************ Sermon on Luke 1:68, 74b-75 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 7, 1997
Luke 1:68, 74b-75
"The Messiah: God's Mercy and God's Service"
There was a man who doubted God. He doubted God's Word. He doubted God's promises. You know that man. His name was Zechariah. Zechariah doubted God and God took away his voice. He could no longer talk or shout or sing. He could not longer raise his voice in worship to God.
Try to put yourself in Zechariah's position. Imagine that God right now, this very moment, took away your voice. You find yourself unable to sing the songs. You are unable to answer after the service when someone asks how you are doing. You go to grandma's house for coffee and cannot ask for more juice or for sugar or cream for your coffee. Afterwards, at the Sunday meal, you are unable to participate in family conversation. And, you simple point at what you want. You want some meat and by mistake you get the milk, the potatoes, the gravy. It would be very frustrating, wouldn't it?!
One day, a glorious day, a wondrous day, Zechariah regained the used of his tongue. He was asked what he would like to name his infant son. Zechariah motioned for a writing tablet and wrote down, "His name is John." "Immediately," says Scripture, "his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed ..."
Again, put yourself in Zechariah's position. For 8 or 9 or even 10 months you have been unable to talk. Suddenly you regain the use of your voice. What would you say? Who would you talk to? Would your first words be to your spouse, "Honey, I love you?" Would your first words be to one of your friends standing there? Would your first words be to your newborn son? Picture this: for months Zechariah had been silent and when he could finally speak again his first words were not to his wife, neighbors, friends, or new born son; rather, his first words were to God. Zechariah regained the use of his tongue and he sang a song of praise to God: "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel," he said (vs 68).
I God's Mercy
A What prompted Zechariah's song? How come his first words in months were addressed to God in a song of praise?
Zechariah's song was prompted by the mercy of God. In fact, the passage in front of us is a celebration of God's mercy. Zechariah sees that mercy displayed in two little babies: his own newborn son, John; and, in the yet to be born Jesus.
According to the women of the village, God showed Elizabeth and Zechariah "great mercy" in giving them a son (vs 58). Don't forget, up to this point in time they had a great sorrow in their life: they were childless.
In Israel, to be childless was a great disgrace (cf Lk 1:25) and was viewed as a sign of God's punishment (as in Lev 20:20f; 2 Sam 6:23; Jer 22:30; 36:30). Children were necessary to carry on the family name. Those without children lost their place in the covenant community because they did not live on in future generations. There would be no memory of them after death and their name would be erased from the land of the living and the congregation of Jehovah. On the other hand, to have children was considered a sign of blessing (Gen 1:28; Ps 127, 128); it guaranteed one's continued place within the covenant community.
Scripture tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth had given up all hope of being blessed by the Lord with the birth of children. After all, they were an old married couple, well past the age of child bearing. Furthermore, Elizabeth, like Rebekah and Sarah many years before her, was barren.
In giving this aged couple a child God was indeed being gracious and showing great mercy.
And, the name given to their child was a powerful reminder of God's mercy. In obedience to the command of the angel, Zechariah gave his son the name "John." "John" means "God is merciful." By this name God constantly reminded Zechariah and Elizabeth of His mercy.
When I first came here someone asked me how I could possibly remember everyone's name. I don't remember who asked this. Then they said it shouldn't be too hard with the men because half of them seemed to be named "John." All of you with the name John, did you know your name means "God is merciful"?
B In the birth of John, Zechariah and Elizabeth see that their God is merciful, gracious, kind, compassionate. Yet, Zechariah's song is not first of all about God's mercy as displayed in the birth of John. Rather, Zechariah's song is first of all about God's mercy as displayed in the upcoming birth of Jesus.
Two times in his song Zechariah mentions that the upcoming birth of Jesus shows or displays the mercy of God (vs 72,78). He can say this because he, under the inspiration or leading of the Spirit, knows that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.
There are more than four hundred prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament. In His great mercy God remembers and fulfills these prophecies in and through Christ. Because He is merciful, gracious, kind, and compassionate, God does not forget His holy covenant or the covenant promises He has made. It is because He is merciful that God has sent the Christ-child, the Messiah.
Like Zechariah, as we look at God's mercy we should focus our attention not on John but on Jesus, Who is the Messiah, the Christ- child.
God is merciful. He is gracious. He is kind. He is compassionate. So Zechariah sings a song of praise to Him. And so should we.
II God Sends the Messiah
A If we were to paraphrase Zechariah's song we would say his opening lines this way:
Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has sent the Messiah.
The Messiah. Also known as the Christ. Every Jewish child of God was waiting for His appearance. For centuries they dreamed and spoke with longing of His coming. When the Messiah came all that is wrong in our world would be set right. God's people would be set free from oppressors. The rich would no longer oppress the poor. The lame would begin to leap and jump and dance. The blind would see a world of vivid color. The deaf would listen to the songs of birds and the music of harps. The deserts of Israel would be turned into fragrant gardens. Swords and spears would be hammered into plows and hoes. Enemies would become friends. Jerusalem would be at the center of the world, and all the kings and rulers of the earth would come there to worship Israel's God.
Can you imagine a perfect world? A world without crime, pollution, death, hardship? A world without gangs, drugs, and drive-by shootings? A world without war, struggle, injustice? A world without the threat of a nuclear holocaust? A world without floods, hurricanes, droughts, famines, earthquakes? A world of love, peace, joy, hope? That's the kind of world the Messiah would bring. His coming heralds the beginning of a glorious, wondrous, beautiful time for the people of the Lord. No wonder they could hardly wait for His appearance.
B Who is this Messiah? Who is He Who will bring about such an utopia? The Old Testament Scriptures present to us three different pictures of the Messiah. Being a faithful, devout, upright, God- fearing Jew, Zechariah was well-acquainted with all three Old Testament pictures of the Messiah. And, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he incorporates all three pictures of the Messiah within his song of praise to God.
