Wait Upon the Lord with Gratitude
They called Hetty Green “The Witch of Wall Street.” She died in 1916, leaving behind an estate valued at over one billion dollars. Even accounting for inflation, a billion dollars is still a lot of money, but in 1916, it was an almost unimaginable amount. You would think that with this much money, Hetty Green would be living like a queen, but not so. Every morning Hetty Green ate her breakfast cold because she did not want to pay to heat her oatmeal. Her son had to have his leg amputated because she did not want to pay to take him to the doctor. Hetty Green was rich, but if you had seen her, you would have thought that she was dirt poor.
Too many Christians live like Hetty Green. In Christ, we are rich, but most of the time you would think we are dirt poor! This is nothing new, did you notice in our Scripture reading from Ephesians that Paul goes out of his way to describe how rich we are in Christ? He even goes so far as to say that he is constantly praying for the Ephesians that they might have “the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened” in order to see “what are the riches of God glorious inheritance in the saints.”
Perhaps you thinking to yourself right now, “I sure hope Paul, up in heaven is praying for me right now, because I don’t see my “riches”. All I am see this year is inflation, shortages, COVID and division within my nation, even in my own family!
With the eyes of my head, I see all those things too, but Paul is not praying that we can see our eyes, but within our heart. The type of riches we have in Christ are not things we can see with of our physical eyes, they are blessings found in “heavenly places” (Eph 1:3).
So how do we open the eyes of our hearts?
Zechariah shows us how in his hymn of praise. His hymn begins with the word “blessed”. In Latin, the word for “blessed” is Benedictus. This is why this hymn is called the Benedictus.
A “benediction” is a “blessing” we give another person. Each week, we close our service with a benediction. At that time, I as your pastor, pronounce God’s blessing upon you. However, Zechariah’s hymn reminds us that there is another aspect to benedictions—in worship, we are to pronounce our blessing upon God!
Why are we to do this?
It is very clear from Zechariah’s hymn that it is because of gratitude for all the gracious things God has done and will do for His people. Gratitude opens the eyes of our hearts! So, let us take a closer look at Zechariah’s hymn.
One of the more surprising features about this hymn is that Zechariah uses the past tense to speak of future events. In vs. 68 and 69, Zechariah says that God has “visited”, “redeemed” and “raised up a horn of salvation” for His people. However, from the context, it is clear he is speaking of future events.
What is going on here?
Verse 67, is the answer, Zechariah’s hymn is a prophecy; “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied”. One of the ways prophets communicated that what they were prophesying about was surely to come to past, is they would use the past tense to speak of future events. It is as if they were saying, “It is already a done deal!”
This is very helpful in showing us how we can open the eyes of our hearts with gratitude. Not only can we have gratitude for what God has done for us and is doing for us, but we can also have gratitude for what He will do for us! Just as the prophets could speak of what God was going to do in the future in the prophetic past tense, we can look to the future with a prophetic gratitude! This is why Advent is about waiting upon the Lord with gratitude.
With this in mind, let us look at what Zechariah was grateful.
The first thing he says is that God has “visited” His people. When the Bible speaks of God “visiting” His people, it means one of two things. It can either mean that God is coming in judgement or in redemption. The context here is clearly redemption. The next things that Zechariah says God will do for His people is “redeem” them and “raise up a horn of salvation”. He is clearly speak of the promised Messiah, whom his son, John will be the forerunner of.
For Zechariah, all of this was the very near future. Already, Zechariah had surely learned from his wife Elizabeth that the Messiah was in the womb of her cousin Mary. The light at the end of the tunnel was not a distant speck for Zechariah, rather he was at the end of the tunnel, about to step into the light. No wonder he “shouted” as he pronounced this prophecy!
The central theme of Zechariah’s song is the forgiveness of sins, and this would be the central theme of his son John, when he grew up:
Forgiveness in the past!
Forgiveness in the present!
Forgiveness in the future!
