A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on June 27, 2010 by Pastor Dale Raether The Lord Is Our GodZechariah 13:7-9Usually we have three readings in our liturgy – an Old Testament, an epistle, and a Gospel.  This morning I saved the Old Testament reading until now, because this one needs explanation.  This one can make a person go, “Whoa, I’m not sure I like God in the Old Testament.  I like Him better in the New Testament.  Actually a lot of people feel that way, except God doesn’t change.  And so we if we like God better in the New Testament, either we’re not understanding the Old Testament, or we’re not understanding Him.  Anyway here it our Old Testament reading for today: Zechariah 13:7-9.     This past week was Vacation Bible School.  Our main theme was Let’s Build an Ark.  If you think about it, that’s a scary thought too.  God had sent a flood to destroy the entire world.  However, here were our daily themes at VBS.  1. God is just.  2. God is good.  3. God is our guide.  4. God cares.  5. God keeps His promises.  These same 5 themes are also in our text this morning, and actually they’re repeated throughout the Bible.  Let’s learn to look for these themes, so that whenever we read our Bible, whether Old or New Testament, we’ll rejoice and say, “The Lord is Our God.”     We read again the first verse of our text.  1. God is just.  “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!" declares the LORD Almighty.”  Here God the Father is speaking to Jesus, who is the Good Shepherd.  Notice, He is true man, because the Father calls Him the man.  Yet at the same time the Shepherd is true God, because He’s close to the Father, in fact so close that Jesus said He and the Father are one.  The word sword here is picture language for death.  From eternity God decreed that His Shepherd must die in behalf of His sheep, because He is a just God, and sin must be punished by death.     Many today would disagree.  They say it’s not fair that everyone became sinners because of what Adam and Eve did.  Or, it’s not fair that God holds them accountable for “little sins” they can’t help.  Or it’s not fair that punishment in hell lasts forever.  Who is man to say that his maker is unfair?  Besides God knows more than we do.  He sees how sin corrupts us on the inside, even though we may not see that.  God also sees the multiplying effects our sins have on others, who in turn react with more sinning.  And so, no matter what happens on a national level – storms, earthquakes, oil spills, wars, or no matter what happens on a personal level, no one can ever say God is unjust.  On the other hand, even though we may not like this part of His justice, there is a part we can love - He struck His Shepherd in our place.   So, don’t get turned off by the Old Testament.  When you see God coming down hard on people, it’s what they deserved, and God is warning us that we too need a Savior.  Take this warning to heart, and then look to the Savior, because on the cross God’s justice and mercy come together – for us!     We read on in our text.  2. God is good.  “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,     and I will turn my hand against the little ones.”  God is good, but this verse doesn’t sound very good.  Well, think of it in this way.  Is a parent good when he disciplines a child who can’t swim for climbing over the fence and going near the pool?  So, also with God, He disciplines us because He is good.  The disciples in the Gospel reading didn’t see it that way.  They wanted zero suffering here and now.  And so, they thought God striking the Shepherd was such a bad idea that when Jesus let Himself be arrested, they were offended at Him.  Their problem was in their attitudes they were standing too close to the pool of sin.  Also they were overestimated their ability to keep their heads above temptation.  They would have to learn the hard way.  Yet even while learning the hard way, think of Jesus’ goodness to Peter when Peter denied knowing Him, and Jesus called him back with a look.  As you read your Bible, keep looking for the theme that God is good.  Time and time again His people would repeat the same sins, and time and time again, He would let them learn the hard way, and then He’d rescue them.  But why all the repetition?  Because we need it too, so we finally get it that God is good and works in all things for the good of His children.   Let’s look at the next line in our text.  3. God is our guide.  “"In the whole land," declares the LORD, "two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. "”   This verse reminds me of when Jesus said that the road to hell is wide, and the way to heaven is narrow.  However this 2/3,1/3 ratio isn’t necessarily saying that 2/3 will end up in hell, and only 1/3 will make it to heaven.  That’s not for us to even think about.  