The Lord Is Our God
Key Verse 13:9
“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; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”
At the start of this chapter, the Lord made a earth-shattering declaration that would change the world forever. So far the world had been constrained to live under the power of sin and death, ruled by the prince of darkness himself Satan (John 12:31), and none could escape his prisons or his shackles. For all human beings it was like being born to forced labor in dungeons of doom and despair, born to live and to die hopeless and forever unclean, infected, corrupted by sin. The road to pardon, purity and righteousness was dim and hazy and almost impossible to follow, open only to a select few, perhaps even to a small remnant of the few, a chosen handful of men and women who by divine grace understood something vital to man’s relationship with God, and consequently to the road back to God as well; or to man’s restoration to God. These select few understood that the road to atonement and salvation neither lies in human effort— regardless of how good and noble that effort may be— Nor do forgiveness and deliverance result from abiding by a code of laws— even if those laws are descended from the highest heaven— Nor can holiness and Nirvana be achieved as a result of anything that man generates from within himself, since everything within him is corrupted, unclean and impure by nature. (Mark 7:15; Romans 3:10-18, 23) These remnant few (who were mostly Jews) understood that the way back to God lies only in God himself. They perceived that the way back to God lies in his mercy, by his own provision! And what this means is that they trusted that God in his great love and mercy would provide everything that’s needed for the way of their salvation— including the Sacrificial Lamb to atone for their sins. (Genesis 22:8) And this humbled them immensely and caused them to live humbly and with sincere repentance on their hearts. They always remembered his grace as they devoted their lives to uphold his word of truth and lived by faith. And they were only a remnant. You can read about these handful of men and women in Hebrews chapter 11.
But as I said earlier, besides these few, the world submitted to the power of darkness, to the power of sin and death. There was no escape from the corruption of sin and death was the end of the road to all people. No one was able to reconcile with God, not even those who lived by the Laws of Moses, not even those who made it a point to live good decent lives. When any kind of darkness live in a soul, there is no way that soul can be forgiven, made clean or enter into God’s presence on the last day. It’s sad how many false prophets have over the ages given false hope to people telling them lies about the way to heaven. It galls us to see how many don’t believe in heaven, and it galls us even more that the few who do believe, have so many conflicting and confused ideas that’s made them callous and indifferent to their eternal destiny. But since there’s a real heaven and since there’s only one true way to be purified and enter into God’s presence, there’s also a hell and that should alarm the multitudes to the prospect of losing their souls to that infernal place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. (Matthew 13:42) Jesus mentioned this place so many times in the gospels, I wonder why people ignore the warnings! He also mentioned how dark this world is, and that he’s come to shine light upon it. In describing this terrible darkness, Jesus once also described what he’s come to do. Let me let him tell us: “No one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.” (Mark 3:27) Who’s the strong man? He’s the prince of darkness who rules this world through sin and death. He’s the one who oppresses and enslaves and causes anguish and refuses to let anyone escape the punishment of sin. And he certainly has no love neither for God nor for us. He allows men to sin not out of love but just to see them hurt God and perish with him.
Who’s the one who came to rob him? It’s Christ Jesus who tied him up and robbed his house. Which brings us to what we began saying in the first place. Look again at the first words of this chapter. They were a prophesy that would change the world— one that would alter the course of human history and life forever! We were slaves unable to escape from the prison and shackles of sin of death. But then God promised he would open a fountain for cleansing from sin and impurity! And as we spoke of last time, how was it to happen? And we went through that as well. It was through the Lord’s death and resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the majesty of God. But the Fountain became the telltale sign of the Strongman’s utter defeat on his own turf! In history no one had ever been able to defeat the devil or staunch his work. Men have conquered nations, subdued empires, but none could even singe a single hair on the devil’s head nor put a dent in his earthly kingdom. Mighty kings [and all their subjects] in life, bowed in defeat to him— and then in death, they gave up their souls at the gates of Hades to his torment. But when that Fountain of holy blood began to flow cleansing the sin and impurity of Christ’s faithful; let me tell you what the Scripture says happened to the prince of this world and his mighty empires. 1 John 3:8 tells us: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” Then again, Hebrews 2:14-15, talking about the Christ says: “That by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death— that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” When the fountain was opened to cleanse from sin and impurity, the world was able to see the sunlight of God’s deliverance on a massive scale. The rescue mission that began on the day Jesus died and rose again and ascended to heaven— the same rescue mission which continues until this very day is for whom? For whom is this Fountain open? It’s for anyone who comes to Christ Jesus by faith. And what does that mean practically? It means to seek forgiveness as one repents of their sins, and trusts him to cleanse them from whatever darkness or impurities clouding their hearts and souls and keeping them from loving and worshiping God! And what happens when a soul does that? The High Priest in heaven intercedes on their behalf! Read 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (ref. Hebrews 4:14-16)
The Lord of the Fountain [of cleansing] was about to bring about a revolution in the spiritual realm to topple its Strongman and to begin systematically dismantling his powers, and tearing apart his kingdom of darkness— As the Bible puts it: “To free captives from prison and to release from the dungeons those who sit in darkness.” And “To say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’” “To bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (Isaiah 42:7; 49:9; 61:1) But this was not the first time that God had spoken such words of encouragement to his wayward people, especially not through the prophet Zechariah. The prospect for liberation certainly wasn’t a new message for those who were paying close attention to the word of God; and neither was the prospect for the liberation from sin! And when we look closely, we marvel at the prospect that a Savior Messiah was to liberate from sin— by the hand of God. It’s undeniable! In Zechariah 3:8-9, there is no doubt that God’s forgiveness of sin is tied to the coming Christ— and he calls him “Branch”. “I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.” And he goes on to say what He will do. “I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”. Some versions use the words “guilt” or “iniquity” instead of “sin”, but notice that it is the Messiah “Branch” who removes sin, and it is He who does so in a single day! What does this tell us then? It tells us that the Messiah accomplishes the impossible in a single day. How does he do that? There is one event in all of history that can explain how sin is abolished in one day; one event that shows how light broke the darkness, where the Fountain of righteous Blood flowed to provide cleansing for sin and impurity, and setting captives free. The Gospel of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension!
