AGCC Sun. a.m. 11/10/96
TEXT: Zechariah 7:1-14
INTRO: There can be a vast difference between what appears to be "spirituality"
and what is really "spirituality"! We humans are good at learning how to
appear being spiritual, and not as good at learning how to really be spiritual.
So often we miss the real issues of spirituality by being more concerned how
things appear than whether the real substance of spirituality is
ILLUS: Rita Snowden tells a story of the war. In France some
soldiers with their sergeant brought the body of a dead comrade to a French
cemetery to have him buried. The priest told them gently that he was bound to
ask if their comrade had been a baptized adherent of the Roman Catholic Church.
They said that they did not know. The priest said that he was very sorry but in
that case he could not permit burial in his churchyard. So the soldiers took
their comrade sadly and buried him just outside the fence. The next day they
came back to see that the grave was all right and to their astonishment could
not find it. Search as they might they could find no trace of the freshly dug
soil. As they were about to leave in bewilderment the priest came up. He told
them that his heart had been troubled because of his refusal to allow their dead
comrade to be buried in the churchyard; so, early in the morning, he had risen
from his bed and with his own hands had moved the fence to include the body of
the soldier who had died for France. -- William Barclay, Commentary on Ephesians
We must always guard our hearts against falling into the trap of learning how
to appear spiritual and instead learn how to BE spiritual!
PROP. SENT: The Bible will teach us that true spirituality, or as James put it in
his epistle, true "Religion" (James 1:27) is not so much what we appear to
be on the surface as much as it is what we are in our lifestyle!
I. GOING NOWHERE 'FAST'! 7:1-7
A. Piety Perfected! 7:1-3
1. Israel has just spent 70 years in captivity, and now they once again had
the freedom to return home and rebuild the Temple of God and restore
their worship of God in the Holy Land.
a. during these 70 years they had added several fasts to their yearly
calendar to commemorate the losses they experienced through God's
judgment on them,
b. They had added at least 4 fasts, the one mentioned in verse 3 done in
5th month was a fast commemorating the destruction of the Temple by
Nebuchadnezzar's troops many years earlier.
c. the only fasts called for by Moses was the fast for the day of Atonement,
so these additional fasts were not asked for by God.
2. Every year Israel had practiced these additional fasts as a solemn reminder
of what they had lost, and the pain of judgment
a. This was not a bad idea...but over the many years they had done these
fasts, they had become ritualized.
b. The problem now was that the Temple was being rebuilt, the fasts were
not necessary, yet they still did them!
c. The fasts should have stopped, but they were so used to doing them
that they failed to realize that their actions contradicted their new
3. They had forgotten the meaning and purpose of the fast and they were just
going through the motions, they were giving off a mixed message in
Psychologist James Dobson reports seeing a sign on a convent in southern
California reading: Absolutely No Trespassing--Violators Will Be Prosecuted to
the Full Extent of the Law. Signed, "The Sisters of Mercy." --James S. Hewett,
Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p.
4. Had they understood the purpose of those fasts, they would have realized
they were now unnecessary.
5. The idea of sending a delegation to Jerusalem was to ask if those fasts should still continue, they wanted to know from the professional Clergy
what should be done, this would certainly impress the Persians that had
kept them in captivity for so long!
a. Many of the Jews back in Babylon under the Persian ruler were missing
many days of work to keep these fasts...a source of nuisance to the Persian empire!
b. But the Jewish people living there wanted to keep up the front of their
hurt and pain through these fasts, but really, they were untouched by
the meaning of those fasts....the meaning was that they were to be broken over the rebellion of their forefathers to God...and the price of
judgment!...the idea of the fasts was to repent and really live for God!
6. Jews in Babylon were probably merely concerned about image!
ILLUS: In a small college town a tavern frequented by students ran the following ad in the campus paper during the days before Parents Weekend: "Bring Your Parents for Lunch Saturday. We'll Pretend We Don't Know You!"
The ad was soon challenged by the college
chaplain, who posted a revised version on the campus bulletin board. It read:
"Bring Your Parents to Chapel Sunday. We'll Pretend We Know You!" --James S.
Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988),
7. They had perfected the appearance of piety while missing the meaning of
it! It is easy still to do this!!!
a. People can get all worked up about the lack of prayer, but be backbiters
or fail to be faithful to God in other ways and not see the contradiction!
b. We can work so hard on the appearances that we miss the depth of the
B. Pointless Prayer! 7:4-7
1. God gets right to the point: "Was it really for me that you fasted?"
a. Were they fasting to deal with the issues of disobedience...or just to
have the appearance of deep spirituality?
b. These fasts were probably created for the right reasons at the beginning
but over the years they had just become rituals!
2. They were so concerned about doing what was "OFFICIALLY" the correct
thing; hence the delegation was sent to ask, yet failed to understand the
difference between doing something for looks, and
doing something for spiritual life!
A brand new lawyer in his brand new office
on his first day in practice sees a prospective client walk in the door. He
decides he should look busy, so he picks up the phone and starts talking: "Look,
Harry, about that amalgamation deal. I think I better run down to the factory
and handle it personally. Yes. No. I don't think 3 million will swing it. We
better have Rogers from Seattle meet us there. OK. Call you back later." He
looks up at the visitor and says, "Good morning, how may I help you?" And the
prospective client says, "You can't help me at all. I'm just here to hook up
your phone." --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House
Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 436.
3. Somewhere they had grown used to the words of piety, even the worship
that appeared spiritual, but had lost their understanding or the point of
why they were fasting!
a. Why do you worship God on Sunday mornings?
b. Why do you pray?
c. Why do you give of your tithes and offerings?
d. Why do you read your Bible?
4. If we are not careful we can get good at going through the motions of
spirituality and forget what all those motions are suppose to mean!
a. It is not enough to come to Church to get an "experience", if we fail
to take that experience and "express" a changed life when we leave it
will have meant nothing!
b. To fail to translate the one into the other will leave a horrible
contradiction to our lives!
ILLUS: A man sat down to supper with his family, saying grace, thanking God for the food, for the hands which prepared it, and for the source of all life. But during the meal he complained about the freshness of the bread, the bitterness of the coffee and the sharpness of the cheese. His young daughter questioned him, "Dad, do you think God heard the grace today?"
He answered confidently, "Of course." Then she
asked, "And do you think God heard what you said about the coffee, the cheese,
and the bread?" Not so confidently, he answered, "Why, yes, I believe so." The
little girl concluded, "Then which do you think God believed, Dad?" The man was
suddenly aware that his mealtime prayer had become a rote, thoughtless habit
rather than an attentive and honest conversation with God. By not concentrating
on that important conversation, he had left the door open to let hypocrisy sneak
5. This same generation that had started these fasts to mourn what their
forefathers had done that brought on them judgment were now themselves
hard to the reality of their own lack of passion for God...they were more
concerned over the correct rituals than the issues around the fasting!
a. lest we are hard on them, as they had also been hard on their forefathers, let's remember we can easily do the same thing today!
b. It is all too easy to focus on appearances and forget substance!
c. They had fasted to change God and failed to realize that fasting should
have changed them!
II. GOD'S NECESSARY FOUNDATION! 7:8-14
A. Proven Practice! 7:8-10
1. God wastes no time in describing what real spirituality is all about!
a. how different this concept of spirituality is from what many people
today see as spirituality!
b. too many people judge how spiritual a person is based on what they see
or hear on Sunday mornings in a worship service setting.... i.e. raised
hands, gifts of prophecy, etc.
c. Yet almost nowhere in the Bible do these more extraordinary outward
appearances of spirituality PROVE real spirituality!
(1. didn't Jesus say many would do miracles in His name but yet He
says He never knew them!
(2. James 1:27 clearly defines "true religion" as those who take care of
the widow, the fatherless, the orphan, those in distress...and to keep
oneself from being polluted with the world!
2. God states here that real spirituality has a very practical aspect to it!!!
a. it is far more than what motions of spirituality we often tend to see
b. Real spirituality is only as real as the practical ministry we offer in
c. The deeply spiritual Church is the one that ministers to the needs of
others, not just the Church that manifests the more supernatural gifts
of the Holy Spirit!....just take a look at the Church in Corinth...many
spectacular gifts, legitimate ones too....but little substance of love in
that Church, Paul called them immature and carnal though they gloried in their "GIFTEDNESS"!
3. So many people look for a place of deep spirituality to go to Church, they
want to be in a place where God's power is...yet what they don't understand
is that God's power is in any place where God's people love and serve, not just what appears to be power on Sunday morning!
a. and so they fail to find the place that measures up for them, it might for
a little while, then they become disappointed!
b. they don't mind the effort at appearing spiritual, but resent the expectations of service
c. The grass is always greener somewhere else!
