By Simon ManchesterSunday 7 Sep 2014Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
“God’s Wide Plan” – The Riches of Salvation
Yesterday a group of us met in the afternoon and we considered a paper produced by a minister in New York who suggested,quite wisely I think,that many people today have in their minds what he called ‘defeater’ beliefs already. And so you might be approaching somebody to talk to them about God or Christianity,but lodged in their mind is already a conviction that Christianity is unworkable,for example,it’s just not going to work. Or it’s possible that they are thinking in their mind that the Christian Church has failed so miserably who would want to belong to it or imitate it. Some others will have a ‘defeater’ belief which says it’s just sheer arrogance for Christians to talk as though their beliefs are true and right and necessary. And others will have the belief already in their head that the Bible itself is unreliable. There were a series of these ‘defeater’ beliefs.
Now the passage that we’re looking at today sees a man burst into appreciation for God,and you won’t be surprised that we’re looking at a passage like that because,you know,you’re in church aren’t you and you expect somebody to talk about God and praise for God,but if what the man says about God is true,if what he says about God is true,you will see why it is absolutely sensible and natural to want to know this God and to submit to Him and why it would be unnatural to keep away from Him.
If you’re not a Christian this morning and there’s always people,we’re glad,who come to church who are thinking,seeking,looking; then I hope this few minutes will help you to understand a little more of God and to want to belong to Him and serve Him. If you are a Christian already,which will be many,many here this morning,I hope this will help you renew your submission to Him and to question whether you are being resistant to Him. The fact of the passage tells us that God is deserving of our service. He is a very excellent leader.
We have two great problems with leadership. They face us all the time. One is that we feel very cynical about leadership; nobody ever seems good enough and even the people that we get very big hopes for; seem to fail us quite soon,quite quickly. And nobody of course ever really does the job that we deserve. And the second thing which is related to that is that we are so naive about ourselves,we can see hypocrisy everywhere but in ourselves. We think of ourselves so nobly. We think of ourselves as just doing our best and deserving the best. And so we do want democracy to work,but we mistrust dictatorships and we should mistrust dictatorships,but we democratically elect our leaders and then we democratically boot out our leaders quite soon. And we keep feeling that we deserve better. C S Lewis in one of his essays called,’Present Concerns’,wrote these words,he said,A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people who believe mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. But these ideas,says CS Lewis,are simply not true. And then listen to this little piece of realism. I myself,says CS Lewis,do not deserve a share of governing a hen roost,much less a nation. Now the real reason for democracy is that mankind is so fallen that no one can be trusted with unchecked powers over his fellows. Now that leaves us with a real piece of realism and yet there is one person and that God,and we read about Him in our Bible passage today,who has perfect character and perfect power. He doesn’t need to be checked,He doesn’t need to be challenged. He is not democratically elected,He is not democratically removed. His rule is so good and His rule is so great that he deserves our surrender and our allegiance. And in fact He is so good and He is so great that we don’t deserve His leadership. We don’t deserve His care. We don’t deserve to be connected with Him. Nevertheless,He offers it and when we receive it we are immeasurably enriched,much beyond even temporary riches.
So I want you to think about this with me,we are on Page 1013 in Luke’s Gospel,we’re in the ‘Christmas’ chapters,but we’re not bothered by Christmas,isn’t that great. And this is a section where Zechariah,the father of John the Baptist,after 9 months of silence,who has been learning the hard way that God means what he says,suddenly bursts out with new speech in appreciation for God. So I’m going to divide up verses 57-80 into two parts,very briefly this morning. The first,57-66,God’s message gets in. (Repeats – Verses 57-66 ‘God’s message gets in”. And the second,Verses 67-80,God’s message,can you guess? – gets out. That’s the two things this morning.
First,’God’s message gets in.’ Now let me not waste your time by telling you the whole story again,but in a nutshell,God had sent His message to Zechariah that he and his old wife,Elizabeth,would have a son. Remember Zechariah asked for some proof,and he got some proof. It was very humbling. He found himself speechless because he had not simply trusted the Word of God. God humbled him. And it is now 9 months later. as we come to Verse 57 and the baby John is born. Everybody is thinking to call him Zechariah Jnr. Elizabeth says no,he will be called John. This is the name the angel had said he was to have and Zechariah has obviously written this down for Elizabeth so she knows and now he asks for paper and pencil again and writes for the crowd,Verse 63,his name is John. He doesn’t say we like the name John,or we’ve been told to call him John,he says his name is John. And suddenly Zechariah can speak.
