Today’s selected reading continues in the Old Testament prophetic book of Zechariah, and more specifically, is found in the seventh chapter. When this particular passage opens, it opens with a question—more of an inquiry that was to be made at the house of the Lord, and before the Lord of hosts. The first thing we discover when reading this passage of Scripture is the timing of what was recorded, for the prophet Zechariah reveals the timing of the word which came unto him from the Lord. “ And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chisleau” (Zechariah 7:1). This is actually quite telling when you consider the fact that there appears to be almost two years that had passed between the previous word Zechariah spoke unto the people, and the word which we find in this particular passage. When the first chapter of this prophetic book concludes, it does so with the prophetic word coming through Zechariah in the eleventh month of the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. For nearly two years there appears to have been no prophetic word among the returned exiles and captives who by now had lived and dwelt within the land of inheritance and promise for nearly thirty years. The second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia was an incredibly active year in terms of the prophetic word and voice of the Lord, as the word of the Lord came unto the prophet Haggai—not once, not twice, but three times. Within that same year, the prophetic word of the Lord came unto Zechariah twice—within the eighth month, and then again in the eleventh month. A total of five times over the span of a six month period of time within that particular year the word of the Lord came unto the prophets Zechariah and Haggai, and those words were primarily directed to the work of rebuilding the Temple of the Lord. For thirty years—ever since Cyrus the Great had issued the decree that not only permitted the Jewish people to return to their own land, but also commission and permit them to build a house unto the Lord—the Jewish people had engaged in the work of rebuilding the house of the Lord. The problem, however, was that the work of building the house of the Lord had stalled, and men and women became more concerned and focused on their own houses—their own agendas, endeavors and plans than the work of building the house of the Lord. As a result of their sloth and complacency, the Lord of hosts raised up two prophetic voices and ministries to not only encourage the work, but to also hold those responsible for engaging in the work accountable to complete it. When we come to the seventh chapter of the prophetic book of Zechariah we find nearly two years have passed since the previous prophetic word was released through Zechariah. Perhaps one of the most interesting facts surrounding the text of this passage of Scripture is that it appears the work of the house of the Lord had been completed. While two years prior the work of the house of the Lord hadn’t been completed, it would appear that the work had in fact been completed. If you come to the second verse of this chapter you will find what seems to indicate the work of rebuilding the house of the Lord had been completed, for there were certain individuals who came unto the house of the Lord to inquire of the Lord concerning something very specific. “When they had sent unto the house of God Sherezer and REgem-melech, and their men, to pray before the Lord, and to speak unto the priests which were in the house of the Lord of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, Should I weepin the fifth month, separating myself as I have done these so many years?” (Zechariah 7:2). It’s worth noting that in this single verse we not only find the concept of prayer—to pray before the Lord—but we also find the concepts of weeping and separating oneself before and unto the Lord. What we find within this single verse is a people inquiring of the Lord regarding the practices they had engaged in during their time in captivity and exile. Notice how those who came unto the house of the Lord inquired of both the priests, as well as the prophets concerning whether or not they were still required to weep in the fifth month, separating themselves unto the Lord. In other words, does what they have known and what they have been practicing still apply to their lives? What’s more, is whether or not they were continue carrying out and engaging in the practice of weeping and separating themselves before the Lord. Pause for a moment and consider the magnitude of that question—of whether or not it was still necessary, and perhaps even required of the Jewish people to weep before and separate themselves unto the Lord during the fifth month of the year. It’s actually quite interesting to consider that what they were in all reality asking was not so much whether or not they should do so within the fifth month—thus making it all about timing—but whether or not they should continue to do it period. Imagine coming unto the house of the Lord and actually having the audacity to inquire whether or not you should continue weeping before Him, and even whether or not you should continue separating yourself before and unto Him. There were those who came unto the house of the Lord and to the prophets and priests to inquire if they were still required to engage themselves in such practices as weeping and separating themselves unto the Lord.
