Priest and King

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How would you feel if you were told you were going to lose eleven days of your life? Would you be angry, resentful or annoyed? You might well ask 'What right have they got to do this to me'? Way back in 1752 that's exactly what happened. The 2 September was immediately followed by 14 September. This was to align the English calendar with Continental calendar. And to make the change eleven days were wiped out. Understandably people felt miffed. They felt cheated. What about birthdays and wedding anniversaries? What about paying wages? After some initial rumblings of discontent things settled down, and life continued - minus the eleven days. In books you will find references to old style and new style. That is pre September 1752 and post September 1752.

Old style and new style. That set me thinking about our reading of the bible. Without the coming of Jesus we would read the OT like the Jews - still longing, still waiting for the messiah to come. But in the light of the coming of Jesus we read the scriptures in a new light. The NT is grounded in the OT and the OT points us forward to the NT. There is one revelation of God that is presented to us as part 'a' and part 'b'. The two are one. Hopefully that should help us as we look at Zechariah. It's certainly not an easy book to read. Jerome, the early biblical scholar made the point that Zechariah was both the longest of the minor prophets and also the most obscure. The book reads a bit like Ezekiel or Daniel or Revelation. Full of visions, and pictures and colours and sounds. So what do we make of it? Hopefully you may find the old style - new style illustration helpful as we engage with the text, and as we submit our wills and our minds to the word of God. At the end of the day this sermon may or may not help you to understand the meaning of Zechariah, but my prayer is that we all might be open to the word of God and to the Spirit of God and to respond to what God is saying to us.

1 Temple, priest and king – old style

As we read the OT much of it concerns God's eternal covenant with his people. He loved them. How wooed them. He invited them to respond to him. God's grace and God's glory shine forth throughout the OT and anticipate what is in the NT. In time, the people of God built a temple in Jerusalem for their God and a palace for their king. The temple was served by priests whose duties included daily prayer and the offering of sacrifices. The ritual was clearly prescribed. The activities of the priests (and particularly the high priest) were set out in much detail.

Three biblical concepts were important - covenant, continuity and calendar. Covenant the binding agreement between the Lord and his people. Continuity with the past and the detailed and ordered performance of the priestly duties. And the liturgical calendar (centred around the festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, and with a particular focus on the Day of Atonement. And if you think about it covenant, continuity and the Christian year still resonate with us today. They provide a framework for faith.

Over the course of 1,000 years there were three temples erected in Jerusalem. The first was built by king Solomon; then after the Exile it was rebuilt; and then it was replaced by the magnificent temple built by Herod the Great. After the Jewish revolt in AD70 it was destroyed by the Romans and the site used for pagan worship. Much later in the 7th century the Muslim shrine (the Dome of the Rock) was built on the site. Today nothing is left of Herod's temple apart from the enormous platform made of huge stones, part of which is known as the Western Wall (or commonly, but wrongly, the Wailing Wall). To the left of the wall is a tunnel – which is hot and claustrophobic – in which Jewish women pray at a point thought to be where (high above them) the Jewish temple would have stood.

Apart from anything else this reminds us of the importance of the sacredness of place. Where people worship and pray and encounter the living God. Yes, you can worship God in a plain, unadorned room that lacks warmth and colour. But there is also something profound and deeply moving about being in a place where for centuries countless men and women have worshipped, and prayed and heard the word of God and received the sacraments. We stand where the saints have stood. We read the same scriptures. We recite their creeds. We sing their hymns. We follow the same Lord.

Covenant, continuity and calendar take us into the world of Zechariah. The temple at the time was the temple that had been rebuilt after the exile. It was a modest affair and less grand than Solomon's temple and nothing like as beautiful at the temple of Herod the Great. But it was where the people met with their God. We read about the construction of the post-exilic temple in Ezra. As the foundations were laid the people celebrated. The people wept for joy because the temple was being rebuilt. The people wept for sadness because it was only a modest building, less grand than what it had once been.

And those in charge of rebuilding the city and the temple were Zerubbabel the governor of Judah, and Joshua the high priest. Zerubbabel was the grandson of Jehoiachin the last king of Judah who had been taken into exile. Both Zerubbabel and Joshua had been born in Babylon, and their experience of God had been shaped and moulded within that exiled community living far away from Jerusalem, and far away from the temple. They would have echoed the words of the Psalmist – 'By the waters of Babylon there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion ... How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land' (Ps.137:1, 4). For the exiles life was hard and far removed from all they held dear as the people of God. And having returned to Jerusalem their hardships continued. They were discouraged. They faced opposition. The city, its walls and the temple had to be rebuilt; and the cycle of prayer and sacrifice re-established. But yet they could still hope, and dream, and long for the fulfilment of the promises of God. The faithful remnant had returned but were they going to live God-centred lives? We too can hope and dream. We too are challenged to live a God-centred life.

