CHRISTMAS SUNDAY 2008

 

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"Our Mighty Deliverer!"

MESSAGE FOR CHRISTMAS EVE 2008 FROM LUKE 1:67

CLICK HERE FOR WMA - Audio file of the sermon.

This afternoon, in the wake of all these great Christmas hymns, it seems appropriate to preach from a song in the Bible related to the birth of Christ.  There are two such songs connected with the birth of Christ in Luke chapter one.  The first is Mary’s song which she uttered to her relative Elizabeth as a testimony to her sense of wonder at being chosen to be the mother of the Messiah.  That song is sometimes called “the Magnificat.”  The second song in Luke is called “the Benedictus” and is the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.  You’ll recall that the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah when, as a priest, he was offering incense to God in the temple.  Gabriel told him that he and Elizabeth in their old age, after years of agonizing infertility, would have a baby boy.  Zechariah didn’t believe him.  God chastened him for his unbelief by making him mute for nine months.  Zechariah didn’t get his voice back until it was time to name the baby at his circumcision.  When, in obedience to God he scribbled on his writing tablet, “his name is John,” God gave him his voice back and Zechariah was ready.  By the Holy Spirit, he utters this glorious song in response to God’s tremendous blessing. 

In verse 67, we read this song, “And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, 68"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69and has raised up a horn of salvation for us  in the house of his servant David,  70as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,  71that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;  72to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant,  73the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us  74that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear,  75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Notice that although Zechariah is standing in the temple at his own son’s circumcision, most of his words are devoted not to his son, but to the Savior his son will precede.  Only two verses are given to his own son, the rest is all about Jesus—the One who would redeem Israel.  He would liberate his people; deliver them from the oppression of sin and death.  Zechariah would have almost certainly seen this pending salvation from tyranny primarily as a political deliverance, but God knew that it was far more important and took far more power to be delivered from the tyranny of sin and Satan than the tyranny of Caesar.  In verse 69, Zechariah refers to Jesus as a “horn of salvation.”  That word “horn” is predominantly an Old Testament word.  It’s used to express the idea of strength or might or power.  The horn in view is the horn of an ox or bull.  Psalm 92:10 quotes a righteous man and says, “You have exalted my horn like that of a wild ox…” One of the more intimidating creatures in nature is a bull or an ox running at you with his horns down.  Even a lion or tiger will have to be pretty hungry before they will charge at an ox with big horns.  If you’ve ever watched the bulls in a rodeo on those occasions where the cowboy is unfortunate enough to be on the business end of those horns, you know what happens to the hapless cowboy.  He’s tossed into the air like a rag doll.  Even today, if someone is physically powerful, we say they are “as strong as a bull” and the horn of the bull is where their intimidating strength is brought to its most dangerous focus.  That is a place of great power and strength.

Zechariah calls this soon-to-be born Messiah, “a horn of salvation for us.” In verse 71 he explains further, saying that this deliverance will be a “salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.  That tells us that this Savior is going to be powerful enough to deliver his people from their enemies.  Later on, Paul tells us that our true enemies—those who hate us most intensely are not human, not flesh and blood, but we struggle against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Zechariah says by the Holy Spirit, “this Savior is more than a match for those enemies.”  We know that with one twitch of his horn on Calvary, this mighty Savior propelled Satan and his weapons of sin and guilt and condemnation of this world.  All the demonic powers who hate people who belong to God—who seek to steal, kill and destroy them, have been mortally wounded by our mighty Savior because God sent his Son into the world as a baby who grew up as the horn—our mighty deliverer.

This obviously does not mean by extension that those who have been saved from the power and penalty of sin will have easy lives.  The word translated “salvation” has a two-fold meaning.  First, it means deliverance and ultimately we are delivered completely from our spiritual enemies—taken out of their sphere.  But the word “salvation” also carries with it the idea of “preservation.”  At times, God allows the spiritual battle we wage to go on with white hot intensity.  In those times, we can bank on the promise that he will save us not FROM the battle, but IN THE MIDST of it by preserving us through it. 