As you come to the fourth verse of this chapter you will find the word of the Lord coming unto Zechariah concerning the request they had brought before and unto the priests and the prophets. Consider if you will the response the Lord of hosts provided unto those who had come to the house of the Lord to pray, and from that place of prayer, inquire of the Lord as to whether or not they should continue giving themselves to weeping and separating themselves unto the Lord in the fifth month. Beginning with the fourth verse of this passage of Scripture we read these words spoken by the Lord of hosts—“Then came the word of the Lord of hosts unto me, saying, Speak unto the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me? And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves? Should ye not hear the words which the Lord hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and the cities thereof round about her, when men inhabited the south and the plain” (Zechariah 7:4-7). If you continue reading this portion of Scripture you will find the word of the Lord continuing to come to the prophet Zechariah concerning the inquiry of the people—a word of instruction in the midst of the land of inheritance and blessing. “And the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in His spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts. Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 7:8-13). Within this passage of Scripture the Lord not only directly connects fasting with that which the Lord desires more than sacrifice and offering, but the Lord also speaks of the sending of the former prophets, and the response of their fathers to the voice and words of those prophets.
When considering what is found within this particular passage of Scripture, I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the prophet Isaiah prophesied—words which are recorded for us in the fifty-eighth chapter of the book which bears his name. “Cry aloud, spare not, Lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast, ye find pleasureand exact all your labours. Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? IS it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed to free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:1-7).
That which we read in this particular passage of Scripture is actually quite remarkable—especially when you consider it in light of what the same Hebrew prophet prophesied earlier on during his prophetic ministry. If you journey back to the twenty-ninth chapter of the same Old Testament prophetic book you will find and read these words—“Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid” (Isaiah 29:13-14). You will notice in the twenty-ninth chapter of the prophetic book of Isaiah that the people of Judah and Jerusalem were indicted for drawing near the Lord with their mouth, and even honouring them with their lips, yet they had removed their heart far from the Lord, and their fear toward the Lord was taught by the precept of men. Those within the land of Judah and within the city of Jerusalem presented an external appearance of drawing near the Lord, and even honouring Him with their lips, yet their hearts were removed far from Him. What’s more, is when you read what is recorded in the fifty-eighth chapter of the same prophetic book, for the Lord describes this people as a people who sought Him daily, and who delighted to know His ways, and did so as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God. Furthermore, the Lord goes on to describe this people as asking of Him the ordinances of justice; and taking delight in approaching to God. For all intents and purposes those who were present within and upon the earth during the days of the prophet Isaiah presented an outward appearance of piety and righteousness before the Lord, yet their hearts were far removed from the Lord. It’s worth noting that religion can indeed be nothing more than a charade and act we proceed to put on in the presence of others in order to give the appearance that we are faithfully following and serving the Lord. What if the church house is one of the biggest stages within the entire nation, and what if the biggest shows are put on Sunday mornings week in and week out—even more so than what we would see on Broadway?
I previously wrote how the church was not a stage, and that the Lord doesn’t come to entertain you, and I wrote based on the concept that we treat the church like a stage in which the Lord of hosts somehow comes to entertain us. There are countless men and women, and perhaps even leaders within many of our churches that treat the house of the Lord as a stage in which the Lord somehow desires to entertain their interests and desires. There are men and women who treat the house of the Lord as a stage and who continually persist in asking for Him to demonstrate and manifest signs, wonders, and even miracles in their midst. There are men and women who think and believe that the Lord of hosts desires, and perhaps even delights in coming to entertain them—to somehow appeal to and tickle their senses in order to provide them with an experience that pleases and appeals to them. With that being said, however, I am also convinced that the house of the Lord is treated as a stage on a separate front—one that is not centered upon the Lord coming to entertain us, but rather us putting on a performance and act before and in the presence of the Lord. BROADWAY CHURCHES AND HOLLYWOOD CHRISTIANS! This concept of is actually both astounding and alarming as I would dare say that Sunday morning is perhaps the single greatest time within and throughout the entire week when men and women give the performances of their lives. I am convinced that one does not need to audition for a major role in a Hollywood blockbuster, or even for a major role in a television series, for one needs only to enter into the house of the Lord and put on both a show and a performance. The church is not a stage whereby we find our seats in the audience and then ask the Lord to somehow show up in our midst and entertain us with signs, with wonders and with miracles. With that being said, we treat the house of the Lord as a stage whereby we come week in and week out and put on whatever religious act we deem necessary and appropriate on that particular day. I am convinced there are men and women who enter into the house of the Lord and who make every attempt to put on a performance in the presence of the Lord, and even before those around them in the house of the Lord. In other words, their worship may very well be a performance; their tithing might very well be a performance; their singing might be a performance; their interaction with others might be a performance. There are men and women who not only treat the house of the Lord as a place where the Lord can somehow entertain them, but also as a stage whereby they might put on an act before and in the presence of others. WHEN THE CHURCH BECOMES A STAGE AND MEN COME TO BE ENTERTAINED BY THE LORD AND OFFER THEIR OWN PERFORMANCE!
