************ Sermon on Luke 1:78 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on December 23, 2018

Luke 1:76-79
Luke 1:78
"The Rising Sun"
2018 Candle Light Service

I A Time of Silence and a Time of Praise
A Our text is part of the song of Zechariah. A song he sang after the birth of John the Baptist.

We all know the story of Elizabeth's miracle pregnancy. God reversed the course of nature so a barren woman, an old woman, could conceive and give birth to a son. At her age, I suspect the pregnancy was long and difficult -- especially when you consider she went into seclusion for 5 months with no one to talk to, no one to help, no one to give her moral and emotional support.

Have you considered that the pregnancy was long and difficult for Zechariah too? I'm sure he thought the pregnancy was never going to end. You see, Zechariah didn't believe Gabriel -- which means he didn't believe God. Therefore Gabriel announced God's judgment on Zechariah: he would not be able to talk or hear until the birth of John. So, for 9 long months Zechariah was silent. For 9 long months he was unable to hear Elizabeth or talk to Elizabeth. For 9 long months he had to write everything down on a tablet. I have a tablet at home -- a computer I use for meetings and travel. Zechariah's tablet, however, was nothing but a wooden board coated with wax; one would inscribe or scratch the message on the wax surface; to write another message you would melt the wax and start over. Over time this becomes old and tedious and tiresome.

There was so much Zechariah wanted to say to Elizabeth:
-the excitement that he was chosen to burn incense
-walking into the Holy Place
-seeing the curtain and the incense altar and the table of showbread and the lampstand
-the angel and what he felt and what he saw and what he heard
-the promise of a son
-the coming of the Messiah

There is so much Elizabeth wanted to say to Zechariah:
-how she was feeling
-the first kick of the baby in the womb
-explain why his name is going to be John
-what does it mean he will be filled with the Holy Spirit
-why can't he drink wine

All of this communication either didn't happen or it happened with great difficulty. It was a time of silence for both Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Something I haven't mentioned yet: Zechariah couldn't even praise the Lord. For a man like Zechariah that was probably the most painful part of his enforced silence. He loved the Lord and served the Lord as priest of God Most High. It was his calling to teach others about God and His Law. He loved to read the Law out loud. But none of this was happening either.

B When John was finally born, what happened to Zechariah? "Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God" (Lk 1:64). Did you catch that? His first words in 9 months were not to Elizabeth or the neighbors but rather to God. Isn't this amazing and wonderful and instructive and inspiring?

Remember, there was so much Zechariah wanted to say. But, but, he especially wanted to talk to God. It was especially God he wanted to praise. For 9 months he was unable to do any of this. So all of this praise and gratitude was building up in him until it finally exploded like a volcano and it all came gushing out in a song of praise.

Is our praise for God the same way? Is it something that simply and absolutely needs to be expressed? Is it something we look forward to all week long as we wait for Sunday and worship?

II A Time of Darkness
A In his song, Zechariah has two lines that we want to focus upon for this candle light service. The first line: "the rising sun will come to us from heaven" (Lk 1:78). The second line: "to shine on those living in darkness" (Lk 1:79). Put these two lines together and we see that the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and John the Baptist covers the final hours of darkness before the coming of the Light.

B Do you remember the hours of darkness as revealed to us in the Old Testament? The long hours? The desperate hours? There was the darkness following the Fall when man was removed from the Garden. There was the darkness leading to the Flood. There was that long, dark period when Abraham tried desperately to have the promised child. There was the darkness of the agonizing story of Jacob and Joseph. There was the 400 years in Egypt. The 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. The conquest and occupation of the Promised Land during the dark days of the Judges. The darkness of the split between the Northern and Southern kingdoms. The Northern kingdom dispersed and exiled in 722 B.C., never to return or to be seen again. The Southern kingdom taken to Babylon in 586 B.C. The return from Exile and the struggles to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple. The invasion by the Greeks with their pagan gods and their pagan theology. The Greek ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, actually dared to step into the sacred Holy of Holies, the holiest place of the Temple; and, he desecrated the altar by sacrificing a pig upon it. The Greeks were followed by the Romans, also with all their idolatries. And, among the Jews apostasy and faithlessness was prevalent during all this time as the Jewish faith became mostly works-righteousness, self-righteousness, and all those things which God hates and Jesus spoke against.

It was a continual descent into darkness.

C Do you know what sustained the faithful few during all this darkness? That someday the Light would come. That someday the Messiah would be born.