Of all the riches we have in Christ Jesus, the forgiveness of sins is the greatest treasure. Forgiveness makes us exceedingly rich!
Perhaps we do not appreciate the riches of forgiveness, because we do not appreciate the poverty of sin.
Have you ever been to New York City? The Big Apple is a wonderful place. Many will tell you that if you want a view of the New York skyline, go to the Brooklyn Bridge. If you want New York entertainment, go to Broadway. If you want New York inspiration, go to the Statue of Liberty. If you want to shop in New York, go to Fifth Avenue. But if you want to be depressed in New York, go to West 44th Street and spend a few minutes looking at the U.S. National Debt Clock. The sign is twenty-five feet wide, weighs 1,500 pounds, and uses 306 light bulbs. It constantly and mercilessly announces the U.S. debt and each family’s share.
Did you know that you have a debt clock? So do I. Everyone on the planet has their own personal debt clock. We all have a clock that counts our insults, our ugly words, our evil acts, our raised fists, our cold shoulders, and all our failed promises.
Thank God, though, that we are rich in divine forgiveness. God’s forgiveness not only lays at the heart of Zechariah’s song, the motif frames Luke’s gospel. In Luke 3:3, John the Baptist announces, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In Luke 24:47—at the end of the gospel—Jesus announces to his disciples “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel”, the debt we owe God has been paid for in full! On Calvary’s mountain Christ paid for every sin. Completely! Freely! Eternally! Hallelujah! What a Savior!
I once heard about a little boy who was visiting Washington, D. C. He walked up to a park ranger and said, “I want to buy the Washington Monument.” The park ranger thought he’d have a little fun, so he said, “How much have you got?” The little boy pulled out $1.87. The ranger said, “Let me tell you three facts. Number one, it’s not for sale. Number two, even if it was for sale, you couldn’t afford it. And number three, since you’re an American, it already belongs to you.”
These same three facts are true of Christ’s forgiveness for us. Number one. It’s not for sale. Number two, even if forgiveness was for sale, we couldn’t afford it. And number three, it already belongs to us—Christ’s forgiveness completely belongs to us! Lock, stock, and barrel! Ephesians 1:7 states that in Christ, “… we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”
We’re not spiritually bankrupt! We’re not stuck in spiritual poverty! Gospel wealth is ours, free of charge! That’s the heart and center of Zechariah’s song. Divine forgiveness leads to the goal of Zechariah’s song. He states it in Luke 1:79, “To guide our feet into the way of peace.” With these word, Zechariah, points us to the present and the future. In the present, we are to walk in the way of peace, even though the world is at war with us.
Not everything in Zechariah’s prophecy has come to past. We do not live in a world where we “saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us”. What the Old Covenant prophets did not understand is that after walking into the light of the First Advent, the people of God would have to walk into a second tunnel of waiting for a Second Advent.
This time however, our waiting is different, it is a waiting in the light of the First Advent, and this Advent gives us an even greater gratitude than the gratitude Zechariah felt.
It is true we live in a world that hates Christ and everyone who bears His name, but because of gratitude we do not wait as victims, but as victors!
Remember, how I told you the prophetic past tense is a prophet’s way of saying that God’s promises are a “done deal”?
This mean we do not have to wait for the New Heavens and New Earth to live like citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Recently I read this by the theologian James White, “Your anxiety about tomorrow is directly proportional to your lack of faith in the reality of the true joy of heaven and the reality of eternal life. Look inside the tomb. Leave your fears next to the linen grave cloths.”
It not just our fears we can leave in the empty tomb, but everything can keeps us from “walking in the way of peace”. Things such as anger, resentment, unforgiveness, selfishness and envy. The Apostle Paul tells us that all the sinful junk in our lives we can “crucify with Christ” and we can be “raised with Christ” to live a new life!
Brothers and sisters, we are rich in Christ Jesus. Let us open the eyes of our hearts with gratitude.
“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!”