So all of that is the background to today's passage of scripture. There we have the partnership between Joshua, the high priest, and Zerubbabel the governor. These two men were responsible for rebuilding the temple. And we read about them as the word of God came to Zechariah the prophet. In some sense he is a mediator – he stood before the Lord, and the Lord spoke through him. He was in touch with God and he was in touch with the lives of the people of God.

And that should be the same for us. In touch with God and in touch with the world in which we live. Living under God's rule and reign. And certainly as we engage with the word of God and as it speaks to us, and confronts us, and encourages us, we need to hear what God is saying to us and to respond to what he says to us. Yes - that word might come to us in Luke's gospel or in Paul's letters - but it comes to us too through an obscure book like that of the prophet Zechariah.

2 Temple, priest and king – new style

The first few verses of our passage set the scene. Among the many exiles who had returned from Babylon to Judah were three godly men. Along with their families and possessions they brought with them the gold and silver that were the gifts given by their fellow exiles. Soon after they arrived in Jerusalem they took the silver and gold to Josiah the craftsman who fashioned it into crowns. Notice that in v.11 it refers not to 'a crown' (singular) but in the original it refers to 'crowns' (plural). Perhaps this was a tiered crown: an elaborate crown made of silver and gold.

And for whom were the crowns made? You would have thought that one would have been for Zerubbabel the governor. After all he was the grandson of the last king of Judah. By his origin and status surely he was fitted to wear such a crown? And although scholars have suggested that he (and not Joshua) who was the recipient of a crown, the text doesn't say that. In fact Zerubbabel barely gets a mention in Zechariah. He appeared in chapter 4 – as the one who laid the foundation stone of the temple and was responsible for its completion (4:9). But in his role as king in waiting this is not even suggested. Politically that would have been a problem for the Persian rulers. Yes, he was of the house of David, but within the providence of God he was not going to rule and reign. For the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ, was the true son and heir of David, not Zerubbabel.

And so if the tiered crowns were not for Zerubbabel they were made (as the text says) for Joshua. But for a high priest that would have been an unusual sort of headgear. Normally the high priest wore a turban (3:5) - not a crown and certainly not two crowns! One would be grand, two would be pretentious! We need to see the placing of the crown on the head of the high priest as a prophetic sign. It was, if you like, a 'symbolic coronation'. The office of priest and king were two streams of tradition that were being united. And after the crowning the crowns were placed in the temple as a reminder: that priest and king were one. That one day a priest and king would come.

The high priest and what he wore was highly symbolic. It magnified not himself but the office that he occupied. And in 3:8 we are told this: 'Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch'. The Branch is mentioned again in 6:12. But who was 'the Branch'? According to the prophet Jeremiah the righteous Branch would be raised up and he would reign as king (23:5), and he would execute justice and righteousness. In those days Judah would be saved and Israel would dwell securely. And the Branch would be called 'The Lord is our righteousness' (33:15-16). So who is the Branch? Not Joshua but the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who would reign as priest and king. He is the one who would execute justice and righteousness. He is the one who would be crowned with glory and honour.

There is much in Zechariah 6 about the building of the temple (look at vv12-15). Those who are far away – those in exile in Babylon and Egypt would come and rebuild the temple. But the temple was never meant to be an end in itself. Like the crown on the head of the high priest, the temple was symbolic. Later Jesus angered the Jewish authorities when he spoke about the temple. 'Jesus said: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body'. (John 2:19-21). So the body of Christ was the true temple and that body would become the single sacrifice for sin on the cross. He bore the penalty of sin and appeased the wrath of God. There the temple and its ritual and its priesthood were all eclipsed by the Lord Jesus Christ. No longer was there a barrier wall outside the temple. No longer was there a barrier curtain inside the temple. By his death Jesus made access to God not a dream but a reality.

Old style – new style. We read the OT through the prism of the NT. And for us the best commentary on the OT is the book of Hebrews. There the writer enables us to see the significance of the coming of Jesus. Jesus is like Melchizedek the king of Jerusalem (7:1ff); Jesus is the high priest who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven (8:1). Jesus is the high priest who entered the holy of holies not with the blood of animals but his own blood (9:12ff). 'And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins he sat down at the right hand of God' (Heb 10:11-12).

And did you notice a further link between the OT and the NT? In Zechariah 6:15 it refers to those who were far off who would come and help rebuild the temple. In other words the Jews would be joined by non-Jews. As Paul put it - 'But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ' (Eph 2:13).

The prophet Zechariah deals with some big themes. Important themes that point us to the finished work of Christ. To his work at priest and king. To his single sacrifice for sin. To his body being the true temple. And what is to be your response to him today? Zechariah 6 invites us to hear the word of the Lord (v.9) and to obey the voice of the Lord (v.15). May that twofold response be not simply a nod of the head, but a willing response, a heartfelt response to the Lord who rules and who reigns as our priest and king.

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