We have been talking about ways to make room for Jesus in our heart these weeks before Christmas and last week we talked about how to follow Jesus in picking up your cross daily and denying your self. Tonight I would like to touch on other ways that God uses to make room in our hearts which is to take away fear and guilt.
Tonight let us listen and study as to what happened around the time of the birth of Jesus and we specifically want to look at what happened to Zechariah, the priest. Let us remember what God did to him and how that difficult time for him became a time of blessing.
“When Herod was king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless. 7 But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years.” (Luke 1:5–7)
But God, desiring to show that he regards the broken-hearted and that nothing human can stop his resolves on their behalf, sends the mighty angel Gabriel with a word for old Zechariah, verse 13, “Your prayer has been heard and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”
“14 And you will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth; 15 for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the Spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:13–17)
Luke 1:18-20, “Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." 19 The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."
How many times do we, like Zechariah, also not believe what God tells us through His word when it pertains directly to us? Often we believe generally what God says but at times it is hard for us to apply that truth to ourselves in our daily lives.
Nine months later Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist. At the child's circumcision the neighbors started to call the child Zechariah after his father, but, in obedience to God, Zechariah wrote on a tablet: "His name is John."
And immediately his tongue was loosed and he was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people, 69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us. In the house of David his servant—70 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
“72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, And to remember his holy covenant, 73 The oath which he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.”
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; 77 for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people. 78 in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercies of our God, by which the day shall dawn upon us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Zechariah had had nine months of silence to brood and ponder and pray and meditate on his Bible, the Old Testament. His silence was a divine rebuke for his unbelief, but God always turns his rebukes into rewards for those who keep faith.
Remember that, you who right now suffer from the scars of past sins. If you keep faith now God will turn the marks of sin into memorials of grace. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound (Romans 5:20).
I’m thinking of Zechariah in those months, groaning under God's rebuke, yet gradually he began to understand and to discover the reward. At first lacerating himself, "Why didn't I believe the word of God? Why did I have to be so skeptical? What a fool I was!"
But then, gradually, in the silence of those months (the angel had struck Zechariah deaf as well as dumb because in verse 62 it says they communicated to him with signs instead of speech)—gradually in the silence of those months, when he could not 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.
We cannot pass over this experience of Zechariah without making an application for our day. If we don't seek out moments of silence, we will probably not feel the stupendous significance of God's work in history on our lives. It would be a rare thing to be gripped and moved deeply in a noisy room with all the distractions all around us.
There is a close correlation between stillness and a sense of the stupendous. The most astonishing things about reality will not be perceived or understood by those who always use their cell phones for texting, their IPod’s, MP3’s, laptops and TV’s for constant background busyness.
What would it mean for your life if for nine months you could not hear or say anything! I have tried to imagine what it would mean for me. No preaching, no counseling, no communication. I would look a lot more into the eyes of my wife and children and do a lot more prayer and meditation on the Word of God all in absolute silence.
If God should ever give me such a period, I hope that I would turn it to as much good as Zechariah did. Because when Zechariah came out, he came out filled with the Holy Spirit and singing what has come to be known as the Benedictus, a song filled with insight and with a sense of the incredible significance of what was about to happen with the birth of Jesus.
So while we ponder now how we will seek some silence for ourselves, let us learn from what the Holy Spirit taught Zechariah. Most of Zechariah's song is taken up not with his own son but with the salvation the Messiah would bring. Only two verses (76 and 77) refer to John the Baptist specifically: He will go before the Lord to prepare his ways by calling the people to repentance. The rest of the Benedictus is about what the coming of Jesus is going to mean.
Zechariah begins in verse 68: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because He has visited and redeemed his people." Notice four remarkable things. First, nine months earlier Zechariah could not believe his wife would have a child. Now, filled with the Holy Spirit, he is so confident of God's redeeming work in the coming Messiah that he puts it in the past tense.
For the mind of faith, a promised act of God is as good as done. Zechariah has learned to take God at his word and so has a remarkable assurance: "God has visited and redeemed!"
For centuries the Jewish people had languished under the conviction that God had withdrawn, the spirit of prophecy had ceased, Israel had fallen into the hands of Rome. And all the godly in Israel were eagerly awaiting the visitation of God.
Luke tell us in 2:25 that the devout Simeon was "looking for the consolation of Israel," and in Luke 2:38 the prayerful Anna was "looking for the redemption of Jerusalem." These were days of great expectation. Now the long awaited visitation of God was about to happen—indeed, He was about to come in a way no one expected.
And He is coming to redeem. It took Jesus years to get the fact into his disciple's heads that "the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected . . . and be killed and on the third day be raised." There had been hints of this in the Old Testament (like Isaiah 53), but none of the Jews in Jesus' day understood this.
