If any of you watch Dr Who
on TV you will know about the TARDIS, which is the Doctor’s time machine. On the outside it looks like a normal Police Telephone Box but inside it is a huge time machine that allows the Doctor to travel through time and space to anywhere in the universe either in the past or in the future.
We don’t have a TARDIS, but we can use our own imagination to travel back in time about 2000 years to the Temple in Jerusalem. A group of family and friends are gathered around a very elderly couple for the circumcision and naming of an eight day old baby boy. Although they look like the infant’s grandparents they are in fact his parents!
He is a miracle baby. He is the first born child of Zechariah and Elizabeth who are both well beyond the age of having kids. As Zechariah looks down on his miracle son he bursts into song; an amazing song. We would expect him to praise and thank God for blessing them with a child in their old age; for giving them a miracle child after a life of barrenness and reproach; for making their life complete. But that’s not the kind of song he sings. We’re told that Zechariah filled with the Holy Spirit prophesied. This means that he spoke as moved by God Himself (v 67). He sings a song of redemption not so much about his son but about the Messiah. He praises God for His plan of salvation and redemption and he does it in three parts.
PRAISE GOD: THE LORD OF THE PRESENT (68,69)
In verses 68 and 69 God is praised because He has broken into human history to fulfil his plan of salvation. He has come to His people and redeemed them. And this miracle baby of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s is a vital part of God’s redemption plan for His people.
The first question this raises is what does it mean to redeem something? It means to recover something of your own from someone else by making a payment to them. For example we redeem a house mortgage from the bank. The house isn’t totally owned by us until we pay out that mortgage. If we park our car in a tow-away area then we will have to pay big time to redeem our car from where it’s impounded.
Because God is our Creator He wants us to be His own. He wants to redeem us. He is willing to pay a price to save us from sin. He wants to redeem us and claim us as His people. And redemption costs.
Interestingly, Zechariah says God has come and redeemed His people (v 68). It sounds like it’s already done and dusted and in a sense it is; because nothing will stop God from doing what He has come to do. God has raised up a horn of salvation from King David’s line to achieve this redemption (v 69). The Messiah has come and God’s plan of redemption has started and will be completed. It’s as good as done.
Zechariah knows all of this because he knows that the Messiah is already in the womb of Mary, who is a descendant of King David. We can read about it earlier in this chapter, Mary visits Elizabeth whose baby leapt in her womb. ‘When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.’
(Luke 1:41). Elizabeth goes on to say that Mary is the mother of her Lord! An amazing statement.
This means that the very first step in God’s redemption plan has started. The Messiah has come to this earth as a baby. Zechariah is praising God because redemption has come in the form of the baby in Mary’s womb, who would be called ‘Jesus’. God is Lord of the present. God can break into human history at any time to do His will. He could come today into the life of everyday people like ourselves to redeem us.
A song of redemption should praise God as Lord of the present. He is not some remote and disinterested bystander to human history. He came into the lives of people 2000 years ago to save and redeem His people. Praise God: the Lord of the present.
PRAISE GOD: THE LORD OF THE PAST (70-75)
In the second part the song jumps from the present to the past in verses 70-75, for the past is the key to our future. Zechariah brings into focus two important aspects of the past.
Firstly, he sings of how God spoke through His holy prophets (v 70-71) who in times of danger reminded the people about God’s mercy in saving them from hateful enemies. The prophets of the Old Testament called the people to turn to God when enemies attacked them. Many times throughout their history God saved them when they heeded the prophets.
Secondly, he sings of how God made a holy covenant with their ancestors that they need to remember (v 72-75). God promised Abraham offspring more numerous than the stars in the sky (Gen. 15:5) and he gave circumcision as a sign of that covenant. In their old age Isaac was born, who was the father of Jacob, who God renamed Israel and who had 12 sons, that became the 12 tribes, that became the nation of Israel. They needed to remember God’s deliverance throughout their own history.
