Malankara World Journal Theme: Benedictus - The Canticle of Zachariah
Volume 2 No. 112 December 6, 2012
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Table of Contents
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This Sunday in Church
Birth of John the Baptist
Before Holy Qurbana
This Week's Features
Maybe you've heard the story of the little boy who decided to write a letter to God one Christmas. He started out by writing: "Dear God, I've been a really good boy this year." Unfortunately, he remembered that God was all knowing and all seeing and he decided that he couldn't lie to God. So, he crumpled up that letter and started over. This time he wrote: "Dear God, I know I haven't done everything I should have, but I really tried to be good." He stopped and crumpled up that letter, too. It was obvious that he was struggling with what to write to God.
As he sat there thinking he looked up and saw his mother's favorite piece of sculpture on the mantel. It was a beautiful rendition of the Madonna, the mother of Christ. The boy perked up and ran out of the room. He came back with a towel and a shoebox. He walked over, carefully picked up the Madonna, gently wrapped it in the towel, carefully put it in the shoebox and then hid it in the closet. He immediately went back to the table and wrote: "Dear God, if you ever want to see your mother again . . ."
It's time the Church took back Christmas. And we do. Every year we take it back and bring back the meaning and the purpose. The world tries to hold it for ransom each year, with its multiplicity of gadgets and this year's list of must have toys; the world tries to make demands and hold Christmas for ransom but it never works. The birth of the Christ child is just too powerful, even for Wall Street. The sight and the sounds and the remembrance of this child born so long ago changes all the rules. His very presence makes the glitter of our Christmas presents pale in comparison.
Source: Billy D. Strayhorn, Stay On Your Toes
by Michael Milton
Have you ever seen Miracle on 34th Street? It's a Christmas classic. The 1947 novel became a movie the same year, earning the author an Academy Award for the Best Original Story. The film itself was nominated for the top picture. Edmund Gwenn, who played Kris Kringle, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. But who could ever forget the child actor, Natalie Wood, who won the hearts of viewers as Susan Walker, the little girl whose doubt in the existence of Santa Claus is transformed by her association with Edmund Gwenn's Kris Kringle.
"Miracle on 34th Street stands beside It's a Wonderful Life as one of the two most enduring of America's holiday movies," says Frank Beaver, professor of film and video studies at the University of Michigan. "As with Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street draws its continuing appeal by reaffirming ideas of faith in a modern, often-cynical world." 1
"Reaffirming faith in a modern, often-cynical world" is what our business is all about as believers - not a faith in St. Nicholas or Father Christmas - but in the truth of the enchantment and wonder of the Almighty God of the universe who came to mankind as a Babe in a manger. So many today don't buy it - or at least they seemed unmoved by the reality of Christmas in the way they live their lives. The net effect of a lack of faith in Christ is to turn off the color to life; to become like little Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street, whose childhood was dour, expressionless, unromantic, and hopeless.
Unbelief turns off the color and turns down the sound of life as it was meant to be lived. But, faith in Christ, and faith in the God who changes things, who interrupts our lives with the glorious news of salvation by repentance and faith in Jesus, turns on the sound, lights up the soul, and causes mute men to shout for joy!
Just ask Zechariah.
In Luke 1:67-79 we have what is often called the Benedictus, from the first words of the prophecy: Benedictus esto Dominus Deus Israelis, meaning, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel." And in this Song of Zechariah, which is really a Holy Spirit inspired praise and prophecy, there is enough Gospel to turn the lights on in our lives.
Let's look at Zechariah's Song. As we examine this Song in light of the Singer's life, we might remark that this Song is:
The Song of a Heart Set Free (vv. 59-68)
The father of John the Baptist, the holy prophet of God who preached repentance and faith and announced the arrival of Messiah, was a "righteous" man, "walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless" (Luke 1:6). The old priest and his wife, Elizabeth, had no children and had been praying for a child. But, time and age seem to conspire together to close the door on that. He was a good man. But his faith was suspect. In a dramatic scene, while Zechariah was ministering in the Temple, an Angel of the Lord told him that his barren wife, Elizabeth, would have a child - not just any child, but a child named John whose birth would signal a new day of rejoicing for many.
What did Zechariah do? He had an answer that sounded like Natalie Wood's character before she believed: "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years?"
The Angel said, in effect, "I just came from God! That is how you know!" So, as a result of his unbelief, which is named as such by the Angel, Zechariah is made mute until the Word of the Lord is accomplished.
Mute. The sound turned off in his life. The judgment of God for his sin of unbelief matched the character of the sin: emotionless, expressionless, stilled, and lifeless.
Freedom Came Through Scribbling out a Name in Faith
Every aspect of the Word of the Lord was being brought about. Elizabeth was with child. She was filled, we are told, with the Holy Spirit as was the child within her. Unbelieving Dad is in quiet judgment, but by this time quite aware that God's Word is coming true.
In a dramatic scene, the last part of the prophecy of the Angel is unveiled. At the circumcision of the child, where the "Naming Ceremony" occurs, the priest asked, like I have at infant baptisms:
"What name is given this child?" Zechariah couldn't speak, so Elizabeth did. Everyone expected that his name would be Zach, Jr. (v. 59), but Elizabeth surprised everybody and said, "No, he shall be called John."
Names were important to the Hebrew people. There was no name in their family like that. They questioned her about it. While the debate was going on, old Zechariah interrupted, with some scribbling on a tablet: "His name is John."
