By Matt Redmond
Have you ever started a project but didn’t see it to completion? Perhaps it was the renovation of a bathroom? Or maybe you bought an old car and swore you would fix it up? Or you bought a copy of War and Peace that now sits collecting dust on the shelf?
Maybe it was outside forces that stopped you midway through—difficulties that made finishing seem insurmountable. Maybe you just lost the desire to keep working. Maybe, like me, you just lost the fire to keep going.
My project was for our family to work through an overview of the entire biblical story over a few months at the dinner table. We got through Moses, but busy school nights and lagging interest did us in. And I honestly just lost the desire to keep going when the enthusiasm waned.
Zechariah wrote the first part of his book a few decades after the first group of Jewish exiles had returned from Babylon. They had begun the work of building the temple, but that work had begun to wane. The enthusiasm God’s people had after their initial return from exile had all but disappeared. So God speaks to the prophet Zechariah and His first words to him are bone chilling: “The Lord was extremely angry with your ancestors” (Zechariah 1:2). In other words, “You need to remember why you ended up in Babylon, with a destroyed temple.”
But His next words for His people are a kind invitation: “Return to me… and I will return to you” (v.3). It’s a plea, asking them to not be like their forefathers, who also asked to turn away from sin and to Him instead. They did not listen. Thankfully, this time God’s people respond in repentance.
Not long ago I was talking to my class of eighth grade students about repentance, and when I asked them to define it, they told me it was being sorry for what you have done. “That’s true,” I told them. But there is more.
When I was a kid, my fourth grade Sunday school teacher once told us repentance was like a soldier marching in one direction and then turning and going in the opposite direction. It’s doing a one-eighty, an about-face. So when the Israelites repented, they were not only sorry; they actually began to do what they were supposed to do.
Repentance is hard. It’s hard to hear that you’ve done wrong, that you’ve sinned and need to change. It is hard because there are always forces working against us. And it is hard because the very sin problem that caused the need for repentance is still with us as we move forward.
The whole time I was reading this story, I thought about the temple that we, all of mankind, tore down and God rebuilt—Jesus. Repentance is hard, but looking back to that story and what God has done to deliver us can ignite a fire of enthusiasm within us to pursue the work of His kingdom.
Written by Matt Redmond