Zechariah's Declaration (Luke 1:67-79)
Topic: Luke Passage: Luke 1:67–1:79
Go Tell It on the Mountain
(One Mission: I Am Not Ashamed)
December 14th, 2014
I. When You Cannot Help But Speak
This past summer, some of you know that Anita and I took the kids to Knott's Berry Farm in California. If you've taken younger kids (not teenagers) to a theme park, then you know it isn't always easy to ride the big roller coasters. Well, since there were three adults in our group, my daughter Laurel and I, or my wife and I were able to sneak away a couple times and go on some of these more intense rides. But although they were fun, by the end of the day, I hadn't really gotten any kind of adrenaline rush, if you know what I mean.
Well, right before the park closed, myself, Laurel, and my son Rhys were able to go on a roller coaster called Ghostrider. If you ever been to Knott's Berry Farm, then you can't miss it. It's right in front on the south end of the park and looks like it crosses right over Beach Blvd. Well, let me tell you, it was a fantastic ride. I think it permanently scarred my children, but it was worth it. Two things made it great: 1) it's a wooden roller coaster, so it's nice and rickety, and 2) it was dark, which when you are going fast and being thrown around, adds a new thrill dimension.
Well, can you guess what happened when we got off? And when met up with the rest of our family? And on the car ride home? And even on Facebook? I couldn't stop talking about it. I couldn't not speak. I couldn't help but speak.
We saw last week that the same thing is true when it comes to the reality of Jesus. Right in the middle of the Christmas Story, three individuals who are deeply affected by the reality of Jesus' birth cannot help but speak about what they have and are experiencing.
Last week, we learned about what we called, “Mary's Song”, or what is traditionally known as the Magnificat. Far beyond the normal impact of a mother giving birth, Mary was deeply affected by what God was doing in bringing the Messiah into the world. From her exclamation of praise to God, we learned three things:
I Speak about Jesus When I am in Awe of God's “Great Things” for Me
I Speak about Jesus When I am Astounded by God's Reversals
I Speak about Jesus When I am Amazed at How God Keeps His Promises
II. The Passage: “The Sunrise Shall Visit Us” (Luke 1:67-79)
Let's keep those in mind as we look together at another song or praise we find in the very same chapter. Luke 1. Look at verse 67. This section is what I am calling Zechariah's Declaration. Before we go any further, let's take a minute to answer the questions, “Who is Zechariah and why is he praising God?”
Well, the Gospel of Luke begins, not with the birth of Jesus, but with the story of the birth of John the Baptizer. His father's name was Zechariah, and Zechariah was a priest who served in the Jerusalem Temple. He and his wife Elizabeth were older and childless. But that all changed when an angel appeared to Zechariah and told him they were going to have a son. Unfortunately, the appearance of an angel was not enough proof for Zechariah that God was at work, so a consequence of his initial doubt was that he last his ability to speak. But when their son was finally born we read:
And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father,  but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.”  And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.”  And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.  And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered.  And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. (Luke 1:59-64)
So what we find beginning in verse 68 may be that very blessing mentioned in verse 64. Let's do what we did last time: let's break this passage down into three parts and talk about the principles we discover here, AND how God might want to encourage us through these principles. First of all, when we look at verses 67-75, we are reminded that...
A. I Speak about Jesus When I Understand His Commitment to His People (1:67-75)
Look at verse 67...And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,  “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people  and has raised up a horn of salvation [that's Jesus!] for us in the house of his servant David,  as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,  that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;  to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant,  the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us  that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear,  in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
Did you notice this is almost one long sentence (there's only a semicolon at the end of 71 to break it up)? It's an amazing mouthful, isn't it. Now, in one sense, this section picks up where Mary's song left off. Zechariah is similarly amazed by how God keeps His promises. But it's not hard to see the emphasis here on God's people. God has “visited”, “redeemed”, “raised up”, “saved”, shown “mercy”, and “delivered”, all so that His people might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
Zechariah knows his Old Testament. He understands the promises, the covenants made with Abraham and David. He understands the OT. Here's how one of those “holy prophets” put it:
And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel...and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.  “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes... I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. (Ezekiel 37:22a, 23b, 24, 26)
And it's the birth of Jesus, the coming of the Messiah that has lit this fire inside Zechariah.
