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Is this our future?

October 28, 2018, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (Zechariah 14:1-21) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Zechariah
Preached at a Mandarin (Sunday) service

Tags: Zechariah

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Title: Is this our future?
Date: 28th Nov 2018
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

Three years ago, we celebrated SG50. If I were to ask you 50 years ago to imagine the Singapore of today, do you think what you see today is within your imagination? Many of you might feel that it is impossible right? The world today is so different from 50 years ago! Even today, if I were to ask you to imagine the world 50 years later, you might be at a total loss. In fact, with the rate of climate change these days, there might not even be a hospitable world for humans 50 years later. A future of 50 years from today is like a dream world for us. But it is important to dream. Because it is through such dreaming, that dreams can come true. The forefathers of Singapore dreamed of a better future, so that we can bear the fruits of what we see today. At the National Day rally in 2015, PM Lee said “three factors helped Singapore get to where it is today: the determination to be a multiracial society; a culture of self-reliance and mutual support; and keeping the faith between the Government and the people.” [1] We may not be able to imagine all the details as we work on shaping the future, but we can have ideals that we want to pursue. The forefathers of Singapore had dreams of multi-racialism, meritocracy and a clean government, and to a certain extent, those dreams have become a reality today 50 years later.

In our passage today, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild their homeland, it was a time for them to dream as well. As they come within the brink of possibility of a day when the temple would finally be completed, a day when the scattered Jewish people were gathered back from distant lands as one, and even a day when the city of Jerusalem would be fully restored as in the heydays of David and Solomon, it is the time to imagine the future of such a kingdom. In terms of nation building, these Jews were in a similar situation as our forefathers of Singapore 50 years ago, because what you dream is what you will work towards. In our passage today, Zechariah painted a vision of Jerusalem of the future. But there was a danger in this vision. Because at first glance, what I saw was not a dream, but a nightmare. Our passage today describes a warrior God. He will fight against the enemies of Israel, striking them with plagues and drought. God may be the king over the whole earth. But his rule seems oppressive and violent towards any form of disobedience. Is this really the future of Jerusalem? Was Zechariah’s vision about dominance over everybody else?

When I first tried to picture the vision described in Zechariah 14, I am reminded of some of the dreams of our superpowers today. Some in America want to make America great again. They adopt an ‘America First’ policy. America has since moved away from international cooperation by withdrawing itself from the Paris Agreement and the TPP. Instead, each country must make trade deals directly with America. In this way, everyone would be forced to acknowledge the superiority of America. China has also stretched its influence over the last few years, and its dominance in the South China Sea is an example of its current greater power over others. Similarly, Russia is doing the same with the former states of the USSR. Recently in the Middle East, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are also fighting for dominance in the region. As we ponder upon this phenomenon, we can appreciate why many of these bigger nations have such ambitions. They reflect a collective human desire to conquer and subdue others with strength. We want to be respected and admired, and we want to have our way.

Trump often said this at his rallies: “We’re going to win. We’re going to win so much. We’re going to win at trade, we’re going to win at the border. We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning, you’re going to come to me and go ‘Please, please, we can’t win anymore.’ You’ve heard this one. You’ll say ‘Please, Mr. President, we beg you sir, we don’t want to win anymore. It’s too much. It’s not fair to everybody else.’ And I’m going to say ‘I’m sorry, but we’re going to keep winning, winning, winning. We’re going to make America great again.” And upon hearing this, the crowd at his rallies cheered like there’s no tomorrow. That’s how Trump won the presidential election. He gave them a vision of winning.

Because we all have this human desire to win, if we are not careful, we might read Zechariah 14 in the same way. Instead of “Make America Great Again”, we will just convert it to “Make Jerusalem Great Again”. Jerusalem did enjoy such prestige during the days of Solomon, with all the neighboring states paying their tributes to Israel. Could Zechariah be hoping for the same prestige to be restored? Now that the exiles have returned, and the Temple and city were slowly rebuilt, maybe God could bring them back to the heydays of King Solomon? Until today, such a scenario hasn’t occurred yet. In fact, such ambitions may appear very outdated to us. There are no longer vassal states paying tributes to their empire overlords. But even in this day and age, this vision of dominance and prestige for Jerusalem can be observed and interpreted in two ways. There are those who interpret the vision literally, like the Christian Zionists. [2]These are the people who lobbied hard for the American embassy to be moved to Jerusalem. They believe that the actual land of Jerusalem must be restored and made supreme so that all the biblical end times’ prophecies can come true. There are also those who interpret the vision metaphorically, meaning that this is not about the actual geographical land of Jerusalem in Palestine. But they also embrace the vision of winning. So the fulfillment of the prophecy will come in the form of Christianity’s triumph against everybody else. There will come a day when God will defeat all our enemies, and they will have to admit that we were right all along.

