Return to Me

June 4, 2023

David Sorn

In week 1 of Zechariah, we look at the historical context for the book of Zechariah and why God tells His people, “Return to me, and I will return to you!”

Return to Me

June 4, 2023

David Sorn

In week 1 of Zechariah, we look at the historical context for the book of Zechariah and why God tells His people, “Return to me, and I will return to you!”

SERMON TRANSCRIPT | Zechariah 1:1-6


Good morning! My name is David Sorn, and I’m the Lead Pastor of Renovation Church.

I was telling some friends this week that when we did our “Goodbye Northpoint Elementary” service just a couple of years ago, I never imagined that we’d be back here.

But here we are!

And it’s under the best of circumstances!

Construction has officially started at our building, and it is going wonderfully, so that’s great!

Well, as summer begins, we are, for the 3rd summer in a row, going to spend our summer in the Old Testament.

This year, we will be going through the Book of Zechariah.

The Book of Zechariah is 14 chapters, and there are 14 weeks of summer from now through Labor Day Weekend, so it’s the perfect book for us!

Okay, so let’s open our Bibles together.

There are a number of ways you can do that out here this summer, and we do indeed still want you looking at the Word when we teach it.

Especially with a more complex book like Zechariah.

So, one of the easiest ways to do this is to go old school, and bring your Bible with you.

Retro is in, so this is the cool thing to do. Ha!

Or, we will have some Bibles available at the Welcome Tent in the back, and you can grab one as you come in (just put it back on your way out…or take it with you if you need it)

Or, we will have the Bible passage in our app every week.

You just tap on Outdoor Services, and then weekly verses.

So, go ahead and open up to Zechariah 1.

It is the 2nd to last book of the Old Testament, and page 646 in our church Bibles

Zechariah is not a book that most people know much about…even long-time Christians.

So no worries, if you don’t know anything about it.

This is a Bible-teaching church, so we are here to help you learn God’s Word!

Zechariah, believe it or not, is actually a very important book of the Old Testament.

In fact, it’s quoted or alluded to over FORTY times in the New Testament!


And when you read the Gospel Accounts of Holy Week (the week of Jesus’ death & resurrection), only the book of Psalms is quoted more often than the book of Zechariah.

So, there are many, many important prophecies in this book about the life and death of Jesus, and also his 2nd coming back to earth.

So, I’m excited for you to study it with us this summer!

Let’s take a look at chapter 1, verse 1:

(Zechariah 1:1) – NIV

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:

Now, what’s really neat about this verse, is that it allows us to very specifically date the ministry and prophecies of Zechariah.

Do you see where it says, “the second year of Darius?”

Darius was king of the massive empire of Persia, which technically ruled over the former lands of Israel & Judah at that time.

And because Persia was such a dominant empire, archeologists have discovered many of the historical records about their kings.

So, we know with certainty that these first chapters of Zechariah took place in late October or early November of the year 520 BC.

Which is pretty cool!


So what was happening for the people Zechariah was speaking to during that time?

Let’s actually take a few minutes here and set the historical context.

Because if we just read the Bible without understanding its setting:

A) It’s not going to make much sense

B) We’re likely to misapply it

So let’s take 4 or 5 minutes to back up 1,000 years in Israel’s history, and then zoom forward to the time of Zechariah so we understand the context.

Now, I know over 500 of you are new just from last summer, but if you were here with us last summer, we spent 14 weeks in the book of Joshua in the Old Testament.

And that was a super fun (and powerful!) series for our church, and you can podcast it on our app if you weren’t here back then.

But in Joshua, the Israelites enter into the promised land, and begin to make it their own.

That was about in 1,400 BC

By the way, as we establish historical context, I’m going to throw a bunch of dates at you.

To help you follow along, or to remember later, you can look under the “Outdoor Services Tab” of our app, we put a link that just says “Zechariah Timeline”

You can see all the dates listed.

So, for the next 400 years after Joshua, the Israelites were ruled by various Judges, and they go through this cycle of falling into sin and idolatry and coming back to God.

And by 1,000 BC, they enter into a time of having their own kings (like Saul, David, & Solomon), but they continue to fall in and out of sin & idolatry and back to grace.

They eventually split into two Kingdoms, Israel in north (which is exiled by Assyria in 722), and Judah in the South (which is where Jerusalem was)

And by 600 or so BC, the people of Jerusalem have fallen very far away from God…

Long gone were the days of Moses & Joshua, and even the days of King David.

By 600 BC, the people en masse bowing down and worshipping statues and idols.

And God so sent prophets like Jeremiah to warn them that if they didn’t turn from their sin, that God would exile them out of Jerusalem into another land.

And that’s exactly what happened.

