When God Comes Calling
Intro – A famous picture of WWII shows General Douglas MacArthur wading ashore on the Philippines on October 20, 1944. He was returning to the post he had left 2-12 years earlier on March 12, 1942 when, with Japanese forces rapidly closing in President Roosevelt order him to remove to Australia where he continued to command American forces in the Pacific. As he left the Philippines, MacArthur famously promised, “I shall return.” A month later 70,000 US soldiers surrendered. Then came the Bataan death march and 2-12 years of hell for the 7,000,000 people left behind. But in the end, MacArthur did return in one of the war’s most glorious events.
In a much more significant way, God returns to Israel after a 400 year silence. The nation of Israel was in a similar state of despair in the latter days of Herod the Great. Their history had reached its heyday during the time of David and Solomon1,000 years before. But what followed was Civil War, division, rebellion, idolatry and finally captivity. The glory had gone. They were under constant bondage, first to the Persians, then the Greeks, and now, worst of all, the hated Romans. It had been 400 years of silence from God. Spiritually bankrupt, in bondage to Rome and a corrupt priesthood, few saw any reason for hope.
And then – God called. And after the faithful country priest, Zechariah, got his voice back after the birth of his son, he wasted no time blessing God. His first words: Luke 1:68, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” Translation: God has returned! He’s back, and Zechariah blesses God in a benediction filled with OT references and allusions. God is back, but this visitation isn’t just a prophet, but 2 special people – a forerunner and the Messiah himself. Zechariah’s message addresses both the basis for and purpose of God’s visit.
I. Basis for God’s Visit (God’s mercy and God’s promises)
A. God’s Mercy
Notice Lu 1:72, “to show the mercy promised to our fathers.” Now, Lu 1:78, “because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high.” It’s sunrise in Israel. Messiah is coming, lighting the darkness. This describes anyone who invites Christ to set up rule in their heart. And all based on the tender mercy of God.
God did not have to come; He chose to come. He did not have to love us; He chose to love us. Salvation reflects His tender mercies. Israel did nothing to merit His coming. Quite the opposite. The sought only political relief. Yet He comes, not grudgingly, not by compulsion, but because of His mercy. Eph 2:4-5 reminds us, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” Salvation is always based in His great mercy.
B. God’s Promises
God is a covenant God. He makes and keeps promises. Among hundreds of OT promises, six are specifically referred to as covenants – personal promises by which God binds Himself. They are the Noahic, Mosaic, Priestly, Abrahamic, Davidic and the New Covenant of Ezek 36 and Jer 31 given to Israel and promising forgiveness and cleansing – a promise of Christ. Three of these covenants are referenced in this passage. Notice Lu 1:67-71, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David. 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” Bigger news the nation of Israel could not have received. After 400 years of silence salvation is coming through the house of David. The Jewish people would immediately have recognized God’s covenant with David found in II Sam 7 and Psa 89 and 110 promising the throne to David’s line forever. Any Jewish person hearing this would have been rubbing his hands together, anticipating David’s greater son coming to rescue them from Rome – one to rule with power and justice and mercy. God may have been slow, but He is keeping covenant at last.
But Zechariah isn’t done yet. He goes on in Lu 1:72-73, “to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham.” Now he’s referencing Abe’s covenant, found in Gen 12, 13, 15, 17, 21 and 22. Promises to make him a great nation, to bless those who bless him and to curse those who curse him, to make his seed as numerous as the dust of the earth, to give him the land of Canaan forever, and to bless all the nations of the earth through him. The Israelite would have been delirious with joy at this message. Thru Christ God is keeping covenant with Abe.
In Lu 1:76-77, Zechariah addresses the role of his own son and of Messiah. He glances at little John sleeping in the cradle he says, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.” This is the new covenant of Ezekiel 36 and Jer 31:31, “31Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” God is saying, “You, Israel, as a nation have failed me. But I’m making a new covenant. I will give you a new heart, that will long to obey my law. And, I will forgive your iniquity, and I will remember your sin no more.”
You’d have thought our Israeli friend would revel in such a glorious spiritual revival. Zechariah did. But the nation as a whole did not, with tragic results. But God keeps His Word. Christ’s coming set in motion the fulfillment of all these promises. Despite national failure, Christ is the guarantee God will keep every promise. The basis of the Lord’s visit is His mercy and promise.
II. Purpose for God’s Visit
A. Political Deliverance
This is the Messianic hope of the Jews -- their constant prayer – political deliverance. Christ is the answer. Lu 1:71, “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” Physical deliverance is part of the big picture. This reference extends beyond mere political enemies, but it certainly includes them. In Lu 1:74 he foresees that Israel will be “delivered from the hand of our enemies.” Such deliverance has always been part of the covenant plan of God. Zechariah 14 describes this in detail. Zech 14:16 summarizes, “16 Then everyone who survives (after the last battle) of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths.” A harvest celebration will go on every year when Jesus rules world from Jerusalem. Deliverance is coming. Christ will reign. God promised David one of his descendants on that throne forever. That descendant was born six months after Zechariah issued this great prophecy. God keeps covenant.
B. Spiritual Deliverance
But, back up to Lu 1:68-69, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” Question: is the redemption and salvation that Zechariah mentions political – or is it spiritual? Are the enemies of Lu 1:71 and 74 physical or spiritual? Well, the wording itself and OT references like Zech 14 and others clearly envision real political enemies. To dismiss that altogether, as some do, would do damage to God’s Word.
