The Voice of an Old Priest
Have you ever questioned if you have gone too far? Or, perhaps you question if a loved one has gone too far. Is anyone beyond reaching? When does God call off the chase and let a person go?
In truth, He always lets every person go, but He never calls off the chase. Romans chapter 1 describes for us how God turns us over to the lust of our flesh and its associated consequences. The Garden of Eden demonstrates how this works. God could have prevented Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, He did not. Creating them in His image meant that He gave them the ability and power to make choices. At the same time, God has never given up and discarded the human race. He came close. At the time of Noah, God destroyed all the people on earth except eight persons. Before and after the flood, God has kept for Himself a witness and a testimony to His love and compassion for the people He created. He never stops pursuing, wooing and calling to those who will listen.
After the flood, God chose a man and named him Abraham. God promised to bless all families on earth through this one man, Abraham. Christmas is part of the fulfillment of God’s promise and Christmas is a witness and a testimony to God’s great love and compassion for the people He created.
Today, we are going to listen to the voice of an old Jewish priest. We do not know how old Zechariah was. Luke 1:7 tells us that both Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were very old.
Zechariah prayed for his wife Elizabeth to have a child, and he continued praying, but in his heart, he gave up. He believed it was beyond hope. In Luke 1:13, an angel told Zechariah that God had heard his prayer. So, we know that Zechariah was praying. In Luke 1:20, the angel rebuked Zechariah for not believing what he said. So, we know Zechariah did not believe there was any hope.
Today, we are going to consider Zechariah’s song of praise, because some of us have lost hope. Perhaps you have given up on a loved one, even though you continue praying. Maybe you have given up on yourself. Some of us may have lost hope for a marriage or a relationship that has proven impossible.
Zechariah’s praise reflects God’s unending pursuit of His people and the great salvation He works on their behalf, on our behalf.
I have divided Zechariah’s praise into three sections, but the whole passage illustrates that God never rejects His people.
Zechariah and Elizabeth felt rejected. We know this because Elizabeth exclaimed, “How kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” Zechariah and Elizabeth felt disgraced. They viewed their childlessness as a reproach, a sign of God’s rejection.
As a priest, Zechariah spent His long life representing his people before God. His praise to God reflects this position because the nation of Israel also felt rejected by God and disgraced. They were under the rule of harsh tyrants and a great foreign power. As an example of how harsh the tyrants were, consider the actions of Herod, who killed all the babies aged two and under.
Zechariah’s generation was not the only one to feel rejected by God. Even to this day, many believe God has rejected His people. They reinterpret God’s promises to Abraham in an attempt to reconcile this belief with what Scripture teaches about the people of Israel. Zechariah’s praise is full of hope for the nation. His hope is our hope because it is built on the foundation that God will never forsake His people. No matter how bad it looks, God will never abandon His people. Jesus promised He will never leave us or forsake us, and we have hope in this promise.
When Zechariah’s tongue was loosed after his long silence, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, praising God because of His salvation, His Covenant, and His light.
He first praises God for His salvation.
Let’s focus on the words “visited” and “redeemed.”
Four hundred years passed from the time of Malachi to the time of John the Baptist. These “silent years” represented a dark period in Israel’s history. There was no word from God, and the people were, in Jesus’ words, like sheep without a shepherd. Certainly, there were those who felt rejected, deserted and alone. This visitation from God meant that they were not rejected nor were they alone.
To be redeemed, the people had to be in slavery. Now, indeed comes a sticking point, the point at which many of us struggle and lose hope. God has sent a mighty Savior, just like Zechariah says in verse 29 of Luke 1. This Savior came as a fulfillment of God’s promise and was born of the line of David. He carries the birthright to the throne of the nation of Israel. However, He has never sat upon that throne on this earth. In verse 71 of Luke 1, Zechariah says, “Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us.”
This has not happened yet for the nation of Israel.
The birth of the Savior was not the completion of all of God’s plans. The birth of our Savior is undoubtedly the center point of all history, but history and God’s plans have continued for another 2,000 years so far. Prophecy tells us God still has plans to complete.
It is the same with us. When we accept Jesus as Savior, we are not suddenly perfect and transported directly to heaven. Receiving Jesus is the starting point. It is not the finish line.
Israel indeed will be saved from all her enemies, and Jesus will sit on the throne of David. But, Israel must yet undergo her most severe trials before her complete salvation.
What need is there for hope when we have what we wish for?
We all have things we hope for and pray for. We must always pray and never give up hope because God will never forsake us. The birth of the Savior and our acceptance of the Savior are both the beginning of something new, a hoped for and long awaited salvation.
Along with praise for His salvation, Zechariah praises God for His covenant.
In Luke 1:72, Zechariah says:
Let’s focus on the word “merciful.”
Mercy implies that they are not getting something they deserved. If you are familiar with the history of the nation of Israel, you know how often they rebelled against God, worshiped idols and were unfaithful to God. God sent many prophets and preachers to warn, correct and instruct the people, but they refused to listen. They even killed many of the prophets. So, should we be surprised that when God sent His only Son, they murdered Him too?
And yet, God remembers His covenant. He will keep His promise. They will be rescued from their enemies so they can serve God without fear, just as it says in Luke 1:74.
So, do you think you or your loved one is beyond hope? How does your sin or their sin measure up against crucifying the Lord of Glory? We are all guilty and deserve the wrath of God, but God willingly gave His Son to purchase our salvation, to redeem us. Therefore, we can be sure that God will keep His promises. He always remembers His covenant.
Along with praise to God for His salvation and His covenant, Zechariah praises God for His light.
And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace. ()
“Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us.”
No matter how dark the world gets, God always keeps for Himself a witness and a testimony to His great love and compassion. John the Baptist was born to prepare the way, as it says in verse 76.
The most remarkable thing is that verse 77 says, “You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins.”
It was due to the sins of the people and the sins of their forefathers that they were in darkness, and yet God sent light. He opened the door with John the Baptist, who was to prepare the way. John lived in the wilderness and was an unusual character, even strange, but his message and preaching drew large crowds out to where he was. John’s peaching and the crowds he drew even got the attention of the kings and rulers of his day.
God always keeps a testimony and a witness for Himself and His salvation.
Here, in Zechariah’s praise, it clearly says, “You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins.”
John made the gospel clear. His message was simple. “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” People did not flock to hear John so they could feel bad. They rushed to John because John offered hope. John spoke of the kingdom of God and made it clear how easy it was to receive both the forgiveness of sins and salvation.
For a people who felt rejected, this message was exciting, new and filled with hope and promise.
This Christmas we come with the same message. It is easy to have our sins forgiven and to enter into the kingdom of God. There is hope. No one is too far gone. Zechariah was an old priest. He had seen it all, but when he realized that God had actually kept His promise, visited His people and redeemed them, he was filled with praise.
We too can be filled with praise when we realize that God has visited us and He has redeemed us.
May this hope fill your life with joy and praise as it did Zechariah’s.