PRAISE BE TO THE LORD
By Nonso Ukeka
Key Verse 1:69
“He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.”
What is Christmas? Is it about that man dressed in bright red pajamas, who rides his sleigh, led by a reindeer? During this season, we have many different stories, and traditions. While I’m sure some of these are fun, the truth is that real Christmas is about our heavenly father, who doesn’t abandon this world doomed to destruction. He comes into the world to save his children. The real Christmas story is about the birth of Jesus. And everything that happened to prepare for it, is also part of it.
Last week we heard the story about how the angel announced to Mary that the Savior would be born through her. And this week we will hear the story of an old priest named Zechariah to whom was announced the birth of his Son John the Baptist— the forerunner of Jesus. And when his son was born, he was so joyful that he burst out in a song. He sang a song of praise to God who came into this world to save his people. Zechariah calls Jesus “the Horn of Salvation” because he will deliver his people from the power of sin and Satan.
Let’s read verse 57: “When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.” This was no ordinary event. For years, old man Zechariah and his old wife Elizabeth knew the shame and pain of being childless. But amazingly, they never complained about their shameful and difficult situation. Instead, they overcame their hardship by faith. They gave themselves to the study of God’s word and to prayer. And in God’s time, He blessed them with a son. Now, finally, their miracle son was born, and they could experience the fruit of their faith. In a moment, the pain of all their childless years disappeared. Suddenly, the hard to bear situation turned into a time of joy and blessing; not just for them but on all the people. (58)
Now let’s take a look at verses 59-63. On the eighth day, the time of John’s circumcision, it was customary to name the child. They wanted to name him after his father. Everyone assumed the boy would be called Little Zacky— or Zechariah Junior. But Elizabeth said: “No! He is to be called John.” (60) But no one took her seriously, maybe because she is a woman. So they turned to Zechariah to see what he would say. Zechariah asks for a writing tablet, and writes “His name is John.” (63) This was astonishing to everybody. Not one of Zechariah’s relatives was named John. They could not understand what this old couple was doing; have gone batty? But we must realize that it was not easy for them to name their son, John. It might’ve been one of the hardest things for this religious couple to do for two particular reasons. Let’s think about it:
One: For them to name the boy John, they were going against strict Jewish tradition. A priestly family must firmly uphold religious and cultural traditions. This is why everyone expected them to uphold tradition by naming the boy young Zach. Elizabeth and Zechariah were under pressure to follow tradition. But surprisingly, they challenged tradition! They gave their son the name John by faith. They lived to serve God and to follow his will, not for man-made customs and tradition. Sometimes God asks us to do something that goes against culture and tradition. But instead of pleasing God, rather we become be traditional. We mustn’t! However, this family was no slave of tradition. They were servants of God. It took guts for them to challenge their traditions and to follow the will of God.
Two: Zechariah and Elizabeth had to overcome their own parental sentiments for their son. Even though they could’ve named their son Zachariah to carry on the legacy of his father, they decided to give him the name God gave him— John. He was their son. But they decided that he first belonged to God. He would serve God’s mission in his life. John must be raised up as a servant of God, not as a spoiled only child. He would have to learn to give his life fully to God and to serving God’s mission. Because of his difficult mission, he would have to know a life of suffering. Zechariah and Elizabeth knew these facts well! So, it was not an easy thing for them to accept the will of God for their son! They would be tempted to shelter him! But in naming him John, they decided to surrender any personal hopes or dreams they had for their son, and to give him to the Lord and to his work. They would encourage him to live the life of faith and service to God. How difficult this decision must’ve been for them! But they resolved to commit him to God, to do with him however God pleased.
