Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Zechariah’s Hymn, Day 3

Leslie Basham: Most of us have heard that Jesus paid for our sins, but who exactly needed to be paid? Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Christ paid the price to God. In a sense, it’s as if God paid Himself to deliver us, to redeem us, to buy us out of the hands of God’s justice.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Wednesday, December 16, 2015.

Here at Revive Our Hearts we’re asking, “What time is it?” Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy: I believe it’s time to share. Remember in the 1980s when everyone was talking about “cocooning?” Getting lost in your own little world and not connecting? And now it’s easy to make shallow virtual friends and safe online connections, without really getting to know others heart to heart. But I am seeing a growing movement of women who are embracing God’s call to invest in others! For women to embrace their calling to teach other women who are younger in the faith. To make genuine, real-life connections.

At Revive Our Hearts, we believe in this life-on-life discipleship. It’s why we train local women’s ministry leaders. It’s why we’ve investing in the fast-growing Ambassador program, where we are equipping women to go in to their communities and encourage women one on one. And it’s why we will encourage women to come together in an urgent call to prayer—to cry out to God—not isolated from each other but coming together with hearts knit together to pray that God will transform a dark work at such a time as this. We can’t do this work of forging connections without you. 

If you believe in what God is doing through Revive Our Hearts and want to see the ministry facilitate real heart connections, would you support this ministry with a year-end gift? When you give by December 31, your gift will be doubled by some friends who have offered a matching challenge of $820,000. Would you help meet and exceed that challenge by giving what you can to support Revive Our Hearts? To support the ministry, call 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com

Which of our holidays is all about redemption? If you said Easter you’d be right, but don’t forget about Christmas. Redemption is really the whole point about the baby lying in the manger. Here’s Nancy to explain, as she continues in a series called "Zechariah’s Hymn."

Nancy: I was talking with a woman before the session who was sharing with me something of the burden that she’s carrying for a very difficult situation that’s going on in her family. It’s been a long, hard road, and there’s no end in sight at the moment. She just teared up and she said, “It’s just hard. I feel so overwhelmed so much of the time, just waiting for God to do something, longing for relief.”

How many of you have a situation in your life where you’re longing for God to do something, longing for God to send relief? Many of you. As I thought about that dear woman and I think about situations in the lives of other people I know, things they’re longing and waiting for right now, I think about Zechariah’s hymn—that we’re reading this week—spoken at the birth of his son John. That would be John the Baptist, the forerunner to the Messiah.

Zechariah says, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68). That passage is found in Luke chapter 1, and that’s what we’re looking at this week and next. The thing that I’ve loved as I’ve meditated on this passage over the last several weeks is the sense of longing fulfilled—the sense of hope that it gives to those who are still in the longing period, as those children of Israel.

I said to my friend just a few moments ago, “Think of how hard and overwhelming it was for those Jews in Egypt—all those years of slavery with the cruel Egyptian taskmasters thinking, Will God ever come deliver us from this situation? It seems so long.” It was long. It seems so hard. It was hard. But God ultimately comes and visits His people.

God will come and visit you. God will visit your situation in His way and in His time. That’s the hope. That’s what gets us out of bed in the morning and keeps us going another long, hard day—knowing that God will come—He will visit His people.

Now that verse, Luke 1:68, says, “God has visited and redeemed his people.” Notice the past tense: “He has visited and redeemed his people.” Now keep in mind, this is still six months before the birth of Christ. John the Baptist has just been born. But Christ, being carried in the womb of the Virgin Mary, has not yet been born—it’s still six months away.

Christ has not begun His earthly ministry. He has not died for our sins. He has not been raised from the dead. He has not ascended back into heaven. All that’s happened thus far is that, as far as we know, is that He’s been conceived in Mary’s womb.

But Zechariah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, realizes that God has already set in motion our visitation and our redemption. God has set in motion our salvation. As far as God is concerned, though the birth of Christ is still months away, the redemption of His people is accomplished. It’s as good as done. God has visited and redeemed His people.

Now that word redeem is the first reference to three related theological concepts that appear repeatedly in this hymn. You’ll see the word redeem, and then you’ll see words like savesalvation, and deliver. These are central, mega-themes of Scripture: redemption, salvation, deliverance.

Unfortunately, we often use these words without thinking about what we’re saying or without understanding what they mean. Sometimes we shy away from using these words with others because we don’t know how to explain, “What does redemption mean? What does salvation mean?” to someone who comes from another religion or who has no concept of biblical teaching.

As you go through this Christmas holiday season, I want to encourage you to not only come to treasure these words—these concepts—yourself in a more rich way, but to be looking for opportunities to explain to others what Christmas is all about. You ought to be explaining it to your children, to your teens, to your friends, and to your co-workers, as God opens opportunities. God has redeemed His people.

Matthew Henry says, “This was the errand on which Christ came into the world [to redeem His people]. Christ redeems them by price out of the hands of God’s justice and redeems them by power out of the hands of Satan’s tyranny, as Israel out of Egypt.” Commentator Matthew Henry is speaking there, talking about the word redeem, the errand on which Christ came into the world.

