Sunday, December 19, 2021 Brad Barrett
Advent: Luke 1:57-80
Christ our Sunrise
The last prophetic words in the OT are from the prophet Malachi in about 400 B.C. In several places, Malachi speaks of a coming prophet who will usher in the Messiah. One of those prophetic words:
Malachi 3:1 ESV “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me…”
And in Chapter 4:
Malachi 4:5 ESV “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”
As we read two weeks ago, this is fulfilled in the promised birth of a prophet named John. We call him John the Baptist, not because he belonged to the Jerusalem Baptist Church. But because his ministry was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
This month in our sermons on Luke 1, we are reading that after 400 long years of silence from God, something new and glorious is bursting onto the scene.
First let’s briefly review what we read two weeks ago (from Matt’s sermon).
Turn to Luke 1.
This couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth was now old. They had prayed for children for many years. Perhaps they had given up praying. How old were they? 50? 60? Maybe 70?
Zechariah was a priest, and his duty one day was to go into the holy place in the temple and offer a sacrifice. Suddenly an angel named Gabriel appeared before him.
Gabriel told Zechariah that his prayers had been heard, and that his old wife was going to bear him a son. And he would be no typical child. This son should be named John, and he would be a prophet of God in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy.
Zechariah doubted that this could happen in their advanced years, so the Lord disciplined him, making him mute. Unable to speak at all until the child was born.
Now nine months later, we finish this remarkable story.
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.
58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father,
60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.”
61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.”
62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.
63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered.
64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.
65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea,
66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
Just as the angel Gabriel had promised, this old man and old woman had a son.
All their friends and relatives were so happy for Elizabeth. They were touched by God’s kindness, that finally after all these years of childlessness, to give her a son.
Boys were to be circumcised on their eighth day according to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12:3).
And the friends and relatives thought the boy should be named after his father, Zechariah. Elizabeth said no, but they didn’t believe her. So they asked Zechariah.
Since Zechariah was still mute due to the Lord’s discipline, he takes a tablet. Biblical scholars debate what kind of tablet. Either an iPad Pro or a Samsung Galaxy. OK, so maybe it wasn’t either of those. Rather, an old fashioned kind of tablet. Probably made of wood covered with wax. He writes, “His name is John.”
Immediately he was able to speak, and he began praising God.
All these friends and relatives were amazed. They had this holy awe and fear of God. Something remarkable was happening, and they were witnesses to it. The news spread throughout the region.
And everyone was pondering all this and wondering, “Just who is this boy going to be?”
They knew God was behind all this. “The hand of the Lord was upon him.” This is an expression used multiple times in the OT, and it usually associated with God’s presence. His deliverance and strength.
Now let’s read what Zechariah said in response to all this. These may have been the first words from his mouth after nine months of silence.
67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
This is quite a prophecy from Zechariah. It’s like a Psalm, speaking praises to God.
And perhaps later it was put to music like a Psalm would have been.
Let’s go through it in more detail.
First, vs. 68-75 is one long sentence in the Greek language that the NT was written in. So Zechariah takes a deep breath and begins worshiping.
Then he blesses God. Praises God. Why?? God has “visited” his people. (Repeated again in vs. 78.)
I like this word. God has entered into Israel’s world. He has sent his angel Gabriel. He has opened the womb of an old woman and given her a son. This son is going to be a great prophet and usher in the long-awaited Messiah.
And additionally, God has redeemed his people and raised up a “horn of salvation” from King David’s house. “Horn of salvation” is a metaphor for “strength.” The horns of animals in Palestine—say a bull— represented the strength of the animal.
And this strong salvation will come through King David’s family. This is the fulfillment of a covenant God made with David in 2 Samuel 7:16. This is why 30 years later, the people called Jesus, “the Son of David.”
All this is in fulfillment of the ancient prophets. David. Isaiah. Jeremiah. Daniel. Zechariah. Malachi.
What this Messiah will accomplish is “Salvation.” Vs. 71 tells us he will save the people from all their enemies, from those who hate them. We probably think first of human enemies. Political, like the Roman government. Also, we might think of Satan and his demons. And we might even think of our greatest enemy: death.
Then in vs. 72-73, Zechariah reminds us of something very important: God is a Promise Keeper.
He has promised things to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To Moses. David. And many others.
The greatest promise concerns a Messiah. God’s Anointed One from heaven who will bring salvation and everlasting peace. One who will restore order to the world. The people of Israel have been waiting for this day for centuries, and now that day is here. This newborn boy named John is going to herald the Messiah.
God truly has visited his people.
The goal of salvation is to free God’s people from enemies to serve Him without fear and to walk in holiness and righteousness. This is God’s heart. To save people that they might walk with him by faith.
So far, Zechariah has been speaking of Jesus, the Messiah. Here in vs. 76-77, Zechariah prophesies of his newborn son. His own son will be a prophet to announce this Messiah who will bring forgiveness of sins. Our guilt before God will be dealt with.
Then in vs. 78 he goes back to speaking of the Messiah.
I love what he says here: “the sunrise shall visit us from on high.” This is my favorite part.
