PRAISE BE TO THE LORD
Key Verse 1:69
“He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.”
In the last passage Mary sang her song of praise to God: “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” And, in this passage, old man Zechariah sings a song of praise to the Savior who was soon to be born of Mary. Why was Zechariah so joyful that he burst out in song? And what was the subject of his song of praise? Zechariah had much to be thankful for and to praise God for. But he praised God mostly because God came to this world in order to save his people. Jesus, the Savior, would be a Horn of Salvation that would free his people from sin and Satan. May God open our hearts today to listen to Zechariah’s song of praise in order that our hearts might sing with him as well.
Read verse 57. “When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.” This was no ordinary event. Old timers, Zechariah and Elizabeth, had been painfully childless. But amazingly, they did not complain about their shameful and difficult situation. They lived by faith, and overcame their hardship by faith. By faith, they gave themselves to the study of God’s word and to prayer. And in God’s right time, God blessed them and promised them a son. Now, finally, their long awaited son was born, and they could taste the fruit of their faith. In a moment, the pain of all their childless years was forgotten. Suddenly, the hard to bear situation turned into a time of blessing on all people. Read verse 58. “Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.” The people living in Zachariah’s dark times, could not see the hope of God amidst the darkness of the times. They could only see the tragedies of the day and despair. But now, they could see the hand of God working in this family, and new hope was born in their hearts. Zachariah and Elizabeth’s family became a source of blessing. How wonderful it is when families overcome their personal difficulties of life, and instead, live by faith! As God works through their faith, they too become a blessing in dark times.
Look at verses 59-63. These verses tell the events surrounding John’s birth. On the eighth day, at the time of John’s circumcision, it was customary to name the boy. Mostly, they would name him after his father. And everyone assumed his name would be Little Zachariah. But Elizabeth objected. She said “No! He is to be called John.” (60) But as usual, no one took her seriously, perhaps because she was a woman. So they turned to Zechariah to see what he would say. But Zechariah “asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’” (63) But we must realize that it was not easy for them to name their son, John. Perhaps it was one of the hardest things for this religious couple to do. Let’s see why.
First, in order to name the boy John, they had to go against strict Jewish tradition. A priestly family must uphold religious and cultural traditions. Therefore, everyone expected them to uphold tradition by naming the boy Little Zachariah. They were under great pressure to follow tradition. But surprisingly, they challenged and broke tradition and named him John, instead. They did so because first, because it was the name given him by the angel. They also did so because they were a man and woman of faith who lived to serve God’s will and not human and cultural tradition. At times, what God wants his people to do goes against culture and tradition. But instead of pleasing God, they become slaves of tradition. But Zachariah and Elizabeth were not slaves of tradition. They were rather, servants of God. It took “guts” for them to challenge the tradition and to follow the will of God.
Second, in order to name their son John, Zechariah and Elizabeth had to overcome their parenthood sentiments. God instructed them to name their son, John. In other words, though John was their son, he first belonged to God. He was ordained at birth to serve God’s mission in his life. Therefore, he must be reared as a servant of God, not as a spoiled only son. He must learn to give h is life to God and to God’s mission. Because of his difficult mission, he would have to suffer. This old couple knew these facts well! Still, it was not easy to accept the will of God for their son! They would be tempted to spoil him. They would be tempted to shelter him from the world! At this time, it was necessary for them to make some decision regarding their son. And they made a decision of faith to name him John, which means “God’s child” to be raised in God’s way. To name him John also meant to surrender to the Lord and to his work, to encourage him to live the life of faith and mission he was called to live. We can imagine how emotionally difficult it must have been for them! But they determined to commit their boy to the Lord to do with him as he pleased. We too must have faith enough to surrender our children to the Lord and to his work, that they might serve the gospel history.
Read verse 64. “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.” Zechariah’s training was over. During those nine long months of silence he had learned that God’s word was true. And now, the first thing that Zechariah did when his tongue was loose, was to sing a song of praise to God. Through his song we learn about God, particularly about the coming of Jesus as the Savior of the world.