I don’t think we can miss the fact as we read this piece of history,that Zechariah has learned the authority of God the hard way. In my work as a pastor it is a great joy to see people become Christians the easy way. In fact one of the blessings of our children’s ministry is that so many of the children are so uncomplicated. They hear the message and they say,it makes very good sense. But as we get older we get so complicated. We get distrustful,we get cynical,we get suspicious,we get twisted and so the simple,clear,beautiful message of Christ gets resisted. And then some people become Christians the hard way. And I mean the really hard way and I just wish that I could put them up the front and say this person has become a believer,but what a rocky road they’ve been on. And what a lot they could have been spared from if they’d become believers quickly. And they of course,if they could step up to the microphone would say at last I’ve made a sensible decision,don’t wait as long as I’ve waited. Don’t come the hard way.
Well God had said to Zechariah,you’re going to have a son and Zechariah could have said,yes,that’s true,You said it. Or no,I don’t believe it,or maybe – and that’s what Zechariah says,he says maybe,But of course God is meaning yes and the history of all God’s speech to the world is that when He says something he means it. If He says to the couple in the garden,don’t touch the tree,he means don’t touch the tree. If he says to Noah,there’s going to be a flood and everybody does mock him,if they did mock him,then of course Noah’s going to be proven right,there’ll be a flood. If God says to Abraham,you’re old and you’re going to have a son and your son will be the start of a nation that will affect the world,it happens. If God says to the people travelling through the wilderness,you’re going to the Promised Land across the Jordan River,it happens. If God says to the people in the Promised Land,don’t turn to the idols of the nations around you they will ruin you,what God says is true. And if God says to His people increasingly,my Messiah is coming,the Messiah is coming. I don’t know what it was like for Zechariah to spend nine months in silence. I’ve never had to spend more than a few hours in silence. But it looks from Verse 20 that he was completely dumb. And it looks from Verse 62 that he was completely deaf. And everyday Zechariah must have been just thinking about the fact that he had been a fool to distrust the Word of God. And there he was meditating on the fact that God keeps His Word. Apart from it being very humbling,it must have been very instructive because he must have learned a lot in those nine months. Plenty of time to think; no music getting in his ear,no television getting in his ear. And there he is just thinking about the things that matter,which is of course a great reminder on the side that we don’t learn really great things with noise going in our ears all the time. If you’ve got the television on all the time,if you’ve got the car radio on all the time,If you’ve got people talking to you all the time,if you’ve got someone preaching at you all the time,it’s very hard isn’t it,to really think,especially to think big things. We learn a lot more when things are quiet and here is Zechariah and things are really quiet for him. It’s not as though he has to spend nine months thinking about something terrible either. He gets to spend nine months thinking about something really wonderful. His old wife is pregnant,God had done a miracle. And pretty soon the boy who’s inside his wife is going to emerge and grow up and become the one who’ll announce the Messiah. It must have been a very exciting time for Zechariah. And so the proof that God does do great things through these quiet times is that Zechariah,from Verse 68,bursts into praise. God does work in weak times.
I was being reminded this week that in the 17th Century there were two famous men called John. One of them was called John Owen and he was a genius. He was a writer,a pastor. He was a chaplain to Oliver Cromwell. He was a university Vice Chancellor. He was the Dean of one the cathedrals. And there was another John,and his name was John Bunyan and John Bunyan was a tinker,he worked with pots and pans. He was an outdoor preacher,he was jailed for preaching. He was cut off from his family for 12 years. And John Owen,who had so many impressive links,tried valiantly to get John Bunyan out of prison and he couldn’t do it. And so John Bunyan stayed in prison for 12 years and eventually John Bunyan was released and he walked out. And as you know when he walked out of prison he walked out with a manuscript under his arm. And John Owen read the manuscript and loved the manuscript. John Owen loved hearing John Bunyan preach. And when they said to John Owen,you’re a genius why do you go listen to a tinker; he said I would give up all my learning if I could communicate like that tinker. And John Owen read the manuscript that John Bunyan wrote in prison and he got it printed. And Pilgrim’s Progress has been the book which more than any other book,except the Bible,has had impact on the world for Christ. Because God,you see,is a genius at working through these times of what look like weakness and quietness. He is good,he works His plans. He wants the message to get out and of course He wants the message first to get in. And God is calling to everybody in the world through the creation,I am great – take the message in – I am great. And God is calling to the world through the message of Jesus; I am good,gracious,personal,relational,forgiving,merciful,and serious – take the message in. And Jesus when He was in the world said,you’ve got two ears,listen with them because if you don’t listen with your two ears and take the good news in,and God wants to get it in,He’ll find another way. Maybe a hard way,but it will be a loving way. And when the message does get in you’ll see that His plans for you are so good,you’ll wonder why you didn’t take the message in more quickly.