Jesus the Christ was no stranger to this reality, for this reality was incredibly prevalent and pervasive during the generation and days in which He walked upon the earth. In fact, there are two specific instances when Jesus directly confronts the reality of individuals attempting to put on an act before and in the presence of the Lord—specifically around prayer, around giving, and around fasting. If you turn to Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, you will find Jesus speaking to and addressing the practices and disciplines of fasting, of prayer, and of giving. What’s more, however, is that Jesus not only speaks to these realities, but directly confronts those for whom these practices and disciplines are nothing more than an act they perform on the stage of the house of the Lord. There were those present during the days of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry who continually and repeatedly treated these religious practices and disciplines as acts and performances they engaged in—not only before those around them, but also before and in the presence of the Lord Himself. Consider if you will the words Jesus spoke in His Sermon on the Mount concerning giving—“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not they left hand know what they right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:1-4). When you come to the fifth verse of this same chapter, you will find Jesus speaking to the practice and discipline of prayer before and unto the Father—“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him” (Matthew 6:5-8). Skipping forward to the sixteenth verse we find Jesus speaking of fasting and the practice and discipline of fasting before and in the presence of the Lord—“Moreover when ye fast, be not as thy hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their rward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:16-18).
TAKE HEED THAT YE DO NOT YOUR ALMS BEFORE MEN TO BE SEEN OF THEM! DO NOT SOUND A TRUMPET BEFORE THEE, AS THE HYPOCRITES DO IN THE SYNAGOGUES AND IN THE STREETS, THAT THEY MAY HAVE GLORY OF MEN! THEY LOVE TO PRAY STANDING IN THE SYNAGOGUES AND IN THE CORNERS OF THE STREETS, THAT THEY MAY BE SEEN OF MEN! USE NOT VAIN REPETITIONS AS THE HEATHEN DO: FOR THEY THINK THAT THEY SHALL BE HEARD FOR THEIR MUCH SPEAKING! THEY DISFIGURED THEIR FACES, THAT THEY MAY APPEAR UNTO MEN TO FAST! It is absolutely necessary and imperative that when we read Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount that we see and understand that what He was speaking of was prayer, giving and fasting as a performance before and in the presence of others. What Jesus was speaking to was men and women who gave in order that they might be seen by men, and not only seen by men, but that men might actually see what they were doing. What’s more, is that Jesus was speaking concerning those who prayed in both streets and synagogues alike in order that they might be both seen and heard by men. The same holds true of fasting, for the hypocrites sought to make it known and make it obvious before and in the sight of others that they were fasting. What is so deadly and dangerous about all of this is that we treat prayer, giving and even fasting as acts which we perform before and in the sight of others. Instead of ministering before an audience of One, we perform for an audience of many. NEGLECTING THE AUDIENCE OF ONE FOR THE ASSEMBLY OF MANY! When you read Jesus’ words in this passage you will not only notice the concept of appearances and how one appears before men, but you will also notice the concepts of being seen and being heard. What is so tragic about Jesus’ words in this passage of Scripture is that the hypocrites sought to be heard and seen by men rather than by the Lord of hosts. Their fasting, their giving, and even their praying were nothing more than religious acts which they performed on the stages of streets and synagogues. I can’t help but wonder how many men and women among us within our houses of worship should be given Oscars, and Grammy’s, and even Emmy’s for their performances week in and week out. How many men and women could very well get the “award” for best “prayer,” yet the award comes from men, while the reward from the Father remains to be seen. ACCEPTING THE AWARD OF MEN, WHILE NEGLECTING THE REWARD OF THE FATHER! How many of our churches are similar to Broadway in New York City, as well as Hollywood in California, as men and women engage in countless and persistent acts and performances in the house of the Lord? Countless men and women treat the house of the Lord as a stage—and I would even speak of the altar in the house of the Lord as well—in which they engage in performances of prayer, performances of fasting, and performances of giving. If there is one thing you notice about Jesus’ words in this passage of Scripture, it’s that there is a fundamental difference between the secret place [the secret closet of prayer], and the public stage before men. I can’t help but wonder how many men would gladly and happily trade the secret closet of prayer for the public stage before men in order that they might be seen and heard of men.