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Zechariah’s Song (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
December 11, 2021 3:00 am

Zechariah’s Song (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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December 11, 2021 3:00 am

The Christmas story centers around baby Jesus—born in a stable, wrapped in cloth, and placed in a manger. Jesus came to be our Savior. But we need to understand history to fully grasp the impact of His birth. Hear more on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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The Christmas story centers around the birth of Jesus.

He was born in a stable, wrapped in a cloth, placed in a manger. Jesus came to be our Savior. But if we're to grasp the full impact of Christ's birth, we need to step back into history. And today on Truth for Life weekend, Alistair Begg examines God's eternal plan through a song from Jesus' uncle, Zachariah. Our study begins in the first chapter of Luke's Gospel, verse 67. His father Zachariah, that is, the father of John the Baptist, was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. Praised be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he said through his holy prophets of long ago. Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham, 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. 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, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel. Amen. I don't know about you, but whenever I go to a new city, I like to take the bus tour. I know there isn't a bus tour in every city, but in the major cities, there are usually bus tours.

Most recently I did it in San Francisco. I've been there many times, but no one would let me take the bus tour. That is, my family said, Oh no, not the bus tour again. And sometimes I've had to go on my own, and this dates to a memorable occasion when we had flown trans-Atlantically, arrived in London early in the morning, took the fast train into the city, left our bags in the railway station for our onward journey, and then, by my leadership, I convinced Sue and the kids that it would be a fantastic thing to take the bus tour of London. It was probably about eight o'clock in the morning after the overnight flight, and we got on the bus. It was actually quite sunny. It was summer, and we all got the earphones given to us. The children were small at the time, and they'd usually put the earphones on, as did Sue. And then promptly, we took off, and somewhere around the Houses of Parliament, as I was exulting in the sight of the Houses of Parliament and in the great statue of Winston Churchill, I turned to see how well the family were enjoying this, only to discover that they were all sound asleep. And had pretty well chucked the thing some time prior to that, and really were not interested.

It was very bad timing on my part, I admit that, but it was poor form on their part. And they have never been prepared to admit that, and consequently, they have an aversion to these bus tours. But I am a great fan of the bus tours, because you get a general layout.

You get an overall view of the city, both geographically and historically, allowing you then, when you return to particular places and points of interest, to better understand what it is you are seeing and experiencing. I mention that because in many ways we need, if we're going to come to terms with the Bible, to take the bus tour of the Bible. We will find that we benefit far less from select and individual passages of the Bible if we have not taken the tour, if we do not have a grasp of the big picture, of the overall perspective, of the scheme of things that is represented to us in the Bible.

So for example, we've just read this passage. I wonder, what did you make of verse 69? He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David. If you're not very familiar with the Bible, and even if you are, you might find yourself saying, I'm not sure that this has got any possible relevance for me at all. Or even verse 73, what is this oath that he swore to our father Abraham? And whose father is he?

Probably not my father, you find yourself saying. I'm not sure just what this means. Now this will give us an indication of what I mean, and there's a long introduction to a fairly short study this morning, and I would like you for a moment to turn to the end of Luke's Gospel, to chapter 24, so that we can understand this essential point. The Old Testament is a story in search of or in anticipation of an ending. The Old Testament is anticipating the ending. And when we read of the event in Luke 24, where Jesus has now risen from the dead, and he meets with a couple of individuals who find that their hopes have been dashed—they had been hoping, they say to Jesus, not knowing that it is Jesus, and you'll see this in verse 21—we had hoped, they said to Jesus, that he, that is, Jesus, was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

They'd had all these expectations, and they had all come to a crashing halt, not realizing that it is the risen Jesus with whom they're speaking. And eventually Jesus says to them in verse 25, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart, to believe all that the prophets have spoken. In other words, haven't you read your Bibles? Haven't you read the Old Testament?

