Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Zechariah’s Hymn, Day 1

Leslie Basham: Life doesn’t give you very many moments to just be quiet and reflect. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I think one of the reasons that so little “God talk” comes out of our mouths in a meaningful way is because we’re always having noise and talk and clutter around us, and we have so little time to listen to God.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Monday, December 14, 2015.

It’s the season of malls, commercials, traffic, rehearsals, and parties. Do you ever find yourself just wishing for the gift of silence? One biblical character learned quite a bit about silence in the season leading up to Christ's birth. We can learn a lot from his example. Here’s Nancy in the series "Zechariah's Hymn."

Nancy: One of the things I love about this time of year is all the Christmas carols, the Christmas music. Sometimes you can still even walk into a mall or a store today and hear those Christmas carols playing. I don’t think anymore that everybody is familiar with what all those words are, but if you grew up hearing those carols, they’re a rich part of our Christmas heritage. So many of them tell the story of that first Christmas.

Speaking of that first Christmas, I think in the gospels, in the New Testament, my favorite accounts of that first Christmas take place in the Gospel of Luke. One of the things I enjoy about the Gospel of Luke is that it includes five songs, or hymns, that were sung or spoken at the first Christmas surrounding the birth of Christ.

Three of those songs are found in the first chapter of Luke. You remember what they are. First Elizabeth sang or spoke a hymn, a carol of praise, when Mary came to visit her. Then Mary speaks the words of what we’ve come to call "The Magnificat." Then we have the hymn or the song we’re going to look at this week that Zechariah spoke at the birth of his son, John the Baptist, beginning in verse 68 of Luke, chapter 1.

Then as you move into Luke chapter 2, you have the song that the angels spoke. It’s called “The Gloria.” “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!” (v. 14). Then toward the end of chapter 2, you have the blessing that was spoken by Simeon as he held the baby Jesus in the temple and blessed the Lord for sending this light, this salvation to the nations.

So this week and next as we come to Christmastime, we want to look at what I’ve called “Zechariah’s Hymn,” but first let’s look at some background on that hymn, how it came to be. Let me encourage you to turn in your Bible, if you haven’t already, to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1.

Just by way of background, you remember beginning at verse 13 that Zechariah was a priest. His wife’s name was Elizabeth. For years this couple had longed and had prayed for a child, but God in His providence had never chosen to bless them with a child. They’d prayed; they’d waited, but Elizabeth was barren. She couldn’t have children. Now as this story begins, she is past the change of life. There is no human possibility of her having a child.

So they have surrendered those dreams, we assume, to the Lord. Zechariah, as the scene opens in Luke 1, verse 13, is in the temple. He’s performing his priestly duties. In the midst of just going about doing what God has called him to do, an angel appears to him—not your everyday experience, even for a priest. The angel’s name is Gabriel. Gabriel tells Zechariah, after Zechariah kind of picks himself up off the floor . . . You know, this is a terrifying experience at first, but the angel tells him not to be afraid.

He says, “Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife, who has been barren during her childbearing years—she is going to have a son. And his name is going to be John” (v. 13 paraphrased).

Then in verses 14–17, the angel describes to the father-to-be what this son will be like, how he’s to be raised, what mission this child will have here on earth. The child to be born to Zechariah and Elizabeth will be a forerunner to the long-awaited Messiah, the Christ of God, who is going to come and be the Savior of the world.

Now we come to verse 18, and Zechariah says, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” He’s just thinking about this from a human standpoint, and he’s saying this is impossible. There’s no way this can happen. How can I know that this will really happen?

Then verse 20, the angel says to him, here’s how you can know; here’s a sign. “Behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

So as you remember the story, Zechariah is struck dumb for nine months. Now, some of you who think your husband is too quiet and doesn’t talk enough, count your blessings if he has said anything in the last nine months! For nine months, Zechariah could not speak until the birth of the child.

Then as you move down to verse 39, and in that section . . . We’ve taught this before on Revive Our Hearts. Elizabeth, of course, does become pregnant. In the sixth month of her pregnancy, her relative, Mary from Nazareth, who unlike Elizabeth (Elizabeth’s an older woman; Mary is a young teenage girl) . . .