Read verse 64. “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.” During Elizabeth’s pregnancy, by the angel’s discipline for his initial unbelief, Zachariah became mute. During the nine long months of silence, Zachariah quietly watched what God was doing. They were a constant reminder for him to trust God in the most impossible situation. Perhaps in all the years that he did not have a son, maybe Zachariah wasn’t ready to be the kind of father God wanted him to be. But in those nine silent months, he grew inwardly into kind of father God wanted him to be in raising John to be a servant of God. Zechariah learned that God’s word is always true. So the first thing he does when his tongue is set free is to sing a song of praise to God. Through his song we learn his deep conviction about God, and particularly about the coming of Jesus as the Savior of the world.
Read verse 68. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.” Here Zachariah praises God’s faithfulness in keeping his promises. For generations God was silent, as if he had abandoned the world. During that time, most people despaired. Many gave up the life of faith, walked away from God, and decided to live for the moment. They lived their lives as if there were no God and no judgment day. But in this dark world, Zechariah and Elizabeth continued to live by faith and to walk with God. In spite of God’s silence, they did not doubt God’s love and his faithfulness to keep his promises. They had faith that God would someday send the Savior of the world to save his people from their sins. And now they were firsthand witnesses of this. The promised Savior would soon be born to a virgin, Mary. It was this knowledge that filled Zechariah’s heart with praise.
Let’s think about what it means that God has come and has redeemed his people. First of all it means that God came to his people when they couldn’t go to him. It means that God visited us. It means that God left his heavenly throne to come down to earth to be with us. No human being can come to God on their own because we are all sinners. In fact because of our sins, God should destroy us and start all over again. But he didn’t. Instead, God came to us! He humbly came to us when we could not go to him. He came to help us. He came to suffer together with us. He came to save us. God came to you and to me in our desperate need. He speaks tenderly to our wounded hearts. He plants hope of eternal life. He restores love to loveless lives. And he plants faith in hearts filled with doubt and confusion. Truly God came to visit us! He came to visit me and you! This is the real Christmas story. When I know this grace in my life— very personally— I too can praise God with my whole heart and share this grace with you. And you can also do the same. Zechariah praised God when he realized that God has come to redeem an unworthy sinner like himself.
Read verse 69. “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” Biblically speaking, a horn represents strength and power. Wild oxen are one of the most intriguing animals because they are big and heavy. They stand 5ft tall, and weigh an average of 1000 pounds! (That’s like 8 or 10 of me, all squeezed into one body). And the power that comes with just one of their horn jabs is incredible. We say: “strong as an Ox.” When the herd is attacked, occasionally a brave bull would stand his ground, and taunt the enemy swaying his head back and forth as if saying: “I dare you to come and attack.” When the enemy dares attack, it gets gored by the bull’s horns, and dies. This is exactly what Zechariah meant, when he referred to Jesus as our horn of salvation.
For generations Satan, has attacked the people of God through sin. He attacks their hearts and minds and leaves them to die. And all through history he has caused much suffering to all people through the power of sin and death. Satan attacks and devours people through their weakness to sinful desires. He attacks and devours people through their human emotions and reasoning. There are countless examples: Someone who loves money more than God justifies himself by saying: “A little more money isn’t going to hurt anyone. I could even use it for the work of God.” But as he devotes himself to making money, he ignores the greater task of serving God. Satan sinks his horn into this person’s heart and devours him through his greed. He then becomes helplessly self-centered, and is dying. A woman who loves men more than God justifies herself by saying: “Love is a beautiful thing. Everyone needs love.” 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 helplessly caught by her own sins and is dying. No one can escape Satan’s destructive horn. For many years, people have been helpless and at his mercy. It is for this very reason that God has raised up for us a horn of salvation.
Jesus is the horn of our salvation! We’re all weak; nobody is able deliver himself from the destructive horn of Satan. For this reason God sent us Jesus, our “Horn of salvation” to save us from the horn of Satan. How did Jesus accomplish what no one else could ever do? It was on the cross of Calvary; Jesus made a public spectacle of Satan. Our horn of Salvation— Jesus— mortally wounded Satan, and at last set us free from his wickedness. Through his death Jesus brought forgiveness for sin. Through his resurrection he brought power to live the godly life God wants us to live. 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) Anyone who comes to Jesus in his or her helplessness finds deliverance for their 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) This is a promise. Believe it!