So that’s the first thing – God’s message gets in. The second = God’s message gets out. This is where we discover,as Zechariah sings his song,or praises his praise,we discover what God is like. We discover why to serve Him is such a happy thing to do. This is where Zechariah bursts out in praise,in words which are traditionally called the Benedictus. It comes from the Latin word,of the first word of the song. It used to be spoken in Anglican Prayer Book services every morning. If we were using the prayer book we would probably have said the Benedictus by now. And of course we expect Zechariah to burst out in praise because he’s just had a baby. He doesn’t talk about his baby at all. Or at least he doesn’t talk about his baby for a while. He talks about another baby,another baby that hasn’t been born. Two thirds of his song is about Jesus.
And what I want to do now is just quickly at least show you what Zechariah says about God,which I hope you will appreciate and make you love to belong to Him. First of all notice what Zechariah says about a person of God,Verses 68-70. And then notice what Zechariah says about the work of God,Verses 71-74. And then notice what Zechariah says about his own son,what is left to do.
First,what does Zechariah say about God? Verse 68,God has come. A very unusual thing to say isn’t it,because no Messiah has been born yet. There’s been no visit. But in Zechariah’s mind the promise that God has given is as good as done. He says God has come. You can see that Zechariah has moved from being a very hesitant,unbeliever or semi-believer to being a very confident believer-God has come.
The reason God has come of course is because God keeps His promises to come. Many years ago I knew a businessman in London. He was born in the 1890’s and he belonged to that old world of business where the word was the bond and the handshake was absolutely certain. And so if he said something to you or if he shook your hand on it,you didn’t need to do anything but wait because he would do what he had said he would do what he’d promised. And you didn’t need to force him,you didn’t need to bring in other supports or props or legal help of any kind because the commitment to do what he’d said was inside him. You didn’t need to come outside him to get it. Inside this man was his desire to do what he’d said or he couldn’t live with himself. Now infinitely is that so with God. How wonderful to deal with somebody who says promises and then if I might say this reverently,cannot live with Himself unless He does them. And that’s what Zechariah says,God has come,God has come. The Lord God of Israel,Verse 68,the Creator of the world,the One who tied Himself to a nation called Israel and gave promises and gave proofs,He has come. Now of course,He’s about to come,but Zechariah basically says ‘He’s come’. The word,’to come’ in Verse 68 is actually,literally the word to look at – He’s looked at us. You know when somebody special just looks at you – she looked at me – he looked at me – God has looked at us. But of course it’s a stronger word,it means he’s inspected us and that’s where it came to mean-he’s visited us And God,so mighty,so huge,so majestic has visited even a world as rebellious as this. He must be amazing n His kindness. The more you think about the visit of God to the world,the more astonishing it is.
