Worth the Wait: Advent Scriptures and Devotion for December 9
Sun, 12/08/2013 - 9:03pm Dr. Carl Peters
Our pace begins to quicken, and our hearts beat ever faster as our anticipation moves toward completion. There is an excitement that gathers as the days pass by. Day nine has arrived. Our preparations continue as we study selections from Zechariah 2 and Luke 1. In these passages we will discover that it has always been God‚Äôs intention to dwell with man. The mode has changed over the centuries, from garden, to tabernacle, to temple, to Incarnation, but His intent has always been the same. God desires humanity to come around Him as His family of worshipers.
Zechariah, the Prophet, not to be confused with any of the other 27 men who have the same name in the Scriptures, sought to encourage the Jewish people in the post-exilic period which began in 539 BC when Cyrus the Persian King allowed the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem. Zechariah‚Äôs book dates from 520 BC and his audience was made up of dispersed Jews who remained in exile, and those who had returned to Jerusalem. A major point of emphasis for him was the rebuilding of the Temple ‚Äì the center of worship and the focal point of God‚Äôs Presence. As the Holy Spirit inspired Zechariah to write, his focus was surely on the rebuilding of an earthly temple precisely where Solomon‚Äôs temple had stood before the Babylonians destroyed it in 586 BC. Indeed, his prophecy of a new earthly temple came to pass. But, as is often the case, the first partial fulfillment is eclipsed by a more ultimate and complete fulfillment. As we read chapter 2, verses 10 through 13, two ‚Äúfulfillments‚Äù should come into view: the rebuilding of the earthly temple which began in 516 BC, and the coming of the Messiah, which is, of course, the more absolute meaning of the prophecy.
‚ÄúShout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,‚Äù declares the Lord. 11 ‚ÄúMany nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. 12 The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. 13 Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.‚Äù
Zechariah 2:10 opens with great words of encouragement for those who have returned to Jerusalem and those contemplating it. Speaking for God, the prophet declares that the Lord is coming back, and he will dwell with them again! Since the first temple had been destroyed, God‚Äôs people were dispersed into Babylon where they became slaves. They felt distant from God and abandoned. The temple was so thoroughly associated with God‚Äôs Presence. After all, it was built according to God‚Äôs specifications to be His dwelling place (1 Kings 6:11-13). And, the Holy of Holies was to be God‚Äôs residence as He sat enthroned between the angels on the Ark of the Covenant (2 Kings 19:15, 1 Chronicles 13:6, Psalm 99:1). All of that was gone! And beyond that, the sacrificial system that maintained the covenant relationship with God and His people was dissolved. No temple meant there could be no sacrifice! Not only was the temple gone, so was the Ark of the Covenant and their entire religious system. Zechariah‚Äôs announcement would have been especially welcome news! Imagine the excitement when the people heard that the Lord was coming back to dwell with His people!
Next, God says that on that day, many nations will be joined with Him and become His people. While the Jewish people were fine with Zechariah‚Äôs first prophecy, this second idea would have been a bit problematic. They preferred the exclusive relationship they had with God and would have balked at any notion of including other nations within the covenant. In the words of John Wayne, ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs just not enough room in this town for both of us.‚Äù We don‚Äôt want any Samaritans here. And we surely don‚Äôt want any Gentile dogs! The Jewish people had forgotten the promise made to Abraham that His family line would be blessed and be a blessing to all the nations (Genesis 12:3). This blessing was upgraded to a covenant in Genesis 22:16-18. After Abraham‚Äôs obedience to God in offering his son Isaac, God said, ‚ÄúI swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.‚Äù Abraham‚Äôs offspring, including the Jewish people, should have welcomed the fulfillment of this long standing covenant promise of God. But, they were focused on themselves. Not only were they uninterested in including outsiders, they were repulsed at the thought! Sadly, Zechariah‚Äôs prophecy of many nations joining God‚Äôs family would have to wait for a future fulfillment.
Zechariah went on to quote the Promised One, saying, ‚ÄúI will dwell among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.‚Äù This is tabernacle and temple language. How interesting that the Lord Almighty will send the Promised One (note the use of ‚ÄúI‚Äù) to dwell with the people. This was the place of Yahweh. But now, God‚Äôs place is being given to the Promised One ‚Äì as if they are equals. This must have caused the original audience to scratch their heads!
Verse 12 restates God‚Äôs commitment to reclaim this returning remnant as His own, and to reestablish Jerusalem as His place of inhabitance. Then, a command is given for all to be silent, for the Lord is rising up from His holy dwelling. This is reminiscent of two passages calling for silence before God. Habakkuk 2:20 says, ‚ÄúThe Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.‚Äù Revelation 8:1 says that after the seventh seal was opened, ‚Äúthere was silence in heaven for about half an hour.‚Äù This passage is also in the context of the heavenly temple. The Jews would have understood that Jerusalem and the Temple would be restored and God would be with them again!
