Vol. IX — No. 2 January 14, 1968
That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
In Christ Jesus, who came to earth to save us so that we might serve Him, Fellow Redeemed:
By this time almost all of the Christmas gifts have been opened. Some have already been returned to the stores, where they were purchased, to be exchanged. Some of the toys may already be broken. Some of the gifts may have displeased the receivers and may already be packed away. Some gifts may have been of that impractical nature that they just occupy space. Others, such as items of clothing or pieces of equipment, may have already been put to good use. But has anyone received a gift that can be and is used every day? If so, is that gift durable enough to last for your entire life? It would, indeed, be a rare gift that could be used every single day of one’s life and yet never wear out, never diminish in strength or beauty. Wouldn’t such a gift be THE GIFT—valued above all others?
Would you believe it? Each one of us has been given just such a gift. Its usefulness never decreases its strength never diminishes, its beauty never fades. Zacharias prophesied of that gift when he spoke for the first time after months of silence. During those months of silence he had leisure to repent of his own unbelief when he doubted the gracious power of his God. But faith regained the victory over unbelief in his heart. That faith burst forth in words of prophecy on the occasion of the naming and circumcising of his son. Zacharias recognized the birth of his son as the beginning of the era of fulfillment. The Lord God of Israel had visited and redeemed His people. He had raised up a Horn of Salvation from the house of David that had become as a tree stump. He had remained faithful to His Word spoken again and again down through the ages by the mouths of His holy prophets. He had remembered His covenant made originally with Abraham and confirmed to him by an oath. Zacharias knew that the Promised Seed of the woman was about to be born. He spoke in eager anticipation of the birth of the Christchild. And then he continued by speaking of the gift that the Christchild would bring from heaven to earth. That gift we would consider this morning, namely—
a saving that enables us to serve Him
without fear, in holiness and
righteousness, all the
days of our life.
Zacharias prophesied, “that He—the Lord God of Israel—would grant unto us.” Zacharias is about to speak of our ability to serve the Lord. He speaks of that as a gift given to us. Anthropologists or students of man and his culture are able to tell us how different people living in different places and at different times on earth have rendered service unto their gods or god. Such serving of god or gods is and has been a universal experience of man. But any such service that is self-initiated and self-instituted is not pleasing to the Lord God. The service that pleases our God is the service that He has enabled man to perform. Let us understand this clearly: Any service that we render to our God that is acceptable to Him has first been received from Him by us. That is the truth that Zacharias proclaimed in the words, “that he would grant unto us”—what? The ability to serve Him!
What is the force or power that enables us to render such service? A mighty and gracious act of God: our being delivered out of the hand of our enemies. The Christchild was sent on a rescue mission. His mission was to rescue mankind from its enemies. The word “enemies” immediately brings to mind people who want to rob or harm or hurt us. Man thinks in terms of economic and political and military enemies who threaten our physical and material well-being. We tend to think that way spontaneously because we are so earth-bound. We have to be told who our real enemies are. They have to be identified to us. They are spiritual forces—that unholy trinity of sin, death and Satan. Sin is a power, a force that relentlessly attacks and seeks to enslave every human being on earth. The very fact that we have to be made aware of the power of sin is proof of its power. Death is more than a natural force. It’s basically a spiritual force, related to sin in a cause and effect way. Death reigns as a consequence of sin. No scientific achievement of man can halt the reign of death. Behind these two impersonal forces is the personal enemy, Satan. He is a real, personal, spiritual being—the avowed enemy of God and of man. We have been delivered, we have been rescued from this triumvirate of enemies. The birth of the Christchild was the beginning. His death, resurrection and ascension mark the completion of our deliverance. That deliverance, handed to us in the Gospel message as a gift, is the spiritual force that enables us to serve our God.
Zacharias, speaking by the Spirit of God, recognized this and taught the real connection between what the Christchild was to do for man and man’s service in return. There can be no service of God without the gift of deliverance from sin, death and Satan. So it is: “That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.”
Think of the characteristics of this service that we have been enabled to render. we can now serve without fear—fear of what? We need no longer fear the hostile trinity of sin, death and Satan. Oh how Satan loves to hold over our heads our own sins! How he delights in accusing us! How he seeks to drive us to despair, as he did Judas. “You’ve sinned. You’ve sinned. You’re guilty. You’re mine. You’ve got to die.” That is the fiendish, diabolic line of the accuser. It is a message of doom that is calculated to work fear and terror in human hearts. But we have been delivered from these enemies. We can say to Satan: “Certainty we daily sin much, but despite that there is no condemnation in us, for we have been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. We live in Christ who daily and richly forgives us all our sins. Certainly we must die, but death cannot gain the final victory over us. Our mortal bodies, though they decay in the grave, will respond to the voice of the archangel on the last day and will rise again. Death has been swallowed up in the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” These assurances, which are ours in Christ, cast out fear and make service without fear possible for us.
