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Luke 1:57-79

Zachariah’s Song: The Symphony of Salvation

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We study through books of the Bible here at The Village Chapel. We do have extra copies, if somebody would like a paper copy, raise your hand up real high. We’ll get somebody over here at this table to come out, and from the back as well. Keep your hand up real high, somebody will see. Thank you so much to those folks who are doing that for us. We really do appreciate it.

Our theme during Advent has been Good News of Great Joy: The Songs of Advent. Today we are on the second song of Advent. I’ve got this old quote by George Elliot, who was actually Mary Ann Evans. George Elliot was her pen name, because back in that day and time it was difficult for women to be published. So, she said:

“Christmas is the day of songs, for on this day the music of eternity came into time.”

George Elliot

I love that intersection. I love the historical move that that implies. And that the songs of eternity, the songs that really do speak to that longing in our hearts, these came into time.

We have all four of the songs of Advent on a slide. It goes like this: The Song of Mary, which pastor Matt led us through last week, Luke 1:26-55. Today, we’ll look at the Song of Zechariah and we’ll take a look at that. We’ll add a few verses from the beginning of Luke chapter one, but we’re going to focus in on 57 to 79, so you might want to be turning there. The Song of the Angels, next week Pastor Tommy will lead us in that study from Luke 2:1-14. Then we’ll finish up with the Song of Simeon, and all of these in the book of Luke.

I’m greatly enjoying reading that and just getting a sense for Dr. Luke. He’s a medical doctor but he writes also as a historian and even a theologian, because as Matt pointed out last week looking at those first four verses, Luke was very meticulous, very careful, very intent on finding out exactly what happened, and he makes that very clear in the first four verses. If you’ll turn with me there, we’ll pick up in verse five, read a little bit of backstory before we get to the song itself.

Each of these songs, by the way, has a context. In this particular song, an elderly Jewish couple’s marriage has been overshadowed by decades of disappointment. But we’re told that both of these individuals remain faithful to God and righteous. We get a surprise visit in this chapter from the same angel that visited Mary, his name is Gabriel and that apparently is part of his job description. If he had a T-shirt it would say, “Hi, I’m Gabriel, I do birth announcements,” that kind of thing. He’s that angel, that same guy. He’s also mentioned back in the Old Testament as well, in the book of Daniel where he’s not doing a birth announcement, but this is at least part of his job description.

But questions aplenty will arise, perhaps you’ll think of a few yourself. This morning as I was going through all of this, I was thinking, “… if I were them.” And about how many times I’ve actually been them in this sense, asking the question, “What’s God up to here? Why the long wait? Why not answering my prayers with a yes? Why not allowing this thing to happen or why not prevent that thing from happening?” So, these two, I think, seem to have crossed that same river, “Does God hear our prayers? Does prayer work? And how can we know if what we’re praying for is actually the will of God?”

Here’s Zechariah’s Song, “The Symphony of Salvation” is what I’m going to call it. I’m going to read through the entire passage. There’s a lot of text there, so it’s good for you to have the text in front of you, because you’ll be able to sink into it a little bit better. I’ll try to fill in a couple of things that you may find puzzling. It begins with the when. “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zechariah.” Now some of your translations say Zecharias and some of your translations say Zechariah. Which is it? It’s both, okay? Because one is merely a transliteration of the other one. It’s just spelled differently in Greek than it is in Aramaic or in Latin. If you happen to have a Latin Bible of some sort, you’re going to find variant spellings of some of these names and that’s okay. It’s the same guy. Anyway, in the days of Herod, by the way, king of Judea 37 to 4BC, very specific. Luke said he would be specific. Luke said he wanted to tell us exactly what happened. Luke writes like a historian and there’s great history to remind us that King Herod the Great was the king from 37BC to 4BC.

Well, there was a certain priest then named Zechariah of the division of Abijah, or Abijah, however you like to pronounce it. He had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. So here we have Zechariah whose name means “Yahweh remembers.” And here we have Elizabeth whose name means “God is an oath.” I love when you start thinking about these things lining up together, it’s just beautiful, isn’t it? “They were both righteous,” verse six says, “in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. And they had no child,” verse seven says, “because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.” When this storyline opens, they’re elderly, they’re older. They’re both from priestly lines; he’s from the division of Abijah. There were 24 divisions of priests. There were about 20,000 priests on the ground at the time in the first century. A lot of priests, okay? And she’s also from a priestly line as well.