The Old Testament contains that history. God preserved his people through the centuries even though enemies tried over and over to destroy them. They needed to remember how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt and gave them the Promised Land; how God raised up Gideon to defeat an enemy when outnumbered three hundred to one; how King David established a Kingdom defeating all his enemies. And even when conquered, invaded, and dragged into exile God preserved them, enabling them to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple.
We are beneficiaries of this long history for by faith we are children of Abraham (Gal 3:7). Our faith has its roots deep in this history of God’s faithfulness to His people to save them. This history is the soil in which our faith will grow. Zechariah is praising God for how He saved His people in the past. God has broken into human history many times to save His people, which gives us hope for the future.
A song of redemption should praise God for His mercy and faithfulness to redeem his people throughout history. We can have confidence that God will do as He says for He has redeemed His people in the past. Praise God: the Lord of the past.
PRAISE GOD: THE LORD OF THE FUTURE (76-80)
The final part of the song begins as Zechariah looks down on his own son and sees his destiny. His child has a major role to play in God’s redemption story. He will be called a prophet of the Most High. His role will be to go before the Lord to prepare His way way and to give knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins (v 76, 77).
And that is exactly what happened. Mark provides a succinct summary in his gospel:
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:4-8)
Look at the key words that tell us just how John did prepare the way the Lord: preaching
… forgiveness of sins
… baptise you with the Holy Spirit.
All of these point to Jesus, the Messiah. No wonder John pointed to Jesus and said ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’
(John 1:29). John fulfilled his role. He grew, became strong and did what he was sent to do (v 80).
Zechariah’s focus then moves from His son to Jesus the Messiah in verses 78 and 79. He sings of God’s mercy in sending the Messiah who he describes as the rising sun who will come to us from heaven
(v 78). And this should immediately strike us as something that isn’t natural for the sun always rises from the horizon, coming up from the land or out of the sea. It doesn’t descend from heaven. Zechariah is giving us a glimpse of God’s perspective in this. God’s eternal Son has come from heaven to be born a human. The coming of the Messiah is a supernatural event. Remember the angel’s words to Mary: ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’
The song comes to its climax as Zechariah sings about why Jesus the Messiah has come into our world. He has come to shine light into the darkness of the human soul; to shine light into the darkness of death; and to take us out of that darkness and fear by guiding us into the path of peace (v 79).
This song of redemption is all about the salvation of our souls. It’s about delivering us from a life lived in spiritual darkness and the fear of death. It’s about delivering us from a life without direction. It’s about taking us from a realm of fear into a realm of peace. It’s about making our peace with God through Jesus the Messiah, who God has sent from heaven to save and redeem us.
Jesus is the One who redeems us. He pays the price for our peace with God. He gives His life in exchange for ours. He sacrifices Himself upon the cross. He says: “crucify me not them; punish me not them; give me their sins so that they can have my righteousness”. What a price the Messiah paid for our salvation and redemption. He left the light and peace of heaven to come to this place of darkness and death to die upon a cross so you and I could be saved and redeemed. Redemption costs.
What saves and redeems us is what Jesus has done on the cross. That’s knowledge of salvation. That’s forgiveness of sin. That’s living in the light. That’s peace with God. That’s experiencing God’s tender mercy, love, grace as He guides us through life.
For Zechariah this was all in the future but he saw it clearly for God revealed it to him. God filled him with His Holy Spirit and he prophesied and sang a song of redemption for those at his son’s circumcision and for us here today. God’s redemption is worth singing about. Our present and our future are both secure because of what happened in the past when Jesus was born, lived, died and rose again. Once you know this and trust Jesus as your Saviour you are redeemed and you are saved. You can sing a song of redemption of praise to God: the Lord of the future, and the Lord of the past and the Lord of the present.
Zechariah’s song is a song of praise to Jesus the Redeemer. Jesus who takes our sin and gives us His righteousness. Jesus the Lord of the present, past and future. Consider this song of redemption. Consider the tender mercy of God towards you. Consider living in light, with no shadow of death. Consider giving your life to Christ so that He can transform, renew and change you. Consider Christ this Christmas so you can sing a song of redemption.