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Lesson 8: A Snapshot of God’s Kingdom (Zechariah 8:4-5)

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(My thoughts for much of this sermon were sparked by G. Campbell Morgan’s “The Children’s Playground in the City of God,” The Westminster Pulpit [Baker], 1:256-269.)

If someone were to ask, “What does the kingdom of God look like?” we might think of heavenly choirs singing praises to the accompaniment of harps. There is no doubt that glorious worship will be an important part of God’s kingdom. But I would guess that few, if any, of us would ever think to describe His kingdom as our text does: “Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets” (Zech. 8:4-5).

This is not Zechariah’s personal idea of what the kingdom of God will look like, but the direct word of the Lord of hosts (8:4). This word was intended originally to encourage the remnant that was struggling to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem after the exile. It fit into the overall theme of Zechariah, that God remembers His chosen people, and that He will bless them in His time. But the words also apply to God’s people in every generation who seek to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ as we await His glorious return and His coming kingdom. The text gives us a valuable snapshot of God’s kingdom that we need to live out in our family and personal relationships:

When the Lord dwells in our midst, we will treat the elderly and children properly.

Sadly, those words do not describe a large segment of American society. In 1984, child abuse was the leading cause of death in children under the age of 15 (Focus on the Family, 2/84, p. 10). I suspect that it has not gotten better since then. A 1981 Congressional report noted that abuse of the elderly occurs with a frequency only slightly less than child abuse (Christianity Today, 6/12/81, p. 24). Most such abuse occurs within the confines of the home.

Our streets, especially in large cities, are not safe, especially for women, children, or the elderly. Some years ago, we were visiting Marla’s elderly grandmother, who had lived in the same house in Riverside, California, for about 40 years. Our kids wanted to play in her front yard, but I couldn’t let them do it because we couldn’t watch them. It just wasn’t safe. Marla’s grandmother commented on how different it had been 25 years before, when Marla used to play in that same front yard, and no one ever gave a thought to any possibility of danger.

By way of contrast, the picture of our text is a city where the elderly are at rest and the children at play, unafraid of attack or harm. Since these two groups represent the most vulnerable in any society, if they are securely at rest, everyone else will also enjoy peace. How a society treats its elderly and its young children may be a good measure of how close that society is to the Lord. When He dwells in our midst, He describes the result as this scene of peaceful joy for the aged and the young.

These verses imply that relationships are one of God’s most precious blessings. Sin damages and can destroy family relationships. Truth and holiness (8:3) strengthen relationships. As 8:6 shows, these ideal conditions are not humanly possible, but will come about only when we rely on God’s strength.

1. When the Lord dwells in our midst, we will treat the elderly properly.

These conditions will only prevail when the Lord returns and dwells in the midst of His people (8:3). Since the Lord is omnipresent, this verse is referring to something distinctive, to the special sense of God’s living in the midst of His people. While the total fulfillment of our text awaits the second coming of Christ, there is still a partial fulfillment when God’s people obey Him and seek to establish His kingdom rule in their hearts.

And so before we look at the results that God promises, we need to consider the condition by asking, “Does Christ dwell in my heart by faith? Is He a comfortable resident in my home? Or, could there be things in my heart or in my home that make Jesus Christ at best an uncomfortable guest?” If you’ve never read Robert Munger’s little booklet, “My Heart, Christ’s Home,” I would encourage you to do so! It is an unforgettable treatment of the theme of Christ dwelling in our hearts.

Note three things about how the elderly are treated in this snapshot of Christ’s kingdom:

A. The elderly are sitting.

That’s it? Sitting? That doesn’t sound very spiritual! I would have pictured them witnessing or folding church bulletins or mailing care packages to the missionaries. But the Lord pictures them as just sitting.

