************ Sermon on Luke 1:57-80 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 22, 2013
"Zechariah - Take Two"
Christmas of 1977 Ruth and I were serving a church in British Columbia, some 2000 miles away from family. Back then it was expensive to make phone calls, the internet and email and Skype and texting were all waiting to be invented. Contact with family was by snail mail. We decided to make and send an audio cassette filled with news and a song we made up. No fancy editing software back then – at least not for the ordinary person. All we had was a tape recorder/player. It took us a couple of tries before we had a cassette we could send out. Similarly, it took Zechariah a couple of tries or takes before he responded correctly to the good news of Christmas.
We've been looking at Luke 1 in this season of Advent. Luke 1 tells us four responses to the good news of Christmas. The first response was the unbelief of Zechariah. The second response was the belief of Mary. The third response was the joy of baby John, Elizabeth, and Mary. And the fourth response – what I call "Zechariah - Take Two" – is the worship that we see in today's Scripture reading.
I Zechariah's Response of Praise
A Let there be no mistake about it: Zechariah blew it in his first response to the good news of Christmas. He was told he and his wife, who were childless, were going to have a son; he was told this son, like Elijah, would make ready a people prepared for the Lord; he was told the Messiah was coming (cf Lk 1:13-17). Remember his response? Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years" (Lk 1:18). Zechariah had all sorts of objections: he was old, his wife was old, his wife was barren, his wife was past the age of bearing children. Zechariah questioned the power and might of God. Zechariah questioned the ways of God. Zechariah's response was unbelief. And unbelief is sin. Remember Zechariah's punishment? Zechariah was shut off in his own little world – unable to talk or to hear for the next nine months.
B In today's Bible reading we see "Zechariah - Take Two." We see that God, Who is so rich in grace and mercy, gives Zechariah a second chance. At this point in time, Zechariah has spent nine months thinking about the errors of his ways. During this time Zechariah has also been thinking about the blessings of God. Obviously, he saw that Elizabeth was pregnant. He probably felt the kicks of baby John (cf Lk 1:41). He watched and marveled as the baby grew inside the womb. He was there when a healthy baby was born. He knew that children are a gift from God and a heritage from the Lord (cf Ps 127:3-5; 128:1-3). So he did not follow the practices of Israel's pagan neighbors by aborting or abandoning his child. When you consider that over 1.2 million babies are aborted each year in the United States alone, you can see how far we have drifted from the will of God.
C Do you remember the command the Angel Gabriel gave to Zechariah? After telling Zechariah that Elizabeth will bear him a son he said, "you are to give him the name John" (Lk 1:13). The name "John" means "gift of God." John, gift of God.
Zechariah did not believe God could give such a gift. How do you think Zechariah felt as he watched the progress of the pregnancy? What thoughts went through his mind? Did he think to himself, "Why did I doubt the power of God. Why did I question that nothing is impossible with God? Why did I not believe the gift of God?"
After the baby was born, Zechariah was again faced with a challenge to his faith. The custom back then was to name a baby after the father or one of the relatives (cf Lk 1:59-61). So, did Zechariah and Elizabeth want to have a "little Zechariah" running around? Did they question God's command? Did they question God's ways? Did they follow custom? Would they be obedient to the Word of God?
Much to everyone's shock, Elizabeth said, "No! He is to be called John" (Lk 1:60). Zechariah confirmed this when he wrote, "His name is John" (Lk 1:63). John, gift of God. A lifetime reminder that their baby was a gift of God's grace and power.
"His name is John." He is a gift of God's grace. In writing this, Zechariah was declaring his obedience, his faith, and his trust in God.
D All during the pregnancy Zechariah was silent, unable to talk. He knew the silence would end because the angel said "you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens" (Lk 1:20). Zechariah had nine months to think about his first words. What would he say? The first men to stand on the moon had months to think about their first words; their words were awesome: "That's one small step for a man, one giant step for mankind." John F Kennedy thought carefully about the words he said in Berlin; he, too, did not disappoint: "Ich bin ein Berliner." Martin Luther King crafted something just as eloquent when he said, "I have a dream ..."
So, after nine months of silence, after nine months of thinking what he would say, what were the first words out of Zechariah's mouth? Listen to what Scripture says: "Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God" (Lk 1:64). Nine months of silence was broken by a song of praise!
Isn't this remarkable? That Zechariah chose to praise God after nine months of enforced silence? Zechariah could have complained about God's punishment. Zechariah could have chosen to talk to Elizabeth. Zechariah could have talked to friends and neighbors. Instead, his first recorded words are a song of praise to God.
Remember, this was Take Two. Take One was an expression of unbelief. Take Two was an expression of praise. Take Two was far better than Take One because Zechariah has moved from unbelief to praise.
Let me ask, what are the first words out of your mouth? Do they tend to be negative, complaints, cynical comments, skepticism, criticism? Or, are they expressions of praise to God? Do they express unbelief or faith?
Nine months of silence are followed by a hymn. In four stanzas Zechariah gives us four separate, beautiful pictures of what the coming of Jesus really means.
II Praise for Redemption
A After nine months of silence, Zechariah's first word of praise has to do with redemption:
(Lk 1:68) Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.Zechariah praises God because the good news of Christmas means redemption.
