Why God Delivers and Redeems Us (v. 74)
If we were better able to consider how horrible it is to be enslaved to our sinful wills and blinded by our selfish desires, our joy at Zacharias’ song of salvation would be unbounded. This blind world talks often of salvation, but it is usually political salvation, as the Jews conceived of it, or personal liberation from constraints so that we can do our own thing without having anyone oppose our wills. There is a little bit of Lucifer in every sinner, and nothing would please us more than for his lie to be true – to be as gods, determining good and evil for ourselves. We think we have become so sophisticated with all our instant communication and entertainment, but mostly our tools have simply made it easier for us to sin and to think we have gotten away with it. At best, most of them feed our God-delusion and make us forget how much we need deliverance from sin and judgment. The deliverance of which Zacharias sang is first from sin and death. Unless we have this freedom through Jesus Christ, it is really pointless to talk about any other kind of freedom. Sin is a murdering master, with death leering at us at the finish line, cheering us onward in our rebellion and deceiving us into thinking that the broad highway leads to true happiness. It leads in the end to hell.
Zacharias also speaks of deliverance in terms of victory over our enemies. Our first enemy is ourselves. Our fallen nature is doing all it can to deceive and finally to destroy us. Satan is also lurking, for although the Captain of our Salvation broke his rule at the cross, destroyed his works (1 John 3:8), and bound him so that he cannot deceive the nations and the gospel can go forth with very fruitful effect, he nonetheless looks for the unwary. And he has many slaves, the fallen world of men that remain enslaved to their depravity. Satan is said to work in these “children of disobedience,” and this should alarm us so that we are extremely careful about the company we keep, the influences we allow into our homes, and the people to whom we listen for our information about what is going on the world (Eph. 2:2). Satan may not be well – and how can he be, since he has the old rugged cross protruding from his crushed skull – but he is alive, cast of heaven but spewing his malice on earth (Rev. 12:17). Some of Satan’s servants are more conscious in their hatred against God, and the Bible speaks of these as “enemies” or the “wicked.” In a more fundamental sense, all men are enemies of God, so that the Spirit can say, “For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:10). But there is another, more restricted sense of the term “enemy,” which refers to men who see themselves as fighting against God and the gospel kingdom of his Son.
Why did God choose to deliver us, who were also “enemies in our minds by wicked works?” Why did he bruise his Son and put him to such grief so that we could be delivered from sin and death, saved from our enemies, and reconciled to him? He did this so that we might serve him. God originally created us to serve him, and when our hearts were right with him, it was all our joy to serve him. We were like flowers opening toward the sun and grass springing up to greet the falling rain. Sin disrupted our fellowship with God and erected an insurmountable barrier between us and him. We lost our purpose for living, when we sought to find our purpose outside of serving our Maker. But in Jesus Christ, we see the true image of what we should have remained had we listened to our Father’s voice. We also see the lively image of what we shall become as the Spirit of truth and holiness sanctifies us (Rom. 8:29). By looking to Jesus Christ, not only do the chains of sin fall from our souls, but a new image begins to be recovered in us. We delight to do our Father’s will. We stand amazed at his grace to us in his Son, not that he sent his Son into the world so that he could love us again. He nailed his Son to the cursed tree because he loved us so much (John 3:16). In the light of that, that we are set free from sin and death and delivered from our enemies to serve the living and true God is the best news that any of us can ever hear.
