A Call to Unwavering Hope
Growing up, my family had a family tradition during Christmas time. I’m sure that many of your families did as well. One of those traditions was watching a well-known Christmas movie. How many of you are familiar with “A Christmas Story” from 1983? Yes, kids 1983, it’s an “old” movie … in this movie, a young man named Ralphie has one specific present in mind for Christmas, which is a “Red Ryder” air rifle. He told just about everyone who would listen that this was the gift he wanted. However, every adult warned him, “you’ll shoot your eye out” and cautioned against it. Although there was so much discouragement after he told everyone what he wanted, Christmas morning comes around and he still has a glimmer of hope. Spoiler alerts ahead in case you have not seen the movie. Christmas morning comes around, and he and his little brother rip apart all the presents, but once everything is opened, Ralphie is devastated because he did not receive the air rifle. However, in a classic Dad move (brothers, take note), his father gets Ralphie’s attention, and says “hey, what’s that over there” pointing behind the piano (if my memory serves me right), so Ralphie runs over, and pulls out this large box, unwraps it … and behold, the Red Ryder air rifle! All his hopes have come true!
This morning, we’re back in the First Songs of Christmas from Luke’s Gospel, and today we’ll be looking at the song of Zechariah. Zechariah, like Ralphie, had hoped and prayed for something too. And we’ll see in our passage today how the Lord answered this prayer and this hope that he and his wife held onto for many years. His song also will reveal that they had hoped for other promises as well.
And just as we did last week, we will provide some background to this song before we dig into it. First thing that we should bring our attention to is Luke 1:8, where Luke identifies Zechariah as a priest. The role of the priest in those times are not like what we would know them as today. They – likely are very large group – performed certain tasks in the temple. Back in 1 Chronicles 24, David divides the duties of the priests with 24 different tasks or duties to perform during a two-week period in the year, or two one-week periods in the year. In verses 6-10, we see that Zechariah was chosen to burn the incense, which was a very rare occasion – some believe that this was likely his one and only time to do this. While he was performing this specific duty, he was visited by the angel about the child that he and Elizabeth had been praying for, for many years. And as we will soon find out, this child would not be like most children. He will play a very special role in history. It’s also noteworthy that having children in the Hebrew culture was considered a blessing from God, and knowing that both Zechariah and Elizabeth were old, the likelihood of having a child was slim to none – apart from God. This chapter shows us that Zachariah was a man of prayer, but verse 18 also reveals his human side, one that resulted in doubt. Because of this doubt, the angel silenced him.
It wasn’t until verse 64 that Zechariah’s voice was restored. Notice too, why it was restored. Back in verse 13, the angel told Zachariah that his son was to be named John, and in Zachariah’s obedience to this – instead of going with the cultural norms – his voice was restored. Names, by the way are very important in that culture. The name John means “the Lord is gracious,” and the name Zechariah means “the Lord has remembered.” But what’s most important is that it was God who named John. This means it was special. So, Zechariah’s act of obedience was an indicator of his faith. The first thing we see from him when his voice as restored is that he blessed God. With this background in mind, let’s read Zechariah’s song from Luke 1:67-79:
And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
This song is known as “The Benedictus” which is the Latin word for “blessing” and the first word of this song.
Just as we saw last week, there are two major parts of this song.
First part is found in verses 67-75, which not only focuses on what God has done, but also emphasizes that God is playing out the plan of redemption that has always been in place.
What this section reveals, is that while Elizabeth and Zechariah were waiting in hope for a child, there was also a hope for the arrival of the Messiah. The One in which they were waiting for. There are several signs to this in the first section.
· First, we see his reference to the God of Israel who had redeemed His people. This was likely a reference to the Exodus, where the Lord delivered His people from slavery. Like the Exodus, the anticipated arrival of the Messiah will deliver His people from slavery to sin.
· Second, Zechariah mentions this horn of salvation in verse 69. This idea of a horn speaks to the power of the Messiah, and His ability to protect – just like the horn of an animal, which uses it for both protection and for defense. Ultimately, Zechariah paints the picture of a powerful savior that was to come.
