that it wasn’t. In short order they got called out for simply going through the motions of religious observances for the sake of tradition rather than doing them for the Lord (vs.4-5); in a nutshell, their hearts really hadn’t been in it at all. In the end, they were accused of having hearts like their forefathers, hearts that were diamond-hard.
And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” (vs.8-10)
In a way, it’s relatively easy for someone to fast; all one has to do is abstain from food and drink for a certain period of time. But at a heart level, that’s really not what God describes as a true fast. The fact of the matter is that in regards to fasting, he’s looking for a whole lot more; he’s looking for practical displays of a soft and tender heart that’s set on pleasing God and man – practical things about which both Zechariah and Isaiah wrote (Isa 58:6-7). Let’s not fall into the same sort of trap the Israelites did; let’s not be guilty of going through the motions of doing things Christians are “supposed” to do, like going to church or reading our Bibles when our hearts really aren’t in it. I encourage you today to guard your heart with all diligence by pressing in closely to God on a daily basis as well as encourage others to do the same (Prv 4:23).
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb 3:13)
In a foreshadowing of Jesus the Messiah, the cryptic term “Branch” was used by a number of God’s prophets. Isaiah foretold that a Branch would “come from the root of Jesse,” that the Spirit of the Lord, wisdom, counsel, and wisdom would be upon him, and that he would reign in righteousness and faithfulness (Isa 11:1-10). In a similar prophecy, Jeremiah foretold that a righteous Branch from the line of David would rise up and reign as king, deal wisely, and execute justice and righteousness in the land (Jer 23:5-6). So it shouldn’t surprise us that Zechariah was also used by God to tell us even more about the Branch who would one day rise up and be our Savior.
Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. (v.11)
Zechariah was told that three Jewish exiles were coming his way from Babylon that were carrying a supply of gold and silver from which he was to make a crown and set it on the head of Joshua the high priest. Having done so, he was then to tell Joshua that he would rebuild the temple, enjoy honor, and rule on his throne. Hmm, let’s think about that for a second; who else in the Scriptures is a high priest and king, involved in building a temple (and a church and a kingdom), and who enjoys honor, glory, and praise? Any guesses?
And say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord." (v.12)
There’s little doubt that Jesus is the Branch of whom so many of the Old Testament prophets foretold, for in the New Testament Jesus is described as our high priest over ten times by the writer to the Hebrews (Heb 3:1 5:10, 9:11, etc.), as the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim 6:15; Rev 17.14), and as wearing a crown of gold, glory, and honor (Heb 2:7; Rev 14:14). Now, as to building a kingdom, well, the kingdom of Jesus is [mysteriously] from all eternity, here now, and soon to come (Luke 17:21; 2 Pt 1:11). Considering that Jesus is truly the Branch, the Messiah, and our Lord and Savior, let’s take some time today to bow our hearts and give him the praise, honor, and glory he so rightly deserves.
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:12)
What’s worse, an alien flying saucer that escapes out of Area 51 in Nevada, a flying carpet from Disney’s Aladdin movie that has an attitude, or a flying scroll that‘s sent by God to be a curse to the face of the whole land? I’m voting the flying scroll because it has the ability and power to clean out the one who steals as well as the one who swears falsely. Oh, and it won’t go away until it’s finished its mission of consuming everything a thief may own, including the contents and structure of his or her house. Yep, definitely the flying scroll.
And he said to me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll. Its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits.” (v.2)
You have to wonder how scary it was for the Israelites to hear the prophet Zechariah tell them that a flying scroll was coming their way as a curse from God to consume those among them who stole and lied (v.3). Great, that thing flying around high up in the sky wasn't Superman, it was impending disaster. If you were one who had a stash of stolen goods in his garage, you had to realize you were dead meat, and if you were one who had lied your way to ensure financial success or to gain a position of power, you had to turn white knowing that were a total goner; after all, even though you knew you could run, you also had to know you couldn’t hide from the righteous arm of the Lord; he was sending judgment to be delivered right to your door, not by UPS or FedEx, but by way of a flying scroll.