Rather the point Jesus is making is that He alone is our guide to heaven, and apart from Him there is NO entrance into heaven.  The story we used in VBS to emphasize this was the Bronze Snake.  The Children of Israel had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, because they refused to believe God is good.  Anyway they started grumbling again, and so God allowed thousands of poisonous snakes to slither into their camp.  The bite from these snakes didn’t kill them immediately.  It’d take about three days.  Anyway many of the people did die, and so they begged Moses to be beg God to take the snakes away.   God did one better.  Instead of taking the snakes away, He had Moses make a snake out of bronze and hang it on pole where everyone could see it.  Then whenever someone was bitten, all he had to do was look at the Bronze Snake, and he’d be healed.  In the same way, sin’s poison kills.  But we are healed by looking at sin personified in the body of Christ on the cross, because all our sins were laid on Him.  On the other hand those who reject God’s way to heaven are like the Israelites who refused to look at the Bronze Snake.  They died.  So, whenever you read your Bible, keep asking yourself, what is this section guiding me to believe, or what it telling me to do?  Keep looking for these things in the Bible, because God is just and God is good. We read on in our text, 4. God cares. “This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.  They will call on my name and I will answer them.”  Jesus had a huge job for His disciples.  After His ascension, they were to preach the Gospel to all nations.  However, serving Him in this way and not getting side-tracked by the cares, riches, and sins of this world require a pure faith.  The disciples were just like every other believer.  Their faith was less than pure.  But one way God purified their faith was through persecution.   For example when they were hauled into court and ordered not to mention the name of Jesus, they’d have to think through a choice.  Was Jesus more important to them or was their earthly life more important?  Having seen the risen Savior, this was an easy choice.  And then having thought through this, they could better see the purpose and meaning of their lives.  In short their faith was purified.   However, while the persecutions served a good purpose, the persecutions themselves were not good, and neither is any kind of suffering we go through.  And so, when we suffer, we can call on God for deliverance, and He will answer us.  Either He will prevent or end that suffering or He’ll increase the Spirit’s strength in us so that we may endure that suffering.  As a result our faith too is purified, it’s made brighter and our witness clearer.  Also, while all this is going on, God is caring for us a day at a time with one miracle after another.   And then someday when we look back, we’ll be amazed not only that we got through it all, but at how great God is.    We read the last section of our text.  5. God keeps His promises.  “I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'"  When is God going to say to us, “They are people”?  Actually He already did in eternity, when He chose us for faith.  He repeated this to us when He adopted us into His eternal family through our baptism.  And finally after Judgment Day, His eyes will scan all those living on the new earth He will create, and He will say with joy, “They are My people.” And now let’s visualize ourselves in that crowd.  Let’s imagine how we’ll feel as we look back on our earthly life and see all that God did to bring us purified into heaven.   We won’t be able to stop saying, “The Lord is our God.”  Finally this is not wishful thinking.  We can count on being in that crowd, because God keeps His promises, and this brings us to the last thing to look for whenever we read our Bible.  Look for promises made and promises kept.   For example, in the entry way of our Academy is a display of a rainbow made out of hand cut-outs of our VBS children.  Below the rainbow is a model of Mt. Ararat and the ark that the children made.  We can’t see a rainbow without remembering His promise to never again destroy the world with a flood.  It’s good for us to remember that promise, because it also reminds us of another promise.  He will come again to make a new earth in a new universe, which will be our eternal home, but in the meanwhile He will continue to care for us.  Springtime and harvest, summer and winter, cold and heat will not cease.  May anticipation of every promise fulfilled help us keep our whole life in perspective!  Then we will want nothing to do with sin.  We will accept the goodness of God’s discipline.  Nothing will be more important than the Gospel and sharing it with others.  And we will ever rejoice to say the Lord is our God.  Amen.   

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