Her relative Mary comes for a visit, and Elizabeth learns that Mary is in her first trimester of a pregnancy that is supernatural—even more so than Elizabeth’s, because God has planted within Mary’s womb the life of the son of God, the Messiah. Mary is carrying the Messiah, and she comes to visit her older relative Elizabeth, who is carrying John the Baptist, the forerunner to the Messiah.

Can you imagine the time those women had for three months together in that home, rejoicing in the favor that He has shown, not only to them as mothers, but to His people, the Jews, and to all the world, the blessing that God had promised going back to Genesis 3? The blessing that God had promised—a Savior for the world.

No doubt Zechariah, who was in the home all these three months . . . He can’t talk, but no doubt there’s communication going on in some way, and he’s aware that something very unusual is going on. Of course, the angel has told him that his son, John the Baptist, will be the forerunner of this Messiah.

So we come then to verse 57 of Luke chapter 1 and read the account of the birth of this long-awaited son, John.

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child (vv. 57–59).

Now without going into a whole bunch of background on that, you remember that in the Old Testament for the Jews God gave circumcision to all the males as the sign of the covenant—the sign of His covenant with His people. This covenant is a theme of Zechariah’s hymn of praise that we’re going to be studying. You’ll see this concept of the covenant of God, the oath of God, the promise of God.

So as was the custom and as God had commanded His people to do, when they had this son, they took him on the eighth day and had him circumcised. That was also the day that typically the child would be named. They probably had been thinking about it. Generally, couples think about this for all the nine months; but in this case, they didn’t have to think about what the child’s name would be because God had already told them what to name the child.

But they came on this day to circumcise the child. This would have been a time when the friends and the relatives would have come together to celebrate. It’s a birthday party for this eight-day-old child.

The Scripture goes on to say,

They would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, "No; he shall be called John." And they said to her, "None of your relatives is called by this name." [Where did this name come from? Why would you call him John?] And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And [Zechariah, who couldn’t talk] he asked for a writing tablet and he wrote, "His name is John." And they all wondered (Luke 1:59–63).

Then you go to verse 64: "And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke.” And what did he do when he spoke? He spoke, “blessing God.”

Then we come to verse 67,

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied saying, "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” (vv. 67–79).

There we have Zechariah’s hymn. Zechariah’s praise. The hymn falls into two stanzas. It’s actually just two sentences—two very long sentences. If you’ll do what I have done recently, and would encourage you to do, and that is to memorize this hymn. You’ll find there are two sentences. The first sentence is verses 68–75, and then the second sentence—the second stanza—verses 76–79.

As with Mary’s song that falls earlier in Luke chapter 1, both of these hymns have lots and lots of references to Old Testament quotes. In fact, I read somewhere—I’m not sure that this is the exact number—that in Zechariah’s hymn there are sixteen quotes from the Old Testament.

Now, you think about that era where people did not have their own Bibles that they could read and memorize as we can today. They would hear the Scripture read when they would go to the temple, but they would listen so carefully that they would memorize the passages and they would mull them over and over and over again in their minds and their hearts until they had them memorized.

So when many of these saints would pray, when they would praise, when they would worship, when they would seek the Lord, what would come out in their prayers was what was in their hearts, and what was in their hearts was Scripture.

If you’ll fill your heart and your mind with the Word of God, you’ll find that in times of joy and celebration (as was the case here with the birth of John the Baptist) and you’ll find that in times of crisis and you’ll find that in just normal everyday living what will come out will be the Scripture, the Word of God, as it does in this passage.

Fill your mind with the Word of God and in times of joy, crisis, and normal living, what will come out will be Scripture.

Now, picture the scene here. This is the eighth day. The baby is eight days old. The baby has been circumcised. The baby is being named. The family members, the relatives, the friends, the neighbors, who are in shock because this old lady has just had a baby and they had all felt sorry for her all these years, and now, miraculously, she has had this son. So this is quite a party. This is quite a celebration. There’s rejoicing. Everyone is “ooooing” and “ahhhhing” over the baby. You know how it goes.

In the middle of that scene, Zechariah, who has not said a word for nine months, when he finally speaks, he hardly even mentions his son. Instead, his opening words, which I’ve just read to you, focus almost entirely on God and on the coming Messiah, the Christ, the One who will soon be born.

When Zechariah does bring up his son in the context of this hymn, it’s only in reference to how this eight-day-old child will grow up to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.

Verse 67, we read: “Now his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying, ‘Blessed is the Lord God of Israel.’” And his whole prayer, his whole hymn is God-centered as he offers up a blessing to the Lord.