It’s interesting because back then, to not have been able to have children would’ve had a bit of a social stigma. And in their religious context especially, when they were attaching spiritual value to the condition of someone’s life like this, if you were sick, they jumped quickly to suggest that you must be in sin, that’s why you’re sick. So, there would have been some social stigma to the fact that they had not had children. And yet because they’re both of priestly line, he finds himself engaged in priestly service. But they’re both older and they’re both righteous, Luke says, by the way. This gentile disregards the thought in the society at the time and simply says, “No, these folks aren’t sick. It’s not that they’ve been unable to have children because of some sinful act on their own part.” No, he makes it very clear that they were righteous, walking blameless in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But here they are still, without children, advanced in years.

Verse eight, it came about while Zechariah was performing, his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division. According to the custom of the priestly office…he was chosen by lot, they just drew lots, to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense, this would mean going into the Holy Place. Not the Holy of Holies where the Arc of the Covenant was, but the Holy Place just outside the Holy of Holies, separated by a thin veil. And a place that only the priest who was chosen by lot for that particular day to go in and offer the incense offering. It happened twice a day and he’s chosen; it only happens once in a lifetime for anybody. So, for Zechariah as a priest, this is literally the pinnacle, the height of his career as a priest. He got chosen out of 20,000. Each of the divisions would serve for one week, twice a year, and yet still the likelihood that your number would come up, that you would be the one to go into the Holy Place and burn incense on any particular day, was pretty rare. So once in the lifetime, there he is, and all of a sudden… By the way, while he’s doing that, verse 10, the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. So, you can literally see what’s happening there in Jerusalem on the temple mount, in your mind’s eye. You can see a big crowd outside, there outside, praying and worshiping God. The incense he burns is symbolic of the prayers of the people going up to the Lord, ascending to heaven.

And he, the priest, is representing the people before God. The prophets would represent God before the people, but the priest represents the people before God, and they offered up the prayers of the people. He himself had prayers as we will find out here. Verse 11, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zechariah was troubled, some of your translations might say startled, I would be as well. When Zechariah saw him and fear gripped him, the angel said, “Do not be afraid.” The most often repeated command in the Bible by the messengers from heaven, by the voice from heaven, by God himself or the angels that God sends. Most often repeated command is not “Do not dance.” It’s not “Do not smoke.” It’s not “Do not drink.” It’s not “Do not wear blue jeans to church.” It’s “Do not fear.”

The God of the Bible doesn’t want you to be afraid, doesn’t want me to be afraid of Him. And yet ironically, throughout the Bible we’re told the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of the Lord leads to life. When we have a healthy fear of God, we don’t need to have an unhealthy fear of anything else. So, the angel says, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your petition, your prayer has been heard and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you will give him the name John.” The name John means “Yahweh has been gracious.” You just see this thing coming together — it almost preaches itself. I might as well just take an offering and go home. I mean it’s just really good that way, isn’t it?

“You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.” This is John the Baptist, as we’ll find out later. And here’s a five-point resume from Gabriel, the angel, although he hasn’t identified himself yet, he’s about to. He gives a five-point resume for the baby boy that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, the elderly couple, are going to have. “He will be, one, great in the sight of the Lord.” We all work so hard to be great in some way, don’t we? Do we work hard at being great in the sight of the Lord, or do we just like to be great in the sight of Twitter? Or great in the sight of Facebook? Or great in the sight of our coworkers? Or great in the sight of our family members?

I love this, that this is the first of five things, I could spend a week here. He will drink no wine or liquor. Some of you are going, “Poor John. I mean how could he get any Christmas punch? How could he…” Yeah, this probably indicates the old Nazarite law or the Nazarite vows. It’s a guess, I’m speculating, but the Nazarite vows often would include the idea that you would abstain from something like that and maybe grow your hair out long, as Sampson did. “He will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink no wine or liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Holy Spirit filling people will be mentioned three times here in this first two chapters of Luke’s gospel. “And while yet in his mother’s womb…” Well, we actually see that happen. We did last week, didn’t we? In verse 41 when Mary enters the room and Elizabeth is pregnant, and the baby jumps like that, and 41 tells us she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

