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The Songs of Christmas: Zacharias

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Here’s a tip. If an angel ever appears to you with a message from God Almighty, you might do well to believe what he says. I guess the news was just too good for Zacharias. He and wife Elizabeth had been praying for years for a child, but to no avail. By all appearances their prayer was not to be answered in the affirmative. Elizabeth was now well along in years, and it was very unlikely that she would ever conceive. To fully grasp how crushing this news was to them we must understand that in these days a woman of Israel lived for one thing and one thing only: To bear children. Women who could not bear children were shamed and humiliated by their communities. They were the source of constant gossip and slander. In fact, the Jewish Rabbis said that seven types of people were excommunicated from God and the top of the list was, "a Jew who has no wife, or a Jew who has a wife who has no child."

All his life Zacharias had waited for his chance to serve in the Temple in Jerusalem, and now his time had come. He had been chosen by lot. And there he was, in the Temple all alone burning incense. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appears standing next to the altar of incense. His message is one of joy: " ... Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John." (Luke 1:13, NASB95). Their prayers had been answered! Elizabeth and Zacharias were to have a son. And not just any son. This was to be a one in a million son. He would be great in the sight of the Lord. He would come in the Spirit of Elijah, and be a forerunner to the ministry of the Messiah, and his message will turn many back to the God of Israel.

Not only was Zacharias and Elizabeth going to have a son, but God was getting ready to do something really, really BIG. And their son was going to have something to do with preparing the way for that. And Zacharias said “Wow, that’s great!” Well, no. That’s not exactly how Zacharias responded, is it? Zacharias said something more like, ”Yeah, right Gabriel. In case you haven’t noticed, me and the old lady are kinda done for in the baby department if you know what I mean.”

So Gabriel struck Zacharias’s speech. For saying such an unbelieving thing he would get to say nothing at all until the baby was born. And then he would name the child John, just as the Lord said. Zacharias and Elizabeth had a lot of time to think about what the angel said, and to ponder the doings of God in their lives. By the time of John’s birth Zacharias was able, being filled with the Holy Spirit, to prophesy about his little boy, and about what His God was doing.

This Song of Zacharias”ranks right up there with Mary’s Magnificat”as a beautiful psalm of praise and devotion and trust. It’s frequently referred to as The Benedictus because of the first word of the song in the Latin: Benedictus esto Dominus Deus Israelis, meaning, Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.”

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: 68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, 69And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant— 70As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old— 71Salvation from our enemies, And from the hand of all who hate us; 72To show mercy toward our fathers, And to remember His holy covenant, 73The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, 74To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, 75In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. 76“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; 77To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins, 78Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, 79To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”"(Luke 1:67-79, NASB95). So let’s take some time this morning and ponder the message the song of Zacharias has for us.

I. STANZA #1: REMEMBER GOD FOR HIS VISITATION vv. 68-75

          1. in these verses, the focus is on a number of things that God has done for us that are worthy of our praise and adoration
              1. Zacharias had had nine months of silence to brood and ponder and pray and meditate on his Bible, the Old Testament
              2. his silence may have been a divine rebuke for his unbelief, but God always turns his rebukes into rewards for those who keep faith

A. GOD’S VISITATION FILLS HIM WITH PRAISE vv. 68-69

          1. Zacharias begins with a doxology: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel
              1. He praises Jehovah, Israel’s covenant God, for his concern about, and saving intervention in, the affairs of his people
                  1. He says that God has looked after them
          2. Zacharias is filled with praise because after four hundred years, God has broken His silence
              1. his own wife’s niece is at that moment three months pregnant with the Anointed One of Israel

B. GOD’S VISITATION HAS FULFILLED PROPHECY vv. 70-71

          1. Zachariah next recollects 1,000 years of Hebrew prophecy by referring to the holy prophets from old
              1. singularly, none of the Old Testament prophets have the entire story, but collectively their predictions tell of a time when God’s Anointed One will appear and save His people
              2. Zachariah, by the Holy Spirit, understands that his new born son will stand in this long line of prophetic voices
                  1. he will be called prophet of the Most High for he will go before the Lord to prepare his ways
          2. Zachariah realized that the birth of his son, John, indicated the imminent coming of the Mssiah
              1. he speaks of Christ’s advent as an accomplished fact before it has actually happened
                  1. he says in verse 68 For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people
              2. faith enabled him to say God had already visited and redeemed His people by sending the Redeemer
          3. his arrival would mean salvation from one’s enemies and safety from foes

