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What will this child be? - Luke 1:57-80

This is a sermon by Richard Hawes from the Riverside Church service on 4th January 2015.

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Zechariah’s  Prayer SERMON

 

Introduction

Imagine that you’d lost the ability to speak,

Suppose you’re struck dumb for whatever reason,

and just for good measure you also lost your hearing.

Now let’s say that you’d been that way for about 9 months.

And now after 9 months of silence and quiet, by some miracle,

You’re able to hear again,

and the power of speech returns to you.

What’s the first thing you are going to say?

And Remember you’ve probably had 9 months to think about that!

‘Honey I love you’

‘Will you kids tidy your rooms?’

‘What did I do to deserve this Lord?’

‘Araghhh! I can speak again’

 

Well I guess, what we’d say will depend largely on what we hold most dear to us.

Now, you may remember (Lk. 1:5-25), Zechariah had been struck dumb when he doubted the word’s of Gabriel concerning the birth of his son.

9 months is a long time to mull something like this over, meditating on his Old Testament scrolls during his quite time. Zechariah would have been doing some serious thinking.

 

His silence may have been a divine rebuke for his unbelief,

but God can always turns his rebukes into rewards for those who keep faith.

And maybe you’re suffering from the scars of past sins. But if you keep faith now, God will turn the marks of sin into the memorials of grace. Where sin increased, grace increased all the more (Rom. 5:20).

 

Can you imagine Zechariah, in those months,

groaning under God's rebuke,

yet gradually discovering the reward?

At first kicking himself: "Why didn't I just believe the word of God? Why did I have to be so sceptical? What a fool I was!"

But, gradually, in the silence of those months,

while he couldn’t converse with his wife or friends,

Zechariah began to see what was happening.

It began to sink into his head and heart that these were stupendous, unrepeatable, incredibly significant days.

 

Can you see God at work in Zechariah’s life

turning hardship and punishment

into a time of reflection and learning about who God is,

and what he is doing?

 

From un-convinced to absolutely convinced

Well I asked what’s the first thing you’d say?

But let’s see what’s the first thing Zechariah says when he gets his voice back?

Well, far from recriminations and complaints against God,

he bursts into praise to the Lord (v. 64).

 

 

 

The very first thing he speaks is prophetic prayer, praising God.

Here is a man who has worked through and learned his lesson from life’s hardship.

He’s a man changed by grace.

He’s a man who has looked at things from heaven’s perspective. (Next week)

 

But what follows (vv. 68-79) are those first words that Zechariah spoke, the words of his prophetic praise.

 

Now you should note, most of ‘Zechariah's song’ (The Benedictus) is about, not his own son

But with the salvation that the yet unborn Messiah would bring.

Only two verses (76 and 77) refer to John the Baptist specifically;

the rest of this song is about what this child, who is not yet born, is going to mean to the world.

 

And look at the way Zechariah speaks about this un-born child, this un-born Messiah (vv. 68-69).

He speaks in the past tense: (He’s talking about Christmas being a past event and it’s not even Bonfire night yet!)

 

68 "Praise be to the Lord,

 the God of Israel,

because he has come and has redeemed his people. 

69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 

 

 

Here we have a man who nine months earlier;

didn’t believe God’s ‘good news’ concerning his wife having a baby,

a man who showed no signs of faith.

But now, following his experience, is a man of faith.

 

So much so, that he can now talk about God’s future events with so much faith and conviction that he speaks as though they have already happened.

Zechariah has moved from un-convinced to totally convinced.

 

But the Question you may be asking is convinced of what?

 

Convinced God has redeemed his people (Lk. 1:68)

Well, the first thing Zechariah is convinced of is that God ‘has come and has redeemed his people’ (v. 68).

 

Now what does it mean to be redeemed?

It’s a word we bandy around in church circles, to the point of jargon, but what does redemption mean?

Well, in the ancient world, ‘redemption’ was the language of the slave market.

