The Second Sunday of Advent December 9, 2007
2 Timothy 3:10-17
62, 98, 377(1,6-7,9-10), 359
Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which 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 the days of our life. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.
Dear friends in Christ:
It began as an ordinary work day for Zacharias. Of course, his “ordinary” work was still unique because He was a priest in the temple. There were 24 divisions of priests. Each division served one week at a time. The individual priest’s work during that week was determined by casting lots. This particular day Zacharias’ lot was that of burning the incense. The people were in the temple’s outer court praying and Zacharias was in the Holy Place burning the incense when it happened—an angel appeared to him standing on the right side of the alter of incense!
That angel was Gabriel and he had an important message for Zacharias. Gabriel told Zacharias that despite their old age, he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. His son would be the prophet sent by God to prepare the people for the Messiah, and his name would be John. This was tremendous news for Zacharias because not only was it the news of a son, but that the long-awaited Savior was about to come! This was all too much for Zacharias to believe and he asked the angel how He could be sure this was true. The angel gave him a sign resulting from his disbelief. The sign was that he would not be able to speak until after the son was born.
After the angel left, Zacharias went out to the people and because he could not speak he motioned for them to go home. After his time of service in the temple was complete, Zacharias went home and soon after, his wife conceived. When the child was a week old, friends gathered for his circumcision and naming. Those who gathered wanted to name the child Zacharias after his father. Elizabeth, however, said his name would be John. The relatives objected since no one in the family had that name. So they asked Zacharias and he wrote on a tablet: “His name is John.” Immediately, Zacharias received his voice and he used it in a song of praise to God.
The words which we are considering this morning are the song of praise which Zacharias spoke at his son’s circumcision. This song provides a grand description of the salvation which led Zacharias to such joy. Since our salvation is the same as that of Zacharias, we pray that our hearts and tongues would be loosed to sing with him: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel!” I. The promised deliverance has come II. The knowledge of salvation is given.
The theme of Zacharias’ song is clear from the very beginning, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.” [v.68-69] Throughout Jesus’ ministry there was a common misunderstanding that the promised Messiah would be an earthly ruler to deliver Israel from the oppression of her political enemies. There is no such misunderstanding on the part of Zacharias. His praise is to God who ever since the fall into sin saw the condition of mankind and promised to provide salvation from sins. The God of heaven had visited His sinful people, that is, He had come to them in loving friendship and with help. He came to redeem them—buy them back—from sin and death.
Zacharias spoke of a “horn of salvation” being raised up. Rams’ horns are easily associated with toughness and strength (Dodge trucks picked up on this and their trucks have been advertised as “ram tough” for years). The ram’s horns are his defense. The power of the head and neck drive the horns at his enemies. Salvation of sinners required great power and might. Great power and might had to go into battle for us for “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Zacharias praised God for raising up a horn of salvation for sinners—as strong Savior and descendant of King David.
Zacharias speaks of all these things as if they were already complete even though Jesus would not be born for several months. Zacharias had certainty that these things would take place. First of all, the angel told him that his son would be the forerunner of the Savior, therefore, the Savior Himself could not be too far behind. Secondly, after Gabriel announced to Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus, Mary had come to visit Elizabeth. Finally, and most importantly, the words of Zacharias were themselves words of prophesy given by inspiration of God, “Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied saying…” [v.67]. It is the nature of prophesy from God that things foretold are spoken of as if they are already accomplished, because whatever God promises is already done and will come to pass in time.
Zacharias’ prophesy of what God would accomplish through the Messiah was by no means the first such prophesy. Zacharias says that these are all things promised long ago, “As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began…” What Zacharias saw was the beginning of the fulfillment of promises which had been made by God throughout the Old Testament. These were promises which Zacharias’ father and grandfather and generations before had heard and awaited their fulfillment. So imagine Zacharias’ excitement and joy that now the time had come.
Zacharias spoke of four purposes which were accomplished when God raised the horn of salvation [v.70-75]:
1) “…that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us…” God does not promise that enemies and things of the earth will never trouble us, but He does promise that they won’t defeat us in what really counts. Our enemies are all those who wish to deprive our souls of eternal life. God provides deliverance from these enemies through Jesus, the horn of His salvation.
It is helpful to realize and remember that the Devil, the sinful world around us, and our own sinful flesh all fall into this category of “enemies and those that hate us.” The Devil hates you! The sinful world hates you! Your own sinful self hates you! They work for their own selfish gain and rejoice every time you follow them. It is strangely sad that we often prefer to be with sin and the Devil who hates us rather than with the God who loves us and gave us His Son to deliver us from those that hate us.
2) “…to perform the mercy promised to our fathers…” The salvation from sin and damnation was promised to the fathers and then, as it is now, it was purely out of God’s mercy and undeserved love. At no time, either in promise or in fulfillment, was our salvation anything but pure grace! We confess that we are “poor miserable sinners.” Luther wrote in his explanation of the second article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that [Jesus] has redeemed me a lost and condemned creature.” God looked on our sinful pathetic state with pity and His love moved Him to provide help. So Paul wrote, “By grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:8).
