Sunday, June 27, 2010

Luke, Part 6: Zacharias’ Prophecy

Text: Luke 1:67-79

After Zacharias’ tongue was loosened, he burst forth with praise and prophecy.  We are told he was filled with the Holy Spirit, meaning he was under the Spirit’s control.  He was illuminated by the Spirit; he gained new insights into the Word of God that he was already familiar with.

Two of the aspects of prophecy are present in what Zacharias said: an accurate understanding of the Word, and a view of the future.  The entire prophecy of Zacharias is composed of only two sentences.  The first is a praise to God, and the second is a prophecy of the ministry of Zacharias’ son John.  This post will discuss the first sentence (v. 68-75).

First, we see that Zacharias sees the end outworking of God’s promises to be completely certain at their beginning.  So he says God has “visited us and accomplished redemption for His people.”  The redemption was so certain to him that he declared it complete.

He mentions that God has raised up a “horn of salvation”.  The “horn” refers to power and glory made evident.  So this salvation was becoming visible as Jesus Christ was being revealed.

Then Zacharias describes how the coming of Christ is the fulfillment of all the prophets.  He specifically mentions Abraham, and how this is the fulfillment of the covenant made to Abraham, the covenant that God condescended to confirm to us with an oath.

Zacharias prophesied that the Redeemer would deliver them from their “enemies”.  Who are our enemies that Christ delivers us from?

  1. Our sinful nature.  Man’s natural state is sinful.  In this state, you are the center of your life and you are driven to seek what is good for you.
  2. The practice of sin.  The more we sin, the more it becomes a habit.  As we get in the habit of pleasing ourselves and we do it more and more, it has an ever-greater grip upon us.
  3. The devil and his hosts.  Satan does all he can to hold men under his power.  He works by first bringing a temptation, then if we fall into sinning, and sin willfully, we are inviting him to take more and more power over us.
  4. Fear.  Fear is our enemy and is specifically mentioned in this section (v. 74).  All men are gripped by some fear – fear of death, fear of other men, and other fears, some irrational.

Christ has come and delivered us from these enemies.  He has performed the mercy promise.

The ultimate end of what Christ has done is not to merely make us Christians to get us out of hell and continue to live our same lives.  He has created a people to serve Him.  That is the reason He has redeemed us, to serve Him in holiness and righteousness (v. 74, 75).  We are no longer sinful in nature, but we have been made holy to serve God in holiness.  Thus, we can now do what is right before God.

Finally, the prophecy declared that we would serve God without fear.  This must have been astounding to the Jews of that time, who were used to striving under the fear of God, always cognizant of their guilt before the Perfect and Holy One.  But this prophecy declared that we should serve Him, without fear, in His very presence – and that we should do so “all our days”.  What a wonderful promise: dwelling eternally in God’s presence without fear!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Luke Part 5: John is Born

Text: Luke 1:57-66

God is faithful to His Word. Exactly as the Lord had said, Elizabeth bore a son. Four points of observation about this birth are given below.

1). The reaction of their friends and family. First, their friends and family rejoiced. Christians have a unique bond among them, and we should be able to freely rejoice with others, regardless of our own circumstances.

Secondly, they got a little carried away in their exuberance. They couldn't believe that Zacharias and Elizabeth were going to name their newborn boy "John", which wasn't a family name at all. But after Zacharias set them straight with a written message -- and then began to speak again -- they realized that something extraordinary was happening, and they responded as we ought to also respond to the good news of salvation. They shared these events with others who weren't there (v. 65); they took these things to heart, remembering and considering them (v. 66), and they watched expectantly for what God would do through John's life.

2). The reaction of Zacharias and Elizabeth. First, they rejoiced and wanted to share this event with those around them. Likewise, we should be wanting to share an encouraging word with those around us, and be letting others know what God is doing in our lives.

Secondly, they did not allow their friends' alarm to change their course from what God had told them. "His name is John", Zacharias wrote decisively. Note that we should not assume that the way God is dealing with us is not the same as the way He is dealing with others.

Also, note that the new mother and father were in agreement, presenting a unified front.

Another remarkable fact is that Zacharias' first words were words of praise to God. He was not like a spoiled child, sullen after his punishment, but he saw that God was good in all things, including in His chastening.

3). Why was his name "John"? First, it was because that's what God said it was. When we read something plainly written in the Word of God, we must believe it. Secondly, the name "John" means "God is gracious". John was to be the one who would announce Christ's coming, and in that announcement there was great grace. We have this image of John the Baptist as being a rough character, eating locusts and wild honey, calling out the Pharisees as snakes. Yet in spite of the tough nature of his reproof, his message was one of great grace.

4). The hand of the Lord was upon him. What a thing this is to say! In the hand of God is a good place to be -- a place of security and safety for His children.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Luke, Part 4: Mary’s Song

Text: Luke 1:46-55 (opens in new window)

Previous to this passage, Mary had visited Elizabeth and was greeted with warm words of encouragement.  Mary responds to that greeting with a song of praise that is recorded in this text. 

Interestingly, this song is rather similar to the song of Hannah, recorded in 1 Samuel 2.  Also, the song shares similarity with many of the Psalms.  Mary was evidently familiar with the Psalms, and the same Spirit was working in her, in Hannah, and in the Psalm writers, so it’s not surprising that there are similarities.  Hannah’s song ended with the prophecy of a coming King, and Mary’s song ended with an acknowledgement that this prophecy had been fulfilled.

Two major themes of this song are: God’s accomplishment of His promises at their beginning are as sure as they are at the end.  And, God does not work through the civil and religious power structure; instead, He works through humble individuals.

This song can be looked at as being composed of four sections: (1) What God has done for Mary, (2) What God has done for His people, (3) Mercy and Judgment, and (4) God is faithful to His Word.

Looking at the song verse by verse, in verse 46, Mary says that her soul “exalts the Lord”.  God is already highly exalted – how can she, or we, exalt Him?  By speaking of who God is and the works He is performing.

In verse 47, Mary refers to “God my Savior”.  How is God her Savior?  Because God has done great things for her and through her.  In verses 48 and 49, Mary continues to exalt God and proclaim what He has done for her.

In verse 50, we are reminded that God’s blessings are ongoing,  from generation to generation.  God is holy, all-powerful, and mighty.  He is the Savior of mankind; this blessing is only for those who fear Him.

The next section of the song, from verses 51-53, is a comparison of two peoples: the the humble and weak, whom God uses, and the self-satisfied, the rich, and the powerful, whom God will tear down and destroy.  Humility is a prime component of Christianity – God is opposed to the proud, but exalts the humble.  Christ, our example, humbled Himself beyond measure by taking upon Himself the form of a man.

We must come to God in humility.  If we embrace Jesus in humility and brokenness, we will be received, but if we trust in our own self-sufficiency and self-righteousness, we will be rejected.

The last two verses of this song, verses 54 and 55, are a proclamation of God’s mercy.  Throughout all of God’s judgments, He still remembered, and will remember mercy.  His mercy is (v.55) forever – there is hope for yet more people who will seek Him today; and His mercy is “to the seed of Abraham”, the father of the faithful.