************ Sermon on Luke 1:68a ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on December 20, 2015

Luke 1:67-80
Luke 1:68a
"God Has Come!"

Last week we saw that Mary, Elizabeth, and baby John were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:41,46). So Mary sang, Elizabeth pronounced a blessing, and baby John leaped for joy in the womb. Today we see it is Zechariah's turn to be filled with the Spirit (Lk 1:67).

The old priest has not been able to say anything for nine long months. At the dinner table he had to point or snap his fingers to get Elizabeth's attention. He was not able to lead his wife in Bible reading or prayer. He was not able to conduct business in the marketplace. He was not able to do any of his duties as a priest. Any complicated communication required him to write it down on a tablet -- I am talking about an old fashioned clay tablet, not a computer tablet (Lk 1:63).

What would be the first words out of your mouth after nine months of silence? Would you tell your wife how much you love her? Would you run outside and scream for joy? Would you say or sing the alphabet? Would you read the Bible out loud?

So, when Zechariah is finally able to talk again, what does he do? Inspired by the Spirit, he sang a song. The opening word of this song in the Latin is Benedictus, Blessed, so the Song of Zechariah is known as the Benedictus.

Scripture tells us the Song of Zechariah was a prophecy (Lk 1:67). Meaning what? Meaning Zechariah's song was a word from the Lord. So, what is the Lord saying through Zechariah's song?

I The Visits of God
A Do you remember that Luke wrote his gospel so Theophilus can be certain about the truths of the Gospel (Lk 1:4)? God wants to teach Theophilus many things. One of the main lessons is that in Jesus God has come and is visiting His people. Notice how the song starts and ends with this theme:
(Lk 1:68) Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.

(Lk 1:78) ... the rising sun will come to us from heaven
The entire song is bracketed by this theme that God has come. We find this theme throughout the Bible.

B For instance, the Lord God visited Sarah and she became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age (cf Septuagint of Gen 21:1). Remember what Joseph said on his death bed to his brothers? "But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (Gen 50:24; cf 50:25). Some 430 years later God did come to His people and led them out of Egypt (cf Septuagint of Ex 3:16; 4:31). Naomi and her daughters-in-law left Moab and went to the land of Israel because they heard the Lord had come to His people and provided food for them (Ruth 1:6). The Lord came to Hannah and she gave birth not only to Samuel but also to three other sons and two daughters (1 Sam 2:21). The Lord God came to Cyrus, King of Persia, and commanded him to release the people of Israel so they can rebuild the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2). According to the psalmist, when God visits the land, He cares for it and waters it and provides the people with grain (Ps 65:9).

C Do you see the wonders that happen when God comes and visits with His people? The Spirit-inspired message of Zechariah is that in Jesus God has come again. But this is not just another coming. This is the best and most important and most wonderful coming of God. To paraphrase the words of Jesus from Isaiah, the result is good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, release for the oppressed, and the coming of the year of the Lord's favor (Lk 4:18-19). No wonder the people of Israel looked forward to those moments when God would come to visit His people.

D The Greek word used for visit here is episkopeo. What a descriptive word. What is in mind is not a casual drop-in by family or friends. What is in mind is a visit that involves a careful scrutiny of the situation. God, so to speak, looks the entire situation over. Don't forget, He is the God Who sees all things and knows all things.

How careful is God's scrutiny? If you change the Greek verb episkopeo into the noun episcopos, you end up with the Greek word for Bishop or Elder. Bishops or Elders are called episcopos because a large part of their job is to visit: the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry, the dying, the straying. They are called to guard and protect and oversee souls. They are overseers of the flock of God.

The New Testament calls Jesus the Bishop or Overseer of our souls (1 Pt 2:25). He is the Overseer incarnate. He came not as a military general but as an Overseer. He came not to fight Rome but to care for souls. He came to love us and bless us and watch over us and visit us.

God has come. God has come in Christ. That's the theme of the Benedictus.

But now we need to ask a question: Why has Jesus come? What is the purpose of His visit? Zechariah's song mentions three reasons in three striking images.

II He has Come to Redeem (vs 68)
A Why has Jesus come? Why His visit, His episkopeo, to earth? Listen to what Zechariah says:
(Lk 1:68) Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.
Do you hear the first reason for the visit? To redeem.

Redemption is a beautiful image. It means "to set free by paying a price." It can refer to the releasing of a prisoner or the liberating of a slave. Jesus came to set us free. That means Jesus came to pay the price. He bought us and paid for us. As we read in Paul's letter to the Corinthians:
(1 Cor 6:19-20) ... You are not your own; (20) you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

B What is the price that Jesus paid when He came to redeem us? The price He paid we all know: He paid with His blood and His life. The Catechism, as a summary of what the Bible teaches, puts it this way in Q & A 34:
not with gold or silver,
but with his precious blood--
he has set us free
from sin and from the tyranny of the devil,
and has bought us,
body and soul,
to be his very own.

C Why, then, did Christ come? Why His visit? To redeem us. To buy us. To set us free. Since He bought us, therefore we belong to Him. I hope you all recognize Q & A 1 of the Catechism here:
That I am not my own,
but belong--
body and soul,
in life and in death--
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

[The Catechism continues with the image of redemption:]
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.

"Therefore," says Paul in the verse I quoted earlier from 1 Corinthians 6, "honor God with your body" (1 Cor 6:20). Live for Him Who bought you and set you free. Make it the goal of your life to please Him.

III He has Come as a Horn of Salvation (vs 69-75)
A Why has Jesus come? Why His visit, His episkopeo, to earth? Listen to what Zechariah says:
(Lk 1:69-75) He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David ... (74) to rescue us from the hand of our enemies ...
Do you hear the second reason for His visit? He has come as a horn of salvation.