Now, again, to give a little context for this. If you back up to verse 21 of Luke chapter 1, you remember when Zechariah was in the temple when the angel appeared to him, it says the people were waiting for Zechariah. The people would be in the outer court of the temple, and when the priest would go in to offer up offerings and sacrifices and blessing and incense to the Lord, as was Zechariah’s duty, the people would wait outside.

What were they waiting for? Well, after the priest had offered up the sacrifices, he was expected to then go out and pronounce a blessing. However, in this case, Zechariah was detained by the angel so he took longer than the people expected. They wondered what is keeping him so long. They couldn’t see or hear the angel as Zechariah was, and then when Zechariah the priest came out and was expected to pronounce this blessing, he couldn’t talk.

The blessing would be something like that blessing in Numbers 6:24–25: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you.” But Zechariah couldn’t say a blessing when he finished offering that sacrifice. So he came out. He couldn’t speak. Now he had had nine months of silence, but nine months of being able to listen to the Spirit of God speaking through the Word of God in his heart. Nine months of meditating in quiet on the ways of God.

Some of you wish that maybe you could have nine months to just listen to God and not hear all those little ones and all those noises and all those distractions you have at home. You know what it’s like when you try to have your quiet time and all of a sudden the phone’s ringing, the oven’s going off, the kids are going off, the husband’s going off, everything’s going off, and there are distractions galore. Well, Zechariah had had a minimum of distractions for nine months.

You may not be able to get nine months without any distractions in your life. In fact, that would probably be impossible today. But there is something to be said for taking time as we can get it to be quiet and still long enough to listen to the Lord. I think one of the reasons that so little “God talk” comes out of our mouths in a meaningful way is because we are always having noise and talk and clutter around us, and we have so little time to listen to God.

That’s why at Revive Our Hearts occasionally we challenge people to turn off their TVs, to turn off their radios, to get still and quiet before the Lord. Turn off your computer. Turn off the Internet. There needs to be times when you just get still and quiet before the Lord to listen to Him.

For Zechariah it was as if this blessing had been pent up in him for nine long months. When he first speaks . . . When he finally speaks, what’s going to come out? What’s he going to blurt out? Of all the things he could have said after nine months of not talking, the thing that comes out is blessing.

The words “blessed be the Lord” is the Greek word from which we get our word “eulogy.” When you give a eulogy at a funeral, what do you do? You speak well of someone. The word means to speak well of. In fact, Zechariah’s hymn is often referred to as the benedictusBenedictus is the Latin word for the first word of this blessing. Blessed. It’s the Latin translation. Benedictus.

What does that make you think of? Benediction. The word means in Latin "to speak well." Same in the Greek—"to speak well of." And when God has blessed us, we bless Him. We offer up a benediction.

This whole passage is really a benediction, a doxology of praise. In fact, some of your translations probably say, “Praise be to the Lord.” And so Zechariah blesses the Lord in response to God’s blessing on His people.

Verse 67 tells us that Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit. When he spoke he said, “Blessed be the Lord.” When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, it always results in worship. You read that in Ephesians chapter 5, verse 18: “And do not be drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit.”

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, it always results in worship.

When you do, what will happen? You will speak to “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5:19–20). You get filled with the Holy Spirit and what will come out will be words and songs and themes of praise.

As we come to Luke chapter 2, verse 27, we see Simeon in the temple welcoming and blessing the newborn Lord Jesus. It says, “He came by the Spirit into the temple.” And what did he do when he took the child up in his arms? He blessed God. Get filled with the Spirit and what comes out will be blessing to God.

Let me just ask you at this busy, sometimes crazy, season. Are you blessing God? Is your Christmas and the preparations for it really Christ-centered? And not only at Christmas, but year-round do you find yourself living in this stressed, strained, complaining, murmuring, griping, outbursts when you speak in your home or in the workplace or with other friends, or do you find the words coming out of your mouth being ones of blessing? Blessing the Lord. Blessing others.

This word blessing appears all the way through these first two chapters of Luke, eight times in the accounts related to the birth of Christ. Blessing. Blessing. Blessing. Blessing.

That’s a real contrast to what comes at the end of the Old Testament. The last verse of Malachi talks about God bringing a curse on the earth. Where did the curse come from? Well, you go all the way back to Genesis chapter 3. From Genesis 3 at the fall of Adam and Eve all the way through Malachi 4 of the Old Testament, you find that the earth is under the curse of sin.