Also, we must realize that God didn’t just save us from the horn of Satan. God had a definite reason and a specific purpose for saving us. Can you think about why? First of all, He does so because He loves us with an undying love. But there is more. Let’s take a look at Zechariah’s song again. 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. We were not created to live like oxen— only to work, eat, sleep and then die. Instead, God created us as children of God that we might live our lives for God and his glory. Yet, when we look around the world, we see people only serving themselves, instead of God. Why? Verse 74 tells us why. It’s because of fear! After a person gives in to sin, it has to collect its full toll from that person. The price that sin charges us is death (Rom.6:23), and in our souls we all know this. Sin has immediate consequences in people’s lives, such as guilt and shame and especially fear. Fear is by far the most crippling spiritual problem in our lives. Among the many fears that plague the heart is the fear of future security, the fear of death and the fear of judgment. Most people fear the insecurities and uncertainties of what tomorrow might bring. And they remain in that fear for the rest of their lives. This is true when men don’t trust God with their lives and future. All people fear death, especially because they ignore the truth of heaven and of eternal life. And when people are constantly living in some fear or other, they cannot fulfill their purpose of serving God.
Jesus came to liberate us from fear. When Jesus triumphed over Satan, he triumphed over sin and death. Sin no longer has any claims on us anymore. So when people humble themselves and by faith apply the gospel to their lives, fear is bound to dissipate. And faith begins to blossom and grow instead. Those who put their faith in Jesus no longer live in fear. It’s what Jesus came to rescue us from. Examine your hearts. Check to see where fear still dominates— and then take it directly to God in faith. This Christmas, we must learn to solve our fear problem before God. Jesus died to secure the freedom from fear for us. Do you believe this?
Faith in Jesus is the solution to all our problems. Faith in Jesus frees us from the oppression of sin and Satan. Faith frees us from a guilty conscience. Faith frees us from self-condemnation. Faith also frees us from peer pressure and the expectations of others in our lives. Most of all faith frees us from the problem of fear which cripples us from doing what God created us to do— which is to serve God. Ultimately, faith in Jesus frees us completely— that we might serve God in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives. Do you believe this? 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) We should ask the Holy Spirit to enable 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)
Look at verse 76. After talking about Jesus, Zechariah now speaks about his own son, John. John would be the forerunner of the Savior. His mission was to preach the message of repentance. Faith and repentance go hand in hand. Why? Read verse 77. “…to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” God, who prepared a way of salvation for us, wants us to repent of our sins so that we might be forgiven. Without repentance God will not forgive anyone. Sin alienates us from God. But repentance draws us near to him. And repentance is not only a one time practice in our lives. Repentance is a way of life for us who love and trust God. A life of repentance makes the heart a dwelling place for the Savior and his Holy Spirit. When we live a life of repentance, we can then grow in the knowledge of salvation. When we grow in the knowledge of salvation, we too can praise God like Zachariah did with all our hearts. We can overcome our troubles and hardship. We can boldly testify that the Savior has come to redeem his people.
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, the whole world was sitting in darkness. And there was no way out. There was no hope. We had no life— no purpose— and no life direction. In this darkness, people can only struggle to survive in a hopeless world. But when Jesus came, he brought God’s sunshine into our hearts. He brought us hope and vision. He brought us peace. In Jesus, we can see God and his kingdom. He gives us faith. 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 his children. Surely Jesus is the “Rising Sun”! For this reason Zachariah sang a very beautiful song of praise, directly from his heart. We too must sing praises to God. Praise Jesus, the “Rising Sun”, who gives light to our eyes, and for our feet to walk in this life by faith and to serve him, without fear, all the days of our lives. Amen. Read our key Verse 68 again. “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” Amen.