Chapter 1

God returns.

At first, it just seemed like yet another prophet calling Israel to repentance. And, okay, that’s what it was—on the surface, anyway. But stop to consider this: Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai, and when he said, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty” (vs 3), it had not even been two months since Haggai’s call to repentance (which the people had accepted).

Does it seem odd that God would have two prophets calling the people to repentance at the same time? Perhaps. But I think verse 3 gives us a bit more of a glimpse into the idea of repentance. For it doesn’t just say “return to me,” but also “and I will return to you.”

Had God left the people? Had the God who vows never to leave us nor forsake us broken His promise to the Israelites? Of course not.

Instead, I think God was trying to help the people understand what repentance means. The word repentance refers to a change of attitude. It literally means to turn, to do an about-face. It means that, in my heart, I had my back turned toward God, and now I have decided to turn around and put my face toward Him. It means I am no longer nursing a rebellious attitude.

Bible commentator H.C. Leupold said that “a godly life, in a sense, consists of ongoing repentance.” But I think it’s broader than that. I think relationships in general consist of ongoing “repentance.” Relationships are an intricate dance between two people who have different thoughts, different feelings, different experiences, different views, and different backgrounds. Achieving oneness and intimacy under such conditions requires what can seem like an ongoing attitude adjustment!

Those who think God doesn’t undergo such adjustments in His relationship with us have obviously never read the Bible! While God’s attitude toward us is always one of love, He is always acting and reacting to the choices we make, responding to us in the way He knows will be best for us. We “dance” with Him in relationship as surely as we “dance” with a spouse in relationship, always moving closer to or away from intimacy and oneness.

Our relationship with God is an experience in perpetual attitude adjustment. Will that cease once there is no more sin? I think the rebelliousness on our part will certainly go away, but I don’t believe that means our relationship will become static. Rather, I think we will be engaged in an eternal “dance” of intimacy with our God—who “returns” to us as surely as we “return” to Him.

Chapter 2

God is not a prison warden.

I really liked the description of Jerusalem in this chapter: “‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within.’” (vs 4-5)

There are so many things to say about these verses! First, the whole thing speaks to me of freedom. God has never wanted to be a prison warden, presiding over unruly people who require walls, bars on the windows, and barbed wire. He prefers to give us the freedom to come and go, and He has given us the promise of a time when we will do so in complete safety. We will no longer need walls and locks and alarms because everyone who lives around us will be committed to peace and harmony.

Until then, however, we live in a place where we often feel insecure. Right now, to live in a place where there were no walls would be frightening! Exposed to the elements and vulnerable to those who would do us harm, the thought of not being secure isn’t a pleasant one.

Certainly, this is a very sore spot in America right now. Just two weeks after a horrific school shooting which claimed the lives of 20 small children and several adults, many are wondering if there is any true security left in our world. And to that, God says, “I myself will be a wall of fire around you.”

That’s right. There is a wall of fire protecting you right now. And nothing—absolutely nothing—can ultimately harm you when you are surrounded by that wall! Nothing can pluck you out of God’s hands.

Choosing to trust that God knows what He’s doing and that He has our best interests at heart really does bring the peace that passes understanding. It brings real security, even in the midst of chaos. When we choose to trust God, we are safe, even if we get temporarily caught in the crossfire.

But that’s not the end of the good news in these verses. God goes on to say that, in addition to the wall of fire that surrounds us on the outside, He will fill us with His glory on the inside. That’s even better than the security! For God is never satisfied to simply give us the protection of His fire. He also wants us to have the pleasure of His presence.

But in a city without walls, the only kind of people who can benefit from such gifts are those who have freely chosen to accept them. God isn’t a prison warden. He is not interested in keeping us “hemmed in” with walls, and He won’t force His security on us. We must be willing to receive it.

In the meantime, it seems we’ll continue our futile search for ways to stop the evil which confronts us in this world, but even the very best of our “solutions” will be short-lived and useless. It’s only when we accept the gifts of God’s protection and presence that we’ll find we are no longer in need of walls made by human hands.

Chapter 3

God can clean up any mess.

There are only a handful of places in the Bible where we get to peek behind the scenes and witness a direct confrontation between God and Satan. This is one of them, and it says such amazing things about God:

“Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’ Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.’” (vs 1-4)

Did you catch what was happening there? The high priest was standing in the presence of God, but he was standing there in filthy clothes. Bible commentator Charles Feinberg remarked, “The Hebrew word translated filthy is the strongest expression in the Hebrew language for filth of the most vile and loathsome character.” This would be like showing up to meet the Queen of England in sewage-covered clothes.

