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Entries in Signs (5)

Tuesday
May302017

The Promise of the Father II

Joel 2:28-32.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on May 28, 2017.

Today we will look at another Old Testament passage in which God promised that there would come a day when His Holy Spirit would be given to His people wholesale, as they say.  Of course, Peter quotes from this passage in Acts 2:17-21, to demonstrate that the passage was indeed talking about the events of the upper room.

As we look at this passage, I pray that you will be encouraged and prompted to action.  This is not a day for taking it easy, and seeking our own desires and comfort.  This is a day when destinies can be changed, a day that is before “it's too late.”  So let’s look at the promises from God’s Word.

The Promise of Restoration

This chapter opens with a warning to the people of Israel of God’s judgment upon them by an army that would be coming.  In verses 12-17 there is a call to repentance.  They need to turn away from their sin and back towards the ways of the Lord.  Then verses 18-27 speak of a restoration that would happen to them.  In some ways it is presented as conditional upon their repentance.  However, in other ways, it is declared as definite for those who belong to God.  This leaves room for what actually happened in the decades following Jesus and his apostles.  Israel as a whole came under the judgment of God and saw their nation and capital destroyed by Rome.  Yet, in the midst of this, God poured out refreshing restoration upon those who put their faith in Jesus.  So this sets up the part of the chapter that we will be focusing on, vs. 28-32.

As Joel declares the restoration that will be experienced by God’s people, he prophesies that God will pour out His Holy Spirit upon His people.  Thus this pouring out of the Holy Spirit is a part of the restoration.  Sin has separated God’s people from Him.  But the work of Jesus makes way for a daily experience of the Holy Spirit for every believer.  As we said last week, the idea of the Holy Spirit coming upon people is not foreign to the Old Testament.  We find it everywhere.  However, it might be described best in this way.  In the Old Testament God’s Spirit came upon certain people, at certain times, for certain works.  But, in this passage, we are promised a time when God will give His Spirit without such restraints.

Two aspects stick out about this and the first is that there will be no distinctions.  The Holy Spirit will be poured out upon “all flesh.”  Thus we get a series of opposites that are intended to reinforce this point.  The Spirit will be poured out on sons and daughters, old men and young men, and men servants and maid servants (male and female).  Age and gender distinctions will not prohibit people from receiving the Holy Spirit.  Other places in the New Testament also add slave and free, Jew and Greek, and circumcised and uncircumcised.  The baptism of the Holy Spirit would be a common experience of all of God’s people.

The second aspect is what the effect of the Spirit will be.  Essentially Joel says that they will prophesy.  Though the Holy Spirit would be constantly present, this does not mean that they will be constantly prophesying.  Rather, God would speak through anyone at any time as He wills.  It is our job to be so in step with the Holy Spirit that we will recognize true prophecy versus the false.  Not all people will prophesy. There are other gifts of the Holy Spirit that are not mentioned here but are pointed out in the New Testament.  Joel mentions dreams and visions.  However, we should see these as two methods by which God gives His revelation to prophets.  A dream is God speaking to us through a dream while we are asleep.  A vision, on the other hand, is more like a trance.  A person is awake and yet begins to have a “day dream” that is influenced by the Spirit of God.  Other methods are mentioned in the Bible of which having an angelic visitation is seen in both Testaments.  Now it is one thing to have a dream from the Lord and quite another to recognize it and also understand it.  We must be daily communing with God in prayer and in reading His Word.  This puts us in tune with what the Spirit of God is saying and helps us to recognize when He speaks to us.  Even when God moves upon us to give a prophecy, we should not assume that we now have the right to “make this happen” out of sheer will.    It is our job to be open to the Lord.  Some people have been led astray because they feel the pressure to have “a word from the Lord” all the time.  God may not have a new word.  He may simply want us to focus on what He has already said and be faithful.  There is also a prevalent problem for people who have been involved with heavy drug use.  These can so damage our brains that we have a tendency towards weird dreams or dreams that have supernatural elements to them.  Such a person needs to exercise extreme caution and seek godly mentors who can give them unbiased advice.  As a community, God’s people need to be open to these things and not afraid of them.  Yet, we should be open to them in a mature way that recognizes that not all that feels spiritual is really from the Lord.  Those who do not have the gift of prophesy still have the Promised Holy Spirit by which they can recognize for themselves if the Spirit is indeed speaking through a particular person.