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of men and women who treated the house of the Lord as a stage, and put on performances before and in the presence of the Lord. Such men and women gave the appearance of drawing near the Lord, yet their hearts were kept and removed far from Hm. It is possible to enter into the house of the Lord and to appear to draw near the Lord with our lips, and yet our hearts are far removed from the Lord. In other words, we would rather give the Lord lip service rather than giving Him our hearts in worship, in prayer, in fasting, and in giving. Upon reading the words of Zechariah in the seventh chapter of the book bearing his name, I can’t help but be confronted with the reality that there are essentially two secret places within the life of each and every individual. There is the secret place and the secret closet of prayer in which men and women draw near the Lord behind closed doors and away from the eyes and ears of men. There is another secret place which is not necessarily a secret place of prayer and worship, but of acts of righteousness and displays of mercy. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the prophet Micah prophesied, which are recorded in the sixth chapter of the prophetic book which bears his name—“Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to lover mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:6-8). Consider the words of the prophet Micah in light of the words which the prophet Zechariah spoke beginning with the ninth verse of the seventh chapter—“Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart” (Zechariah 7:9-10). Moreover, consider both the words of the prophet Micah, as well as the words of Zechariah in light of the words which Jesus spoke when confronting and indicting the Pharisees and the scribes during His generation—“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23: 23-28).
In the ninth chapter of the New Testament book of Matthew we find Jesus sitting down to eat, and doing so with many publicans and sinners. When the Pharisees saw that Jesus had chosen to sit down and eat dinner with publicans and sinners, they proceed to ask His disciples why He ate with such individuals as tax collectors and sinners. IN response to Jesus hearing their complaint, Jesus spoke these words in the presence of both disciple and sinner alike—“They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13). In the Old Testament book of Provers we find these words: “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Provers 21:3). In the prophetic book of Hosea we find these words: “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Even again in the New Testament book of Matthew we find Jesus speaking the same words which He had previously spoken in the presence of His disciples, the publicans and tax collectors. In the twelfth chapter of the book of Matthew we read these words: “But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day” (Matthew 12:7-8). In the final verse of the first chapter of the New Testament epistle of James we read these words: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:28). It is absolutely imperative that we pay close attention to the various references just mentioned, for we must recognize and understand that in addition to the secret closet of prayer, there is also the secret and hidden place of obedience and faithfulness before the Lord. There is a direct challenge when reading the prophetic words of Zechariah, and when considering them in light of the words of both the prophets and Jesus the Christ, for we are confronted with whether or not we enter into the house of the Lord and engage in performances and shows in the presence of the Lord, and in the presence of others in order that we might be seen and heard. I read the words contained in this passage of Scripture and am directly confronted with how true my “religion” truly is, and how much of what I do is nothing more than an act and performance before the Lord. I am convinced that in this generation the Spirit of the Lord is directly confronting Broadway Christianity, and Hollywood Christians, and directly confronting the vast and various performances and acts we put on in the Lord’s house and in the presence and company of others.