In the 1800s, R.H. Dana was a student at Harvard who got measles, which weekend his eyesight and kept him from being able to read, so he took a job on a sailing ship in hopes of regaining his health. His book, “Two Years Before The Mast,” tells the story of how he joined the ship “Pilgrim” and first began to live and sleep in what sailors call the “forecastle” of the ship. The “forecastle” (pronounced “foke-sul”), is a structure on the front of a ship, where all the common sailors bunk. When Dana moved in there, he said “we now began to feel like sailors.” He wrote “no man can be a sailor, or know what sailors are, until he has lived in the forecastle with them, turned in and out with them, and eaten from the common (meals).”
What we celebrate at Christmas, is that in Jesus Christ, God left His home in heaven, and came to live in the “forecastle” with the “common people” of this world, that He might be one of us, and die for our sins on the cross.
There are a number of passages we traditionally turn to during the Christmas season: Luke 2, Matthew Chapters 1 & 2, like we read in our service last night. But as many of you know, this year I have taken my messages each Sunday from something we read in our Daily Bible Readings the week before. This week we see a wonderful Christmas passage in our regular reading this week, in Zechariah 2:
“‘Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,’ declares the LORD.
This scripture was originally a promise to God’s people who had come back to Jerusalem a little more than 500 years before the time of Christ. If you remember, God had chosen Israel to be His people, to bring His word and the promise of the coming Messiah/Savior to the world. But for generations, Israel had disobeyed Yahweh, and served others gods instead. God gave them warning after warning through His prophets, but they would not repent, and finally He brought judgment on them, and they were carried away into captivity into Babylon, where they stayed for 70 years. But now in Zechariah, according to God’s promise, they had come back to the Promised Land. But they were a lowly bunch, few in number, and oppressed by their enemies around them. Their future didn’t look that bright for them. But God gave a great promise to them here in Zechariah 2:10-11 — the greatest promise there is — that He Himself would come and would dwell among them. God’s promise to His struggling people here was: “I am coming … and I will dwell in your midst” — so He says, “sing for joy”! Let’s look at what God promised Israel, and US, here in Zechariah 2:
I. A PROMISE THAT HE WOULD COME TO US
God said in :10 “Behold, I am coming.”
This is the great promise from God to mankind. Ever since man sinned in the Garden of Eden, God had promised that He would send a Messiah who would save them:
— He said in Genesis 3 that One would come who would crush the head of the serpent who had deceived them.
— Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:15 that One was coming who would be a prophet like him, to whom they should listen.
— Micah predicted “Unto us a child is born; unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
— Isaiah said One was coming who would be born of a virgin, and who would grow up to be like a lamb taken to slaughter, and that “all our iniquities would fall on Him.”
— And here in Zechariah God reinforces all those promises again, saying, yes, I am sending a Messiah for you — but not only “a” Messiah, I MYSELF will come to you. He says, “I am coming”!
This book of Zechariah tells us a lot about what He would be like when He came. In fact, several of the familiar prophecies that the New Testament cites about Jesus from the Old Testament, come from this book:
— Zechariah 9:9 says “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion … your King is coming to you … humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” That literally happened in Matthew 21 when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem!
— Zechariah 11:12 says “they weighed out 30 shekels of silver … (and) I throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.” This was fulfilled when Jesus was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver.
— Zechariah 12:10 says “they will look on Him whom they pierced,” portraying the exact kind of death that Jesus would die: “pierced” in His hands, and His feet, and His side.
— And Zechariah 13:7 says “Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered,” which literally did happen when Jesus was arrested and His disciples all ran away.
All of these prophecies in Zechariah gave details about the Messiah who would be coming, 500 years before Jesus was ever born! It’s one of the most powerful witnesses that Jesus is who the Bible says He is! All of these were fulfilled when Jesus came.
Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem reminds me of another famous day in world history, one we celebrated last June 6th: June 6, 1944, commonly known as “D-Day,” the day the Allies landed in Normandy, France, to begin to capture Europe back from Hitler and the Nazis. For years all of France and several other countries had suffered under Nazi occupation; but the Free French forces continued to fight the Nazis with guerrilla warfare, laboring with the hope that one day the English and the Americans would return to save them. They labored for long years; many of the French suffered; many of them died in the resistance. But on June 6, 1944, with the thundering sound of battleships bombarding the German coastal defenses, D-Day began, and the Allies landed the troops that started the reconquest of Europe. D-Day was not yet “V-Day” (“Victory Day”) But D-Day made V-Day certain. It was the day the Allies first came, which ensured the eventual victory that would come.
In the same way, God promised this beleaguered people of Israel: “Behold, I am coming.” And 500 years later, as Galatians says “when the fullness of time came,” Jesus arrived. Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem was something like “D-Day.” It was the day when God invaded earth, to take it back again. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. Christmas is like D-day; it’s not “V-Day” yet, but that day is coming! This Jesus who came and was born in Bethlehem grew up to die on the cross and pay for our sins, and He rose again to gain the victory over sin and Satan. And one day He will return in the final “V-Day” when every knee will bow to Him, and set up His Kingdom which will last forever. Christmas is not “V-Day”; that’s still coming. But like D-Day, Christmas is the “arrival” of our Savior, which makes our eventual “V-Day” certain! It was the fulfillment of His promise in Zechariah and elsewhere, that He would come one day to save us. He said “I am coming” — and He DID! And that brought our victory.
II. A PROMISE THAT HE WOULD DWELL WITH US
In fact, TWO TIMES HERE in this passage God says “I will dwell in your midst”:
— in :10 He says: “Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I WILL DWELL IN YOUR MIDST.”
— and then in :11 He says again: “Many nations will join themselves to the LORD in that day and will become My people. THEN I WILL DWELL IN YOUR MIDST …”.
THIS is God’s great promise. Not only that He would come for us, but that He Himself would dwell among us. This is what Christianity is all about: that God Himself wants to dwell in our midst.
— This is what God created us for in the beginning: for us to dwell with Him. This is what Adam & Eve originally enjoyed in the Garden of Eden: Genesis 3:8 says that GOD HIMSELF would walk with them in the cool of the day. There must have been some amazing things in that garden — the animals, the plants, the food; all perfect and untainted by sin — but nothing there was greater than that GOD walked with them and dwelt in their midst.
— And that’s exactly the biggest thing we LOST when we sinned. God called out to Adam in :9 and said, “Where are you?” Sin hide them from God’s presence. And they were cast out of that garden, and an angel stood with a flaming sword to keep them from returning. They’d LOST the great privilege of having God dwell in their midst.
— And that separation from God has been passed down to every one of us. Isaiah 59:2 says “Your iniquities have separated you from you God.” God can’t dwell among us, nor can we dwell with God, because of our sins. It’s like the great hymn says: “Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see.”
So our sin separated from the presence of God. The very thing we were created to be fulfilled by — God’s presence — we’d lost. So now the story of mankind is the story of people continually trying to fill that “void” in our lives that only God can fill, with all kinds of other things: other people, or pleasures, or great causes, or entertainment or whatever. But what people are all really looking for, whether they know it or not, is the presence of the glory of God. We are all longing for God to be “in our midst” like we were created to enjoy. And nothing else will fulfill us.
So many people are thinking this morning, if I could just have this “one thing” it would finally make me happy. Maybe it is a person; you think if you could just find that “soul mate,” then you’d finally be satisfied. Or maybe you think it’s another job that would really make you happy; or a house or car or some gift you think would make you so happy if you could just get “that one big thing” for Christmas. Or maybe it is a “high” you are seeking from drugs or alcohol, or the thrill of the adrenaline rush. Whatever it is, you think that thing is going to finally complete you. But I promise you this morning: whatever it is; IT WILL NOT ultimately satisfy you! There is only one thing that can make you eternally happy, and that is the presence of God.
