PRAISE GOD IN THIS...
The opening words of our text for tonight really sum up where I want to go in our time together: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.”
Tonight I want to show you that regardless of our circumstances we can and should be a people of praise. Because of what God has done for us, we can PRAISE GOD IN THIS...
[Read Luke 1:67-80].
JEWISH UNDERSTANDING OF SALVATION
Before we go any further with the message tonight, I want to help you understand the context a little bit.
The main theme of this passage is “Salvation”. But the salvation that Zechariah is picturing in his mind is not the salvation that you and I know of today. How do I know that?
Because the Jewish understanding of salvation was different from the understanding that you and I have today.
For much of Israelite history, the Jewish people had been subjected to some kind of oppression or bondage. You know about their enslavement under the Egyptians, but they were also persecuted and oppressed and sometimes enslaved by numerous other nations: The Arameans, the Philistines, the Assyrians, and now in Zechariah’s time they were under the thumb of the Roman Empire.
Now God had promised to send a Messiah who would deliver them from their oppression. Think of some of the prophesies:
To Abraham “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, I will surely bless you and make your descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendents will take possession of the cities of their enemies...” (Genesis 22:16-18)
To David “And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore...I will also give you rest from your enemies. The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body...and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:10-16)
To Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to...provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes...They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Aliens will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.” (Isaiah 61:1-6)
Sounds just like Zechariah’s prophecy, ‘He has raised up a horn of salvation for us...to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.’
The fact is that what the godly Israelites were really looking for, and Zechariah was too, was a kingdom of their own where they would be able to properly serve God without hindrance – have their festivals as they’d been instructed, sacrifice their animals as God had told them to, without having to pay taxes and bow and scrape to a foreign nation.
They expected real political and national freedom.
The disciples also had the same idea of the Messiah when Jesus was heading to Jerusalem.
But imagine their surprise when, despite all these prophesies from the Old Testament, Jesus did indeed die and was buried. They hadn’t expected this at all!
You can imagine that when they looked at what they’d expected, and what they had, there really was no cause to praise God. They were still under Rome’s thumb and had no freedom to serve God freely as they’d hoped.
But the kingdom that Jesus had come to establish was not a political, earthly kingdom. Even though his disciples never picked this up, he tried so hard to make this clear.
Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...A time is coming when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” – It’s not about physically where you worship God, but that you worship Him with your heart.
When Pilate asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews, Jesus responded saying, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
So all of a sudden we move from Zechariah’s expectation of a physical, earthly kingdom, to a spiritual, universal kingdom.
But I want you to realise something very important: Jesus’ victory was no less complete and real and tangible. In fact, where the Jewish understanding of salvation was one of a physical, earthly kingdom, where Jerusalem would be the capital and the Messiah would sit on a throne there; Jesus established the kingdom in our hearts and we become the kingdom of God operating in the world today. Christ has indeed fulfilled this prophesy of Zechariah’s, and fulfilled it completely.
Let’s look at this prophecy. In essence, Zechariah says that with the arrival of the Messiah, “Praise be to the Lord, because he has come and has freed his people.”
Freed us? But freed us from what? I don’t feel like a slave to anyone!
The Israelites asked the same question in John 8. Jesus is speaking to a group of Jews and says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves to anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
Again, these Israelites have a picture of physical enslavement – they’re not thinking on a spiritual level. Which is strange, because they must have been all too aware that they had been under heavy bondage before, and even then were in a form of slavery to the Romans. I guess sometimes when you grow up enslaved, it’s difficult to see yourself as a slave.
But Jesus explains to them and to us what kind of slavery he was talking about. He replies, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
When we’re born into this world, we are born as slaves to sin.
Paul describes our former state this way in Titus 3:3 “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.”
But sometimes we don’t see that. Again, when you grow up enslaved, it’s difficult to see yourself that way. This is all we’ve ever known.
But this is what Jesus came to do: to set us free from our slavery to sin.
Paul goes on in Titus 3 and says, “But when the kindness and love of our Saviour appeared, he saved us because of His mercy.”
At one time we were all slaves to sin – bound to our sinful nature, powerless to do anything but try and make our lives seem a little better and so go more comfortably through life; unaware even that we are actually helplessly in bondage.
But Jesus was born, lived and died for us, so that we could be set free from our bondage to sin. And I want to tell you that...
OUR SALVATION GIVES US REASON TO PRAISE
I want you to know tonight that no matter what your circumstances are: rich or poor, employed or jobless, married or single – you have reason to praise God because of what He’s done for us. More than that, if you feel like your life’s on track or in a ditch, if you feel like you’re in the storms of sin or your heart’s at peace, if you’ve selfishly hurt someone today or if you’ve been singing worship songs since your eyes opened – you’ve got reason to praise God because of what He’s done for you.
I want you to realise that God has done for you everything necessary for you to live a life free from the pull of sin, free from bondage, free from burden.
Why? Why would God choose to do that for us? Why would God decide to become a man, to live a sinless life and die on our behalf to free us from our enslavement to sin?
That’s where Zechariah’s next statement comes in: “to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
It falls apart if we think that Jesus died for us so that we could, well, keep up our Church attendance, listen to the pastor preach to us, and pay our tithe so the cycle could perpetuate itself.
NO! God has saved us from our bondage to sin so that we’d have nothing holding us back from worshipping Him wholeheartedly and serving Him without reservation for the rest of our lives.
We spoke about this a little bit last week: that God is passionate about our worship and obedience. He is so passionate, as we spoke about last week, that He will strip us sometimes of what might pull our hearts away from Him, so that we can gain a deeper relationship with Him.
That might sound cruel and unkind of God. But it doesn’t anymore when we realise that God doesn’t call us to be willing to suffer (or in a sense die) in our lives without Him first suffering for us. Jesus died so we could be free! – Free to worship and obey Him all our days.
How do we apply this to our lives?
As I said at the beginning of this message, God has done everything necessary so that we’d have nothing holding us back from worshipping Him wholeheartedly and serving Him without reservation for the rest of our lives.
God is passionate about our worship and obedience.
I’ve seen a trend in the last few weeks: In the story of Mary we see that God want us to use our times of waiting as opportunities for growing in our relationship with God.
In the story about Zechariah last week we saw that Zechariah lost something valuable to him, but learnt to trust God even in the loss. So we saw that in our loss, God wants us to GAIN GOD.
Today we learn that God has done everything necessary for us to worship Him wholeheartedly and serve Him without reservation for the rest of our lives.
So we could summarise it this way:
Mary taught us: Seek God in this...
Zechariah taught us: Trust God in this...
Today we learnt: Praise God in this...
I hope that from tonight’s message you’ll be encouraged, that no matter what your circumstances are, you can Praise God in it.