Zechariah’s War Cry

Christ Covenant Church
Marq Toombs
Advent: War Cries for the Savior
Text – Luke 1:67-75
Zechariah’s Song (aka, The Benedictus)

Last week we saw that Mary’s song pointed forward to the story of the person and work of Jesus. This week we will see that Zechariah’s song pointed backwards to the story of God’s promises in the Law and the Prophets.

Who was Zechariah?

Back Story

He was a priest of the Lord, and the husband of Elizabeth. “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.”

One day while he was serving as priest before God, he entered the temple of the Lord and burn incense, which symbolized the prayers of God’s people. And while he was in the temple an angel of the Lord appeared to him standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.”

Now we know that in addition to offering priestly prayers on behalf of the people, he was offering personal prayers on behalf of himself and his wife.

As a pastor, a husband, and a father I sympathize with Zechariah. I agonize in prayer for my wife and my children. They bring me such joy and gladness, but I would love to hear the Lord say something like, “Don’t be afraid. Your sons and daughters will be great before the Lord.” But even that might be overwhelming.

It was overwhelming to Zechariah. The sight of the angel and the sound of the news and smell of incense was more than he could bear. So he said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (Which translated means: our biological clocks are broken; they stopped ticking a long time ago.)

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

Now, as a priest he represented God to the people, and he represented the people to God.

Like his people, he did not believe the word of God. That is why they ended up in exile in Babylon, and that is why they were strangers in their homeland under the control of the Roman Empire.

And like God, he was silent until the fulness of time. As you know, God had not spoken to his people for 450 years until the day he spoke to Zechariah in the temple. True, they had his word in canon of the Holy Scriptures, and God continued to speak to them there, but he did not spoken through a prophet or priest for four centuries.

And when he finally broke his silence and spoke to a priest, a righteous man who walked blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord, yet that priest struggled to believe God’s word. Struggled is too nice and clean. He did not just doubt God’s word, he did not believe it.

So God shut his mouth and he was silent for the next forty five weeks.

Some people take vows of silence willingly, but this silence was imposed upon Zechariah against his will by the will of the Lord.

That reminds me of the story of a monk who joined a monastery and took a vow of silence.

After the first 10 years his superior called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?”

The monk replied, “Food bad.”

After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to voice his thoughts.

He said, “Bed hard.”

Another 10 years went by and again he was called in before his superior. When asked if he had anything to say, he responded, “I quit.”

His superior replied: “That doesn’t surprise me a bit. You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.”

Zechariah was reminded of something that we so easily forget. That God is sovereign over all things: including history, biology, and physiology. He made man’s mouth, and he can open or shut it. Likewise, he made woman’s womb, and he can open or shut it.

So God shut Zechariah’s mouth, and he opened Elizabeth’s womb.

And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. And just as the angel foretold, his wife Elizabeth conceived. And when the time came for her to give birth, she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child and name him. And Zechariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. (Luke 1:5-25, 57-66) All these things happened according to the word of the Lord.

Benedictus: A War Song

That brings us to our sermon text for today. Luke 1:67-75

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
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,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham,
to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

May God add his blessing to the reading, hearing, and preaching of his word.

In this Advent series, we are focusing on the songs that prepared the world for the first coming of Jesus. And we do so in the hope that they will prepare us for the second coming of Jesus.

As our forefathers worshiped while they waited and watched for the first coming of Christ, and so we worship while we wait and watch for the second coming of Christ. Like them, we do not sing laments to self-pity, rather we sing war cries for the Savior.

A war cry is a shouted word or sound used by fighters in battle — to give each other courage, or to frighten their enemy.

For us, a war cry is a song to, for, and about the Savior who was, and who is, and who is to come.

Like Mary’s song the Magnificat, Zechariah’s song the Benedictus is a war cry for the Savior.

This song is often called the Benedictus because it begins with a word of praise: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.

Zechariah’s song echoes the Law and the Prophets, but it also explains them with Jesus is mind.

Remember, Mary spent three months with Elizabeth and Zechariah. When Elizabeth greeted Mary, the baby leaped in her and womb and she referred to Mary as the mother of her Lord.

Zechariah and Elizabeth knew that Mary’s son was the Christ the Lord because the Spirit of the Lord revealed it to them. So, when Zechariah prophesied, he was proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

His song was a war cry for the Savior.

When God opened Zechariah’s mouth and loosed his lips, he did not defend himself, rather declared God’s praise.

He praised God for visiting his people, and redeeming his people, and raising up a horn of salvation for his people.

When Zechariah broke his silence he praised the Lord God because he is for us. He draws near to us, and declares good news to us, and delivers us from evil, and demonstrates mercy to us in his Son Jesus Christ.

Zechariah sings four truth about Jesus that I want you to learn today.

+ Jesus is the true and better David who delivers us from evil.

He is the horn of salvation, a shepherd-king who keeps his father’s sheep; a servant who saves us from our enemies. When a lion, or a bear comes to take a lamb from the flock, he goes after him and strikes him and delivers his sheep out of his mouth. And when giants rise against us, he confronts them in the valley of the shadow of death and strikes them and kills them. And when the dragon wages war on his people, he slays him with the rod and staff of his cross, and with the breath of his mouth (Luke 1:68; cp 1 Sam 17:34-35)

+ Jesus is the true and better prophet who declares the good news to us.