C. GOD’S VISITATION IS A FULFILLMENT OF HIS COVENANT PROMISE vv. 72-75

          1. the Lord had made an unconditional covenant of salvation with Abraham
            • Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18“In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”(Genesis 22:15-18, NASB95)
              1. this promise was fulfilled by the coming of Abraham’s seed, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ
                • ILLUS Who, in reading these words, does not immediately think of the hymn My Hope Is Built; specifically, of the words: His oath, his covenant, his blood, Spport me in the whelming flood?
          2. so eager is God, as it were, to instil in the hearts of his children faith in his gracious promise that in order to confirm it he even takes an oath by himself!

II. STANZA #2: REMEMBER GOD FOR HIS REVELATION vv. 76-77

          1. most of Zacharias's song is taken up not with his own son but with the salvation the Messiah would bring
              1. only these two verses (76 and 77) refer to John the Baptist specifically
              2. in them Zacharias reminds us of the promise of God concerning His child
              3. as you know, this baby grows up to become John the Baptizer
          2. John’s mission will that of a herald
              1. John would be the prophet of the Most High, preparing the hearts of the people for the coming of the Lord, and proclaiming salvation to His people through the forgiveness of their sins
              2. by his preaching, he is to reveal God’s Anointed One to Israel
          3. God had promised long ago that this would happen
              1. the prophet Malachi predicted a messenger to prepare the way before Jehovah
                • Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts."(Malachi 3:1, NASB95)
          4. Zacharias’s psalm of praise reminds us that God had promised redemption, and that in the about-to-be incarnation of God in the flesh, our redemption draweth neigh

A. GOD REVEALS THE KNOWLEDGE OF SALVATION IN THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS

          1. it is God, and God alone, who saves
          2. John was God’s chosen instrument to impart to the people the knowledge of salvation through forgiveness
              1. he would be able to do this because of strength and wisdom given to him by God

III. STANZA #3: REMEMBER GOD FOR HIS EMANCIPATION vv.78-79

          1. Christ’s coming is characterized in two ways
          2. First, it epitomizes God’s mercy
              1. mercy is the bestowing of great kindness to someone of considerable need who does not deserve it
          3. Second, it is likened to the sunrise
              1. for centuries, the world had lain in darkness
              2. for four hundred years there had been no prophetic voice in Israel
              3. now through the tender mercy of our God, dawn was about to break
                  1. it would come in the Person of Christ, shining on the Gentiles who were in darkness and the shadow of death, and guiding Israel’s feet into the way of peace
          4. God’s tender mercy is a mercy that warms our souls like the rising sun and sets us free from the dominion of darkness and the shadow of death

IV. CHORUS: LESSONS FROM ZACHARIAS’S PSALM OF PRAISE

          1. every hymn needs a chorus that sums up the lessons learned from the verses
          2. let’s take a few moments to summerize the great truths from Zacharias’ song

A. FIRST: Worship Always Begins with Doxology

          1. blessed be the Lord, God ought to be the first thing off of our lips in our worship
            • Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” 11The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold."(Psalm 46:10-11, NASB95)

B. SECOND: We Can Take God at His Word

          1. nine months earlier Zacharias could not believe his wife would have a child
          2. now, filled with the Holy Spirit, he is so confident of God's redeeming work in the coming Messiah that he puts it in the past tense
              1. for the mind of faith, a promised act of God is as good as done
          3. Zacharias has learned to take God at his word and so has a remarkable assurance: God has visited and redeemed!"
          4. God’s will, and God’s ways, and God’s statutes, and God’s principles will never lead us astray
              1. do you take god at his word?
              2. do you live in such a way that you trust his promises to be true?
                • ILUS. I imagine that if Gabriel were to give us the same kind of punishment Zacharias was afflicted with, things would be kind of quiet in most congregations.