According to Zechariah, God "has come." For many years it appears that God has neglected His people; after all, it has been four hundred years since the ministry of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets. But now God has graciously visited His people again – just as He did when they were in the bondage of Egypt and the captivity of Babylon.
Zechariah praises God because at Christmas God has come with redemption. The Bible is filled with stories of redemption. For instance, according to Old Testament law the first-born son belongs to the Lord. But God has provided redemption for the first-born:
(Num 3:12) I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine ...The Levites, we would say, have redeemed the first-born.
During a battle with the Philistines, King Saul pronounced a curse of death against any Israelite who ate food. Jonathan, the son of Saul, did not know about the curse and ate honey and led Israel in a mighty victory against their enemies. In spite of this, King Saul determined to kill his own son. The men of Israel redeemed Jonathan, and he was not put to death (1 Sam 14:45).
The teaching of the New Testament is that Jesus has brought redemption.
B What exactly is redemption? Redemption means to free or release by means of a payment. It refers to money paid to ransom prisoners of war, to release slaves, or to pay off a debt. Jesus has redemption in mind when He says,
(Mk 10:45) ... the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.Jesus did not pay money or gold or silver. Rather, the ransom price given by Jesus was His life.
The result? Freedom. Deliverance. The prison door has been opened. The slave has been set free. The debtor has been released from his debt. Jesus has redeemed us from bondage to sin, from slavery to Satan, from fear of death.
After nine months of silence, Zechariah praises God because the good news of Christmas means redemption.
III Praise for Victory
A Zechariah's second word of praise has to do with victory. Listen to how Zechariah puts this:
(Lk 1:69, 71, 74) He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David ... (71) salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us ... (74) to rescue us from the hand of our enemies ...The picture here is that of an army about to be taken captive, but then help arrives and the enemy is defeated. In the previous picture, the captives were set free; but in this picture, the enemy is defeated. Zechariah praises God because the good news of Christmas means victory.
Zechariah sings of a horn of salvation that brings victory. In Scripture, a horn symbolizes power and victory (1 Kings 22:11; Ps 89:17, 24). Think of a ram, a bull, an elk, a moose or any other animal that fights with its horns. All the power and strength of the animal is concentrated in its horns. Anyone who works with horned animals knows how dangerous the horns can be and how you can never turn your back on a horned animal. Likewise, all the power and strength of the Lord's salvation is concentrated in the horn. Obviously, it is a powerful salvation. It overcomes all obstacles. It triumphs over all foes. It cannot be resisted.
B This horn of salvation does not belong to a powerful animal. Rather, He is of the house of David (Lk 1:69). God had promised that the Savior would be a descendant of Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:10), from the family of David (2 Sam 7:12-16), and born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). We know the horn of salvation can only be Jesus.
C What is salvation? We are guilty of thinking too small when we limit salvation to sin. The Greek word has so much more in mind:
1. Saving. The word first refers to salvation from serious danger like fire, water, illness, enemies, bandits, pestilence, and so on. When Jesus healed the sick, He was saving them.
2. Keeping. The word also refers to keeping alive by pardoning, protecting, keeping from want, keeping a fire going, and so on. When Jesus fed the crowds, He was saving them.
3. Well-being. The word can mean good health for the individual or for the community.
4. Preserving the Inner Being. Psychologically and emotionally everything is in balance.
Zechariah has all of this in mind as he sings his song of praise to God. But especially he is thinking of rescue from the dominion of sin, Satan, and death.
After nine months of silence, Zechariah praises God because the good news of Christmas means victory.
IV Praise for Forgiveness
A After nine months of silence, Zechariah's third word of praise looks at forgiveness:
(Lk 1:76-77) And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, (77) to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
What do all humans have in common? What do we all need? We all need food, water, oxygen, clothing, shelter, instruction, and love. Something else we all need, something else we all constantly need, is forgiveness of sin.
Because of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden we are all born into sin and commit actual sin. And, you need to realize, God is angry, terribly angry with sinners. And, in His wrath, God pronounces judgment upon all sinners. Therefore, what we and every other member of the human race constantly need is forgiveness.
B What is forgiveness? Another translation uses the word remission. It means to send away, to dismiss, to cover, to release, to let go.
It is Jesus, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, Who brings us forgiveness. So, Zechariah praises God because the good news of Christmas means forgiveness.
V Praise for a New Day
A After nine months of silence, Zechariah's last word of praise has to do with the rising of the sun:
(Lk 1:78-79) because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven (79) to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.Zechariah praises God because the good news of Christmas means the rising of the sun.
The rising sun is seen only at daybreak. The rising sun means sunrise. The rising sun means a new day and, in this instance, a new age.
B Zechariah recognized that the people were "living in darkness and in the shadow of death." It was a dark, dark time for the nation of Israel with Herod on the throne and the nation under Roman domination. It was a dark, dark time for the ordinary people with oppressive taxes and domineering soldiers. Especially, though, there was darkness of sin and death.
Zechariah praises God because the coming of Jesus means the night has ended and the day has come. The result is light, life, and peace.
Nine months of silence. Nine long months of silence. When baby John is born, when God proves for all to see that nothing is impossible with God, the silence is finally broken. And Zechariah – who could have said many different things – breaks out into a song of praise to God.
But that is what happens when you hear and believe the good news of Christmas – you cannot help but break out in joyful praise to God.
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