Zechariah’s War Cry (2)

Christ Covenant Church
Bo Cogbill
Advent: War Cries for the Savior
Text – Luke 1:76-80
Zechariah’s Song

This morning we’re going to be looking and thinking more on the idea of light coming into darkness, so if you would, turn in your bibles to Luke chapter 1, and we’ll be reading verses 67-80.

Hear the word of the Lord:

[57] Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son… [67] And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

[68] “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
[69] and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
[70] as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
[71] that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
[72] to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
[73] the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
[74] that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
[75] in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
[76] And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
[77] to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
[78] because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
[79] to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

[80] And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

May God bless the reading, hearing, and preaching of His word, and may He grant us the grace to trust and obey it.

Now, the past couple of weeks we’ve been doing an Advent series called, “War Cries for the Savior,” and we’ve been looking at songs that prepared the world for the coming of the Christ with the hopes that it will prepare our hearts and our minds for His final coming.

You’ve heard that “A war cry is a shouted word or sound used by fighters in battle — to give each other courage, or to frighten their enemy,” and you may have been wondering why we’d be looking at these songs and then call them war cries.

Well, we’ve called them war cries because it wasn’t until fairly recently in American history that people have thought of Jesus as their homeboy and their boyfriend.

To the Jew, the Christ was the divine warrior king who wouldn’t come singing kumbaya, but he would come with a shout of deliverance as he trampled His enemies under His feet.

Now the way Jesus did that was vastly different than the Jews expected, but He did it nonetheless. He came, and He defeated the darkness of sin and death, not by dashing His enemies into pieces, but by being broken Himself, not by coercion, but by submission, and not by killing, but by being killed.

So while it may have looked like He was defeated, His resurrection proved that He in fact was Christus victor; He was triumphant over His enemies and the enemies of His people.

Douglas Wilson says it’s for this reason that when we say “Merry Christmas,” we aren’t just wishing people that they’d have a happy holiday season, but we are declaring that the Christ came, fought, and was victorious, just as God said He would be; therefore, Merry Christmas is itself a war cry, and as soldiers of Christ, we are to hear that cry and take courage to fight the good fight over darkness and sin!

So, that’s why we’ve called this series “War Cries for the Savior.” As we anticipate Christmas, we join the saints of old in singing these war cries because we can look back at what God has done as grounds for what He promises to do in the future.

But how do we do that? How do we shout with such confidence, when at times it appears as if the battle is anything but won?

After all, it’s been so long since Christ came, and if you look around at our world and our country and our state and our churches and maybe even your own life, sin and darkness appear to have won, and God appears to have handed us over to the enemy.

Well, I assure you you’re not alone.

The Jewish people, around the time Zechariah sang his song, struggled with these same questions because they made similar observations about the world around them, and it had been a long time since anyone had received a word from the Lord, a long time since any rays of hope had shone down on God’s people.

They read in their Scriptures what we do. There was a time when God’s word was loud and clear; He brought light into nothingness by His resounding word, and He spoke face to face to Adam in the cool of the day.

And they knew what we know, that Adam and Eve had doubted God’s word, they loved the darkness more than the light, and they sinned against God.

This hid and put distance between God and them and between one another, and this was the pattern of their descendants.

God would speak light into the lives of His people, they would ignore Him, and they would be cast further and further into darkness.

But time and time again, God was gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in covenant love. Time and time again, God would raise up and send messengers of light to His people, and time and time again they would reject God’s messengers and God Himself, and they could be cast further and further into darkness.

This went on for thousands of years, until the book of Malachi, the last book in your Old Testaments.

Malachi means, “My messenger,” and God sent His messenger one last time, with one last message for His people, and it was a dreadful one.

Chapter 1 speaks of how God told His people He loved them, but the people doubted. They talked back to God, replying, “How have you loved us?!”

God told them the proof of His love was that He chose them, He elected to set His love upon them, and their election demanded that they respond with a robust, covenantal love and obedience, but instead they dishonored him with worthless offerings and hypocritical worship.

The priests, God’s representatives, offered polluted sacrifices and half-hearted obedience.

In chapter 2 God’s messenger says the priests were responsible for teaching God’s people God’s ways. They were responsible for laying the covenant of life and peace before them, to teach the people to fear God and stand in awe and reverence at His name, but instead of using their lips to guard knowledge, the priests were causing many to stumble by their instruction and their partiality.

Not only this, but God’s people were intermarrying with unbelievers, profaning the marriage covenant God had given to them to produce godly offspring. Rather than marrying fellow believers as they were commanded and staying faithful to God and one another for the rest of their lives, they were marrying unbelievers and divorcing one another as if God’s words had no bearing on them.

In chapter 3, God said, through His messenger, that His people were robbing him in their tithes and offerings, and they were speaking harsh words against Him. They asked one another what benefit was there in obedience because God wasn’t keeping His side of the bargain.

God told them, through Malachi, to remember the law of Moses, to remember that God would come again to consume the wicked, and the people were to be on the lookout because He would send another messenger to prepare His ways before this happened.

God’s patience had been pushed to the brink, and he left His people with these words:

(Malachi 4)

[4:1] “…Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. [2] But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings…[5] “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. [6] And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

And then…nothing. Silence. Darkness.

The book of Malachi, the book of God’s messenger, has the phrase, “Thus says the Lord of hosts,” in half of the 54 verses. That means that on average every other verse the messenger reminded God’s people, “Thus says the Lord of hosts,” and then…the Lord of hosts…spoke no more.

This was around 460 B.C.

God’s people had been given a prophet, priest, or king to give them of some authoritative word from God every generation for the previous thousand years. He had sent His messenger to His people to call them to covenant faithfulness, but after Malachi, nothing.