We have spent time (although no time is enough spent) reflecting on the Fountain, ever since the day when Christ hung at Golgotha between two criminals with five bleeding wounds on his beaten body, and God knows how many wounds on his holy brow and head. His crucifixion and death was necessary! They were no accident, but all part of God’s wonderful plan to make a fountain of cleansing blood available through his sacrifice. You see, God had been eager to put away the old hard way of coming to God— the way which makes it almost impossible for most people to return to God even if they wanted to— that difficult way which only so few were ever able to walk through the millennia. And God was eager and waiting to open what the Apostles call “A new and living way opened for us through … his body” so that anyone who has faith in him might have confidence to make an appearance before the Holy God— But how? Of course, sprinkled “By the blood of Jesus”! (Hebrews 10:19-20) So, as we said, the Christ had to be sacrificed for the old way to be annulled and for the new and living way to take effect.
But the transition from the old to the new wasn’t smooth or pleasant. To begin with, chapter 11 reflects the contentious story between God and his people Israel. A brief review of it will give us some a bit of a background to help us understand the passage we’re yet to look at today in 13:7-9. In a way chapter 11 it’s the story of the Good shepherd [mainly the Messiah or God himself] versus the bad shepherds of Israel. When we studied that chapter, we saw clearly how corrupt the shepherds of the people were. Instead of caring for their own helpless flock, those wicked shepherds fleeced them. Those decadent shepherds lived prosperous lives of ease and comfort. And when they stood to preach or teach the word of God, they say: “Praise the Lord, I am rich.” (11:5) [In other words, “God gave it to me; God blessed me even while I’m robbing you.” Why do they say such things? So that no one would be able to call them to account for their lifestyle; So that they can get away with their evil ways] But “Blackest darkness is reserved for them.” (2 Peter 2:17) Zechariah prophesied to these worthless shepherds that he would get rid of them; that the covenant which kept God bound to them would be broken. For in their rebellion against God they were about to do the unthinkable! What were they about to do? They were about to get rid of the Good Shepherd God promised to send them. Worse yet! They were about to betray and sell him for 30 pieces of silver. Zechariah prophesied that they would sell their True Shepherd Messiah for thirty pieces of silver (11:12, 13) [the price of a slave]. They delighted in all their false and foolish shepherds; But the Messiah whom God would send, the True Shepherd wasn’t worth all that much to them. They would get rid of him. They sold him. They betrayed him for a handful of coins. They exchanged God the Shepherd for money. Actually they weren’t different from anyone who would rather have some money in the pocket rather than have God in the heart! Aren’t we all like that sometimes?
Who betrayed the True Shepherd? And why did they betray him and sell him for such a small amount of money? We already said why. It was necessary! It happened so that he might be delivered to death. It was so that the Fountain of blood may flow for the cleansing from sin and impurity. It was for the sake of destroying the kingdom of darkness and for rescuing the captives and setting them free. It was for many good reasons— all for which we are thankful that the True Shepherd was betrayed, sold, pierced and killed so that we may enter into God’s presence by “The new and living way”— Who Is Jesus, through His Blood!
But there’s something else we need consider. What did it cost our God and his Son to do what he did— that is, to open the Fountain so that all these blessings and more can flow into our lives? We know well enough that the cost was enormous— Jesus betrayed, abandoned to the cross and sacrificing his life. If that alone were the cost of opening the Fountain of blessing, it would on its own be a cost too high— for he neither deserved it— nor did he have to do it— or were we even worth the sacrifice he made for our deliverance. No one could imagine a greater sacrifice than the one the Savior made in order to open the Fountain that set us free from this cursed world. What I am saying is that there is yet a greater cost than what we have already seen. The True Shepherd had to sacrifice himself. But the one who sent him had to sacrifice even more than that.