I love that! The scribbling was an act of faith by a man under judgment. From there, we see in verse 67 that the Holy Spirit came upon him and he preached like he had never preached before.
"Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people."
Some of you have seen what God has been doing in your lives. Faith for you today may be a little scribbling as you name what God has done for you. You're not ready yet to give a great testimony, but you can scribble out, "Jesus Saves Sinners!" You're not ready to preach any sermons, but you ought to be able to scribble out and name what happened to you, "God was in it! God did this! God is on my side! Praise His Name!"
The Song of a Heart Set Free
Socrates taught for 40 years, but his life and teaching have made no songs. Plato taught for 50 years, but he did nothing to cause the human soul to blossom with life. Yet, Jesus came and lived for only 33 years on this earth and taught only three years. His teachings, as well as His Person, His Promises, and His Power have inspired the souls of Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci to paint glorious scenes; the hearts of Dante and Milton and Donne to erupt in poetic verse; and the Songs - O the greatest music and Songs of the Ages came from those whose lives were touched by Christ: Haydn, Handel, Bach, and Mendelssohn. All of these men composed to the praise of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is said that Jesus Christ changed Mendelssohn's music from a minor key to a major key.
This is the picture of what happened to Zechariah. The music of the Lord invaded his soul. It is the music of wonder and joy and freedom when the Word of the God comes in power to announce that salvation is at hand.
I tell you that there is nothing I desire more than to preach the Word to you and turn on the lights, to turn on the color of living and see unbelieving souls burst forth with a song of a heart set free. O dear friend, let this Advent Song be yours today.
Now, let's get to the Song itself. As I said earlier, this Song is a praise and a prophecy. The first part of the Song is a praise and it is filled with worship for the Covenant God of Israel. The praise of the Lord is seen as Zechariah proclaims, "He has looked after His people and brought about redemption."
Now for any who think that old Zechariah was interested in political redemption for a nation, please look at verse 74 and see that this Redeemer will bring freedom unto holiness and righteousness. In verse 77 he preached about knowledge of salvation and remission of sins and a light to escape from the shadow of death. This Song praises God for deliverance from sin and the reign of the devil in the world. This is the announcement of a giant movement on the divine eschatological clock. A new era is upon mankind with the coming of Christ.
Now all of this together shows us a new way of thinking. Zechariah was a double-minded man and too fleshly to see what God was up to. But, now, he burst forth with a new Song.
The Song of a Mind Made Clear (vv. 69-73)
In verse 69-73, in this praise portion, Zechariah affirmed what Mary understood: The covenant of grace. Zechariah wove together the promises to David (v. 69), the promises to the prophets (v. 70), and the extent of the promises (since the world began v.70).
This reveals a mind made clear. Now Zechariah believed. His mind, previously clouded by religion by a hermeneutical approach that underestimated the love and grace of God, finally understood. His boy, John, would announce the arrival of the Redeemer. God's Promises were here!
The minds of men without Christ are clouded. But, more germane perhaps, is the fact that the minds of so many religious folk are clouded.
Revival historically has been an act of God that destroys this sort of thing and transforms religion into a living relationship with the living God. People began to "think thoughts after God" because their minds are made clear. God is calling us to a vibrant Father, to an expectation of the power of God in our lives. He is calling us to clear our minds of bad, wrong, erroneous thoughts that lead to dull living if not downright sinful living.
Christ came. He was born. He died. He rose again. And nothing can be the same again.
The Song of a Soul Revived (vv. 74-75)
Zechariah's songs, if you will, speak of the practical and metaphysical (transcendental) effects of the birth of Christ to the nation of Israel. Practically he says the key to victory over enemies is the coming of Christ. Transcendentally he says that this releases signals (v.74) the ability to worship God without fear, in holiness and righteousness.
What is Zechariah singing about?
The coming of Christ releases the true believer from the tyranny of others to live before the face of the Lord. This is what Paul was writing of in Romans 8:15-17:
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
And in Galatians 4:4-7:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift.
A Christian who is happy and joyful is a true Zechariah who has had the renewal of the soul. This is a free man who is singing about his new found relationship with His God because of Christ.
Zechariah concludes his song with a prophesy over his son, John. John will be a prophet (v. 76); lead the way (v. 76); and preach on how to be saved (vv. 77-78). John, Zechariah's son, will lift up Christ as the Light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
In the end, this is "A Joyous Song for Sad People." It's not "the blues," which is a Sad Song for Sad People, but a joyful and triumphant invitation to people living in darkness to embrace the Light of Jesus and be released from the shadow of death. It is an invitation to have the lights switched on in life; to have the color turned up in living.
Jesus is Life, and without Him is death. Turn to Him today and live. Meditate upon Him and enjoy life rather than be crushed under it.
It's a joyous Song for sad people who have no peace. In Christ there is perfect peace.
The old Dutch scholar, William Hendriksen, listened to the music of Zechariah's song and remarked that his exuberant song has objective and subjective tones to it:
Objectively it amounts to reconciliation with God through David's horn, the Rising Sun, the Messiah. Subjectively it is the quiet and comforting assurance of forgiveness and adoption. It is the smile of God reflected in the reconciled sinner's heart, the shelter from the storm, the hiding-place in the shadow of His wings, the stream that issues from the fountain of grace. To that peace the Rising Sun directs our feet.2
Do you enjoy that peace today?