The Promised Day of the Lord

In verses 30-32 the promise of restoration and pouring out of the Spirit is counterbalanced with the promise of judgment.  Only this time the phrase “Day of the Lord” is used.  The Day of the Lord is used in the prophetic books as a technical term that points to a day when God will judge all the nations of the earth and institute His millennial kingdom.  Thus we are moving beyond a judgment upon Israel only. Joel sees a day when God will judge all nations, but before that, He will pour out His Spirit.  The Day of the Lord is always a joyful time for those who are God’s faithful servants.  But, it is a fearful day full of woe for those who are not His faithful servants.

So we two things that are coincident and previous to the Day of the Lord: the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and Signs and Wonders both in heaven and on earth.  The amazing or jaw dropping events would make it clear that God is keeping His promises.  Now the signs in the heavens, or celestial signs, are not a reference to astrology.  There is no sense that the sun, moon, or stars can affect mankind’s destiny or God’s actions.  Rather, God uses them to clue humans into the fact that He is doing what He said He would.  Thus they are attention getters that point us to God.  In this passage it mentions the sun being turned into darkness and the moon into blood.  Some have pointed out that this is more than likely speaking of a solar eclipse (dark sun) and a lunar eclipse (some can be blood red).  Now the historical testimony from the disciples of Jesus, and secular, non-Christian sources such as Josephus, tell us about weird things happening in the sky and on the earth.    Several things worth noting are the strange star that the Magi of the East recognized as pointing to the Messianic King of Israel being born.  Also, when Jesus was on the cross there was a darkness that lasted far longer than the longest solar eclipse (around 8 minutes).  We are also told of an earthly wonder of the earthquake during the death of Jesus.  This earthquake struck Jerusalem and tore the 4” thick curtain that was in the temple from top to bottom.  All these things are intended to get the attention of people who are thinking that things are “business as usual.”  They cause you to stop and think twice about what God is actually doing.  To those who would not listen to Jesus and his disciples, some might be persuaded by such signs.  The writings of John in The Revelation seem to point to more signs in the heaven and on earth that will occur before and during the Second Coming of Jesus.

Now in one sense the Day of the Lord cannot be avoided.  It will come upon the earth and all the nations at a particular time that God has set, but not revealed to us.  However, we can avoid the Day of the Lord as individuals if we put our faith in Jesus and follow Him.  Though it is a “Great and Terrifying” day to those who are under God’s judgment, those who have cried out to God will be saved from it (vs. 32).  For about 2,000 years God has been saving those who hear the bad news of judgment and the good news of Jesus, and then cry out to Him.  The fate of the repentant will be deliverance.  Thus the passage ends with a promise of deliverance for God’s people who are described as, “those who call on the name of the Lord,” and “the remnant whom the Lord calls.”

It is instructive to look at what Israel went through in the first century AD.  God had been faithful to send His Word to them over a long period of time.  This culminated with an outpouring of amazing grace in the person of Jesus and His apostles.  This powerful witness was then followed by judgment in which the wicked and their governments were removed.  But the saints were left unscathed by God’s judgment.  So we will see this same process globally.  When Israel was judged by God, He then sent His people to all the nations of the earth to proclaim the truth.  This mighty witness by God’s people will one day come to an end as God pours out His judgment on the whole earth, not just Israel.  If you are a believer, you are a part of this powerful witness that God is giving to the nations.  The long period of grace is in order for people to have time to respond and large groups of the world to respond.  But, the Day of the Lord is rapidly approaching.  Each day we are one step closer.  So Christian, we must be about our Father’s business rather than feeding our flesh with all that it desires, if we are to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  To those who are not Christians, recognize that God desires to give you the good promise of His Holy Spirit daily in your life.  Don’t reject God’s offer of His love and presence in your life.  Instead, put your faith in Jesus and come follow Him!

Promise of the Father II audio

Tuesday
Oct132015

Jesus Reveals the Future II

Luke 21:8-11-  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 11, 2015.

