Jesus Christ is unrecognized, ultimately crucified, by a nation who didn't realize who he was, and we would have done the same thing. Had we been there, we would have taken one look at his advance man, and looked at this son of a carpenter, and said, we're waiting for the Messiah, but you're not it.
You're not it. We don't know what God looks like, but when he comes, he certainly won't land in a stable, and if he were God, he would not land or end up on a cross, and in a tomb. If the King of the Universe was being born, you wouldn't expect his birth to happen in a stable, and you certainly wouldn't expect him to come from such a lowly background. The Bible calls Jesus the light of the world, but Jesus didn't light up the sky with fireworks when he came. His arrival was so common that it was almost unnoticeable.
Why was that? Well, Luke gives us the answer, and Stephen explores that today here on Wisdom for the Heart. The lesson you're about to hear is called, Let There Be Light. Well, today we take our last look at what we have focused on in these Christmas cousins. We've been studying this December, cousins Elizabeth and Mary, and their miracle babies, whose ministries will intertwine briefly, yet very significantly.
The ministry of their sons, Jesus and John, are going to change the world forever. Both of their births are surrounded by music, and I really do love the music of Christmas, and appreciate all the work and labor that goes into this assembly by our leaders to make this such a rich experience for us. But both of these babies, in their births, had music involved.
In fact, when Jesus Christ was born, as you know, the sky was lit up with angels who sing that the Savior's just been born. It was the custom of Middle Eastern couples to hire musicians to come and play and sing as they celebrated the birth of this whatever family it was that hired them, their firstborn. And their wealth determined the size of the choir and the number of musicians. Joseph and Mary are a long way from home, and they're huddled in this hollowed out cavern where she's just delivered the Deliverer, and they don't know any musicians in town, and they couldn't hire them if they did anyway.
They don't have any money, but that's okay. God the Father has sent his own choir, and he has deep pockets. And that choir is a million strong, and that music is so rich, and the lyrics were given, they appear in the sky, and they sing glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased. Since our focus has been on the birth of the Savior's forerunner, the prophet John, what I want to do here is shift our attention to the lyrics of another song.
It was sung six months earlier, only this time it was a solo. It was sung by that old priest, the father of John, who is no doubt overwhelmed with just as much joy as any angel. So let me have you turn back a page to Luke's Gospel chapter 1, six months before the angels sing in the sky above Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus, several miles away in the lives of this elderly couple who have taken their boy to be circumcised on the eighth day.
Music is about to begin. Elizabeth, of course, has delivered this boy. According to Gabriel's message from God, they name him John, even though he'll be nicknamed later on John the Baptizer or John the Baptist. John means, as we've learned, the grace of God.
We're going to introduce Jesus, who is the embodiment of grace, the instrument of grace, the means of grace, the bridge of grace whereby mankind can be reconciled to God. But now this old priest holds up his miracle baby at verse 68, and he begins to chant his own prophetic song. This is a poem. And more than likely, in Old Testament fashion, he's chanting it. The chant begins in verse 68, and it'll run through verse 79.
And we don't have time for all of this, as you can only imagine. I've divided Zacharias' Christmas hymn into four stanzas. The first stanza is about the salvation of Israel. The second stanza is about the sovereignty of God. The third stanza is about the son of Zacharias. And the fourth stanza is about the sunrise from heaven. For the sake of time, I'm going to follow Baptist tradition. I'd have us look at all four stanzas. In fact, we're really going to break with tradition.
We're going to skip the first two. But what I want to do is look at the third here, and it focuses on the future ministry of John the baptizer. Look at verse 76.
He's saying this. Now, picture him singing this, looking at his son, John. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go on before the Lord to prepare his ways.
What a powerful expression. You're going to speak on behalf of the sovereign Lord. You're going to prepare the way for the Messiah. That idea of preparing the way goes all the way back to ancient days where there weren't any paved roads. One Bible historian talked about the fact that most roads, of course, were simply tracks across open fields. But when you got near a town and entered a town, the ground could be nothing more, he writes, than a muddy mess where the wheels of carts would often mire down and get stuck. But if a king were to travel to visit that town in his empire, a road leading into and through the town would be built out of stone or wood and smoothed out for the royal chariot or carriage so that the traveling would not be unduly rough and the wheels would not get swamped in the mire.