This Song arises from a heart set free, a mind made clear, and a soul renewed. Across the ages and through the presence of the Lord today, this is your invitation to end the stillness of your soul and muteness of your life without the Spirit of God in you.
1. Quoted from the University of Michigan Information Services home page.
2. From The New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel of Luke (Baker Books, 1978), 129.
Source: Christianity.com Daily Update
During the Liturgical Season of Advent, we walk through the great events of Christian history so as to inculcate them into our daily lives and offer their promise to the whole world. During Advent we are invited through our liturgical readings and practices, to clear away all that entangles us and open a space in our hearts, our homes, our relationships and our lives, for Love Incarnate to be born again. This is the season of lent and prayer. We are to spend part of our days reflecting and meditating on the events leading to the incarnation of our Lord, God's plan for redemption of mankind and the promise of His second coming.
To keep the Advent season in focus, Malankara World has developed a special supplement with daily reflections and bible readings. You are urged to read the daily meditations; reflect on those and pray. The season is also one of doing. So, there are activities you can do on each day to make out advent meaningful. Please visit the MW Advent Supplement here:
by Ken Gehrels, Nepean, Canada
A Sermon On: Luke 1: 67-79
Like the silence of night.
Or the silence of distance.
That kind of silence can really get to you after a while.
It's the sort of silence that Zechariah was experiencing in his life. And not
just him. The whole nation of Israel was surrounded by silence.
Perhaps we don't think about it much, but between the last page of the Old Testament and the first pages of the New Testament is a span of some 400 years. 400 years since the last prophet had declared the divine word of God to His people. 400 years where the space between earth and heaven seemed absolutely monstrous. 400 years during which the silence began to thunder.
Remember - these were the days before the Holy Spirit was poured out.
We're not told outright, but from the context of the story earlier in ch.1 I
think we can safely imagine what life had become for the people of Israel;
If I were to colour his life, I would choose grey.
Zechariah was a priest, and he took his duties seriously. But even serious duties, when done long enough without any seeming sort of response - well, even serious duties turn into dull routine. One can't help that it becomes so.
Zechariah, and Israel along with him, continued to serve Holy Creator God. They tried to keep all His commands and laws. They continued in the Temple worship ritual. But the spark was gone.
Zechariah had another silence in his life. He and wife Elizabeth had no
children. Offspring in Israel was important. Each family was waiting for God's
promised Messiah. Perhaps he would come through their family. To have no
children was to be cut out of the future of God's people, to be left out of the
loop among those awaiting salvation. It was even seen on occasion as a curse -
that God's favour was not with you.
Till the day when Zechariah left his other job for a turn in temple service,
which was how it was for priests of his day. There were many of them, and so
they took turns praying and offering the sacrifices. For the rest they would
hold regular jobs.
A baby would be born to this elderly couple.
Poor Zechariah is overwhelmed. He can hardly believe it. Even protests.
We picked up the story when the baby is born. Wonderful event! Divine silence ended through the cry of a baby. They name him John. And the surprised community, dulled out from 400 years of grey silence, celebrates as Zechariah sings his prophetic song!
A song of salvation;
God's silence was ended. His holy work continued. That which the people had read
so much about as happening to the father of faith, patriarch Abraham, and
through the generations to the people -
And more would be to come. That's what the prophetic song speaks of - loud and clear for all to hear. No silence here!
God is redeeming His people. Meaning He's rescuing them. He coming to push their
enemy out of the way. He's coming to set them free. Bringing something called "a
horn of salvation."
Those who faced the enemy of death, who faced the chilling prospect of eternal
silence amid the hellish absence of God, who faced the conquest of sin in their
The grey clouds would be pushed away.
That's Zechariah's song of prophetic hope.
A song with which we begin the season of advent; the season of preparation for Christmas celebration. In our advent time we remember how people prepared for the coming of the Horn Of Salvation - the One in whom the saving power of God was concentrated. We prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
And we look for the day when all grayness and monotony of life today will be pushed aside as the trumpet shatters the silence, and Jesus breaks through the clouds at His second coming.
"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon
you." said Isaiah.
We celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ - Immanuel, God-with-us.
Our Saviour - who made possible the coming of the Holy Spirit
Making it possible for us to experience peace instead of hopeless, humdrum,
whatever-for kind of senselessness in our lives.
Working, says the bible, through believers like us, towards that final day when
Jesus returns for good. We've got a part to play in the movement towards that
wonderful moment. Your part will be different than my part. Each has a unique
role. But each of us has a role! And the horn-power of Jesus, the legions of
angels, the comforter presence of the Spirit, will ensure that our role is
It happens to each of us.
That's how God works! In individuals, yes. But then also far beyond that by
joining those individuals into a community that He builds together, shapes
together, moves together towards His goals.
And then calls us to be His active body -
We can bring hope to those without hope. You can bring hope. We can be those
through whom God moves, just as He moved through Zechariah and through John the
It can happen when we expand the limited space of someone on fixed income through providing them with a little extra resource, perhaps privately, perhaps through our deacons, or through volunteering at a food bank or shelter or other agency. In that way, there is for believers the challenge to make this happen for the long haul - making it more than a mere Christmas blip on the year-long screen.
It can happen when we take the time to listen to the struggles of someone in the next office cubicle, for whom perhaps life's focus and meaning is gone, shattered because of divorce, or trouble with children.
