Go ahead and turn to Luke’s Gospel. Luke, Chapter 1 and we’re in that section from verses 67 to 80, the last part of the chapter. On the first of this month, October 1, 2015, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Some of you may have read that speech or read about it, or even watched the short little video clip there of Mr. Netanyahu’s 44 seconds of silence, which was a protest of the U.N.’s lack of response to the threats against Israel. Mr. Netanyahu is rightly concerned about as he put it, “the coupling of militant Islam with nuclear weapons.” That’s happening with Iran, a nation bent on Israel’s destruction, and Prime Minister Netanyahu opened his speech before the U.N. with an indictment, really, of the U.N. body reaching back to his first address to the U.N. as Israel’s ambassador then—now he’s the prime minister. But he said this as he opened up, “Then as now, the U.N. was obsessively hostile toward Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East. Then, as now, some sought to deny the one and only Jewish state a place among the nations.” Pretty powerful way to begin. And he continued warning against the recent deal that our government was involved in with the anti-Israel, anti-Christ government of Iran. And Mr. Netanyahu pointed out the foolishness in thinking that a deal with an aggressive nation like Iran would lead to peace. He said this: “The vast majority of Israelis believe that this nuclear deal with Iran is a very bad deal. What makes matters even worse is that we see a world celebrating this bad deal, rushing to embrace and do business with a regime openly committed to our destruction.” He continued, “Last week Major General Salehi, the Commander of Iran’s army proclaimed this, ‘We will annihilate Israel for sure. We are glad that we are in the forefront of executing the supreme leader’s order to destroy Israel.’ Last month, Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei once again made his genocidal intentions clear before Israel’s top clerical body. He spoke about Israel, home to over six million Jews; he pledged, there will be no Israel in 25 years.”
Mr. Netanyahu again continuing, “Seventy years after the murder of six million Jews, Iran’s rulers promise to destroy my county, murder my people, and the response from this body, the response from nearly every one of the governments represented here has done absolutely nothing. Utter silence. Deafening silence.” And that’s when for dramatic effect, Mr. Netanyahu went silent for 44 long seconds. He looked around the room, starting in the eyes of the U.N. delegates. It was purposeful, intentionally uncomfortable. After making his point, Mr. Netanyahu continued, and he put the modern aggression against Israel into historical perspective. He said this, “In every generation, there were those who rose up to destroy our people. In antiquity, we faced destruction from the ancient empires of Babylon and Rome. In the Middle Ages, we faced inquisition and expulsion, and in modern times, we faced pogroms and the Holocaust, yet the Jewish people persevered. And now another regime has arisen swearing to destroy Israel. That regime would be wise to consider this: I stand here today representing Israel, a county 67 years young, but the nation state of a people nearly 4,000 years old. Yet the empires of Babylon and Rome are not represented in this hall of nations. Neither is the 1000 Year Reich, those seemingly invincible empires are long gone, but Israel lives. The people of Israel live.”
As much as I respect Prime Minister Netanyahu—he has a firm, very firm grasp on the social, political, military situation in the Middle East, both historically and in modern times—as much as I agree with his assessment of the dangers of a destabilized world inhabited by militant Islamists, as much as I mourn and grieve over the atrocities committed against his people, Mr. Netanyahu has no idea how grave the situation really is. Listen, whether it’s Mr. Netanyahu personally, whether it’s the Jewish people ethnically, nationally, or whether we’re talking about any of the nations that inhabit the world who are represented by the United Nations, people have tragically underestimated the gravity of the danger they are facing. It is far more serious and severe than they could have ever imagined.