Zechariah also tells us that Satan was standing right next to the high priest, accusing him. Accusing him of what? Why, the fact that he’s filthy! And don’t you just love God’s reply: “Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

In other words, God said to Satan, “Yes, of course he’s filthy. You can’t be caught in a raging inferno without getting some soot on you.” Can’t you just hear a little sarcastic undertone there? His clothes are dirty. Brilliant observation, Satan.

What really struck me about this was that God didn’t argue with Satan. He didn’t contradict him. He didn’t say, “Filthy? Oh no, he’s not. He belongs to me, and therefore, he is clean, no matter what.” Instead, He acknowledged the reality of the high priest’s condition. Yup, he’s filthy. So, what’s your point?

Nothing stops an angry confrontation so quickly as agreement! But once God has agreed that the high priest is covered in filth of the worst kind (for in what other condition can we expect to stand before God?), He turns His attention to cleaning him up.

I wish all Christians could understand this very simple principle of the Christian life: We do not cleanse ourselves from sin! Oh, we may agree with our lips, but we are chronically infected with the desire to do better, to be better, to do more, to be more . . . all for God, mind you, but we’re going to do it in our way and in our time just the same.

Zechariah blows away any notions we might have of cleaning ourselves up just a bit before we stand in the presence of God. We, all of us, stand there as filthy as the high priest in this vision. If we are to be clean, God must do the work Himself. And if He can clean up Hebrew filth of the vilest kind, there is no mess He can’t handle!

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, how badly you’ve screwed up, or how many people you’ve hurt along the way. If you are willing, you can be clean. If you are willing, you can experience the sheer mercy and grace of God as He removes the scum-soaked rags you’ve been wearing and replaces them with fresh, bright clothes of the cleanest kind.

You may have heard the old adage: When the devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future. There may be some merit to that, but I’d like to suggest something new today. When the devil reminds you of your past, agree with him. Then remind him that you serve a God who can clean up even the very worst mess!

Chapter 4

God's power is not in His power.

And so we have a short and sweet thought with which to open 2013 from this chapter of Zechariah: “So he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty.’” (vs 6)

I have always loved that verse. It reminds me that, even though God is the most physically powerful Being in the entire universe, He doesn’t choose to govern His universe on the basis of might. Rather, He prefers the methods of persuasion and reason, which He employs through His Spirit.

What respect God has for His creation! He is so powerful that, if He wanted, He could force us all into submission, keeping us under His thumb at all times. Who could stand against Him? He could easily be a dictator if He wanted.

But what He wants is love. What He wants is admiration and respect. What He wants is people who want Him back. For me, this makes God more powerful than any amount of physical power. That He cares so deeply about and is willing to sacrifice Himself for the good of His creation—this is the true power of God.

As you contemplate this year to come, realize that God is able to accomplish anything in you that needs to be done, and He is also able to accomplish anything for you that needs to be done. But He doesn’t accomplish these things by might or power. No, God’s true power is in His Spirit, and by His Spirit, He accomplishes all things.

Chapter 5

God wants to show us more.

As I read through the book of Zechariah, I can’t help but wonder what God might be showing us if there were more people who took the time to pay attention. I mean, Zechariah was only one guy, but God gave him vision after vision after vision after vision. . . .

Did you notice how many times the words see or look were used in this chapter alone? It seems that Zechariah had only just finished one vision when God had another one waiting. What might He want to show us this year? In 2013? If we had the time to look, what would He want us to see?

In Proverbs, Solomon wrote, “Where there is no vision, no redemptive revelation of God, the people perish; but he who keeps the law—blessed, happy, fortunate, and enviable is he!” (Prov 29:18) It’s pretty plain: People die when they have no vision, when they have no revelation, when they have no hope.

But the good news about God is that He wants to show us more. When we take the time to listen to Him, we’ll be just like Zechariah—with new visions on the heels of old visions. No sooner will we “see” something new than there will be another “something new” to be seen!

God has the wonders of the universe at His disposal, and He wants to share them all with us. No matter how much we have seen to this point, He wants to show us more.

How much time will we invest to looking during this new year?

Chapter 6

God is a mediator.