And it can happen in a special way in this time of year as people become
spiritually open in a way they are at no other time of year. My friends, studies
show again and again that this is the one season of the year when people become
spiritually receptive - they let their guard down and become willing to hear the
name of Jesus and the promise of God's love for them.
Will you pray that the Lord will provide opportunity for you to give the true
hope of Christmas, and the hope of the second coming of Christ, to someone this
season? That He would give us the boldness and desire to not be silent in this
season, but to be an instrument to bring salvation life and light -
Pray that as God uses each of us hearts may, for the first time, begin to sing with the joy of the Lord, to sing their own canticle of Christmas.
by Father Mead, New York
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Over the ages, God had an extraordinary way of working through these sorts of unusual circumstances to advance his purposes. Think of Abraham and Sarah, of Samson's parents, of Samuel's mother; or, for that matter, of the harlot Rahab, the Moabite Ruth, or even King David's wife Bathsheba and their son Solomon. A different kind of king was about to be conceived and born (on Christmas Day); and his still unborn yet already named cousin, John, his prophetic forerunner, was well on the way when angel Gabriel announced to St. Mary about the incarnation of Messiah.
Mary, two months after the annunciation, went to visit Elizabeth. On that occasion, John, less than one month away from birth, leaped in the womb of his mother, who interpreted it as a salute at the approach of Mary and her child. “How is this granted me,” exclaimed Elizabeth, “that the mother of my Lord should come to me!”
Elizabeth's husband Zechariah was slower than his wife to sense the presence of the Lord. It is worth noting that Zechariah was a priest who took his rounds at the Jerusalem Temple. Perhaps he was afflicted with the familiar problem of clergy burnout. In any case, he didn't believe the Angel Gabriel: “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years?” The messenger answered: “I am Gabriel, who stand in presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you to bring you this good news. And behold you shall be unable to speak until this comes to pass.” Imagine a priest unable to speak for nine months. Zechariah sounds a little like that other religious leader, Nicodemus, who visited Jesus by night and asked, “How can a man be born again; can he enter his mother's womb a second time?”
Nicodemus came around in the end, and so did poor old Zechariah, as we saw in today's Gospel which tells of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. When Elizabeth, faithful as ever, resisted the gathered people and insisted that the newborn boy's name be John rather than Zechariah Junior; and when the crowd made signs to the father, Zechariah wrote, “His name is John”: Whereupon the father's tongue was loosed, and he sang one of the Church's most beautiful canticles. The Song of Zechariah, the Benedictus Dominus Deus, has occupied a prominent position in Christian worship since at least a millennium and a half ago.
Zechariah's song is about freedom, freedom to worship God without fear. It is about release, not just from external enemies, but even more, from our internal, and therefore also eternal, enemies: bondage to sin, violence and death. Saint Luke means for us to see that just as old Zechariah was given freedom of speech at the birth of his son whom he obediently named John, so the way is prepared for the rest of us to receive the freedom of the Gospel.
John the Baptist, with his austere, simple message of repentance, shows the way forward. Turn to God; break away from your sins, and bear fruit that shows a new mind and heart. For what, we may ask; what then? For the coming of the Redeemer Jesus Christ, for the birth of the Messiah, not only into human history but into our hearts.
Jesus Christ is a Messiah who is not so much a political deliverer as he is a liberator from the deepest enemies of human life: sin, violence and death; although throughout history, the liberation of the Gospel has led to political justice and freedom as well. John leaped in his mother's womb at this Messiah's approach. John baptized Jesus thirty years later and said he was not worthy to untie his sandal. But John himself had to struggle with doubt over whether such a figure as Jesus, such a Lamb of God, was really the one he was expecting. Or should he look for another? No, Jesus was the one for whom John was the forerunner. As Zechariah prophesied, “Thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways…to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
A famous crucifixion painting by sixteenth century artist Matthias Grunewald depicts the Messiah dying a most horrible death, a death that burns away any sentimentality about our Savior. But next to this ghastly scene is, of all people, John the Baptist, pointing his finger at the crucified Lord, holding the writings of the prophets in his other hand. The artist has it right, as did John when he leaped in his mother's womb at the approach of pregnant Mary. Jesus is the one. Behold the Lamb of God! Christ's crucifixion, which silences all of us, just as the first notice of Christ's forerunner silenced old Zechariah, is the very thing which gives us freedom to live, to pray, and to sing God's praises.
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
© 2007–2011 Saint Thomas Church, New York
by Dr. James C. Goodloe IV
Luke 1:1-25, "How Shall I Know?"
Moreover, the newborn baby was the son of a previously barren woman, Elizabeth. The whole thing set off echoes of Sarah, who was given her first born Isaac in her old age, of Rachel, who was given Joseph after long barrenness, and of Hannah, who after years of prayers was given Samuel. Each of those births had been an extraordinary gift of the grace of God, leading to unlikely patriarchs and prophets. Thus was the question raised of John, "What then will this child be?"
"What then will this child be?"
Something was afoot. Something was stirring. Something new and different was happening. God was at work in the world again! No wonder that it was said of John, "the hand of the Lord was with him." But to what end? For what purpose? What might God be doing now? "What then will this child be?" Who was John going to be? And, of course, what does it have to do with us? How will it affect or change us? What then will we be? That is the question for Zechariah and Elizabeth. That is the question for all their relatives and neighbors through all the hill country of Judea. That is the question for Theophilus, for whom the Gospel according to Luke was written. And yes, that is still the question for us: "What then will this child be?" What then will we be?
