160. Back to the capstone.

Oh, I can bask in the wonder of the Word of God. Some scriptures are so miraculous in the powerful impact on my life that they are deep in my heart and easy on my tongue.  They become like dear friends, visited over and over again all the while discovering a new dimension and deeper dynamic.

One example is Zechariah 4.  Over many years the story of the returning exiles and the daunting task of rebuilding the wall (Nehemiah) and the Temple (Zerubbabel) served to encourage me in the darkest depths of depression and despondency.

Architecture and environment have always played a significant role in my life.  I cannot work or be creative when the room, the house and even myself are in disarray. Mostly tidiness is basic, but I have to admit beauty brings out the best in me.  I read Zechariah 4 and dream up the best of old-world charm to picture the capstone with one of the most well-known Biblical concepts written or chiseled on it: Grace.  The image I think up, changes from time to time.  Sometimes I see a beautiful arch in a garden that leads to an overgrown greenery where I can enjoy privacy and quietness in nature.  Other times the arch is the entrance to a magnificent mansion where a great feast is prepared.  Entering under the capstone of Grace brings you to the banquet in the presence of our Father himself – the ultimate delight of any child of God.  Our imagination is unlimited and free to make Biblical concepts visual.  When our imagination is submitted to the Holy Spirit we can “see” into the unseen to make our faith tangible.

Reality might be very far from the faith-picture. This is why we use our mind to confirm the promises of God.  We “see” into the unseen and cling to the manifestation of the vision of God’s word in our visible realm.

I always “see” pictures when I read, also when I read the Bible.  With the help of archeological reconstruction, it is easier to imagine the overwhelming destruction of Jerusalem after a cruel siege and a bloody defeat against Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian.  After seventy years the scars on the land and the city are demoralizing.  The Persian emperor, Cyrus the Great, decrees in extraordinary benevolence to assist the exiles in returning to Jerusalem for the rebuilding of the city.

Under the leadership of Nehemiah, the wall is rebuilt in record time – only 54 days.  The next formidable undertaking was the Temple.

The structure that was destroyed under Nebuchadnezzar was the Temple of Solomon.  It was one of the wonders of the ancient world, admired by other nations and emperors.  The wealth and splendour were widely known.  Musicians adorned the Temple with non-stop worship, day and night.  The Temple was the culmination of the triumphant vision of a people led by God from being slaves to being independent and free in a land of their own.

During the exile the dream of restoration to the greatness under king Solomon was kept alive.  The historical desire for reinstated prominence amongst the nations brought the exiles back with singular purpose and determination.

The people and material available were enough to discourage the best intentions.  The chronicles of the elderly of the glory and grandeur of the former Temple served to further dissipate all hope of ever bringing back the majesty of the past.

What then is the solution when everything looks so bleak?

The answer is in the mouth of the prophet. Zechariah and his visions are called by the Lord to embolden the exiles to tackle the impossible.

Our community today is in the grip of destruction. There is no measure of truth, no filter of propriety, no moral decency.  Everyone is free to inconsiderately spit out his annoyance in words of rage and exasperation.  The public domain is a playground for bullying and catty nastiness.  Posters and placards spell out the frustrated anger on series upon series of burning issues.

Just read the headlines of any news stream. The vulnerability of the individual is prominent when the bad and worst of the environment, the suffering of humans and animals and the breakdown of values and morals are heaped up and tossed upon whoever will listen.  Christian values are constantly under fire.  Where Christians themselves are not physically persecuted for their faith, the principles and standards for which Jesus lived and died are shouted down and blatantly attacked.

How will we resist and where will our help come from?

Exactly like Zerubbabel we must hear not to despise the days of small beginnings. (Zechariah 4:10)  Our redemption and hope are in the words of the prophet, in other words, the prophetic word of God that comes from our own study of the Bible or the mouth of prophetic ministry.  Our first call is the Word of God in our hand.  Listen and live:

So, he answered and 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
.  (Zechariah 4:6)

Then he said, “This is God’s Message to Zerubbabel:

‘You can’t force these things. They only come about through my Spirit,’ says God-of-the-Angel-Armies.  (The Message)

These powerful words are not words of violence, backed up by missiles and warships or big-mouth politicians who have to give up on unrealized promises.  These are God-words and the hope and destiny of our community are guaranteed in the prevailing words of Scripture.  It is the power of the Holy Spirit within every child of God living in the invisible Kingdom of Jesus that will win the battle for goodness and love in our world community today.

How do we know this is the solution?  The words are assured and secured in the mouth of the speaker – the Lord of hosts, the God-of-Angel-Armies.

He says:

Now it’s time that my people know who I am, what I’m made of—yes, that I have something to say. Here I am!” (Isaiah 52:6, The Message)

The promise is fail-safe because of his NAME. We know with whom we have to do. He knows everything.

God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one are impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.(Hebrews 4:12-13, The Message)

He is the great Judge, the wonderful Counsellor, the Prince of Peace in our warzone of scandalous excess and enmity.

In Jesus we can fight the words of anger and violence of our modern catty culture and respond with love and grace.

The key is the word on the capstone:  Grace grace.

It is counter-intuitive, in blunt contrast to cultural demands – it is our march under the logo of GRACE.

