Zechariah’s psalm or song in Luke 1:68-79 contains prophetic insight. It is one of the four canticles or songs in Luke’s gospel. Each named according to the first word (Latin) in the songs: Mary’s song (Magnificat, my soul magnifies the Lord), Simeon’s song (Nunc Dimittis, now dismiss your servant), the Angels’ song (Nolite Timere, do not be afraid), and Zechariah’s song (Benedictus, Praise to the Lord). Let’s look a little more closely at Zechariah’s song because it sets forth some characteristics of the kind of people we ought to be.
This song was sung by a mature and pious man who still had a lot to learn about God. It shows us that no matter what level of spiritual maturity we have obtained, we still need to grow. Perhaps Zechariah’s heart had grown indifferent towards God, because of the routines of ministry or being a priest and thinking he knew pretty much everything. Maybe he was preoccupied with his own life circumstances and a little angry that he had not been blessed with a child after all he had done for God. How many of us who have been Christians for a long time have stopped learning and growing, and have become indifferent towards God?
Do you ever look back at a previous time in your life when you were more passionate about your faith than you are now? Maybe you have some lingering issues with God and feel he has not dealt fairly with you after all your years of service. What will it take for you to have a growth spurt and to sing your own Benedictus?
Zechariah grew by keeping his mouth shut, listening to the Word of God, and then obeying it. This seems to be a spiritual principle in times of uncertainty. Psalm 46:10, Be still and know that I am God. When was the last time you kept your mouth shut in God’s presence, just listened to Him speak through His Word, and then said, “yes sir.”
This song was sung by a man who was striving to understand his time-bound circumstances over against the timeless coming of the Messiah. At that time Israel was dominated by the iron hand of Rome. Zechariah catches a vision that God was going to give him a son, John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. This Messiah, Jesus Christ, would redeem his people and save them from their enemies and all who hated them. Zechariah had this perspective that God’s salvation was both spiritual and physical; redemption from sin and deliverance from the abusive power of Rome.
At Christmas-time, 2018, our concerns differ from those of Zechariah’s. We may not fear Rome, but we may fear the economy, the turbulent political situation and the direction of our nation, home-grown terrorism, the greatest refugee crisis since WW2, racial injustice, and gang violence on the streets of our cities. We may fear our own life-dominating issues such as disease, substance abuse, sexual addiction, or marriage and family crises. Jesus Christ has come in order to save us from our sin, to deliver us from those things that dominate us, and to usher in a kingdom where peace, righteousness, and justice reign.
Pie in the sky? Ted Turner once said, “Almost every religion talks about a savior coming. When you look in the mirror in the morning, you’re looking at the savior. Nobody else is going to save you but yourself.” (Christian Century, Dec. 20-27, 2000)
However, the reality that most people in time will have the bottom drop out of their lives and will realize that they cannot save themselves. Most will feel overwhelmed because we live in such a crazy world where there really are no safe places or super heroes who will save us. But to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, because of His tender mercies, God has sent a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. And when we acknowledge our trust in Christ, even though things are not yet perfect and there is a lot of pain yet to be faced, we can still sing Praise to the Lord…because He has redeemed His people and has raised up salvation for us from the house of his servant David…to rescue us from the hand of our enemies and to enable us to serve him without fear.
This song was sung by a man who believed in a God who keeps His Promise. In fact, three of the four songs of Luke’s gospel revolve around the theme of God keeping His Promise. Mary acknowledged that through the birth of Messiah, God was remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever. When Simeon saw the Christ child, he said, Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, now dismiss your servant in peace. And Zechariah praised God because, in the Messiah, He was granting salvation for the house of David as he said through his holy prophets long ago… remember(ring) his covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham. God keep His promises. In fact Zechariah’s name means “God remembers” and Elizabeth’s name means “God’s oath.”
It had been 400 years since God last spoke to Israel through the prophets. His last words were, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers (Malachi 4:5, 6), and here in John the Baptist, was the fulfillment of that prophecy. Jesus called him the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14).
We can also be assured that even though it has been 2,000 years since Jesus said that He was going to return, God will remember His Promise. God is not slack in keeping his promise…He is being patient…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Even so, Come Lord Jesus…