Didn't the Christ have to suffer these things and then to enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. He gives them this just gigantic Bible study. He takes them back over, if you like, the high points of the Old Testament story. And he explains that the only way you can understand the Psalms, the only way you can understand the books of Moses, the only way you can understand the prophetic writings is if you see them in relationship to the Messiah. And in verse 44, subsequently he said to them, This is what I told you while I was still with you.

Everything must be fulfilled that was written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms. And then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. May I just say in beginning what I want to say at the end, and it is simply this, that the Bible makes it clear to us that we cannot understand the Bible unless he opens our minds. No amount of perspiration on my part or pleading on my part or explication on my part will be able to convince anybody from a purely rational perspective, from an intellectual perspective of the truth of the Bible. So if you've come here thinking, perhaps that will be the case, I want you to know that it is impossible.

I won't be able to do it. But I can tell you that you will understand the Bible if God opens your heart. Of course, you'll need to be humble enough to acknowledge that you need God to do that. Well, let's just put it in a sentence, shall we? The good news of Jesus is the key to understanding the Bible. And when we move from the Old Testament into the New, when we move from the things that are foreshadowed, when we think in terms of their fulfillment from the original and the literal on into the person of Jesus, we often discover that—although it is customary for people to talk about believing in the Bible being fulfilled literally when we move from the Old Testament into the New—we discover that more often than not it is fulfilled Christologically rather than literally. So, for example, all of the promises concerning the temple and how the temple would be and what it would represent finally find their fulfillment when Jesus says, You can destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it again.

And in that moment, he moves the understanding forward significantly for those who can understand. And Luke uses the Old Testament as a frame of reference for understanding Christ. And he introduces us to Christ as the interpretive key for understanding the Old Testament. Now, this is quite striking when you realize that of the four Gospel writers, only one of them is a Gentile, and it is Luke. And here the Gentile writer does not set aside the emphasis and the central features of the Old Testament story, but rather he brings them to the fore. We might have expected that he could have said, Well, I'm a Gentile, and many of the people that will read my Gospel will be Gentiles, so why don't I just leave out some of this Hebraic stuff? No, he doesn't do so.

Why? Because we can't really understand Christ without the Old Testament, and we can't understand the Old Testament without Christ. I'm going to say that to you again as well. We cannot really understand Christ without the Old Testament, and we can't understand the Old Testament without Christ.

Now, let me just pause and point this out to you. This is why the Christmas story, for many people, seems so unbelievably trivial, if not horribly sentimental, and if not almost entirely irrelevant. Because they drop down into the Gospel narratives concerning the birth of Jesus without any point of reference at all. And what happens is, the people come in at Christmastime, and very often the pastor, wanting to placate the people—because, after all, it was so nice that they showed up for, you know, a Sunday out of the year, you don't want to really offend them, because there's a chance they might increase it to two Sundays a year—and so you descend to the little level of the lowest common denominator, and you tell them about the baby and the manger, and they leave with thoughts of camels sticking their head into troughs and all kinds of things, and they're no further forward than when they came in, and they just say to one another, Well, that's exactly why I haven't gone for the other fifty-one weeks.

What in the world was that all about? And I understand that, and I appreciate that entirely, and that's why this is a very long introduction to a very short sermon. And I believe that if you get something of this, if you are a genuine, honest seeker after truth, if you will begin to consider this and apply your heart and mind to it with a humble heart, then you may make great progress. And you will be helped, I think, by what my Sunday school teachers taught me and what I have tried to teach the congregation here in reminding ourselves that the Bible is a book about Jesus. And when we take our eyes off Jesus, we lose our way around the Bible, so that in the Old Testament Jesus is predicted. In the Gospels, Jesus is revealed. In the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus is preached. In the Epistles, Jesus is explained. And in the book of Revelation, Jesus is expected. So in the same way, when you come to this song of Zechariah, it is imperative that somebody helps us to stand far enough back from it to understand why it is that Zechariah sings as he sings. And it is because of all of the history that precedes this song.