“Zechariah understood the gravity of the danger faced by his people.”Travis Allen
With that in mind, look in your Bibles. If you haven’t already, turn to the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. We’ve been studying this opening chapter for some months now. We’re looking carefully at Zechariah’s song, a prophetic song known as the Benedictus that celebrates and blesses the salvation of God. Like Mr. Netanyahu today, Zechariah also lived during perilous times in Israel. Israel had been conquered by its enemies, dominated by foreign powers—the Greeks and then the Romans. If they at that time weren’t anti-Semitic, they were clearly unsympathetic to Jewish concerns. They were mostly hostile, often very, very cruel in dealing with the Jewish people. Unlike Mr. Netanyahu, Zechariah was not living in a Jewish state. He had no nation backing him, no political power, he entertained no hope in a political or military solution, and yet, Zechariah was full of hope. He looked forward to a triumphant glorious salvation and that’s really the theme of this song, both beautiful in its language, but profoundly significant. Follow along as I read to you starting in verse 68:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Now we’ve already had an overview, an introduction to this song. We heard Zechariah bless God because he is a saving God, because having visited and redeemed his people, “he’s raised up a horn of salvation to deliver them,” verse 71, “from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” And for today, we’re going to look at God’s saving purpose—why he chose to save his people. Learning God’s purposes in salvation is going to fill us with joy and gratitude—deep joy, an unshakeable joy in gratitude to God. It’s going to prepare us to receive and embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, who is coming into the world in the very next chapter. Now, I’m going to give you the punch line up front, okay? So that you’ll be sure to see it and identify it as we walk through the text. God’s glorious purpose in salvation—it’s essentially twofold, stated clearly in verse 72: number one to show mercy and number two to remember his holy covenant. Salvation is about glorifying the mercy and the faithfulness of God. He is both gracious and trustworthy. He is both good and reliable. And notice the purpose is really about God, not primarily about us. We’re the means of revealing this glory of God because we are the ones who by his grace recognize he is worthy of all of our praise, he is worthy of all of our confidence. And, as we’ll see the revelation of his mercy and his faithfulness—it leads to another aspect of his glorious character. That’s unpacked in verse 73 and following. His grace in granting eternal life.
Now to get a greater appreciation of the saving purposes of God, the significance of what Zechariah was witnessing in his day—that’s why we’re slowing down here, after all—to understand the significance of what Zechariah saw, what prompted this song. We need to understand all of this in greater depth.
Notice the first point in your outline: The gravity of the danger. As I said, this is something Mr. Netanyahu along with the current nation of Israel, along with the entire world, really doesn’t understand. At least not fully. Zechariah understood the gravity of the danger faced by his people. He indicated it verse 71 and mentioned it in verse 74. Notice the words, “Our enemies and all who hate us.” Mr. Netanyahu mentioned just a part of that list in his speech—Babylon and Rome in ancient times. The anti-Semitism of the Roman Catholic church dominated monarchies in the Middle Ages. He mentioned the Russian pogroms of the 19th and 20th centuries. He mentioned the Nazi Holocaust of 70 years ago. He mentioned the current nation of Iran in this modern age. And to that list we could add many, many more enemies. If we were to go into Scripture and actually spend time walking through the list, the list is so expansive, we really don’t have the time to go and do all that history, all the history of Jewish persecution. But we could sum this up with just one of Asaph’s psalms. If you go to Psalm 83, let me show you that. Turn back to Psalm 83 for just a moment. Because I wanted to show you some ancient words that sound really like they come from today’s headlines. You just replace the names and put in today’s names and you’ve got the same story. Asaph wrote this prayer, Psalm 83, and he was entreating God to deliver Israel for exactly the same things that Mr. Netanyahu is needing deliverance from today – exactly the same things Zechariah saw in his day. Look at Psalm 83, verse 1: “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O god! For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raise their heads. They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones. They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!’ For they conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant—the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; Asshur also has joined them; they are the strong arm of the children of Lot.”
As you can see, there were a host of enemies, people groups, nations individuals actually mentioned later in the Psalm like Oreb and Zeeb in verse 11, “All their princes like Zebah and Zalmuna.” A list of human enemies threatening and opposing and persecuting Israel is ancient and it is long. And that list continues to grow even to the present day. But I don’t want you to miss what is behind this opposition. Did you notice what Asaph revealed in verse 5? He said, “For they conspire,” with what? “One accord; against you they make a covenant.” This historic aggressive, unrelenting opposition to Israel has one mind behind it uniting all these enemies in one accord. Listen, this is satanically inspired. Like Mr. Netanyahu said in his speech, nations have come and nations have gone throughout history, but only the people of Israel, only the children of Abraham, only they remain intact as a people to this very day. Ever see any Hittites lately? Neither have I. At the same time, only the people of Israel have faced the continued opposition of the nations that surround them.
