Preparing for Christmas: First Came John

Text: Luke 1:67-80                                                     12/18/2011

Thesis: First came John then came the glorious Sunrise.

Before the angel Gabriel visited a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph he had another visit to make. You see, there was another couple out there and their names were Zechariah and Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God. They walked blamelessly in all the commandments and statues of the Lord. But they had no child, Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.

Now Zechariah was a priest and he had gone up to the temple to serve as priest. One of the special duties of the priest would be to go into the Holy Place inside the temple, trim the lamps, and burn incense on the altar of incense. Now they didn’t burn incense to make the room smell better. You see the priest, in this case Zechariah, was doing something quite profound when incense was burned. Luke 1 tells us that when Zechariah entered the Holy Place to burn incense there was a multitude of people outside praying. Now all those praying people had entered by way of sacrifice on the great altar and they had entered by washing in the great sea of water. These were people who had literally seen their sins atoned and their bodies washed clean. Now they were praying and the smoke rising up from the altar of incense was the equivalent of their prayers rising to God. These were cleansed people who had come to meet with God. And God responded with a message.

The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the temple and when Zechariah saw the angel he became wildly afraid. Gabriel had a message. You see, Zechariah’s prayers had been heard. Zechariah had been praying for his wife to have a child and just as the smoke from the incense rose to the heavens so too had Zachariah’s prayers risen to God. Gabriel told Zechariah that Elizabeth would have a son. They were to name the boy John. His birth would be joyful because God would do great things through this boy. John would be filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb. Through him God would reconcile many of the children of Israel to himself and God would reconcile families. The disobedient would turn to the wisdom of the just and this child would prepare the way of the Lord.

Pretty amazing isn’t it that our God answers prayer? But Zachariah didn’t believe it. So God punished Zachariah by making him unable to speak until his son was born. It appears also that Zachariah wasn’t able to hear (Lk 1:62). You see, if Zachariah wouldn’t listen to and believe what God said then he would listen to no one and speak no word until God’s word came true.

And God’s word came true. About nine months later Elizabeth gave birth to a boy. When the people gathered together on the eigth day they were going to call him Zechariah after his father but Elizabeth told them to call him John. There was a bit of a disagreement so they signaled the deaf and speechless Zechariah. He called for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed and he spoke blessing God. Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied saying,

Read Luke 1:68-80

In this moment the Holy Spirit shows Zechariah what God is going to do through Jesus, the Son of the Most High (1:32), and John, the prophet of the Most High. So Zechariah begins with praise.

I. Praise God for what He has done (vs67-75)

Zechariah begins by blessing the Lord. The right response to all that God has done and all that God is going to do is to give God praise. Thank Him. Praise Him. Tell of His greatness. Celebrate His faithfulness to His people. Rejoice in who God is. This is what Zechariah does in verse 67, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” Now let’s see exactly why Zechariah praises God.

  1. God has come (Gen 50:24-25; Ex 4:31; Lk 7:16)

Verse 68, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited his people.” This is Exodus language. Before Joseph died he prophesied that God would visit his people and bring them out of the land of Egypt and give them the land he had sworn to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen 50:24). Fast forward 400 years. Moses and Aaron gather the elders of the people of Israel who were in Egypt and tell them that God has come to rescue them. “And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.”

Fast forward another 1400 years and here is Zechariah worshipping God because God has visited his people. And God’s visitation comes in Messiah’s visitation (vs68; 78). Grab onto this. After Jesus raised the widow’s son from the dead, Luke 7:16 records this, “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited his people!’” The prophet like Moses has come. But better still, God has come. Praise God for the incarnation. Praise God for Christmas. God has come!

  1. The Son of God accomplishes redemption

Verse 68 says, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” Jesus came to accomplish redemption for the people of God. Psalm 130:7 says, “O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.” Colossians 1:14 says, “In Christ we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:12 tells us that through Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death, victorious resurrection, and glorious ascension he has secured for us “eternal redemption.” Through Jesus God has come and accomplished redemption. Zechariah speaks as if it’s already happened. It is a sure promise; a done deal. Let’s keep going with verse 69 so we can rejoice with Zechariah.

“God has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” God had promised redemption through the line of David. Zechariah hints about what we looked at last week; a better king than David. The imagery of verse 69 is great. In those days there were no massive engines but there were powerful animals. One of the most powerful and strong would have been the wild ox. So the horn became an image of great strength even efficacy. That’s why the great altar in the courtyard where the sacrifices were burned had four horns. Those horns symbolized the fact that those faithfully offered sacrifices had great power, they were efficacious, and they worked. The altar of incense also had four horns that symbolized the powerful prayers of the faithful.

When the Holy Spirit wanted to describe the coming work of Jesus he did it with the image of a horn of salvation. Jesus came to accomplish a salvation that was powerful, strong, and efficacious. Our Savior is not a baby in a manger. No, he is a ruling King whose power to save is unstoppable.

A horn of salvation has been raised up for us just as God had said. Look at verse 70. A horn has been raised up in the house of his servant David, “as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” God said he would do this. Let me give you one from the prophet Jeremiah. This is Jeremiah 23:5&6. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” Christmas, the birth of the Christ, is what God had been talking about for a long time.

God said, verse 71, “that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” Now Zechariah doesn’t have the details but he has the big picture. It is important for us to realize that Zechariah has no concepts of the first and second comings of the Messiah. All Zechariah sees is the completed work. Therefore, Zechariah brings the works of salvation from sins and liberation from political enemies together. But we as recipients of the complete Bible understand that the first coming was for salvation and the second coming will be for kingly rule over all this earth and every kingdom. Keep that in mind.