As we look at this prophetic section, we should do so with the knowledge that revealing the future is a signature characteristic of God.  He is not like some giant computer that can crunch an infinite amount of data in order to predict what will happen.  Rather, as the Creator of the space-time continuum, all of time (past, present, and future) is laid out before Him.  Thus the things in the Bible are not mere educated guesses.  But, instead they are God letting us know what He already sees.  When God does reveal the future, He does so in a way that sheds light and yet still requires us to trust Him.  He never reveals in order to remove any need for faith.

The common attempt by scholars to fit all that is revealed into a timeline often relies on human reasoning that goes beyond what we are told.  Thus it should be expected that they will have areas that will be found to be in error.  I believe it is more important for believers to pay attention to the main points that such revelations emphasize rather than attempting to map out the future in great detail.  We need to heed those warnings and commands that our Lord gives to his disciples. 

In our passage today Jesus begins his answer to the questions his disciples asked him:  when will the temple be destroyed, and what will be the sign that it is about to happen and that you are going to come back and begin the new age of the Kingdom of God.  These questions clearly jumble together several important events that we now know would not be happening at the same time.  Jesus does not separate the questions or berate them.  Instead, he gives them a look at the future ahead along with certain warnings and commands.

The Things That Must Come To Pass First

In verses 8-11 Jesus describes many different things that must come to pass before the End of the Age.  Now in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 we have the parallel accounts of this same discussion.  They describes these very same things as being The Beginning of Sorrows.  This phrase, and the list that Jesus gives, makes it clear to his disciples that they are not entering into a time of peace.  The time ahead will be a time of sorrows.  Although the sorrows are not defined, two other places use this word of sorrow.  Acts 2:24 is a passage regarding the sorrows of death or dying.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:13, Paul reveals that the last days will come upon the world like the sorrows of labor coming upon a woman.  Thus this time ahead would be filled with things that involve physical and emotional sorrows.  Notice that Jesus makes it clear that he is not giving us a list of signs of the end.  Rather, that these things must come to pass first.  You could say that they are a sign of the times that we live in rather than a sign that the end of this age is at hand.  So what are these signs of the age?

False Christs.  Jesus first warns his disciples that many people will come in His name, which means they are claiming to be him.  He also reveals another claim they will make, the time (of the end) has drawn near.  It makes sense that in a time of sorrow deluded and deceiving men would step forward and claim to be able to bring it to an end.  Something that is implicit in this is to notice that in order for this to happen Jesus must be gone.  He had told his disciples that he was leaving.  This is why they were seeking a sign for when he would come back.  Thus the Beginning of Sorrows would start with the ascension of Jesus into heaven.  We could say that there has been an increase in people claiming to be Jesus in the last century compared to the centuries before.  However, our ability to hear about and catalog such claims is greatly increased.  Suffice it to say that Jesus doesn’t claim it will get worse.  He simply warns that this age of sorrows will be characterized by people claiming to be him. 

Now there is something flattering about the idea that Jesus has not only come back, but is also talking with me.  But Jesus clearly warns his followers, don’t be deceived.  Whether the person is deceived themselves, or they are intentionally trying to delude people is immaterial.  No matter how sincere they are we are not to believe them.  Imagine the situation the disciples were in.  They had lived with Jesus for over three years.  When they had questions they could ask him and receive a concrete answer.  But in the future they would have to learn to rely upon the Holy Spirit.  Jesus would not physically be there.  They would be susceptible to an inward pressure to leave the more difficult situation of discerning the will of God through His Word and Spirit, in order to go towards the easier situation of having a person tell us what it is.

This leads to the second imperative regarding false Christs.  Don’t follow them.  Deception starts in the mind, but them moves into our life.  We are supposed to follow Jesus alone.  But when someone comes claiming to be Jesus we might be conflicted.  Jesus has already given us the right way we are to live and believe.  If another comes in his name he is false and only trying to lead us away from the path of Truth and onto the many paths of deception.  Christians need to stay the course that Jesus has put us on rather than being led off on side roads that promise an end of the age, but, in the end, lead to wickedness and a perversion of the truth.  Notice in verse 27 that Jesus helps us to understand why we should believe it.  Jesus says that when he does come back it will be on the clouds in power and great glory.  Matthew adds to this that it will be as visible to the whole world as lightening that flashes from the east to the west.  Jesus is basically telling us that when he comes back it will be seen by the whole world.  No one will have to tell you.  Jesus is not hiding on a mountain in Tibet waiting for the world to be open to his coming.  So don’t be deceived and follow those charlatans that make the claim he has come.

