“Return to Me”

“Return to Me” September 28, 2022

Scripture:        Zechariah, chapters 1-3; Luke, chapter 11

Zechariah 1:1-6 (NASB) – In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo, saying: “The Lord was very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Lord of armies says: “Return to Me,” declares the Lord, “that I may return to you,” says the Lord of armies.  “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets proclaimed, saying, ‘This is what the Lord of armies says: “Return now from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.”’ But they did not listen or pay attention to Me,” declares the Lord.

“Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did My words and My statutes, which I commanded My servants the prophets, not overtake your fathers? Then they repented and said, ‘Just as the Lord of armies planned to do to us in accordance with our ways and our deeds, so He has dealt with us.’”’”

Observations: The first thing that caught my attention this morning as I read this passage is In the eighth month of the second year of Darius. We read the book of Haggai yesterday, and Haggai’s prophecies were also in the second year of Darius. Haggai called the people to restore the Temple, and return to God’s house for worship. God spoke through Zechariah to call the people to repentance. God wanted them to obey Him, but for the right reasons.’

“Return to Me, that I may return to you,” declares the Lord of armies. “Lord of armies” is the NASB rendering of the old phrase “Lord of Hosts” that we remember from the KJV. Like every name or title for God that we find in Scripture, it tells us something about God. Lord of armies reminds us that God is at the head of all of the armies of heaven. We are engaged in a great cosmic spiritual battle, but we are not in charge of that battle. We are soldiers; God is the Lord of armies.

“Return to Me” clearly sets forth the issue: the people had strayed from God. God had not left them; they had left Him. “Return to Me” is a call to be reconciled to God, to allow Him to restore us to the relationship with Him that we were created to experience. In the midst of their return to Jerusalem, they needed to remember to return to God.

“Return now from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.”  That was the message of the “former prophets” to earlier generations of Israelites – a message that they ignored. “They did not listen or pay attention to Me.”  And what happened? “Did My words and My statutes…not overtake your fathers?”  Yes, they did. Israel suffered the consequences of their disobedience and rebellion.  First, the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel.  A few generations later, Judah suffered the same fate at the hand of Babylon.  In spite of God’s warnings, the people drifted further and further away – and finally God’s words and statutes overtook them.

Then they repented.  Isn’t it sad that it took such disasters for God’s people to return to Him? But this is a reminder that God will work in the midst of anything – even tragedies – to call His people back to Him.  The genuineness of their repentance is demonstrated in their response: Just as the Lord of armies planned to do to us in accordance with our ways and our deeds, so He has dealt with us.“The judgment we experienced – conquest by Babylon, and exile from the land God had given us – was our own fault. We didn’t listen and obey God, even though He gave us one opportunity after another.”

That’s not where the story ends, though. As we read on, God announces restoration and vindication for His people. He promises to establish and protect them.  “But I will be a wall of fire to her on all sides, and I will be the glory in her midst” (2:6). “He who touches you, touches the apple of His eye” (2:8). “And the Lord will possess Judah as His portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem” (2:12). And, as we’ll see in the next few days, that’s only the beginning!

Application:  We often struggle with “bad things” that happen in our world. Some people ask, “Why does God allow this to happen?”  We need to remember two basic facts. First, we live in a world that is broken and polluted by sin. Millions of sinful choices over thousands of years have degraded this world so that it is far from Genesis 1, when God looked at all that He had created and saw that it was very good.  That’s what sin does.

But the other thing that we need to remember is that God’s ultimate priority is not our health and comfort and prosperity in this world. God’s ultimate priority is our spiritual life and health and development. The long-term spiritual health for Israel was advanced by their repentance, and the exile is what moved them to repentance. C.S. Lewis said that pain is God’s megaphone; God uses it to shout at us when we won’t listen to anything else. He was talking about physical pain, but I think it can be extended to any sort of pain.

I don’t think that God causes our pain – I certainly don’t think He causes all of it. But the “ground rules” of His creation is that “we reap what we sow.” When we refuse to follow God’s way, we experience the consequences.  The good news is that as long as we’re still here, we have the opportunity to return to Him.

Prayer:   Father, thank You for reminding us today that life and meaning and hope are always found in You.  They are only found in You.  Forgive us for the times when we’ve tried to find meaning in other things. Forgive us for not trusting You and walking in Your ways. Thank You for the promise of Your presence through Your Holy Spirit to walk with us each day. Thank You for the promise of life in Your eternal kingdom, which You have offered to us through faith in Your Son Jesus.  Amen.

 

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