God’s Word for You
Zechariah 1:16-17 Once again, once again, once again
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, June 16, 2022
16 Therefore, this is what the LORD says: ‘I have returned to Jerusalem with compassion, and my house will be built in it, declares the LORD of hosts.
The Lord’s promise was to return to his people, to bring his compassion back to them, and to rebuild his house. For many people, the idea of God building a house for himself conjures up images of a huge mansion, something that should be bigger than our White House, bigger than the Capitol or the Pentagon, bigger than Buckingham Palace, with towering pillars of marble, the most perfect artwork in the world, clean hallways and stairways, perfect lighting, and on and on. But the house of God isn’t a place for a human to dwell; nor is it a museum. It’s a place for people to hear the word of God. That means that one person’s idea of beauty and soaring perfection might actually interfere with preaching, for even with modern sound systems, there is nothing worse for the spoken word than a huge room with a high ceiling. A kitchen or a tent would be better. Isn’t it remarkable that God’s idea for a place of worship was an open-air kitchen outside the flap of a tent? A little spot, free from distractions, is all one needs to proclaim Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. But by “free from distractions,” I don’t mean free from the noise of children. Little children need to be in church; they need to make noise and to hear the gospel preached. They need to learn how to sit still for a sermon, even if they don’t listen very carefully to it. My parents brought me to church Sunday after Sunday (a half-hour drive for us) with a Poptart to eat and a couple of toy cars to play with during the sermon, but I know that I was listening because my mind carries me back to the snack and the toys when I hear certain passages of Scripture to this day. Sitting in church is where I learned to sing a tenor line, to learn the responses of the liturgy, how to say a prayer, and what the stories in the Gospels meant.
God’s promise to rebuild his house would mean a small house, about the same size as the original tent that Moses built, but made with bricks and rocks and rough mortar, and not at all pretty. Herod’s redecoration a few centuries later did not make it any better of a place of worship.
On a highway outside of our city, there is a small brick utility building with no windows, about 25-feet square, with steel doors and a flat roof. It’s on a side-road in the middle of nowhere. My sons and I laughingly call it my retirement home when we drive past it; it’s such a puny, lonely little place. Maybe the Jews didn’t have a very good impression of the new temple that was being built because it was so puny and they felt like they were in the middle of nowhere. But that building would serve a purpose that no other building in the world ever served: It was there that the Savior was examined, was found innocent, and was condemned to death anyway. It would be that very building that Jesus would be sent away from to be crucified. He wasn’t lifted up in a place of glory, or on a lovely green hillside (the way we often depict it in our artwork), but on a rocky knoll out back called “The Skull,” away from the line of sight of the temple. He was lifted up by a roadside where travelers would be warned of breaking the rules by seeing his body hanging there.
And of course, truly building the church is not about bricks at all. “Building up the church means to lead consciences from doubt and murmuring to faith, to knowledge, and to certainty” (LW 54:196). But God is also talking about the temple building, because he goes on to say:
And a measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem.’
This is a way of saying that the whole city would be rebuilt and restored. Luther takes this to be a wonderful picture of so many houses being built that the measuring line (if they all shared the same one) would be stretched out over everything. Nobody’s house would be left a ruin. God’s blessing on his church is not only on the church building itself, but on everyone’s home, everyone’s family, everyone’s life—every single person who confesses faith in Christ and is a member of the holy Christian church, which is the communion of saints.
17 Again, proclaim: This is what the LORD of hosts says:
“Once again my towns will scatter, but for good reason.
Once again the LORD will comfort Zion.
Once again he will choose Jerusalem.”
With the triple “once again” statement in verse 17, we have another hint of the triune nature of God, this time with one name given for God and three actions, (1) causing the towns to prosper, (2) to comfort Zion, and (3) to choose Jerusalem.
The verb in the first “Once again” clause is “scatter” (putz). Luther took this to be “sprinkle,” as in: “sprinkled with good things.” I think that this is a fair rendering of the Hebrew, but the preposition often translated “with” is really “from” (the Hebrew word is min). Usually that means a separation from or on account of something, and it can even express a cause for something, like the “at” in Job 14:9, “at the scent of water it will bud.” So I have translated: “but for good reason” to show the cause but also that the former scattering (Isaiah 11:12, 24:1; Habakkuk 3:14) will not happen again, but a good kind of scattering will take place, a scattering “for good reason,” which is to spread out the people of God in order to spread the gospel throughout the earth. No longer would Israel be an island of righteousness. It would become the fountain from which the gospel would pour out. “The nations on every shore will worship the Lord, every one in its own land” (Zephaniah 2:11). This was God’s design for his people, even though only a few fishermen and a former Pharisee would begin the work. David prophesied in Psalm 19: “There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth; their words to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:3-4).
God blesses his people so that they can proclaim his word without want or worry to the wanting, worrying world. This is how he gathers his kingdom, creates faith through the means of grace, and strengthens his holy Christian church.
Pastor Timothy Smith