God’s Tender Mercy
December 29, 2019
God’s Tender Mercy
The first chapter of Luke’s Gospel begins and ends with telling us about two great saints, Zacharias, a priest, and his wife Elizabeth.
Luke tells us that Zacharias and Elizabeth live in the hills of Judea, about a two-hour walk from Jerusalem. They live most of their life without having children. In their culture, as Jews, to not have children is to face shame. The Bible says children are a blessing from God. Their relatives and neighbors see them as forsaken by God.
Their situation does not keep them from serving God with gladness. God is pleased with them. They are righteous in the sight of God, living blamelessly by fulfilling all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.
Zacharias’ life changes dramatically during his time of service at the temple in Jerusalem. Miraculously, the angel Gabriel appears to Zacharias as he attends to the temple incense.
Gabriel is an angel who stands before God. He tells Zacharias that his prayers are answered and he will have a son, and he is to name him John. Many people will rejoice at his birth. John will be great in the sight of the Lord. His son will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even while in his mother’s womb. Gabriel tells Zacharias that John will be born in the spirit and power of Elijah, fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi. John is the forerunner to the long-awaited Messiah.
Zacharias doesn’t believe Gabriel, so God makes Zacharias mute. He remains unable to speak until the fulfillment of Gabriel’s words. The time of fulfillment has come. Elizabeth gives birth to John.
The Naming of John the Baptist
The Lord grants mercy toward Elizabeth, and she and Zacharias now have a baby boy. Just as Gabriel says, there is great rejoicing at his birth.
The people of the surrounding hill country of Judea celebrate. Neighbors and relatives gather to rejoice over the baby.
According to the law, Zacharias and Elizabeth bring their son to be circumcised on the child’s eighth day. Everyone heads down to the local synagogue for the circumcision. It’s exciting because the child becomes part of the nation of Israel. He is recognized as an official child of Abraham. As part of the ceremony, the child is to be given a name.
Whoever is leading the ceremony presumes Zacharias and Elizabeth will name the child, “Zacharias Junior,” after his father. But, Elizabeth says no, his name is John.
John is not a name of one of their relatives. It is a name that is out of place. They are incredulous. Everyone thinks that Elizabeth doesn’t know what she is saying. So, the people motion to Zacharias and asks what he wants to name his son. Obviously, Elizabeth makes an error. Zacharias gets a tablet and writes, “His name is John.”
Everyone is astonished! It shows us how much people expect tradition to continue. It is almost outlandish!
Zacharias is fulfilling God’s word to him. God tells Zacharias to name his son John, and so he does. Everything that Gabriel says will happen now comes to pass. God’s promise is complete.
Who is this child!
Immediately upon writing the name John, the word of God is fulfilled. Zacharias can speak. His tongue is loosened, and he praises God.
Imagine the scene. An older couple beyond childbearing years have a baby. They name him John, which is unusual. Then, the father, who was mute for around ten months, begins to speak.
Everyone is amazed. The question on their mind is, “Who is this child?” The hills are alive with the sounds of people talking about John.
The circumstances point to the truth that John is a work of God. God is fulfilling a special purpose with his birth. The work of God is taking place before their eyes. The hill country is in a stir. Word spreads. Zacharias is visited by an angel while serving in the temple, Elizabeth has a baby, and they name him John. It’s quite a story.
The forerunner to the Messiah is born. The Messiah will come into power within the lifetime of the baby, John. Word travels and God is greatly feared.
Who is this child? Listen carefully, Zacharias is about to let us know.
Zacharias becomes a Prophet
Not only can Zacharias speak, but he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and pours forth prophesy about the Messiah, and John the forerunner.
Until Zacharias speaks, there is no prophecy in Israel. The last prophet to speak is Malachi, 400 years earlier. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets. The time between Malachi and Jesus is called the 400 silent years. There are no words from God to His people.
Even more interesting is that the last sentence words of Malachi speak about John the Baptist.
In one sense, Zacharias being silent in between the time of being told about his son John, and the birth of John, mirrors the time of prophetic silence. God doesn’t speak between the time of the prophecy of Malachi and the birth of John the Baptist, the fulfillment of the prophecy. In the same way, Zacharias experiences a time of silence between being told of the birth of his son, and the actual birth. (This is just an observation and an interesting note. I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from this observation.)