The Way We Serve Him (v. 75)
Why did God promise to deliver us? So that we could serve him without fear. There are many reasons that men are fearful, and the most fundamental is the fear of death. It stalks everyone, regardless of what they say. It is the fear of death that leads many to go to such lengths to preserve their health or the illusion of youth. There is also the fear of man, especially what they might do to us or take away from us, that makes some men violent in their dealings with others, and some nations to be constant agitators of conflict in the world. Our Savior constantly warned against fear; “fear not” is one of his most common admonitions (Matt. 10:26,28,31; 14:27; Luke 5:10; 8:50; 12:5,32). Was this really necessary? Yes, sin has made cowards of us all – and worriers about what men will do to us, that some will get away with their schemes, or that we shall lose all and be vagabonds on the earth. And then when we think for a moment about Satan and his hordes of evil servants, it is compelling that our Lord Jesus would say to us about them, “Fear God; not men.” Each one of us will have to come face to face to his “It is I; be not afraid.” In fact, until we believe his gospel and feel deeply in our souls the great deliverance he has obtained for us, fear will continue to dominate us. Once, however, we see what a great salvation we have in him, when we see what horrors he endured to deliver us from fear, then we shall be able to cast our cares upon him, give up making an idol of our health and how we feel, and laugh a little with our sovereign God at the puny efforts of men to oppose him.
In Holiness and Righteousness
He calls us to serve him now, in holiness and righteousness. Holiness emphasizes his gracious separation of us for himself, for he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy and blameless (Eph. 1:3-4). Holiness points us to the blood of Christ, for in him all our filth is cleansed away, and we are truly clean by his word. Righteousness stresses our loving conformity to his word. We were slaves of sin, but now in Christ we are delivered from sin so that we might be slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:14-18). God has saved us so that we might serve him in this way, yet so many Christians do not or will not think of their daily lives in terms of service to Christ. Holiness scares them; righteousness makes them think that God is a closet legalist. How telling that the gospel preached and sung by Zacharias was so clear on these points from the beginning! God has set us apart through the work of Jesus Christ to be his obedient children. This is the true grace, not that we are freed from having to worry about obeying God and can live life our way. This is slavery, not grace. No, God’s grace has appeared in Christ and teaches us to deny our former slavery – ungodly lusts and unrighteousness – and to live soberly and righteously in the fear of God (Tit. 2:11-12). This is the glorious grace that has come to earth in Jesus Christ, for with him comes the power to break sin’s chains and set us free to serve the living God (1 Thess. 1:9; Heb. 9:14).
How the Gospel Enables Us to Serve Him (vv. 76-80)
The Knowledge of our True Need
Only at this point did the Holy Ghost lead Zacharias to mention his son; everything to this point has been about the Son of the Highest! How deeply must this old, godly man been affected by the realization that his son, John, would play a leading role in these great things! He will be called the prophet of the Highest. There had not been a prophet for four centuries, a period longer than our nation has existed. It seemed like God’s word was dead and buried, but God did not forget his promises. The prophetic fire had almost burned out, but God only needs to breathe a little to rekindle truth’s roaring blaze! John would be that blaze, going before the face of the Lord to prepare his way. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness; prepare the way of the Lord” (Isa. 40:3). The Lord – Yahweh incarnate! John would prepare for the Messiah first by giving the people “knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins” (v. 77). In John’s day, much as in our own, the people thought of salvation in political terms – freedom from the Romans; no more taxes; a real Jewish king. John was called to teach them a truer lesson. They needed deliverance from sin. The true and only lasting liberty is when men are delivered from their corruption and made willing to serve God.
Before we will seek deliverance through repentance, the Lord must teach us the truth about ourselves. Have you ever wondered that your heart was cold to the old gospel? Or has the hardened wickedness of men’s hearts surprised and even terrified you? Sin blinds us to God’s holiness. It also blinds us to the evil of sin, its attack against God’s holiness and the great danger of destruction in which even the smallest sin places us. It seems that Satan and his minions, with our help, surround us with pleasant delusions that blind us to these great truths. And then the gospel comes and exposes our wickedness in the light of God’s holiness. Each believer knows what I mean. Suddenly, the truth about God’s holiness and our sinfulness dawns upon our soul in a way that it had not before. We grow scared at the thought that he is unalterably just, and feel that our appearance before his throne must spell our doom. This is the Spirit’s illumination, the gift of true and saving knowledge. It makes us ready to hear the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And we flee to him as our only cleansing and covering from the wrath that is coming upon the whole world of unbelief and disobedience.