In this short chapter of Zechariah, we get a glimpse of the coming Messiah: “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Here is the man called the Branch. He will branch out from where he is and build the Temple of the Lord. Yes, he will build the Temple of the Lord. Then he will receive royal honor and will rule as king from his throne. He will also serve as priest from his throne, and there will be perfect harmony between his two roles.” (vs 12-13)

In the nation of Israel, the king and the priest served two different functions in society. The king, of course, governed the people and ruled over the land. The priest tended to spiritual matters, acting as an intermediary between the people and God.

In God’s kingdom, however, the two roles are fused into one. God is our King, but He is also our Priest. He is to have first place in both the “spiritual” aspect of our lives as well as all other aspects. In fact, with God, there is no separation between the “spiritual” and the “non-spiritual.” All of life has a “spiritual” aspect to it.

When we say that Jesus is our High Priest, we usually think of Him as the mediator between us and God, somehow “pleading” with God to accept us. But actually, it’s just the opposite. To say that Jesus is our High Priest and our mediator is to say that He is “pleading” with us to return to God.

This isn’t just something God started after Jesus’s life and death on this Earth; He’s always been in that role. He was our mediator at the very beginning—even from the first moment He came into the Garden of Eden looking for the strangely-absent Adam and Eve. Throughout the history of the human race, He has continued to come to us in that role, pursuing every possible avenue of bringing us back home.

The good news about God is that He is both our King and our High Priest. The One who governs the land is the same One who cares about us enough to do everything possible to help us return to Him. As long as there is still a possibility that we’ll turn around, He’ll continue to mediate with us.

Chapter 7

God made us to listen.

You may have heard that old saying, You’ve got one mouth and two ears for a reason—so you can listen twice as much as you talk. Or maybe you’re familiar with that apparently-famous cowboy saying: Never miss a good chance to shut up. Either way, I’m sure you’ve experienced (at least once in life) frustration because someone you were trying to talk to wasn’t listening.

God expressed that frustration again to His people in today’s chapter: “But [your ancestors] refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.” (vs 11-12)

I thought that was a very interesting progression, didn’t you?

1.       They refused to pay attention.

2.       They stubbornly turned their backs.

3.       They covered their ears.

4.       They made their hearts as hard as flint.

The first mistake they made was to stop listening, or paying attention, to God. Perhaps they became busy or annoyed or preoccupied with other things. Whatever it was, they removed God from the primary place of importance in their lives and went about doing something else.

And what happens when God is removed from the primary place of importance in our lives? Why, He ramps up His presentation a few notches. And if we continue to ignore Him, He steps it up some more! That’s why the next things they did were turn their backs (so they could no longer see) and covered their ears (to try to stop hearing).

Instead of responding to the increased energies of God with the awareness that they had strayed from the way of righteousness, they dug in their heels and persisted in their rebellious refusal to listen. They wanted to be their own god.

And if we persist in that kind of rebellion long enough, what happens? Our hearts become hard as flint, totally incapable of being changed, softened, or molded again into God’s likeness. If we cling to our sin long enough, we become forever enslaved to it.

I don’t know about you, but that thought scares me.

The solution? Don’t ever stop listening! That’s it. It’s really that simple. When we are willing to listen, God can accomplish anything in us that needs to be done. It is when we are not willing to listen that God comes up against a brick wall. Without our willingness to listen, God can’t accomplish very much in us or for us.

God made us to listen. Sometimes, what He has to say to us may be hard to hear, but He created us with one mouth and two ears for a reason. As long as we remain willing to listen, it is impossible to be lost.

Chapter 8

God turns fasting into feasting.

You might remember from yesterday’s chapter that the people who were returning from exile in Babylon had a very specific question for the Lord: “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” (Zech 7:3)

They were referring to the fasts they had instituted while in Babylon to commemorate the descent of Israel into total destruction:

  • In the fourth month, they fasted to remember the breach of Jerusalem’s walls. (Jer 39:2)
  • In the fifth month, their fast commemorated the destruction of the temple. (2 Kgs 25:8)
  • In the seventh month, they fasted in memory of Gedaliah. (2 Kgs 25:25)
  • In the tenth month, their fast marked the anniversary of the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege. (2 Kgs 25:1-2)

Don’t we also tend to do this, too? Don’t we tend to dwell on, even commemorate, painful events and memories from our past? Whether it’s remembering the anniversary of the loss of a loved one or “reliving” a failed relationship through photos and letters, many of us meditate on the painful moments of our past as much as (or perhaps even more than) the pleasant memories.

