Zechariah: Praise for the coming of Messiah
Zechariah’s back story: “His (the 8-day-old John the Baptist’s) father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied….” Zechariahs’s back story goes like this: Born into a priestly family, and married as a young man, he and Elizabeth (we heard about her a fortnight ago) grew old childless. Until the day when, on duty in the temple, the angel Gabriel came to him and announced that Elizabeth was going to have a child in her old age: not only that – but this child would prepare God’s people Israel for the coming of their Messiah. “Your prayers have been answered Zechariah. Prayers apparently unanswered over the years. Prayers for your nation.”
And how did Zechariah respond? “How can this possibly happen? Don’t get our hopes up. It’s too late for all that! We’ve accepted the situation – sort of.” Maybe that’s how you or I would have responded. And for nine months, Zechariah had been struck literally dumb. Not a word. (Maybe God didn’t want his negative talk to dent Elizabeth’s faith!) It was a humbling time, a time of isolation, and a time for deep reflection on God and his word. So maybe it didn’t do Zechariah any harm.
Anyway, Elizabeth got pregnant. She gave birth to a baby boy and eight days later in a Jewish family was circumcision day, the baby’s first big public appearance. When the priest asked, Elizabeth wanted to call him John – the name the angel had given Zechariah for the boy. But everyone started to argue, so they asked Zechariah. He wrote on a wax tabled “his name is John”. Then he got his speech back, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and this prophecy – this inspired song of praise – is what came out.
I want to begin by encouraging us. So you’ve wasted nine months – or nine days or weeks or years, in neutral because of unbelief. Or it seems like God has wasted nine or 59 years of your life by withhold his blessing. God can still fill you with his Spirit. God can still speak to you and through you.
Zechariah’s Song. Blessed Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited (seen, overseen or supervised) and made ransom for his people.
- It’s rooted in history. ”Blessed Lord, the God of Israel” is a direct quote from the Greek version of Psalm Ps 41. 13. It’s rooted in the awareness that Israel has of being a nation. It is good to know and understand what our back-story is, who we are and where we have come from. (And incidentally, it is impossible to be a Christian, take the Bible seriously, and be anti-Semitic, because Jesus was Jewish. But Jesus challenged what was wrong in Judaism, so as Christians we don’t have to approve of what Jewish people do or of everything the nation of Israel does.)
- In contrast to Zechariah’s previous unbelief, (and in contrast to the temptation to be sentimental about becoming a dad for the first time!) his prayer is full of faith. Now that the baby has been conceived and born, Zechariah is able to believe that this is the beginning of something: the angel said John would prepare the way for Messiah. Against all odds, John is here in Elizabeth’s arms. So God is going to send Messiah! God “has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David”; it’s as good as happened.
- It’s about salvation: and that is never just from political enemies but from spiritual enemies as well: it includes the forgiveness of sins (v. 77)
- It is full of purpose. Salvation, the coming of messiah, the new salvation season that the brings, Rescue from enemies is intended to enable God’s people to serve him without fear… (v 74f)
- And it is personal. You my child… Zechariah’s task and purpose for the next however many years is to get this wee boy ready to prepare the way for Messiah.
Zechariah’s problem. Can you spot it? Let me give you a hint: Who is the salvation for according to verses 69, 71, 74? “Us!” and who are the “Us” that Zechariah is talking about? Israel. Descendants of Abraham. That “rootedness” the nationhood, history and promises, leaves this prophecy sounding very insular. It’s all about “Us.” Howard Marshall notes that this song “Does not take the gentiles into account.” But it’s worse than that. It divides the world and its population into two. “Them” and “us”. There’s “Us,” the ones God has made promises to; and there’s “everybody else, our enemies, those who hate us.” And for me that is a problem . Why?
- Because it misses out on the place of the “nations” in the ancient promises. John’s work was to prepare for the day-spring to come from Heaven. (v. 78) the same word is used for the sun or a star “springing up” and for a plant or shoot “springing up”. So v.78 reflects back to Isa 11. 1-10, which talks about a root springing from David’s family, so that even the natural world is at peace, the earth is filled with the glory of God and the nations will come to him.
- It fails to anticipate that in fulfilment, Messiah brings the Kingdom of god for the
Zechariah’s prophecy. The Messiah’s light will shine on “those who live in darkness.” Can you think of another prophecy that speaks about those in darkness? Isa 9. 2. “Those who live in darkness have seen a great light.” Zechariah doesn’t understand this, but Luke, writing the story does. “Those in darkness” are the gentiles. Zechariah’s prophecy is one of those ones that makes more sense after the event than before it. whole of the world. The Messiah’s light will shine on “those who live in darkness.”
Jesus, the Jewish Yeshua and Messiah, was perfectly clear that he was the lamb of God that takes away the sin of he world. That his Kingdom was to bring healing for the whole of creation. That among the saved there are to be a great crowd that nobody can number from every tongue and tribe and nation.
God speaks to and through Zechariah despite his brokenness and failure. To this elderly Jewish Priest, and new dad, God speaks a Jewish message about the Jewish Elijah who would make a people prepared for the Jewish messiah. But that Messiah was the saviour of he world.
So when God speaks – by the Spirit, through the written Word, or through the prophetic word, he begins where we are at. But he never leaves us there.
Like Zechariah and John, our roots, our identity, our history are important. Especially in times of radical change we do need to know who we are. But God’s purposes are always bigger than we expected.
© Gilmour Lilly December 2019