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Sunday, April 9, 2017, 9:20 p.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Oh, To Be Like Thee.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Zechariah 7 (NASB).

Or, For Ourselves? (vv. 1-7)

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 town of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech and their men to seek the favor of the Lord, speaking to the priests who belong to the house of the Lord of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, “Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years?” Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, “Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves? Are not these the words which the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous along with its cities around it, and the Negev and the foothills were inhabited?’”

So, when you think of sacrifice for or service to the Lord, what comes to mind? Do you think of sacrifice as giving up something that you really like, for a period of time, perhaps as part of a religious practice or tradition? Do you think of sacrifice as you choosing what you will forgo, as a means of earning favor with God? - Hoping that he will be pleased by your sacrifice? When you contemplate service for God, do you consider only what you think you would be good at? Or, what would fit in with your lifestyle? Or, what would make you happy, or what would gain you attention and popularity? Do you pick and choose your sacrifice and service on the basis of what works best for you and your personality and your schedule? Many people do.

So, what is God’s view of our sacrifices and our service to him, if it is like what I mentioned above? And, what does he require of us, instead?

Jesus Christ, when he walked the face of this earth, had numerous conversations with or about the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They were really good at following all the religious practices passed down to them from their elders. They were good at following all the externals of the law, and ceremonial washings, etc., but they were very short on love, mercy and compassion for those they called “sinners,” and for the hurting and afflicted.

They were good at following religious practices, but short on obedience to God, too. Jesus said they cleaned the cup on the outside but inside they were full of wickedness. They had the appearance of being religious, but their hearts were far from God. What they did was not really for God but for themselves. And, what God required of them, they refused to do, mainly which was to believe in Jesus Christ as their promised Messiah and Lord.

When God speaks of sacrifice, he gives us Jesus as our example. Jesus gave his life up for us so that we could go free from slavery to sin, and so we could be free to walk in his righteousness. Jesus willingly laid down his life for you and for me so that we could have new lives in Christ Jesus and walk in victory over sin. He redeemed us – bought us back for God with his blood – so that we could be in fellowship with God and live holy lives pleasing to him. He knew what is best for us, i.e. what we really need, and so he gave up the possibility of popularity, his reputation, and his life for us, to meet our needs. And, he told us the truth, because that is kind and loving.

So, what kind of sacrifice does Jesus require of us? His idea of sacrifice is that we offer our bodies (our lives) as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is our spiritual worship of him (See: Ro. 12:1-2). This is what it means to believe in Jesus, to be crucified with Christ in death to sin, and to be resurrected with Christ to newness of life, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Jesus said that if we hold on to our old lives (of living for sin and self), we will lose them for eternity, but if we lose our lives (die to sin and self), we will gain eternal life (Lu. 9:23-25; cf. Ro. 8:1-14). Jesus doesn’t want or need what we will give up for him of our own decision making. What he wants is us fully surrendered to him, with him as our Lord (owner-master), and with us as his bond-servants (slaves).

The same goes for our service to him, too. He is not interested in us deciding what we will do or not do for him. He has a plan for each one of our lives, which is to follow him wherever HE leads us, not where we want to go. He has gifted each one of his followers with spiritual gifts, which the Spirit of God chooses for us, and he has given each one of us assignments (parts) within the body of Christ which we are to fulfill, which he also determined (See: Ro. 12; 1 Co. 12; Eph. 4).

And, these may not be at all what we would choose for ourselves, and, in fact, many times they are ministries we would never have dreamed of in our wildest imaginations. Yet, many people like to pick and choose their own so as to avoid getting asked to do what is uncomfortable for them, or what might get them rejected by others. I have even heard Christians say that they would not do certain ministries or they would not want certain gifts, and it is because they know they would be hated and rejected.

Are We Listening? (vv. 8-14)

Then the word of the Lord came to Zechariah saying, “Thus has the Lord of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’ But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen,” says the Lord of hosts; “but I scattered them with a storm wind among all the nations whom they have not known. Thus the land is desolated behind them so that no one went back and forth, for they made the pleasant land desolate.”

Instead of adhering to religious practice and rituals, and following traditions handed down to us by the generations before us, we need to learn what Jesus requires of his followers, and then we need to do what he says. We also need to pray and ask the Lord to direct us to the ministries he has for us, and to make us sensitive to people’s needs, and then to show us how he would have us meet those needs. We need to not have our minds so fixed on what we think would please God, just because our parents or pastors or elders told us this was the way we should “do church” or worship God. But, we need to have ears and minds that are open to hear God’s voice speaking to us through his Word and through the witness of the Spirit, and then we need to do what his Word teaches us and go where our Lord leads us.

As I alluded to earlier, telling people the truth, if done in love, is kind, it is compassionate, and it is caring for people’s true needs. Too many people today are lying to people in order to make them feel good about themselves, even while they may be steeped in sin’s deceitfulness. No one wants to be the “bad guy.” And, many people don’t want to offend anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings, so they lie to them, or they just don’t say anything.

They often ignore sin in people’s lives because they don’t want to get involved; because they don’t want people to not like them. And, this is true of church leaders, too. Yet, Jesus always told the truth, even if it made people uncomfortable, and even if it did offend them, and even if they hated, rejected and killed him in return. So, speaking the truth in love is one of the ways in which we dispense justice, and practice kindness and compassion to others. It is necessary! And, it is loving and kind!

Other ways we can dispense justice, and practice kindness and compassion for others is through ministering to their physical or emotional needs. Sometimes just a kind word or a hug (proper and pure) is all someone needs at a particular moment. We can bring meals into people, or spend time with them listening to them, though never entertaining what is sinful. We can help with financial needs, or help someone move, or take someone to the hospital, or babysit for married couples so they can have a date every now and then. We can send a card or an email to encourage downtrodden hearts. And, we can keep from doing what is harmful or evil to others, always forgiving, and never trading insult for insult, but returning hate with love.

So, the question here is, “Are we listening?” Not just to what God said in this last section, but in the first part of this passage, too, and to what Jesus taught and his NT apostles taught? Or, are we stopping up our ears and refusing to hear the parts we don’t like, because they make us uncomfortable, or because they confront us with our sins and call for us to repent? If God called us to a ministry which we knew would get us hated and rejected, would we tell him no? Are we looking out for our own comfort, or are we looking to serve our Lord fully in whatever he has called us to do?

Oh, to Be Like Thee, Blessed Redeemer
Thomas O. Chisholm / W. J. Kirkpatrick

Oh, to be like Thee! blessèd Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.

Oh, to be like Thee! full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wandering sinner to find.

O to be like Thee! lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer others to save.

Oh, to be like Thee! Oh, to be like Thee,
Blessèd Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.