— Psalm 16:11 says “In Your presence is fulness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” GOD is the One who gives us joy; GOD is the One who has the ultimate pleasures to give us.
That is what you were designed for: For GOD to be “in your midst.” That is what your sin took you away from; and that is what you are looking for — whether you realize it or not …
— And that is exactly what the Bible says here that Jesus came to bring us! Jesus is the fulfillment of Zechariah 2:10-11, that God is “coming, and will dwell in our midst.” Just over 500 years after Zechariah wrote this prophecy, God DID come: the angel appeared to Mary and said you are with child by the Holy Spirit, and you will bear a son, and He will be called “Immanuel,” which means “GOD WITH US.” God came, and dwelt in our midst in the Person of Jesus Christ. John 1:14 says: “And the Word became flesh and DWELT AMONG US. And we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
In Jesus, God came to “live in the forecastle”! God came to live with the common man. To teach us His truth, and most importantly, to make the way for us to come to Him. Jesus died on the cross, paying for our sins in His body, so that all our sins that kept us from the presence of God dwelling in our midst could be forgiven, if we would repent of our sins and follow Jesus as our Lord & Savior.
And when we do that, the Bible says God’s Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us — another fulfillment of His promise to “dwell in your midst.”
— Ephesians 1:13 says, “after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation; having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” The moment we believe, God’s Holy Spirit comes into our life, and now GOD LITERALLY DWELLS IN OUR MIDST through His Spirit in our life!
— I Corinthians 6:19 says “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?” If you are a Christian, it is not just that “one day” you will be with God. You are with God now! GOD DWELLS IN YOU NOW! He is “in your midst” through His Holy Spirit.
This is what it means to become a Christian: that God comes to dwell in us. To our kids we often say “Jesus comes into your heart.” “Technically” it is the Holy Spirit of Jesus who comes in, but yes, through His Spirit, GOD comes into your life and dwells IN YOU! The great privilege of the Christian is that the promise of Zechariah has been fulfilled in us: God comes and dwells “in our midst”!
— So we have a foretaste of His presence in us now through His Holy Spirit. But there is also a great promise for eternity: that what we had at the beginning, God dwelling in our midst in the Garden of Eden, will be restored to us, and that He will dwell again in our midst, forever.
In Revelation 21 when it tells of how the new heaven and the new earth will come down, verse 3 says, “Behold the tabernacle of God is among men, and HE WILL DWELL AMONG THEM, and they shall be His people, and GOD HIMSELF WILL BE AMONG THEM.” Just like in Zechariah, God emphasizes it twice again there: that He will dwell among us in glory. The ultimate blessing of heaven is that the promise of Zechariah will be ultimately fulfilled, and GOD Himself will be in our midst.
I just finished reading the memoirs of Clint Hill, a Secret Service agent who was in charge of protecting Presidents Eisenhower through Ford. In it he tells how President Eisenhower went on a world tour visiting a number of Asian nations, including India. Eisenhower was the first U.S. President to officially visit India, and Hill said that from the moment they arrived in the airport in Delhi, they were swarmed by the Indian people. He said they turned out as if it was a major sporting events, with bleachers set up all along the streets, and literally one and a half MILLION people lined the parade route. They had heard for years about this “President of the United States” as some great man of history — but now this great man had come to be with THEM, as someone they could see and touch. As Eisenhower passed by in his limousine waving, the Indian people stood and cheered for the man they called “a prince of peace.”
But in the Incarnation of Jesus, not just “A prince of peace,” but “THE Prince of Peace,” GOD HIMSELF came to dwell in our midst, as someone we could see and touch — and not only that, but through His Spirit, have Him inside of us — with the promise that one day, we would literally be in His presence forever, as Revelation says.
III. A PROMISE FOR US TO BELIEVE
When God said in Zechariah 2, “Sing for joy”, He was commanding them to exercise FAITH in what they had heard from Him. Think about it: TODAY we know exactly what God was talking about here: that in about 500 years, Jesus would come and dwell among them, and become our Savior — and all of these great truths.
