“First Things First”

Zechariah 1:1-6


            This painting titled The Tower of Babel was painted in 1563 by Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel.  The painting depicts the story in Genesis 11 where the people say, “Come, let us build a tower and let us make a name for ourselves” (11:4).  What lies at the heart of The Tower of Babel?  Pride.  “Let us make a name for ourselves.

            This painting by Bruegel was based upon this 1551 sketch of the Coliseum in Rome.  Both the Coliseum and the Tower of Babel are unstable, both are crumbling, both are about to come crashing down.

            The Tower of Babel painting, however, displays one detail that differs from the Roman Coliseum.  Do you see it?  The Tower of Babel is dangerously leaning to one side.  If you take a closer look at the tower’s foundation … it’s unfinished.  It’s literally just a matter of time before the whole thing comes crashing down and that’s the painter’s point.  Anything which has pride and pretense for its foundation will collapse.  Why?  Because a building is only as good as its foundation.

            A building is only as good as its foundation.  This is what Zechariah says.  Tonight we begin our ten-part sermon series on the book of Zechariah called, “Your Kingdom Come.”  Zechariah longs for God’s kingdom to come.

            And that’s because its 520 BC and Jerusalem’s temple lies in a heap of ruins.  The Babylonians came in and destroyed it in 587 BC, some 57 years earlier.  It was natural for the people to say, “God’s kingdom will come when we rebuild the temple!”  After all, God says to Haggai, Zechariah’s contemporary, “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house.”  It’s time to build!

            We all know the feeling of looking at broken timbers and busted bricks.  What has been destroyed and torched in your life?  A relationship?  Your health?  Your finances?  Your family?  Your future?  Your emotional well-being?

            God has called all of us to build something.  It might not be worthy of a major news network or magazines, but it’s is none the less important.  It’s important to raise children who trust Jesus, to be an honest and hardworking employee, to run a business with biblical integrity, to study God’s Word on a regular basis, to be a loving grandparent and to keep the Sabbath Day holy.  It’s time to build!

            Except, that isn’t how the book of Zechariah starts off.  “‘Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you’” (1:3).  A building is only as good as its foundation.  Before we build, we need a solid foundation.  You know, first things first.  Homework, then free time.  Plow the ground, then plant seeds.  Save your money, then buy a car.  Exercise, then eat a bowl of ice cream.  Lay the foundation, then build.

            And if we don’t do that?  Well, then we’ll end up building the Tower of Babel.  “Let us make a name for ourselves!”  If pride and pretense are my foundation … whatever I build, it will come crashing down.  We see it all the time.  A building is only as good as its foundation.  A solid foundation has two parts to it.

            First, “Return to me, says the LORD of hosts.”  A return to the work of the temple will be in vain unless people return to the LORD.  First things first.  Not every slope is slippery, but to rebuild a temple without returning to the LORD is like building a Tower of Babel.  Disaster will be right around the corner.  Rebuilding is rooted in the soil of returning to the LORD.  The people’s fundamental need wasn’t a rebuilt temple … it’s a renewed heart.

            The word “return” could very easily be translated as “repent.”  Return/repent … they aren’t a suggestion to “be nicer” or “try harder.”  “Return” is a call to take God with utter seriousness.  “Return” is a call to take sin with utter seriousness.  “Return” is a command to confess, to come clean, to be honest.

            It’s easy to ignore the call to return, to repent.  Too often, we don’t pray for it.  We don’t listen for it.  Too often … we don’t do it.  If we don’t do it … how can we build a life of mercy and faithfulness to God?  If we don’t repent, we end up building the Tower of Babel.  It will be a great testimony to us … but it will be an even greater insult to God.

            Listen again to Zechariah.  “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the LORD” (1:4).  The danger is to be like the fathers and mothers who, in the days of Jeremiah, relied on the temple, not on God, and refused to repent.  Don’t get me wrong, the temple needs to be rebuilt … but the temple will become another teetering Tower of Babel if the rebuilding is not accompanied by repentance and returning to the LORD.

            “Then they repented,” they returned (Zech. 1:6).  The flame of faith is relit!  A new day is on the horizon!  But how?  How did it happen?

            Through confession.  Confession.  That word conjures up many different images … backroom interrogations, Chinese water torture, CIA waterboarding.

            In the Bible though … confession isn’t telling God what he doesn’t know because God already knows everything.  Confession in the Bible isn’t complaining about my sorry lot in life.  Confession isn’t blaming and pointing fingers at others. 

            Here’s what confession is.  David says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  The prodigal son says, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you and am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  The tax collector says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!

            Here’s my confession.  It’s easy for me to fast-forward through confession.  To just say the words.  Sound the syllables.  Complete the sentences and then get on with things.  When I realize what I’m doing … I realize I’m a hypocrite.  I’ve preached sermons about people like me … people who only go through the motions, who say the right words … but their hearts are galaxies away from God.

            So let’s all slow down.  When we get to the part of the service tonight where we confess our sins … let’s do just that.  Return/repent for “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  A building is only as good as its foundation.

            Zechariah’s foundation has two parts.  “Return to me, says the LORD of hosts.”  That’s the first part.  “and I will return to you.”  That’s the second part.  How does God return to us?  You know, Pieter Bruegel didn’t only paint the Tower of Babel.  He also painted this.

            It’s called Calvary.  Do you see Jesus there?

            Jesus is easy to miss.  Jesus is always easy to miss.  That’s why we need Zechariah.  Zechariah 9:9 shows us that Jesus is our King who comes to us, righteous and humble.  Zechariah 9:11 shows us that the blood of Jesus, the blood of the covenant sets us free.  Zechariah 11:8 shows us people who detest Jesus.  Zechariah 11:12 shows us people who sell Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  Zechariah 13:7 says, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”  Zechariah 12:10 says, “they look on me, on him whom they have pierced.”  God returns to us with steadfast love, cleansing mercy, full and complete pardon for all our sin.  We must see Jesus.  And why?

            Because a building is only as good as its foundation.  Edward Mote knows something about that.  In 1834, he composed our sermon hymn.  “My hope is built on nothing less.”  “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. No merit of my own I claim, but wholly lean on Jesus name.”  Here’s a foundation to build upon.  Jesus’ blood and righteousness, for all other ground is sinking sand.  Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.


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