[But before we think about the meaning of the song, we must think about the meaning of praising God. There are those who praise the Lord with empty lip service. God is not too happy with this kind of praise. What then is real praise? Real praise is practical obedience– words of mouth that are backed up with a life of faith and holy mission. God says to us: “…obey me and do everything I command you, and you will be my people, and I will be your God.” (Jer.11:4) Therefore, praise is the same as faith in action. Praise testifies to God’s grace in one’s life through word and deed. One expression of our praise is to share the word of God with others. Another is to share the grace of God with the world telling of the Lord’s goodness and mercy, his grace and truth, and his gift of eternal life and the kingdom of God. And another expression of our praise is to live the life of faith and holy mission as a testimony to the sinful world that there is no life lived greater than that which God has given man to live. Thus we must learn to praise God in song and in deed and in prayer and in Bible study as the expression of our gratitude to what he has done for us in and through his son Jesus.]
First, Zechariah praised God because he has come and has redeemed his people. Read verse 68. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.” For generations God was silent, as if he had abandoned the world. During that time, most people despaired. In their despair they decided to abandon God and to live for the moment. So they lived sinful lives as if there were no God and no judgment day. In this kind of dark world, however, lived a man Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth who walked with God. Although God had not spoken for many generations, they did not doubt God’s love and his faithfulness to his promises. They continued to have faith that someday God would send the Savior of the world to save his people from their sins. And now it was hapenning! The promised Savior was about to be born to a virgin girl, Mary. It was this knowledge that filled Zechariah’s heart with praise. So he praise to God testifying to God’s faithfulness.
But what does it mean that God has come and has redeemed his people? God came to visit his people. It is a remarkable thing that God in his majesty left his throne in heaven and came down to earth to visit his people. No human being is able to visit God because human beings are steeped in sin. Because of sin God should destroy the world. But he didn’t. Instead, God came! He humbly came to us when we could not go to him. He came to help us. He came to suffer together with us. And he came to save us. Surely God came to you and to me in our desperate need. When God comes to a person, he speaks tenderly to his or her wounded hearts. He plants the hope of eternal life. He restored love to loveless lives. And he plants faith in the place of doubt and confusion. Surely, God is our shepherd who came to visit us. When we know and remember this grace in our lives, we can tell the beautiful story of our God who came to visit all men that he might restore them to himself. Zechariah praised God when he realized that God has come to redeem an unworthy sinner like himself.
Second, Zechariah praised God because he is a horn of salvation. Read verse 69. “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” In the Bible there are two kinds of horns, a horn of destruction and a horn of salvation. The horn of destruction is the horn of the devil, a horn that impales hearts and leaves them to die. Satan holds the power of sin in his hands. And throughout history he has caused much suffering to all people through the power of sin and death. When people are impaled on the horn of Satan, they are wounded. Satan impales us, for example, through our weakness to sinful desires. He impales us through human reasoning and emotional feelings. And there are countless other examples. A man who loves money more than God justifies himself by saying: “A little more money isn’t going to hurt anyone. Why, I could even use it for the work of God.” But as he devotes himself to making money, he ingores the greater task of serving God. Satan sinks his horn into his heart and turns him into a greedy and self-seeking man. He then becomes helplessly wounded by his own sin that he is dying. A woman who loves men more than God justifies herself by saying: “Love is a beautiful thing. I need to love and to be loved.” But as she gives herself to men instead of to God, Satan sinks his horn of destruction into her heart and enslaves her to immoral passions and to the worship of men. She then becomes so helplessly wounded by her own sins that she is dying. No one is exempt from Satan’s horn. Emotions and human thinking often become the playground of Satan who impales a person in his or her weakness to the many thoughts and feelings common to this world. He also leaves them helpless at his mercy. It is for this reason that God has raised up for us a horn of salvation.
Jesus is the horn of man’s salvation, and every human being needs him to deliver him from the devil’s horn of destruction. No one can deliver himself. Most people think that the problem of evil in this world can be solved if we have the proper means to solve it. They do not know that they are dealing with a formidable enemy who is humanly undefeatable. People who are slaves to the sinful nature often say: “I can stop sinning, if I want to. I just don’t want to.” Others who are slaves of chronic despair and sorrow often say: “I like feeling sorry for myself.” But in truth, no one likes his or her spiritual wounds. For this reason God sent Jesus, the Horn of salvation to save us from the horn of Satan.
