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Worship Series: God’s Government
Worship Theme: Peace & Politics
Lesson & Sermon Text: Zechariah 1:18-21 (EHV)
Gospel: John 14:23-31 (NIV)
Music: CW 620 To You, Our God, We Fly, Alleluia!, CW 32 When Sinners See Their Lost Condition, Lamb of God, CW 619 God Bless Our Native Land (in worship folder)
Message Notes & Growth Group Questions
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Message: Peace & Politics
Brace yourself, Salem. I have a word that I have to preach. A Word that will keep Salem at peace. We are Salem—Peace. It’s what God has called us to be. So, brace yourself. When we introduced this series one of the first comments that came to us was, “I hope we don’t talk about politics!” I’m a pastor. I’m not a pollster or a politician, but the 2020 election is just 10 days away. We’re going to talk about politics so we can understand where they fit in our hearts and lives.
There is power in politics. Rewind back to Thanksgiving 2016. Do you know what happened on that day? “Don’t remind me,” some of you are saying. “That was the day I decided I didn’t like my family or want to be with them. Uncle Bob changed everything for me.” And even if Thanksgiving of 2016 wasn’t like for you, it was for many, many, many others. There are some incredibly sad statistics about that one day in American life. Researchers for Science Magazine got a hold of cell phone data that tracked the locations of millions upon millions of Americans that day and you know what they discovered? Thanksgiving had turned into Politicsgiving. The people who celebrated Thanksgiving at a house with different political beliefs left dinner far, far earlier than normal. On that day alone we Americans lost 62 million hours of family time. Why? Because of politics. There is power in politics. We need to approach this topic with a special measure of the Holy Spirit.
God understands that. He wanted the prophet Zechariah and us to understand it too, so God shared this crazy vision with him. “I saw that there were four horns.” (v. 18) Don’t think french horns or trombones. Think animal horns. Think of bulls’ horns. Big ones. I caught a video clip the other day from the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. In the video clip, everybody was behind some protective concrete barriers. Someone made the mistake of leaving their SUV parked on the side of the street. The angry bull shoved his horns into the wheel well, popped the tire, and punctured the wiper fluid reservoir, bouncing the vehicle up and down.
Horns are a symbol of power. Zechariah saw the horns and shouted in Hebrew: הִנֵּ֖ה “Look out! You’re about to be gored!” Four powerful horns. Why four? Four points on a compass. Four cardinal directions. Four represents totality. Total what? That’s what Zechariah asked: “What are these?” (v. 19) The Angel of the Lord explained, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.” (v. 19) The horns represent nation states— the political powers that had scattered God’s people. Horns are destructive. They rip; they gore, they smash, they tear apart, - to use Zechariah’s language - they have scattered God’s people. One scholar wrote that if Zechariah were envisioning this for a modern audience, he might have seen a nuclear warhead. Nations have power. That is the power in politics. That’s why we are all so concerned about it. We can’t stick our heads in the sand and ignore it. Politics affect us and the people we are called to love and serve. The person elected president or senator or governor or county commissioner or mayor or school board member matters. Treaties matter; deciding on going to war matters; signing laws into existence matters. There is power in politics. We have the opportunity to influence that power. Christians need to exercise that influence—go out and vote! Run for a public office. Participate in civic discussions and try to guide our politicians and leaders to do what’s best for our communities and our nation. There is power in politics. Since as Christians we love people, we can use politics to bless people.
There’s power in politics, but Zechariah’s vision helps us see the power beyond politics. God holds the ultimate power. So, no matter what, the Oval Office will never have the final say. Congress does not hold the ultimate and final power over tax money. Judgment does not end with the Supreme Court. It all belongs to God.
God has the ultimate power. People do have power in politics. The challenge is—how do we handle it? Our trusted news source blares 24/7. Twitter is constantly blowing up with the latest bit of political theater. Your personal social media account has yet another person telling it like it is. And that’s just politics here at home. What does it take to see what’s happening in Russia or the Middle East or China? One-click. We see political power. And do you know what that does to Christians? We turn into one of two kinds of people. We might be the “Rearview Mirror Christian.” We tend to look backward. We usually have a favorite target. We obsess about a bad leader or a different political movement. If we are a “Rearview Mirror Christian,” our favorite pastime is getting angry and holding onto our grievances.
If we’re not “Rearview Mirror Christians,” we might be the “Tunnel-Vision” Christian. We hyperfocus on and obsess about the future. We can’t stop thinking about and worrying over the upcoming election. What will politics do to the Church? What will it do to the economy or to freedoms? Our default catchphrase is, “If this person is elected, then everything will go downhill fast!” We are characterized by our fears and our forecasts about the future.
No matter which one we struggle with, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that angry, threatened people act like angry, threatened people. We aren’t the only ones feeling that way—just think about all the defaced campaign signs, the hurtful and hateful words thrown back and forth; the insulting memes and divisive satire. We’re all struggling, and easily get caught looking back in frustration or having too narrow a focus on the future.