· Third, Zechariah builds on this theme, and speaks to the Savior’s triumph over His enemies. One can make the connection here that Zechariah is referring to Christ’s victory over sin.
· Fourth, and finally, the reference to Abraham in verse 73 must refer to the blessing that Abraham received from God in Genesis 12:3, which reads:
I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
The second part is Zechariah’s prophecy concerning his son. The son whose purpose was to prepare the way for the Savior of the world. We already know from verse 15 that he was already filled with the Holy Spirit, so like his father here, he will speak the words and deliver the message that God was leading him to. The message from John is full of hope, isn’t it?
Here is the main idea from our passage this morning:
Zechariah’s song is a call to unwavering hope.
When we go back to verse 13, we can see how Zechariah was a man of hope, as the angel told him that his prayers were answered. This implies that he continuously prayed for a child. Let’s explore this passage more and discuss …
WHERE TO FIND HOPE DURING THIS SEASON
We can identify five ways that Zechariah demonstrated hope, and in doing so, we can find the same hope, even today:
· Hope in the Lord’s fulfillment of His promises
o We see this in three ways in this passage
· In 2 Samuel 7, we read all about God’s covenant with David,
o In the opening verses, just as we see in Zechariah’s song, the Lord provides rest from his enemies
o We also see that God promises to build David a house, which points towards the Temple which later points to Jesus
o Which is later stated that through David, One will sit on the throne “forever”· In Isaiah 11:1 and Jeremiah 23:5-6, we see that through David, the Messiah will come.
· Next, we see the example from …
§ The Prophets (70)
· A prophet, as referenced here, are those Old Testament messengers of God, who spoke and warned of future events.
· In respects to Jesus’s first coming (His birth) one Prophecy expert lists 125 prophesies that Christ fulfilled with His birth. The same expert lists 329 prophies that have yet to be fulfilled but will be when Christ returns.
· For example, as mentioned a moment ago, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah – they all speak to different aspects of the birth of Jesus – as well as other prophets.
· Furthermore, we see elsewhere in Isaiah, namely 7:14 that He would be born of a virgin, in Isaiah 9:6-7, we read that Jesus would be born through the line of David.
· So, Zechariah here is acknowledging that God has fulfilled His promises through the coming of Jesus, the Messiah
· The next example is in …
§ Abraham (73)
· In Genesis 12:3, which we looked at earlier and in Genesis 22:18 we see that all nations would be blessed through Jesus.
o Zechariah celebrates that the Lord was fulfilling His promises.
§ Think about it, this must have been a great relief, as no one spoke on behalf of the Lord for about 400 years until this point. So, hearing God once again, and His fulfillment gave Zechariah hope, once again. Next, we see …
· Hope in the Lord for His mercy
o We see this in two ways:
§ Physical Deliverance (71, 74)
· Building on the picture we painted earlier with the Messiah being a strong and mighty savior, we can see why he speaks to the Messiah delivering them from their enemies.
· We know that when Jesus was born, and began His public ministry, that many were expecting this military type of Savior.
· In the Second Coming, we know that we will be delivered physically, but in His First Coming we see …
§ Spiritual Deliverance (68, 76-79)
· This speaks of course about the plan of redemption in Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection that we mentioned moments ago.
· Once again, let’s not forget that these words are from Zechariah, who through the Holy Spirit received understanding of what was to come.
o One can even argue that he is speaking of both/and
o Next, we see …
· Hope in God’s plan of salvation
o John’s whole purpose of his ministry was to prepare the way for the Lord.