Wars and Turmoil.  Of course the world’s history is a series of wars with relatively few times of peace.  Jesus tells them that there are wars and commotions ahead.  Nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom makes it clear that this is about more than just Israel and Rome.  The age of sorrows will be characterized by political turmoil.  This revelation is not meant to wow us.  Sure anyone could guess that there would be wars ahead because mankind has always been warring.  Yet, Jesus is not trying to wow us with this prediction.  Rather, he is trying to prepare us.  The times will not be peaceful religiously, spiritually, and politically.  This leads to the command to not be terrified.  This word has in its meaning “crying out and wailing.”  Many people throughout the world know what it is like to live in a war zone.  It is many things including terrifying.  The despair that comes from such fearful experiences can easily take over.  The chaotic effects of war and political turmoil threaten those who find themselves in such times.  Yet, Jesus lets us know that these are to be expected.  They are not catching God by surprise.  When the believer feels terror and mourning surging up within them, they must be quick to turn to God’s Word and to fellow believers for encouragement and strength.  Christians are called to be emotionally strong, and yet not in themselves.  Jesus is not telling us to never have an emotion.  Rather he is telling us not to let those emotions overwhelm us and define our life.

Great Earthquakes.   The next thing Jesus reveals is great earthquakes.  Earthquakes are always happening and can be very terrifying when they do.  Great earthquakes often have high death tolls and heavy destruction of buildings.  Just like war becomes a threat to our ability to follow Jesus, so natural disasters can paralyze us from following Christ, or can cause us to let self preservation become the rule that we live by.  This is not following Christ.  His disciples would need to experience many kinds of sorrow and yet continue to believe and follow Him alone.

Famines & Pestilences.  These two are often listed like partners in crime throughout the Bible.  Jesus warns that famines and pestilence would characterize the days ahead.  A famine is literally a scarcity of food for any reason.  Thus lack of rain, war, and devastation could all be a cause of famine.  Often following on the heels of famine are pests, plagues, and diseases that rule in the wake of these things.  We have seen the effects of war, famine and plagues upon the whole continent of Africa as well as elsewhere.

Fearful Sights & Great Heavenly Signs.  Lastly, for today, Jesus warns of fearful sights.  This is a very general phrase that can cover the eruptions of volcanoes (like Vesuvius) or horrible and destructive storms.  Along with this would come great, heavenly signs.  They would have understood this to be things like comets, solar eclipses, and lunar eclipses.  Great comets that are visible even in the day are not as common and were seen as a heavenly body that has left its orbit and threatens earth.  Thus comets are a symbol of Satan and those fallen angels who reject the path God has given them.

So, did all these things happen in the first century leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD?  The short answer is yes.  The first century believers over the next 40 years saw these kinds of things happening.  It was important for them to keep their heads and obey the commands of Christ.  They had to beware spiritual deception and they had to guard their hearts from giving into terror and fear.  In fact the Jewish historian Josephus (who was not a Christian and had no reason to support these things) recorded many different things that happened in Jerusalem and in the skies that were seen as evil portends for Jerusalem and its people.  However, the Christians who headed the words of Jesus were prepared for the events of 70AD and for everything after it.

So I ask you a question.  Did these things stop in 70 AD?  Did we leave behind an age of sorrows at that time and enter into something that cannot be described as sorrows?  I would say that we are still in the time of sorrows.  Jesus has not come back yet and the end of the age has not occurred.  Yes, Jerusalem and Israel as a nation were destroyed.  But the followers of Jesus have still needed these instructions for the last 2,000 years.  We must beware deceivers who come claiming to be Jesus.  We need to guard our hearts from being tossed to and fro from terror and fear.  Let us take these things to heart today as we experience them in our own day.  God has not been caught by surprise and He has revealed these things to us in advance so that we may not be either.