I’ve got a friend who’s an expert in geo-politics. He studies and writes frequently about Islam and Israel, along with the relationship of Muslim nations and Israel with the nations of Europe and the E.U. He once commented to me about the massive, massive cost and energy required by the nations of the European Union and around the world to defy and oppose Israel. Not only are Europeans wasting an inordinate amount of time and money and energy to oppose an economically and politically friendly nation like Israel, but at the same time, there’s an inexplicable sympathy for Muslim nations—the same nations that promote a world view that produces and protects terrorism—the same nations that are bent on the annihilation of European power—bent on destroying western values. Europe is overwhelmed with Muslim refugees who are undermining the social order, defying authority, undermining the cities. They’re promoting unrest, promoting disorder. It’s absolutely irrational. Europe, the U.N., the Unites States—they embrace an enemy and they shun a friend. How do we understand this continual, even self-destructive embrace of anti-Israel sentiment? How do we explain this costly, very costly and irrational hatred?
Well, if you read Scripture, it’s easy to understand that. Satan hates Israel because Israel represents God. And since he’s the god of this age and since his is the spirit that works in the sons of disobedience, well, it makes sense that all his children will do the will of their father. Just one example, Revelation 12:1 to 4 says this, “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Who’s that? She’s representing Israel. “She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.” That’s Daniel’s language. “His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.” That’s his demonic host. “And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.” That passage describes, using figurative language—it describes the spiritual war between the child of the woman and the dragon. The ancient serpent who lives under the judgment of Almighty God. Revelation 12 looks back to Genesis and the original curse on the serpent which predicted his ultimate demise under the foot of the woman’s offspring. Remember that? Genesis 3:15 says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head and you shall bruise his heel.”
The opposition to Israel is not only historic, spanning human history from Genesis to Revelation; it is also all encompassing. It unites human and demonic enemies, involving them all in a spiritual complicity to destroy the offspring of the woman. Or in today’s terms, to wipe Israel off the map. Listen, this is totally lost on the current nation of Israel. It’s totally lost on the European nations, the United States, the body of representatives at the United Nation. Mr. Netanyahu, if he does recognize a spiritual element to his nation’s struggle, well, he doesn’t acknowledge it publicly.
There’s another level of opposition that we need to recognize if we’re going to understand the full gravity of the danger Israel is in. It’s a danger that doesn’t just threaten Israel, by the way; it’s a danger that looms over all people throughout the entire world, whether they know it or not. I just read Genesis 3:15, which clearly explains the nature of the opposition toward Israel, and notice there who takes responsibility. “I will put enmity between you and the woman between your offspring and her offspring.” Who’s the “I”? The subject of that sentence is God. God is the one who put the enmity between Satan and the offspring of the woman. He planned it. And he’s executing that plan. Israel doesn’t merely face human enemies. Israel doesn’t merely face a demonic enemy—Satan, the entire host of hell. Israel faces a divine enemy, he opposition of God himself—and it’s not like the Scripture is silent about this. It’s not like Scripture hasn’t pointed to this or given the reasons for the divine opposition to Israel.
Turn back, if you will, to the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy. You need to see this, and Mr. Netanyahu is familiar with this. He’s been raised in all the traditions of his fathers because the united global opposition and persecution of Israel shouldn’t come as a surprise really to anybody. In both Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, God outlined the consequences for unfaithfulness to the Mosaic covenant—an agreement that the nations of Israel wholeheartedly affirmed, which they ratified with God at Mount Sinai. And those two chapters—Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28—they begin by listing all the good things that God will bless them with for remaining faithful to the covenant they made; blessing in the city and the field; blessings on productivity—whether it’s the womb, the field, the flocks and herds; comprehensive victory over enemies; unparalleled peace and prosperity; the respect and the honor of nations of the entire world. That’s God’s blessing for obedience to the covenant. But, God also outlined the curses that would come because of disobedience, because of unfaithfulness to the covenant. And those curses occupy the bulk of the chapter starting with verse 15 and running all the way to the end of a very long chapter—it ends in verse 68. For the sake of time, I’m not going to read the whole thing. But let me just highlight some verses that are pertinent to what we’re reading in Zechariah’s song. We’ve started there in verse 25: “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies.” Now, this is for disobedience to the covenant. “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away.” Look at verse 36: “The Lord will bring you and your king, whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. And you shall become a horror, a proverb and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away.” Skip ahead to verse 46: “They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever. Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young.
