At the morning service this Sunday we looked at the birth of John the Baptist and his father Zechariah’s hymn of praise that immediately followed (Luke 1:57-80). Just as Gabriel had said, Zechariah was mute until the day of John’s birth because he did not believe the angel’s promise that his elderly and barren wife Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son (1:20). But when Zechariah’s “mouth was opened and his tongue loosed” (v.64), he burst out with a volcanic eruption of praise to God. And he praised God not so much for the birth of his son, though he was surely rejoicing in that, but for the great work of salvation the Lord was about to do through the soon-to-be-born Jesus Christ. John the Baptist’s entire ministry was to point others to Jesus, and here on the day of his birth he’s doing just that as the words of his father’s prophecy and praise focus not on his son John, but on Christ.
First, using language and imagery from the exodus, Zechariah declared that God had brought deliverance to his people from their enemies (vs. 71, 74). In the light of the teaching and work of Christ, we know Zechariah (or better, the Holy Spirit speaking through Zechariah – v.67) was not describing a political salvation from the oppression of Rome, but a spiritual salvation from bondage to sin. As Christians this is part of our redemption – Christ has delivered us from the power and dominion of sin over us. This doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with sin and often stumble. But it means that sin is no longer our master so that we should serve it (Romans 6:6-14).
And in that freedom from sin’s reign we ought to rejoice. I recently read an account of the scenes of exuberant joy among plantation slaves when the Emancipation Proclamation was read to them. At last they were free! God’s Emancipation Proclamation is the gospel of Jesus Christ. By faith in Christ, we are free from sin’s cruel tyranny. And as free people, we must use our liberty to serve and worship God. Just as the Lord demanded that Pharaoh let his people go, that they might serve him in the wilderness, so Christ has delivered us from sin’s bondage that we might, in Zechariah’s words, “serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (v.75). True freedom is not absolute freedom from all rule, but willing submission to the gracious and loving rule of Christ.
Second, in his prophecy Zechariah speaks of our freedom from the guilt of sin. He says that John will go before the Lord (read “Jesus”) “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of sins” (vs.76, 77). As a priest who participated in the animal sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem, Zechariah would have understood instinctively that God’s salvation must involve forgiveness of sins. He’d seen the life-blood of countless animals poured out at the altar, and he knew that sinners could have not communion with a holy God without that shed blood to atone for sin. Of course all the temple sacrifices were but types and shadows of the one great sacrifice of Christ, who offered himself on the cross as the Lamb of God to remove from us the guilt of sin forever. All that Zechariah did as a priest was soon to be fulfilled by the Great High Priest. No wonder this faithful and pious man was filled with praise!
If your trust is in Christ, by God’s grace you have been delivered from both the power and guilt of sin. Having been set free, may Christ direct you “in the way of peace” (v.79).
At the evening service we continued our study of the Heidelberg Catechism, considering the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.
Soli Deo Gloria!