Hope for the New Year
Yes, it is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he who will bear the honour and sit and rule on his throne. Thus, he will be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices. (Zechariah 6:13)
One of my favorite books is entitled The Savage, My Kinsman, a pictorial biography of Elisabeth Elliot and her two year old daughter, Valerie, as they lived among the Auca Indians shortly after Jim, Elisabeth’s husband and Valerie’s father, was martyred, along with four other missionaries in January, 1956 in the Ecuadorian rain forest. These five brave men were seeking to bring the gospel of Christ to this Stone Age tribe. Shortly after the murders, Elisabeth, Valerie, and Rachel Saint (the wife of Nate Saint, one of the others killed) moved into the Auca village to learn their language in order to translate the Bible into Auca, in order to lead them to Christ. What is so breathtaking and moving are the marvellous pictures taken by Cornell Capa who obviously was gripped by the story.1 It is clear that Elisabeth and Rachel have forgiven the murderers and have a deep affection for them. To see beautiful little Valerie with her blond hair playing with the Auca children and being carried by the Auca women is a moving tribute to the power of the gospel to break down any barriers that keep people from coming to Christ or from serving him.
But here’s my question – how could Elisabeth and Rachel muster the courage and love to do such a thing? They obviously grasped the glory of Christ’s incarnation. By this I don’t merely mean the example of the Lord Jesus, that they somehow ought to imitate Jesus and live among people who need help or inspiration. No, they went much further in their understanding. They were there because Jesus, very God of very God, ripped open heaven, came down, and took on human flesh. The hope Jesus gave them moved them to look for better days.
Zechariah the prophet, a contemporary of Haggai, preaching and living in the mid 400’s B.C., gave a series of Messianic prophecies, all pointing to a better day for those Jews living in the shadow of their shameful exile due to idolatry. They have come back into the land of Judah but the glory has departed. The temple was being rebuilt and the wall around Jerusalem had been reconstructed, but they know instinctively that things are not as they once were or ought to be. They longed for something more, and Zechariah promises it in spades. The first eight chapters are a series of eight visions, what scholars call dated prophecies, things which have or soon will take place. The last four chapters are undated prophecies, things to take place far into the future. Zechariah writes to encourage these Jews to look for better days through the coming of Messiah.
And this particular vision (Zech. 6:1ff) refers to the high priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak, receiving a symbolic crown of silver and gold. From there God tells Zechariah that a man named Branch will branch out from where he is, and he will build the temple of the Lord. Branch is one of Messiah’s many names (see Isa. 4:2, 11:1, Jer. 23:5, 33:15, Zech. 3:8) which stresses his wise, righteous, and just reign over all the nations. God is not referring to Solomon’s temple (it had been destroyed) nor the temple rebuilt by Ezra. He rather is referring to the temple of the Holy Spirit, that God indwells his own people by virtue of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Acts 2:38, Rom. 6:1ff, 1 Cor. 6:19-20, Col. 1:27). Then Zechariah says that coming Messiah will sit and rule on his throne. That is, Messiah will have a two-fold office as priest and king. Theologians also speak of Christ’s three-fold office as Prophet, Priest, and King but here the emphasis is on his priestly and kingly offices combined.
This prophecy promises a glorious future by virtue of Messiah’s incarnation and work of redemption. Bottom line for us – because Messiah has come we ought to look for better days. Perhaps you simply ask, ‘Why look for better days? The world is a mess.’ Maybe you find yourself agreeing with Yahweh as he spoke through Isaiah, ‘Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood [those who sin wilfully, consciously, and blatantly] . . . woe to those who call evil good, and good evil [those who mock sexually pure young people and champion their own immorality and perversion] . . . woe to those who are wise in their own eyes [atheists who turn the phrase, “Jesus is the reason for the season”, to their own shameless unbelief, “reason is the reason for the season”] . . . and woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine [those who boast at how much licquor they can hold, how many sexual partners they have]’ (Isa. 5:18-22). The sordid, rapid decline into debauchery in the west is staggering; and the possession of nuclear weapons by rogue nations like North Korea and Iran can bring a sense of despair into the minds of those who dare think of the dreadful possibilities. Or you may say, ‘Why should I hope for better days? My own life is a mess.’ Perhaps your children have apostatized from the faith. Maybe they have forgotten you, rejected you. Maybe your marriage has failed. It may be that you are so far in debt you cannot see your way out of it. Or it may be that you go to work each day, expecting to be laid off or fired. Every now and then a young couple asked me, ‘In light of the wickedness in our world, should we bring children into the world?’ And my answer always is, ‘Yes, of course. To marry, to bear children is a statement of hope born out of the goodness of God and the glory of the gospel. There will, indeed, be better days.’
Messiah has come. You ought to look for better days. That’s because he is the Branch who reigns, acts wisely, and does justice and righteousness (Jer. 23:5). That’s because he is the Rod of Jesse, who decides fairness for all the afflicted of the earth (Isa. 11:1-4). That’s because Jesus is the Root of David who by virtue of his exaltation is able to open the book that is sealed up with seven seals (the book declaring God’s great plan of redemption) and to look into it (Rev. 5:5), showing that he is sovereign over all things, that nothing, including your circumstances, is an accident. There is no such thing as bad luck, being at the wrong place at the wrong time. You can look for better days because Jesus promises the morning star to those who overcome (Rev. 2:28) and he declares that he is the morning star (Num. 24:17, Rev. 22:16). Because Jesus is your great High Priest (Heb. 7:25-27) he will save you forever because he always lives to make intercession for you. The non-Christian is completely alone in this world. He has no heavenly Father, no elder brother to pray for him, but you do (John 17:9, Rom. 8:31-34). And you can look for better days because Jesus is your king. He rules now (Psa. 110:1-2, 4) and forever (Rev. 19:1-6).
And what are those better days for which you ought to look? First, there are many present days in Scripture which are meant to encourage you. There is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:1ff) when you heard and responded to the effectual call of the Holy Spirit and believed the gospel (Eph. 1:13-14). There is also the day of sanctification (Heb. 3:13). We are instructed to encourage one another, day after day, as long as it is still called today, lest anyone be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. And there is the present day of peace (John 14:27, Phil. 4:6-7) that Jesus promises to all who trust in him. But there is also a future day of glorification when to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord 2 Cor. 5:8), when the hope of a resurrected and glorified body will become reality (1 Cor. 15:42-57).
Pardon, in closing, this personal illustration, but our second son Allen and our daughter-in-law Emily were blessed with their second child, Marshall, on December 7. When Marshall was born he was blue and not breathing. Immediately the doctor and nurses began working on him. Allen and his elder brother, Andrew, made the long walk to the NICU and Andrew prayed for God’s sustaining grace and for God to spare Marshall’s life. Allen told me later that day, ‘I have never doubted God’s love for me; and I know that if Marshall had died that he would be with Jesus.’ As of this writing, Marshall is still in the NICU, and many of you are praying for his healing; and if God spares Marshall’s life then Allen and Emily will, of course, rejoice in the Lord; but if God takes their little boy, then through tears they and we will still look for better days, knowing God’s sustaining grace now, and the certainty that we will see him again in glory.
This is the hope that the gospel provides for all who believe in the incarnate Son of God. A Blessed New Year to you all!
- Elisabeth Elliot, The Savage, My Kinsman (Harper and Brothers, 1961).
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Al Baker’s sermons are now available on www.sermonaudio.com.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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