When you bought slaves, you were said to be redeeming them – the slave owner no longer owned them,

you owned them; they were yours.

It’s the same language and imagery used of the Exodus story.

The Hebrew slaves weren’t free in the conventional sense of the word ‘freedom’.

True, they were no longer Pharaoh’s property,

they were God’s property.

 

Now sometimes, people don’t want to commit to following Jesus because they think that they will be giving up so much of their freedom;

But you see we kid ourselves if we think we have full freedom or autonomy;[1]

We either belong to God, because he has redeemed us from this present evil age

Or we belong to the ruler of darkness.

 

Zechariah, here, is declaring that we can be redeemed by God;

we can now belong to him.

 

Convinced God has saved his people (Lk. 1:69-79)

Now, the other thing that Zechariah is convinced of, is that God

 

‘has raised up a horn of salvation for us

in the house of his servant David’ (v. 69).

 

Now the salvation bit we probably have a handle on – God saving his people, rescuing his people – but by what means is he doing this saving?

Saved by what?

Well, we’re saved by ‘a horn of salvation’, it says it there in v. 69.

 

Yeah, thanks Rich, but what is a ‘a horn of salvation’

 

Saved by what? (v. 69)

Well it’s not a new range from Mr Kipling’s exceedingly good cakes

like some puff pastry affair stuffed with low fat cream and sugar free jam,

for those ‘post Christmas diet vow takers’ – ‘A horn of salvation’ indeed!

 

Neither is it a musical instrument,

maybe you were thinking it was like one of those ram’s horn ‘shofars’ that you see the Jews blowing every now and then.

 

No! The kind of horn that is meant here is the deadly weapon of the wild ox.

It’s an Old Testament symbol of power and strength;

it was the most powerful weapon

attached to the strongest beast that ancient people could envisage.

Today we might talk in terms of a main battle tank

or one of those ‘bunker-busting’ bombs – the sort that go through several metres of reinforced concrete before they explode.

 

So, for example, the prophet Micah says

Rise and thresh, O Daughter of Zion,

for I will give you a horn of iron;

I will give you hoofs of bronze

and you will break to pieces many nations (Micah 4:13).

Or as the Psalmist says:

For surely your enemies, O LORD,

surely your enemies will perish;

all evildoers will be scattered. 

You have exalted my horn like that of a wild ox. (Psalm 92:9-10)

 

So what Zechariah is saying,

in the best of Old Testament tradition,

is that nothing is going to stop God,

through Jesus Christ,

from powering through and smashing apart anything that is holding his people captive.

Like a charging bull, anyone or anything standing in his way is going to be trampled down and gored!

That is how mighty this salvation is.

Nothing is going to stop it;

nothing is going to stand in its way!

 

Saved from what? (vv. 71, 74, 77)

But if we have this mighty salvation, if we are being saved, it leaves open the question ‘saved from what’?

Well Zechariah says:

 ‘salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us’ (v. 71).

 

So I suspect, that in Zechariah’s mind and certainly that of his audience, the enemies that they had in mind were;

the Roman’s,

their Herodian toadies,

and a corrupt temple priesthood.

What the people of the time were looking for was political change;

if only the Messiah got voted in, then life would be so much better.

 

 

And it is no different today,

people think that a change in government

(or not having a change in government),

will solve all their problems – at least that what the politicians are telling us to believe!

But people today, have never been so disillusioned by politics,

it’s still the same old, same old;

taxes go up, wages don’t,

money is unwisely spent, and promises are broken.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t engage in politics

but I’m not sure that’s where salvation lies.

 

So, if it’s not salvation from political tyranny,

maybe it’s salvation from personal trials.

Certainly as we read through the rest of Luke’s Gospel,

we see that’s what a lot of people thought.

We read of plenty of people coming to Jesus to be freed from all manner of sickness, disease and demonic oppression.

How many times does Jesus have to get into a boat, cause the crowds keep swarming by,

wanting their bad life situations fixed?