In 586 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Jerusalem with his army, destroyed the walls, burned the temple to the ground, and exiled God’s people off to Babylon.

And then, about 50 years after they had been exiled, in 538 or 537 BC, Persia defeats the Babylonian Empire, and King Cyrus of Persia declares that the Jews can go home to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple

However, only about 50,000 Jews go back to Jerusalem…even though their population was significantly higher than that.

Because, well, they had been in exile 50 years already.

And so even if you were 50 years old, you had never known (or even seen!) Jerusalem.

You grew up in Babylon, you raised your kids in Babylon (which is now Persia), and so most people stayed in exile.

But 50,000 people return, and when they get to Jerusalem, the scenery was devasting.

The city would have been littered with rubble, the walls were knocked down and ruined, and their beloved temple was burned down.

Not to mention the land was desolate, they experienced crop failure, and opposition from their surrounding enemies

In fact, there was so much opposition, that even though they immediately built the altar of temple (so they could do sacrifices) right when they arrived, they completely stopped building the rest of the temple because of the threats of their enemies.

If you want to read some more of the historical context around what was happening at this time, I highly suggest you read the Book of Ezra this summer as it provides a lot of the historical background for Zechariah.

And so, when Zechariah comes on the scene in the Fall of 520, the Jews have already been back in Jerusalem from exile for 17 years.

And for almost all of those 17 years, they have struggled mightily, and construction on their temple has been at a standstill.

Only about 2% of it is finished

Not to mention, the prophet Haggai (who prophesied at the same time as Zechariah) says the people have gotten distracted trying to work on their own homes and lives and that they’ve left God’s work untouched.

In part because rebuilding is exhausting, and it probably felt like this ruined city would never return to its former glory.

And that’s when God sends in Zechariah…

…to encourage the people, to point them back to God, and to point them to a better future when the Messiah will come, and come again!

So let’s take a look now at what Zechariah has to say first.

The first 6 verses are the introduction to the whole book, and they are then followed by EIGHT prophetic visions, which we will start getting into next week.


So let’s read verses 2-6 now

(Zechariah 1:2-6) – NIV

2 “The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. 3 Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. 4 Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. 5 Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors? “Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’”

So God is warning this group who has returned to Jerusalem and is having such a hard time, he warns them: Learn from the past

In other words, “Don’t start going down the same road as your ancestors just because the path you’re on looks a little rough.”


Because God warned their ancestors that if they continued to put their trust in their idols (and the sin that often went along w/ them) that he would exile them from their home.

And if you read this book, God doesn’t just aloofly say that to them.

Like a loving Father, He pleads with them through prophets like Jeremiah

He warns them of horrible things to come.

But as Zechariah said, “They don’t pay attention to Him; they just keep right on with their evil ways and evil practices.”

And God says His Word of judgment is going to be accomplished if they didn’t repent and return to Him.

They can’t outrun it.

That’s verse 6.

“Did not my words overtake your ancestors?

And those words are still true for us today.

We can’t outrun God’s Words.

We think we can, but we can’t.

Too often, we’re like a toddler trying to tell their parents that they don’t NEED a nap, and they’ll be fine without them.

Even though their wise mother and father are saying to them, “No, if you don’t take a nap, you’re going to suffer the consequences of it…you’re going to transform into this terrible monster…and it’s going to be bad for everyone…including you!”

They say, “NO! I know better!”

But, if you let them, go their own way, won’t the wisdom of your words catch up to them, and overtake them in the end?

That’s what God is saying when he says, “my words overtook them”

And Christians, if we continue in sin, God’s discipline, or just the natural consequences that he warned us about, they will overtake us.

You can’t outrun them.

But no one seems to believe God when He says this.

That’s why God says through Zechariah, “Where are your ancestors who rebelled before the exile?”

The ones who said, “God will never exile us from Jerusalem! We’re fine! God would never do that! God is love!”

He’s saying, “Where are they now?”

In their humiliation, they were exiled to Babylon after all.

And now… they’re dead.

Buried in Babylon instead of Jerusalem

Yes, God is serious about love.

But remember he’s also serious about holiness.

Yes, God keeps his promises

But remember He promises to judge us for our sin, if we don’t repent and turn to Him.

There isn’t a road in which we can walk away from God and find life.

And so if you are walking away from God right now…hear the Word of the Lord from Zechariah: Learn from those who have traveled this road of rebellion before you.

It never leads to anywhere good.


So what does God tell us to do instead?

This is the main point of this introduction: Verse 3

3 Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.

This is the holiness and the grace of God together.

God is saying to you, “Learn from others…learn from this Word”

“Don’t go down that path of rebellion any longer. Please”

“Come Home.”

“return to me!”


And understand, that this prophetic Word might have been hard for this particular group of people to hear from Zechariah.