Some very, very difficult words. Very hard to read, especially if you, your family and your nation are the ones in the crosshairs. One more section. Look at verse 64: “And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the Lord will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and at evening you shall say, ‘If only it were morning!’ because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see.”
If you’ve done any reading about the plight of the Jewish people in Russia or in Germany or in Eastern Europe, you have to ache inside when you see how literally all these words have come upon them as a nation. Such desperation, sadness is profoundly heart-breaking. But we have to remember all this has come upon Israel because God promised it would. The nation had abandoned the God of its covenant. It had embraced idols; it had indulged in some gross sin and immorality. The people trusted in themselves. They trusted in foreign alliances to save them from the judgment that was coming upon them. Instead of turning back to God, they trusted in others. They trusted in men. They trusted in their own devices, and all along they stubbornly refused to trust in God. You know, they’re still doing that. In that same speech before the U.N., Mr. Netanyahu displayed the same spirit of self-reliance. He said, “The rebirth of Israel,” —he’s talking about the relatively recent rebirth of Israel as a nation in 1948—“The rebirth of Israel is a testament to the indomitable spirit of my people.” Oh, really? He pointed to what he calls Arab Peace Partners, those with whom they intend to build “lasting partnerships for security, for prosperity and for peace.” He said, “Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan are two cornerstones of stability.”
The Bible calls Egypt a broken reed. By leaning on it, you’ll fall over and you’ll pierce your hand. Jordan is ancient Amon and Moab. The Ammonites, the Moabites are peoples who are historically treacherous in dealing with Israel. Listen, political alliances have never protected Israel, ever. Peace treaties, national alliances have never proven to be stable, have never guaranteed security, prosperity or peace. But like Israel throughout history, they continue to commit the same error Jeremiah described in Jeremiah Chapter 2, “Has a nation changed its gods even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
Listen, if God is opposed to Israel for its sin and idolatry, where does that leave the rest of us? Where does that leave the rest of humanity? Romans 1:23 says we’re all guilty of exchanging the glory of immortal God for dumb, lifeless idols. We’re all guilty of abandoning God. Were Babylon or Rome any more righteous? What about the medieval kingdoms, the nations of the modern world like Russia, Nazi Germany? What about Iran and Syria, ISIS, the resurgent Taliban? What about the E.U., the United States, the collective body known as the United Nations, the rest of the world? We are all sinking in the same ship. Oh, sure, the U.S. and its World War II Allies were responsible for helping Israel toward statehood in 1948. The horrors of that Holocaust left such a deep impression on that generation, but as that generation has passed away, so did the memory, and with it the commitment to Israel. Not only that, but our nation, along with the rest of the nations of the world—we have continued to provoke the wrath of a holy God. We are charting our course, a suicide course, to eternal destruction at the hand of his just judgment.
“Worshipping and serving God is our gift, and it will continue throughout all of eternity.”Travis Allen
Isaiah put it into words long ago. In fact, turn over to Isaiah’s prophecy in Chapter 59 and let me show you this. In Isaiah 59, in verse 9, Isaiah lamented over the human condition, and that had been lived out by his own people, the nation of Israel, and we’re all the same. Listen to these words starting in verse 9: “Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men. We all growl like bears; we moan and moan like doves; we hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities; transgressing, and denying the Lord, and turning back from following our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words. Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far way; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.”
Listen, what happened to Israel is an illustration for the rest of the world. We can’t think we’re any better. In fact, we’re much, much worse. What happened to them is going to happen to all who reject Christ in the coming Day of the Lord’s judgment. It’s only a shadow. What happened to Israel is only a shadow of the judgment that all face, especially unbelievers, in eternal hell.