This happens exactly as this angel is telling Zechariah, “He will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him,” a forerunner before Messiah, Jesus, “In the spirit and power of Elijah to…” And this is a quote from Malachi 4, I love the way this entire narrative connects the Old Testament to the New Testament, and to Jesus, ultimately. But “He will turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

I just think of 1 Peter 2:10, you were once not a people, but now you are the people of God. It’s the same thing as saying, “You were once a people that had no identity and no sense of who you are, but now you are the people of God.” Who do you belong to? It’s really easy to answer that question because it’s all about who are you living in the sight of… Who do you belong to? Who is it you’re interested in honoring? In pleasing? In the song we heard up here, Gloria, it’s a beautiful word, means glory, renown, fame. It’s like saying blessed, which we’ll read here in the song of Zechariah in a minute, who do we live to bless, to honor, to glorify?

This one will be making ready a people prepared for the Lord. Verse 18, Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this for certain? For I’m an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” Now he just lost his spot, if he was even a candidate for the good husband, he just lost that completely. “I’m an old man and you ought see my wife, she’s really old.” I mean this is like, dude, you need marital counseling right now. I mean this is not a good way to go. “How shall I know this?” And he wants certainty. I like certainty, you probably can identify with that, a lot of us in this day and time like certainty. I like it for probably a couple of different reasons and they’re not all good. One of them is that I like to be in charge, and if I know, then I kind of can control, or at least I think I can.

This problem goes all the way back to the garden. I want to know what God knows because I want to be like God, I want to be my own god. I want to be the one to determine what’s good and what’s bad. I want to be the one who ultimately has the final word on everything. I want certainty. Now that’s what distinguishes… Remember last week with Mary, it was how can this be? Or how could this happen? With Zechariah, it’s “I want to know how this is going to be done.” And that’s a different ask altogether, right? “How can I know this for certain? I’m an old man, my wife is even older or she’s advanced in years.” The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God, and I’ve been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”

It’s interesting to me, the angel didn’t really answer his question. “How could I know this for certain?” And the answer is, “Dude, I’m Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God.” In other words, I’m not just any old angel. I’m not just some angel named Steve. I stand in the presence of God; I know what’s going on in the throne room. And I love this little thing here, his response. And so again he goes, “How can I know for certain,” looking for a sign, right? You got to be careful what you ask for. Gabriel’s going to give him a sign, all right, here it is: “Behold, you’ll be silent, unable to speak until the day when these things take place because you did not believe…” See Gabriel’s telling us what Zechariah’s motive, what was behind his question. “You did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”

In other words, God’s in charge of the timing and you will be silent until this is all fulfilled, and that will be the sign, that’s how you will know for certain. See, because I’m the guy… You’re probably this way too, but a lot of times I’ll pray, “Lord, do this, make this happen.” And sometimes something will happen as I prayed, and I’ll start to think to myself, “Well that happened because it was actually too cold outside,” or I’ll start giving some natural explanation for it that discounts the participation of God in the whole thing. Do you ever do that? Well, you don’t have to tell me. That’s fine. This is Gabriel saying, “You really want certainty? Okay, I’ll give you a sign that’s out of your control. You won’t even be able to speak until this thing comes about, as has been predicted.”

Well, the people outside were waiting for Zechariah and they began to wonder at his delay in the temple, probably wondered if he had died in there. Remember, nobody else is allowed in the Holy Place. He’s got two assistants that go in with him first, but they eventually leave, he burns the incense. It’s just been too long that he’s been in there and they’re concerned about whether he might have died in the presence of God. That close, one section of the temple away from the Holy of Holies, and they’re out there wondering what’s going on. He came out though and he was unable to speak to them, verse 22, as Gabriel said. And they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple, and he kept making signs to them and remained mute.

Now, this is the very first instance of the game of charades in the Bible. This is the first one and he comes out and he doesn’t know how to explain to them. I mean, think about what he’s trying to tell them. He comes out, it’s been too long and they’re all like, “Oh what happened?” What do you do? How do you communicate the kind of thing that you’re trying to communicate? It’s obvious he can’t speak but he’s doing what he can by making hand signs as he’s trying to explain to them, as he can’t speak.