Zechariah has in mind an army about to be defeated or a city about to be ransacked. But then a horn of salvation arrives and the enemy is defeated and God's people experience total victory.

In the Bible, a horn symbolizes power and victory. Think of the horns blown at Jericho. Think of the blowing horns announcing the Year of Jubilee (cf 1 Kings 22:11; Ps 90:17,24).

Zechariah wants us to think of the horn of a ram or a bull. How does a ram or a bull defend itself? With its horns. All the power and strength of a ram or a bull are concentrated in its horns. Those of you who work with cattle know you never turn your back on an animal; especially you never turn your back on one with horns lest it attack you and gore you. Some of you might remember what happened to old Gerrit Anker some 15 or 16 years ago. He turned his back on a ram in the pasture. The ram ran full tilt and threw him at least 15 feet. I don't remember if he ended up in the hospital but I do remember he was really sore for a couple of weeks.

B Jesus has come, He has visited, as a horn of salvation. Just like all the power and strength of a ram or a bull are concentrated in its horns, so all the power and strength of God are concentrated in the Lord Jesus Christ.

As you well know, God's people are under attack. I mentioned a few weeks ago how Christians are under attack in India. The news is filled with stories of how Christians are under attack in the Moslem world. Even in our country, through the liberal media and by an ever intrusive government, Christians are under attack. By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment. But Jesus is the horn of salvation. Meaning what? Meaning victory for God's people and defeat for those who hate us and revile us.

As you know, I'm a part of Rotary. We start every Rotary meeting with a flag salute. Together, we all say:
"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
A friend of mine always adds "someday" to this pledge. In other words, someday there will be liberty and justice for all. We should add the same words to the work of Jesus Christ. Someday there will be victory for God's people and defeat for those who hate us.

C Again, this calls for a response. What is to be our response to Jesus as the horn of salvation? Zechariah tells us: "to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness all our days" (Lk 1:75). Jesus has come. He has visited us as a horn of salvation. So we should serve Him. So we should live holy and righteous lives.

IV He has Come as the Rising Sun (vs 78-79)
A Why has Jesus come? Why His visit, His episkopeo, to earth? Listen to what Zechariah says:
(Lk 1:78-79) ... 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."
Do you hear the third reason for His visit? Of special interest to us in this candlelight service is that Jesus has come as the rising sun.

In the picture of the rising sun we have another vivid image. The image here is of a group of travelers who, before their destination is reached, are overtaken by the darkness of a pitch-black night. These travelers are sitting terrified and powerless by the side of the road or path, unable to continue on their journey. At any moment they expect to be attacked and overwhelmed by unseen enemies. But all at once a light appears -- the moon perhaps, or the torch of a better prepared traveler -- and by its rays they are able to reach their destination and its promise of safety, peace, and rest.

B Our text speaks of Jesus as the "rising sun." Another acceptable translation of the Greek is "morning star." It is no accident that this phrase is used for Satan. Jesus is described as the "morning star." Satan is described as the "morning star." But there is one big difference: Satan has fallen.
(Is 14:12-15) How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! (13) You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. (14) I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." (15) But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.
Satan used to be the morning star, the rising sun. Now, he has fallen and is darkness instead. That's what Zechariah has in mind.

Zechariah also has the prophecy of Isaiah in mind. Isaiah speaks of darkness in more than one place:
(Is 8:22) Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.

(Is 60:2) See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples ...
Isaiah is speaking about the darkness of sin which afflicts all men. Isaiah is speaking about the darkness of Satan covering the earth. That's what Zechariah has in mind.

Zechariah also has in mind the darkness of foreign occupation. The Promised Land is under Roman rule. The Romans desecrate the Temple and the worship of the one only true God.

Zechariah has another darkness in mind too. As you know, the Word of God is light. But, at the time of Zechariah the people of God have not heard the voice of prophecy for some 400 years; for 400 years the voice of God has been silent. This is a grievous darkness as well.

Darkness and death -- that is what Zechariah sees.

C But Jesus has come, He has visited, as the rising sun. Jesus has come as the morning light. Think about this. What does this image tells us about Jesus? Every morning, the rising of the sun means the end of the darkness; it means the night is over and the day has come. Jesus has come and the night, the darkness, is over. Jesus has come and the day is now upon us.

D Jesus has come as the rising sun. Do you see the result for you and me? "To guide our feet into the path of peace" (Lk 1:79).

In our angry, broken, violent world, peace sounds so wonderful. The Buddhist faith claims to bring peace; all you need do is think eight great thoughts. The New Age Movement tells us to find our inner self. Mr. Trump says we will experience peace if he is elected as president. Extreme Muslims says peace will be established only when America and Israel are destroyed and the West overrun.

We know better. Peace, true peace, comes only by way of Jesus. In our angry, broken, violent world it is Jesus Who gives peace and brings peace: peace with God, peace with man, peace with ourselves, peace with creation.

God has come. God has come in Christ. He has come as the episcopos. He has come to redeem. He has come as a horn of salvation. He has come as the rising sun.

Zechariah is so excited about this that he cannot contain himself and breaks out into song.

Now, I want to tell you and I need to tell you that someday He is coming again. Those who love His first coming will love His second coming even more. Because then someday will be everyday. Because then everyday we are fully free. Because then everyday we experience victory. Because then everyday we live in the light.

Jesus has come. He is the episcopos. Have you welcomed Him into your heart? And Jesus is coming. Will you be ready?
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