Before we get to the answer, let me take a moment to consider the setting of this question and thus to establish its significance. This is the last of four questions here in the first chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, and they not only occur in the story but also carry the point of the story all the way down to us.
The first sentence of the gospel contains a statement of the purpose of the book: it was written in order that "you" - which ostensibly refers to Theophilus but actually includes all of us who read the gospel - it was written in order "that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." This whole Gospel according to Luke is still here today in order for us to know the gospel of Jesus Christ, for us to know the content of the Christian faith, for us to know the good news of God, and for us to believe it and to obey it. That is why it was written, that is why we have it, and that is why we still read and preach it today.
Three questions are asked before today's question.
Zechariah the priest asked Gabriel the angel the first question in the book, "How shall I know?" This is a question of knowledge, particularly of the basis of saving faith. It is a good first question for Theophilus and also for us. The answer for Zechariah and for all the rest of us is that we shall know by the word of God and by the word of God alone. Gabriel soon left, of course, but Theophilus still had the written word of God, and so do we. It is by that word that we shall know.
It was the virgin Mary who asked Gabriel the second question in the book, "How will this be?" That is, "How will a son of Mary be the Son of God?" "How will the Christ enter the world?" This is a question of agency. It is a good second question for Theophilus and also for us. The issue is the incarnation. How can the Son of God become human? The whole rest of the gospel depends upon this premise. The answer for Mary, for Theophilus, and also for us, is that it will be by the power of God, and by the power of God alone. It will be because God says so.
Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah, mother-to-be of John the Baptist, relative of the virgin Mary, asked the third question, "Why is this granted to me that…my Lord should come to me?" This is a question of divine election. This is a question of divine choice. This is a question of why the grace of God comes to us even though we do not deserve it. "Why has the Lord come to me?" Mary gave the answer in a beautiful song known as the "Magnificat." She told of the always prior grace of God, and thus of divine initiative, choice, and election. That is to say, the answer to question, "Why me?", for Elizabeth, for Theophilus, and so for us, is that the Lord comes to us by the sheer choice of God alone.
These questions and answers have convinced me that the book we have before us is not only a story but is also a catechism, a question and answer learning device intended to communicate the Christian faith, intended to engage the learner, even each of us yet today, in the great questions of the faith. That is to say, the questions are not only in the story but are also the questions of the story and are the very questions of human life and existence so that they engaged Theophilus in the matters of the faith and so that they continue to engage us in the same matters of the faith. We have here the questions that we ask, or that we should ask, about who we are, whose we are, and what we are about. If we follow these questions and appropriate the answers into our hearts and minds, we, too, can have certainty of the truth of the gospel we have been taught.
Thus begins the catechism according to Luke, a series of questions and answers for Theophilus and so for us. "How shall I know?" This is a question of knowledge. We shall know by the word of God. "How will this be?" This is a question of agency. It will be by the power of God. "Why me?" This is a question of divine election. The Lord comes to us by the sheer choice of God alone.
Now the fourth question asked in this book, by the neighbors of Elizabeth and Zechariah, new parents by the mercy of God, is, "What then will this child be?" This is a question of identity. Who will John be? What will God do in and through him? By extension, it raises the same questions for us. What then shall we be? What will God do in and through us?
This time Zechariah, who asked the first question in the book and who had not spoken during the nine or so months since, gave the answer in a wonderful canticle, known as the "Benedictus" after the first word in its Latin translation. Most of the song is about Jesus Christ. And the rest of the gospel is about him. But Zechariah concludes with words directed at his son:
The strangely named child, by human reckoning untimely born, was to be a prophet of God Almighty! That was his identity. That was what he would be. John would be a prophet. Indeed, he was to go before the Lord and prepare his ways. So, his identity was defined by his relationship to Jesus Christ. Hear that again: His identity was defined by his relationship to Jesus Christ. So is ours.
What Zechariah had to say about his son is important both for what it says and for what it does not say, or what it rules out. The first thing it says is that the Lord is coming. The long prophesied, long awaited, long expected Savior of Israel was about to come into the world. This is the deep and underlying good news of this reading. This is the good news of this whole book. This is the gospel that has come down even to us, that Christ has come to save the world. Thanks be to God!
The second thing it says is that John would be his prophet. The Lord was coming, and John would prepare his way. More specifically, he would "give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins." So it was that John, son of Zechariah, came to be known as John the Baptist. That is who he was and what he did. "He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Luke 3:3 (ESV)). We will hear more about that later.
The third thing it says, by virtue of the second, is that John would not be the Christ. He would be the prophet of the Lord, but he would not be the Lord himself. It is important not to get those confused! It was important for John. It was important for those whom John baptized. It is important for us. If John had misunderstood this, he would have detracted from the ministry of Christ and failed in his own ministry. Everything he did was to point beyond himself to Christ. If those whom John baptized had misunderstood this, they would have missed the point, blindly following him instead of the Lord. If we misunderstand this, we will be falsely honoring the messenger while simultaneously disregarding his message. This prophet pointed ahead to Christ. We are grateful for his work, and we honor him by going where he directs us.
So this is more than a history lesson. The question for Theophilus is also a question for us. The answer which Zechariah gave still informs our lives. What then shall we be? Our identity is defined by our relationship to Jesus Christ. Our identity may not be, indeed cannot be, that same as John the Baptist's. But his identity and ours are both defined by our relationship to Jesus Christ.