Jesus Reveals Future II audio

Thursday
Dec262013

Of Angels And Shepherds

Today we look at Luke 2:1-20, which shares the birth of Jesus, our Lord.  It is appropriate to spend this week of Christmas thinking about these events and the meaning they have for our lives today.

It would be easy to discount all that the Bible tells us under the heading of “pure myth.”  However, if you really are a Truth-seeker, you know that it would be an intellectually dishonest thing.  The Bible is not a collection of myths, but a recollection of what God did in the lives of real people.  These things were written down within the life spans of people who could prove or disprove the veracity of the documents.  Also these things were often written down by people who had no gain in writing such things.  In fact, they were often killed for their “views.”  Let’s look at the story.

God’s Unseen Hand

In these first seven verses we see something that is evident throughout all of the Bible and it is this.  God often works in ways that are not obvious to us as humans.  Much like the story of Esther, we can go through life and think that God isn’t involved at all and yet He is.  Part of the problem is that when we imagine what we would do if we were God, we think of all kinds of fantastic things we would do.  Yet, in the Bible we see a God who can do the fantastic thing, but most of what He does is invisible to those who don’t know what to look for.  Just remember this, the unseen hand of God is always at work, whether we recognize it or not.

 These verses give us the timing of the birth of Jesus.  Galatians 4:4 says, “when the fullness of time had come God sent forth His Son.”  So from God’s perspective this was the perfect timing.  When it mentions Caesar Augustus it gives us a historical reference point.  It was the right time because Rome is the 4th Beast-Kingdom prophesied by Daniel and it has just entered its imperial stage.  Next to this was the fact that there was a relative, military peace that would open the door for the gospel to be preached and spread throughout the then known world.  It was also a time in which Israel had great need for a deliverer and yet very little hope in those promises that God had given her.

God’s hand is also shown to be at work through the prophecies that are fulfilled here.  It is in Micah 5:2 that we are told the messiah would come out of Bethlehem Ephrathah.  Yet, this happens, seemingly, at the whim of an earthly emperor.  Yes, the home town of Jesus would be Nazareth, but the birth place would be Bethlehem.  These are things Jesus could not have plotted to accomplish.  Also recognize that the name of Bethlehem itself promises to be a place of bread.  So there is a further enrichment of the prophecy in the fact that the Messiah would be the bread from heaven as symbolized by the manna in the desert.  Another interesting fact is that there are two cities of David.  Bethlehem is the City of David because it is where he was born.  But the other City of David is a reference to the initial beginning of Jerusalem.  David took the stronghold of Jebus and it became the City of David.  Thus the place and timing of the birth point to the prophetic significance of his first coming.  He comes to be a sustainer of life and yet he is also destined for conquest.  All of these things are coming to past at a time when it looks like God is doing nothing.

The details that point to the lowly circumstances of the birth of Jesus help us to see why God’s activity often goes unrecognized by most.  God loves to work through the lowly things of this world.  When Paul says, “When I am weak then I am strong,” he does so after pointing out that God’s strength comes into our lives through our weaknesses.  So when he says, “I am strong,” he is literally saying that God is strong through me.  Could it be that the Greatest Being of all the Universe would have a penchant to showing His strength through those who would be weak in the world’s eyes?  This is the contention of the apostles.  The King of Israel and the Lord of all the Earth is born away from his home, in a stable, under the tyranny of an Emporer, and under threat of death from a power-hungry king.  Can you imagine King David seeing such a condition?  He who had conquered all the kingdoms around him and amassed all the wealth needed for his son to build the temple, would have moved heaven and earth to give the ultimate Son of David a better birth.  Yet, David would have understood because he too had learned that God’s strength was perfected in our weaknesses.  Of all people, David would understand that God was at work especially at the times that we think He is not.

