The Branch and the Branches

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 6.12-13
12 Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. 13 It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’

Zechariah 3.1-2; 7-8; 10
1 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. 2 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?” 

7 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here. 
8 “ ‘Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.
10 “‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”

Reflection: The Branch and the Branches
By John Tillman

Joshua, the high priest during the rebuilding of the Temple, is a unique one.

There are multiple restarts and reboots of the priesthood. Joshua is just one of them. In chapter 3, Zechariah has a vision of Joshua in priestly garments that are filthy, covered with excrement.

Satan stands to accuse him, pointing out the filth of his sin. The Lord rebukes Satan and describes Joshua as a “burning stick snatched from the fire.” The filthy clothes representing sin are removed, and just as he tenderly dressed Adam and Eve’s nakedness, The Lord dresses Joshua in fine, clean garments.

Joshua, the stick saved from the fire, is more than just a smoke-smelling testament of grace. He is a symbol, scripture tells us, of one to come. The burnt stick represents “the Branch.” The Branch will “branch out” and build a new temple as well as be a priest and a king. (Isaiah 4.2; Ezekiel 17.22; John 15.1-8) The crown made for Joshua points to this promise. The crown is not meant for Joshua. He is only holding it until the one worthy of it appears.

One of the unique characteristics here is that God is not only rebooting the priesthood but the entire culture and country. Joshua, the other priests, and everything given to them represent something in the future. Joshua represents Jesus and the priests and people represent us. We are an extension of and connected to this reboot.

Christ’s mercy goes beyond saving us like a stick from a fire. We are grafted in to the expanding branches of his kingdom. Our high priest, Jesus, is “The Branch” and we are grafted into him. (Romans 11.17-23) Christ is the new Temple of God and, like a tree of life, reaches out to offer healing and a home under his branches. His righteousness flows into us and we are able to create holy space, shade under the limbs of God’s tree.

We are the branches off of which the fruit of the gospel should bloom. May we be found to be not just leafy but fruitful. (Matthew 21.19) May we, filled with the Holy Spirit, create a cooling, welcoming shade for all who have spent time wandering the deserts of sin. (Zechariah 3.10)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your Name forevermore. — Psalm 86.12

Today’s Readings

Zechariah 6 (Listen – 2:08)
Matthew 3 (Listen – 2:17)

Read more about Family Tree

We can be grafted in to the family tree of Christ and bear the same fruit that he wants to bring about in our lives.

Read more about Cultivation Requires Planning
No park or garden is “natural.” Even the garden of Eden was planted by the Lord after the creation of the plants and animals.

Defilement, Deconstruction, and Reconstruction

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 5.3-4
3 And he said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. 4 The Lord Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of anyone who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in that house and destroy it completely, both its timbers and its stones.’” 

Reflection: Defilement, Deconstruction, and Reconstruction
By John Tillman

Many of Zechariah’s visions are about cleansing and rebuilding afresh. Those returning from exile face a destroyed and defiled landscape.

It isn’t so hard for us to imagine something similar today. Millions of people have fled the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the cities and towns left behind have been bombed to rubble in ways not seen since World War II. Not only bombed buildings but mass graves await those who hope to one day return. Destruction and defilement.

Like post-war Europe, much of Jerusalem in Zechariah’s day would have to be reconstructed from the ground up. However, God isn’t only concerned with physical reconstruction. He wants to reconstruct the people’s faith, starting with their hearts.

God is and always has sought to deal with the corruption and defilement of human hearts. The mental, social, and physical damage we cause one another flows from inner corruption. When our cities are wicked, our hearts are the source. When our countryside is corrupt, our hearts are the cause. When Jerusalem and its walls and Temple were destroyed and burned with fire, it was because of their hearts.

As the new community of Jerusalem rebuilt the Temple, their homes, and eventually the wall, God was concerned that no spiritual defilement would be present. Zechariah sees a vision of a flying scroll that represents a curse. This curse will target those whose hearts seek wicked ways of prospering and will destroy their homes.

Zechariah’s “timbers and stones” language echoes some passages about physical molds in Leviticus. (Leviticus 14.35-45) Priests inspected homes with mold. If the mold spread, the first step was to remove only the affected stones. But if the mold returned, the entire house had to be deconstructed, “stones, timbers, and all the plaster,” and removed from the community. 

May we never allow ourselves to think we, or our culture, are immune to the rot of sin. In our individual lives, our churches, and the structures of our denominations and nations, we all face defiling influences from our cultures.

