2012 Christmas IV: God Has Come to Redeem His PeopleDecember 16th, 2012 • Posted in Christmas, Luke's Gospel, Messages/Sermons • 332 views
GOD HAS COME TO REDEEM HIS PEOPLE
Key Verse: 1:68
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.”
The Christmas season should be the most wonderful time of the year and the happiest season of all. We truly expect it to be so. Yet, last Friday was the saddest time of the year. The whole nation was in shock and grief because of what happened in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. We cannot imagine the horror and pain the parents of the children who had lost their lives felt. Many people in our nation couldn’t sleep, thinking about the children who lost their lives. No words of comfort would be enough for those who lost their loved ones in such a tragedy. It’s going to take a significant amount of time to recover from the shock and grief. Some people may not even be able to recover at all.
During a time like this, one of the questions people ask is “Where was God when the gun man shot these innocent kids?” For these kinds of questions that constantly come up, the best we can do is pray and read the Scriptures to find some comfort and sensible answers. Yet, it’s not easy to find a simple answer. And as cruel as it may sound, these kinds of tragedies have occurred since the beginning of the world. In fact, around the time of Jesus’ birth, in Bethlehem and its vicinity, many innocent baby boys that were two years old and younger were mercilessly killed by King Herod (Mt. 2:16-18). Some people, including people of faith, must have wondered and asked, “Where is God? What is God doing?” The time was really difficult and so depressing. Saint Luke, the author of Luke’s gospel, was a historian, medical doctor and evangelist. He still believed that in spite of the world’s horrible reality, God was working mightily for the salvation of His people.
In today’s passage, we see how a small group of people in Judea, shares in the joy of the birth of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s child. As we learned two weeks ago, Zechariah was a devout man of God and a faithful priest in Israel. He was one of those who eagerly waited for the coming of the Messiah. Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were upright in the sight of God, but they were childless even in their old age. One day, however, while Zechariah was serving his priestly duty at the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and announced that his wife Elizabeth would have a son in her old age. Zechariah couldn’t simply believe and say, “Praise the Lord, Amen!” Instead, he expressed his doubt by saying, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Lk 1:18) This upset the angel Gabriel. And as the angel predicted, Zechariah was silenced and was not able to speak a word for ten months until his wife delivered the child. Ten months of silence training! That’s a lot. Yet, Zechariah took it as God’s discipline to remove the remnant of his unbelief from his heart. Apparently, during the ten months’ of silence, Zechariah meditated on the word of the Lord. And while meditating on the word of the Lord, his faith in God’s promise was restored and his heart began to be filled with hope and vision. As soon as he named the child John, according to the angel’s instruction, his mouth was opened, and he began to praise God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. Today, let’s think about what Zechariah praised God for and what his praises mean to us today.
Look at verse 68. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.” Although all of his friends, neighbors and relatives were excited about the birth of his child, he was aware that by this time, the birth of the Messiah was imminent. He knew this because Mary visited and stayed with his wife, Elizabeth, for three months (1:56). I am sure Zechariah was extremely happy about his newborn child. He wanted to praise God for giving him a son first. But when he thought about the imminent birth of the Messiah, he no longer could talk about his son. As soon as his mouth was opened, he praised God for His coming by saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.” Zechariah prophesied that the Lord, the God of Israel, had come to his world as the Messiah of the world. And the rest of his song explains how the Messiah would save his people. By praising God this way, Zechariah was actually singing a Christmas carol, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King.” In his song of praise, Zechariah uses a horn (69) and the rising sun (78) as metaphors in order to describe the characteristics and work of the Messiah.
First, God is mighty to save. Read verses 69-70. ““He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through the holy prophets of long ago).” A “horn” is a symbol of power and strength. The coming Messiah is very powerful. He can rescue and protect us from all our enemies. Therefore, we have victory in Jesus. We often say “Jesus is the victory.” There is no doubt about it. Jesus is the victory. But what does “Jesus is the victory” mean to us?
Why don’t we, as Christians, experience victory all the time? One of the main problems is that we often don’t know who our true enemies are. If we cannot identify our true enemies, we cannot win the battle. However, Zechariah didn’t clearly define who our enemies are. He just said in verses 71 and 74, “salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us … to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear.” Whenever I study this passage, I am a little confused because it’s not quite clear who are the true enemies Zechariah mentions. In fact, we often fight against wrong people and wrong objects because we are confused. Sometimes, we end up fighting against our loved ones, like our spouses, brothers, sisters, friends and coworkers. After all, if we would win against our loved ones, what would we gain anyway? Here, we see that we are not to fight against our human enemies what so ever, because our common ultimate enemy is the devil and evil itself. Saint Paul shared his view of our enemies in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
We, as Christians, are actually aware that our enemy is the devil. But because of our carnal desire, like pride, selfishness and worldly ambition, we are often tempted to fight against flesh and blood. We end up fighting against wrong people and wrong objects. As a result, we are defeated in our spiritual battles even though Jesus still is mighty to save. So our struggle as believers in Christ should be to remain in Jesus no matter what. We cannot win against the devil with our own ability. We need to abide in Jesus. That’s why Jesus said to his disciples in John 15:5 that they should remain in him and apart from him they could do nothing. Saint Paul also said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” He also said in 1 Corinthians 15:31 that he died every day in Christ Jesus. That’s why he could experience and declare spiritual victory in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:57). This mighty Jesus not only protects us from our enemies but also enables us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
Second, God is faithful. (70-75) Verse 70 reads that Jesus is the horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David. God promised King David that one of his descendants would be a horn of salvation (Ps. 132:17; Ps. 18:2). Psalm 132:7 reads “Here I will make a horn grow for David and set up a lamp for my anointed one.” King David himself said in Psalm 18:2, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my strong hold.” God’s promise to David has been fulfilled through the coming of Jesus.
