God’s Word for You
Zechariah 1:3-4 Return to me
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, June 7, 2022
3 Therefore say to them: This is what the LORD of hosts says: ‘Return to me,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD of hosts.
It’s obvious right away that the Lord and his prophet are not speaking the way you or I would normally speak. He takes more than thirty words to say what we could say in ten or eleven. By repeating God’s title, “the Lord of hosts,” which is to say, “the Lord of armies,” he emphasizes that this is very important: the people must turn back to God in repentance.
There is also a subtle reminder here from the Holy Spirit that our true God is three Persons in one Godhead, and the same title, “Lord of hosts,” applies to each Person: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So he is free to use this title whether he is speaking as God, or whether any one of the three Persons should happen to be speaking as we find in the New Testament when the Father speaks (Matthew 3:17), when the Son speaks (John 12:28), or when the Holy Spirit speaks (Acts 10:19-20).
4 Do not be like your fathers, to whom the earlier prophets cried out: This is what the LORD of hosts says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil deeds.’ But they would not hear me or pay attention to me, declares the LORD.
The fathers and ancestors of the returning exiles had many examples of God’s wrath and calls to repent. What prophet ever gave a message that didn’t begin with a call to repent? Moses called Pharaoh to repent, and Pharaoh never did listen, losing an army of chariots in the Red Sea because of his unbelief (Exodus 14:28). Samuel called Saul to repent, but because Saul rejected God, God rejected Saul (1 Samuel 15:26). Elijah called wicked Ahab to repentance with a three-year drought (1 Kings 17:1). Isaiah called Judah to repentance (Isaiah 1:2-3), as did Jeremiah and Joel. Hosea called Israel to repent and so did Amos. And there was Obadiah calling Edom to repent, Jonah calling out to Nineveh, and John the Baptist calling us all to turn from our sins.
God has to say: “Return to me” and invite us, because without his invitation, none of us would ever come. No man has the free will to do that since the fall. We all are bound to do nothing but to keep on sinning and sinning, lost and condemned, without any concern for what will happen to our souls. This is because the conscience, once broken and cauterized by sin, is dead to the gospel and deaf to anything but its own voice. The sinful conscience wants to justify itself, literally and theologically, and so it digs in and takes its stand right there in the mud of its present sin, doomed like Napoleon in the mud of Belgium. The sinner raises a fist to heaven and says, “You can’t damn me for wanting what I want! I will do whatever I please, and I will never listen to God’s voice again!” Maybe that sinner will invent his own Scripture, or his own religion, or maybe he will act like an ostrich and pretend that the Last Day can’t find him if he can’t see it coming. But his backside is sticking out all the same, and on Judgment Day the Judge won’t have any trouble at all finding all of those obscene fists and backsides shaking their unbelief at God.
But God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11); he wants all of us to turn back to him, and so he flings aside what we would think of as pride and dignity and he runs barefoot after us in the rain with a bunch of roses in one hand and a box of chocolates in the other, calling our name like a jilted lover. “I am going to allure her,” he says, “and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2:14). He wins his people over with his love that no one deserves, which is his grace and every blessing. He cleans us up with the forgiveness of sins, and he coaches us in proper worship, proper language, proper living, and even a new way of thinking with the third use of his law: the guide of his holy Word.
He loves us and turns to us and calls us back, and his love and forgiveness calls us back and turns us to him, not because it was our idea or our doing, but purely in response to his grace. The law makes God’s demands upon us, and the gospel renews our hearts, brings us to life through faith, gives us peace, and fills us with joy at his goodness.
Pastor Timothy Smith