December 23 2012 (audio file)
Well, here we are a couple days till Christmas. If you are a regular attender here, you know that we have been studying the book of James lately. We will pick that back up next Sunday. Last week in light of the tragedy in Newtown Ct. we hit pause on our study to look at how scripture speaks to tragedies like that one. If you missed it, there is an audio recording up on the web. We have been trying to get it up on the church website, but that has not been working, so if you want to hear it, you can go to my blog, thiliminalstate.com, and there is a link there that you can hear it. I will be uploading the recordings of my sermons there until we can get them onto our website. This week we are going to look at the Christmas story, since it is, well, Christmas.
We aren’t going to look at the normal texts that people look to for our study however. Most times when I go to read the Christmas story, I go to Luke 2, since that is the Gospel that has the most detailed account of the events leading up to and surrounding Jesus’ birth. I don’t often read or give much thought however to the verses leading up to Luke 2. There is the account of Mary being visited by the angel, and then Zachariah going into the Temple and seeing Gabriel and being told that he was going to have a son. What I want to focus on are the words that Zachariah spoke after he had once again regained his ability to speak, and presumably to hear.
If you aren’t familiar with the story leading up to our text this morning, let me summarize. up until this point, there had been 400 years of silence from God. No prophet had spoken to Israel, no great move of God, for 400 years. Rome had taken over most of the known world at this point and had built an extensive network of roads. Communication and travel were at an unprecedented level. The spread of greek and Roman culture had done much to harm the people of Israel, while at the same time unifying the middle east like never before. The Hebrews were an oppressed people for sure. They were under Roman Rule, and longing for something. They were longing for the promised one. The one that God promised to Adam in the Garden, the one that would crush the head of the serpent, the one promised to Abraham, that would bless the entire world, the one promised through Isaiah that would have the government upon his shoulders, the prince of peace, the mighty God, the everlasting father. They had been longing for this one to come. All the while, they were continuing the duties set up in the old testament. The sacrificial system set up by God to remind them constantly that they need a messiah. They were following the words of Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testaments words as he instructed them in one of the last things he said, “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.”
Zachariah was a priest, and he served in the temple according to the OT regulations. He was serving at the alter of prayer, and he was putting incense on the alter for prayer. And then the angel appeared to him and told him that his prayers have been answered, that he will have a son. Well, as you might expect, he was a little skeptical and questioned the messenger, and as a result, he became mute until the day it came to name this boy that his wife Elizabeth had given birth to. When they asked him what the child’s name should be he wrote down that the child’s name will be John, and immediately, he could speak. So what we are reading today are the first recorded words that John the Baptizer’s father spoke after his birth, and they are a prophesy of all that will come about.
So, lets read them together shall we…..
I recently was watching a news story about the Mayan Apocalypse theory and the anchors were remarking that one expert had said that we are in a time when our culture is more gullible than ever about stuff. Let me ask you this, do you believe everything you read on the internet? Do you believe every forward that comes to your inbox about a computer virus that will wipe out all your hard drive, poison your dog, kill your plants, and make your car not start? We live in a society, where gullibility, and skepticism are rampant with everyone having their conspiracy theory about anything and everything, and they have an unprecedented platform to push these theories, called the Internet….how is it that a calendar from an extinct people can create such fear and speculation, and rule the History Channel’s lineup for over a year.
So how do we know who to trust?
So the thing I think this passage sums up for us today, and I want to focus on is that God comes through on is promises, so we can trust Him.
Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promises in the OT: v. 68-75 Zechariah here is giving us a synopsis of the Old Testament.
- When you look back through the old testament you see God, time and time again, making promises to his people to deliver them from their enemies, and make right the things that have been broken. The birth of Jesus, was the initiation of the process by which all things are being made new. This is an already, but not yet type of thing. Zechariah’s prophesy is in the past tense, as if it is already completed, even before Jesus was born. He knew that God would come through on His promises, so it was as good as done. Even though it was still to be seen exactly how it would be worked out, the process has begun, so it will be completed.
John’s role was picking up where the last OT prophesy left off. v. 76-77
- Malachi 4:5- Luke 1:17
- John’s birth was in essence picking up where God left off 400 years earlier. He ended Malachi with the promise that Elijah would come to prepare the way for the messiah, and so he picks up Luke with that same theme.
- (Aside) While God had been prophetically silent, he was working in some incredible ways to prepare the world for the birth of Christ. Just two of those are Roads, and language.
Jesus’ role From the beginning was that of forgiveness of sin, and salvation to His People. v. 77-79
- Zechariah’s prophesy is one that acknowledges Jesus’ role of bringing salvation, and forgiveness.
- Zechariah says nothing about setting up an earthly Government.
- He is bringing light to a dark people.
- he has come to guide our feet in the way of peace.
– What wasn’t clear at this point was how he was going to accomplish all that was promised of him. We can see now that it was through his life, death, burial and resurrection that he provided a way of peace, and forgiveness, and righteousness.
Do you struggle with believing that God is going to make good on his promises? Do you find yourself reading the Bible like it is a History Channel Doomsday special? Let me encourage you to take another look at God’s track record. He hasn’t failed yet in His plan, and He is not in danger of breaking His promises to us. They were fulfilled in Christ’s birth, and they will be fulfilled in His coming again. The hardest part is over, his incarnation.