2019-12-22 Knowing Salvation

Knowing Salvation
Luke 1:57-80
December 22, 2019

Prayer for Illumination:

O Lord, prepare our hearts to hear your word. Unless you give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand we will not hear your word. Holy Spirit, come and make your word alive to us and in us. Cause us to hear what you are saying. Amen.

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

68      “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for he has visited and redeemed his people

69      and has raised up a horn of salvation for us

in the house of his servant David,

70      as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

71      that we should be saved from our enemies

and from the hand of all who hate us;

72      to show the mercy promised to our fathers

and to remember his holy covenant,

73      the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us

74           that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,

         might serve him without fear,

75           in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

76      And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

77      to give knowledge of salvation to his people

in the forgiveness of their sins,

78      because of the tender mercy of our God,

whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high

79      to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. [1]

This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

One of the growing religious affiliations is “spiritual but not religious”. Maybe you know someone who would say they’re “spiritual but not religious”. Many of my former coworkers at Starbucks and at the radio station would say that. Many of them would say that they are “spiritual but not religious”.

“Spiritual but not religious” is a belief in a generic god who give good things to people but they don’t have any specific beliefs. They might say, “If there is a god, this god is unknowable.” They expect god to give good things but they don’t expect this god to actually show up. They want to keep whatever god they believe in at arm’s length.

Sometimes that type of thinking makes its way into the Church. There are nominal / cultural Christians who believe essentially the same things. They believe in a generic god whose job it is to give good things to people. But they don’t actually expect him to show up. They don’t expect god to reveal himself. They are happy when god gives good things but they want to keep him at arm’s length. They don’t really want to know him or encounter him.

I have a relative who would say that he believes god gives us good things but we can’t really know him. He doesn’t really expect god to show up. He would still consider himself Christian though. He keeps god at arm’s length by not attending worship, reading his bible, or praying. This spiritual but not religious thinking makes its way into the Church at times.

We see something similar here. We see nominal / cultural believers who are happy when God gives Elizabeth a son; happy to keep God at arm’s length. But there isn’t much comfort in a nominal faith that keeps God at arm’s length. We also see that when God shows up even though it is terrifying, it is ultimately comforting.

The Lack of Comfort in Nominal Faith

Elizabeth has finally given birth. Her reproach has been taken away. By having a child, the reproach Elizabeth bore by being barren has been taken away. She would have been mocked and made to feel less-than others because she didn’t have a child. Culturally, a woman’s value was based on her ability to have children. But her reproach has been taken away now that she has given birth to a son.

And her friends and family rejoice in that. They rejoice because Elizabeth’s reproach has been taken away. They rejoice with her because she has a child.

And they gather on the eighth day to circumcise the boy and name him. They are fulfilling a command of the law. God in Genesis 17:10-14 gives this command. There he says to Abraham:

This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

Zechariah and Elizabeth keep this command. They are circumcising their son on the eighth day as God has commanded. This is confirmation of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s righteousness and blamelessness. Luke has already told us that they are righteous and blameless. Now he’s showing us. Good writers don’t just tell us something; they also show us. Good writers don’t just tell us someone is bad; good writers show us that person doing something bad. Good writers don’t just tell us someone is virtuous; good writers show us that person doing something virtuous. And make no mistake, Luke is a good writer. Luke shows us just how righteous and blameless Zechariah and Elizabeth are.

As their friends and family gather, Elizabeth gives her son the name John. John means “God is gracious”. She wants to give him a name that makes clear God has shown her grace. God has shown her grace in taking away her reproach. God has shown her grace in providing a son.

Elizabeth’s friends and family disagree with the name. They don’t think she should name the child John. They want to name him after his father, Zechariah. That was the custom. Parents would name their child after a grandparent or great-grandparent. Her friends and family say, “None of your relatives is called by this name”. They don’t have a relative named John. So her friends and family insist on naming the son Zechariah.

They make motions to Zechariah, thinking he’ll affirm their desire. But he writes, “His name is John”. Remember, for the past nine months Zechariah has been mute. He has been unable to speak since Gabriel told him he would have a son. He didn’t believe Gabriel and his punishment was to be silent until Gabriel’s words were fulfilled.

And as soon as he writes the name John, “his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors.” The words of Gabriel have been fulfilled and Zechariah can speak again. And his speech fills his neighbors with fear. What did he speak that caused them to be filled with fear? What filled his neighbors with fear was his prophesy that Luke records a few verses later. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Notice, their friends and family are filled with fear. They have gone from joy to fear. Why? What would cause them to be filled with fear? They weren’t expecting God to actually show up. They were happy to have a nominal faith where God gives them good things, like taking away Elizabeth’s reproach. But they didn’t actually expect God would show up in such a powerful way. It’s nice when God does nice things for good people.

But now they’re hearing God is showing up. Now they’re being told God the king is coming. And that is scary. I love C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia”. They’re some of my favorite stories. In the first story, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, the children are told that the great king Aslan is coming. And when the beavers tell them that, they’re filled with fear. They immediately ask if Aslan is safe. Mr. Beaver replies, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Sometimes we say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if God showed up?” We say that thinking it’ll be like grandma and grandpa showing up with goodies and treats. But I know my heart. And I know I’m not that different from you. And in my heart there are moments of sin; moments when I rebel against God and his ways. And standing before a holy God is a terrifying, awe-filling thought. I imagine I would respond much like Isaiah.