Lest you jump to wrong conclusions, I would point out that these folks were probably not 65 and in good physical condition. The Bible knows nothing of the American concept of quitting work at an arbitrary age and then spending the rest of our years living for ourselves, with no thought of seeking first God’s kingdom. Most people at 65 today have many years of remaining strength that they can devote to serving the Lord in some capacity. So I take it that the people referred to in our text, who require a staff to walk, are getting up in years.

And so God pictures them as sitting, probably enjoying conversation with each other and enjoying the scene of the children playing all around them. No one views them as a “burden on society.” No one is complaining about how depressing it is to see all these old folks just sitting around. Rather, it is a picture of tranquility and delight that these folks are able to enjoy their final days in such a manner.

B. The elderly are sitting in the streets.

Of all things! What a place to be sitting! Don’t they know that the streets are not the best place to be sitting? But when the Lord dwells in the midst of His people, the streets are apparently a pretty good place to sit!

The text is conveying the idea that the streets will be safe from crime and violence. When Jesus returns, He will rule the nations with a rod of iron, suppressing all unrighteousness (Rev. 19:15). Young hoodlums will not be allowed to mug the elderly for drug money. Powerful nations will not invade weaker ones. Righteousness will be the rule, not the exception, on earth.

Have you ever thought about how much our economy would change if there were no sin? Law enforcement agencies could greatly cut back their ranks, if not be disbanded. Jails and prisons would be empty. The military could pack up and go home, after dismantling all of our weapons and war machines, since nations would live in peace. Locksmiths would go out of business, because nothing would ever be locked! Doctors and hospitals would experience a drastic reduction in patients, since most car accidents and most cases of assault are alcohol-related. Attorneys wouldn’t know what to do for work. Even pastors might find it hard to stay busy! We’d all have to be creative to figure out what to do with ourselves!

C. The elderly are sitting in the streets where children are playing.

The streets of verse 5 are the same streets of verse 4. The children are playing in the same streets where the elderly are sitting. This means that there won’t be gated millennial retirement communities, with no children allowed. The elderly won’t be shut off from the young. Rather, the young and the old will be together, with each contributing something of value to the other.

In the late 1970’s, Shanghai, China, which was then one of the five largest cities in the world, had only one home for the aged. In China, old age is respected as the most respected stage of life. A Chinese saying goes, “If you have an old person at home, it is as if you have restored a piece of treasure” (Newsweek [9/10/79], p. 15).

I realize that the elderly often have medical needs that cannot be met in private homes. But in America, we have a different mindset toward the elderly than the Chinese, and I think that the Chinese are closer to the biblical standard. Here, young people often put their careers and pursuit of pleasure above maintaining family relationships. When a promotion comes up, the question of how it will affect family relationships ranks low on the list of factors to be considered. We tend to isolate the elderly so that they don’t get in the way of our selfish lifestyles, not include them.

But when the Lord dwells in the midst of His people, there is continuity between the generations. The young benefit from the wisdom, experience, and availability of the old. The old benefit from the spontaneity, freshness, and hope that mark the young.

In her enjoyable book, What is a Family? [Revell], Edith Schaeffer tells of a time when her husband, Fran’s, 88-year-old mother was living with them at L’Abri in Switzerland. She had fallen and broken her hip, requiring surgery and a lengthy stay in a French-speaking hospital. Since she knew no French, she also needed someone she knew and trusted to be nearby most of the time. So Edith spent much of the month sitting by her bedside, doing correspondence and hand-stitching on the dresses for the upcoming wedding of her son, Franky, and his fiancée, Genie.

On the wedding day, after the ceremony, the bridal party, including the whole family, traveled not toward the site of the reception, but to the hospital. The bride and groom, bridesmaids, parents, grandparents, children and great-grandchildren paraded down the sterile hospital halls to visit the great-grandmother and let her be a part of the wedding day.

Mrs. Schaeffer writes (p. 106), “Worth the trouble? A million times yes, not just for her and all that this would mean to her in the midst of the reality and unreality floating around her like a fog, but for each of the other generations…. Old age is important to youth, as well as youth important to old age. There is meant to be a mix in many kinds of situations.”