Consider this: Mary was told that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ. No one else can do that. But, in her obedience to her calling, she became a model for all subsequent Christian discipleship. So it is with John the Baptist. It was said that he would be a prophet of God, preparing the way of the Lord. That has been done. The Lord has come. No one else can do that. But, in his obedience to his calling, John became a model for all subsequent Christian discipleship.
That is to say, just as he was called to be a prophet of God and to prepare the way of the Lord, so are we called to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and to follow in his way. Let me say that again: Just as John was called to be a prophet of God and to prepare the way of the Lord, so are we called to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and to follow in his way. That is our identity. That is who we are. That is what we are about. Thanks be to God!
Just as with John, this is important for us for what is says and for what it does not say, or what it rules out.
First of all, it says that the Lord has come. The Lord for whom John was to prepare is now the Lord whom we are to follow.
Second, we are to be his disciples. What a glorious calling this is! We are not accidents of the cosmos. We are not children of the devil. We are not cogs in the giant wheels of the economy. We are not slaves of alien masters. We are disciples of Jesus Christ! Let me say that again: We are disciples of Jesus Christ! And no one can take that away from us.
Third, in that we are disciples of the Lord, we are not the Lord. It is so important not to be confused about this! God is God, and we are not. Jesus is Lord, and we are not. Jesus is Savior, and we are the saved, not the mighty savior ourselves. We are to be grateful for what God has done for us, not to assume that we have done it ourselves. This is true of us individually, and it is true of the church as a whole. The church does not exist for its own sake. The church exists to point beyond itself to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
© Dr. James C. Goodloe IV, Pastor, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church
by John MacArthur
Scripture: Luke 1:67-80
I confess to you that this morning as we come to the text of Luke chapter 1, I'm going to have to put on my theologian's hat because we're going to be dealing with some very important theology, some sweeping biblical themes that need to be understood. Luke is a wonderful historian. He's a great story teller. But he is no less a theologian. He not only has a warm and wonderful and straightforward way of telling the story, but he has a grasp, a deep grasp and a great understanding of its theological weight and implications. And he has ordered the flow of his narrative under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in such a way that though we are wondrously carried along by the magnificence of his narrative, at the same time at certain moments we are intercepted in the flow of the story by some very remarkable theological themes. And such is the case in our text today.
Luke 1 verses 67 to 80, it's the final portion of the first chapter. It is known as the benedictus of Zachariah because the Latin word for "blessed" is benedictus. And it's just gotten to bear that name through the years. It is Zachariah's praise to God.
As we look at Zachariah's praise to God, we are struck by a couple of notes in this song of praise. There is a reference in verse 69 to David, and there's a reference further down in verse 73 to Abraham. And there's a reference down in verse 77 to the forgiveness of sins.
Now you might just read those and pass them by without really stopping to contemplate what's going on here, but I'm not going to let you do that. In fact, it's going to take us a couple of weeks to get through this because we're going to stop more than we go.
Zachariah in his song of praise here is linking what is unfolding before his very eyes. He is linking it to very specific covenants given in the Old Testament, a covenant to David, a covenant to Abraham, and a covenant about the forgiveness of sins known as the New Covenant presented in Jeremiah 31. We can divide Zachariah's praise then into those three parts. Part of it deals with the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, part of it deals with the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, and part of it deals with the fulfillment of the New Covenant.
Now all three of those covenants are what we would call "salvific" or salvation covenants, saving covenants. That is they have to do with blessings that come by salvation. No one will experience the fullness of the Davidic Covenant apart from salvation. And everyone who is saved will participate to one degree or another in the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. No one will enter in to the full blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant apart from salvation and all who believe will to some degree enter in to the fullness of the promises and blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. And no one will either experience the Davidic Covenant or the Abrahamic Covenant if they don't experience the forgiveness of sin provided in the New Covenant.
So these are covenants which have to do with salvation. The Davidic Covenant is universal, insofar as it relates to the universal and eternal rule of Jesus Christ. The Abrahamic Covenant is national, insofar as it deals primarily with promises made by God to Israel for blessing. And the New Covenant is personal, in that it deals with how God works for the forgiveness of sin in the life of an individual. The Davidic Covenant, universal; the Abrahamic Covenant, national; the New Covenant, personal...they're not exclusively that but that's the main feature of those covenants and we'll watch them unfold when we get in to the text.
So this is a very critical text. And for Luke it's essential that he have this here that it be included for the purposes that the Spirit of God is directing Luke because the flow that he begins is the flow of the story of salvation. But Luke wants to be sure that no one assumes that this is something new, that this is something that just dropped out of heaven. Not at all, this is something that fulfills something very old. Luke wants us to understand that the coming of the forerunner, John the Baptist, the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, inaugurating the fulfillment of God's promised redemption is the fulfillment of Davidic covenant, Abrahamic covenant and New Covenant features.
So, Luke is putting this here at a very appropriate place, including this great benedictus by Zachariah so that we understand that Christianity is not an aberration, it is not a Judaistic heresy, as it was thought to be, it is not some new religion but rather Christianity, the coming of Messiah and His work is the fulfillment of Davidic promise, Abrahamic promise and the promise of a New Covenant.
There are six specific covenants in the Old Testament.