But as you come into the gospels, the good news, with the coming of Christ, the entrance of the Messiah into the world, the curse begins to be broken. The curse is replaced with blessing, and what breaks out on the tongues and in the hearts of men and women? Praise. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.

Joy to the world! 
The Lord is come,
Let earth receive her King,
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

And then the promise of even greater blessing yet to come.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground,
He comes to make His blessings flow,
Far as the curse is found
.

So as we approach this season where we celebrate, we remember, we rejoice in the advent, the first coming of Christ to this earth, we join with saints of old, such as Zechariah, in singing and saying from our hearts, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for He has visited and redeemed His people.”

Leslie: Zechariah is sometimes an overlooked character in the Christmas story. But his story has a lot to tell us. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been bringing this character to life in a series called "Zechariah's Hymn."

I love getting to know Scripture passages and biblical characters that are easy to overlook. Studying like this can make a big difference in a life. Earlier this year, we talked with Sarah. God has used His word in powerful ways in her life. She’s gotten to know His Word through conferences and other resources from Revive Our Hearts.

Sarah Quick: In 2008 a friend of mine had attended the first True Woman conference. She called me and said, "You've got to go online and listen to John Piper's keynote address about what a true woman is." So I did. I listened. That was my first exposure to Revive Our Hearts. About 2010 I was helping our church's team with women. I wanted so more help with being a leader for them, so I went to the True Woman '10 conference as well.

I really felt the Lord giving me a burden and passion for helping women. Building a women's program from the ground up, I needed more skills and more tools. I came to True Woman '10 to the pre-leadership conference so I could become a better leader for women.

In 2012 when I came back, that's really when I started getting the big picture of what Revive Our Hearts was. I started listening more faithfully and reading the materials and using them in our ministry at church. I've kind of come full circle from not even understanding what Revive Our Hearts was to what I understand it is today.

I have been really blessed with materials from Susan Hunt and the other speakers here. The materials we receive at the conference keep Christ at the center and focused on Him. I use the app on my phone to listen to program. Every time I listen, God uses it in amazing ways. I was listening to the podcast from the woman in Afghanistan, and my finger accidently flipped the phone up and I ended up on the series, "A True Woman Joins the Battle." It was exactly what I needed for that day. I don't know how it happens, God just always designs that program to be specific for my need. Actually, that program was life-changing for me.

Revive Our Hearts is willing to go up-stream, willing to stand for truth, willing to be committed to what the Word of God says. That's what I love about Revive Our Hearts. It's what the Word of God says, and we're encouraged to live it out in our lives every day. Revive Our Hearts is faithful to what God says we should do, and we're not really bending to what the culture says we should do. 

Leslie: Nancy, it’s so encouraging to hear how God’s been working in Sarah’s life.

Nancy: I think Sarah’s story shows something powerful about living under providence. When you give to the Lord, you never know how He can multiply the work of your hands. Here’s what I mean. Listeners just like you supported Revive Our Hearts back in 2008. Your support allowed us to share the truth of God’s Word with Sarah. You made the True Woman '08 conference possible. And you made the rich follow-up resources at Revive Our Hearts.com possible. Because listeners supported this ministry, God used it to get ahold of Sarah’s life. And now she’s a Revive Our Hearts Ambassador, actively discipling and training other women and getting them connected to God’s Word in a deeper way.

Every gift matters and makes a difference. You have an opportunity to invest at this time when the need is very great. Each December we receive about 40% of the donations we rely on for the whole year. So your gift right now has a huge effect on our ability to speak to women like Sarah, in the year ahead, to connect them with God’s Word, to watch as they multiply that investment in the lives of so many others.

We are preparing for True Woman '16. We're calling it Cry Out! Hosting a national conference puts a big burden on the day-to-day budget, but we don’t want to see any drop in current ministry outreaches. Would you ask the Lord how He’d have you give "for such a time as this"? Your gift this month will be doubled by some friends of the ministry who have offered a matching challenge of $820,000.

If you'd like to make a donation you can call us at 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com. We're so grateful for your partnership "for such a time as this."

Leslie: If God were to show up at your door, would you be happy to see Him? Consider that important question with us tomorrow when Nancy picks up the story of Zechariah on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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