Living in the Light of Love
Our Scripture lesson this morning is taken from Luke 1:67-80:
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.” And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
May God bless this the reading of His holy and infallible Word.
A we near the end of our Advent journey, the light grows stronger. We began our journey with but one point of light—Hope. Then we added another light—Peace. Last Sunday, we added the light of Joy, and today we have added the light of Love. The love which we look to today is not your ordinary love—it is God’s Covenant Love.
The Hebrews had a very special word for this love—Hesed.
Hesed is word that is impossible to translate with just one English word, but its essence is seen very clearly in Zechariah’s prophetic song. It is first of all an everlasting love.
It is an Everlasting Love
It is an Everlasting Love
This is seen in the opening three verses where Zechariah says God has “visited and redeemed his people…as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old”. Here Zechariah places our redemption at the very beginning of redemptive history. Notice that Zechariah does not say that God spoke by the mouths of his prophets, but by the “mouth of his prophets”, singular. Although the prophets were many, they spoke with one voice—God’s voice; and the message they spoke was message of love!
In the Old Testament, there are two ways God can visit a people: He can visit them with judgement or He can visit them with redemption. In this case, God visits His people with redemption. God accomplishes this redemption by raising “up a horn of salvation…in the house of his servant David”.
In the ancient world, a horn was a symbol of strength. Think of a mighty bull. With his horns a bull is able to deliver a crushing blow against His enemies. Zechariah speaks of this in vs. 71:
that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;
Our enemies are both spiritual and physical. In Christ’s First Advent, He defeated our spiritual enemies and in His Second Advent He will defeat our physical enemies. It is very important that we should keep this distinction clear.
At Christ’s First Advent many of the Jews missed that Advent because they had the expectation that the Messiah was coming to overthrow the Romans and make Israel first among all the nations. On Palm Sunday, the crowds were ready to make Jesus their King. When they realized that He was not that kind of King, they turned on Him and on Friday they were crying out, “Crucify him, crucify him”!
Today, many are making the same mistake. They think that if they just have enough faith, Jesus will deliver them from all their earthly problems, when this does not happen, they turn their backs of Jesus and walk away in unbelief.
Both the Jews then and those who live today should know better, because God tells us through His last and greatest prophet—John, exactly what the Messiah was coming for:
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,
Notice two things here:
John’s ministry was a ministry of preparation.
John prepares the people by giving them “the knowledge of salvation [and] the forgiveness of sins”.
Zechariah’s prophecy says nothing about creating resistance cells and recruiting militia, the things that must be done if it was God’s plan to overthrow the Roman government. In other words, his ministry and message were of spiritual redemption, not physical redemption.
God’s strategy makes sense when you think of it. There can be no lasting physical redemption until there is spiritual redemption.
To illustrate, let me ask you this: What got us in the troubles we are experiencing in the physical realm? Of course, the answer is rebellion and sin against God. That is an easy question—everyone knows the answers, but do you know the implications?
Until the sin problem is decisively dealt with, there is no point in setting up an earthly Kingdom. Sin will eventually tarnish a prematurely established Kingdom, just as it did the Garden of Eden. No, the full number of the redeemed must be gathered in and glorified, and then Christ will come again and then the New Heavens and New Earth will be established!
This is the order the prophets teach us, and it reveals not only the everlasting love of God, but the everlasting wisdom of God as well!
So, this present time is not a time of overthrowing kings and kingdoms, but for salvation and mercy. Which brings us to another aspect of God’s love—it is merciful.
It is a Merciful Love
It is a Merciful Love
Twice Zechariah speaks of God’s mercy in this brief passage. In vs. 72, “to show the mercy promised to our fathers”; and in vs. 78, where he speaks of “the tender mercy of our God”.
The biggest mistake people make about God’s love is that they deserve it; and they make this mistake because they do not take seriously their sins. John’s ministry and message was of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. Vast numbers came to Him repenting, in order to be baptized for the forgiveness of sin; but some came for other reasons. Namely, the Jewish religious leaders. They came to criticize and judge; and John warns them with these words:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
Do you hear why John called these men “vipers”? John did not call them “vipers” because they were worse sinners than other people, it was because they presumed God owed them His love and mercy because they were children of Abraham!
People today are still presumptuous, most people presume they are going to heaven because they are “basically good”, therefore God loves them!
Notice what John warns these presumptuous religious leaders of—not God’s love, but His wrath! The only reason that anyone is a recipient of God’s love is because of mercy. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “God shows his love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8), and “he saved us not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy” (Titus 3:5). As sinners, the only thing we can offer to God is our sin; but here is the amazing thing, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15)!
Just prior to Zechariah’s prophecy, there was a big debate over what the miracle baby born to Elizabeth should be named. Everyone in town wanted to name him after his father Zechariah, but both Elizabeth and Zechariah insisted that he already had a name—John—the name God gave him.
Do you know what “John” means? It means “God is gracious”! John’s very name pointed people to the merciful love of God.
Are you living in the light of that merciful love? Perhaps you doubt that God can be merciful to you. Do not doubt, because God is faithful to His promises. This brings us to the final characteristic of God’s love.
It is a Faithful Love
It is a Faithful Love
We see the faithfulness of God’s love in vss. 72-73. This is such an important point, (everything hinges upon it), that I should read these verses again:
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
God understands better than we do how amazing His love is toward us. God has every reason to hate us, but He chooses to love us! This is amazing Good News, and God knows that it is so good that it is hard to believe. Consequently, He makes a “holy covenant” with His people. In a covenant, a person swears to be faithful to their Word. People sometimes break their oaths, God never does! The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that in Christ “all the promises of God are Yes and Amen” (2 Cor 1:20)!
In the closing two verses of Zechariah’s prophecy, Zechariah speaks of how Jesus will be like a “sunrise” which gives “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death”. Zechariah goes on to say that Jesus is light in order to, “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). Two Sunday’s ago, we looked at how the biblical idea of peace or Shalom is much more comprehensive than we typically think of peace. It includes all areas of our lives, both physical and spiritual. To walk in the light of Jesus is to set your life on a course that leads to all areas of your life being as they should be. Verses 74-75 speak of what this life will look like someday:
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
The word “serve” is a very special Greek word that speaks of priestly service. These verses are speaking of worshiping God in the way He has commanded without fear. The day is coming when we will be able to serve God as we should without fear. We can count on it because God is faithful and keeps His promises. This is why we celebrate Advent, to remind us of these great truths, even when we are being persecuted by our enemies for “serving God in holiness and righteousness”.
God’s love is truly amazing. It is everlasting. It is merciful. It is faithful. Let us live in the light of that love.