God Announces His Activity In Advance

Verses 8-14 move to a scene in the outskirts of Bethlehem.  For over a thousand years God had been pointing to the birth of the Christ and Savior through his prophets and angels.  So it continues as the child is born that prophets and angels are very busy in this account.  Yet, this story is strange in that it is lowly shepherds who receive the revelation of the birth of Messiah.  Why to shepherds?  I am sure that many received their news with wonder in Bethlehem, but what about other places?  This would be the equivalent of a group of loggers from Idaho saying that angels had told them who the next president of the United States should be.  That may be received in the logging towns of Idaho.  But Washington D.C. would be another matter.  Why didn’t the angels tell the great princes of the land or a contingent of priests?  Most likely because both of these groups had proven to be cutthroats to God: Herod, Annas, and Caiaphus.  Now we must recognize that false prophecies and false angel sightings are not new things.  Just because someone says they heard from an angel doesn’t mean you blindly believe everything they say.  However, do you blindly resist everything they say?  The Bible warns us to not let the false prophecies cause us to despise true prophecy.  This is a real tension within man.  We tend to be gullible or cynical because it takes too much work to test everything against Scripture and wait upon the Lord for better understanding.  Truth will always prevail in the end and God did not do these things in secret.  He announced them and did them in the open.

The angels also announced that this was a day of Great Joy!  Not all of God’s messages are about good things.  But it was this day.  “Don’t fear.”  This message to the shepherds is the comfort that they are not there for judgment, but rather, for a message of grace and mercy.  All mankind should be quaking in its boots before a holy, and righteous God.  It is not to our credit that we “ho-hum” when He is mentioned.  Yet, His ultimate desire is not for a relationship of fear, but one of joy and love. 

A savior has been born today in the city of David!  This word savior sounds like a Christian term.  But it actually ties back to the Judges of old.  Before Israel had kings God would raise up deliverers who would save Israel from tyranny.  The term translated as deliverer is literally “savior Lord” or “saving Lord.”  Thus at a time when Israel, once again, was without a Jewish King and were under the tyranny of foreign lords, God raised up from among Israel a “saving Lord,” a deliverer.  The terms used of him are more not just titles, but also descriptive of what He was and would do.  He is Messiah the one anointed by God to deliver Israel.  He would have God’s Spirit and blessing.  He is Lord, the king and sovereign of Israel and, in fact, all creation.

God often gives signs to confirm that the prophecy was really from Him.  Now the angels would be a pretty strong sign already.  But we are warned against deceiving angels in Scripture.  So a sign is given to the shepherds that they would find a baby laying in an animal’s feed trough.  A baby in Bethlehem would be no great wonder.  But one being in a manger on that very same night would be one chance in a million.

Now consider this sign because the Scripture also warns against false signs and wonders in the last days.  The angel’s message that day of peace and great joy is a message that false prophets love to preach.  They did so in Jeremiah’s day and they will do so in the end of times.  But the sign is one that is done in God’s signature style, humility.  Now I know that even humility can be faked.  But in the end Satan is not humble.  God chooses to work through the lowly.  Satan only works through the lowly when he is forced to do so.  Thus be careful that you are not wowed by great promises and amazing, powerful signs.  God is often working in the hidden, humble, unseen ways to the power hungry hearts of mankind.

Come And See!

In verses 15-20 the shepherds are invited to be a part of the Messiah’s welcoming committee.  How fitting for one who is the Son of David to be welcomed by shepherds.  The shepherds become the ones who verify the details of what God was doing.  They witness these things with their eyes and then they tell others.

Yet, they are also encouraging Mary and Joseph who were also witnesses to what God had said and done.  That night must have been a unique moment as Joseph and Mary share stories with the shepherds in wonder.  Their faith must have been enormously strengthened at that time.  Now, no matter how much we want to be the one who hears, sees, and verifies, the truth is that no one gets everything.  We all have to take some things on faith.  And, to all who had ears to hear that day, it was quite believable that the Messiah had come in the person of this little baby.

Let me close by reminding us that this call to come and see is still happening today.  This is a hallmark of God that He loves to show us.  He rewards faith with the joy of discovery.  Psalm 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who trusts in Him.”  Today we do not see these angels or shepherds because God is not doing that right now.  But He is working all over this world and it can be seen for those with eyes to see.  Today He is calling you to come to His Word (the Bible) and hear the Truth that has been hidden from you.  “Come and see My Wisdom,” He says.  Today He is calling for us to come to His Son by faith and find release from the guilt of our sins.  “Come and see My salvation.”  Today He calls us to come to His people and create an environment of loving help within His Church.  “Come and see (be) My people.”  Yes, you may want God to do something more spectacular, but that is only because you define spectacular by the world’s standards.  I challenge you to read this Gospel and let God change your standards of what is spectacular.