One picture sees the Messiah as a "great warrior king." Just as David killed Goliath and defeated the Philistines, so the Messiah would defeat God's enemies (Is 63:1-6). The old priest, Zechariah, has this picture of the Messiah in mind when he says the Messiah will bring
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us ...
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies ...
Another picture presents the Messiah as a "man of sorrows" Who was "led like a lamb to the slaughter ... and pierced for our transgressions" (Is 53). The Messiah, in other words, is our Savior from sin. Zechariah has this picture of the Messiah in mind when he says God
... has redeemed his people.The image here is of a mighty bull with big, curving horns. It lowers its head at the approach of a lion or wolf and points those long, gleaming horns at the enemy. One stab or toss of those horns is all that it needs to defend itself. In the same way as all the power and strength of the bull is concentrated in its horns, so all the redeeming and saving power of God is centered in the Messiah. He is the only means of salvation and the only Savior.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us ...
A third picture sees the Messiah as the "Immanuel," as the "God with us," as the Lord Himself suddenly coming to His temple (Is 4:2; 7:14; 9:7; Mal 3:1). "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come ..." (vs 68) says Zechariah. And, in another place, Zechariah can tell us the Messiah has "come to us from heaven" (vs 78).
The Messiah and the Messianic Age — Zechariah sees they have finally come. So he praises God for His mercy.
III The Messiah's Blessings
A According to Zechariah, the appearance of the Messiah means many blessings and many joys for the people of God: redemption, salvation, freedom, rescue from enemies, light in darkness, forgiveness of sins, peace.
The blessing mentioned by Zechariah in our text is that the Messiah's appearance makes us wholeheartedly willing and ready to live for and serve the Lord.
I'm not sure if we realize what a tremendous blessing this really is. You see, our natural sinful tendency without Christ is to hate God; without Christ we find it impossible to live for and serve the Lord; without the Messiah we are totally carnal, unspiritual, living only to gratify the desires of the old, sinful nature within us all.
However, the Messiah has come. And He has come, says Zechariah,
... to enable us to serve him without fearWith the advent of the Messiah, with the coming of the Christ-child, we have had such a change in direction, such a transformation of the mind, that now it is our heart's desire to live for and serve the Lord. Through the Messiah, the Christ-child, God works in us both to will and to act according to His good purpose (Phil 2:13). Through the Messiah, the Christ-child, God equips us with everything good for doing His will, and works in us what is pleasing to Him (Heb 13:21).
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
Topic: ServantsUnder the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Zechariah somehow realizes the Messiah's appearance causes this kind of change in us. No wonder He praises the Lord.
A hospital visitor saw a nurse tending to the sores of a leprosy patient, and said, "I'd never do that for a million dollars!" The nurse answered, "Neither would I. But I do it for Jesus for nothing."
B The Messiah has come, congregation. God is so merciful, gracious, kind and compassionate. The Messiah has come and He has changed, transformed, and renewed our lives.
It is obvious, isn't it, what kind of response is required? We must become what we are. We must live out what the Lord has put in. If the basic orientation of our heart is to live for and serve the Lord, that is exactly what we must now do.
Every person here, in fact every person on earth, has someone or something that he or she serves. Every person, none excepted, gives priority to something or someone in his or her life. Every person, in other words, is religious and serves some "god" or another. To know a person's "god" simply look for what he or she lives and labors for and wants above anything else in life.
There is a great deal of difference in what it is that people serve. There are some people, for example, who live for pleasure. And so they seek it above everything else. They give it the highest priority in their life. They enter each and every situation with only one objective in mind: what pleasure will I get from this? Of course, over time their senses become dulled and they end up on a treadmill of seeking out ever escalating sensory experiences — regardless of how corrupt or perverted those experiences may be.
Undoubtedly, you have met people who live for wealth, the accumulation of money. These people bend every effort into making a dollar. In their blind pursuit of wealth they are willing to sacrifice health, family, friendship, the Church.
Many live only for their appetites. These people's creed is "buy, buy, buy." They practice conspicuous consumption. They need the latest gadget, the newest toy, and go from fad to fad. They need to be seen in the right places, in the right clothes, and in the right car.
There are people too whose lives are bent into the service of sports and recreation. This is a god that many in our culture worship. I wonder and worry about the place of sports and recreation when people so easily do them rather than attend worship services.
There are many other "gods" I can mention but finally let me mention there are people who believe that such noble things as home, spouse, and children are the only thing to live for. They live for these, serve these, and constantly look for ways to improve family life. Happy, content, and satisfactory relationships are what they pursue. Surely this is much more worthy than pleasure, wealth, conspicuous consumption, sports, or recreation; yet, this too is sadly lacking.
In singing of the mercies of God in sending us the Messiah, Zechariah makes clear this morning that what we must do is seek first the kingdom and its righteousness and all these other things will be given to us as well (cf Mt 6:33). We must live for and serve the Lord Jesus. He, and He alone, must come first in our life.
Topic: LifeGod has saved you so make sure your life was worth saving. How? Make it your goal to live for and serve the Lord.
Subtopic: Purpose of
Title: A life worth saving
A man risked his life by swimming through the treach erous rip-tide to save a youngster from being swept out to sea. After the child recovered from the harrowing experience, he thanked the man for his act of sacrifice. The man responded to the boy's thanks: "That's okay. Just make sure your life was worth saving."
As we continue to prepare for Christmas let us remember what the Spirit has revealed to Zechariah: that God, in His mercy, has sent us the Messiah so that we can be wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him. As we prepare for Christmas let us make sure that the Lord comes first in out life, that we live for and serve the Lord.
Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, for sending the Messiah.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page