And then,Verse 68,He’s come to redeem. He’s come to redeem or rescue. When Zechariah said this he had no idea of course what we Christians understand by redeem. Zechariah would have been thinking or Israel’s slaveries in Egypt and Babylon and how God rescued them from Egypt and Babylon. But we read the word redeem and it’s much greater isn’t it? Because we know how it was fulfilled. We know that the Lord Jesus became the Lamb in order that we might go free. We know that we live today,spiritually and eternally,because He died spiritually and eternally. We know that we escape the judgement,because He didn’t escape the judgement at the cross. So there was much greater redemption which we read into this word than Zechariah even dreamed. And the reason that God is able to do this great redeeming is,Verse 69,because He’s able to raise up a horn of salvation. The word horn is not a musical instrument,it’s a weapon. And if you’ve ever seen the rhino use his horn,or you’ve seen the buffalo use the horn,and I’ve seen film of buffalos tossing a lion in the air,that’s what Zechariah’s saying Jesus has come with great power. He is the horn of Salvation,the power of salvation. He completely dominates. He’s the King and He sits on the Throne of David long promised. So there’s no question you see in Zechariah’s mind the person of God is wonderful. We don’t have to ask the question is Jesus the King. That’s not the question. We want to ask today the question,what kind of a King is he? And Zechariah’s answer is,he’s the Lord King. He’s the King who visits. He’s the King who redeems. H’s the King who sits on the throne. Everything about Him is great and good and therefore there’s nobody better to know and there’s nobody better to serve. But if you do serve Him,it will not be self destruction for you; it will be safety and blessing. And then see what Zechariah says about God’s affects,Verse71,He’s going to save us from our enemies and the hands of all who hate us. What did Zechariah mean when he said God’s going to save us from our enemies? Well of course thinking as Jew he was probably remembering some of the old enemies of the Jews,the Syrians,Babylonians,nations who dominated,maybe he was even thinking of the Romans in his day who ruled the Jews. When you hear that God will save you from your enemies and those who hate you,who do you think of? Do you think to yourself,wouldn’t it be wonderful if God would rescue me from my enemies and the people who hate me? And Zechariah actually,without even knowing this,means something more wonderful because God is able to save you from enemies,or forces who keep you from God. The much worse enemy than local slavery or nasty friends is spiritual slavery. You see Verse 74,the enemies that keep you from serving God; they’re the worse enemies of all. The ones that keep you from serving God without fear,the ones who keep you from serving God without fear and with holiness and righteousness,the ones who keep you from serving God all your days. They’re the worst enemies of all and they’re the ones Jesus is able to save you from because He is able to bring you to God without fear,with holiness,with righteousness all your days. I don’t know anything better to say to anybody than that. I cannot think of anything better to say. If I had only one minute to speak to the world I can’t imagine any verses better than to read these verses in Luke Chapter 1,that there is one who will save you from your enemies and bring you to know and serve God without fear,with holiness and righteousness all your days.
Well God delivers people. I know the word save is a very ‘churchy’ sort of word,but you know there are times in your life when somebody saved you from going the wrong way and told you to go the right way. Has there been a time where somebody saved you from losing a lot of money in order that you might save a lot of money? Has there been a time when somebody has saved you from physical danger and made you physically safe or well? Multiply that to infinity and Jesus is able to save us from the very worst forces in the universe for the very best person in the universe. That’s what salvation is all about. And why does He do this,Verse 72,because of long promised mercy. What is mercy? It’s the willingness which is inside God Himself to bear the cost of the damage that we have done to Him. It’s the willingness inside God himself to bear the damage that we have done to God. And He made these promises to Abraham and then He renewed them with the prophets and then He renewed them with David and now they’ve come to their fulfilment in Jesus the Messiah and they are for the benefit of everybody who lets the message,or gets the message,or receives the message in.
So I want to ask you friends as we come to the end this morning,do you trust what God says? Test yourself. Test yourself and ask yourself the question this morning,am I resistant to God? Because if I’m resistant to God maybe the message of His goodness has not got in. But of course if you are receptive,if you are willing and keen to serve and surrender and submit,you must know that He is good,great,gracious. So test yourself. If you’re a resistant unbeliever the message has not got in. If you’re a resistant believer,ask yourself which part of the message has not got in?
And finally Zechariah says,turning to his baby boy,John the Baptist,what is left to do,Verse 76,you will announce this saviour,you will give your people knowledge of salvation. And John the Baptist grew up to do that,he pointed to Jesus and says there is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; he’ll give your forgiveness,the most important gift in all the world. He’ll take away the barrier between you and God. He’ll help you come to God; He’ll help you stand before God one day. And why will God do this,Verse 78,because of his mercy. And John the Baptist’s job is to announce Jesus like the rising sun. He doesn’t have to arrange it. He doesn’t have to achieve it; he just has to announce it. And I want to announce to you again this morning,Jesus Christ has risen like the sun,He will bring to you the light in place of darkness,the peace in place of tension. And I trust the message gets in and then I trust,in your thanks and in your life,the message also gets out.