The Gospel of Forgiveness
For this to happen, our wretched pride must be broken. We must be brought to a place of repentance, so that we seek God’s forgiving mercy. Forgiveness is granted solely through God’s mercy (v. 78). He must “grant repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). Forgiveness to a dying sinner is like a sudden burst of starlight on a dark night. This is the “dayspring from on high” that Zacharias celebrated. The gospel is God’s bright light upon the soul lying in darkness – of its great corruption, its need of cleansing, of the wrath coming, of the hope dawning in Jesus Christ. Wait! I can be forgiven? My Father from whom I have wandered will receive me with compassion? He will not berate me or hold my sins against me? He will put away my sins, as he said about David’s? There is hope for dead men and nations? Yes, this was the glorious gospel of forgiveness that John was commissioned to preach. Later, Jesus commissioned the apostles to preach the same gospel – the remission or forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47). “I am he that blots out your transgressions” (Isa. 43:25). “Come to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth” (Isa. 45:22). “I will throw your sins into the bottom of the sea” (Mic. 7:19). This our God does for sinners. He is full of compassion for sinners. The blood of Christ cleanses; come now, and wash yourself in his wounds and be clean. Let us urge men in droves to come and be cleansed, for the fountains of mercy are open! Let us come there ourselves. Come now, sinner, for the sword of justice hangs over you, young and old, and it is sheathed only if you look to the One who was struck down in your place. You must come to him, confess the leprosy and blindness of your heart, and trust his blood and righteousness. He will not turn away any who call to him as old blind Bartimaeus did, “Son of David, have mercy upon me!”
To Give Light and To Guide
Too much gospel preaching stops with forgiveness, as if Jesus can cleanse but not sanctify, as if Christians believe but do not obey. Our Savior’s gospel is much bigger. He “gives light to those who sit in darkness” (v. 78). Is there a greater need at present than for our powerful Savior to come down and heal multitudes of blind men? They are ruining everything, but God’s friends make things worse, for their versions of grace blunt the full healing power of the gospel sword. Jesus Christ does not cleanse the sinner but leave him in the land of sin and disobedience. He works in us by his Spirit the fruits of righteousness (Phil. 1:11). To guide our feet into the way of peace means that the gospel teaches us to live a godly life in the ways of righteousness. For peace is the fruit and work of righteousness (Isa. 32:17). Men cannot have peace in life until they are obedient to God. Too many give the gospel a bad name by thinking and acting as if we can be at peace and truly happy while walking in disobedience to God. Our Savior gives us full deliverance. He says, “You are clean through my blood; you are righteous by my obedience. Now, go enjoy the way of my peace through obedience.” If we were more obedient, more like Christ in his meekness before the Father’s will, found greater delight in obeying our gracious Father, we should know more peace, less accusing, blaming, and self-defending. It is hard to point fingers at others when your hands are upraised to God seeking grace unto obedience, loving and worshiping him for his grace, praising the Savior’s name and desiring only to be found in him.
John in the Wilderness
Even after two millennia, we can scarcely take in this gospel. It is not surprising that John’s preparation for preaching and announcing the arrival of the Savior of the world took place in the wilderness until he was 30. He grew and remained at home in his youth, but he did not in his young adult life seek the company of men. To be praised by men is usually to be corrupted by them. He was alone with God, being taught, finding his contentment and peace in God’s fellowship. He was poised to shine as a bright light and to point out the Lord’s Christ, Jesus Christ our Savior. John’s austerity was consistent with that time of expectation, the final dry years before the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing in his wings. They were crying and waiting years, years of great anticipation for John, in which he had to learn patience and in which God was working the gospel into his own soul. Often those whom the Lord most uses are first purified in the crucible of the wilderness: Moses, John, Paul, and many others since have found this the case. You cannot serve God and money, God and public opinion, God and the praise of men, God and self. Only fire can purify us from these debasing elements, and that fire is God’s own presence, his gospel of mercy in Jesus Christ, and his life-giving Spirit. Quiet and recluse so that one can focus and be taught by God are required to be purified for the Master’s use.