He declares the gospel that God does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. He will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

He declares the good news to us to the poor, that he will bind up the brokenhearted, and open the eyes of the blind; and proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

He proclaims the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.  (Luke 1:70-72; cp Micah 7:18-20; Isaiah 61:1-3)

+ Jesus is the true and better Abraham who draws near to us, to deliver us from our enemies.

He is a faithful kinsmen-redeemer. When hears that his kinsmen have been taken captive by the devil to do his will, he gathers his forces and leads them against the wicked kings of the world, against the principalities and powers of this dark age. He pursues his enemies to the ends of the earth; he demolishes them and delivers his kinsmen from their captors, and from their captivity to the fear of sin and death. And he restores our fortunes. (Luke 1:73-74; cp Genesis 14:14-16; 2 Timothy 2:26; Hebrews 2:14-16).

+ Jesus is the true and better priest (Melchizedek) who demonstrates mercy to us.

He is the king of righteousness and prince of peace who stands in contrast to kings of wickedness and violence. He is a merciful and faithful priest of God Most High who sympathizes with us in our weakness and helps us in our trials and temptations. He prepares a table of bread and wine for us in the presence of our enemies and invites us to his covenant meal. He raises his hand and says, “May you be blessed by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” (Luke 1:74-75; cp Genesis 14:19-20; Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-15)

Zechariah’s song echoes the Law and the Prophets, and it explains that Jesus is the true and better prophet, priest, and king.

His song was a war cry for the Savior that shattered the silence and woke the world.

So What?

What does this have to do with us? What does it mean for us?

Have you ever listened to a song you really like and wondered why did they write this song, and what does it means? You feel like it means one thing. Your friend feels like it means something else. In the end you agree to disagree because the song’s meaning seems open to interpretation.

I listened to Zechariah’s song over and over again this week and asked, why did he compose this song, and what does it mean?

Here’s my answer: He wanted to remind everyone that God is for us, not against us.

Your world seems to be falling apart. Your mom has cancer. Your neighbor lost his job. Your kids need friends. Your car needs tires. Your friend lost his way. Your career hit a dead end. Your investments vanished. Your future seems bleak. Your life is unravelling. Your hands are up, but you can’t breathe.

And an old priest has the nerve to sing a war cry about how God is for us!

For some folks, that’s hard to believe.

Sometimes it looks or feels like God is against us, but in reality God is for us.

Maybe, like Zechariah, you question God’s promise and offer reasons to disbelieve: How will I know this promise is true? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years. For my life experience contradicts God’s expectations.

Perhaps you are skeptical of God’s promises and power.

Perhaps you doubt that God is, much less that God is for us.

Perhaps you believe that God is, but you doubt that God is for you.

Perhaps you have prayed for something for so long and so hard that you have given up hope that God even hears your prayers, much less that he will answer them.

Perhaps “you’ve been waiting, waiting for this moment all your life, but it’s not quite right. And this ‘real’ — it’s impossible if possible at who’s blind word so clear but so unheard.” (Silversun Pickups, Lazy Eye)

Perhaps you have been beaten down and battling depression for so long that you can no longer imagine that you will ever feel joy and gladness again.

Maybe, like Zechariah you question God’s power: How will I know this promise is really going to be fulfilled? For my reason collides with God’s revelation. My “free-will” clashes with God’s free-will.

Perhaps you think the facts of history, biology, and physiology outweigh the truth of theology.

Perhaps you believe the material and natural outweigh the spiritual and super-natural.

Perhaps you don’t understand that what is impossible with man is totally possible with God.

Perhaps you have a form of godliness, but you deny its power. You imagine that some things are not possible with God. You don’t realize that nothing is impossible with God.

Perhaps you waver between belief and unbelief concerning the promises of God, when you should be growing stronger in your faith as you give glory to God in worship, fully convinced that God is able to do what he promised. (Romans 4:20-21)

Yes, God has the power to make and keep his promises.

God is able to do what he promised.

Until you come to terms with that profound truth, you will be locked jawed, tight lipped, and shut-mouthed, not only in his presence, but in the presence of your neighbors and relatives.

But when you come to grips with that profound truth, God will loosen your lips and open your mouth that you may declare the praises of his glory and grace.

God is for us.

He gives life to the dead and calls things into existence that do not exist. (Romans 4:17)

God is for us.

He draws near to us, and declares good news to us, and delivers us from evil. In all these things, he demonstrates his mercy for us. Why?

As the Spirit says through Zechariah:

“to grant us the freedom to serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

God is for us.

So no more playing hide and seek with God. No more making fig leaves to cover our shame. No more addictions. No more fear-mongering. No more guilt-tripping. No more abuse. No more manipulation.

God is for us.

By grace we are free to serve him without fear, to serve him in holiness and righteousness, to serve him in Christ, and walk before his face all our days.

God is for us.

So let us draw near to his throne of grace with confidence, and freely take hold of the horns of the altar, the horn of salvation, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in times of need.

God is for us.

What then shall we say to these things?

If God is for us, who can be against us?

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

God is for you, not against you.


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