The first one that you run in to in the Old Testament would be the covenant that God made with Noah. He made an irrevocable pledge to Noah that He would never again destroy the world by water. Remember that? And He set a rainbow in the sky as a symbol of that irrevocable promise. In the end when the world is destroyed, it will be destroyed not by water but by fire.
Then the next covenant that I would mention to you is a covenant that God made with Moses in Exodus. He gave the Law and that's what's called the Mosaic...the first is the Noahic Covenant, the promise of God to Noah, irrevocable promise that He would never destroy the world by water. Then comes the Mosaic promise in which God gives His Law and promises obedience will bring blessing and disobedience will bring punishment or cursing. That is God's irrevocable promise and it is still true. You obey God's law, you will be blessed. You disobey God's law and you will be judged.
There's a third covenant that I would mention, it's a Priestly Covenant. It's given in Numbers chapter 25 and in that God pledges irrevocably to grant to His people Israel a priesthood. That is irrevocable. There will be a priesthood given to the people Israel and in the end, of course, even in the Millennium there will be a priesthood as the prophets indicate.
So you have the irrevocable promise that God gave to Noah, He won't destroy the world. An irrevocable promise that God gave to Moses, obey His law you're blessed, disobey, you're cursed. And an irrevocable promise given in Numbers 25 to the people that there would be a perpetual priesthood right on in the final and glorious kingdom of the Messiah.
Now those three promises are not salvation promises. They are not means of salvation are not inherent in them. Salvation is not an issue with Noah, it's not an issue with Moses because you can't be saved by the law. It's not an issue in the priestly covenant as well.
The other three covenants which would be the Abrahamic Covenant, Davidic Covenant and New Covenant, are what we call salvific, they have components that are connected to salvation. The Davidic Covenant can't come to pass until there is salvation. The Abrahamic Covenant can't come to pass until there is salvation. And the New Covenant is a covenant of salvation which effects all the rest because until you come to the salvation provided in the New Covenant, you can't receive the benefits of the Abrahamic or the Davidic covenants. Now that's a summary and we'll kind of look into the pieces of that as we work through this tremendous passage of Scripture.
I'm saying all of that because I want you to understand that this is not just a
song of praise sort of pulled out of the air, this is a major connecting point
to the Old Testament to demonstrate that the...what is unfolding as Luke begins
his gospel, as God steps into history, as Gabriel announces the birth of the
forerunner of the Messiah and to Mary the birth of Messiah, as miracles occur,
miracles of conception in Elizabeth, miracle of a virgin conception in Mary, as
God speaks and God sends angels and God does miracles and the great plan of
redemption as to its fulfillment is being launched, it is very important that
we understand that this is not new, but this is the fulfillment of something
very old...the fulfillment of the Davidic promise, the Abrahamic promise and the
new promise of Jeremiah 31.
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© 2011 Grace to You. All rights reserved.
Scripture: Luke 1:26-56
In Parts 1 and 2 of this essay, we examined the theology behind the statement that Mary is blessed. The author suggested that the grace received by Mary is due to the work of God. so, what is said about the blessedness of Mary may, in a certain sense, be said about the entire church. The question on the virgin's blessedness can be reduced to three questions:
We looked at point #1 in Issue 111. We will examine Point 2 in this issue. Point 3 will be examined in the next issue. (Issue 113)]
II. What is the blessing that God bestowed on Mary?
A. To put it very simply, the blessing is Jesus.
1. For Mary in particular, the blessing was that she was chosen by God to be the one in whose womb He was conceived!
In this she had a blessing that no other woman would ever have! Women have the wonderful privilege in general of bringing forth life in their wombs, but Mary would have the even greater privilege of bringing forth the One who would be the life of the world.
2. But as I mentioned before,
a. You see clearly here that Mary's blessing contains in it a blessing for the whole church!
Just as Abraham and Sarah were blessed with a child in their old age, and though this was a great blessing for them personally... yet the blessing that was to come through this child would be the salvation of the whole world - all the nations would be blessed through Abraham's seed!
TRANS> So it was with Mary...
b. When Jesus was teaching, there was a woman in the crowd that cried out and said:
Luke 11:27: "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed
In other words, the blessedness of Mary was not so much in bearing a child, but in the salvation that came to all the world (and to her) through that child - the blessing that comes to those that hear the word of God and keep it and so receive the promise by faith.
TRANS> So you see that the blessing was Jesus Himself
B. Just Look at how Gabriel describes the blessedness this great blessing that Mary is to bring forth from her womb!
1. First, Gabriel presents the name by which this child will be called....
a. In verse 31, he says, "You shall call His name Jesus"
This wonderful name explains the blessedness of Jesus' work... The name Jesus means: "Jehovah saves."
In Matthew we are told that when Gabriel told Joseph to name Him Jesus, he added the reason, "because He will save His people from their sins." In this name it is declared to us the work that He would perform! He will save us.
b. What a tremendous blessing this is!
1) Every human being, with the exception of Jesus, is in desperate need of salvation.
a) We stand in desperate need of forgiveness.
We must all pay the penalty of our sin, and the great problem is that the only way we can pay it is through eternal suffering. There is no other way for God's justice to be satisfied, and God will not be unjust!
b) We stand in desperate need of renewal.
Even if there was some way for us to be forgiven, we still need to have our hearts and lives changed...
Love has to come in where there is bitterness and selfishness, or we could never enjoy either God or heaven.
