Monday, December 7, 2015

The Bride He Will Wed - Series #1: The Measure of Prophetic Witness

Watch the Sermon VIDEO here

“Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people.                He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David,                  just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.   Luke 1:68-70 (NLT)
Four hundred years is a long time without a message from the head office.  That much time had passed since God last spoke to His people through the prophets.  Then God's chief spokesman, Gabriel, came to a priest named Zechariah and told him that God was going to give him a son who would point the world to the Messiah. 

Zechariah was a little skeptical, but the angel said it would happen anyway.  As a reminder of his disbelief, Zechariah would have to remain speechless and deaf for the next nine months. 

Time passed, and Elisabeth, Zechariah's wife gave birth to their promised son.  Asked what he would name the child, Zechariah put all his "faith eggs" in one basket and wrote on a tablet for all to see:  "His name is John.” (Luke 1.63b).  That was the name Gabriel had told him God had picked out for his son.  With that, Zechariah's tongue was loosed, and he began to praise God. 

It is known as the third of the Gospel songs.  Mary and Elisabeth had theirs – now Zechariah's song, "The Benedictus" (blessing).

In this hymn of praise there are no rests.  Verses 68 - 75 are one sentence in Greek.  There is no punctuation, no place for a breath.  This is a "supernova of praise" uttered ecstatically under the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit. 

Zechariah had this hymn bottled up inside for nine months.  Now that his tongue was unstuck he would shout from the rooftops the praise of God. 

What can make a man that happy?  What can make you sing praises? 

Notice the phrase He has (1.68,69).  The English words are past tense – action in the past, already finished.  However in Greek it is the prophetic perfect tense.  In the original text Zechariah is taking a future event, and saying that it is so certain to come about that it's a done deal. 

The Psalmist (111.9) used the same tense; He provided redemption for his people.  The sense of this is like getting the good news that you are going to become a parent, and starting the celebration before the birth actually occurs. 

I can recall the Christmas my brother and I got new bicycles.  They were in the basement with ribbons and bows all over them.  (How my parents ever kept it a secret is still a mystery.)  When the time was right, Dad sent us to the basement.  My brother, older and faster, got to the stairs before me – he shouted BICYCLES!  I echoed, BICYCLES!  I hadn't even seen the new bicycle, but in my mind and heart I was already riding it.  I was savoring the smell of new rubber tires and oil on the shiny, un-rusted chain. 

That is prophetic perfect – you don't have the proof in your hands...yet, but it is yours. 

Zechariah looked past the wonder of his new son to the miracle of Jesus being born, and praise was all over his face. 

In this, there are some reasons for you and me to be people of praise as well:

I am saved

Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people.  Luke 1:68 (NLT)

The word redeemed means that someone has arrived, inspected, and bundled up what he already possesses, and taken it away with him. 

Paul expresses the how of this in his letter to the Roman church:

In fact, it says,
The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.  And that message is the very message about faith that we preach:   If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.  As the Scriptures tell us, anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.    Romans 10:8-11(NLT)

That's how I was saved.  I believed in my heart in Jesus being THE Savior, and openly confessed my belief, and God saved me.  Now that is a personal experience.  And frankly, there is no other way to be saved.  It is entirely a personal decision and transaction. 

A family from Texas visited New York City because they had always wanted to see a Broadway play.  They had told their friends they were going to see Fiddler On the Roof.  When they arrived, the only night they could go, it was sold out.  They begged the man at the ticket counter to let them go in, but he said, I'm sorry, we don't even have standing room.   When the play was over, the family was still standing, waiting. 

As the people came out they asked, How was it?  Was 'Fiddler On the Roof' good?  One man, coming out of the theater, threw his ticket stubs on the sidewalk.  The man from Texas picked them up.  When they returned to Texas a friend asked, How was 'Fiddler On the Roof? 

The man answered, Look at these attractive tickets.  These are the stubs from 'Fiddler On the Roof.' 

