With many parents of young kids, I found myself on 16 December sitting in a movie theatre watching Spider-Man: No Way Home. Anticipation had been built about the film for months and I had serious doubts that it would live up to the hype. In the end, it did not disappoint for fans of Spider-man and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Without spoiling the film for those who have not seen it, there is a thematic element that carries through from the first two Tom Holland Spidey outings. As in the previous two instalments, Holland’s Spider-man is immature and, despite wise counsel from wiser people, creates problems with foolish decisions, which he must then solve. In each film, after failing the first time, he is presented with a second chance and rises to the occasion each time.
This is a theme that we have learned to appreciate, and Spider-man is hardly the only fictional story in which it is explored. It is a theme that is explored in the book of Zechariah.
Mark Dever titles his overview sermon on Zechariah “Does God Given Second Chances?” Israel had failed God. Would he give them another chance? Zechariah answers in the affirmative. The theme of the prophecy is stated up front: “Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts” (1:3). Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai and, like Haggai, he called God’s post-exilic people to return to the Lord. As we saw in our study of Haggai, the people had used the excuse of opposition to grow complacent in their obligations to the Lord. Haggai and Zechariah prophetically called the people to return.
Zechariah is the longest of the Minor Prophets. It is also the most difficult of the twelve prophets. Douglas Stuart notes that it is “an especially difficult read, even for a prophetic book.” The structure is fairly plain. The opening six chapters are taken with a series of eight visions. Chapters 7–8 contain two sermons, while chapters 9–14 recount two oracles. Each of these sections emphasises what the Lord will do to offer his people another chance.
A unique feature of Zechariah is that there is little by way of direct imperative. There is some imperative in the middle section (chapters 7–8), but the opening and closing sections emphasise more what God will do for his people than what he wants them to do for him. To be sure, Zechariah calls his hearers in his introduction (1:1–6) to return to the Lord, but rather than rooting his message in a list of imperatives, he roots his call to return by showing his listeners how gracious God is and what he will do for his people as they return to him.
This is a crucial lesson to learn. God does not given second chances because he feels bad for us. He does not give us second chances because he is unwilling to punish sin. He gives second chances because he is gracious. Jeremiah captured it well: “Because of the LORD’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness!” (Lamentations 3:22–23, CSB). Second chances are a reality because God is loving and patient.
Zechariah teaches us, first and foremost, about the gracious character of the God who gives second chances. In the midst of its strange visions and obscure messages, we must not lose sight of the God to whom it points. He is a God of great goodness and beauty (9:17) who will therefore save his people (9:16). Unlike the Spider-man films, the second chances God gives are not chances to prove ourselves capable but chances to embrace the God who proves himself gracious.
As we embrace this message, it should encourage us to not give up on others or on ourselves. We may feel as if we have failed so miserably that God cannot possibly forgive us or use us in his kingdom work. We may feel that others are so far gone that the gospel can have no meaningful, saving impact in their lives. Zechariah reminds us that God is a God who always responds favourably to those who believe his word and return to him. “Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.”
As you prepare your heart to meditate the next few days on the message of, ask God to encourage you in the truth that he is great in goodness and beauty and is therefore always willing to return to those who return to him.