C. THIRD: God Keeps His Promises

          1. the coming of Jesus the Messiah is a visitation of God to our world
          2. for centuries the Jewish people had languished under the conviction that God had withdrawn
              1. the spirit of prophecy had ceased, and Israel had fallen into the hands of one enemy after another
                  1. all the godly in Israel were awaiting the visitation of God
              2. Luke 2:25 tells us that the devout Simeon was looking for the consolation of Israel"
              3. Luke 2:38 tells us that the prayerful Anna was looking for the redemption of Jerusalem"
          3. these were days of great expectation
              1. now the long awaited visitation of God was about to happen—indeed, he was about to come in a way no one expected
          4. every time a lost person exercises the gift of repentance and turns to Christ, they represent a fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham
            • Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."(Galatians 3:13-14, NASB95)
            • And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise."(Galatians 3:29, NASB95)
          5. if God kept His promise made 4,000 years ago to a nomadic herder from the Middle East named Abraham, we can depend upon Him to keep all of His promises

D. FORTH: God Redeems His People

          1. Zacharias probably never dreamed the Messiah would have to die to accomplish redemption
          2. it took Jesus years to get the fact into his disciple's heads that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected . . . and be killed and on the third day be raised."
              1. there had been hints of this in the Old Testament (like Isaiah 53), but none of the Jews in Jesus' day understood this
              2. there is a hint of it in Zacharias’ psalm when he declares that John the Baptizer’s message will bring a knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins
                  1. because of Adam, we are born into sin
                  2. we are all slaves to sin
                  3. it is at the core of our nature to sin
                  4. our hearts are wired to rebel
                  5. the result is that our inheritance from birth is death and hell
              3. but God has chosen to redeem the faithful
                • But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God."(Galatians 4:4-7, NASB95)
                  1. God will do this because of His tender mercy
          3. two things make Christmas good news of great joy to all who believe
              1. First: Jesus paid the debt for our sin
                • "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel who has visited and redeemed his people by raising up a horn of salvation for us . . . that we, being delivered from our enemies, might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life." (Luke 1:68)
                  1. the word redeemed in verse 68 refers to a release secured by the paying of a ransom
                  2. in Old Testament days, slaves could gain their freedom by serving x-number of years or by being redeemed from their servitude when someone bought them out slavery for the express purpose of freeing them
                  3. this is what Jesus did for us
                      1. His blood redeemed us and paid the debt for our sin
                        • "If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; 18knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ." (1 Peter 1:17-19, NASB95)
                        • "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:11-14, NASB95)
                  4. Jesus paid the debt for our sin
              2. Second: Fear and Guilt have been beaten
                • "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." (1 John 3:8)
                • "Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Hebrews 9:26)
                  1. fear and guilt, the two great spoilers of life, have been taken away because Satan has been disarmed and sin has been forgiven
                    • "Christ took on a human nature that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage." (Hebrews 2:14-15)
                  2. if we turn and follow him in faith, we are freed from all our guilt
                  3. Satan may be a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, but none of those who take refuge in Christ, the horn of our salvation, can he destroy
                  4. Fear and Guilt have been beaten

This morning I hope you've enjoyed hearing Zacharias's song. I pray that after our study you feel as excited as Zacharias did as he realized these things that he sang about! You can even break out in song if you like. But I want all of you to know that Zacharias was right on all three counts! 1) We can always take God at his word! 2) He always keeps His promises! And 3) He will redeem all who resond to Him in repentance and faith. God wants to be involved in YOUR life. He wants each of us to make that all important decision and respond to Jesus' death on the cross by repenting of our sin and asking him to come into our lives as Lord and Savior.

As we sing of God's great faithfulness won't you respond by making that decision? And then if you've already made that commitment...perhaps God is calling you to be involved with His work here in this church. If so come and join our church family. We'd love to have you. Won't you come now as God leads?

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