There is a way out of this mess, and that’s what Zechariah saw in the birth of his son and in the coming birth of the child in Mary’s womb. We’ve seen the gravity of the danger; let’s look at our second point. It’s a lot more positive and encouraging. The profundity of the salvation. Again, in Isaiah 59, Isaiah was pointing to Zechariah’s day when he prophesied these words Isaiah 59:15 and following: “The Lord saw it”—all that Isaiah just described—“The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.” Verse 20, “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression.” Did you hear that? A redeemer will come to Zion, but specifically to “those in Jacob who turn from transgression.” How is anyone going to do that? Can a leopard change his spots? Can any of us change the color of our skin? No one changes that. We just read that—by nature, by choice people are fixed in their sin and rebellion. They keep on pursuing their sinful desires according to their inherited nature. As it says in Isaiah 59, “We know our iniquities: transgressing, and denying the Lord, and turning back from following our God, speaking oppression, revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.” Apart from a deep and lasting repentance, God remains Israel’s greatest enemy.
And that should frighten the Gentiles as well. Are we any better? We are not. Since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, all remain in danger under his just wrath. So, how are any of us going to turn from transgression? God’s gracious answer is found in Luke 1:72 to 75. You can turn back there. God “has raised up a horn of salvation for us […] that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
Some gracious, gracious words. And I said at the beginning, this demonstrates God’s saving purpose: to show mercy, to remember his holy covenant. The promises God made to the patriarchs of Israel referred to there in verse 72 as “our fathers,” repeated the promises. It reiterated the original covenant he had with Abraham. “God has sworn an oath,” verse 73, “to our father Abraham.” And in that oath particularly in Genesis 22:15 to 18, he said this, “By myself, I have sworn, declares the Lord. I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” That’s wonderful and all, but, again, how’s it going to happen for a people—whether we’re talking about Israel or anyone from any other nation—how’s it going to happen for a people who, unlike Abraham, have not obeyed God’s voice, who disobeyed even in one point? We’ve all sinned and fallen short.
To fulfill the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, God would need to enact another covenant, a better one than the Mosaic Covenant. And that’s exactly what he did. It’s called the New Covenant, which Zechariah referred to there at the end of verse 73, “to grant us that we might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” That is shorthand for New Covenant—that’s New Covenant language. And I want to show you that starting in Jeremiah’s prophecy. So turn back to Jeremiah 31:31. This is the only place actually in the Old Testament that specifically calls the New Covenant, the New Covenant – that uses that actual terminology. Notice it there, starting in verse 31: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make [there it is] a New Covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
This was something entirely new and unknown. It’s specifically not like the Old Covenant, the covenant that God made with Israel at Sinai. People broke that covenant- they couldn’t keep it. Neither can any of us. So, God chose to deal with the source of the problem. He went right to the root, deep down to address the cause of all the trouble, and what’s the cause? Sin that resides in the human heart. For the sake of time, don’t turn there, but just listen, stay where you are, but just listen to these two passages in Ezekiel’s prophecy. They are also New Covenant passages. Ezekiel 11:19 to 20 says, “I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”
Also, this familiar passage in Ezekiel 36:25 to 27. It speaks of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. This is the passage, by the way, that Jesus referred to in his meeting with Nicodemus in John Chapter 3. It says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to talk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Israel’s trouble is not ultimately with Iran or with any other nation that wants a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the map. Israel’s trouble is not ultimately the world’s complicity in opposing Israel, in befriending Israel’s enemies or even in its confusing responses to militant Islam and terrorism. Israel’s trouble is our trouble. It’s sin. We need our iniquity forgiven, for God to remove our sin. We need to be cleansed from all our uncleanness, set free from all our idols, purified from the defilement of idolatry. We need our hearts of stone removed. We need to receive a new heart—one that’s living and responsive, one that is circulating spiritual life through our souls. We need a new spirit inside of us—one that is careful to walk in God’s statutes, careful to keep his rules and obey them from a pure heart. We need God’s own spirit inside of us, living and abiding and never leaving us, to cause us to walk in God’s statutes, to be careful to obey his rules. Not only that, but we need all of that to last forever. We don’t need a temporary fix. We don’t need a Band-Aid®; we need deep, deep surgery for a permanent solution.