Defiling influences have to be fully removed to save existing structures. If small steps do not stop the seeping spread of defilement, more extreme measures are required. Defiled structures must be completely deconstructed and rebuilt.

Cutting out corruption is salvific. Destruction is not God’s goal. Reconstruction is. Take care to deconstruct and destroy only when corruption persists.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; early in the morning I make my appeal and watch for you. — Psalm 5.3

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 5 (Listen – 1:35)
Matthew 2 (Listen – 3:18)

Read more about Treasuring Our Temples
Through the Babylonian destruction, God did not allow the Temple to be defiled. He took the first step to cleanse it.

Read more about What Time is It?
Our time is not so different…We see around us the elements of the song. Love and hate, war and peace, deconstruction and reconstruction…

The Urban Sprawl of the City of God

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 2.3-11
3 While the angel who was speaking to me was leaving, another angel came to meet him 4 and said to him: “Run, tell that young man, ‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it. 5 And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within.’ 
6 “Come! Come! Flee from the land of the north,” declares the Lord, “for I have scattered you to the four winds of heaven,” declares the Lord. 
7 “Come, Zion! Escape, you who live in Daughter Babylon!” 8 For this is what the Lord Almighty says: “After the Glorious One has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye—9 I will surely raise my hand against them so that their slaves will plunder them. g Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me. 
10 “Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord. 11 “Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. 12 

Reflection: The Urban Sprawl of the City of God
By John Tillman

The angel who has been talking to Zechariah leaves him. However, at some distance away, a second angel intercepts the first with an urgent message, sending him back. “Run, tell that young man…” the second angel says.

Zechariah is told that the new Jerusalem will have no walls. This may not seem unusual to us. Most of today’s cities have no walls. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, where I live, covers an area larger than the combined areas of Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island. It is over 9,000 square miles of cities grown right into each other…and sprawling more every month out into the surrounding countryside.

In Zechariah’s day, however, cities without walls were defenseless. However, the angel of the Lord says that he, himself, will be a wall of fire around the city and its glory within. This image links to at least two things. 

On Mount Sinai, God appeared in a fiery cloud of glory. The people were too afraid to go near the mountain, but Moses entered this fire and experienced the glory of God.

In John’s Revelation, the City of God, the New Jerusalem, comes down from Heaven and has no need of sun or lamps because the Lord himself will be its light. His glory will fill the city. (Revelation 22.5; Zechariah 14.7; Isaiah 60.19)

The angel tells Zechariah that God will send him to us in this fire-walled, glorious city. He will come and live among us and many nations will become God’s people.

God has sent Jesus to us in this manner and for this purpose. Jesus is the entrance into all that God has for us. He is the gate and the wall and when we enter, he shows us God’s glory closer than Moses ever got to see. This is an “already and not yet” promise. We can experience it now in part, as through a veil like Moses wore, but then we will experience it more fully.

God is writing an Exodus narrative for us today. Jesus calls to us to escape the cities, systems, and empires we now serve. “Escape!”, he cries. “Escape from Babylon!” Jesus calls us to live within the borderless, wall-less, ever sprawling city of New Jerusalem. As we anticipate the ultimate fulfillment of this promise, may we participate in work God calls us to which fulfills it in part.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows that if your eye is clear, your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be darkness. If then, the light inside you is darkened, what darkness that will be! — Matthew 6.22-23

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 2 (Listen – 1:41)
Mark 15 (Listen – 5:16)

This Weekend’s Readings
Zechariah 3 (Listen – 1:48), Mark 16 (Listen – 2:34)
Zechariah 4 (Listen – 1:53), Matthew 1 (Listen – 3:29)

Read more about Christ our Temple, River, and City
Christ is our city. He is our refuge and rest—our strong tower and protected place…

Read more about Hope Among the Traumatized
From our lives may there flow trickles of hope, which combine into a river that brings to life…

Who Stands Among Us?

Scripture Focus: Zechariah 1.12-16
12 Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” 13 So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. 

14 Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, 15 and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’ 

16 “Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty.

Reflection: Who Stands Among Us?
By John Tillman

Zechariah records a strange nighttime vision. A man on a red horse waits among a stand of myrtle trees.

The mysterious figure of the man among the myrtles is also called “the angel of the Lord.” The angel of the Lord is a hard character to pin down in scripture.

Sometimes, as with the man among the myrtles, the angel of the Lord speaks for God, in the third person: “This is what the Lord says…” Is he just one of many angels who speak for God, like Gabriel or others? 

At other times, the angel of the Lord speaks as God, in the first person: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob…” (Exodus 3.6) Is he a Theophany, an embodied presence of God or a Christophany, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ?