It came about when the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home. Though I don’t know how many of you are married, when I do premarital counseling with couples, I usually tell them that there’s four things, real big picture things that most marriages fail over, and number two, three and four are money, sex, and power. What’s number one? Communication. Communication. I got no idea how well Zechariah and Elizabeth communicated, but I’m married and we’re in our fifth decade, and we’re still learning to communicate! You’re still missing each other from time to time. Does anybody else know what I’m talking about? You think you said A, B, C, somebody else hears D, E, F, and then you think somebody else said to you A, B, C, and you heard X, Y, Z, or whatever. It’s crazy.

So here he goes home and what little bit of ability he had to communicate is gone, and this probably was actually pretty good for their marriage. I’m kind of thinking this is good. Go home and learn how to do this all over again with a different means. So, he goes home to Elizabeth, his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months. Verse 24 says, saying, verse 25… I love this, I mean she’s just beautiful, “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when he looked with favor upon me to take away my disgrace among men.” Favor, the word is grace, it’s the same word.

There’s a really interesting summary. Then we break off as we did last week and we go to Jesus’ birth foretold, and Gabriel visiting Mary, Mary visiting Elizabeth, the Magnificat. And then look at verse 57. “Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth and she brought forth a son. And her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed his great mercy toward her, and they were rejoicing with her. It came about that on the eighth day, they came to circumcise the child. and they were going to call him Zechariah, after his father. And his mother answered and said, ‘No indeed, but he shall be called John.’”

Now that tells me right there that Zechariah and Elizabeth have learned some way to communicate, because the angel here in this case doesn’t appear to the woman, the angel in this case appears to the man. And the man somehow or another, with no ability to verbally speak, has been able to pantomime his way through and get to her the communication that the angel said the name isn’t supposed to be Zechariah Jr, it’s supposed to be John. Yahweh has been gracious, that’s what the name is supposed to be.

I also like the nosy neighbors. This is almost like an HOA problem here, isn’t it? Anybody know those HOA problems? Yeah, amen. Okay, good. They all want to have a say in this, don’t they? You all that have had children and stuff like that, I’m sure everybody’s giving you their ideas. We go through these waves and periods of time where certain names are really cool. A few years ago, there were a bunch of Justins and a lot of times, whoever it is, is named after some celebrity or some person that’s done something. Well, these guys tended to name people after some of the character traits that they have, and/or some father or grandfather. So, the whole community, the HOA gets together, and they want to name him Zechariah.

And I mean, this is the way I think about this, I’ve heard other preachers say the same thing. I think that the woman that goes through nine months of pregnancy is the first one that ought to have a right to name the child. And so, she comes out and says, “His name will be John.” Then they respond back in verse 61, they said to her, “There’s no one among your relatives who’s called by that name.” Here they are getting nosy and intruding. And they made signs to his father as to what he wanted to call them. Why they make signs to him, I don’t know. I think a lot of times when we’re communicating with somebody, we try to do what they do. “Hey Zach, shouldn’t he be named after you?” Or whatever. So, they made signs to him, he asked for a tablet, so they give him the ancient Etch A Sketch, and he wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And somewhere an angel named Gabriel leaned up against a wall and went. “Yeah, that’s the way we needed that to go down.”

They were all astonished. Verse 64, and at once his mouth was open and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. That’s what should happen when God is on the move and does what He promised to do, including when we go through times that, for us, are undesirable, like the silence he went through. And don’t miss this, the few decades of childlessness that they went through, don’t miss that. All of their life is about this moment and all of their life isn’t just about them. You see? All of their life now, because they belong to God, is about God’s redemption history and what God wants to do on the ground in this particular moment. I think the gospel is global and historic, but I also think it’s personal, and I think in this story we see that combination of things happening. That God’s caring not only for this couple, but also for the nation, and also for us so many years later. So, he now opens his mouth and speaks in praise to God.

Verse 65, fear came on all those living around them and all the matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them kept them in mind, saying, “What then will this child turn out to be, for the hand of the Lord was certainly with him?” In other words, this whole thing has a testimonial impact. They, the crowd, the HOA people and the neighbors, all of them, there’s something that’s happened to this older couple through all of their suffering and frustration. Through all of the silence of heaven and all of their prayers, and through this unusual experience of the last nine months of him not being able to speak and her walking around preening, with that bowling ball out front, as an older lady, pretty improbable. Whereas in Mary’s case, pretty impossible. This one’s pretty improbable, as well.