So from where you are, flip a page or two over to Jeremiah 32:40 and look at one other aspect of this New Covenant. “I will make with them,” Jeremiah 32:40 says, “I will make with them an everlasting covenant.” Did you hear that? Everlasting, eternal, never-ending. And, “that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” Isn’t that a joy? Listen, all of that—the guarantee of permanently forgiven sin, the transformation that comes from having a new heart, the will and motivation to obey God from a new heart, the permanent indwelling of the spirit, the Holy Spirit of God—all of that would bring about the blessings that God had promised in the Abrahamic Covenant, in the Mosaic Covenant, in the Davidic Covenant, as well. Rescue from all enemies, physical and spiritual. Luke 1:73. Go ahead and turn back to Luke again. Rescue from all enemies, physical and spiritual, rescue from all those who are fueled by a satanic hatred—this is nothing less than a demonstration of the mercy and the faithfulness of God. And in showing mercy, remembering the covenant, God intended—end of verse 73, look at it there—“to grant us,” verse 74, “that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all of our days.”
That’s what Zechariah was seeing. That’s what was coming into the world before his very eyes. All of God’s saving purposes were becoming a reality here, delivering sinners to the promise of an uninterrupted and undefiled worship. This is worship without hindrance. That’s the significance of this gift of divine salvation—promised and fulfilled in the New Covenant. Notice there, first of all, there in the text, God has given the gift of worship without fear. He’s delivered his people from all enemies. Human oppressors? Yes. Spiritual oppressors, like Satan? Yes. But also and most importantly, God has saved his people from their sin, ultimately delivering them from his own wrath. No more fear of death, no more fear of judgment and divine wrath, full deliverance from all enemies, both physical and spiritual.
But second, notice how God has given the gift of worship in “holiness and righteous.” Those two words “holiness” and “righteousness” describe a complete and total change. Salvation in terms of total perfection before God. On the one hand, holiness refers to absolute fidelity and loyalty to God. It’s an internal loyalty, a religious devotion or a piety. On the other hand, righteousness refers to conformity to the standard of the divine character both on the inside and on the outside. Listen, all that is only possible through participation in the New Covenant, which promises a new birth, which results in a new nature, someone who’s completely and wholly devoted to God. That new nature is described in Ephesians 4:24 as “the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Those are the exact same two terms found right here in Luke 1:75.
So God has given the gift of worshiping him, serving him without fear in holiness and righteousness. Third thing: He’s given us the gift of worshiping him fearlessly, devotedly; look at what it says, “Before him.” That means before God; we’re completely, totally accepted before God, perfect and spotless before his righteous, all-seeing eyes. As John Calvin wrote, we live “according to the will of God who is not satisfied with professions of holiness, but looks chiefly on the heart.” Not only that, but we also serve before him as his representatives. This is priestly language. As it says in Revelation 1:6, Jesus has “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.” So we serve.
God has given us the gift of worshipping him, serving him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him. Final aspect of this New Covenant Salvation: verse 75, that final phrase, “all our days.” That obviously points us to the limitlessness of the time we have to worship and serve God. Worshipping and serving God is our gift, and it will continue throughout all of eternity. But let’s not just look at the great bye-and-bye for right now. Let’s back up a moment because it also at least points to all our days here on earth. God has given us the gift of worshipping and serving him for the rest of our earthly lives. Is there anything that you’re involved in, whether it’s work, hobbies, relationships, whatever—is there anything that really is better than that? Name it. What would it be? Worshipping and serving God is the gift we have been given. Christ has forgiven all of our sin and brought us to God that we can worship him right now. And we do this for the rest of our lives. It’s not just those who start well, it’s those who finish well who obtain the prize. But the guarantee of the New Covenant salvation is that we who participate in the New Covenant all finish well. He’s going to bring us there to the end. That’s the purpose for which God raised up this horn of salvation in the house of his servant David. It’s stated there as a threefold purpose, but it’s really just one purpose. Salvation. Complete and total salvation. I wish Mr. Netanyahu could understand that, don’t you? If God gave me the opportunity, I’d love to let him know about it. But, I’d also like to share this message with Mr. Obama, with Mr. Khamenei, with Mr. Putin and with every other world leader. But since God hasn’t given me the opportunity, maybe I’ll just stick with talking to my neighbors right here in Greeley, Colorado. That’s a good start for all of us, isn’t it?