Grace is not passive.  It is the active inspiration that builds up and encourages. It could only be our emblem when we live in full surrender to the powerful principles of the Holy Spirit. He will remind us of everything Jesus has said and done, so that we could rebuild the Temple of worship in our community.

Grace is favour, unconditional, undeserved sympathy and loving action to the benefit of others.  Grace prompts confession and draws people to the Kingdom (Zechariah 12:10)

The Holy Spirit is the spirit of Grace  (Hebrews 10:29)

It is our strength for all in all.

 

 

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159. Speak to the mountain!

I thought I knew what grace meant.  I have written about it.  I know the Scriptures; I know this particular text in Zachariah – it is one of my favourites.  I can just imagine the capstone; a beautiful stone-built arch with the miraculous word: grace carved out on it.  It has to be the logo of my life.  I claimed it, I framed it and I own it in my imagination.

Still, there is more to learn.  I should have known.  The Word of God is multi-facetted and never one-dimensional.  There is always something new – a new angle, a new perspective.  Zachariah 4 has been put in the spotlight again in the last few weeks.  Let us read together:

Who are you, O great mountain?
Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!
And he shall bring forth the capstone
With shouts of “Grace, grace to it!
  (Zechariah 4:7)

Zerubbabel had a gigantic task.  He had to restore the Temple that lay in ruins after a cruel siege of Jerusalem about 70 years before and the subsequent exile of the people of Judah into Babylon.  The Temple had been built by Solomon after the death of David and was the climax of the Hebrew civilization and conquering of Canaan, the promised land of the slave nation that was led out of Egypt by Moses.

The people were discouraged and the planners and builders did not know how to restore the Temple to its former magnificence. The prophet Zechariah is called by God to encourage the leaders and to inspire the restoration project. Zechariah proclaims a series of visions with the interpretation thereof.

Start small, he says.  For who has despised the day of small things? (Zechariah 3:10)

Every gargantuan task starts in the ideas of people, the planning on paper and the first bricks to be laid.  They could not be dismayed and cast down by the city in ruins. Nehemiah had already rebuilt the wall in a record time of 54 days.  The Temple was next.  Just the thought of the former glory of the Temple, almost defeated the whole project. The overwhelming task proved to be too much.

God steps in.  In the words of Zechariah, He promises the immense, miraculous, super natural power of the Holy Spirit, through which nothing is impossible.

Hear the words and see the way being made:

This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:
‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’
Says the Lord of hosts
.  (Zechariah 4:6)

The visions of Zechariah are the insight into the unseen, that reveals the super-natural to encourage and enable. It is exactly where we find strength today – in the prophetic word of God.  Our vision into the unseen uncover the “veil” of mystery and expose the reality of God’s powerful intervention that facilitate the impossible into a wonderful work of the Holy Spirit.

Nothing is impossible when we “see” the way God sees. This is the perspective that the prophetic brings.

The Brenton Septuagint Translation has an interesting variation on the words of this verse.

Who art thou, the great mountain before Zerababbel, that thou shouldest prosper? whereas I will bring out the stone of the inheritance, the grace of it the equal of my grace.

[The Septuagint is the translation of the Old Testament Jewish scriptures from Hebrew to Greek in the third and second centuries before Christ by Jewish scholars for the Greeks.  Later, after Jesus, the Greek Christians used this translation as the authentic version of the Old Testament.  Sir Lancelot Charles L Brenton translated the Septuagint into English in 1844]

Our inheritance is written on the capstone.  Grace that equals God’s grace.  It is powerful words.

It is words of empowerment to equip us for everything we need, however impossible.

How do we know that grace is a power that works in our favour?

 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.  (Acts 4:33)

God’s grace empowered the apostles.  The realm in which this most colossal task in the entire history of mankind, of establishing the Christian church happened, is grace.  The fledgling start of Christianity in the acts of the handful of Christ followers who were empowered by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, cannot be described in human terms.  The core of the statement is, of course, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, everything is possible.

The Holy Spirit is the main player in the story. He makes all the difference.  The Holy Spirit is the power of the grace of God. He is the invisible drive that makes the mountain a plain.

One could never disregard or underestimate the Holy Spirit’s role in a situation or in the life of a born-again Christian. The Holy Spirit moves the mountain in the unseen, without you being able to see or feel.  Things happen in the unseen with miraculous impact in the seen.  He is the breath of God, the source of life, the wind of power (John 3).  One cannot see breath, see the wind or see the source of life.  One can experience the effect thereof.

God is good and He wants good things for you – all for your benefit.  The cross of Jesus is the guarantee.  He can make things work to unfold to your advantage even if you could not imagine it in your wildest dreams. It is his character as He defines himself in Exodus 34:6:

And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,

God is love – you have heard it all before, often. He cannot do anything but from love. He does not have love; He is love. It is his being, his character and the source from which He acts.

Believe it – even though it might not feel that way. The Holy Spirit is not a feeling. He is the life-giving source that works according to a higher plan that you cannot feel.

This is how CS Lewis describes it:

It is quite right that you should feel that “something terrific” has happened to you (It has) and be “all glowy.”  Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift.  I mean, it is not the sensations that are the real thing.  The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be—perhaps not ever—experienced as a sensation or emotion.  The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them.  Otherwise when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too.  But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it.  May even be most operative when you can feel it least.

 

CS Lewis:  Words to live by. [My emphasis]