Is It for God?
The prophet Zechariah began his preaching in the second year of Darius, 520 BC. A remnant of captives had returned to Israel from Babylon nearly two decades earlier. They began to rebuild God’s temple but soon abandoned the project. God sent Zechariah and Haggai to encourage the rebuilding effort.
Two years into the renewed effort, the town of Bethel sent two men to ask the priests and prophets if they should continue observing their fasts.
The Jews had kept four fasts during the Babylonian captivity (Zechariah 8:19), each commemorating some turning point in the downfall of their nation. One came in the tenth month, the same month Nebuchadnezzar began the siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:1). Another was in the fourth month, in memory of the time Jerusalem’s walls were broken through (2 Kings 25:3-4). Another was in the fifth month, when Nebuzaradan razed the walls and burned the city (2 Kings 25:8ff). The fourth was in the seventh month, corresponding to the death of Gedeliah, the governor appointed over those left in Judah (2 Kings 25:25).
The question was, “Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years?” (Zechariah 7:3). Were these fasts still appropriate in view of changing circumstances? Perhaps there was also an element of, “Must we keep this up?”
God’s reply through Zechariah was, “Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? And when you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves?’” (Zechariah 7:5-6).
None of these four fasts were commanded by God. They seemed to have been observed out of self-pity as much as anything else. In His response, God charged the Jews with keeping them for themselves rather than for Him. Zechariah added that this had been a theme of the former prophets, before the days of captivity (v. 7). Time and again, they emphasized that God must be served on His terms, not ours; and that requires a right daily walk, not merely “religious” activities, especially those of one’s own design (1 Samuel 15:22; Jeremiah 7:22-23; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; etc.).
All of us need to learn this vital principle of serving God as He directs. Something is amiss when we convince ourselves we are doing for God what is not from God.
A prime example is before us. This month many will participate in a religious festival in honor of Christ. Or is it? Could it be that Christmas is something we are doing for ourselves instead of for God?
It may surprise you to learn that the Bible says nothing about an annual celebration of Jesus’ birth. Not one single word! There is no command to do it. There are no instructions about how or when to do it. There is no example of first-century Christians doing it. It is never mentioned by any New Testament writer. Surely if God wanted us to have such a celebration He would have said something about it, as He did about remembering Jesus’ death (Matthew 26:26-28; Romans 6:3-6).
This principle applies to other activities as well. The Bible does not authorize instrumental music or theatrical productions in worship, church-sponsored recreational activities, or a host of other things done “in the Lord’s name.” We need to learn that God’s preferences are different than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). If our goal is to please Him, we must leave off self-serving activities and focus on doing what He has said. We must “learn not to exceed what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6).
I suspect the men of Bethel were surprised at God’s answer through Zechariah. You may be surprised at this article. I know there will be a number of surprises at the judgment, when some of us discover that God rejects our self-contrived, self-oriented service. I know because Jesus said so. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).