How did Jesus accomplish what no one else could ever do? Jesus gave his life on the cross for the sins of the world. Through his death he brought forgiveness for sin. Through his resurrection he brought power to set the heart free from sin. What Jesus accomplished through his death and resurrection was none other than the power of God to rescue all those who put their faith in him. Paul describes this victory saying: “..he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.” (Col.1:13,14) There are many proofs of redemption and of deliverance in God’s history. Anyone who comes to Jesus in his or her helplessness, and puts their faith in Jesus’ saving grace, has deliverance for his or her soul. God tells us: “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” (2Cor.6:2)
But there is a purpose why God saves us from the horn of Satan. First of all, he does so because God loves us with an undying love. But there is more. Read verses 74 and 75. “…to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” God saves us that we might restore our purpose of life in God, which is to serve him. All men were created by God for a purpose. No man nor woman was created to only work, eat and then just die. Instead, we were created as noble creatures that we might live our lives for God. Why then do people serve only themselves instead of God? Look at verse 74 again. Because of fear! Sin gives man great pleasure. But the problem is that after the pleasure sin takes a toll on man through death. (Rom.6:23) More than that, sin also has immediate consequences in people’s lives, such as guilt and shame and fear. Of all these troublesome consequences, fear is the most crippling spiritual problem in man’s life. Among the many fears that plague the heart is the fear of future security and the fear of death. Most people fear the insecurities and uncertainties of the future. And most remain in that fear as long as they live. This happens when men cannot trust God for their future. All people also fear death. This happens when people close their ears to the truth about heaven and eternal life. And the people who are constantly living in one fear or another cannot fulfil their purpose of serving God. Fear is unnecessary. It is unnecessarry to those who have faith. Faith has the power to defeat fear.
But there is a way out of a life of fear. Jesus came to liberate men from fear. Jesus triumphed over sin and death through his death and resurrection. He triumphed over Satan, the author of fear. When men humble themselves and apply the gospel to their personal lives, fear is bound to disappear and faith blossoms. They no longer live in fear, but begin to live by faith. Surely the faith which Jesus died to secure for us, frees us from of fear. It frees us from the oppression of sin and Satan. Faith frees us from a guilty conscience. Faith frees us from self condemnation. Faith frees us from peer pressure and the expectations of others in our lives. Faith ultimately frees us to serve God in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives. The Bible declares that Jesus came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Heb.2:15) The Bible also teaches us how to live in the freedom of faith. “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Rom.8:15) It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to live by faith and to boldly serve God’s purpose in our lives. May God empower you today with the Holy Spirit who lives in faithful heart. (Rom.8:11)
Third, Zechariah praised God because he gave the knowledge of salvation. Look at verse 76. After talking about Jesus, Zechariah now went on to talk about his own son, John. John would be the forerunner of the Savior. His mission was to preach the message of repentance. Why is repentance a necessary companion to faith? Read verse 77. “…to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” Repentance is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. Without repentance there can be no forgiveness. Repentance is also a way of life. A life of repentance prepares the heart for the dwelling of the Savior. Our sins estrange us and alienate us from our Loving Father God. But repentance brings us near to him. Therefore we must listen to Jesus’ life-giving words day by day and maintain a life of repentance. Then we can grow in the knowledge of salvation. When we grow in the knowledge of salvation through daily repentance and cleansing from sin, we too can praise God. We can overcome our troubles and hardship. We can boldly testify to the world that a Savior has come to redeem its people. We all need this knowledge of salvation in order to grow in a life of faith and to effectively serve God’s purpose in our lives.
Fourth, Zechariah praised God because he is the rising sun. Read verses 78 and 79a. “…because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death…” Before Jesus came, all people were sitting in darkness. We had no way out. We had no hope. We had no life nor life direction. In darkness, we despaired and only struggled to survive in this hopeless world. But when Jesus came, he brought with him sunshine to our hearts. He gives us his hope and vision. He gives us peace. He gives us eyes to see God and his kingdom. He gives us faith to live according to his word. And he gives us meaning. He gives us mission in our life. Jesus, the light of God restores dignity to our lives and makes us the children of God. Jesus is surely the rising sun. For this reason Zachariah sang a song of praise. For this reason we too must sing praises to God. Praise Jesus, the rising sun, who gives light to our eyes and light to our feet to walk in this life by faith and to serve him and his flock through prayer and through one to one Bible study