Of Angels and Shepherds mp3

Tuesday
Dec172013

The Prophecy of Zecharias

Today we will pick up the Christmas story in Luke 1:57.  Here we are told that Elizabeth had come to full term and birthed John.  Now Mary had stayed with Elizabeth during these 3 months and then, at some point after John’s birth, had gone back to Nazareth.

A Sign

Now we saw how Zecharias had become mute after the angel talked to him in the temple.  The angel had told him that he would not be able to speak until all these things were fulfilled.  That is over 9 months of being unable to speak.  So people obviously knew something happened to Zecharias.  In fact, most likely they believed he was being punished by God.  Zecharias had been given the hope that he would speak again but there was no specific time.  Thus he probably wondered on the day of John’s birth whether he would be able to speak.  Nope.  As the days go by he is being tested further and further.  Why can’t I speak yet?  It is interesting that his speech returns when he confirms that the baby’s name is to be John.  The miracle of speech was connected to this act of faith.  “No, we will not name the baby after me.  We will give it the name that the angel said.”  This faith is a demonstration that Zecharias is surrendered to the will of God in this situation. 

Now this sign of being unable to speak for so long and then suddenly speaking at the naming of the child, caused the people to marvel.  It pointed out something special about this baby in God’s plan.  Yes, Zecharias muteness was a sign, but it also was a discipline.  God’s discipline is not simply about punishment, but rather about teaching us and helping us to become what we really want.  Zecharias wanted to be faithful to God.  Now he had his own personal sign and experience that God will do what He says He will do.  Zecharias will have much stronger faith from now on.

God’s Salvation Has Come

In verses 67-70 he begins to praise God for the salvation that has come.  Now let me just say up front that in all prophetic declarations, it is the Holy Spirit who is actually prophesying.  The person is simply yielding the Spirit.   This first theme of salvation is something that Israel had been waiting to receive for centuries.  Zecharias says that “he has visited.”  God visits His people to deliver and to judge.  Sometimes it is one and sometimes it is the other.  In fact the prophecies about the Messiah point to it as both deliverance and judgment; salvation to those who believe and judgment to those who do not.  Notice that he speaks of it as if it has already happened, or is done.  This can be understood in the context of waiting for a millennium plus.  To have angels declaring that it has begun is to rejoice that it is as good as done.  Will God start something and not complete it?  Rejoice!  The Messiah is here and we are as good as saved!

He also points out that the Messiah will ransom His people.  To redeem or ransom is to buy back in order to free someone.  Thus the picture is that Israel is held ransom by her sins and by Satan.  She cannot be set free without a price being paid.  Jesus points this out in Matthew 20:28, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  It has become common today to diminish the concept of ransom.  It makes God seem less loving.  Yet, if we get rid of this idea of ransom we do so at the expense of diminishing God’s Truthfulness and the badness of our own sin.  If I “make God more loving” by removing the concept of the blood of Jesus being shed to pay the price for my sin, then I am saying that sin is not that big of a deal.  Sin is not nearly as sinful as previous generations thought.  O really?  Where do you suppose they got that idea?  They got it from God Himself.  Here Jesus says that the heart of what he is doing is paying a ransom.  Can we really save God’s reputation from Himself?  No, we will both end up in the ditch.  God doesn’t need us to rescue His reputation from what the Scriptures say.

He also points out that this salvation has come through David’s line.  God had specifically promised David that the Messiah would come through his line.  The reference to a “horn of salvation” was a picture of the dangerous and prominent horn that sticks out from the head of an animal.  This metaphor was used for a strong leader of a people.  This leader, this Messiah would use His strength in order to accomplish salvation in the same way that the Judges of old did.  Or, I should say, in a far better way. 

This is the salvation that all the prophets had spoken about in every generation all the way back to God Himself in the Garden.  It was there that he prophesied that the seed of the woman would one day crush the head of the serpent.  In every age prophets had spoken of this coming salvation and yet, in every age, were those who were cynical, mocked, and scoffed at such foolishness.  Salvation comes to those who make it happen!  Many today, even in the Church, are scoffing and mocking at the things promised by Scripture.  Here Zecharias is rejoicing that in the midst of such scoffing has come the very day that the faithful had waited for.