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s friends and family realize this. All of a sudden their nominal faith is being confronted by a true and living God. They’re realizing that a nominal faith in a generic god doesn’t give much comfort when the real thing shows up. When God moves in closer than arm’s length, it is scary if we’re only used to thinking about God giving us good things. It’s scary because as he moves in closer, we get a glimpse of our sin and need for a savior. We ask whether or not God is safe. ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.

See it really isn’t comforting to keeping God at arm’s length. A nominal faith doesn’t comfort when we encounter the true living God. We see ourselves for who we are sinners in need of a savior.

The Comfort of a Knowing Salvation

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.

What Zechariah is about to sing is what God wants him to say. He is not just speaking nonsense. He is speaking what God has told him to say.

We believe that each and every word of the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Everything that is in the Bible is for our reproof, our rebuke, our correction, and for our training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). God has inspired every word in the Bible to tell us about who he is and what he is doing. Let us read all of the Bible letting it correct us in our thinking, build us up in the love of God, and train us in the ways of God.

And Zechariah sings:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for he has visited and redeemed his people

69      and has raised up a horn of salvation for us

in the house of his servant David,

Zechariah begins by singing about a child, but not his child. He says “house of his servant David”. Zechariah and Elizabeth aren’t from the house of David. They are both descendents of Aaron. That’s the tribe of Levi. David is from the tribe of Judah. So Zechariah isn’t singing about his own son. These are the first words that he has spoken in nine months and he doesn’t speak first of his son.

He’s singing about Jesus. Jesus is of the house of David. And it is through him that the Lord God of Israel “has visited and redeemed his people and raised up a horn of salvation”. It is in Jesus that God has visited and redeemed his people. Jesus is God incarnate. He is the second person of the Trinity. He is the eternally begotten Son of God the Father.

And it is through Jesus that God has “raised up a horn of salvation”. It is a common expression in the Old Testament. The image here is like that of a wild animal. Think of a charging goat. Its horns allow the animal to charge an opponent and do damage. It’s a sign of strength and power.

God has visited his people and he has redeemed them by raising a horn of salvation. How has redeemed his people? How has he provided salvation? Through Jesus’ life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension he has redeemed his people from their sin and misery. It is through the cross that he has provided salvation to his Church.

Zechariah continues his song saying:

As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

71      that we should be saved from our enemies

and from the hand of all who hate us;

72      to show the mercy promised to our fathers

and to remember his holy covenant,

73      the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us

74           that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,

         might serve him without fear,

75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

The Scriptures are filled with the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ. From the opening pages of the Bible, God has told that he will be the one to provide salvation to his people. The entire Old Testament points to and prepares us for the coming salvation found in Christ Jesus.

When we read the Old Testament, we should read it in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ. We should not read it divorced from the New Testament nor should we ignore it all together as certain preachers and teachers say we should. We should read it and know it. And as we read it, we should read it in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In the Old Testament, the New is concealed; in the New Testament, the Old is revealed. When we read them together and see how the Old Testament points to and prepares us for Jesus, it’s like going from a grainy black-and-white 8in. TV to IMAX.

That’s why when I preach and teach the Old Testament, I preach Christ. That doesn’t mean I shoe horn him in to every passage without respect to what is being said. To preach Christ without doing damage to an Old Testament passage, we ask does this passage prepare us for the person and work of Jesus? Does this passage explicitly promise something about Jesus? Do the people and their actions in this passage contrast with the way of Jesus? Every passage in Scripture points to and prepares us for the person and work of Jesus Christ.

God’s promise of salvation is rooted in his covenant. God’s promise of salvation is rooted in his promise. In the Old Testament, God made a covenant with Abraham. He promised Abraham, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3).

Then God promised not only that it would be through Abraham that God would bless all the families of the earth, he promised that he would be the one to make it happen. God made clear that God and God alone would fulfill these promises. It wasn’t dependent upon Abraham and the size of his faith or anything Abraham would do. The promise depended completely and utterly on God. Only God can fulfill them. And he does in Jesus Christ. God promises salvation and only he can accomplish it. We can’t. As Jonathan Edwards said, “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” God is the one who saves. And his salvation is through the person and work of Jesus, his Son.

The final part of Zechariah’s song is:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

77      to give knowledge of salvation to his people

in the forgiveness of their sins,

78      because of the tender mercy of our God,

whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high

79      to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Finally he gets to John. Finally he begins to sing about his own son. And he says that John will prepare the way for the coming Christ. He is confirming what Gabriel said nine months earlier. John’s job is to make for the Lord a people ready. He is to give them knowledge of salvation and the coming forgiveness of sins.

In thirty years, that’s what we see. Thirty years after John’s birth, he is in the wilderness calling the people to repent of their sins. He was baptizing them in repentance, teaching them that they needed someone to wash them clean. He was preparing the people for Jesus.

While it is scary for God to move in closer than arm’s length, it is also far more comforting. It seems scary when nominal or cultural faith encounters the true and living God. It seems scary because we see our sin for what it is. We see our sin as rebellion and deserving of death. But it’s comforting to know for certain that God has provided redemption for his people from their enemies of sin and death; he has provided salvation. And that salvation is found only in the person and work of his Son, Jesus the Christ. That is a comforting word.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 1:57–80). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.