As we draw this to a close, I’d like to home in on some things we’ve learned in this passage about our God because I want you leave here with a heart filled with worship. We’ve seen some marvelous attributes about our blessed Savior in these verses, and I just want to take a moment to encourage us in our God. I want to take a moment to inform your worship as you who are saved enjoy the worship that you’ve been granted by the Holy Spirit who made you a beneficiary of this New Covenant that we’ve talked about. Just quickly, first notice that God is a kind Savior. He’s a kind Savior. He’s merciful, kind, good, tenderhearted. He knows what we’re made of, that we’re so often overcome by weakness, by temptation, by sin. He sees our sin more thoroughly than any of us do. And, yet, that knowledge doesn’t cause him to despise us. Quite the opposite. His heart is moved to tenderness and compassion. He is soft toward us. He’s gentle; he’s kind; he’s ready to heal and forgive. He’s a kind Savior.
Second, God is a powerful Savior. He is actually all powerful, omnipotent. His kindness would mean nothing and it would accomplish nothing if he lacked the power to save, but he has all power to save. He does have the power to act and nothing can stay his hand, including death itself. When he acts, unlike human rulers, human governments, he acts wisely, he acts quickly and decisively, he accomplishes his intended ends, and he does it completely.
Third thing, God is a gracious Savior. God is a gracious Savior. He is forever giving. He is dealing with our needs at the very deepest level. He forgives our sins and grants us the attributes of his own nature, namely holiness and righteousness. Not only that, but God has given us the greatest gift he could ever give, the gift of himself. And the high and holy privilege that we have of worshipping and serving him for all eternity, starting right now, without fear or hindrance.
Fourth, God is a faithful Savior. God is a faithful Savior, and by that I mean to focus us on his promises. God always keeps his word. What he’s spoken is the basis for our certainty. It’s the ground for our hope and confidence. In fact, the focal point of the passage poetically, structurally, I told you this before, the focus of the passage centers around verses 72 and 73: “to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham.” That is very, very strong and clear language that shows us God’s gracious condescension, coming down to us.
Listen, God merely needs to speak – just to say something, and that’s enough for us to trust him. If he just said a word, that would be a rock solid foundation for our confidence. But he goes further, he binds himself, so to speak, by an oath. It’s not that he needed to be bound by an oath. He accommodates our weakness in believing. He accommodates our weakness in trusting him. The writer to the Hebrews latches onto that language to instill in us with an unshakeable confidence. As it says in Hebrews 6:17 and following, “When God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise [that’s us] the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on your behalf.” What’s behind the curtain? The holiness of God, the holy of holies. Jesus has gone there as a forerunner, and he brings us with him. That is the significance of this New Covenant salvation, which we share and rejoice in along with Zechariah and all the saints of old. Let’s thank God for it, shall we?
Father, we are so grateful to you for what you have done in this marvelous New Covenant salvation. Thank you for saving us. We pray for our neighbors, our relatives, our friends throughout our area. We just pray that you would save them. We pray that you would open their eyes to your full and complete salvation to forgive them of all their sins. We pray for our nation, our governments, whether state, local, national. We pray, Lord, that you would open their eyes to salvation. We hate to see the confusion of the debased thinking that has taken hold of our land. We hate to see things that have been built, dismantled with our hands, we hate to see that. We hate to see the pain and suffering that it causes. We hate to see what’s happening worldwide as the world is under your judgment and wrath. We hate to see the terrorism described in the news in Turkey: 95 people dead, 180 people hurt and injured through a terrorist bomb. Father, we hate to see the suffering, the pain. We hate to see the lack of goodness and kindness coming to any of humanity. We hate to see the oppression by Islam and the darkness that shrouds the world. We long to see the Lord Jesus Christ return once again to be worshipped, to be admired and to set this world aright. We long to see you bring your holy servant, the son of David, back to rule and to reign and to bring prosperity and peace on this earth. But we are grateful for your plan and your wisdom. We understand it doesn’t come according to our plan, according to our timetable. We trust you. In the meantime, while you’re waiting, while you’re still bringing in more who need to be saved, we pray that you’d help us be patient, to be patient in hope and that you would help us to be active in spreading this good news of the Gospel. We love you, we give thanks to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.