by Pastor Tim Henry
In the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke, there are four different songs.
1. Mary's Song - often called the Magnificat-which is found in Luke 1:48-55
2. Zechariah's Song-or the Benedictus-which is found in Luke 1:67-80
3. The Angels' Song-or the Gloria in Excelsis-which is found in Luke 2:14
4. Simeon's Song-or the Nunc Dimittis-which is found in Luke 2:29-32
And this is a particularly exciting part of the bible for me to preach on because this congregation, as you know, is so widely known throughout the valley and beyond for our wonderful singing.
Actually, that's not fair, there are some very good singers here, unfortunately the rest of us drown you out every week.
No truthfully, our singing is getting better. Last week when we sang Because He Lives our voices just rang out. It was really neat.
And it's partially, I think because of something I have noticed, especially over the last year or so. There's been a change in the enthusiasm in which we sing. I hear many more people singing with louder and more confident voices.
I don't know the exact reasons for it. I'm sure it varies from person to person.
It's possible you're just trying to drown out my singing, I don't know.
But I hope one of the reasons is that I have, from time to time, been inserting the somewhat humorous, but very true reminder.
"God wants us to make a joyful noise, he doesn't require a tuneful one."
I can assure you, he's not paying attention to the notes, he's paying attention to our hearts. He knows that opera stars love him just as much as tone deaf people singing in the shower.
And the two kinds of songs he loves are:
1. Songs sung joyfully
2. and most importantly songs sung about Him.
And the two go together like peas and carrots. And I know some of you don't like peas, and some of you don't like carrots, but they do go together, regardless.
"Sing a new song unto me in a joyful voice", says the Lord.
Does that always mean happy? No. David sang many joyful songs unto the Lord when he was scared, or angry, or frustrated.
His life may have been filled with challenge, but there was always joy in the Lord.
I've been harping on this, and very passionate about it lately. The world today is a mess. Maybe a bigger mess than other times in history, maybe not. But either way, it is a mess.
People are scared, angry, and frustrated.
But God, through Jesus Christ, is salvation. He is in complete control, despite the mess. He is here with us!
So how can we not sing a joyful song about that? A joyful salvation song!
How can we not sing it?
Maybe if we don't believe. Maybe if our doubts overcome us. Maybe if we are just too caught up in day to day living, and the stress that comes with it, to hear and remember and have faith.
Today we read the third and final part of the first chapter of Luke.
At the beginning of the chapter Zechariah was given a prophecy. He was told he would have a son, John, who would herald in the Messiah. Zechariah hesitated, and doubted, and questioned. He didn't immediately burst into a joyful noise. He was worried, he was afraid. The Lord responded by taking away his voice.
"If you can't believe, and make a joyful noise, you will make no noise at all until the prophecy is fulfilled.
That's where we pick up today.
Luke Chapter 1:57-80 [From the NLT - New Living Translation]
57 When it was time for Elizabeth's baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. 58 And when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her.
59 When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. 60 But Elizabeth said, "No! His name is John!"
61 "What?" they exclaimed. "There is no one in all your family by that name." 62 So they used gestures to ask the baby's father what he wanted to name him. 63 He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone's surprise he wrote, "His name is John." 64 Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.
65 Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. 66 Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, "What will this child turn out to be?" For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way.
67 Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy:
68 "Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has visited and redeemed his people.
69 He has sent us a mighty Savior*
from the royal line of his servant David,
70 just as he promised
through his holy prophets long ago.
71 Now we will be saved from our enemies
and from all who hate us.
72 He has been merciful to our ancestors
by remembering his sacred covenant-
73 the covenant he swore with an oath
to our ancestor Abraham.
74 We have been rescued from our enemies
so we can serve God without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness
for as long as we live.
76 "And you, my little son,
will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
77 You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of God's tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,*
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace."
80 John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.
The birth of a child is enough to make most father's break into song. At the end of a long labor, mom is pretty exhausted. She's happy, but she knows the birth is just the beginning of the work to be done.
But for dad's, it's usually a time of singing and shouting and celebration. Running around with a big grin, passing out cigars, shaking hands. Dads are often quite goofy, at this time, and you can't shut them up.
For Zechariah, however, he hasn't said a word for nine months! For some wives, having there husband shut up for awhile wouldn't be such a bad thing.
But Zechariah, in truth didn't know if he'd ever talk again. But he knew the God that took away his voice, could bring it back. Just like his God had made it possible for he and Elizabeth to have a child.
In the backdrop of the story we know that Zechariah was a priest and we also know that Elizabeth, was a p.k, a priest's kid. They were both righteous people, both faithful people. But... they have no children...because Elizabeth was barren.
That was just as devastating then, as it is today.
Today, besides prayer, which is the most powerful medicine, there are some medical treatments available that can help. Today, we can even have some insight into whether the problem comes from the man or the woman.
In those days, you just couldn't know, and as it has often been the case in society, in Elizabeth's time, it was ALWAYS the woman's fault.
If you couldn't get pregnant there was not only the sadness, but also blame and shame and guilt thrown in for good measure.
So not only no baby, but Elizabeth "endured disgrace" among her people.
So when news of a baby comes, there should have been shouting and singing. Instead, from Zechariah, there was this resounding "How can this be?"
So Zechariah goes silent. And the child is born.