It’s interesting that the people came to inquire about the fifth-month fast. Why that one in particular? Because they were in the process of rebuilding the temple, and I suppose they were wondering if they should still commemorate its previous destruction. To us, that may seem like an odd question—why would you continue to commemorate the destruction of the very thing you’re rebuilding?—but when you’ve been practicing a ritual for so long, it becomes a part of you.

That’s why I love God’s answer to their question, found in today’s chapter: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah.” (vs 19)

God turns fasting into feasting. He turns sorrow to joy, mourning to celebration, weeping to laughing. You may, at the moment, have many such occasions for remembering awful moments in your past, but God wants you to know that a time is coming when He will turn all those occasions for mourning into occasions for celebration. What presently causes you pain and sadness will one day bring you great joy and happiness.

God loves a good celebration. It won’t take Him very long to remove the “pity” from all your parties!

Chapter 9

God comes in peace.

It is in this chapter of Zechariah that we encounter the famous passage which was fulfilled on the Sunday before the death of Christ: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (vs 9-10)

Have you ever wondered why Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday? Why not ride a horse? Or drive a chariot? Or be carried in by ten strong men like a conquering hero?

Here’s the thing about kings in Bible times. If they were entering a territory as a conquering general or a great warrior, they would ride a triumphant stallion. But the customary mount for a king who was coming in peace was a donkey. If one king approached another on a donkey, it meant that he meant no harm and was coming in a vulnerable, defenseless way.

What should that say to us about God—that He took great pains to communicate to us that He was coming in peace? That was part of the Christmas message as well, remember? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will toward all people.” (Lk 2:14)

Thirty-three years later, as Jesus began His final journey toward the cross, nothing had changed about His mission or His intentions. He was still the king who was coming to us in peace, because that’s who God is. He always comes in peace.

Often, we look at some of the stories in the Old Testament and think that God must be interested in everything but peace. But to say that God comes in peace is to say that He has no personal score to settle over our sin. He holds no grudges, and He imposes no ultimate punishment for sin.

Everything He has done in the course of human history has been with our redemption in mind. Sometimes, He’s had to take some extreme tactics on the path toward that goal, but all of those emergency measures have been utilized for our benefit. Everything God does is done out of love and concern for us.

He always has, and He always will, come to us in peace.

Chapter 10

God has a generous heart.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that what we notice most in life has to do with our current context. And my current context is motherhood, so on this part of my trip through the Bible, I’m noticing that things which have to do with parenting (or things that remind me of my own parenting experiences) are the things that are “jumping out” to me.

Today was no exception. This hit me right off the bat: “Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms. He gives showers of rain to all people, and plants of the field to everyone.” (vs 1) Perhaps you read that, as I have before, and went right over it, because . . . duh. Of course it’s the Lord who sends rain! What a silly thing to say!

Yet, it wasn’t silly to say it at the time. In the hearts and minds of the Israelites, God had some serious competition from Baal—that pesky false god whom the people kept trying to worship. And who was Baal? Why, he was the rain god! And when you’re living in a land where the success of your crops is wholly dependent upon a year of good rain, you want to make sure you’re “in” with the god who’s controlling the weather!

There was only one problem: the Israelites were praying to the wrong god. No matter how much God promised to bless them with abundant crops, when there was the least hint of a drought, their perennial idolatry problem returned, and they ran right back to their Baal-worship.

In light of that, doesn’t the first verse of today’s chapter seem so elementary? Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms. Not that guy over there! It’s Me, it’s Me! Hello?!

Since Caroline was a baby, we’ve been teaching her to sign certain words: Mommy, Daddy, milk, more, all done, water, please, and thank you, among others. Now that she is getting older, we’ve been working in earnest on saying please when she wants something. Usually, she has no problem doing this, but there have been times when—for whatever reason—she stubbornly refuses to say please. She just wants what she wants because she wants it, and she doesn’t want to have to do anything to get it.

At those times, I’ve found myself saying, “Mommy will give it to you; just say ‘please.’”

And the thing is, I want to give it to her. I’m ready to give it to her. I’m eager to give it to her. But it’s equally important that she develop the disciplines of courtesy and gratitude. If I always give her whatever she wants whenever she demands it, it won’t be long before I’ve got a holy terror on my hands.