All of it turns out to have an impact on people, and so redemption history marches forward. And God removes the consequence because God rewards the obedience in this particular case. Well, the Song of Zechariah, I want to read that because that’s supposed to be the focus of this sermon. This father, Zechariah, of this kid that’s born, John the Baptist, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied. Here’s Zechariah, he begins with a word which is in Latin, it’s “Benedictus.” There’s a piece of music that people down through the ages have written around this song, and it’s generally called The Benedictus, and it begins this way.

The Father Zecharias, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. He has visited us, accomplished redemption for His people. He’s raised up a horn of salvation for us.” I mean, I’m kind of a literalist. I was thinking, “Man that trumpet sounded really good this morning, there’s a horn of salvation. This is more a reference to the animal horn. The animal horn meant the animal’s strength. When the animal had to fight. Sometimes they would use it in battle too, the shofar, and the army would move forward as they used the animal horn to announce the battle begun. “He’s raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David, his servant.” Verse 70, “As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” Look how that song connects the Old Testament to this passage. “Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,” lifted from Psalm 106. Zechariah the priest would know his Old Testament, right?

“To show mercy toward our fathers.” You should underline everything God does in this, He’s visited us, He’s accomplished redemption, He’s raised up a horn of salvation, He spoke through the mouth of the prophets, He’s brought us salvation from our enemies and the hand of those who hate us to show us mercy, verse 72, toward our fathers, to remember His holy covenant. God makes promises, God keeps promises. He doesn’t forget His promises, it’s not remember in that sense. It’s remember in the sense of He is mindful of His promises and He’s active in His promises.

Verse 73, “The oath which He swore to Abraham our father,” see he’s reaching all the way back to Genesis 22 there, “… 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.” There’s a four-point sermon in verses 74 and 75 right there. What’s the purpose of this salvation? That we might serve God. And do it in what way? In holiness. That means set apartness, and it means we look different, we act different, we think different from the culture around us that lives and thinks and acts as if God does not matter. If that was the case back then, what do you think about now? What do you think about our culture? Do they think and act and live and behave, and are their values as if God matters?

I’m excited about AI. Anybody excited about artificial intelligence? Raise your hand. I’m not particular. I’m a little nervous, to be honest with you, about AGI, the artificial general intelligence thing, because I don’t know how they’re going to, in some way, infuse moral values into these algorithms. Whose values are they going to choose? What will they think of that’s good, true and beautiful? How will we lose a sense of wonder and astonishment as this kind of technology develops and takes over? These are interesting questions, and we’ll continue to look into that. But I don’t want to detour too far from this, but God wants us to serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.

Verse 76, he now, in Zechariah’s Song, turns to the boy, John the Baptist, and he says, “You child, will be called the prophet of the most high. You will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways,” Malachi 3, “To give to His people the knowledge of salvation.” Isn’t that important? The connection between what you’re interested in, some kind of certainty, is now going to be replaced by the knowledge of God’s salvation, which will be God offering you assurances over and over and over again.

1 John 4… Actually, all of 1 John, the number of times that John writes and says, “That you would know…” “That you would know…” “That you would know…” You just got to get through that little short letter and count the number of times that he wants you to know something, it’s really amazing. That John the Baptist, “Would give his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the sunrise from on the high shall visit us to shine upon those,” Isaiah 9, “… to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Do we need that now? Has the acrimony ever been hotter? We talk about having a divided culture, divided nation, a divided world; we need something more than we have. We need some help from outside. We’re in our own darkness, a darkness of our own making. A darkness that we have turned to, a darkness that we are enchanted with, and now we are addicted to. And here breaks in the light into our darkness to offer us rescue, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Verse 80, Luke sums it up, the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit and lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. I love that. I want to get to just a couple of sermon points.

But first, a word about the overall view of the stranger things that we find in these Advent and Christmas stories. This is, I think so important, so critical. Is the Bible claiming that these things really happened? Yes. Is that good enough? Can we just leave that there? I don’t have a lot of time, but is this history or fantasy? This is history. Luke begins that way, in the days of King Herod. You want to triangulate that and find out what time of the world that was? 37 to 4BC. And this guy’s name, Zechariah from the line of Abijah. This is so specific, live body detail is everywhere. Is the incarnation in the Bible one of these examples where science and religion part ways, or is it in some way reasonable to conclude that science is the description of how God chooses to work in His creation most of the time? Scientific explanations.