That's the picture here. John, you're going to announce to the nation and to the world the king is coming, royalty is going to arrive, make ready the road of repentance. Prepare a highway, unobstructed, smooth and ready so that the king can ride on that highway directly into people's hearts. John the Baptist, you see, was all about construction. He was all about building a highway for the king of heaven. Zacharias introduces us to the king with a wonderful expression.
It's a name for him we don't spend much time looking at. Look at the last stanza in verse 78 where he says, because of the tender mercy of our God with which, note this, the sunrise from on high will visit us to shine upon those who sit in darkness. You know, it's one thing to be stuck in the mud.
It's another thing to be stuck in the mud in the middle of the night. No light, no fire. Isaiah describes the nation Israel as a people walking in darkness.
But all of that is going to change. The sunrise is on his way. Jesus Christ will be described as the light of the world, John 8.12. The gospel will be described as a gospel of light, 2 Corinthians 4.6. Those who believe the gospel will be called the children of light, Ephesians 5.8. The believer will be commanded to cast off the works of darkness and to put on the armor of light, Romans 13, verse 12. Those who trust in Jesus Christ will have been rescued from the darkness and brought into a marvelous light, 1 Peter 2.9. See, Jesus Christ said in John 8, I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
That's, by the way, just the beginning. We're not only children of light walking in the path of light belonging to the kingdom of light, but one day we're going to personally shine with the light of the noonday sun in the kingdom of our Father, Matthew 13.43. Everything about the believer is no longer darkness, but light. John the Baptist is actually announcing what Malachi had prophesied 400 years earlier before the darkness of judgment and the silence of God had sort of wrapped itself around planet Earth.
For 400 years, no word, no angel, no message, darkness. But there's a day coming. John the prophet will break the silence. He will announce the sun is about to rise. Get your hearts paved and ready. Get ready for the Lord of light.
Get ready for the sunrise to ride like a chariot into your heart and life. Look at verse 79. He's going to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, those that are so fearful. We're not ready to die.
What will happen to us when we do? Oh, look, verse 79, he will guide our feet into the way of peace. He's going to shine light beyond this life to the next.
Get ready. The sunrise is on his way, is what John will say. See, here with this prophetic song from Zacharias, and think again about the fact that nothing more will really be heard for about 30 years until John appears preaching in the wilderness. He's got to go out there to hear him.
He's not invited into the synagogues and the temple. He's got to go outdoors to hear this wild man wearing camel hair clothing, eating wild honey and locusts, living a life of solitude. Suddenly he shows up and he begins to preach. I want to show you what he preached. Turn over to John's Gospel, chapter 1. John chapter 1. And by the way, as you're turning, let me mention that John the Gospel writer here is a different person than John the Baptist, John the Baptizer.
John the Baptizer is going to die very young. In fact, not long after the beginning of his ministry, he'll be put into prison by Herod and then beheaded at the request of Herod's wife. She was infuriated with this prophet from the wilderness who dared to refer to her marriage to Herod as adultery, which it was. So the first chance she got, she asked for his head.
She wanted to get rid of him. He died soon after his ministry began. The religious leaders, by the way, were all the happier to see him go because he had also confronted their sin. He's suggesting they need to follow the sign of repentance.
And for this prophet, it was immersion in water, just like Gentile dogs in muddy water. They didn't like this man. They wanted to be left alone with their religious rituals and their religious systems and their religious ceremonies.
They were comfortable with the darkness. Leave us alone in the dark. I find it interesting the history repeats itself more than 500 years ago in the small village of Ferrara, Italy. A little boy grew up to bravely confront his religious world. He would later be called the forerunner of the Reformation. Many don't know of him.