I think there’s a bit of God in there somewhere. He has everything our heart desires, and He is eager to give it to us! He is ready to give it to us! He wants to give it to us! But developing a relationship with Him and coming to understand that He is the Giver is equally important. If He always gave us whatever we want whenever we demand it, regardless, it wouldn’t be good for us (or Him).

God wants us to know that He has a generous heart, but He also wants us to know where the blessings come from. They come from Me, He says, not that other god. Trust Me, he’ll “Baal” on you. Stick with Me, and I will give you all the desires of your heart.

Chapter 11

God doesn't protect Himself.

If you were God, if you were the most powerful Being in the entire universe, don’t you think you’d do a little lookin’ out for number one? That seems reasonable to us, I suppose. After all, there aren’t too many people in positions of power these days who use their position for the benefit of others (unless they’ve benefited themselves first).

But one of the things I’ve been contemplating about God recently is that He doesn’t tend to protect Himself. Although He’s certainly in a position to do so, He doesn’t insulate Himself from suffering. Have you ever thought about that? I mean, even Jesus was betrayed by one of His own disciples! Surely, He would have seen that coming, and He could have stopped it if He’d wanted to, right?

Talk about seeing it coming . . . this chapter indicates He saw it coming more than 500 years in advance: “I told them, ‘If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.’ So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.” (vs 12-13)

Five hundred years before a little guy named Judas made a deal with the religious leaders to sell out Jesus, God declared how the deal would go right down to the very last detail. It’s not just that there were thirty pieces of silver. Zechariah also foretold the details of the money being “thrown” back into the temple and, eventually, given to the potter.

I find all of that incredible, because we think of power as being good for (among other things) insulating oneself from hardship.

But Paul made it clear that godliness works in the exact opposite way. True power is good for exposing oneself to hardship: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing.” (vs 5-7)

God doesn’t use His power to benefit Himself. He uses His power to benefit us. That’s why, when the situation warrants hardship and difficulty, God doesn’t protect Himself. He doesn’t insulate Himself from suffering. Instead, He willingly enters our time and space to suffer with us, bearing in His own person the effects of the sin that we chose. He runs toward, not away from, suffering.

That is what it means to be God.

Chapter 12

God is a spirit-maker.

I am a lover of poetry. Yet, of all the poetry I’ve read in my life (and I’ve read a lot), I’ve never heard any more beautiful than the poetic statement which opens this chapter of Zechariah: “The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person. . .” (vs 1)

Isn’t that a beautiful description of God? Such vivid imagery. In my mind’s eye, I can see each of those things: stretching out the heavens, laying the foundation of the earth, and forming the human spirit. That’s the one that really grabbed me—forming the human spirit within a person. I suppose it did because I have recently been studying issues of creation and evolution for our Bible study group.

I like how this verse encompasses everything we know—the heavens (universe), the earth, and us. For there is a vast universe inside each of us, as vast as the universe that is outside of us. Our personality, our spirit, our very consciousness—these are topics that are currently confounding the smartest of all scientists and evolutionary theorists. What comprises personhood? What is our consciousness and how does it work? Scientists can’t even see our consciousness, let alone begin to understand or describe how it functions.

Dr. J.P. Moreland, in an interview with author Lee Strobel, put it this way:

“My soul and my consciousness are invisible, though my body is visible. . . In fact, I remember the time when my daughter was in the fifth grade and we were having family prayers. She said, ‘Dad, if I could see God, it would help me believe in him.’ I said, ‘Well, honey, the problem isn’t that you’ve never seen God. The problem is that you’ve never seen your mother.’ And her mother was sitting right next to her!

“My daughter said, ‘What do you mean, Dad?’ I said, ‘Suppose without hurting your mom, we were able to take her apart cell by cell and peek inside each one of them. We would never come to a moment where we would say, “Look—here’s what Mommy’s thinking about doing the rest of the day.” Or “Hey, this cell contains Mommy’s feelings.” Or “So this is what Mom believes about football.” We couldn’t find Mommy’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs, desires, or her feelings.

“‘Guess what else we would never find? We’d never find Mommy’s ego or her self. We would never say, “Finally, in this particular brain  cell, there’s Mommy. There’s her ego, or self.” That’s because Mommy is a person, and persons are invisible. Mommy’s ego and her conscious life are invisible. Now, she’s small enough to have a body, while God is too big to have a body—so let’s pray!’