The Old Testament ended with the promise of the Light. According to the prophet Malachi, "the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings" (Mal 4:2). That is, "the rising sun will come to us from heaven" (Lk 1:78). Do you hear the message of Malachi? "Sunrise is coming." "Sunrise is coming." "Sunrise is coming." The darkness is not permanent.

And, yet, it seemed like the darkness was permanent. It seemed like it was permanent because for 400 years God was silent. For 400 years God did not speak to His people. There was no prophet in Israel. There was no revelation from God. Only silence. Only darkness. Prayers went up but heaven was silent. Prayers went up and it seemed like they were unheard or unanswered. Prayers went up as Israel sank deeper and deeper into darkness, despair, unfaithfulness, darkness.

Where was the sun of righteousness? It has been 400 years already since Malachi spoke about Him. Why is He taking so long? Where was the day when righteousness will triumph over evil (cf Mal 4:1-3)? The prophet said it will come, so where is it? The light will break. The dawn will come. The sun will rise. How much longer do they need to wait before this happens?

III A Time of Light
A "The rising sun will come to us from heaven" (Lk 1:78). The Greek does not have the word "sun." So a literal translation is, "The rising will come." The rising. The rising what? Zechariah doesn't identify who or what the "rising" is. In other writings and other passages the "rising" refers to the sun, or the first light of the day, or the dawn.

The "rising" comes from where? From on "high." From the heights. From a high place. From the highest place. From the summit. Which is why our pew Bibles say "from heaven." For nothing is higher than heaven.

Put this all together. What are we being told? Zechariah is not talking about the sun, the morning star, the first light of the morning, a meteor, or whatever. Rather, from on high, from heaven, from the throne of God, there is coming another Light (with a capital "L"), another Sun (with a capital "S"), a Sunrise (with a capital "S"). Zechariah is talking, of course, about Jesus Who identifies Himself as the "Light of the world" (Jn 8:12; 9:5) and the "bright Morning Star" (Rev 22:16).

"The rising sun will come to us from heaven" (Lk 1:78). The message of Zechariah is that the rising sun is not only coming but He is on His way. Sunrise is almost here. How do we know for sure? Because His forerunner is here.

B Quoting from Isaiah, Zechariah also tells us what the rising sun will do:
(Lk 1:79) to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Just like our sun -- the star at the center of the Solar System -- rises and breaks the darkness, so this Sun rises and breaks the spiritual darkness.

What does Zechariah mean by "darkness"? The Bible describes two kinds of darkness: in the head and in the heart.

Darkness in the head is intellectual darkness. I am talking about ignorance, error, spiritual blindness. Paul describes this darkness in Romans 1. Those with this darkness suppress the truth, exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things rather than the Creator (Rom 1:18, 25). They know there is a God but they won't acknowledge Him or worship Him.

Darkness in the heart is moral darkness. This is the darkness that engages in sin and wickedness and immorality. This darkness, too, is described by Paul in Romans 1. Those with this darkness
(Rom 1:29-32) have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, (30) slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; (31) they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (32) Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

The Light, the rising sun, the bright Morning Star, will shine on all this darkness. Meaning what? Darkness and light cannot coexist. Where there is light, there is no darkness. Where there is darkness, there is no light. So, the coming of the rising sun means intellectual and moral darkness have no place. The coming of the rising sun means there is no room for darkness. The coming of the rising sun means the darkness has been overcome.

Are you living in darkness? Is your life full of the darkness described by Romans 1? Is your life nothing but darkness in the head and darkness in the heart? The solution, the answer, the only answer, is to come to Jesus the Light. He chases your darkness away. In Him and through Him you acknowledge and worship the one only true God. In Him and through Him you make a beginning in living a life that is holy and pleasing to God. Come to Jesus, congregation. Come to the Light!

Listen, again, to the words of Zechariah's song in our text for this evening:
(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.
The Light is coming. Sunrise is coming. The darkness is not permanent.

Let's end with why God would do this. Let's end with why God would send the rising sun. Zechariah tells us at the start of verse 78: "because of the tender mercy of our God." His mercy is the motive for everything God does for His people.

What is God's "tender mercy"? The word for "tender" is translated by the KJV as "bowels." That is, it is something deep inside of you. So Zechariah is talking about the deep-down mercy of God. Because of His deep-down mercy, God shows favor to wicked sinners. He is a God Who shows mercy and love to a thousand generations (Ex 20:6). As the prophet Micah puts it,
(Micah 7:18) Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.

Down deep in the heart of God, down deep in the nature of God, is a compassion and goodness and mercy that God longs to extend to hopeless, helpless sinners living in darkness.

Come to Jesus. Come to the Light. And you, too, will experience this mercy of God.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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