But – without doubt, the primary emphasis is spiritual. The salvation of Lu 1:69 is defined in Lu 1:77, “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.” Why is God becoming flesh to fill the promised Messianic role? To provide forgiveness from sin. Why is Christ coming? Verse 79, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” Darkness symbolizes evil; one sitting in darkness is lost in sin – needing redemption. Why did Christ come? Verses 74-75, “74) that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75) in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” Why does He deliver people? So that they can fulfill their own frivolous passions without fear of political oppression? Hardly. It is so that they can serve -- live holy and righteous lives. Sounds like Eph 1:4, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” God doesn’t save people so they can please themselves; He saves them so they can please Him. And His visitation after 400 years of silence was to free Israel politically and spiritually so they could serve Him without fear of either political or spiritual foes and live in holiness and righteousness before Him. Exactly the reason that He saves any of us. Like a rising sun He blows darkness of sin away with the light of His presence – to provide forgiveness and eternal life to all who will receive Him. What a wonderful Savior, right?
What Happened? Now we must ask – so what in the world happened? Zechariah paints this glorious picture, blessing God for the deliverance that was coming to Israel through his miracle son and the Messiah – and the reality is, none of it seemed to happen. A few accepted him; the nation as a whole would not. They wanted physical deliverance, not spiritual. So, when John came in Luke 3:3, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” the nation turned that down. John was beheaded at the height of his ministry. Jesus was executed by His own people – on false charges. Far from massive revival, the nation rejected their king and Messiah and within 40 years were demolished as a nation in a devastating purge by the Romans in AD 70. So – what in the world happened, and did the visit fail?
Let’s answer those question one at a time. First, what happened? In a word, Israel rejected her Messiah. The apostle John captures the situation precisely in John 1:11, “[Jesus] came to his own (neuter, Creation), and his own people did not receive him.” That’s bad news! God comes to visit – and you turn Him away! You open the door, find Christ there and say, “No thanks!” God in the flesh and you slam the door! That’s what Israel did. Not every individual. John says in John 1:12) But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The nation as a whole turned Him down flat; a precious few accepted Him. Those became children of God. Not everyone is a child of God. Not even the Jews were all children of God. Only those who believed in His name.
But why? Why did they refuse Him? Why? Because He didn’t fit their mold. They wanted freedom from Rome, but not freedom from sin. They did not think they needed a Savior. They just wanted the easy life – a king, not a Savior. Typical is what happened when Jesus fed 5,000 men plus women and children one day with 5 loaves and 2 fish. John tells us that immediately after in John 6:14-15, “ When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (They thought, “Man, this must be the guy! This has to be Messiah. Let’s make him king right now.” Their slogan was “Food and freedom.” God’s was “Forgiveness and freedom”, but theirs was “Food and freedom.” John goes on) 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Now watch.
Jesus disappears overnight, but they find him and rebuke him for leaving. Jesus knows they just want bread. He tells them instead to do the work of God. They ask, “What is that?” John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (In other words, you must accept me!). 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? (What sign do I give?! I just fed 20,000 of you out of 5 loaves of bread and you are asking for a sign?! Faith based on signs always need just one more). Jesus reiterates they must believe, then John 6:64, “64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” It’s the beginning of the end. In simplest terms – simplest terms – Jesus is saying, “I can’t deliver outwardly until I deliver inwardly! Do you see? But they wanted nothing to do with forgiveness. A few cheered him into Jerusalem on his last trip on Palm Sunday. But a week later the same crowd cried, “Crucify Him.” When He demanded to be Lord of their life as well as Lord of their country – they turned Him down flat. Jesus tells why in John 3:19) And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” They thought they were good enough, rejected His light and crucified Him.
So – did God fail? Not a chance! All that happened ultimately is one thing – slight delay. Jesus offered the kingdom in His first coming. Had the nation repented, He would have still had to die for their sins, but then I think He would have set up the kingdom, then and there. Zechariah’s vision would have been fulfilled in the 1st coming. But listen, Beloved, God’s not done with Israel. In the last 2,000 years, we’ve seen Israel disappear as a nation so totally that no one would have dreamed they could be revived. No other people in history have lost their national identity for 2,000 years and then returned. But Israel did. Still rejecting their Messiah to be sure. Still unrepentant. But the time is coming. A 2nd coming is as sure as the 1st.
God keeps covenant. Just as He came the first time to purchase redemption through His death and resurrection, He is coming again. Zechariah 12:10 describes the day when Christ comes again, “10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” Israel stills faces intense persecution, but then Christ will come again, and the whole nation will see the one they crucified in a whole new light. Then look at Zech 13:1, “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” The spiritual deliverance that Zechariah envisioned – it’s going to happen, dear friends. And to see the political deliverance, you have only to turn to chapter 14.
Rev 19 gives a vivid picture of the same event beginning in verse “11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.” Everything Zechariah saw – it’s all going to happen. We must understand – Delay does not mean desertion. God keeps covenant. The question is, do you have a covenant with Him. He is visiting you right now, this morning. Rev 3:20 reminds us, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” So, “As many as receive Him, to them He gives the power to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” Have you believed? Have you accepted? Has His kingdom come to your heart? Let’s pray.