Zacharias prophecies about the ministry of the Messiah, and of John, the forerunner to the Messiah.
Ministry of The Messiah
Zacharias’ prophecy brings more clarity to Mary’s. Both talk about God being faithful to fulfill His promises of old. They both proclaim God is fulling the promise He made to Abraham dating all the way back to the book of Genesis.
They differ in that Mary speaks of God raising the humble and setting down the proud, while the focus of Zacharias’ prophecy is that of redemption.
Redemption is a word speaking of liberation. Redemption requires an exchange. A price is paid to purchase those who are redeemed from slavery. Zacharias speaks of God’s people being captive and how God will raise up a Savior to redeem the captive from slavery. The ministry of the Messiah is to redeem God’s people from their enemies.
Zacharias says the Messiah is from the house of David and will visit us to redeem us from our enemies. The Messiah’s ministry is foretold by the prophets of old. His ministry is the fulfillment of the covenant God promises Abraham.
The Messiah’s Ministry Glorifies God!
In observing Zacharias’ prophecy, we see that the Messiah’s primary objective is to glorify God.
God is behind it all. God visits us (v.68), God accomplishes redemption (v.68), God raises up a horn of salvation (v.69), God speaks to us by His prophets (v.70), God rescues us from our enemies (v.71), God shows mercy (v.72), God remembers His covenant with Abraham (v.72-73). Everything is a work of God.
The Messiah’s ministry proves that God is good. Jesus’ ministry brings glory to God. Jesus proves God’s word may be trusted. Jesus shows God is faithful to fulfill His promises. All of God’s promises find their fulfillment in Jesus.
Jesus’ ministry proves it is good to worship and love God.
Isn’t it great to know that our Creator, the God who makes all we see, the God who watches over and directs the universe, is good?
Purpose of the Messiah
Zacharias reveals to us the reason for our salvation. We are granted the ability to serve God as perfect servants.
There are three ways we are enabled to serve God without hindrance.
First, is that God rescues us from our enemies. There is nobody standing in the way of our service to God. We are set free to serve Him and not serve our enemies.
Second, to serve God, we need holiness. God requires purity. Our acts of serving must be pure. Imagine trying to serve God, but doing so in an impure manner. We are granted holiness, so we may serve God without sin.
Third, imagine being unable to serve God in a way that is right. There is no joy in serving God wrongly. Serving God without righteousness is full of frustration and failure unless we are given righteousness. When we receive the righteousness of God, He removes our failures and grants us the ability to serve Him rightly.
Salvation makes it so that we may serve God with joy and complete success!
God sends the Messiah for the purpose of granting us the ability to serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all of our days.
Ministry of The Forerunner
The prophecy of Zacharias turns from the ministry of the Messiah to the ministry of his son, John.
Zacharias repeats what Gabriel the angel tells him months earlier in the temple. John is a fulfillment of the prophet Malachi.
The Holy Spirit speaks through Zacharias and confirms that John is the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy of the forerunner.
We can picture Zacharias, holding John in his hands, and declaring his son to be a prophet of God. Imagine the joy in Zacharias and Elizabeth’s heart. Their son John is born to prepare the way of the Messiah (Luke 1:76), by giving people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins (Luke 1:77).
The Reason for the Messiah
Zacharias tells us the reason for our salvation is rooted in the tender mercy of God.
God is the Judge of the universe. God determines what is evil and what is good. All people will stand before God, the Judge.
Our salvation is not deserved. We receive salvation because God grants mercy. God looks at our condition and shows us mercy. Tender mercy! He sends Jesus to visit us.
Sunrise from on high
Zacharias’ prophecy speaks of the Messiah as being the “Sunrise from on high” visiting us. Sunrise seems an unusual name for Jesus. Zacharias is using the name Sunrise because it refers to the prophecy in Malachi.
It is not hard to imagine Zacharias studying the prophecy of Malachi after seeing Gabriel. Two verses before the prophecy of the forerunner coming in the spirit of Elijah, Malachi writes: “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings (Malachi 4:2).
Zacharias appears to combine the prophecy of Malachi with Isaiah. Isaiah says, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them (Isaiah 9:2).”