In the same way, when we understand God's commitment to His people through Jesus, we should also want to explode with praise. We should also want to speak of what we've experienced. Did you know that if you belong to Jesus by grace, through faith, that you, in one sense, have always belonged to God? What do I mean? Well, we know the coming shepherd that Ezekiel spoke about was not David, but Jesus, the son of David. And Jesus spoke about this very thing in John 10.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd... So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”  Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me,  but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. (John 10:14-16, 24-29)
We are not His sheep because we've believed. No, we believe because we are His sheep; because we have been made His sheep, and even before the foundation of the world, were chosen to be His sheep. We know the voice of the shepherd and respond to His call because the Father has given us to Christ. Jesus makes this clear earlier in John:
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:37-59)
Did you hear in both of those chapters the incredible assurance we can have? Did you hear the extent of the commitment God has toward His people, to His sheep? We will never perish, we are safe, we will never be cast out, we will not be lost, we will be raised up in the end. Wow! How can you not speak about that kind of belonging and assurance? That kind of hope? Don't you love belonging to God's family! But let's keep going here. We also discover here that...
B. I Speak about Jesus When I Embrace His Will for Those Around Me (1:76)
Look with me at the next part of Zechariah's declaration in verse 76...
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways...
So in rejoicing over the coming Messiah, Zechariah is also rejoicing over his new son. And here, he is reaffirming what he was told back in verses 16 and 17 of this same chapter. Look back there with me. The angel told him...
“And he [your son] will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,  and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:16-17)
Zechariah may have doubted at first, but clearly now, in this declaration of praise, he has fully embraced God's will for his child. Again, I think he understands now how this all connects back to the OT. The prophet Malachi spoke of John the Baptizer:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me...I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.  And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6)
While you and I cannot know the specific will or the specific path God has for those in our lives, we can still and must embrace God's will for those around us, including our children. Remember what Paul told Timothy about God's will for others...
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,  who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (I Timothy 2:1-6)
So, if we speak about Jesus when we understand His profound commitment to His people, doesn't that flow out of a desire to see others joined with His people as well? That's what Paul is talking about here. That's why supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings [should] be made for all people. That's why we should share Jesus with those around us, because we recognize, broadly speaking, God's desire for our friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers, and like Zechariah, are not ashamed to proclaim it.
But look at what else we see here. In the final verses of this passage we discover that...
C. I Speak about Jesus When I Appreciate the Freedom His Forgiveness Brings (1:77-79)
Look at verses 77-79. Zechariah declares...
[for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways].  to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Zechariah is so deeply affected by God's will for his on because he is so deeply affected by the One for whom his child is a forerunner; for whom he is preparing the way. Look at the words here: the Messiah will bring “salvation”, “forgiveness”, “tender mercy”, “light”, and “peace”. In fact, the dominant theme here has to do with light and darkness.
We know how the classic Christmas passage, Isaiah 9:2, spoke about this very reality: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
And just as Malachi spoke of the coming Elijah, he also prophesied of this coming “sunrise”: But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. (Malachi 4:2) The me-centeredness of sin keeps us in darkness, doesn't it? It keep groping in the darkness because we are cut off from God, who “is light” (I John 1:5). But in Jesus, in the child of Christmas, there is freedom. Would anyone feel the freedom to run and dance and jump for joy in a pitch black and unfamiliar room? Of course not. Sin traps us in that same way. At the very point when we think we are most free to do what we want, we are most enslaved.
But Zechariah knows that a new day is dawning in Jesus, that forgiveness and salvation are coming. To what end? That we might walk in “the way of peace”. Isn't that a message worth sharing? Isn't that what those around us need to hear, about true freedom? Remember how Paul expressed what God has done through Jesus: He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)
III. Full Heart, Full Hope, Full Mouth
Let's stop and summarize. When understand, and embrace, and appreciate what God has done by bringing His Son into the world, how can we not speak? When we understand His commitment to His people, when we want others to know the assurance of that commitment because we embrace God's will for them, and when we appreciate that that experience is only possible because of the freedom of forgiveness Jesus has secured, not by His birth, but through His death...when we are deeply affected by these things, Christ flows out of us. Listen to how another Apostle, Peter, speaks about a heart that overflows with such words...
But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,  having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (I Pt 3:14-16)
When our hearts are deeply affected, like Mary and Zechariah were, then hope burns hot within us. And when that happens, hope shines from our lives. And when hope shines from our lives, people begin to ask questions. And when that happens, what does Peter say we must do? We must be “prepared to make a defense...with gentleness and respect”. Full heart. Full hope. Full mouth.
Are you prepared to share about Jesus? The best way to be prepared is not seminar, or a book on evangelism, or hours knocking on doors (those aren't bad things). The best way to be prepared is to immerse yourself deeply in God's word and celebrate all He has done for you. And if aren't sure God has, in your life, done anything worth celebrating, then today is the day to reach out, through faith, and receive the freedom only Jesus can give. You will never ever find a better Christmas gift than this.