We don't have time to go through it all this morning, but there are a number of high points that help us get the picture. For example, if we know anything of the Old Testament, we know that there was a man called Moses and that the people were all stuck in Egypt, and that somehow or another this man Moses was used to get the people out of Egypt. And we've heard something about that. We don't really know how it fits or what it means. But nevertheless, they were in bondage in Egypt, and they got out, they crossed the Red Sea, and it was just a wonderful, terrific experience. We say to ourselves, but what is the story?

What is that? Well, it's a story of redemption—what possible significance does it have? We come into the New Testament, and as I will point out to you, it points forward to the wonder of redemption that is provided in Jesus. The people come out and live in the promised land. But when they get into the promised land, they make a hash of things. They disobey God, they begin to doubt his Word.

Everything begins to collapse from the inside. God can't tolerate that. He has to bring judgment to bear.

He has to execute his love upon his people, and so judgment and mercy are interwoven. The Babylonians come in and snatch them up and take away their sons and daughters and bury the people in exile for a long time. And during that time in exile, the people hang their harps on the willow trees, and they say, How could we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? And God, overseeing the events of history, raises up Cyrus, the Persian. He comes in, topples the Babylonian empire, and Cyrus begins a program of repatriation.

And he begins to say to the people of God, You can actually go back up to Jerusalem, and you can begin to repair the destruction that is represented there. And that is exactly what happens, and that's what you find in the story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the walls and so on. And in that period of time, the people of God were still looking for the great fulfillment of his promises in terms of a kingdom. And they were thinking in kingdom terms, with a real live king who would overturn the Medo-Persian empire as well. But that didn't happen. And what they discovered was that there had been enough of a restoration or a reestablishment to realize that God was still in control of their history, that he hadn't forgotten them, but they were aware of the fact that whatever the fulfillment of his word to them was, it wasn't represented in what they were finding there.

They had, if you like, the structure, but they didn't have the substance. And when you read these little books—they're called the Minor Prophets, because they're shorter, not because they're any less important—Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—those were the ones prophecies are written to the postexilic people of God, reminding them that they still have to look forward. God is active in history, but God will come, and you can look forward, said the prophets, to a brighter day when the rising sun will come to us from heaven. And if you still have your Bible open in front of you, I want you to notice that that is exactly what is said here in verse 78, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven.

So they were looking forward to that. But by the fourth century BC, it was now the turn for the Greeks. And Alexander the Great comes in, overturns the Persian Empire, and the Jews now live for a long period under the domination of a culture that is still alien to them. It is Greek in its religion, in its cultural expressions, and it challenges entirely God's people's trust in God's promise. You can understand why it would be that given all of the promises that were represented to them, they now find themselves in this period of time in which everything seems to be against them. Everybody believes something different than they do.

Their children go about their business, aliens and strangers from the surrounding world. And still, they hang on to the hope that God will come and redeem his people Israel. Somehow or another, this Messiah will come.

Somehow or another, this person, this forerunner that is mentioned in Malachi, will appear on the stage of history. But he would have said to one another, How long will it go on like this? Hence the song we sing, Come, thou long-expected Jesus. Hence the carol, Come and ransom your captive people Israel.

That's what they're saying. And in 63 BC, then it is a turn of the Romans, and Pompey comes in, vanquishes the situation, and once again the people of God find themselves living as aliens in another province under the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire. And they get up, and they have their cereal, and they go to work, and they come home, and they go to bed, and the priests of God and the readers of the Old Testament say to the remnant people of God, Hang on, he is mindful, he is merciful, he is mighty. And they say to one another as they're walking to work, Well, I know it says that, but I can't see it.

