In Luke 1v5 we meet Zechariah and Elizabeth, what are we told about them? They were both righteous (6) and kept the law, but they were childless. Bad things happen to good people, not because God doesn’t love them or because there is un-confessed sin in their life, but because we live in a world marked by sin. Both the national situation and their personal situations are bleak, both nationally and personally they long for something to happen and God in his mercy will answer their cries. He in love deals with the big picture of salvation history and so tenderly with this faithful couple’s personal desire.
The big question in this birth story of John is that posed by “Everyone who heard this…’What then is this child going to be?’”(66) Or what role will this child have in God’s plan? It’s clear that he’s different, Jews who read their Bible would recognise the signs, his birth has all the hall marks of Samuel the first prophet, plus his father is unable to speak for nine months, and then gives him a name breaks all the traditions, and there is an angel. But what does it all mean?
God’s Promises Kept (72-75)
The people may be wondering but Zechariah as he bursts into a hymn of faith knows who John is. He is the sign that God keeps his promises. John’s birth is like a signposts, it marks out that the promises God has made are being kept and the Messiah is nearly here. Promises made thousands of years before to Abraham that through him “all people on earth will be blessed.” (72-73) are nearing fulfilment.
(76-77) Give us John’s job description they tell us exactly what John comes to do, he is the one who comes immediately before the Messiah and he comes to get the people ready for his coming. John is the prophet (17) who “will go on before the LORD….”. John’s coming is the sign that says you are nearly at your destination, the Messiah is about to appear, it is the first in a series of events that will echo throughout time and eternity as God brings his plan of salvation to fruition.
John is the last prophet before God comes to his people as Malachi promised 400 years earlier “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the LORD you are seeking will come to his temple.”
God is keeping his promises, that’s why Zechariah bursts into this song of praise, the nations prayers are answered, hopes are about to be realised, the longed for promises about to be fulfilled. God keeps his promises and the Messiah is coming!
John’s coming is the sign, but Zechariah doesn’t stop there. Zechariah also praises God for what the Messiah who is coming is going to do; he will bring salvation (69), redemption (68), light (79) and peace (79). Israel may have been waiting for the Messiah but it was a political Messiah and they didn’t want anything different. I guess we still want that; I imagine if someone came along promising a better education for our children, a better NHS, grants not loans for students, lower interest rates, lower unemployment, better pensions, lower taxes and to make Britain great again not just in Europe but globally. Would they get your vote?
In many ways that’s what Israel wanted. That’s why Jesus and Luke clashed with the religious leaders, they didn’t want the type of Messiah Jesus was, one who came telling them they were wrong, they were in the dark, that they needed saving and that he had come “to shine on those living in darkness and the shadow of death…”
We are not free. We like to think we see clearly but just like Israel we’re in the dark. Why do I say we’re not free? Because we don’t live as if we are free; we live by what we do. If I can just get this job or that promotion it means I’m successful, if my boss tells me I’ve done a good job then I’m valuable, if I can just reach 100 friends on facebook then I’m popular, if others ask me for advice on parenting it means I’m doing a good parent, if I can find someone who’ll love me then I must be good looking… That is not freedom, it is slavery and it never satisfies, it never brings peace, because there is always the next thing...
The tragedy is we can also be in the darkness because of religion, religion can act as a slave master; if I just do this God will love me, if I do this then God must be pleased with me, if I keep all the commands then I’ll get to heaven. That’s not peace either.
The Messiah – Jesus – came to save people from both forms of slavery; to redeem them from futility and show them how to know peace and that is by being forgiven. No longer having to strive to please people or God but knowing that you are given a right relationship with God. He comes to save his people from slavery.
John is the sign, do you spot what he is telling you? God’s Messiah is coming get ready listen to John because he’ll (77) “give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins” that will come in Jesus. Get ready is what Zechariah’s hymn tells the people and us – read the signs rightly God is faithful and he comes to bring true freedom, forgiveness and relationship with God.
Do you recognise who Jesus is? Maybe you’ve never been told you are in the dark before, that actually you’re not free, but maybe it rings true. The great news that Luke wants us to understand is that God sent Jesus to “seek and save the lost”.
People Get Ready (74-75)
Why does John come to prepare people? What is his purpose in God’s salvation plan? What is the end point? What is it that God wants to achieve? God wants a people rescued and “enable[d] to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” That’s what God big plan is, that is what the whole of the Bible is about. But we can’t do that ourselves, we naturally rebel against God, we naturally want to choose right and wrong for ourselves. That’s why we need to be “enable[d]” to do this, we need to be made righteous – right before God, and holy – morally perfect – and we aren’t.
But Zechariah praises God because in Jesus you can be, that is what the Messiah comes to do. To get a people ready who relate to God rightly, who are holy because they are given his holiness and who live to serve God.
How good are you at spotting the signs at working out what they mean and acting upon them? John comes as a sign that God is keeping his promises, his Messiah is coming and God will come to prepare a people who can serve him without fear. A people who are holy and righteous not because of what they do but because that is what Jesus will make them. Who are not slaves to self, or to religion, who don’t have to hit targets but who recognise who Jesus is and what he can make them and give them if they put their faith in him.
Zechariah’s hymn is a hymn of faith, it is declaration of trust in God’s purposes and in his promise keeping. How about us? Do we see what Zechariah sees? Jesus isn't just a good man or a prophet he is the promised one who comes to tell us how to be made right with God, who comes because we are not naturally right with God. And who comes so that those who trust him will be able to live to please God.
Do you see the impact that should have this week, I don’t need to strive to do this or that to be loved, I don’t need to please others to gain worth. God sent Jesus to free us from that because of his mercy, so that we can serve him without fear.