Verse 71 promises peace for God’s people. No longer will they be held captive by the likes of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, or Rome. Because of the Messiah God’s people will be saved from their enemies and from the hand of all who hate them. This is political or national freedom. This will occur when Christ returns. Let’s get back into Luke 1.

A horn of salvation has been raised up in the house of his servant David. The Messiah will come to free God’s people and he will come, verse 72, “to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham.”

  1. Our redemption shows God’s mercy

Remember, after Abraham had been willing to offer up Isaac God promised, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen 22:17-18). But God’s people didn’t obey his voice. They repeatedly and continually disobeyed the covenant. But the prophet Micah understood what Zechariah saw. Micah said this, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old” (Micah 7:18-20).

At Christmas we get a clear view of God’s mercy. We shouldn’t have a savior. We shouldn’t have any hope of eternal life. But in the birth of our Lord we see the mercy promised to our fathers. In that manger and on that cross we see that God remembers his holy covenant. Our God is merciful. Our redemption proves it.

But God doesn’t redeem us just to show his mercy. God redeems us through faith in Christ so that we might serve him. God has raised up this horn of salvation, verse 74, “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.”

  1. God saves for service (vs74-75)

When God brought his people out of Egypt he said he did so in order to make them a kingdom of priests (Ex 19:6). God has redeemed his people in order that they might serve him. But as you know from reading the Old Testament the people of God did not want to serve God. They need new hearts. They, like us, need the powerful New Covenant in Jesus’ blood.

Zechariah saw then when he saw liberation from the hand of our enemies. This is a new Exodus through Jesus Christ so that we might be a kingdom of priests. God’s design is to give you freedom both physically and spiritually. Physical deliverance allows you to serve God without fear persecution. Many of our brothers and sisters don’t have that so they long for the second coming. Spiritual deliverance allows you to serve God without fear of his wrath against your sins. This spiritual dynamic is explained as “serving him in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Christ has come to create a people who will serve God all their days in complete holiness and righteousness. You are to go to your work and serve God there. You are to go to the movies and the lake and Christmas parties and serve God there. Because of Christ and his powerful transforming grace you are to be a priest in your home to your spouse, your children, and your grandchildren. We are a holy people set apart for God. There are no days off. If you want a day off from being holy and serving God in righteousness then you probably haven’t experienced the powerful grace of Christ.

Christ has come to redeem his people. The prophets said it would happen, God promised it to Abraham, and now the fulfillment is for us “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). And I like this: Zechariah praised God for what he was going to do through Christ. We get to praise God for what he has done through Christ.

Now the question arises: What about John? Zechariah gets 12 verses and 2 of them are about John.

II. Understand John’s role (vs76-80)

  1. John is the prophet of the Most High (76)

Look at verse 76 with me, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High.” Just as God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,” now he will speak through John. And John “will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” Isaiah gives us the picture of every valley being lifted up and every mountain and hill made low so that the glory of the Lord can be revealed (Isaiah 40:3-5). John is like a road crew for the coming King. His job is to remove every impediment to the glorious Christ. And what is the biggest roadblock, valley, or mountain? Is it Rome? Do the people need political freedom in order to be ready for the Christ? No, they need what we need. Verse 77, they need God “to give knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of their sins.” John preached repentance and his was a baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming king.

Hear me clearly on this one: there is no salvation without the forgiveness of sins. And how is this forgiveness possible? Should we work hard and do good things and maybe we’ll be saved? Is salvation by works? Never, salvation is, verse 78, because of the tender mercy of God. God provided salvation for them through the coming Messiah because of his deep abiding mercy. And God has provided salvation for us through the Messiah that has come because of his deep abiding mercy. Verse 78 is huge. Everything hinges on the tender mercy of our God. Aren’t you so glad that your salvation doesn’t depend on you being good enough. Instead your salvation depends on God being merciful. This merciful God sent John to prepare the way. And remember, John was the prophet of the Most High. Now let’s think a little more about Jesus.

  1. Jesus is the Son of the Most High (32)

John came giving the knowledge of salvation through faith in the coming King because of the tender mercy of God. Now verse 78 goes on to tell us that that “the sunrise shall visit us from on high” also because of the tender mercy of God. We know that “sunrise” refers to Jesus because there is only one other person mentioned in this prophecy who visits his people and that person is God. Verse 68 told us that God has visited us and we saw that he did it through the Christ. Outside of this passage Ephesians 5:14 says, “Awake, O Sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” In Revelation 22:16 Jesus calls himself the bright morning star. Let’s keep going into verse 79 and the images will make good sense.

The reason for the sunrise is “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Christ has come to rescue us from sin and death. He has come to pull us out of the despondency and depression caused by the struggles of this life. Christ has come to shine upon us and lead us out of death and into life. He came to guide our feed into the way of peace. This is exactly what he did. His life and sin atoning work, his teaching and ministry, can be described as light shining into the darkness.

Let’s bring this home to Granbury and Glen Rose. You and I will gather with friends, family, and neighbors over the next couple of weeks and there is a battle raging around us. 2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us that the god of this world who is Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. But as we proclaim Christ as Lord, God shines the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Before the thick of Christmas is upon us we need to pause and ask what we are proclaiming in all these activities and with all these presents. We must realize that it is quite possible that Satan could be using us and our good intentions to blind the minds of unbelievers. If there is not a gracious and clear proclamation of Jesus as Lord in your life then you might actually be having a blinding effect on your loved ones this Christmas.

Remember, Christ has come so that we might serve God in holiness and righteousness all our days. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the light that will lead you and your family and your friends out of darkness, despondency, and death. Go from this place and proclaim Christ. Tell people why Christmas matters. Point people to the cross, the empty tomb, and the tender mercy of God. The Light of the world has come. May our words and deeds shine forth with his marvelous light.