Keep it epic.
That’s my humble advice when reading or preaching prophetic literature.
Keep it epic because it is. These prophetic books are largely narrative. They should be interpreted and preached mostly as narrative. Yes, keeping in mind the nature of and purpose of prophecy and the office of the prophet, I encourage you to preach the book of Zechariah as narrative.
The preaching of a prophetic record such as Zechariah’s invites the preacher to take on the prophetic role: to preach the covenant story that was continually applied by God’s prophets no matter the situation Israel faced. Whatever the season or stressor, tell the story of God’s redemption of His people. Tell the story when you preach this book as it is essentially prose in the third person.
Zechariah the prophet was commissioned during this restoration period to encourage the returned exiles to complete the rebuilding of the temple, which had run into difficulties because of Israel’s lack of faithfulness (Hag. 1:1–6) and opposition from neighboring peoples (Neh. 4:1–14). His mission was one of giving the people of God courage when they faced the seemingly impossible odds of political oppression, infighting, and an uncertain future. Does that sound like any man, woman, or congregation of God’s people that you know?
We ministers of the Word have a similar mission in our day to give the people of God great courage through retelling the story of how He has saved and provided for His people in real history. So how do we play and preach our part in the story as it is displayed in Zechariah?
What is the story?
The story of Zechariah takes place within the Book of the Twelve minor prophets, a “scroll” unified by a time, place, and type of preaching with the connected history of negative and positive messages. The negative part of the story is that God’s people failed in their covenant responsibilities, been taken into exile, and now in Zechariah’s day returned to the land to face desolation and begin the arduous task of rebuilding the temple. Opposition came both from outside and within the assembly of God’s people. The positive side of the Twelve’s story and Zechariah’s chapter in it is one of renewed worship and a return of God’s people to the land and a remnant of the people’s return to YHWH. In fact, the biggest themes in the Book of the Twelve, and especially in Zechariah, seem to be those of repentance and of the Day of YHWH.
How (and why) is the story told?
Zechariah is apocalyptic literature. Perhaps more to the point, it is “crisis literature” that particularly conveys a message or messages to a specific people in the middle of their dire situation. The best way to approach an apocalyptic book like Zechariah or even Revelation is to keep it epic. That’s because the story was meant to have bombast and eternal themes that speak across the ages through its noble language. Take that into account as you tell the story in your preaching and share it with your people.
The opening chapters of the nine visions will preach most clearly if you remind and remind again your congregation of the prophet’s situation: the exiles have recently returned to the capital city of Jerusalem and they have been charged to rebuild the temple and reestablish the devotional life of the covenant community. The intention of telling the story this way is the same now as it was then: The visions are intended to give a grand and unforgettable message of encouragement that YHWH is their ever-present help as the faithful rebuild and face opposition. Let the way the Bible tells the story inform how you preach the story via the visions and outrageous imagery. Let it be awesome and audacious because it is.
What world is the story showing? How should we order our lives because of it?
With such crisis literature comes the soul care implication that the preacher cannot miss if he is to faithfully steward the Word to a people in the 21st Century. The theme of Zechariah is protection and provision of the God who will right all wrongs now faced by His people. Zechariah 9 is a shift in the book, and should be a shift in your preaching of it whether you do the book as one sermon or a short series. In Zechariah 9:1–8, the prophet communicates that there shall be a new conquest of God’s enemies and of evil itself. It is not like the old conquest performed even by the likes of a warrior like Joshua. In this new conquest, it is the Lord Himself who encamps around and defends His people. The faithful in the 21st Century need that word as much as those all those centuries ago.
The souls in your congregation need to hear and see that God will indeed protect His people so that never again will there be marauding forces bearing down on them. The greatest king of the monarchy, David, could not even protect them. The people in Zechariah’s time could not accomplish it. Therefore, the Lord Himself will accomplish it. This is an unfolding of the promises portended all the way back in the testament of Jacob in Genesis 49.
But Zechariah also points to the future, with a reigning King who will bring everlasting peace. Zechariah 9:9-10 is quoted at the triumphal entry of Christ into the capital city. Zechariah 13:7-9 envisions God’s chosen Shepherd who suffers at the hand of God. Out of this judgment emerge the true people of God. No clearer picture of Jesus and suffering of His church is given in the OT. In fact, Zechariah is the most Messianic book of the OT, next to Isaiah. It is one of the most quoted in the gospels and the New Testament. The biblical story connection possibilities abound. What an epic invitation to the preacher to tell the story of the Bible as it intersects in Zechariah! Think of how this gospel as displayed in a seemingly psychedelic book of OT prophecy can invite a soul to live in light of the coming Savior.
My hope is to spur you on, to inspire you to preach the prophets as the epic parts of the master story that they’ve always been. When preaching a book such as Zechariah there can be trepidation in the preacher and in the people. So much of this type of literature and history seem so alien. But they don’t have to if you keep it epic. Don’t be fearful to paint the grand picture with bold strokes and avoid getting lost in the painting of a minor detail. There is a place for such particulars, but not so much as they detract or distract to the big idea of the text driving your sermon. Especially considering that this may be most of your hearers’ first encounter with the book.
The purpose of such a wider scope is to give God’s people, then and now, a picture and invitation to come live in a world where, in spite of very aggressive forces of evil, there are chimes and corresponding cries for spiritual awakening that reverberate across that land and over the peoples. Heard by the Creator God who has already answered by sending His Son to be the Savior of the world.
Dr. Jared Steven Musgrove serves as Groups Pastor and elder at The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX. He earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma, a Master of Divinity concentrated in homiletics from Southwestern Seminary, and a Doctorate of Ministry from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a member of the Evangelical Homiletics Society. Jared is married to Jenny, herself a graduate of Southwestern and preschool staff member at The Village Church. They have two boys, Jordan and Joshua.