Isaiah also says that the Messiah will open blind eyes and to set free prisoners who dwell in a dungeon of darkness (Isaiah 42:7).
The only cure for darkness is light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness. They will have the light of life” (John 8:12). He also says, “I have come as Light into the world so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness” (John 12:46).
The Bible is full of light and darkness imagery.
2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
When we are saved, Christ rescues us from the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13). He becomes the lamp unto our feet and the light unto our path. We are to no longer walk in darkness, but we are to live our lives in the kingdom of light, as children of the light (Ephesians 5:8).
The light guides to peace
The light is a guide to our feet so we may find peace.
Just as people do not live in the light, but live in darkness, people do not live in peace but live in stress, war, uproar, turmoil, confusion, and instability. The only way to have peace in this world is to have the peace Jesus brings.
The indictment against all humans is “the path of peace they have not known (Romans 3:17). Mankind continually cries for peace. It is a cry heard since the beginning of time.
Our greatest need is to have peace with God. When we receive salvation by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). Those who share the salvation in Christ wear the gospel of peace upon their feet (Ephesians 6:15).
The mind that is set on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6). The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 16:20). The Bible instructs us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:15). As we pray, we are to pray the Lord of peace will continually grant us peace in every circumstance.
How do we see serving? How do we imagine heaven? Do we imagine heaven as the angels serving us as we put our feet up? On earth, we all imagine our greatest joy is found in being served by others.
How delightful does spending eternity serving sound to our ears?
Jesus said to the thief on the cross that he would be in paradise. The paradise Jesus describes is where we are serving God. The thief on the cross enters eternal life finding great joy in serving. He realizes serving is good. He discovers joy because he fulfills his purpose and calling in life.
The Bible says when we hear about salvation from God it should cause us to leap for joy, we should be willing to drop everything in life, even be willing to lay down our life, so we may obtain the salvation God is offering.
Salvation is the pearl of great price which we sell all other pearls to obtain the salvation peal. Salvation is the treasure in a field that we sell everything we have so we may buy the field. Salvation is of such great value that we are willing to leave our houses, land, farms, and families so we may have salvation.
Does God granting us being rescued from our enemies so may serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in His presence stir up in us such great desire that we love our Savior so much, that in comparison, we hate our mother and father?
Are we willing to die so we may spend eternity serving God in holiness and righteousness?
We ought to be. But we hesitate. The reason is because of difficult serving experiences. Let’s be honest. Wouldn’t we rather spend eternity being served rather than serving?
My experience finds serving is often painful. Serving in this world is filled with fighting, arguing, bitterness, name-calling, anger, and selfishness. The reason I don’t look forward to serving is because of my experiences of serving sinful people. Some have demeaning attitudes. I’ve had a boss who lords authority. I've been forced to serve alongside coworkers who are lazy, do poor work, and have poor attitudes. As I serve customers, some try to cheat me. There are vendors who don’t fulfill commitments making serving difficult.
Serving in this world is unpleasant because it is filled with deceit, dishonesty, underhandedness, and corruption. We need to realize serving God is different. God puts the good into serving. Serving a God of love and holiness gives serving an entirely different perspective.
God is not condescending. He is not demanding. God is a good master. He equips us for service. We will love serving God because God is good. Serving Him is a blessing.
It is a joy to serve God when the environment is righteous and holy. Everything is beautiful, music is harmonious, laughter is quick to find, and there is never any hunger or thirst. It is a joy to serve God in holiness and righteousness. At His right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Salvation makes serving good and right. Salvation makes serving a joy.
We need not wait to serve God in heaven. We can serve Him now. Pray and ask God how you may serve Him.
John Serves God
The chapter comes to a close. This is the last we will hear about Zacharias and Elizabeth. But, it is not the last we will hear of their son, John.
Luke tells us that John continues to grow and to become strong in spirit. John lives in seclusion the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. God is preparing John and John is serving God.
Let’s go from here, remembering God’s purpose and plan. John the Baptist is the forerunner to Jesus, the Messiah. God’s purpose for John the Baptist is that we will know for certain that Jesus is the Messiah. We know because the prophecy of the forerunner finds fulfillment in Christ.
Our salvation finds validation in the exact truth of God’s word.
Rejoice, knowing we are saved so we may serve God in holiness and righteousness all of our days.