So when the Lord dwells in our midst, the elderly will be treated properly. They will be respected for who they are. They will be protected from harm. As much as possible, they will not be isolated from society and the family. Rather, there will be a mix between the young and the old.

2. When the Lord dwells in our midst, we will treat children properly.

Again, note three things:

A. The children are playing.

How unspiritual! There must be a textual variant here! Are you sure that the text does not say that the children are praying? Or, at least they should be working or sitting quietly!

Isn’t it interesting that when God gives us a picture of life in His kingdom, right in the center of the snapshot are children playing! The Hebrew word comes from a word meaning “laughter.” God enjoys the laughter of children playing.

I fear that sometimes we are a lot like the disciples, who tried to shoo away the children from Jesus so that they could get on with the more important kingdom business at hand. But Jesus was indignant with the disciples. He said, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” … “And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them” (Mark 10:14, 16).

Do you ever think about the fact that God isn’t always as “efficient” as we are? I’m always trying to be more efficient with my time and energy, but God designed life as not very efficient! Life is short enough as it is. Why did He have us “waste” about 18-20 years growing up, much of which we can’t even remember, and much of which was spent playing?

At least you would think that when God sent His Son into this world, He would have been more efficient. He knew that He would only be on earth for 33 years or so, and yet He didn’t skip childhood and bring Jesus into this world as a “productive” young adult. Jesus went through normal infancy and childhood. God didn’t have His Son skip any stage of human development.

Just think how we would have pushed the potential of the Son of God if He had been our child! At five, He could have wowed the nation by quoting the Torah from memory. As a young child, we would have enrolled Him in advanced Hebrew classes, perhaps with His own private tutor. By eight or nine, He could have drawn large crowds with His insights on the prophets. When He stumped the rabbis in the temple at age 12, it could have been the plot for a book or movie! And yet God didn’t have Him start His ministry until He was about 30!

I’m not suggesting, of course, that you allow your children to goof off for 30 years without training them to work or study. Jesus obviously studied God’s Word as a child and He learned to work alongside Joseph in his carpenter’s shop. Children need to learn the discipline of hard work and the benefit of study and learning.

But sometimes we seem to be obsessed with pushing our kids toward achievement, without letting them play and without playing with them. The great missionary David Livingstone said that his greatest regret was that during the years when he and his family lived at a mission station, he did not play more with his children. He worked so hard during the day that he was too tired at night to play with his kids. He wrote to a friend, urging him to play with his children while he could, lamenting, “Now I have none to play with” (David Livingstone: His Life & Letters, George Seaver [Harper & Brothers], p. 561). I hope that you don’t view playing with your kids as a waste of time! God enjoys children, and He enjoys children playing.

B. The children are playing together.

The implication is that they are all getting along happily together. Probably, given human nature, the boys were playing with the other boys, and the girls with the girls. The Bible does not go along with the modern nonsense of breaking down all gender distinctions, teaching girls to do jobs that are better suited to men, or teaching boys to act like girls. But the implication of the text is that the boys and girls are playing together happily. (I know, it’s the millennium!)

God wants us to teach our sons to grow up to be strong but loving leaders in the home and in the church, showing respect and granting honor to women. The Bible instructs older women to encourage the younger women to love their husbands and children, and to be “workers at home” (Titus 2:4-5). This would include the younger women teaching their daughters to be good homemakers. In other words, we don’t erase gender distinctions, but we do teach our children to respect the opposite sex, while being comfortable with the roles that God has assigned to their own sex.

Feminist objections notwithstanding, one of the major distinctions between Christianity and other religions, such as Islam and Hinduism, is the respect granted to women. In those other religions, girls are often unwanted and treated terribly. An article in Gospel for Asia’s SEND! Magazine (Sept./Oct., 2002, p. 5) told of the horrifying manner in which girls are treated in several Asian countries. Often they are killed, sometimes by their own mothers who think that it is more compassionate to kill a baby girl than to allow her to face life as a woman.