Because they could have said, “Wait a second. Return to you, God?!?”

“That’s the last thing we thought you would say to us!”

“We were the only people who did return to you!”

“Most of your people stayed in Exile in Babylon!”

“We are the committed ones! You should be talking to those people back in Babylon, and tell them to ‘return to you!!”

And yet, remember, all throughout the Bible we see that God isn’t all that interested in where your body physically is, but where your heart is.

So, yes, here you are, at church today (and there are plenty of people, calling themselves Christians, that are not attending a church today).

But God doesn’t want you to just bring your body, He wants your heart.

Over and over He says in His Word that He’s not interested in you satisfying religious rituals and attendance…

He wants YOU!

He wants YOU to return to Him.

But that’s a hard thing to do…to come back.

Not that long ago, I heard a story of a young man, who years ago, before we all had GPS’ on our phone, was driving with his parents from Chicago to Philadelphia.

They had decided to drive through the night, and he was driving in the middle of the night, when he encountered a detour that was poorly marked.

He tried to follow the signs for 30 East, but it was really unclear which road was for 30 east and which was for 30 West.

And the young man didn’t try hard enough to figure out the truth, and he was too prideful to look again or double check

And so a number of hours later, after driving through the middle of nowhere, he was surprised to notice another town named Bryan, Ohio.

But he was pretty sure that he had been in Bryan, Ohio, hours ago.

And then it hit him, he had been driving back on 30 West instead of going East…

And for hours (even though he kept telling himself he was going the right way), truthfully, he had been driving the wrong way.

And that realization is an awful moment, is it not?

To have to stop, and admit you’ve been going the wrong way.

To have to wake up your family and say, “I’m so sorry, I should’ve known, but I’ve been driving us the wrong way…”

When you see the truth, as painful as reality may be, you have to turn around.

And some of you need to turn around today.

The Lord is whispering to your heart… “Return to me, and I will return to you”

And I know this is hard.

Especially if you’ve made a bit of a mess of your life.

The people of Zechariah’s day were feeling tired & discouraged…because rebuilding is hard.

Building isn’t as hard, but rebuilding is brutal.

Everyone was excited to build the temple the first time in the book of 1 Kings.

But now, as they’re staring at its burnt remains, the task feels a thousand times more daunting.

And maybe you feel like you’re staring at the burnt remains of what used to be a part of your life.

And the thought of starting over, or returning to God, feels, honestly, daunting.

But I want to tell you, God is the one who parts the sea and raises the dead to life

He can take the remains of something that has been burnt down, and make it beautiful again.

And you must see his heart.

He wants you back.

He says, “Return to me…and I will return to you”

Again, he’s like a good father…not only of a toddler…but of the teenager and young adults that go astray.

One of the most powerful moments in the entire Bible is when Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15.

The son who leaves his family and spends all of his inheritance on sin and wild living.

But after the word of God overtakes him (because remember, there isn’t a road in which we can walk away from God and find life.)

After that overtakes him, and his poor circumstances, he finds himself longing to eat with the pigs, he decides to return to his father.

And when his father sees him, it says…

It says, “His father was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him

He ran to him.

That’s what God is wanting to do for you.

Return to Him, and He will not just return to you, but run to you.


And some of you here…need to come to Him for really the first time today.

Maybe earlier on in your life you had something to do with God.

Maybe you were in church as a kid…or confirmed…or something like that…

But honestly it’s been years since you’ve really talked to Him and followed Him.

I want to tell you that God is pursuing you today.

He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for your sins, and the Bible says that whoever believes in Him, will have eternal life.

If you believe that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for your sins, and you commit your life to Jesus, He will save you.

You can have life forever in Heaven, and you can have a relationship with Jesus today.

But it starts with you saying, “I need to return. I need to believe in God. I need to give Him my life”

And if you do that, He will blow you away with His goodness.

But it starts with you saying, “I’m ready to follow you and accept you as my leader…to leave my sinful life behind…and trust in you”

And that’s not easy to do.

It’s like admitting you’ve been driving the wrong way.

And it’s believing that he can make beauty from burned down ashes.

But he can.

And so if you need to do that today, let’s do that.

Let’s all close our eyes and bow our heads.

If that’s you, I want you to raise your hand.

The Bible tells us that in this moment we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths.

Repeat after me

Dear God

I confess to you, that I have sinned against you.

But God I believe, that you sent your Son Jesus, to take my place

And God I thank you, for forgiving my sins.

And now I commit, to following you, with my life.

All right, you can put your hands down.

After the service today, I want to meet with the ___ of you that raised your hands for a minute to get you next steps and help you know what to do next.

That potentially might not be an easy thing to do.

But it’s step 1 of turning around, okay.

I’ll come up and give you instructions after our last song.

Let me pray.

Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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