It looks a lot to me like he has forgotten us entirely. And then into that darkness, a light shines. Into that shadowland, there is the penetrating impact that is recorded for us here in Luke 1, as the supernatural breaks into the natural, and as the angelic messenger of God comes first in this way. And in speaking both to Mary and to Elizabeth, declares that the prophetic expectations are now finding their fulfillment. And it is in that context that Zechariah then responds to the angelic visitation, which I need to leave for you to read for yourself, and when, on the eighth day, the circumcision day of their boy John, his tongue is loosed. As soon as his tongue is loosed, he sings, he blesses God, and verse 67 tells us that filled with the Holy Spirit, he then prophesied. And what you have then is this declaration of the coming of the Lord's salvation foreshadowed in the birth of John.

That's really what this whole song is. It's a declaration of the Lord's salvation that is foreshadowed in the birth of John, the son of Zechariah. It is, if you come from an Anglican background, what you know from your prayer book as the Benedictus, because in the same way as magnificat is the first word of the song of Mary in the Latin translation, Benedictus is the first word in the Latin translation of the song of Zechariah. Benedictus esto dominus deus Israelis. That is exactly what it is.

God be the Lord, the God of Israel. Now, when I grew up trying to understand the Old Testament in light of the New and vice versa, the people who tried to help me did so by way of tying individual verses in the Old Testament to individual verses in the New Testament. Now, there was nothing wrong with that, and it was helpful to me to a point. But what I discovered was that, a bit like the challenges of algebra and geometry for me, once I got removed from my cheat sheet, I didn't know where I was.

So once you got me away from 2 pi r to whatever else you wanted to take me to, I was completely at sea. Because even to this day, I can never remember which is the circumference and which is the area. And in the same way, I listened to people explaining the New Testament in light of the Old Testament. They said, well, if you look at this verse and you look at that verse, and the person says, well, that doesn't even make much sense to me, and the person who's pointing it out says to themselves inside their heads, they go, frankly, it doesn't make much sense to me either.

And now we've got a real problem on our hands. Because you see, the issue is the comprehensive nature of things. It is having a large enough, a big enough grasp of what God is doing throughout all of history as it involves both secular history and redemptive history. And at many points, the two things are fused.

Now, I want to give you just an outline, which will then be the basis for your further study, if you even care to think these things out. So that when you take your children and your grandchildren upon your lap, you're not simply stuck with the trivialities of a sentimental Christmas, nor are you going to be so profoundly distressing to them that they say, Grandpa, I haven't a clue what you're on about, but that you are able just simply to say, Listen, honey, do you realize all the things that God did in order to make it possible for Jesus to come? Do you realize how much God controlled in the whole universe? Do you realize how wonderfully in charge he is of things? And do you know that this God knows you and made you and made you for a relationship with himself? And do you know that in Jesus you can know him and meet him? Zachariah sings out of the fullness, not only of the spiritual filling which he enjoys, but out of the fullness of his grasp of the comprehensive purposes of God.

We can have a certainty that God has orchestrated the events of history. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life weekend. We'll continue this message next week. Alistair reminded us today that the good news of Jesus is the key to understanding the Bible. And it's that good news that we want to share with listeners, not just here in the United States, but all around the world. In fact, teaching the Bible in a way that's clear and relevant is our mission at Truth for Life. God's Word shines a light into the darkness of our world. It transforms unbelievers into committed followers, and it helps believers grow deeper in their love and commitment to Jesus. And we'd like to help strengthen your faith in God. To do that, we're recommending a book of sermons titled Spurgeon on the Power of Scripture. The purpose of this book is to give you a higher, more confident belief in the God of Scripture. Spurgeon likened the Bible to a lion in a cage. He said it doesn't have to be defended.

You just let it out of the cage and it defends itself. Find out more about the book Spurgeon on the Power of Scripture when you visit our website at I'm Bob Lapeen. Be sure to listen again next weekend when Alistair concludes the message we heard today by explaining how we make too little of Christmas. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-10 01:51:53 / 2023-07-10 02:01:27 / 10

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