§ We see in verses 76-77 what this preparation was to look like
o We’ve just seen this in the example of God’s fulfilled promises.
o What this song does is remind us that this was God’s plan all along.
o It reminds us, just as we saw last week, that we all are in need of a savior. And it’s Jesus that gives us peace. It’s Jesus that gives us hope. It’s Jesus who gave us an opportunity to trust in Him alone for salvation. Next there is …
· Hope to serve the Lord without fear
o This verse may allude to both a present and future deliverance from the physical enemies of the time
o There could also be some allusions to the various enemies that the Christian faces, including sin, self and Satan
o The Bible – which as a Church, we hold as authoritative – teaches clearly that the wages of sin is death, therefore, until we surrender to Christ, these enemies will continue to hold us captive. In Christ, we are set free from this captivity. When victorious, no longer does the Christian live in fear. Finally, there is …
· Hope for peace in Jesus Christ
o The word peace here is a complete state of well-being.
o It’s a type of peace that is only possible in Christ.
o This peace is light in darkness, and victory over death.
o In both verse 68 and 78, Luke uses the word visit, this word here literally means “to look after,” so when Luke says that the sunrise shall visit from on high, he is alluding to the light from verse 79.
§ The NET Bible adds these notes: “the Messiah is pictured as a saving light that shows the way. The Greek term was also used to translate the Hebrew word for ‘branch’ or ‘sprout,’ so some see a double entendre her with messianic overtones.”
This morning we’ve seen that …
Zechariah’s song is a call to unwavering hope.
Now, we haven’t touched too much on the ministry of John, as prophesied by his father, Zechariah.
Verse 76 reminds us that John’s purpose was prepare a way for Jesus, the Messiah.
What’s really neat is that while this hope that Zechariah had for a son was fulfilled, his blessing became our blessing because John paved the way for Jesus. So, in a since, our roles are much like John’s, in that we are to prepare the way for people to experience hope, in Jesus.Preparing the way for Jesus is a bit different than the ways I’ve prepared the way for people in the past. I’ve had and left many jobs over my adult life – most of the time for a promotion – and I always tried to do my best to make sure my successor was set up for successes. If there were outstanding projects, I made sure to get those completed or delegated. If there were low hanging fruit, I made sure to get those handled. If there was training that needed to be completed, I made sure it was done. Clean slate, that was always the goal. I wasn’t always successful, of course. Something always seems to come up, doesn’t it?
John’s role was much different than that, wasn’t it? His role was critical, according to Zechariah’s prophecy, as he was to tell people of salvation and the forgiveness of sins. He was to tell people that the Messiah was here, and they better be ready.
With this in mind, and as we close, let’s discuss …
WHAT PREPARING THE WAY OF THE LORD LOOKS LIKE TODAY
· Being filled with the Holy Spirit
o Notice that back in verse 67 when Zechariah prophesied, he was filled with the Holy Spirit
o In the Gospel of John, Jesus promises His disciples the arrival of the Holy Spirit. We know from this account that the Holy Spirit dwells in each and every person who is a genuine follower of Jesus – a Christian. Elsewhere, we learn that the Holy Spirit guides us and directs us. He convicts us. He comforts us, and even gives us understanding.
o Here, we see that without the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Zechariah would not be able to speak this prophecy.
o In other words, just as we saw last week, we must rely and follow the leading of the Lord.
o Next, we are preparing the way by …
· Sharing the message of Jesus with someone else
o We all have opportunities to do this every day.
o This was an important message then, and it is equally important today. What’s difficult in today’s culture is that many people don’t see the need for a savior. Romans 10 reminds us that people cannot be saved from their sin without hearing the Gospel. Jesus commissioned each and every one of us to speak the Gospel into the lives of others.
o Are you sharing the message of salvation with others?
o While verse 80 is not part of our passage for today, it speaks volumes to the ministry of John:
And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
o Matthew 3:1 and 11:7 gives us the impression that John was preaching in the wilderness.
o John’s growth was not only physical, but we see that he also grew spiritually. This was the purpose of John all along according to verses 14-15
Maybe today you are discouraged, stressed, or simply worn out.
This can be a very difficult time for many people. This song today helped us to see that we can experience hope, even in the most trying of times. Zechariah and Elizabeth did not expect to have a child, not after all these years. They didn’t even expect to see what the Lord did with their cousin, Mary. Yet, with the Lord – all things are possible. Just like we saw with Mary last week, Zechariah was an ordinary man, chosen by God to be part of something amazing and life changing – but not just for himself and Elizabeth, but for all of mankind.
His response to this gift from the Lord is what I believe is something that we can learn from. He responded with praise. He responded with a public blessing.
How will you respond today?