ILLUS: Frank Fried said:
"Folks, the grass is not greener on that side
of the fence. And the grass is not greener on this side of the fence. The grass
is greener where you water it."
4. God's idea of a Church empowered by the Holy Spirit is the Church that
"ACTS", and not just the Church that "APPEARS" to be spiritual!
a. The book in the New Testament that is all about the SPIRIT FILLED CHURCH is a book called, THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES!...not the
"APPEARANCES OF THE APOSTLES"!
b. We have a whole book in the New Testament whose entire focus is about the Spirit filled Church...and the entire focus of the book is not
on the gifts of the Spirit, but on the acts of the Apostles as they went
about healing the sick, taking care of the beggars and the needy, sharing the good news of the Gospel, etc.!
c. The whole focus of the book deals with the actions of the men and women of God as the Church on society!....little if anything is recorded
about their worship style, no chorus melodies are preserved, almost
nothing about a worship service experience...just the acts of the Apostles as they are energized by the Holy Spirit!
5. God wasn't looking for just their ritualized broken emotions in a fast, He
wanted their brokenness over the disobedience in their lives and for them
to become obedient again!
6. Emotional experiences before God can be very helpful if they result in
changed behavior and priorities, but if they don't, they are just a waste of
time!! (the "clanging cymbal" mentioned by Paul..."making mere noise")
a. They cried 4 times a year in fasts to commemorate losses through God's
judgment on their parents and their lives....
b. But in reality, they were failing to understand the purpose of those
fasts just as much as their parents had failed to listen to the prophets
God had sent them to warn them of their disobedience to God's Word!
c. The fasts hadn't changed their behavior, only the worship services on
7. The time of judgment was now over, the Temple was being rebuilt...the time of fasting should come to an end...and the lessons of fasting learned
a. they should be moving onto feasts...(which by the way is what follows
as commanded by God in the next section in chapter 8, notice by the
way, what God expects them to "DO" in their celebration ZECH. 8:16:
"these are the things you are to DO: Speak the truth to each other, render true and sound judgment in your courts, do not plot evil against
your neighbor...." sounds pretty familiar doesn't it!!?
b. Even in feasting the emphasis is on "DOING" and not just "APPEARING"
B. Pride's Pain! 7:11-14
1. Their forefathers had learned that changing required effort, but that keeping ceremonies was easier...this is why they had repeatedly ignored
the prophets God had sent them that came to ask them to CHANGE!
a. Their forefathers had not abandoned the Temple...but they didn't
change their behavior when challenged by God's prophets...
b. this is what led to captivity in the first place...a willingness to just
continue with the appearances of spirituality, but ignore the practical
dynamics of spirituality!
2. Pride and self-righteousness can keep us from seeing what God sees...
and thus can keep us from doing what God wants us to do!
3. Religious life before the captivity had been strong...but commitment to
God's principles of living had been highly neglected!
a. they went through the motions, but missed the substance!
b. how tragic when people can be comfortable doing this!
James killed a fellow in a bank robbery and shortly thereafter was baptized in
the Kearney Baptist Church. Then he killed another man, a bank cashier, and
joined the church choir and taught hymn-singing. He liked Sundays, Jesse did,
but he couldn't always show up at church. On two Sundays, he robbed trains.
4. Their cries to God had gone unheeded, because they had failed to heed God's call for change!
5. and now the question faced this new generation: Will they do the same
things as their forefathers, just continue the motions of being spiritual
or will they begin to practice through obedience the real spirituality that
requires more than a fast, it requires obedience to God's Word!
6. Where are you?
a. is it easy to go through the motions of being a Christian but there are
no ACTS of being a Christian during the week?
b. Do you find yourself focusing on appearing spiritual while ignoring the
demands of service in the kingdom of God?
c. Is there a difference on how you are on Sundays from Monday through
d. Have we learned to thank God on Sundays for His blessings and then find ourselves angry at God during the week for what we feel is not a
fair deal by God!?
7. Spirituality works just as well on Monday through Saturday as it does on
CONCLUSION: A spirituality not rooted in practical ways is nothing more than a
superficial faith! Praying without practicing is pointless! The power and proof
of spirituality is not how spiritual we can "look", but how well we "live"! God
never asks for rituals above reality! God really wants to know why we pray, not
just what we pray for!