If we believe that God created everything and remains sovereign over His creation, isn’t it quite reasonable to believe that God can choose to work in any way that He prefers to work? And if He intends to, once in a while, interrupt what is the normal course of events and unfolding of events, then perhaps God would have the right, as Creator, owner, to behave differently from time to time. Two of the most important examples of God behaving differently are the incarnation and the resurrection. And the Bible’s claim is that these events actually happened in space time history. And I for one, am glad that on those two occasions, God decided to behave differently. Really makes a huge difference.

Rebecca McLaughlin, writes in Is Christmas unbelievable? “What’s truly amazing about the Christian faith is the idea that the God who made the universe from quarks to galaxies also cares enough about us to be born as a human and to suffer and die to bring forgiveness and new life to broken people.”

Are you interested in that? Because we are all broken people, but He came to bring us new life, and to do that, He did something quite unusual. He behaved differently. God became one of us. Here we are all down here in our world, and we’re all trying to become God ourselves. We’re working the other way, and ironically the God of the Bible goes, “You guys got it wrong, I’m coming to you.” See? And he completely reverses the whole thing. Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna all stand out as examples of real people at times vacillating between faith and doubt, yet called to trust God at a pivotal moment in history.

The gospels serve as a reminder the God of the Bible is concerned with both global and historic big picture stuff, as well as with the personal, human stories, ours, at any given point in history. Michael Wilcock in The Message of Luke, “If I am concerned about the vital matter of salvation,” which this is really a Symphony of Salvation, isn’t it? “If I’m concerned about that, then whether I like it or not, there is no evading what seems to be the exotic surroundings in which it is brought to my notice. Angels, predictions, miracles, are an intrinsic part of the gospel, because it concerns a supernatural break-in to our world, as unexpected as the message to Zechariah, and as staggering as the one to Mary.”

What is Zechariah’s Song all about? Surprisingly, it’s not really about the sweet, older couple who we all kind of went, “Oh man, that’s cool it worked out for them.” The song of Zechariah doesn’t say that. The song that Zechariah chose to write is not, “Me and Elizabeth got together and finally the Lord was good to us.” No, the song of Zechariah, is, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel because He has visited us, and He brought salvation to us.” It’s a salvation symphony, that’s exactly what it is.

It begins with the declaration of the greatness of God, not merely implied, not just indirectly inferred to here, explosively, exuberantly declared. Zechariah knows that God is worthy of praise because of His greatness in bringing salvation and redemption. And God alone has the authority to forgive sins, and God alone is the one who can do that and has come to do that. But notice how great God is, His salvation they put on offer is not merely salvation from something, it’s salvation for something as well. Salvation from my sin, from my pride, from my self-obsession, from my darkness, yes. Salvation for serving the Lord, for holiness, for righteousness, for leading me to the way of peace.

In evangelical American churchianity, we spend a lot of time talking about the judicial aspects of the atonement, and so we should. So, we should. We should spend a lot of time on that. We need that as the foundation, and the base, and the beginning. But we also need to know what we’re saved for, not just what we’re saved from. We sing it all the time when we think about the greatness of God, and when I think that God, His Son not sparing, sent Him to die. Say it. I scarce can take it in, that on the cross, my burdens gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin. Then sings my soul, my savior, God, to Thee. How great thou art. How great Thou art.

That’s right. Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee. How great thou art. How great thou art. That’s right, we sing it all the time, we know He’s great. We come here to remind ourselves that He is great. A. W. Tozer says,

“The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but His goodness encourages us not to be afraid of Him, to fear and not be afraid – that’s the paradox of faith.”

A.W. Tozer

That really leads me to the second point, Zechariah’s Song, the Symphony of Salvation declares the greatness of God, but it also describes the goodness of God. He visited; He didn’t have to. He visited. I say it all the time, You didn’t have to come, why’d You come? Because You’re good, that’s why You came. He didn’t owe it to us. I don’t have a claim on God, “You must come. Look at me, I’ve been a good little southerner, I go to The Village Chapel. I’ve read my Bible, my One Year Bible for 10 years in a row,” or whatever.