Let’s read verse 7. “’Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.’” The first time most people become acquainted with this verse, or at least part of it is when the Lord Jesus turning to his disciples says to them: “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” (Matthew 26:31) Jesus remembers this Scripture at the most difficult and painful time of his life and ministry. It appears as if the words are directed at the disciples to warn or chastise them for what they were about to do, for abandoning him to his suffering and the cross. But in reality, the Lord is simply taking comfort in the painful truth that must take place for the sake of bringing about the Father’s salvation plan. “I will strike the shepherd” were the most painful words for both Father and Son; and both Father and Son carried these terribly painful words their hearts all this time; and now it was time for them to be fulfilled. No father wants to strike his son— at least not in the way this Father knew he would have to strike his Son nailing him to the cross after having been tortured. And no son wants to be struck by his father, knowing that his Father’s last desire was to put his Son to death in such a terrible manner. How hard it must have been for the Father to carry this burden on his heart! How hard it must have been for the Son to have carried this burden on his heart. And never a moment in time was ever any love lost between them, nor doubt risen about that strong love. Yet it was hard. “I will strike the shepherd”, Jesus reminded himself that it was time, that it must happen, and it must happen this way. The cost was high for both Father and Son and both must bear it for the good of the flock.
“And the sheep will be scattered”, was also another most painful price to pay for both Father and Son. “This very night you will all fall away on account of me”, because when the shepherd is struck, “I will turn my hand against the little ones”. How excruciating it must have been for the Lord Jesus to bear that burden on his heart as well. It is one thing for the Lord to have to pay a high price through death, but another thing to have to sacrifice his own disciples, his very own children as well to suffering and death! What father would not give his own life twice over only to spare the lives of his own children? But both Father and Son knew that the price to pay was to scatter the flock, to have drink the same cup of suffering. When James and John once asked the Lord for positions of power in his kingdom, Jesus immediately asked them if they could drink from the same cup he drinks, and be baptized as he will be; and when they ignorantly assured him of their ability to do so, after having said to them: “You don’t know what you are asking” he prophesied this: “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.” (Mark 10:35-40) They really didn’t know what they were asking, but the Lord understood that they would be inducted into the fellowship of suffering and death together with him. [As soon as Saul came to know Jesus personally on the way to Damascus, and spent time in fasting and prayer, the Lord said of him: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles…… I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)] How difficult it must have been for the Lord to turn his hand against the little ones whom he loved! But when the Shepherd is struck by the Father, they would fall away, and scatter. Peter would be severely hurt. He would deny his Shepherd Jesus, and it would take him a long time to overcome his sense of failure. But it had to be done, for his sake. Peter needed to learn not to rely on his own human loyalty or confidence, but on the Lord the Holy Spirit. All of them needed life lessons that only the fires of suffering and God’s discipline could help them grow to become Christ-like.
Indeed it was most painful for both Father and Son. The cost for opening that glorious fountain was enormous. “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” These words relay to us the relationship between the Father and the Son. What God is sacrificing, or should I say Whom God is sacrificing is the closest Person to him. He is his own Shepherd. When God loved and wanted to bless his people, he wasn’t sending any shepherd to them. He was sending His own Shepherd. The Shepherd, the very One who is close to Him. Perhaps nothing describes this intimacy than what the apostle John says in the first two verses of his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2) Indeed the price of separation was great. But God was ready to sacrifice so that the Fountain of blessing may flow. “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd.” He had to awaken the sword that would strike the Christ. And if the sword cries out for justice and if righteousness cries out to be satisfied, then the blood of Christ surely fulfilled every demand of the law. And so the Fountain that was once closed, is now open. The sword that once guarded the way to the tree of life, and forbid any man or woman from entering, was neutralized and in Christ forgiveness and eternal life have been freely flowing from the fountain for everyone who believes.
Look at verse 8-9. “’In the whole land,’ declares the Lord, ‘two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. 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; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” Verse 8 is ominous but it’s understandable that when human beings, whoever they may be, malevolently and deliberately conspire against God to do harm to His Messiah, they will be shown no mercy, and their end will be torment. But look at our key verse, verse 9; Look at the third, the few those who will escape the terrible things that happen to God-haters and to those who categorically reject the Messiah— True Shepherd— whom God sends. What happens to them? We’ve already spoken of them. Like the Lord’s disciples who went through the fires of persecution and who suffered for the Lord’s name sake, they— and us— will be tested, refined and disciplined. God would purify us and prepare us to grow in our inner person to be more Christ-like. God’s purpose for us [as his precious people— bought by the precious blood of his Son] is to have a deep intimate love father-son relationship with him— as we grow in a deep love relationship with our Lord Jesus. God also wants us to pray! “They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” God wants us to call on his name even now and he will answer us. That is the blessing of the Fountain flowing from the abundance of Jesus’ grace. Let’s remember what it cost him to open it, and let’s remember why we suffer— that we may be refined and become more like him— so that we might serve his kingdom work and pray according to his will and pray for his people. Amen.