Was it good? they asked.  Yes, it was good. 

Did everybody seem to enjoy it? 

Yes, I believe everybody in the theater enjoyed it. 

The family had not gotten in; they had not seen one moment of the play!  They had only the torn stubs of someone else's experience. 

And the church is full of just such sad stories. 

I met Johnny Moore years ago when their singing group came to the church I was singing.  His testimony was that, after being raised in church, he was still unsaved. 

One Wednesday evening, on his way home from church, he was stopped by a patrolman who searched his automobile and found pills and cocaine.  He started to tell the officer that he was a church member, and a Sunday School teacher – a gospel music singer.  And he was just coming from church. 

None of that mattered; they put him in jail. 

It was a very sobering and enlightening moment for Johnny.  In the loneliness of that cell he realized that he'd been going in and out of the church building for all those years on the torn stubs of someone else's experience. 

He'd listened to all those sermons, joined the church, been baptized, and never had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 

He then checked the inventory:  He was religious, but he wasn't saved.  At that moment, he bowed his head, and told Jesus that he believed, and wanted to be saved.  He believed in his heart, confessed with his mouth...and God saved him.  That is something to praise about!

I am secure

He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.  Luke 1:69 (NLT)

Zechariah did not see some ordinary salvation that was like a military victory – a few years and you would have to go back to battle all over again.  He saw an everlasting salvation that could never be conquered.  The fact is that when God saves, He saves forever.  This is to say that there is no sin (past, present or future) that can be stronger than God's forgiving grace.  Paul states the case, 

But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.  Romans 5:20b (NLT)

Some people throughout the history of the church have had trouble with being assured of their salvation.  They have difficulty believing that God is powerful enough to keep one saved, once they've been born into the kingdom.  Baptists call it “eternal security” or once saved, always saved.

Methodists simply call it assurance.  Whatever you choose to call it, God, the perfect Father, does not wanting us doubting His love and strength on our behalf.  Security of your salvation has to do with whom you are trusting for salvation, God's power, or your ability to hold on.  I'm glad I don't have to trust me – God's got me!

I am serviceable

…from the royal line of his servant David.  Luke 1.69b (NIV)

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, Luke records the lineage of Jesus as coming from the house of David. 

Was that something to be proud of? 

Reality check:  David was one of the worst sinners in the Bible.  He committed adultery, and then killed his mistress' husband to cover his tracks.  He blew the parenting thing with his kids, and put the whole nation of Israel in jeopardy because he was too wishy-washy to discipline them. 

Many of us do a fine job of avoiding serving the Lord with that hackneyed excuse, Oh; I don't have much that the Lord could use.

Nobody would have expected Marshall Taylor to be a great man of God.  He was a self-proclaimed redneck with weird ideas.  He was only 60, but looked 80.  (Hi-rise steelworkers age hard.)  He ate all the wrong foods in all the unhealthy ways imaginable.  He had minimal formal education, and didn't talk or pray in a fancy way.  He was divorced and remarried to a wonderful Christian lady, who was (in Marshall's words)  ...the only one with manners this family will ever have. 

Marshall Taylor was an absolutely earthy, both-feet-on-the-ground country boy, with no apologies.  He didn't need any. 
        ·       He witnessed to steelworkers 250 feet off the ground, straddling an I-beam. 
        ·       He witnessed to children playing ball in the street. 
        ·       He sometimes was the only one to show up for church visitation – and still he went and witnessed, and won folks to Christ. 

The point is that God doesn’t care about a person’s pedigree; he cares about which direction a person’s heart is pointed. 

Zechariah had spent nine months unable to speak.  It happened because he had acted in unbelief.  Nine months prior, an angel had appeared to Zechariah to tell him his prayers had been answered; his wife, Elisabeth, would bear him a son.  The conversation had Zechariah saying something like, Are you nuts, man?  I’m like a zillion years old, and my wife’s waaaaay past all that. 