No, none of that. God is great, but He’s also good. And I’m so glad that He’s both, because He could be great and not be so good. We’ve all seen that down through history. That’s a difficult thing, when someone has a lot of power but doesn’t have character or goodness. I love this quote from Philip Yancey. He talks about George Buttrick, former chaplain at Harvard, who recalls that students used to come into his office, plop down in a chair, and in talking to the chaplain they would say, “I don’t believe in God.” “Buttrick would give this disarming reply, ‘Sit down and tell me what kind of God you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that God either.’ Then he would talk about Jesus, the corrective to all of our assumptions about God.” Here’s Jesus coming to correct our understanding of God, our view of God. He is the exact representation of God. 

Point three, Zechariah’s Song, Symphony of Salvation declares the greatness of God, describes the goodness of God and delights in the grace of God. That last couple of verses there, as Zechariah sings about his boy, John the Baptist. I mean, can you imagine going, “Hey,” holding that kid like that and going, “You know what? I just can’t wait to get you your first little camel hair outfit.” And when they had the baby shower. I wonder if Elizabeth said, when people said, “Where are you going to register?” And she goes, “Well, we’ll register at the Target down in Nazareth, but here’s what we really want, here’s what we really need, some locusts and wild honey. Okay, so could you guys maybe get us some locusts and some wild honey? And of course, we’ll need a camel seat for the baby, and we’ll need…” And on and on it goes, right? And it’s John the Baptist that’s going to be there. I love this whole thing.

But delighting in the grace of God is the point here. See, it’s to get us back, as the song says and as the angel said before that, to get us to turn the hearts of the people back to the Lord. That’s repentance. That’s receiving this grace of God and repenting joyfully because we know that our salvation has been purchased by Christ. It’s done. He’s finished. He’s done it. That’s why we come to these tables once a month to celebrate what God has done for us.

Not only was the Lord aware of this couple personally, and aware and caring about the deepest longings of their hearts, but God had a redemptive purpose way beyond their wildest imagination. God was also accomplishing His purpose, to send the last of the Old Testament style prophets, the one who would be the forerunner of the Messiah, the one who would come and who would point Jesus out as the Messiah. And their names together are just so beautiful. Zechariah, remember, is the shortened version of Yahweh remembers. Yah remembers, God remembers. Elizabeth, God is my oath. God remembers that God is my promise, and God has been gracious.

See, I don’t want to make too much out of all of that. I don’t want you to go home and rename your kid to try and make them do something or be something. I’m not talking about that, but I’m just seeing the thread here. The gospel is huge. It’s global enough to be offered to the entire world because of what happened there. And this couple got to be a part of it. Looking back, I’m sure for them, it was pretty profound. N.T. Wright says,

“God regularly works through ordinary people doing what they normally do, who with a mixture of half faith and devotion are holding themselves ready for whatever God has in mind.”

N.T. Wright

Could we do that? Let’s hold ourselves ready for whatever God would like to do. As a church, as individuals in this church, let’s make ourselves ready; make our lives, make our suffering, make our waiting, make our frustration, put it all on the altar.

Lord, use it how You wish. I know You’re doing something, You’re always doing something, Lord, so continue to do something. See, this changes the way we look at virtually everything in our life. Lastly, from Keller,

“Gospel narratives are telling you not what you should do, but what God has done. The birth of the Son of God into the world is a gospel, it’s good news, it’s an announcement. You don’t save yourself. God has come to save you.”

Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas

Tim Keller from his book Hidden Christmas, which I highly recommend to you. As grateful recipients of God’s grace through Christ, let us give thanks to the Lord in prayer.

Lot of text there this morning, Holy Spirit, I pray that You’d cut through any of this trivial stuff I did, and pray that You, Lord, would use it to point us to Jesus. Help us to see Your heart toward us and help us to see our need of You. And also, in this Symphony of Salvation, Lord, to see what You’ve done about our need for Your salvation that You’ve put on offer. Lord, we come today to give You thanks for that. And part of that, Lord, each and every one of us just want to open our hearts to You more this morning than we did when we first walked in here. Open our hearts and our minds that the Holy Spirit would speak to us. Show us things we cannot see because we’re mad or selfish or prideful. Open our hearts, Lord, humble us if it needs to be done, like You did Zechariah. But Lord, bring us to the place where the sweet song of salvation is falling freely from our lips and infusing every bit of our lives. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen and amen.

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