 

Now I’m not saying that Jesus didn’t have compassion on the poor and needy, because he certainly did,

but he didn’t heal everyone, he didn’t put the Judean Health Service out of business, it was still only one widow’s son raised to life – and even he eventually died.

 

 

Now whatever you feel might be holding you in captivity,

whatever it is that you feel is bigger and stronger than you,

it’s not bigger and stronger than the salvation that our God has for us.

 

But, I’m not saying that those ‘post Christmas’ credit card bills are going to disappear,

and the car is still going to need an MOT at the end of January.

But our salvation is bigger and greater and more extensive than those things.

 

Now I think Zechariah speaks more than he realises when he speaks of ‘our enemies’ and ‘all who hate us’.

Because look down there at verse 77, he says that John the Baptist will:

 

give his people the knowledge of salvation

through the forgiveness of their sins

 

So God’s people will know what this mighty salvation is all about because their sins are forgiven.

 

Now it’s important to note: we’re not saved from our sins,

We’re saved because our sins are forgiven.

 

This means that we are saved from something else or someone else, because our sins have been dealt with – they have been forgiven.

That someone else is God.

The ultimate enemy that we need to be saved from is God himself.

God is so holy and righteous that he cannot bear to look upon sin – and we’re not just covered in the stuff, we are riddled with sin.

Christ’s death on the cross paid the sacrifice for our sins.

It is through Christ’s blood that we can be reconciled to the father;

that we can be at one with him;

it’s through Christ’s blood that we can know forgiveness of sins.

 

Saved for what? (vv. 74-75, 79)

But we are also saved for a purpose,

the question remains: saved for what?

 – It’s not about squaring the books with God,

and reserving a room in heaven for when we die.

Zechariah says in verse 74, that we have been rescued out of the hand of our enemy (that is God), so as ‘to enable us to serve him’.

God didn’t redeem his people from Pharoah, to have them lying around on celestial sun loungers by the Red Sea.

He had a job for his people at the time of the Exodus

and he has a job for us today, and it’s the same job, that is to serve him.

 

Because we are forgiven we can serve him without fear (v. 74).

We don’t need to worry that his presence in our lives will threaten our very existence.

We are not bowing and scraping and working at winning his favour – that has been secured by Christ’s death on the cross.

 

We are to serve him in holiness (v. 75). Now that doesn’t mean walking around with a pious smile on our face, or never sinning again. The word Holiness means ‘set apart’. Our whole lives are set apart for God’s service. We don’t just serve God on a Sunday – that would be part time for God. We are all called to be full time Christian workers; it’s just a matter of who pays your wages and what kind of work you do.

 

We serve him in righteousness (v. 75).

That means that we are now set in a right standing before God – we sometimes refer to it as justified.

We are no longer guilty;

the charges against us have been paid in full by Christ’s blood;

We now stand not in our own righteousness, but in Christ’s righteousness.

 

And finally we are to serve before him all our days.

We have not just been sent out into the world

with a message and some top tips with a note saying ‘see you at the end of the age’.

No! everything we do in service for the Lord is done right in his presence (that is before him).

Lo he is with us to the end of the age;

we have the indwelling Holy Spirit enabling us with boldness to share the gospel, serve others and face the trials of life.

 

Our job, like John the Baptist’s (vv. 78-79) is to show Jesus to those around us, through our words and our lives;

this is what it means to serve God.

We are to bring the light of the gospel to ‘shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death’.

We’re surrounded by darkness,

the shadow of death hangs over our friends and neighbours.

But we as God’s people are to be a city on a hill shining out to the nations; a beacon of hope and salvation.

Let Christ, through our lives and witness guide people’s feet into the path of peace with God;

the God who forgives sin because of the cross of Christ;

The God with whom we can have peace and not enmity. 

 


[1] A train is free only so long as it stays on its tracks; a train that jumps the tracks is "free" of the rails but no longer free in the most important sense of the word. It's a freed wreck that can't go anywhere. "Free," but no longer truly free.

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