That word redeem means “to buy something back” or “to set someone or something free by paying a price.” It’s to secure the release of something or someone upon receiving a ransom—to set at liberty. This concept of redemption is often applied to prisoners or to slaves. They are released; they are set free from captivity. They are bought back because a price is paid to secure their deliverance.

Redemption was an important part of the Old Testament Jewish culture, even though they didn’t understand it, in the way we now understand it having the New Testament. But the seeds, the foundation of our New Testament understanding of redemption, were sown in the Old Testament. There were three different Hebrew root words that have concepts related to redemption.

I don’t want to go into detail on all of that, but let me just give you a taste of what those words mean in the Old Testament. One word has to do with a ransom or a price being paid to buy back an individual or an animal. Then there’s a legal use of the term, the word goel. You may have heard it before.

For example, let’s say an Israelite had been forced to sell his land or to sell himself into slavery in order to pay back debts. If he had a relative who was concerned about his plight and had the money, the relative could pay a ransom—could pay a redemption price and could redeem that land or could redeem that Jew who’d been sold into slavery. He could buy him back—the kinsman redeemer—the goel. That’s what we read about in the book of Ruth, where Boaz redeemed Ruth and Naomi and their family property. Redemption.

The word is also used to mean a sense of covering sin—to atone for sin. It’s the price paid to cover sin. It’s the incredible provision that God made in the Old Testament so that His relationship to His people could be restored. Why did it need to be restored? Because fellowship had been broken by their sin or their rebellion. So there was a price paid to cover the sin, to atone for the sin, so the people could be redeemed—they could be restored to fellowship with God.

Now redemption and the “cousin” concept of salvation (that we’ll also look at this text) . . . Redemption and salvation always take place against the backdrop of two things: distress and helplessnessdistress and helplessness. If you don’t have distress and helplessness, you can’t have redemption or salvation. Distress—redemption always implies that there is a desperate or a dangerous condition; that a person is in trouble or in bondage; they’re in slavery. We’re always redeemed from something.

Redemption and salvation always take place against the backdrop of distress and helplessness.

Psalm 103 talks about how God redeems our life from destruction (v. 4). We’re redeemed from something undesirable. So there’s distress. Then there’s helplessness. Not only are we in distress, but we’re helpless to do anything about it. We can’t rescue ourselves. We’re helpless to overcome the forces that hold us captive.

So we're in a situation that is distressful; we're helpless to do anything about it, so we need outside intervention. We need a third party. We need someone to come into the situation. We need a redeemer. We need a deliverer. We need a Savior.

You’ll see this concept of distress, helplessness, and divine intervention, repeatedly through the Old Testament. Let me read you some examples.

Psalm 44 beginning in verse 24, “Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground. Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love” (vv. 24–26). We’re in trouble. We can’t help ourselves. O God, would You intervene and redeem us?

Exodus chapter 6 beginning in verse 5, God says to Moses, “I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves . . . Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’” Remember we said that redemption is always deliverance from something undesirable.

“I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment” (vv. 5–6). God to the rescue.

These people are in distress; their situation is helpless, and God bears His arm. He does what the Jews cannot do. He is more powerful than the enemy; He is more powerful than those who are holding His people captive.

Jeremiah 31:11: “The Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.” We’re in a helpless situation. We can’t help ourselves—over and over again in times of exile, in times of captivity, in times of persecution, in times of famine, in times of distress—the Jews cried out to God to redeem them, to rescue them.

They held onto a strong hope of God being their Redeemer. They often spoke—the prophets in the Old Testament in particular—of God as a Deliverer, a Redeemer, a Savior. They had what became known as a Messianic hope: One day God would come and visit this earth, bear His arm, and with acts of judgment would deliver His people from their captivity.

Now, in the Old Testament that Messianic hope of redemption usually was conceived in terms of deliverance from physical or human distress or oppression. So when Zechariah comes in this bridge between the Old and the New Testament and he prays over the birth of his son, John the Baptist, who will go before Christ the Messiah and prepare His way, he blesses the Lord and says, “God has visited and redeemed his people.”

Undoubtedly, Zechariah, like other Jews in his day, assumed that that redemption would be a national or a political redemption. Remember, the Romans were now in charge and running the whole world and were making people’s lives difficult. They were the new Egypt so to speak; they were the new Babylon—people were in distress.

So when Zechariah thought God was coming to visit and redeem His people, he and all his friends undoubtedly assumed that meant God is going to get rid of the Romans. God is going to come and miraculously intervene.

The Old Testament Jews wanted a national deliverer—national deliverance. But God knew that kind of deliverance was not their greatest need. As dire as the circumstances were, under the Egyptians or the Babylonians or the Romans in Zechariah’s day, God knew that His people had a far greater need.

That’s where as we come to the New Testament concept of redemption. God reveals a deliverance, a redemption, from the slavery of sin—spiritual redemption, spiritual deliverance, deliverance from spiritual bondage, from Satan, from God’s righteous wrath.

