In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the LORD, saying to the priests of the house of the LORD of hosts and the prophets, "Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?" Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me: "Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? Were not these the words that the LORD proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous, with her cities around her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?" 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." But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. 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. (Zechariah 7:1-13a, ESV)
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We’ve all had those moments. We’ve struggled to comprehend or complete something, trying multiple approaches and have been frustrated at every attempt. We’re about to give up when, suddenly, the thought comes to us and the solution is revealed. We contemplate it, asking ourselves the golden question, “Can it really be that simple?” And yet, it actually is that simple. We were just too tied up with our own complexities to realize it.
It’s somewhere around 500 B.C. and a remnant has returned to what is left of Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity. The temple is either rebuilt or still in the process and the walls of Jerusalem remain a heap of rubble offering no protection whatsoever. Into this bleak and mixed time, God sends His man Zechariah, the prophet priest. He is the son and grandson of priests and knows the Law well. The people, steeped in their ritual and tradition, come with a question … should they or should they not carry out the traditional services kept for over 70 years since the destruction of Jerusalem?
The response (and indictment) is swift and clear. God is pretty much fed up with their rituals for the sake of rituals. He never intended the Law to serve as a master in and of itself. The Law was always there to point out the inadequacy of man and direct him to a Messiah. God’s commandments aren’t an obnoxious set of rules. They are summed up quite simply (as Jesus put it) by honoring and obeying God and treating your fellow man with the same dignity, love, and compassion that God does. Micah 6:8 comes readily to mind as does the passage in James about “pure religion”.
But, instead, the people harden their hearts and turn a stubborn shoulder. It cannot be that simple, they think. It has to depend more on us and how we act. And so, God’s word goes unheeded yet again, and Israel’s restoration and recognition of the Messiah will wait. They just weren’t comfortable with the simplicity of God’s command. Apparently, it offended their sense of religious sensibilities.
Before I pass judgment on them, I may want to examine my own life. All too often, if I am honest with myself, I make it out to be much more difficult than it really is. I have my checklists of “God-pleasing” things I do and I want credit for them. None of them are bad in and of themselves, but when I have drifted away from the simplicity of the Gospel, I risk so much. In a misguided attempt to fulfill some internal desire to “measure up” I ignore the basic truths from Zechariah, James, and so many other passages. God doesn’t want my self-absorbed deeds and acts. He wants me … and He wants a me that is quick to reflect His love because of my deep love for Him.
The Crooked Path will be hard at times. There will be twists and turns, ruts and rocks, steep inclines and boring flat places. Nobody ever promised it would be anything easy. But it does not have to be difficult. Instead, it can be walked in the trust and simplicity that can only come from relying on a Savior who has already done the difficult for me. My job is now to follow and reflect His love to others. It really is as simple as that.
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- How long is your list of “religious” stuff you need to get done? When is the last time you evaluated it to see what does or doesn’t meet the “true religion” test?
- Are you living out a simple life, seeking to please an awesome and complex God? Or have you made it all rather complex, and thereby reduced God to something more “manageable” from your perspective?
- Have you clearly heard God asking for your heart and not for your works and acts of self-righteousness? Which of the two are you planning on continuing to give Him?
ESV - Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.