Some things never change!  Both Abraham and Sarai had laughed when an angel came to tell them her 90 year-old body would produce a son the following year.  Zechariah was Abraham’s descendant in more than one way!

I used to think it was rather cruel of God to make Zechariah speechless for nine months just because he asked that question.  I’m a lot older, and just a little bit wiser now.  I see the point.  Zechariah was to be the father of Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist.  Zechariah was going to need all the faith available to handle his responsibilities as father of a prophet.  He needed nine months to think.  When you talk a lot you don’t think much.  God shut Zechariah up until the right moment.

When the son was born, Zechariah had come full cycle in faith.  Everyone looked to him when Elisabeth wanted to name the child “John”.  Zechariah couldn’t speak, so he took chalk and slate in hand and wrote in big bold letters:

His name is JOHN!

And that changed everything.  Zechariah’s mouth was opened; and nine months’ worth of the Lord’s rebuke of silence – nine months’ worth of repentance and vows to begin to believe, issued forth in the prophecy and praise of a converted heart!

There is a lesson in that.  If you have sinned…even sinned big time, and you sense that you are laboring under the rebuke of God’s punishment – remember Zachariah.  Remember the Lord forgives, and even turns our rebuke into reward.  He took faithless Zachariah and made him the faithful prophet and father of John the Baptist. 

So if you are a Zachariah today, remember, you can come home to faith!

What did Zachariah say once his tongue got loose?

“And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord.  You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins.  Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us… Luke 1:76-78(NLT)

Zachariah told the Good News!

The prophecy of Zachariah centers around two major facts – and those which separate Christianity from every other religious belief system:

*    We have a God who showed up in person.

*    We have a God who forgives by grace.

Zachariah spoke of a God who would give light to them that sit in darkness.  He talked about a God who would guide our feet into the way of peace.  This is a God who showed up in the person of Jesus Christ.  No other faith makes that claim; not Islam, Buddhism, or any of the New Age faiths. None have a personal God who has taken on the flesh of man and visited us.

But further, we have a God who forgives by grace.  Islam and the rest either make doing or achieving the criteria for salvation – or they offer no salvation at all. 

In Hinduism, for instance, you are to work hard at stockpiling karma through your good deeds in this life.  When you die you are reincarnated with your stockpile, to work-out your mistakes.  When you have been reincarnated enough times to have accounted for a perfect life, you are released from the reincarnation cycle to a place, or state of Nirvana – a condition of non-existence.  You become one with all elements – in other words, you go back to dust!

*    Only in Christ is there the correct understanding that we are lost in darkness.  That darkness is sin. 
*    Only in Christ is there the God who forgives our sin by His grace.  All the major world religions that even acknowledge man’s sinful state require a man to work his way out of punishment. 
*    Only in Christ has God come and paid the un-payable price – death – so that our sins could be forgiven.
*    Only in Christ has there been resurrection.
*    Only in Jesus Christ is there life!

Jesus Christ, a God who shows up, and forgives by grace. 

That’s Christmas! 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, imprisoned by Hitler during World War II, writes to his fiancé on one lesson learned from life in prison:

A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.[2]

Salvation in Jesus Christ is a free gift. 

Now, the only thing you shouldn’t do with it is act like Zachariah.  Don’t imagine it can’t be done.  Open up your mouth right away and say, Yes, Lord!  Be faith-filled, and live!

Zechariah had trouble with his faith, but nine months of thinking about it, without saying a word got his heart in a right condition, and it loosed his tongue. 

And he began to speak for God in a way that he never knew was in him.  And so the question is asked:

What will it take to loosen your tongue to confess Christ as Lord, and to serve Him?

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

[1] Title Image: James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
[2] PREACHING TODAY.COM, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Letters and Papers from Prison; in a letter to his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer from Tegel Prison in Germany, November 21, 1943; submitted by Bill White, Paramount, CA

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