In the next two sections of this hymn, Zechariah tells us WHY Jesus would bring that salvation in his first advent.  The first reason is in verse 72 and that is, “to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham.”  Let’s look at the first part of that verse.  It says one reason Christ came to bring salvation from our enemies and from those who hate us is to “show mercy to the fathers.”  The word, “fathers” means believing Jews and it often refers to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The question is--how does Christ, coming as a baby 2000 years after Abraham, show mercy to him and those others who preceded Christ?  We can understand how Christ’s salvation shows mercy to first century believers and to future believers like us, but how does the first advent of Jesus show mercy to the fathers like Abraham?

Part of the answer to that question rests on the fact that the Bible teaches only one way of salvation in both the Old and New Testaments.  We mustn’t believe a fairly common but very dangerous misperception.  That is—the way of salvation in the Old Testament under the Old Covenant was through the law--by people being good enough for God as they obeyed his law and earned their heavenly reward.  Whereas—in the New Testament, God saves people by grace through faith rooted in his Son’s death on the cross.  That is contrary to Scripture and attacks the gospel, which holds that salvation was, is, and always will be by grace through faith.  Salvation in both Testaments is given to undeserving sinners by grace through faith and the object of that faith under BOTH the Old and New covenants is Jesus Christ.  In the Old Testament, those who truly belonged to God looked forward in faith to Christ and his saving work, while those who are genuinely God’s children after the cross, look back with faith back on Christ.  Listen to what Hebrews 11:13 teaches as it speaks of Old Testament believers like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah.  These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar…”  Look 12 verses later, where the author of Hebrews describes Moses’ decision to leave the household of Pharaoh to live among God’s people.  Remember, Moses lived 1500 years before Jesus was born.  Yet we read of Moses in Hebrews, “He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.”

For the sake of Christ” –do you hear how the author looks back at Moses and his faith and says the object of his faith was Christ?  In His day, Moses didn’t know the specific historical details of Jesus’ life, but he was looking to him in faith for his salvation.  Jesus says to the Jews in John 8:56, “Your Father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”  Whatever else that means; it means Abraham was saved by faith looking forward to Christ.  When Zechariah says in Luke chapter one that one of the reasons why God brought salvation through Christ is to “show mercy to our fathers,” that is perfectly consistent with the Old Testament.  The reason is because Christ saved not only his believing generation and the ones to follow.  He also provides God’s merciful salvation for the fathers—God’s people who had come before Christ. 

If you are here today and you trust in anything for your salvation other than the shear grace of God received by faith in Christ, you are walking on a rotted, wooden bridge that in the last day will collapse under the weight of your sin and leave you without hope.  Tragically, people place their hope for salvation in many things will never bear up under the colossal weight of our sin.  God has called us to live our lives with him at the absolute center—living in all ways for him.  That’s why he created us.  In our sin, we instead live mostly for ourselves and nothing we can do could ever satisfy the demand of God’s holy justice on our sin.  People look to their baptism—baptism never saved anyone.  Neither does church attendance, or being a good person who does nice things for others.  Those could never hold the weight of your sin.  There is only one thing that will bear the weight of our sins and enable us to cross over the bridge to heaven—that will save us from the eternal penalty we deserve.  That is-- Christ alone and what he has done for us by dying for us and paying the penalty for our many sins.  He bore their penalty we deserved when he died as our substitute on the cross of Calvary.  As we place our trust in Christ alone, God will deliver us from those enemies of our souls—sin and death--that threaten to eternally codemn us.  

As Zechariah foretells Christ will do for “the fathers” who came before, he also mentions another reason for the salvation God provided in Christ.  A second reason God provided Christ as our salvation was to show how faithful he is in keeping his promise to Abraham.  He had promised Abraham that through his offspring “all the nations on earth will be blessed.  God gave Christ as the Horn of salvation to put on display his faithfulness to fulfill the promise he had made 2000 years earlier to Abraham.  That little baby born in Bethlehem was the promised offspring of Abraham through whom all the nations on earth would be blessed.  For us who live between Jesus’ first and second coming, the reminder of God’s faithfulness to his promises is so important because 2000 years ago, he made another remarkable promise.  Namely, “…This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." [Acts 1:11] First Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Those promises were made 2000 years ago, but as we know from God’s promise to Abraham, 2000 years is not a long time for God to make his people wait to fulfill his promises. 