"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mt 12:36-37)
Let’s skip over the stealing stuff today, because we all know that it’s strictly forbidden in the Ten Commandments (Ex 2015), and instead focus on the sin of swearing falsely. Hmm, let’s go beyond even that; how about being accountable to God for every single word that comes out of our mouths? Wow, if that’s the case (and Jesus said it was), should we even open our mouths, knowing that if we mess up, a giant flying scroll of judgment (or maybe the conviction of the Holy Spirit) might clomber us from behind (Jas 1:19)? Ah, the pressure to say the right thing! Today, if you don't want to be constantly looking over your shoulder, I encourage you to be mindful of everything you say (whether in word, tone, or body language) and do your best to speak words of truth and love in the name and spirit of Jesus.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. (Eph 4:15)
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Prv 25:11)
Have you ever tried to do something for God in your own strength? How did that work out for you? Well, if you’re like most people, whatever you worked on probably came out just fine. However, the problem is, at least according to the Bible, is that you’re not supposed to be doing stuff for God in your own strength; you’re supposed to be doing things for him in the strength of the Lord - by his Spirit. Why? Well, for one it will turn out tons better if you use his power and for another, if you rely on your own strength you'll eventually wear yourself out. Oh, that's right, there’s actually one more reason: God won’t get the glory, you will.
Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (v.6)
It seems that when Zechariah gave his prophecy, the Israelites and their leaders were pretty much spent; they were physically worn out from trying to rebuild the temple and emotionally drained from dealing with the many mobs of angry people who had discouraged them from continuing the work. To get them back on track, God reminded them that the completion of the great work they were engaged in didn’t depend on their own might or power, but rather on the Spirit of God. Well, that must have been refreshing for them to hear, don’t you think?
"Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” (v.7)
If you’re one who has become worn out from trying (certainly with the very best of intentions) to do something for God in your own strength, I encourage you, before you come to the point of throwing in the towel and admitting defeat (I hope you're not there yet...), to receive the words spoken to Zerubbabel as if they were spoken to you. Zerubbabel was told that if he relied on the Spirit to accomplish his work, a mountain would become a plain and one day he would place the final stone on the top of the temple. Wow, if God could do that amazing for a worn-out and discouraged Zerubbabel, can’t he do the same for you?
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal 5:25)
As you’re working in your garage one Saturday morning, you accidentally knock over a can of paint. You immediately reach for a rag and start wiping it up. After you’ve got most of it, you walk over to throw the rag away and, oh no, you bump your head on a shelf and a bucket of old dirty oil falls to the ground. This is not a good morning. Again, you bend down and start wiping it up with your dirty rag. When the spill is taken up as best you can, you stand up with what is now a really gross rag and out of frustration, decide to throw it across the room into the garbage can. Not a good move; being a bad shot, the rag lands smack in the middle of some dog poop (where did that come from?). Looking down at the rag, you realize two things, one, it’s so disgustingly gross you don’t want to even touch it, and two, it’s not a rag, but your best dress shirt. Oh great, now what are you going to wear to church?
And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” (v.5)
In the days of the prophet Zechariah, Joshua the high priest was walking around in filthy garments (at least in a spiritual sense). Whether he knew his clothes were filthy or not doesn’t really matter; what is important is that Joshua couldn’t make them clean all by himself – only God could do something like that. Now, when you think about it, before we repented of our sins and confessed the name of Jesus, we were very much like Joshua; we were all wearing the filthy garments of sin. The amazing thing is that though our sins smelled to high heaven, God loved us so much that he gave his Son Jesus to die on the cross for us so that we could be washed as white as snow in the blood he shed on the cross. But did you know that once he cleansed us by removing our filthy garments and placing upon us the righteousness of Christ, he expected us to serve him in some way?
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.” (v.7)
Once Joshua had received his pure vestments as well as a really cool turban (v.5), he could have simply gone about his business and left God in the dust; but he didn’t. The reason he didn’t was because he was given a charge, much like the charge Jesus gives to those who place their faith in him. Joshua’s charge was to lead the Israelites in rebuilding both their faith and the temple of the LORD. So what is our charge? Is it not to be obedient to the ways of God (just like Joshua) and to do all we can to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples of Jesus Christ (Mt 28:18-20)? I encourage you today to be mindful that God didn’t clean you up for no reason at all; he did it for a purpose.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness. (Isa 61:10)
And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand! Then I said, “Where are you going?” And he said to me, “To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length.” (vs.1-2)
If you want to see a guy with incredible faith that God can do the amazing, then you’ll need to look for a man running around with a ruler. That’s right, a ruler. Why a ruler? Well, how else would you know if the miracle that’s about to happen would fit into the space provided? After all, we’re talking a miracle here, like one where all the Jews who had been sent into exile to Babylon seventy years before returning and settling in Jerusalem – a city that was in shambles. Would the city really be big enough to hold them all; would it be big enough for an act of God?