2) The blessing for Mary is that she is going to bring forth a child that will be Jesus - "Jehovah who saves."
He will be the One who saves His people from their sins by:
He will secure for them God's forgiveness by His death on the cross so that as soon as they believe in Him, their sins are all forgiven...
He will be the one who renews their hearts and their lives to love God and neighbour... so that they are renewed daily and at the last day made perfect...
All that is wrong with us, He will make right.
TRANS> So you see first of all that the child given to Mary is a blessing because He is Jesus - He is the Lord who saves...
2. Secondly, He is a blessing because of His greatness and majesty.
a. Gabriel says, "He will be great, and will be the called the Son of the Highest."
b. There is no greater greatness and no majesty more majestic than His!
As the Son of the Highest, He is shown to be in very nature God. Yet, marvellously, He who existed from all eternity is to be conceived as man in Mary's womb! He is to actually be made of her substance!
c. It is this very combination of being both God and man that makes Him able to save us from our sins...
1) Because He is the Son of God, He is able to bear upon Himself the wrath and
curse of God for us without crumbing.
2) Because He is also the offspring of Mary and so truly man, He is made able to represent us and suffer for us as one of us...
You see, the human race is all one family - we are all the sons of Adam, and so to redeem us, Christ had to become one of our race and be born of us... And because He is one of us, He is able to sympathise with us in our weakness... and He is able to raise our nature out of its ruin, being Himself anointed above measure by the Holy Spirit.
3) In Jesus then, we have this great one... the very Son of God, residing in human flesh!
Who could have ever dreamed that this great one, the very Son of the Highest, would be born of lowly virgin from Nazareth? See how blessed this virgin is! See how blessed the church is!
TRANS> But Gabriel does not stop here describing the blessing that Jesus is...
He has told us of His work - to save us...
3. And now He tells us the duration of His reign!
v. 32-33: "the Lord God will given Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."
a. Here Gabriel makes it clear that Jesus' reign is not to be like David's or
Solomon's which only lasted until they died!
b. Now this is altogether marvellous!
Mary, a simple maiden, was to bring forth from her womb a child that would live forever... and who would bring eternal life to all His people... sustaining them in His blessed kingdom forever and ever! Here the people over whom He reigns are called Jacob because God made His promise to Jacob.
And all you who believe are now a part of Jacob - you are the circumcision to whom all of God's promises belong. Yours is a blessing that will never be taken away!
TRANS> Now you see what the blessing is that God has given to Mary,
Continued next week
4 tsp butter
Saute rice in butter in fry pan until rice is golden brown. Put in crock pot. Pour tomato liquid, tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper into pot. Mix well.
Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.
Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and chopped chives before serving.
Source: Chet Day's Health & Beyond Newsletter
by Marian V. Liautaud
Scripture: Acts 1:12–26
I don't remember when Dan and I started praying together, but I do recall that our first attempts felt awkward. For a long time we only prayed the Lord's Prayer out loud together. This was safe because we both knew the words to it.
Over time, and as each of us felt more comfortable being emotionally and spiritually naked with each other, we began to talk out loud to God as if he was the third person in our relationship. Now we try to pray out loud together daily. It's no longer awkward, and it has promoted spiritual intimacy. That was an unexpected bonus of being married to each other. No one had ever told us we could experience this kind of intimacy in our relationship.
Sometimes at night before we fall asleep, we pray out loud. In the darkness, I can listen to Dan's prayers and get a glimpse into the things he's grateful for as well as the issues that are troubling him. Hearing him pray reminds me that he's a work in progress, just as I am. It reminds me that my role in his life is to come alongside him, encourage him and support him. When I hear what's on his heart, I am reminded again and again of the reasons why I married him. Praying together sets us on the same track with each other and with God.
I met a couple once who were remarkably powerful and effective in their prayer life together. Like the disciples and other believers who joined together constantly in prayer, this couple brought all their needs, praises and requests to God, trusting that he would lead and guide them. They then patiently waited for God's answers.
In time God blessed this couple with a powerful ministry to special-needs orphans in China. The work keeps growing. This couple trusted God for everything, and, in turn, God entrusted them with the important work of caring for the least, which they are doing with all of their hearts.
It's one thing to say to your spouse, "I'll pray for your presentation today," as you grab your coffee and run out the door to work. It's another thing to grab your husband by the hand and say, "Let me pray with you before you go." Jesus promises us that whenever two or three come together in his name, he will also be there (see Matthew 18:20). Why not invite him into your marriage today through prayer?
How regularly do we pray together? In what ways does our frequency of praying together affect our marriage?
Why is praying together so important? What does it offer that we wouldn't gain by praying alone? Are there times when praying privately is better than praying together? When and why?
What grace must we extend to each other when we pray? How can we encourage and affirm each other in prayer?
Today's reading is from the NIV Couple's Devotional Bible by Zondervan
Source: NIV Devotions for Couples from Bible Gateway
The room was full of pregnant women and their partners, and the class was in full swing. The instructor was teaching the women how to breathe properly, along with informing the men how to give the necessary assurances at this stage of the plan.
The teacher then announced, "Ladies, exercise is good for you. Walking is especially beneficial. And, Gentlemen, it wouldn't hurt you to take the time to go walking with your partner!"
The room really got quiet. Finally, a man in the middle of the group raised his hand.
"Yes?" replied the teacher.
"Is it all right if she carries a golf bag while we walk?"
Source: the Humor Haus newsletter
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