God ceased to speak to His people.

About a hundred years after Malachi, Alexander the Great swept through the land and conquered the Persian empire.

What would be God’s message for His people during this uncertain time? Who would God send to speak His words on His behalf?

No one. Silence. Darkness.

One generation passes away, and nothing; two generations; three. Silence. Darkness.

Three hundred years go by, and an evil man by the name of Antiochus IV Epiphanes comes into the temple of God, loots it and desecrates it. He erects an idol of Zeus, an abomination of desolation, and then sacrifices a pig, an unholy, unclean animal on the altar of the “Most Holy Place.”

Surely God would raise up a voice to decry this wickedness; if He killed a man merely for touching the Ark of the Covenant to keep it from tipping over, surely He would reign down wrath and vengeance from the heavens for this dreadful offense, but…

Nothing. Silence. Darkness.

Another hundred years pass. Another generation dies, and then another.

Had God finally become fed up with His people? Had He abandoned them? Had He left them to themselves once and for all?

Aren’t these questions we ask?

Don’t our people question God’s love for them? Don’t we reject the reality of God’s election of His people? Don’t we dishonor him with worthless offerings and hypocritical worship? Don’t our priests make up their own rules for worshipping Yahweh? Don’t they ignore the necessity of covenantal obedience? Don’t they refuse to guard their lips with knowledge and give false instruction? Don’t our people refuse to seek out wise instruction? Don’t they treat God lightly and refuse to approach Him with fear and awe? Aren’t God’s people racists and don’t we show partiality?

Don’t God’s people refuse to marry only believers and don’t we enter into and break the marriage covenant whimsically? Don’t we rob him by not giving tithes and offerings? Don’t we speak harsh words against God as if He’s not keeping His side of the bargain?

Has He forgotten us?

Are we to be overcome by the twin oppressors of darkness and silence?

These types of thoughts are not unique to us and our rebellion. God’s people of old thoughts them as well.

Luke tells us that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly before Him, but even they had their doubts.

Zechariah, a priest himself, was without a child; his wife was barren; they had no godly offspring. He was Israel’s representative to God, and it wasn’t a coincidence that Israel was barren as well.

Yet, after all those years of silence, God sent an angel, a messenger, after all these 450 years, to Zechariah with a promise. In his old age, his wife would bear him a son, and he was to call his name John.

Zechariah doubts God’s messenger, but this time, instead of God remaining silent, He silences Zechariah.

We all know how long 9 months can feel.

For 9 long months Zechariah is unable to speak, but he can see God’s promise growing, nearing fulfillment. Though the noise from his mouth is void, a beam of light, a song is rising in his heart.

Then his son is born and God unleashes Zechariah’s tongue and he exults with a war cry:

[68] “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
[69] and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
[70] as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
[71] that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
[72] to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
[73] the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
[74] that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
[75] in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

Zechariah declares, though it has appeared for the last 400 years that God is against us, He is not! He is for us! He will win the battle against our enemies! It’s as good as done!

All his words are in the past tense: God has visited, God has redeemed, God has raised up! He looked back at God’s faithfulness and shouts a war cry into the future, “Though not over, the battle has been won,” and then he lays out how this will take place. His son, John, will have a key role in this salvation song.

[76] And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
[77] to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
[78] because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
[79] to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Just as God had always done, he would send a messenger before Him to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of sins because God is merciful from the inside out.

The sunrise would visit them from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, light to guide their feet in the way of peace.

John would not be the light, but he would bear witness to the light. John was to be to Jesus as the dawn is to the sun.

The dawn is not the sun, but the presence of the dawn let’s everyone know that the sun has been victorious over the night, and though the sun hasn’t come yet, the presence of the dawn guarantees the sun isn’t far behind.

John was not the sun, but John’s presence assured Zechariah that the Son wasn’t far behind; the light was coming into the world, and this light, this sun of righteousness, promised all those years ago, would bring healing in His wings.

God’s messenger, Malachi, had promised this over 450 years ago. He came to warn them that the day was coming, it was burning like an oven, and all sinners would be stubble. The day would set them ablaze until they had neither root nor branch and would be trampled on like ashes under the soles of feet.

God promised He would send Elijah before all this took place, and Jesus tells us that John is in fact the promised Elijah, the promised messenger, and listen to John’s message just two chapters later.

Crowds were coming to him to be baptized, and John said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance! Even now, the axe is laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

People knew, at last, this was God’s messenger, John was like Malachi, and they began to ask if he was the Christ.

The dawn said he was not the sun. He told them, “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, and He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Luke then tells us that with many other exhortations John preached the good news to the people.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I might have wondered how that was good news.

It’s good news because God was keeping His promises. God was silent no more. God’s people had been waiting for centuries for God to speak to them. To shed some light into the darkness, and John’s message was evidence that not only was God giving His people a glimmer of hope, but God was shouting once again, “Let there be light over the face of the deep!”

Because God kept His word, God’s people don’t have to be afraid of the darkness anymore.

Rather, those in darkness had better begin to fear the light, because He is coming, and if you are in the darkness and you don’t come into the light, He will overwhelm you, but if you do; if you do come into the light to marvel at His beauty, then you will find healing in the wings of the sun of righteousness.

This is good news, the greatest story ever told, and it’s news we and the world of darkness needs to hear.

So heed the dawn’s demand, Repent, come out of darkness into glorious light; be illuminated, and go out to shine like lights before men in a crooked, dark and depraved world. Shout a war cry for your savior, Merry Christmas! The war is over, and it’s only just begun!

Let us pray.

O God by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly; Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us to do, that the Spirit of Wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Prayer for Guidance)

Sunrise at Yumigahama Beach

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