I cannot deny both of these are possible interpretations of this vision. Maybe God will really make the city of Jerusalem great again. Or maybe God will make the religion of Christianity overcome all its enemies. But I have a hard time reconciling such interpretations with the revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus the Messiah did not come to restore a triumphant and supreme kingdom that commands subservience from everybody else. That is not the gospel that we received. Instead, Jesus of Nazareth willingly suffered and died in the hands of those who rejected his message. If there was a victory to proclaim, it was a victory over sin and death instead. It was a victory that was a gift of grace for all of humanity, both Jews and Gentiles. And so I cannot reconcile a vision about winning against others, with a Jesus Christ that seems devoid of a ‘us vs them’ mentality.

And so I relooked at this vision. I had to get to the core of this dream. And when I looked beyond the surface of winning, plagues and droughts, and submission of all surrounding enemies, what I see is a plain desire for security. Even though there may be as many as 9 different facets of what Zechariah dreamed the future of Jerusalem might look like, but they all revolve around a common yearning to feel safe. And that can only happen when God is king. Not just king over Jerusalem, but king over the entire earth. That is the vision. Let me now do a quick run through of the 9 aspects of the vision in Zechariah.
Verses 1-3: (Not destroyed) Though Jerusalem might be attacked, it will never be totally destroyed, because God will fight for them.
4-5: (Safe escape) God will ensure their escape from danger.
6-7: (Light) In the vision, it states, there will no longer be day and night. Instead, there will always be light.
8: (Living water) There will be living waters always flowing through Jerusalem.
9: (Kingship) God is enthroned as king and acknowledged as the one true God.
10-11: (Inhabited) The city of Jerusalem will be elevated and always populated.
12-15: (No enemies) Enemies will be punished.
16-19: (No rebellion) Rebellion will be punished.
20-21: (Holiness) There will no longer be a separation of holy and unholy because everything will be sanctified for God’s use.

If you look at the heart of this vision, it is about eternal security. Light and water are resources for living. Victories over enemies are for the sake of peace. Instead of a vision of dominance and supremacy, what I see is a vision of what it means to live in a safe environment. And I can empathize with such a vision. These people who have returned to Jerusalem from exile might still be living in fear. Their neighbours remained hostile. To them, an eternal city to live in for generations was truly a dream.

Such desires were true not only during Ezra’s time. It was also the same in New Testament times when the Christians were persecuted by the Romans. They too dreamed of a new Jerusalem (Revelations 21-22).
Revelations 21: 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. Revelations 22: Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.
We can see the same imageries of light and living waters, the enthronement of God as king and the defeat of all enemies. Zechariah in the times of Ezra and John in the times of early persecuted Christianity dreamed the same dream. When we are living in fear, we will dream of security and peace. But there is a key new revelation between Zechariah’s vision and John’s vision. The one sitting on the throne is the Lamb. The Lamb is enthroned through humility, obedience, sacrifice and love.

I want to share my personal reflection on our situation today. When I think about the future of Jubilee, and when I think about the future of Singapore [3], I admit that I do have a sense of fear. Will we survive the next 50 years? I do not know for sure. The uncertainty can breed fear, especially the fear of the threat of others. The threat can be very real as experienced by those who returned from exile back into Jerusalem. When we want to feel safe, we often seek our security in strength and dominance over others. We want to be winning all the time. But that’s not the vision I see in Jesus Christ, the Lamb upon the throne. It is not a vision of winning and losing. What Jesus did, he did it for the world. My vision for Jubilee and for Singapore is to do what is good for others, and let God decide on the outcome. Security is not based on amassing resources or being superior, but in working towards God’s vision of love and peace for all humanity. I may sound idealistic, but aren’t dreams about ideals for the future? May God be our guide and our eternal security.

[1] https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/pm-keeping-singapore-special-for-the-next-50-years
[2]https://www.vox.com/2017/12/12/16761540/jerusalem-israel-embassy-palestinians-trump-evangelicals
[3] The thinktank SIIA published a study on the future of Singapore: http://www.siiaonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/2015-06-Future-50-The-50-Year-Future-for-Singapore-in-Asia-and-The-World-SG50.pdf

Zechariah 14 (Listen)

14:1 Behold, a day is coming for the LORD, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.

On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.

And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one.

10 The whole land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem. But Jerusalem shall remain aloft on its site from the Gate of Benjamin to the place of the former gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king's winepresses. 11 And it shall be inhabited, for there shall never again be a decree of utter destruction. Jerusalem shall dwell in security.

12 And this shall be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths.

13 And on that day a great panic from the LORD shall fall on them, so that each will seize the hand of another, and the hand of the one will be raised against the hand of the other. 14 Even Judah will fight at Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance. 15 And a plague like this plague shall fall on the horses, the mules, the camels, the donkeys, and whatever beasts may be in those camps.

16 Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. 17 And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain on them. 18 And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the LORD afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. 19 This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.

20 And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the LORD.” And the pots in the house of the LORD shall be as the bowls before the altar. 21 And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the LORD of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day.

(ESV)