Jesus Christ is coming, Zechariah foretold, to deliver us who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Zechariah may have been speaking of the very last prophetic words from Malachi before a 400-year period of silence from heaven.
Malachi 4:2 ESV But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
And also Isaiah’s prophetic word in 700 B.C.
Isaiah 9:2 ESV The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
This is Jesus. The Sunrise to bring us out of darkness. To give us a brand new day. A glorious new day.
Revelation 22 describes Jesus as the Bright Morning Star. John 8, Jesus calls himself the Light of the World.
I love this image of Light overcoming the darkness.
Have you ever had a long, long night, finding yourself yearning for the sunrise?
Once I had the flu. Vomiting and fever. Most of the night I was awake. Everyone else was sleeping. I simply had to endure through it all. I was lonely. I felt terrible. And I became so thirsty from my dehydration, I was yearning for something to drink. 2:00 a.m. passed. 3:00 a.m. 4:00 a.m.
My greatest longing?? Morning. The sunrise. I longed for daylight. The loneliness, the thirst, and the darkness felt more than I could endure.
Finally the sky slowly brightened, and I found such relief and joy.
Ever since Genesis 3, in the worst moment in human history, sin and God’s judgment has plunged us all into darkness.
So here in Luke 1, what beautiful imagery from the Spirit: “the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness.” Lives in the darkness of sin and grief and tears, enduring the never-ending night. But then the sun rises in the eastern sky and floods the heart with light.
The coming of Jesus Christ shouts to the world that the hard night is now over; the new day is here. Our salvation ushers us into a brand new day.
Yet in some ways we are still in the land of darkness, aren’t we?? The world around us is dark. The weaknesses of our flesh bring darkness.
So we have a new day in Christ, our Sunrise. Yet we don’t have it. Many have described the kingdom of God as, “Now, but not yet.” The kingdom is here. But more is to come.
Summary of Zechariah’s Praise
So what do we take from Zechariah’s heaven-inspired commentary on the events of these days…these events of wonder and praise??
This hymn of praise declares to us the nature of God and his heart for this world. God’s attributes and names and deeds tell us who he is, what he has done. And the outcome we seek: that we should trust him and love him more.
So what do Zechariah’s words reveal to us about God?
- God is All-Wise.
Though this word is not mentioned in Zechariah’s hymn, we can’t help but be amazed by God’s wisdom. He orchestrated all these events in history, having planned them long ago. Promises were kept. Prophecies were fulfilled. An angel appears. An old women gets pregnant. A man struck mute and then able to speak.
Our faith day by day is strengthened when we know and believe God is all-wise.
Similarly, God is shown faithful. He is trustworthy. He does what he says. He keeps his promises. Faithfulness—trustworthiness—is hard to come by with people. But God is perfectly Faithful.
If he has been true to all his promises so far, we can trust him to continue keeping his words.
He is faithful.
God has come to earth. He has not forgotten about the people he has made.
He is now near. Very near. Isaiah the prophet gave Jesus the name, “Immanuel,” meaning, “God is With Us.”
Have you ever felt like God is distant, as I have felt? Dwelling on God visiting us will strengthen us.
- Redeemer. Savior/Deliverer.
This implies we were in bondage. Slavery. Imprisoned by our sin.
We owed God a great debt for our sin, and he would be completely just to demand us to pay our debt at the cost of our very lives.
But graciously through his Son, God offers to release us from our debt, a debt we could never repay on our own. He has taken our punishment. We have been set free.
The courtroom scene is done.
His tender mercy. He truly does care. He is not indifferent. Sometimes in my trials, I subtly wonder if God really cares. Zechariah tells us he does. He cares with deep, tender mercy.
Jesus Christ is the Light in our darkness. The long hard night is over. A New Day is dawning.
Sometimes for me, it can seem like life is a long, dark, never-ending day. Christ is my Sunrise. He promises me a brand new day. A day of glory and light and freedom and hope that will usher us into eternity.
So how does all this relate to our lives? I want to share a recent, personal story that connects these beautiful, praiseworthy attributes about God to our daily lives.
This week I have been challenged and encouraged by Zechariah’s words. I’ve needed these words.
Here’s why. The past few weeks, I found myself grumbling in my heart about some of my trials. In fact, to be honest, I’ve been angry with God for my difficulties.
Often the anger we have, whether directed at circumstances or people, has a root of anger towards God.
If we’re willing to go on an honest journey with God, he can help us uncover this.
I’ve been on a journey like this this past week or two. I can see the “Fruit” of anger, so I’ve been exploring what is at the “Root” of it. (Some of you have read the book, Gospel Fluency, and you might recognize the language I’m using.)
Specifically my anger has flared up concerning the health trials my wife and I have. Honestly, I’ve not liked my trials. I’m tired of them. Discontent. Annoyed. I want to move on to something else.
It’s like I’m saying, “OK, God, we’re done with this trial. We’ve learned lots of lessons. Now it’s time for something different. Preferably something easier.”