Now that we are so far away from Christ’s first advent, we don’t need to question whether God will be faithful to fulfill his promise to return.  He fulfilled his promise to Abraham through Christ and that is a sure sign He will absolutely fulfill his promise to us that THERE WILL BE a second advent when Christ will return for His bride, the church-- made up of people who have looked to him in faith.  We may grow impatient for his second coming just as the children of Abraham did for his first advent, but First Thessalonians 5:24 says, “The One who calls you is faithful and he will do it.  Christ is the horn of our salvation—our mighty Savior who was sent to bring salvation first, to show mercy to the fathers and second, to display the faithfulness of God’s promises.  That’s two reasons for his being sent for our salvation.  A third and final reason is found in verse 74 of Zechariah’s song in Luke chapter one.  He says this reason is, “74that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear.”

Another reason God sent his Son Jesus is so we can serve him without fear.  Fear and anxious thoughts are huge temptations to sin for most of us.  For many people, fear is one of the main controlling factors in their life and some don’t even realize it.  Too often, our relationships are grounded more in fear than in love.  We feel a need to say a loving, but confrontational word to someone, but we back away because we are afraid of how they might respond.  Fear and unbelief shuts our mouths—Zechariah is proof of that.  Some people just scare us in general.  They put us on edge when we are around them.  Perhaps they are, in our opinion, too emotional or too intense or too angry or too smart or too unpredictable and so when we are around them, what controls our relationship to them—what dictates our response too them is our fear.  We avoid them.  Or, we walk on eggshells around them putting every syllable under a microscope before we speak it so as not to offend.   Perhaps out of our fear, we try to impress them.  Instead of us being held together by bonds of love as the Scriptures call us, fear oppressively lashes us together.  For many, fear has had its hold on them for so long; the paralyzing knot in their stomach feels normal.  Let me tell you—if you are in Christ, God has set you free from fear.

When that describes us, we need to believe the gospel as it is spelled out in the song of Zechariah.  He says one reason Christ came to bring salvation to us is to “grant us 74that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear.”    If you have placed your trust in Christ, the only enemies that should command rational fear—God’s holy wrath and sin and death have been taken care of.  And the omnipotent, absolutely sovereign Lord of the Universe has become…your Father who has pledged to care for you.  That’s the truth of the gospel.  Christ came to deliver us from our fear.  When we fear, we are showing that we don’t believe the gospel.  The perfect, saving love of Christ conquers our fear.  John says in First John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”  If you have placed your trust in Christ, there is no reason to cower in fear because the wrath of God has been satisfied as he took our punishment on the cross.  For God’s children, his love has displaced all need for fear.  Do you believe this?

Another enemy Christ came to defeat is death and the fear of death is the mother of all fears.  Fear of dying is at the root of many of our fears.  People are afraid of heights or snakes or spiders because, as foolish as it may sound, they fear for their lives because they are petrified of death.  That’s behind many of our fears.  We don’t want to take a step of faith because it might all end in disaster and we would ultimately die.  If you spend some serious time methodically tracing back many of your fears to their source, as silly as it may sound, at the root, we often fear death.  But this need not be so because Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he [Christ] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death---that is, the devil—15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  Satan no longer holds the power of death because Christ’s death liberated us from the power of sin that brings death.  Through His blood, he broke down the door of sin’s dungeon, which held us in captivity as we awaited the judgment of God.  He freed us to live as forgiven, death-overcoming saints.  For the believer, death has been transformed from a black hole pulling us to hell, to a gateway to heaven.

Do we claim this glorious promise that because Christ came, we can be free to serve God without fear?  This is part of the reason God sent Christ as our mighty Savior!  Are we appropriating this glorious blessing of God?  When we live in fear, we are impugning Christ because we are communicating that His powerful salvation wasn’t quite powerful enough to set us free from fear.   Second Timothy 1:7 says, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity [or, fear] but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”  If you have never placed your trust in Christ for the salvation from the wrath your sin deserves, then do that today.  May God give us the grace to know, claim and walk in all the blessings provided by Christ, the Horn of our salvation.

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