That’s what unfolds as we get into the New Testament. You hear it in verses like this familiar one, in Romans chapter 3: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (vv. 23–24). Redemption from what? Redemption from sin.

Galatians chapter 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.” Not that the law was cursed, but the law brought on us a curse because we couldn’t keep the law. So Christ came to redeem us from the curse of the law.

Colossians 1, “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (vv. 13–14).

Titus chapter 2:14: “[Jesus] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession.”

Now for God to redeem us from sin—from Satan, and from God’s righteous wrath—required not just the birth of a Messiah. It required the death of the Messiah—the death of Christ and the shedding of innocent blood. This is what the Old Testament Jews only had glimpses of, something that we see revealed in full light and glory in the New Testament: Christ came to give His life as a ransom or a payment, to buy back many; to purchase our redemption by His sacrifice.

He provides for the redemption of sinners; Christ paid the price to God. In a sense it’s as if God paid Himself to deliver us; to redeem us; to buy us out of the hands of God’s justice.

We read in 1 Peter 1:18 that we were redeemed, we “were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [our] forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold [there is no amount of money that could have purchased our redemption], but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish [or spot]” (vv. 18–19).

We find the same concept in Hebrews 9, and in so much in Hebrews. The book expands on this concept of how the death of Christ procured our redemption. But Hebrews 9:12 says, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves [as they did in the Old Testament], but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

When God does it, He does it forever! An eternal redemption secured for us by the blood of Christ! So when Zechariah says, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people,” this isn’t something sweet said over the crib of his newborn son John, or thinking of the newborn Christ soon to come. This is something that pictures ahead—that foreshadows the cross of Christ, where Christ would shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins—for the redemption of sinners!

As I think about God visiting and redeeming His people, there are four take-aways that I think speak to us today.

1. The reminder that apart from Christ we are helpless, under the sentence of the wrath of God. We’re lawbreakers, and we’re in a condition from which we cannot rescue ourselves.

Have you ever recognized and acknowledged your helplessness? That you could not save yourself from sin? That you have no hope of eternal life apart from the intervention of a Redeemer?

I’ll tell you what, if you’ve never come to see yourself as a helpless sinner desperately in need of God’s intervention, the gospel will never be precious to you. Christ will never be precious to you; the birth and the death and the resurrection of Christ will never be precious to you, if you’ve never seen yourself in that helpless condition.

If you’ve never come to see yourself as a helpless sinner desperately in need of God’s intervention, the gospel will never be precious to you.

2. I’m reminded that our greatest need is not to be delivered from our circumstances, no matter how difficult or painful those circumstances may be. Our greatest need is to be delivered from our sin.

Your greatest need is not your financial situation. It’s not your health situation. It’s not your marriage situation. Our greatest need is not to be delivered from our circumstances as the Jews were hoping to be delivered from the Romans.

Our greatest need is to be delivered from our sin, from spiritual captivity. It strikes me that if we have been eternally redeemed from our sin, then we will have the resources of God at our disposal to deal with any circumstance that comes into our life. Because any circumstance that you could describe that would trouble or concern or unsettle you today is, at most, temporal.

God says our greatest need is for eternal redemption. Having that through the blood of Christ shed on our behalf, having been eternally redeemed—we can, with the indwelling Christ, with the power of His Spirit and the power of His grace, face any circumstance.

Our greatest need is to be delivered from our sin.

3. I want to remind us that God has intervened to bring about our release and to deliver us not just from eternal danger, not just from hell fire, not just from judgment. God sent a redeemer to deliver us from every sinful bondage—not just the ultimate consequences, but from the bondage of sin here and now.

This past Sunday, I had a conversation with a couple who are friends of mine whose adult son . . . Actually, I talked with two friends who have adult sons who are in very desperate sorts of addictions. This couple was so heavy-hearted. I talked with them and prayed with them. I’ve been immersed, saturated in this passage.

As we prayed, I reminded the Lord that He came to redeem this young man. Not only to give him eternal life, but to redeem him from the bondage of this addiction. It gives hope, not only for those we love, but for ourselves, to know that Christ came to bring deliverance through His redemption.

So I would ask you this: Are you walking in the deliverance that Christ came to bring you? God has visited and redeemed His people. Are you redeemed? Have you been delivered from sin? Are you being delivered from the snare and the trap and the enslavement of sin in your own life?

4. The birth of Christ, the coming of Christ to earth, means, as Zechariah said, that God has visited and redeemed His people. What’s our response to that? To rejoice; to worship!

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” Zechariah said.

Praise, my soul, the King of heaven; 
To His feet thy tribute bring.
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Evermore His praises sing:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise the everlasting King. 1

Amen.

Leslie: In this season of giving gifts, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has reminded us of the gift we need the most—deliverance from sin. That teaching is part of a series called "Zechariah’s Hymn." You can hear it again or read the transcript at ReviveOurHearts.com.

We think of babies as small and helpless. The one born on the first Christmas though, was a powerful warrior invading a dark world. Here more about that tomorrow 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.

1 Henry F. Lyte.

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