“Run, say to that young man, ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it.'" (v.4)
Sometimes when God does a miracle, it totally overflows the container…or city…or our limited faith. His promise to the Israelites through the prophet Zechariah was that the multitudes of peoples who had been flung to the four winds of the earth (after the King of Babylon had crushed Jerusalem seventy years before) were all going to come back; there would be so many exiles returning, the walls of the cities and towns in Israel wouldn’t be able to contain them all. This was going to be a huge miracle, one of bigly proportions. But wait; the promise kept going…
"And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst." (v.5)
Not only were the Israelites (the apple of his eye) coming home, but once they arrived, God was going to dwell in their midst. That’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? What would it be like if the very presence and glory of God dwelt in the town you’re living in today? Mind boggling, isn’t it? Oh, on top of that, he also promised he would be a wall of fire to them, meaning that if one of their enemies wanted to take them out, that silly invading army would have to go through him first – and that just was not going to happen. I encourage you today not to place limits on what God can do; he is able to do great things that are well beyond our rulers and imaginations.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. (Psa 126:1-3)
Have you come to the point in your spiritual life where you’ve figured out that God isn’t just concerned with your [outward] obedience to his commandments, but also with the inward condition of your heart? The truth of the matter is that he’s always been that way – all the way back to the time of the Garden of Eden. Yes, he was concerned about Adam and Eve’s disobedience when they chomped on the forbidden fruit, but he was also concerned about the sin they had tried to hide in their hearts. So it should come as no surprise that when, in the second year of King Darius of Persia, he saw the Israelites not fulfilling his command to rebuild the temple, he sent the prophet Haggai to get them back to work. But he didn’t stop there; knowing that they had drifted terribly in their faith, he also sent the prophet Zechariah to get them back on track spiritually.
“Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.” But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the LORD.” (v.4)
Isn’t it amazing how often you have the opportunity to hear the words of the LORD? Now of course, when you attend church, a Bible study, a Life Group, or just open the Bible yourself, you’re not actually hearing the voice of God, but you are hearing the very Word of God. Well, do you realize that there were professing Christians before you who also had the same opportunities to hear God’s Word, but a portion of them either shut their ears to the things of God or, though they heard, didn’t pay much attention to what God was trying to tell them? Oh, and yes, there were also some that flat out didn’t put themselves in position to hear anything about God…and paid the consequences – just like the fathers of the Israelites.
“But my words and my statues, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers?" (v.6)
It’s kind of funny, but a lot of people (especially in the United States) actually do hear (or at least see) the Word of God. It's kind of hard to avoid; you can see it on everything from the occasional billboard on the highway to hand-held posters in the end zone of a football game after a touchdown. The problem is that way too many people don't think it has any power or purpose. Worse, they think if they just ignore it, it will go away and fall to the ground. But that’s not happens is it? The reality is that sooner or later, the Word of God overtakes us and accomplishes its purpose. I encourage you today to put yourself in position to hear and read the Word of God as often as you can, and then having heard God speak to you through his Word, pay attention to it and then of course, do it.
So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isa 55:11)
Pastor Keith will be attending a pastor's conference this week. His next devotion, will be posted on Tuesday, October 10. If you want to get a head start, you're encouraged to start reading through the book of Zechariah. Blessings to all. Pastor Keith
Is God with you in the same way he was with you when you first came to faith or does it seem that somehow God has strayed out of the picture just a bit and at times you need to fend for yourself? In the days of the prophet Haggai, the Israelites were probably asking that exact question. Hundreds and hundreds of years before, God had promised to be their God and always be with them (Ex 29:45), but now, well, where was he? Their intention had been to rebuild the temple, but now that they had hit a serous speed bump (like lots of people with spears and bows & arrows getting in their way to stop the work), he didn’t seem to be around anywhere. Where were his promised strength, help, and favor?
Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. (vs.4-5a)
There are times in our lives when we’re plodding along in our daily [routine] lives getting increasingly discouraged and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, God speaks to us. When that happens, we become instantly infused with passion and hope, set on fire to do whatever he might call us to do. That’s actually what happened to the Israelites; they were down and out and out of the blue God sent Haggai to remind that God was with them, just like he had promised their forefathers. Upon hearing this refreshing reminder, they picked up their tools and ladders and, with renewed vigor, finished off building the temple.
My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. (v.5b)
Now here’s something interesting: On one side of history (Haggai’s), the Israelites were charged to rebuild God’s temple, knowing that the Spirit of God was in their midst, while on the other side of history (our side), Christians are charged to sanctify their temples, knowing that not only is the Holy Spirit in their midst, but in fact he dwells within them. Now of course, the temple wasn’t going to build itself, nor do we become sanctified without doing anything at all. Ah, that’s right; to build (or sanctify) a temple takes work. The encouraging thing is that God comes alongside us in that work. Today, I encourage you to renew your efforts to make your temple holy, having the confidence and motivation that God is in your midst.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Cor 6:19-20