“The point is this: I am a soul, and I have a body. We don’t learn about people by studying their bodies. We learn about people by finding out how they feel, what they think, what they’re passionate about, what their worldview is, and so forth. . . So my conclusion is that there’s more to me than my body. In fact, I am a ’self,’ or an ‘I,’ that cannot be seen or touched unless I manifest myself through my behavior or my talk.”  (from The Case for a Creator, pp260-261)

God formed the invisible spirit within you. You are special and unique, and as a person, you are incapable of being seen or touched unless you manifest yourself through your behavior or your talk. Still, even if another person on earth couldn’t “see” you, God could. He is able to have a relationship with you in the private, inner-most parts of your mind, the parts nobody else can see—unless you show them.

As the Psalmist once said, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are not an accident. You are not a coincidence. You are not a by-product of random chance. You are the unique creation of the God who is a spirit-maker. And just as He does with all of His creation, when He formed you, He looked at what He had made and said, “It is good!”

Chapter 13

God is not a victim.

I used to think of Jesus during His final days on earth as a victim. We tend to paint all those Holy Week events in that light, don’t we? We lament the betrayal, the false arrest, the kangaroo court, and the scourging. We dwell on the unfairness and injustice of it all, trying to put ourselves in the shoes of the Man, trying to imagine how we endure such trials.

What happened to Jesus might have been unfair.

What happened to Jesus might have been unjust.

But what happened to Jesus was not done without His consent. There was no victim hanging on the center cross at Golgotha that Black Friday. The One who hung there had His eye on the cross centuries before that day: “‘Awake, 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.’” (vs 7)

The Good Shepherd knew all along that He had come into the world in order to face the sword. In fact, Jesus stated in plain speech that He was in control of those final events: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (Jn 10:17-18)

Doesn’t this cast a very different shadow over the events of that final week in Jesus’s life? I see Him now, in my mind’s eye, moving purposefully with every step toward that cross, not being dragged there kicking and screaming. As He told His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, if the cross was the only way to accomplish what He had come to do, then He was willing to go.

Seeing Christ in this chapter of Zechariah also put an intriguing twist on this verse: “If someone asks, ‘What are these wounds on your body?’ they will answer, ‘The wounds I was given at the house of my friends.’” (vs 6) The ones who planned the execution of God were the ones who were supposed to be His friends. And if He would still refer to them as His friends, maybe it’s because the cross is what He had in mind all along.

God has never been a victim—of sin, of suffering, of anything. He has all authority and power in heaven and earth, and because He does, He could freely lay it down in order to save us, for we are the ones who have been victims.

But in Christ, we need not be victims any longer. We need not fear what we might lose in this life, because everything that is permanent is ours and is safe in the hands of God. Everything else is perishable and can be taken away . . . but nobody can take away from you what you will willingly give them.

Are there any “rights” you’re willing to lay down of your own accord?

Jesus said that nobody could take His life from Him, but that He would lay it down. He could only say this because He was already free. You see, freedom doesn’t come from securing and defending your “rights.” Freedom comes from knowing the truth about God (Jn 8:32). And it is by following His example that we may now choose to be victors instead of victims.

The more we become like God, the more we will truly be free instead of being enslaved to the struggle for freedom.

Chapter 14

God envisions a better world.

I was really struck by the description in this chapter of the things that will be different at the Lord’s coming: “On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. It will be a unique day—a day known only to the Lord—with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter.” (vs 6-8)

I really loved the idea of a “unique day,” a day where things are totally different than the “normal” we are used to. It seems that when the Lord is present, “business as usual” is no longer the order of the day. Instead of sunlight or darkness, there will be something else (known only to the Lord right now). Instead of rivers that are useful only half the year, living water will flow in both summer and winter.

To me, it’s very encouraging to remember that God can see so much more than our present moment and our present condition. Of course, He’s with us in every moment of suffering, sorrow, and agony, but He also sees the day when all of those things will be former things. The vision of a better world is a present reality for Him.

And, as people who know and love the Lord, I believe that we can trust in His vision, especially when life gets dark and depressing. Through His Word, we can cling to the hope that a better world is on the way, especially on the days when this one couldn’t seem to possibly get any worse.

Today, God wants you to remember that He envisions a better world, one where the status quo of your present life is replaced with something beyond your wildest imaginings. Right now, things may look to you like they could only turn out one way, but God sees things in a completely different way!

So keep holding on.

That new world is coming a lot faster than you think!