One of the unique characteristics of this particular appearance of the angel of the Lord is that he speaks to God on behalf of humans. “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem…?” (Zechariah 1.12) This rarely happens with other angels and is the strongest indicator in the text that the mysterious figure might be Jesus, our mediator, the third person of the Trinity. But it is still inconclusive.

We needn’t be too concerned that we can’t quite identify this Jesus-like figure in the myrtle trees when the disciples couldn’t identify Jesus on the Emmaus road. Just keep walking and listen…

Jesus is the perfect representation of God and the Holy Spirit is among us to show him to us. We have a more complete picture of what God is like than even prophets, like Zechariah, who saw dreams and visions of him.

To Zechariah, the man in the myrtles was a powerful and mysterious presence who announced a time of mercy and rebuilding. We too are connected to a powerful and mysterious presence. Today, mercy and rebuilding are announced not by a mysterious horseman but by the Holy Spirit who stands not among myrtles but among us. The Holy Spirit speaks as God, for God, and to God on our behalf.

Let us proclaim the message the Spirit will pass on through us. When we are in step with the Spirit, we too will announce mercy to those who seek God and rebuilding of all that sin has broken.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
My soul thirsts for the strong, living God and all that is within me cries out to him. — Traditional (based partly on Psalm 42.2 and 103.1)

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 1 (Listen – 3:37)
Mark 14 (Listen – 8:37)

Read more about This Present Age
Teach us, Holy Spirit, that in this age and in this space, you have placed us and called us.

Read more about Resurrecting Goodness
We transition from Christ who walked around in a body like ours…to Christ whose Spirit walks around in our bodies prompting us to do good in our world right now.

Beyond Second Chances

Scripture Focus: Haggai 1.2-3, 13-14
2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’ ” 
3 Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” 

13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. 14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God

“There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town. There are always second chances…” — Carolyn Arends, “Love is Always There” 

Reflection: Beyond Second Chances
By John Tillman

Haggai spoke to people returning from exile. They are at home, yet homeless, returning to a flattened, burned, destroyed city.

Haggai made an extreme demand. “We are here to rebuild God’s house, the Temple, not your houses. Stop building your houses. Build the Temple first.”  Unlike many other prophetic books, the people Haggai speaks to no longer despise the correction of the prophets. They no longer rebel against the message or call the messengers unpatriotic. They listen and repent. They put off work on their own dwellings and focus on making a place for God to once again dwell with them.

These men and women are the grandchildren of some of those who went into exile. Zerubbabel, mentioned by Haggai, is the grandson of Jehoiachin, one of the last of Judah’s kings. Jehoiachin was taken into exile because of his sin and Jeremiah prophesied that he would have no surviving offspring to sit on David’s throne. Non-canonical Jewish writings imply that Jehoiachin repented before God in captivity. (Jeremiah 22.24-30) God relented on the curse pronounced by Jeremiah. Not only did Jehoiachin have children, but Jehoiachin’s repentance led to the birth of the ultimate “Son of David,” Jesus. It is through Jehoiachin and Zerubbabel’s line that Jesus is born. (Matthew 1.12-17; Luke 3.27-37)

God goes beyond giving second chances.

Scripture is full of second chances, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh chances, and beyond. When Jesus told the disciples that they should forgive those who sinned against them seven times in a day and repented seven times, he wasn’t just speaking hypothetically. He was speaking historically. (Luke 17.3-4) Jesus may have been thinking about his own family history, but he absolutely was telling his followers to model their own forgiveness after God’s.

Haggai’s listeners had been forgiven so much, yet they were again forgetting to put God first. It’s so relatable. Haven’t we all found ourselves blindly pursuing our purposes rather than God’s? Haven’t we all had moments where we realized we were building selfishly?

God’s forgiveness is offered freely and repetitively, so long as there continues to be repentance. It’s not a once-and-done event, but a way of living. Let us remain responsive to calls for repentance from prophets in our day. Let us both offer and receive God-like forgiveness. Let us live in the land, homeless yet at home, forgiving and forgiven. Let us build unselfishly in ways that demonstrate that God dwells with us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are my God, and I will thank you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. — Psalm 118.28

Today’s Readings

Haggai 1 (Listen – 2:39)
Mark 12 (Listen – 6:10)

Read more about Rumors or Repentance
John called religious people and everyone else to repent, including soldiers, tax collectors, and the poor.

Read more about Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched
Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched
Weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus ready stands to save you
Full of pity joined with power