Girls are fed less than their brothers, and have to wait to eat until the males of the family have eaten all they want first. Girls seldom receive medical care if they are sick. “In Nepal and Bangladesh, one out of every four girls dies before age five; and … 25 percent of the girls born in India every year die by age 15.” Schooling is often denied to girls, who are needed to work at home or in factories. In Pakistan, 90 percent of the women over age 25 are illiterate. Many girls are sold into prostitution. Eighty percent of India’s prostitutes were sold like slaves between ages 14 and 16, for prices ranging from 40 cents to a thousand dollars. The article goes on and on, reporting horrible atrocities, including the commonly tolerated abuse and even murder of wives who do not meet the expectations of their husbands’ families!

But our God delights not only in boys, but also in girls playing together.

C. The children are playing together in the streets.

This indicates two things. First, the streets are fit for the children. There are no sexual perverts lurking in the shadows to abduct the children. There are no pornographic newsstands, bookstores, or theaters. Rather, there is an atmosphere of purity and protection for the children.

Second, the fact that children are playing in the streets means that the children are fit for the streets. The boys are not threatening the girls or using foul or degrading language. The children are not taunting or mocking the elderly. The children are well-behaved.

This implies a lot about the homes that these children come from. Clearly, the Bible and its standards have been taught to the children. The parents have modeled love, kindness, and respect for each other in front of the children in the context of lifelong, covenant marriages. Reverence for God and prayer permeate these homes. The parents obey God on a day-to-day basis, imparting this to their children. And so the children can go out and play together in the streets without the streets polluting the kids or the kids polluting the streets.

That’s God’s picture of life when Christ dwells in the midst of His people. We will treat the elderly and children properly because of our close relationship with the Lord who is at home in our homes. It’s a simple and yet beautiful picture!

Conclusion

The Lord taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). While the Lord’s kingdom will not come in its entirety until He returns in power and glory, we should labor for that kingdom to come in the interim. We should demonstrate, as much as possible, kingdom living in the here and now. Those who do not know Christ should be able to look at our homes and our church and get a glimpse of what it will be like on earth when Jesus reigns as King and dwells with us.

Where do you begin? Begin by enthroning Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of your life. You must have Christ dwelling in your heart by faith, being rooted and grounded in love (Eph. 3:17). Spend time daily with Him, reading and meditating on His Word, confessing your sins, and praying for your family relationships.

Then, practice the lordship of Christ in your family relationships. Take every thought, word, and deed captive to obedience to Christ. Stop blaming others for the mote in their eyes, and deal with the log in your own eye. Judge your own anger and selfishness. Turn off the sewer line called TV that dumps poisonous filth into your home every day. Read the Bible and pray together as a family often. And, get involved in serving the Lord, so that your family does not become self-focused. There are many opportunities to serve both children and the elderly in our church. You can help protect the most defenseless in our society, the unborn children. Model a servant-lifestyle for your children, teaching them to think of others ahead of themselves.

So God gives us this simple snapshot of a community where Jesus Christ dwells in their midst. The most vulnerable citizens, the elderly and the children, are treated with protection and respect. If God took a snapshot of your family or our church this past week, how would it compare? Let’s invite the Lord to dwell in our midst, so that our elderly can sit in our streets and our children can play in our streets without fear or harm!

Discussion Questions

  1. Are there biblical guidelines regarding having an elderly parent living in the home, or are such decisions culturally determined?
  2. To what extent (if any) should Christians be involved in helping to make our society a safer, better place to live? Give biblical examples or support.
  3. How do we determine the extent to which biblical matters are culturally relative versus absolute (e.g., gender roles)?
  4. How should Christian parents determine how much to shelter their kids from the world versus sending them into the world?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Home, Mothers, Spiritual Life