3) “…to remember His holy covenant, which He swore to our father Abraham.” God promised Abraham, “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). The promise of the Savior’s family line was passed down to Isaac, then Jacob, then Judah, and down the line to David and beyond until the Savior came.
4) “…to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.” Christ has come and suffered and died for our sins and rose again so that we have victory with Him and are saved from our enemies. We are free from sin! What purpose lies behind our freedom from sin and salvation? Is it so that we can sin some more? Is it so that we can do we want and then seek forgiveness later? No! It is to serve the God of our salvation all the days of our life. Paul tells us in Romans, “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18), and he encourages us in Ephesians to “put off the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts…and put on the new man which was created according to God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22,24).
Having been redeemed from sin we are free to serve God without fear. We no longer need to come before God with fear and trembling as to an angry judge because His just anger against our sins has been taken out on Christ. So we come before God happy to serve Him according to His will all the days of our life on this earth. Then, because Jesus has made us God’s children and heirs of eternal life, our loving and thankful service to Him will be perfected after we are raised from death and taken to Heaven.
The ancient prophesies were being fulfilled before his eyes and Zacharias rejoiced. The ancient prophesies and the prophesy of Zacharias have been completely fulfilled so now we rejoice. As we heard in the Old Testament reading, the true fulfillment of prophesy is the mark of a true prophet from God. God’s Word is sure. He has done what He has said. As we wait for the fulfillment of His remaining promise that He will come again to take us to heaven, we sing with Zacharias: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel for His promised deliverance has come!”
The second part of Zacharias’ song speaks of the work which his son would do. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.” [v.76] John was not the Messiah nor did he ever claim to be. But he did have an important role in the work of the Savior. Like the coming of the Messiah, John’s coming had been prophesied in years past. Malachi wrote: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5). Isaiah prophesied concerning John: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). In the text we hear the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy, “the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.” [v.80]
John was a prophet sent by God as were all the other true prophets, but yet there was a difference. John was the prophet who would immediately precede the Christ and would prepare the hearts of the people for the ministry which the Savior would conduct while on the earth. Zacharias tells what the goal of John’s preparation would be: “To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God…” [v.77-78]
There is no salvation from condemnation without the debt of sin being paid and forgiven. There is no forgiveness of sins apart from Jesus. John’s ministry was to prepare the hearts of the people and give them the knowledge of salvation which was available through the Son of God who would soon come to them in the flesh.
John’s message to the people was one of repentance. John pricked the hearts and consciences of the people by showing them their sin and declaring God’s righteous judgment on it. John showed the people their corruption and their great need for God’s promised deliverance. John gave them the knowledge of salvation by announcing to them that the Savior would soon come and accomplish their redemption.
The ministry of John exposed the people’s sin and gave them the knowledge of free salvation with Christ. The substance of John’s ministry underscores what Zacharias had said earlier in his song and so he repeated it again, namely, that salvation comes from God’s mercy. Scripture often compares life and salvation to a light shining in the night. The song of Zacharias also uses this picture to describe our salvation. “Through the tender mercy of our God with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” [v.78-79]
A “dayspring” is a bright star rising up and shining just before dawn or even the sun itself rising to give us the dawn. In both cases, the dayspring is a source of light. “The Dayspring from on High who has visited us” is Jesus, the Son of God who came to earth to redeem us. He is the only source of our light because He is the One who has given Himself for our life. With redemption and salvation Jesus shines the light of hope to those who are in the darkness of despair, uncertainty in this life, and fear of the life to come. The words of the Gospel give the knowledge of salvation so that all fear, worry, cares, and uncertainty can be cast aside by those who sit in the shadow of death.
A shadow is created behind an object when light shines on it. Anything which is in the shadow is in the dark because the object blocks the light. Sin and the eternal death it deserves stood as a barrier between us and God so we were in the shadow and couldn’t see nor get to the light. Christ has broken the barrier down and through His Word has given us the knowledge of salvation. We now live in the light!
God’s Word gives us the knowledge of salvation and that alone is what will lead our footsteps and guard our paths so that we don’t stray from our Lord. Without it we are in the dark and will stumble and fall. With it we walk in the paths of peace with our God. This is why Paul urged Timothy to not be deceived by the false prophets but to continue in the things that He had learned because Scripture is what is able to make us wise for salvation (cf. 2 Timothy 3).
John was God’s messenger to give the knowledge of salvation to the people and prepare them for Christ’s first coming. We are the messengers of today sent out by our Lord to give the knowledge of salvation to those in darkness and prepare them for Christ’s second coming on the Last Day. The knowledge of salvation which we have so graciously been given is great cause to sing: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel who has visited and redeemed us!” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.