We are to serve in holiness and righteousness. The basic idea in the word “holiness” is the idea of separation. We have been separated from a world victimized by sin, death and Satan and have been dedicated to our God. His holiness has purged us of our un-holiness and has created in us the ability and the will to serve Him in holiness. The basic idea in righteousness is God’s verdict of what is right. He sets the standards for right-always. We are to serve in accordance with His standards. Notice the criterion for service. So much service that man renders unto the Lord is self-chosen, self-instituted, self-ordained. Such service is displeasing. His holiness and His righteousness establish the criteria for service pleasing unto Him. Nothing else is pleasing to Him!
This service “without fear, in holiness and righteousness” is to continue “all the days of our life.” There is no time in life in which we cannot serve our God. Service is to be rendered during the childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age and declining years—“all the days of our life.”
This is the Christchild’s day-to-day gift to each of us—deliverance that enables us to serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our lives. We have spoken to you of this Christmas gift because we are this day installing our new council members, officers of the congregation and ministers of the Word. You people are being given by the congregation a special opportunity to serve your God.
The members of the church council are the ruling and governing body of the congregation. You are to exercise that power as a service to your Lord. When we think of the duties and responsibilities of the church council, we so frequently think in terms of the materiel aspects of the congregation’s life, the care and maintenance of the property, the business and financial part of the congregation’s life, and for us this year such a major undertaking as the construction of a parsonage. But when you listen to the installation service, you will find that the emphasis does not lie upon these material matters, but upon your spiritual responsibilities. Your chief concern is to be that “the pure Word of God be preached.” This concern is printed in the Order for the Installation of a Church Council as printed in our hymnals. For half a century these words have been laid upon the hearts of councilmen who have been installed annually. With what effect? There has been a steady undermining of the preaching of the pure Word of God. What have councilmen throughout the Lutheran churches been doing about it? For the most part they have become a part of the undermining process, either supporting it actively or wringing their hands in a gesture of helplessness. We pray that the members of this church council will not be such dumb dogs. You are the guardians of the pulpit! You have been chosen to protect those that sit in the pew against any impurity that may come from the pulpit. If you hear anything amiss, it is your solemn duty to sound the alarm, to blow the trumpets, to man the battle stations so that God’s people may be protected against any and every intrusion of error. If you are to function as guardians of the pulpit, you must be and remain learners, students of Holy Scripture, pupils of the Holy Spirit so that you can test every spirit to see whether it be of God. God grant you men grace to function as special guardians of His Word in this congregation.
There are routine, burdensome, but most necessary tasks to be done in a congregation. One such task is that of the treasurer, who receives, records and disperses the gifts of God’s children. Diligence, honesty and faithfulness are qualities especially for that office. It is also of utmost importance that an accurate record be kept of the congregation’s business. Not everyone has the necessary training and skill to perform these tasks. He thank the Lord for granting us dedicated men to perform these tasks for us as a special service to their Lord.
The congregation has called me to serve as minister of the Word, but it is impossible for one man to do all the teaching that is necessary. So it is that the congregation asks others to serve in the teaching of the Sunday School, the administration of its affairs and in the guidance of the youth. Let all of those chosen for this work realize their responsibilities and opportunities. There is no more important work than teaching the youth to know their Savior. But no one can teach who is not himself a learner. All teaching presupposes learning. That is why the congregation has a right to expect of you who have been entrusted with this work that which your God expects: that you continue to sit at the feet of the Lord as learners. He have been pleased with the faithfulness that has been evidenced in attendance at the weekly staff meetings. But we warn against making a vice of this virtue. The study that we do together is not to replace, but to supplement the private study of each one of us. Let no one imagine that he has ever learned all that can be learned about a given Bible story. There are always new facets, old truths that need to be emphasized, endless applications to life. Let no one imagine that his teaching technique is beyond improvement. Let us never cease learning what we are to teach and then learning how better to teach it. We pray the Lord to bless the private learning of our teachers and their public teaching here in the congregation.
Our solemn installation service this morning should also remind each and every member of his personal gift from the Christchild—the ability to serve his Lord. Hay each one of us use that gift daily! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.