But so far, the answer has been no. And I’ve found myself angry at that, saying, “But don’t want that. I don’t like it. I want something else.”
Actually, I remind myself of one of my grandsons. When he was 3 years old, we were hanging out with the kids. He wanted a piece of candy, and I told him no. He didn’t like that answer, so he said, “But I want it.” “You can’t have it.” “But I want it.” “You can’t have it.” “But I want it.” “You can’t have it.”
After 3 or 4 rounds of this dialog, he finally tipped his head down with an angry expression on his face, and he called me “Stupid.” (Actually he couldn’t say his “S’s”, so he called me “Tupid.” I guess my grandfather name is no longer Poppy. It’s Tupid.)
I’m more like my grandson than I like to admit. I want what I want, and I’m going to be angry until I get it.
I was reading a good, very short booklet on the topic of Emotions, by author and counselor Cheryl Bell.
The question she poses is, “When are our emotions sinful, and when are they not?” And, “What do the Scriptures have to say about it?”
She made one point that opened my eyes:
“We must recognize that the heart problem behind sinful emotions is pride: ‘I want what I want when I want it.’” (Cheryl Bell, Emotions)
I’ve wanted different circumstances…which is not bad in itself…but when I don’t get them, I’ve persisted in my complaining and my anger and my discouragement.
I’ve been unwilling to yield to the God who is All-Wise. I’ve been unwilling to humble myself before the God who has Visited this earth. Who is Redeemer and Forgiver. Who has tender mercy. Who is the Sunrise in my darkness.
Slide [list of God’s attributes again]
So this week, I’ve been considering Zechariah’s inspired commentary on the astonishing events of those days. And I’ve been praying through his words about who God is and what he has done. I’ve been seeking the Root in my heart: What do I truly believe about God??
Do I believe God has visited his people? That he is not a distant God but One who has come near, very near, very close through the presence of his Son? This is stunning truth.
Thinking of the fullness of the rest of the NT revelation, do I believe that God is very near to me through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who lives in me and knows me and guides me and strengthens me and comforts me?
Do I believe these things?
The reason the Fruit I’m experiencing—the Fruit of Anger and Frustration and Impatience—is because the ROOT of what I’m believing about God is off.
Do I believe he has raised up a horn of salvation in Christ, that he has shown his strength to save through his Son? Do I believe he loves me and has redeemed me from the eternal fire of judgment? That he has saved my soul from all my enemies: the devil and my own sin and death? That he has promised to ultimately save me from all other enemies eternally someday: political, relational, and bodily enemies? To eventually bring all things under his good and gracious reign?
In light of all this, can I trust the Lord now, even though life is painful and I’m not getting my way?
This tells us that He has shown mercy and remembered his covenant to his people. He has never failed to fulfill his promises. Do I believe that now? Can I trust him today, surrender my heart to him, and even give thanks for my pain?
Like Matt spoke of 2 weeks ago, do I have promises God has made that he will never say no to, and always say yes?
Do I see Jesus as the Sunrise who has brought me out of my eternal darkness into a brand new Day?
And do I believe that very soon this long, dark day in this life will end, and that I will enter into the Glorious New Day in the very presence of God, a Day that will never end, and will never NEED to end?
Have I set my hope on that future Day, when all pain and sorrow will be gone and night will be no more?
With that perspective, will I be content with the good, gracious will of God NOW, even though it seems like darkness?
Such meditations have been helpful for my heart this week. None of it cures all of my problems. They have not disappeared. But it does reorient me to eternal things. To a place of Wonder and Praise, just like the people experienced on that day John was born to an old woman well past child-bearing days. Such truths bring light to my soul when the darkness presses in on me in a seemingly never-ending night.
Seeing the very heart of God in these splendid, unprecedented days in Luke 1, my heart is strengthened. Complaining is replaced by thanksgiving. Anger is replaced by peace. Restlessness is replaced by contentment.
Such efforts are not a one-time cure-all. I continually need the help of others. Just this week, talking to my wife and Pastor Dave was helpful. And reading the insights from the book I mentioned.
Also, I need to feed daily on the sustaining food of God. The food of his very nature. His attributes. The great deeds of his Son. In his presence, we find nourishment. Psalm 34 tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
I also need to be about prayer and worship. That’s why we gather on Sundays together. To remember. To sing. To pray.
That we might be like Zechariah, who even though he doubted God and was disciplined with muteness, he considered the works of God and eventually repented of his unbelief and praised his great God.
Let me finish with this.
This morning, we are reading of events long ago. 2000 years ago. God sent his Son to be the Sunrise to bring us out of our darkness.
But let’s move the clock forward from today. Forward to the other end of history, the end of the world as we know it and the beginning of the New World, John the Apostle speaks of that glorious, eternal sunrise.
Revelation 22:3–5 ESV No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Never again will God’s people be in darkness. Never again will they experience the crushing weight of darkness, death, and pain.
This is the Hope of the Christian.
These days in Luke 1 are indeed Days of Wonder and Praise. And like a compass, they point us to the True North of a promised, glorious day when we will dwell eternally in the full, blazing light of God’s presence.