Salvation From Our Enemies

Verse 71 points out that this is a salvation from our enemies.  It is literally “out from” our enemies.  The picture is more than God coming between us and our enemies.  But, rather we have been surrounded and taken captive.  He comes into the enemy’s camp and rescues us out from our enemy.

Now Israel had many natural enemies.  In fact some of these were even within Israel- King Herod being but one example.  And, of course, the Romans themselves would be high on this list.  Yet, Jesus did not come to lead a revolt against Herod or Caesar.  God was concerned first with the spiritual enemies of His people.  This starts with Satan, but also includes the world system that he has built up in every nation on earth.  It also includes sins hold within our own flesh.  Like a triple-barbed hook, sin cannot be removed without pain in the life of a human.  It is an “enemy within” that we find treacherous over and over again.

A Performance of Mercy

In verses 72 and 73 he speaks of God’s mercy.  Yes, God had made an unconditional promise to Abraham.  Yet, we can lose sight of the fact that God didn’t have to do that.  He chose to do so by His mercy and grace.  So the Promises of Abraham and even the Law of Moses itself stand upon a foundation of the grace and mercy of God.  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning!  Great is Thy faithfulness!  The coming of Jesus is something greater than God keeping up His side of a bargain.  No!  It is pure, unadulterated mercy flowing down from the throne of God.  “Have mercy on me, Son of David!”  This is the cry of a person and a people who are captured by a sin sickness, within themselves and without, pleading for deliverance.  God does not owe us salvation.  But His mercy and grace has brought it to us. 

Zecharias reminds them that God didn’t just make a promise, but also swore an oath to Abram and David.  Though God doesn’t need to swear, He swore by Himself.  So that we could understand that even though He cannot lie, He swears by Himself that He will do what He has promised.  This makes our hopes doubly sure.  Like Jesus saying, “verily, verily,” it underlines and puts in bold the reliability of such statements.  God will not go back on this, nor has He.  Rather He has fulfilled it.

Delivered To Serve God

In verses 74-75 he declares that God has granted our deliverance so that we can serve Him.  Now some might disdain the idea of being saved so that we can serve God.  But, think about who this God has proven Himself to be.  To serve God is not to peel His grapes and wash His feet.  To serve God is to serve on behalf of the Greatest Servant.  You can’t out serve God.  He in fact sends us to serve others on His behalf, not wash His feet.

He wants us to be able to serve without fear.  He has dealt with our sins and our enemy.  We need not be afraid again.  However, that does not mean that He ceases to be God and that rebellion ceases to be scary stuff.  We should be afraid to turn our back on so great a salvation and usurp His position as God and the only source of Truth.  To the degree that our heart is towards God is the degree to which we can walk without fear.  But to the degree that we walk away from Him, is to the degree that we ought to have a fear of God rise up in our heart and turn us back to His righteous path.

We are to serve in holiness and righteousness.  God has not changed this desire.  However, in the gospel we are shown that our holiness and righteousness without God is unworthy.  So our service must be marked with the foundational holiness and righteousness of Jesus as our ransom.  He is our legal righteousness and the only reason we can now stand in service to the King.  Secondly, our service should be marked with a growing ability to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, i.e. practical righteousness.  This is unworthy on its own merits, but if we are in Christ it is accepted as a sweet offering unto God.

The Task of John

In verses 76-80, Zecharias turns to his son John.  John would prepare the way for the Messiah.  He would call people to repentance.  Christ can only enter a heart by the path of repentance.  Until we see that our sins separate us from God and weep over that, we will never be able to ask the Lord to come and save us. 

John also would teach Israel the truth of God’s salvation.  It is not just winning wars and having lots of gold coming into the Treasury.  God’s salvation is one that will not overlook our sin, whether 2,000 years ago or today.  May God help us to go forth in the same spirit and ministry of John.  May we call out to people to “repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  May we be a faithful servant to Jesus our King by turning people from their sin back towards Him.  Amen!

Prophecy Zecharias audio