In his classic work, The History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff wrote about this young priest by the name of Savanarola. He lived in the darkest of times when the church was characterized by corruption and wickedness among the religious leaders, the papacy, the priesthood. He wrote the entire clergy. The offices of bishop and cardinal were sold to the wealthiest bidder.
Kind of like the governor of Illinois. Remember, he tried to sell his vacated senate seat. He's now in prison. The church was filled, Schaff wrote, with immorality of all kinds prevalent in monasteries and convents openly displayed in local congregations without discipline or shame. The church, he wrote, had become a den of vice and iniquity. The so burdened Savanarola that he spoke with fiery eloquence against these practices. And for eight years, he preached in Florence, Italy, pleading for spiritual reformation.
He refused to mix and mingle with officials and lived a solitary life. He was resented by all of the leaders, the clergy. One morning, interrupting his devotion, Schaff wrote, church leaders broke into his monastery, dragged him through the streets, locked him in a dungeon where he was tortured before being executed. That wasn't the end of his testimony. See, he was the forerunner of the coming reformation when enough people would rise up in protest against the corruption of the church and eventually splinter off into a dozen fragments of light. These protesters have now, for the last 500 years of church history, followed the early conviction of the reformation. And at the center of those convictions is the conviction that reads in Latin, Sola Scriptura.
Have you ever seen that before? Which means the church will now follow the authority of the Scriptures alone. It is the Word of God alone. In that is our purity and our protection. Amen?
It is the Word of God. I found it interesting and ironic that when the day of Savanarola's trial arrived, the church had become so determined to silence him that one of the Pope's own commissioners wrote on the Pope's behalf, and I quote, Put Savanarola to death even if he is another John the Baptist. They hanged him, set on fire his remains and threw his ashes in the river. They put to death the forerunner of the reformation just as 1500 years earlier, the religious leaders will put to death the forerunner of the Redeemer. For the most part, the brief ministry and message of John, the baptizer will be ignored. The religious leaders will respond to the light of John's preaching by taping up the windows and pulling the blinds and closing the curtains.
Leave us alone in the darkness. We're simply told in verse 6 of John chapter 1, There came a man sent from God whose name was John. There really wasn't any more they could say about him because that was pretty much it. He was a man sent from God whose name was John. You'll notice he came as a witness to testify about the light so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. There was the true light which coming into the world enlightens every man. He was in the world, that is speaking of Christ, now the light, and the world was made through him and the world did not know him.
There are three reactions. I want to give you very quickly to John's preaching. This is the first one. The light was not recognized. It says the world did not know him. Literally the world did not recognize him. The nation has been waiting for over 400 years for the Messiah, but when he comes and is introduced it cannot be the son of a carpenter. It cannot be this man introduced to us by his cousin. I mean, what is this, a little family scheme to get some notoriety? Did you and your cousin work this out beforehand? Hey, you introduce me and I'll be the guy.
Did you flip on it? The nation is waiting for the anointed one and they're pretty confident that when he comes he isn't going to look like Jesus. And he certainly isn't going to be represented and introduced by a man who looks like John the Baptizer. This wild man from the wilderness, solitary life, comes thundering onto the scene.
Are you kidding? That's not the Messiah we're waiting for and if this is his advance man we can only wonder. Jesus Christ is unrecognized, ultimately crucified by a nation who didn't realize who he was and we would have done the same thing. Had we been there we would have taken one look at his advance man, watched him for a few minutes, and looked at this son of a carpenter and said, we're waiting for the Messiah but you're not it.
You're not it. We don't know what God looks like but when he comes he certainly won't land in a stable and if he were God he would not land or end up on a cross and in a tomb. That's why Isaiah would prophesy centuries earlier he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. You see, from that point to this, mankind is still rejecting him.
What about you? Has your heart been paved with repentance? Have you received that chariot of light, the royal one, into your own life? They didn't recognize the light.
The second response follows the first. They didn't receive the light. Look at verse 11. The apostle John writes, he came to his own, literally he came to his own domain. This is his own creation and those who were his own, his own creation, certainly a reference to his own nation, did not receive him. The testimony of Zacharias to the priests that he had seen an angel in the holy place, that was written off as delusional. He's getting old.
