Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent Reading Day 12 – Zachariah’s Benedictus (Luke 1:67-75)

“And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant— as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old— salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” (Luke 1:67–75, NASB95)

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel….” Similar to Mary’s Magnificat (or magnifying) in verses 46-55 of Luke 1, we have here what is known as Zechariah’s Benedictus. This is a Latin word coming from the first word “blessed.” Think of the songs that we sing such as “Blessed be the Name” and of the many things that we can point to as blessings from God. We return to Him praise because of who He is and what He has done. Zechariah does this as he speaks the praises of God to the people, and as he does this he fills his words with Old Testament quotations and references.

As a Jew, he specifically identified God as the One who had a special relationship with them as His people. He was the God of Israel, and of that there was no doubt. God had selected them as a people through Abraham and He had made many promises for which He was eternally faithful. Though Israel might rebel, God would never forsake them. We read of David’s looking on his son Solomon after giving him the throne as his successor, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who has granted someone to sit on my throne this day, my own eyes seeing it.” (1 Kings 1:48, ESV) We read of Ezra raising blessing to God for moving King Artaxerxes to restore and beautify the temple of God. “Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem,” (Ezra 7:27, ESV) Men of God knew the hand of God and readily sang His praises knowing how blessed they truly had been by being chosen by Him. Zechariah was no different in knowing that God had visited him and his wife to give them a child in their old and barren years.

Like the blessings of old, Zechariah followed this statement of raising the name of the Lord by pointing to that which God had done and how He had blessed them as His people. He went on to say, “for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David….” The concept of being visited and redeemed by God is nothing new. This term was used by Moses to describe his being sent to the people of Israel in bondage under the Egyptians. Their response was, “And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.” (Exodus 4:31, ESV) What an appropriate thought for Zechariah to lift praise to God as he had been told by the angel that his own son was to be sent as one to prepare the way of the Lord. God had once again visited His people and was showing to them His hand to deliver them. And as He had redeemed them from the hand of Pharaoh so was He sending His Only Son to redeem them of their sins. Through John the way was being prepared for God’s redeemer. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “”And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 59:20, ESV)

Zechariah was not saying anything new here about God, but was praising Him for His faithfulness to His promises of old. There are so many challenges to the reality of Christ and what people say about Him today. There are people who deny, challenge and twist truth in order to suit their own fancies or agendas. But the reality is that Jesus is real, and the Bible itself is an incredible proof of this reality. The prophecies alone which were written hundreds of years in advance and which were fulfilled completely in Him should speak to this. As a young Christian I was impressed with the words of Peter Stoner who wrote on the probabilities of just eight of these prophecies being fulfilled in one person. According to his calculations the odds are 1017. That is 1 in 1 quintillion, or 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 which is 10 with another 17 zeros following, and that’s just looking at 8 of the 48 selected prophecies.

Zechariah was praising God that the prophecies of old that they had placed their hope in were being fulfilled against all human odds, and the only reason that this could happen is that it was not up to man. God was the One doing this and He is infinite in all ways, including His ability to foretell what He was going to do hundreds of years in advance and then do it exactly as He had said. This is exactly what Zechariah recognized when he said, “as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old….”

In the midst of speaking these things about God Zechariah brought it home to their present time saying, “that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear…” Think of the great comfort in knowing that God has your back. He not only has your back, as those who believe in Him and who are saved He has us totally encapsulated in His infinitely powerful hands. As it is true for us, it was true for the Jews to who Zechariah spoke. God was faithful to His people. He had repeatedly delivered them and would continue to do so. He was holding on to them in a way none of us can possibly imagine doing in our own strength.

Zechariah finished his praises to God and his prophetic words from God to the people with how it is that they are to live their lives as a result of who God is and what He has done for them. Beyond living without fear, he added that they were to live “in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” Their proper response to God was to live holy or set apart lives as the special set apart people that they were, and that these lives were to exemplify the character of God which is righteous or exactly right for all of their days. This was not just an expectation of the Jews. Even to the mixed church in Rome Paul wrote, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [reasonable logikos] worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2, ESV)

Think about this: these are the first words of Zechariah after he had heard first hand from the angel of the Lord what was about to happen. These are the words that he had to wait what I suspect was nine months to speak. As such these words must have come with great excitement and emotion.

(Note: This is a portion of the text from a sermon given on December 7th. The audio and text for the sermon can be found through the links on the Sermon Links and More page of my blog.)

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