Where we look matters. When we’re looking in the right place, we have hope despite the past and as we await the future. After the LORD showed Zechariah the four horns, he showed him four craftsmen on the move. Zechariah asked, “What are these men coming to do?” (v. 21) It must’ve been quite the sight. Horn vs. Hammer. Horn vs. Saw. These craftsmen were on a mission! “These craftsmen are coming to terrify them and to knock down the horns of those nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter her people.” (v. 21)
In the movies, when the bad guy does something really bad, almost gets away, but then gets caught, what happens in here, in our hearts? We get excited! We give the big fist pumps and high fives. We find closure! Do you know what we call that? JUSTICE. God promised to carry out justice against Babylon. Babylon had killed Jewish men, enslaved their women, and tossed their babies on the side of the road. Babylon had devastated and exiled God’s people. Now they were going to pay. The craftsmen brought God’s justice! They wielded the hammers that smashed the horns to bits. They pulled hard on the saws and four horns are cut into pieces. See it. The craftsmen are coming, and everyone will face God’s judgment. Politicians get a judgment day. Everybody gets a judgment day. Even Christians get a judgment day. It’s just that for us it already happened at Christ’s cross. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV). When we look far enough - all the way to God - he provides justice and settles all our grievances. Every one of them. We don’t fear the future because God already sees it. There is a power beyond all politics - the power of our God!
There is power in politics. There is power beyond politics. There is also a point to politics. God sent Zechariah this vision of craftsmen. Not Lady Justice—craftsmen. Can you see those carpentry belts around their waists, wearing hard hats, sporting ancient steel-toed sandals? God isn’t just meting out justice. He's also building something amazing. God was getting out the scaffolding and the wood and the glue and the nails to build what matters most to him in his world: his Church, made up of his people. God is ruling for us. Do you know why some treaties work out and others don’t? For us. Do you know why some national economies flourish and others don’t? For us. Do you know why some nations rise and others fall? For us. God is always seeking to build his people. We are his grand construction project that is trans-national and cross-cultural and global. Sometimes he’s humbling us. Other times he’s disciplining us. Still other times he’s protecting us from something so much worse, but always and in everything he’s ruling for us. Do you know what’s happening in China? Christianity is spreading like wildfire. Do you know what appears to be the fastest growing part of our church body anywhere in the world? You’ll never guess it. Communist North Korea. There are a couple hundred thousand Hmong Christians now - in communist North Korea! The Master Craftsman always wins over the horns of the state.
What about here? God is still building his Church. How? I don’t know exactly. I sense that as Christianity declines numerically in this country, Bible believing Christians are getting stronger and bolder and more biblical and more Christ-centered. The stats seem to support that. Churches with biblical commitments like ours are thriving. What’s God up to? Does God want to challenge the Church in new ways? Does God want to grow us through suffering? Does God want to make us stronger, more focused? How will November 3rd affect that? God only knows. What we know is that God is a builder. He will use whatever happens and whoever comes into office to bless his Church - whether they want that or not.
God has always been building his Church. Remember the Roman empire and a man named Caesar Augustus? He is a giant figure in the history books. He’s known as one of the most effective and powerful leaders in human history. He instituted the Roman Peace. He united the nation as the first emperor. Caesar Augustus wanted money to carry out his policies, so what did he do? He taxed the whole Roman world. In all this, the Master Craftsman was hard at work. God’s Son, Jesus, hidden in Mary’s womb, arrived in Bethlehem right in the nick of time to be born exactly where God wanted it to happen. Caesar Augustus: just another example of a horn, an earthly power, in the hand of the Master Craftsman. God wasn’t finished with his building project. He got out the nails to put it all together. He took another horn, Pontius Pilate - the worst kind of politician, interested in himself and his personal power. He was busy filling the swamp that was Rome. What did God do? God used the worst political atrocity and injustice in world history to save us. How? He turned Jesus’ innocent death on that Roman cross into an empty tomb. Jesus was rebuilt and resurrected. The Master Craftsman, using Pontius Pilate, put it all together in order to forgive us for our failure to see beyond the power in politics. Thanks to the Master Craftsman the Church rises, and each one of us is built on Jesus, the Chief Cornerstone!
God can do exactly that. Let me share a story as a small example of his power. Back in the 1940’s a man named Adolf Burfeind, a Lutheran Christian, lived in Nazi Germany. He saw the power beyond politics, and it freed him. Because he knew God had him, he wasn’t afraid of that great horn of that time, the Nazis. He worked against the Nazis to help the Jews who - well - you know what the Nazis were doing to Jews. When the Nazis tried to capture Burfeind and send him to a concentration camp, he fled to France. Even though he was safer there from the Germans, the French persecuted him for his Lutheran faith. He fled again from that horn to the United States of America. What’s that have to do with you? I can tell you this much: if that hadn’t happened. That persecution. Those troubled, awful political waters, that persecution. I wouldn’t have had this sermon series to share from Pastor Jon Bourmann. We wouldn’t have a member named Abigail Ibisch. Adolf was their great-grandpa, and the Master Craftsman was working to build something beautiful from the powerful, evil influence in all those horns. There is power in politics. See beyond that power to God’s almighty power. More than that, see the point of politics. This is God’s world and God is on the move to carry out his will—to save as many people as possible. Amen.
Special thanks to Pastor Jon Bourmann, Peace, Aiken SC, for sharing this series. This message uses ideas and thoughts from the sermon he wrote on Zechariah 1:18-21.