The surprise pregnancy of his 88-year-old wife is written off as well. Isn't that something? From the angels to the shepherds to the virgin to the magi and on and on and on, the evidences of the grace of God, which pointed to the true Messiah, was overwhelming.
Overwhelming. That's why we today, we go, well, you have the record. How could they miss it?
We have the record. How does our world miss it? Can you imagine an entire nation rejecting the message of the gospel after having so many evidences of the grace of God?
Just look around. This is the most obvious season to answer that question. Look up the word Christmas in the dictionary. If it hasn't been rewritten by the Reconstructionists, it will say Christmas colon the celebration of the birthday of Jesus Christ.
And in our nation, we mirror Israel in many ways. Our nation wants the lights of Christmas. It just doesn't want you to mention the light of Christ. We want to celebrate the season. We just don't want to mention the Savior.
Ladies and gentlemen, this weekend the world will miss the meaning of Christmas and it will miss the meaning of Christmas on purpose. There's a third reaction to the sunrise. There are those who will respond to the light. Look at verse 12. This is a wonderful verse hinged by that little word but. Oh, I'm telling you all this stuff.
It's bad but. But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name. What does it mean to believe in his name? In the ancient world, a name was more than just something that went well with your last name because it was a family tradition. A name was a reflection of the person bearing. In fact, many times Old Testament and New Testament saints would be renamed. Jesus did that with his own disciple, Peter. He wanted to reflect who they are or who they will become. Gabriel told Joseph and Mary to name their newborn son Jesus.
Why? To understand exactly what he would become. It means redeemer, deliverer. So to believe in the name of Jesus means that you believe in all that his name represents. It means you believe in his character, his person, his attributes, his mission, his atonement, his sacrifice, his redemption, his deity. Believe in the one many thought was nothing more than a deluded carpenter, a misguided teacher.
You believe in the one whose name says what he is and you become a child of God. It will wonder though that he would be missed. In his coming, one poet put the incarnation in these words, no pomp, no pageantry, no flash, no fanfare apart from that choir splitting the skies for a moment and then disappearing out of sight. God slipped unpretentiously into the lake of humanity with barely a ripple of notice. But in his wake, a quiet greatness moved in concentric circles touching everyone he met.
A fisherman weathered and worn, a woman, Samaritan and shameful, a man, 38 years lame. But then look, a rolled-up pallet, an empty water pot, nets hung out to dry, forever left behind for him who was full of grace and truth, for him whose brimming glory spilled into their empty lives. Where there was meaningless labor, he gave mission. Where there was hurt, he gave healing.
Where there was thirst for forgiveness, he gave living water. Deity was never so winsome as when the light of the world touched these dimly burning wicks and gave them a reason to shine as the sunlight at the breaking of the dawn. Let there be light did not cease to sound from the mouth of our Creator at the first creation. It continued on until John said, The light has come.
God has spoken. The Word is the light. Let there be light. By the way, it continues to this day as the glorious light of the gospel shines upon those who sit in darkness, those who stumble in the night, for those who believe there is a new creation and in them is given the light of the world. Let there be light is your testimony and mine. It is the gospel of light we believe. It is the savior of light we follow. It is the armor of light we wear. It is the color of the clothing we're going to wear in that final creation where we will shine as the sun in the kingdom of our Father.
And why? Because the sunrise has come. The Son of God came where we are so that we might go to where he belongs.
In this heavenly kingdom of everlasting life and never-ending light. Thanks for joining us today. This is Wisdom for the Heart featuring the Bible teaching of Stephen Davey. I hope today's lesson helped prepare your heart to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas this season. With today's lesson Stephen concludes his series entitled Christmas Cousins. We have more Christmas messages in store for you in the days ahead. I hope you'll be with us each day all through the Christmas season. If we can assist you today our number is 866-48-BIBLE. That's 866-48-BIBLE or 866-482-4253. Call today and then join us next time for more Wisdom for the Heart.
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