Zechariah still cannot speak a word. The eighth day comes which is the day when little Jewish boys are circumcised. And when they are circumcised they also get a name.
There is, of course, only one name that would be appropriate for such a long-awaited child-a child born to a woman who was thought to have been barren.
There is only one name by which to call him and that is to give him his father's name. This child would be called Zechariah, a name of honor.
But his mother sticks her neck out and says, "he is to be called John."
The friends and family are most certainly shocked and they turn to Zechariah for help but
he still can't speak.
He writes it down. "His name is John."
And immediately, he could speak again!
And what does he do next???
He sings out a joyful noise. He brings forth a salvation song.
We do not know in he sang it tunefully, we do not know if He sang musical notes at all. It's written in verse form so we know it was meant to be in poetic or musical form, but we don't know which form of expression he used. We do know in what manner he expressed it.
After God kept Zechariah from speaking for nine months, the first thing he says joyfully with his newly recovered voice...."Blessed be the Lord God of Israel..." He could have opened his mouth with curse words for the Lord making him mute all these months, but he doesn't.
"Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people.
He has sent us a mighty Savior" ""And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation"
God loves a joyful noise. He especially loves that noise to be about Him.
And how happy God must have been with Zechariah that day!!!!
What a beautiful salvation song.
Praise to God. Salvation is coming! Prepare a path! The Lord has visited and redeemed his people.
The root word, the verb here means "to visit personally." It is the very word Jesus used in Matthew 25:36 when he said, "I was sick and you visited me."
The word was used in the Greek Old Testament for God visiting his people in order to bring them great blessing. It has the idea of seeing someone in distress and intervening personally in order to relieve their misery.
It's the kind of word that comes to mind, and action that follows, when you hear about the severe injury or terminal illness of someone you love. You don't just send a sympathy card. You don't just call on the telephone. You don't send an email. This is not enough. Nothing short of "to visit personally" will do.
You must go over to the home, or the hospital in person. This "to visit personally" word means to be so moved by the pain and suffering that you must get personally involved.
It's not a passive thing.
Almost 500 years had passed since the last prophet. Has God Forgotten His People?
No. God has come now "to visit personally".
At long last God has kept his promise. At long last God has arrived on the scene. The Visitor, the redeemer, the savior from heaven has come to us.
This boy John will point people to the One who would be born of a virgin, born in David's royal city, who would sit on the throne of his father David and rule over the house of Jacob forever. The One who would rule the nations and redeem his people and restore Israel to its former glory. The One whose name was called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
But to many Jews, this whole prophesied Messiah was starting to appear to be a cruel hoax. Maybe the prophets were wrong all along.
Now at last, after all those years, the moment has arrived.
The Messiah is on the way! The long wait is over! God has visited his people!
So Zechariah sings out his salvation song, a song that is filled with the very mission of Jesus Christ himself. If only then, just like today, people had the ears to hear.
Zechariah told the people all about Christ's salvation. Why he came and how Christ will save them in so many ways.
"He has come and redeemed his people." (from verse 68)
"He has raised up a horn of salvation for us." (from verse 69)
"Salvation from our enemies." (verses 71 and 74)
"To give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins." (verse 77)
That's why he came! We were in trouble and he came to save us. Zechariah told the people all about a prophesy fulfilled .
"As he said through his holy prophets of long ago." (verse 70)
"To show mercy to our fathers." (verse 72)
"To remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham." (verses 72-73)
God is now doing what he promised to do. The prophets saw it coming. Not every detail, and no one saw it clearly, but they knew the day would come when God would visit his people. Micah spoke of it, and so did Isaiah and Jeremiah. Even old Abraham looked forward to this day, as did Moses and David. They all saw it coming!
In verses 74 and 75 Zechariah speaks of the transformation he will make in the lives of those who follow him: "To enable us to serve him without fear."
"In holiness and righteousness all our days."
He came so that those who were lost in sin might be lifted up into the service of God.
That those who served another master might turn and serve the Lord.
That those who feared death might be free from that fear forever.
That those who lived in fear of punishment might be completely forgiven.
That those without direction might be given a transforming purpose for living.
That those, meaning all of us, who did not please God might be pleasing to him forever.
That we who were unholy might be made holy.
That we who were unrighteousness might be made righteous.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is here, now, with us. He came, he lived, he died, he rose again so that we can be saved, just like God promised, and in our salvation we will never be the same again.
Is that not the most incredible thing? How can one not respond in joy to that salvation song?
I don't know, but people fail to sing out with joy every day. It's understandable for those who have not met the risen Savior, and do not know Him as their Lord. But how can it be explained amongst the faithful, the Christ follower, the saved?
How can we not sing a salvation song every day and make a joyful noise?
Zechariah didn't, and the Lord made him go silent.
Have we gone silent too?
Is that what Jesus came and commissioned us to do? To go forth to all the nations, and grumble and complain and spread fear? Or worse yet, To go forth to all the nations and be silent. I don't think so. It's called the Good News for a very good reason.
The world is a dark place, it needs to hear the salvation song. Don't let even a moment of your life go by without singing the salvation song of Jesus in thought, word and deed. The world needs to hear you sing it joyfully with whatever voice God has given you.
©2010 Timothy Henry
Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the Sunday of the Birth of John the Baptist
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