What Zechariah had in mind when he said God had visited and redeemed his people was probably similar to God's deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. It has not been revealed to Zechariah that this real deliverance will not happen at the first coming of the Messiah, but only at his second coming.
Notice about verse 68 is that God "has visited and redeemed his people." It is the "consolation of Israel" for which Zechariah hopes. It is the "Lord God of Israel" who is coming to redeem his people. The people Zechariah meant were the people of Israel.
God had the world in view, but He came to Israel first. Jesus said in Matthew 15:24, "I was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But just like there is a clue in Zechariah's song that God's redemption is more than national, so there is a clue that the beneficiaries of that redemption are more than Israelites.
That is the way Zechariah begins his song in verse 68, "The Lord God of Israel has visited and redeemed his people." Now in verse 69 he tells us how this visitation and redemption will happen, "God has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant, David."
Jesus is described as the horn of salvation. The kind of horn meant here is not a musical instrument but the deadly weapon of the wild ox. This is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is called a horn, so we must go back to the Old Testament, no doubt where Zechariah got the image, to see what it means.
Psalm 92:9 and 10 gives us a picture of what the horn stood for, “For lo, thy enemies, O Lord, for lo, thy enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered. But thou hast exalted my horn like that of the wild ox.”
The horn is a sign of strength and a means of victory. In Micah 4:13 God says to Jerusalem, "Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion, for I will make your horn iron and your hoofs bronze; you shall beat in pieces many peoples."
Verse 70 says that the coming of this horn of salvation was prophesied of old. One of the clearest examples of such a prophecy is Psalm 132:17, where God says concerning Jerusalem, "There I will make a horn to sprout for David. I have prepared a lamp for my anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame."
But in the Old Testament one always finds that God is the one who fights for Israel. He is the one who is strong and who gets victory over the enemies of his people. Therefore, it is not surprising that the only two instances of the phrase "horn of salvation" in the Old Testament are references to God, not man.
One is in 2 Samuel 22:3, and the other in Psalm 18:2. Both record the same psalm of David after God saved him from his enemy Saul. He says, "The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation." God is his defense (his shield) and his offense (his deadly and powerful horn).
He is a horn of salvation because He uses his power to secure and protect his people. And that brings us back now to Luke 1:69. Jesus is the horn of salvation because he is a deadly weapon and tremendous power which, according to verse 71, God uses to save his people from their enemies and all who hate them.
Zechariah means primarily; that the Messiah will one day literally destroy his enemies and gather his people into his kingdom and rule them in peace. And indeed, He will when He comes a second time. But Zechariah's words necessarily imply more than that.
Verses 74 and 75 show that the goal of God's redemption in raising up a horn of salvation is to "grant that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life."
God's aim in raising a horn of salvation is not merely to liberate an oppressed people, but to create a holy and righteous people who live in no fear because they trust Him. This means that the redemption spoken of in verse 68 must include redemption from fear of enemies and from all unrighteousness for all people.
We do not value or love an offer for help unless we know we are sick or endangered by some enemy. Vast numbers of people look upon Jesus and the Christmas story of his coming as a useless mousetrap, a crazy trip to the emergency room, a bothersome pickup by the police, because they don't know that they have a terminal illness called unforgiven sin, and they don't believe in the fearful enemy, Satan.
For them, the "horn of salvation" is a useless toy. For me, it is my only hope of recovery from this deadly disease of sin that infects my soul and my only protection from Satan, the most dangerous external enemy. And every one of us will die from this disease and be devoured by that enemy if there is no horn of salvation for us.
Consider 1 John 3:8, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." And notice Hebrews 9:26, "Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."
How many of you have fear and guilt? How many of us fear the unknown, fear the future with the mounting debt of our nation and our own debt, fear the direction that our society is heading, fear the growing destruction of all what we as Christians stand for, fear our ability to survive this economic downturn and fear of death itself ?
How many of us feel guilty at our inability to stop our sinful behavior, our continued lack of focus on God, our lack of love for our fellow man, our own anger and frustration dealing with everyday life? Do you feel guilty that you have not been as good a husband or wife or father or mother as you know you can be?
The good news of Zechariah's song—the good news of Christmas—is that God has raised up a horn of salvation. Jesus is the great ox-horn of salvation for all those who call upon him and trust him. Fear and guilt, the two great spoilers of life, have been taken away because Satan has been disarmed and sin has been forgiven.
Hebrews 2:14–15 says, "Christ took on a human nature that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage."
Let us remember that and be joyful as we look forward to Christmas, Amen? Let us pray.