So, we have seen how Zechariah‚Äôs original audience would have interpreted this passage. How should we understand it? First, the prophet says, the Lord is coming to dwell with His people. John 1:14 declares, ‚ÄúThe Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us.‚Äù Zechariah goes on to say that many nations will become a part of God‚Äôs covenant family. Galatians 3:28 states, ‚ÄúThere is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.‚Äù Ephesians 2:12-14 says, ‚Äú‚Ä¶remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility‚Ä¶‚Äù Zechariah then reiterates that the Promised One will dwell among God‚Äôs people and they will know He is sent from God. John 1:14, as we noted, claims that Jesus came to dwell among us. It goes on to say, ‚ÄúWe have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.‚Äù John 14:20 states, ‚ÄúOn that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.‚Äù Now that is the height of the Lord ‚Äúdwelling‚Äù with us, and us ‚Äúdwelling‚Äù with the Lord. Finally, Zechariah says that God will reestablish His people and reclaim Jerusalem, and all the earth will be silent before Him because He has arisen from His holy temple. Revelation 21:1-3 declares, ‚ÄúThen I saw ‚Äòa new heaven and a new earth,‚Äô for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‚ÄúLook! God‚Äôs dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.‚Äù The people reclaimed by the Lord turns out to be the New Covenant people of God, described as the new Jerusalem, and as the bride. Ephesians 5 tells us the bride of Christ is the Church. Indeed God‚Äôs dwelling is with men! Clearly, the ultimate fulfillment of Zechariah 2:10-13 is in the Lord Jesus and His Incarnation ‚Äì by which He makes His dwelling with us. Let there be no doubt!
In the sixth month of Elizabeth‚Äôs pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin‚Äôs name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, ‚ÄúGreetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.‚Äù 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, ‚ÄúDo not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob‚Äôs descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.‚Äù 34 ‚ÄúHow will this be,‚Äù Mary asked the angel, ‚Äúsince I am a virgin?‚Äù 35 The angel answered, ‚ÄúThe Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.‚Äù 38 ‚ÄúI am the Lord‚Äôs servant,‚Äù Mary answered. ‚ÄúMay your word to me be fulfilled.‚Äù Then the angel left her.
Luke 1:26-38 tells us how all of this came to pass. To begin, Luke places this event in some context. He says it took place in the sixth month of Elizabeth‚Äôs pregnancy. Zechariah, (not to be confused with the prophet) her husband, was a priest. While tending to his temple responsibility, at the hour of prayer and ‚Äúburning of incense‚Äù, Zechariah was visited by the Angel Gabriel. This heavenly messenger‚Äôs word to Zechariah was that he and Elizabeth would bear a son! His name was to be John, and he would be the forerunner to the Messiah!
The angel Gabriel appeared one other time at the ‚Äúhour of prayer‚Äù. In Daniel 9:21, Gabriel came to Daniel at the hour of the evening sacrifice, also known as the hour of prayer. His message to Daniel was an interpretation of a dream concerning the coming of the Anointed One, the Messiah! How interesting that Gabriel seems to be exclusively the bearer of news about the coming of the Messiah!
There is one other connection worth noting, and this one is with the Zechariah 2 passage. The hour or prayer or sacrifice also included a period of thirty minutes when the temple fell silent. Remember, Zechariah 2:13 records that God required silence before Him for He was arising from His temple. And as we learned from that passage, the Promised One was coming to dwell with God‚Äôs people. With Zechariah the Prophet, the Prophet Daniel, and the Father of John the Baptist, the half hour of silence coincides with messages concerning the coming of the Messiah. To add to this, In Revelation 8:1, when the seventh seal is opened, silence falls over heaven for thirty minutes! Is this just a coincidence? Hardly!!
So, in the sixth month of Elizabeth‚Äôs pregnancy, Gabriel appears to Mary, Elizabeth‚Äôs cousin. What do you think his message to Mary might be? It should be no surprise that He is bearing good news about the Messiah ‚Äì just as he did with Daniel and Zechariah. Mary is identified as a virgin, as a descendent of David, and as one highly favored, or full of grace. First, concerning Mary‚Äôs virgin birth, Isaiah 7:14 prophesies that ‚Äú‚Ä¶the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.‚Äù Immanuel means ‚ÄúGod with us,‚Äù which draws our attention back to the prophecy of Zechariah 2:10. Identical words are used ‚Äì that God will dwell with man. Second, Mary is in the line of David. God promised David that he will never fail to have a successor on the throne (1 Kings 9:5). And third, as one highly favored, Mary, was about to be graced with one of the greatest responsibilities ever bestowed upon a human. She was to become the mother of the Lord Jesus. It was Jesus who would fulfill the covenant with David and Jacob, and His reign would be eternal!
Mary was obviously troubled by this. Who wouldn‚Äôt be? After all, she had not known a man. Gabriel would explain everything to her. Even though she was a virgin, she would be with child after the Holy Spirit would come upon her and overshadow her. This is a Divine union resulting in the birth of One fully God and fully man. The One to be born would be called the Son of God. Mary‚Äôs response to the Angel reveals her deep reverence and trust in God. She says, ‚ÄúMay your word to me be fulfilled.‚Äù
In 70 AD, the temple would lay in ruins once again. But from the scattered rubble and the ashes would emerge the new temple ‚Äì the Church of Jesus Christ. Now, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Peter wrote that we, ‚Äú‚Ä¶like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.‚Äù (1 Peter 2:5) Because of the Incarnation, God Himself is with us!
The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence. (Habakkuk 2:20)