God also gave an oath to his servant Abraham. Verse 73 reads, “The oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies.” This verse is based on God’s oath to Abraham in Genesis 22:16-18 which promised victory over enemies and blessings for all people. Through many prophets in the Old Testament, God also prophesied about the coming of the Messiah. So Jesus, the Messiah, is the fulfillment of God’s promises. This reveals that God is faithful. He is so faithful that he does not and cannot break his promise. For example, God established a covenant with the people of Israel. Although His people Israel broke the covenant over and over again, God still remained faithful to his covenant. In fact, throughout history, God is the one who initiated and continues to carry out the work of redemption for all fallen mankind. I am not sure if it’s realistic to expect human beings to be perfect or at least faithful enough to keep all of God’s commandments.
God’s idea of salvation was not by work but by God’s grace from the beginning. Therefore, God did not just sit on His high throne, waiting to see what happened to us. He initiated His salvation and has been carrying it out and will continue to do it the end. Fundamentally, Salvation is God’s work. New York City is known as the city that never sleeps. We see a lot of stores open 24/7. But we cannot work 24/7. We need proper rest. Otherwise, we will get burnt out. But our God works very hard 24/7 to watch over us and work for our salvation. Psalm 121:3 and 4 reads, “He will not let your foot slip – He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Our God is faithful and trustworthy. He is truly dependable. Therefore, those who put their trust in the Lord will never be put to shame (Ps. 25:3).
Third, God is full of mercy. (76-79) In Zechariah’s song of praise, the word “mercy” is repeated twice (72, 78). Verse 72 reads, “to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant.” In fact, the word “mercy” is the key point of Zechariah’s song of praise. We need God’s mercy more than anything else. And as Zechariah continues his song of praise, his expression of God’s mercy reaches its climax. Read verses 76-77. “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” Zechariah does not say much about John’s ministry in his song of praise. Instead, he mainly talks about the Messiah because his son’s ministry was to prepare for the ministry of the Messiah by providing the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sin.
There are many different kinds of knowledge. Francis Bacon, an English philosopher spoke the very famous phrase “Knowledge is power.” These days many people think that the knowledge to make money is the most powerful and valuable. But that knowledge has nothing to do with the salvation of our soul. But the knowledge of salvation is the most needed and most valuable knowledge. I don’t know what I would have become and been doing if I didn’t have the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins? We also need to pay attention to the phrase “knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins.” God’s salvation is a gift through the forgiveness of sins. It’s God’s mercy.
Christmas is approaching. I see that some of us are worried about the gifts. But the best gift one can receive and give is the gift of forgiveness. If you are not forgiving but holding a grudge against someone else, you will not be happy. But if you forgive others, you will be happy and empowered by God. Ephesians 4:31 and 32 reads, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” God forgave all our sins, big and small, wicked and naïve, new and old. At this Christmas, can we exchange the gift of forgiveness with one another before the New Year begins?
Forgiving is not easy. Some people hoard other peoples’ faults in their memory. They often use them as their weapons. On the other hand, some people who are sensitive and have been deeply hurt by others often find it very hard to forgive those who hurt them. They withdraw into themselves. Even though they might want to forgive others, they are not ready. Gandhi said that the weak can never forgive and forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. I think I agree with him. What do the weak do then? They should come to God. In other words, they need to abide in Jesus’ grace until they are healed and become strong in the grace of Jesus Christ.
God does not reject those who are weak. He is full of mercy. His mercy and love have no limit. If God were not merciful to us, no one would be here today. We are here only because of God’s mercy and grace. Look at verses 78-79. “Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those who living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” In these verses, Zechariah portrays Jesus as the rising sun. Every New Year’s day in the early morning, Msn. Andrew and Sarah Choi drive all the way to the end of Long Island, Montauk to welcome the New Year by watching the rising sun from the eastern horizon. When the sun rises, the cold darkness that covers the surface of the ground slowly and gradually begins to go away until it completely disappears. We don’t have to do any thing. We can just remain in the light and warmth of the rising sun. The tender mercy of our God is like the warmth and light of the rising sun. Jesus Christ is the rising sun that shines into our soul. When the rising sun Jesus shines on us, we are comforted, healed and enlightened.
God is almighty, faithful and merciful. He is not dead. He is living. He is present with us through the grace of forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. Life is very challenging. It gets more and more intense. More than ever we need Jesus every day. We need God’s mercy. “Lord, have mercy!” Jesus, the horn of salvation and the rising sun, is the hope of all people who live in the shadow of death because in his great mercy he died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead. He will come again to complete God’s great redemption, the resurrection of our body. We all long for his second coming because in Christ, we have the wonderful hope of glorious resurrection and eternal life. We still don’t understand many things. But we trust in God who is almighty, faithful and extremely merciful. Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel because he has come to us and redeemed us.