But the thing is, they didn’t know that THEN. All they could see THEN, was that they were a very small people, basically the servants/slaves of the Babylonians and other kingdoms that ruled over them; that they had this city Jerusalem, with a very small temple, and a wall that was so feeble that their enemies mocked them and said a fox could knock it down.
But God told them: “Sing for joy and be glad.” Why? Because they were to believe that He was going to do this great thing for them, and dwell among them. They couldn’t see it now; but they were to believe that it WOULD happen, by faith.
See, a lot of people don’t realize that those folks who lived in the Old Testament, were saved in the same way that we are today: by FAITH.
Some people think they were saved by their works in the Old Testament, but we are saved by faith in New Testament times, and today. That’s not so. It has ALWAYS been by faith.
The Bible makes this very clear:
— Romans 4:1-3 says: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
Romans makes it clear: Abraham was not saved by his works, but by faith; by believing what God said, and that faith was “reckoned,” credited to him as righteousness.
Well that’s the same way WE are saved today. We aren’t saved by our good works either, but by putting our faith in Jesus, who died on the cross for us. II Cor. 5:21 says “He who knew no sin, became sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus took our sin on Himself on the cross (“He bore our sins in His body” I Peter 2:24 says) and He gives us HIS perfect righteousness. And this great exchange happens by FAITH, when we put our faith in Him and what He did for us. It’s by faith.
And it was by faith in Old Testament days too. Romans 4 says Abraham was saved by faith; “he believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
Hebrews 11 talks about how all the Old Testament saints were saved by faith …
And that’s what the Jews here in Zechariah were to do too: they heard this word that God gave them, that one day He would come come and dwell in their midst — a Messiah was coming — and they were to “sing for joy and be glad” about it — believe that the Messiah was coming, and they would be saved.
See, they were saved by believing that what God said was true and that He WOULD come. We are saved today by believing that what God said was true, and that He DID come! But both of us are saved by faith in Jesus. By putting our faith in Someone we had never seen, but whom we believed WOULD come, or HAD come, to save us.
In 1845 Charles Ellet was the best-known bridge builder in America. But now he was focused on one of the great building projects in history: building a bridge across the Niagara Falls. One of the first problems he. faced at Niagara was how to get a rope over the gorge and its violent river. Ellet solved that by offering five dollars to the first American boy to fly a kite over to the Canadian side. The prize was won by young Homer Walsh, who would tell the story for the rest of his days. Once the kite string was across, a succession of heavier cords and ropes was pulled over, and in a short time the first length of wire went on its way. After that, when the initial cable had been completed, people wondered: was this cable strong enough to hold anyone? Ellet had faith that it would. And he demonstrated his faith in a fashion people would never forget. He made an iron basket big enough to hold him and attached that basket to the cable with pulleys. Then on a morning in March 1848, Ellet stepped inside that basket, and pulled himself over the Falls and back in, to the great excitement of the crowds gathered along both sides.
Ellet said he had faith that the basket would hold him. And he showed that faith by getting IN it; by banking his life on it.
What Ellet did is a pretty good picture of the kind of faith that God wants from us; what we call “saving faith.” Saving faith isn’t just saying “I believe there a man named Jesus once lived.” Historians know that. The DEMONS know that. But saving faith is more than that. Saving faith means you entrust yourself TO Jesus; you “get in the basket” with Him, like Ellet did that day over the Niagara River. It means you commit yourself to Him. That’s the kind of faith it takes to be saved.
That is what Christmas is all about:
— that God promised to come
— that He promised to dwell with us, even IN us, both now and forever
— and it’s a promise that He would save everyone who would really put their faith in Him.
If you’ve never done it before, today, Christmas Day 2022, would be the best day for you to “get in the basket” and commit YOUR life to Him!
Reading your sermons is a great source of blessings