Revive Our Hearts Radio

Zechariah’s Hymn, Day 7

Leslie Basham: Sin isn’t a very popular subject. People don’t mind talking about bad habits or lacking purpose in life, but Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says that we need to admit to a far greater problem.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Ultimately, God did not send His Son into this world to die to save us from those things. He came to save us from our sins.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Tuesday, December 22, 2015.

The holiday we’ll celebrate this Friday isn’t just about sentiment. Many people have happy memories of traditions, presents, and time with our families; but true joy and peace don’t come from happy holiday memories. They arrive when we admit a heavy truth: “I am a sinner.” Here’s Nancy with some good news about sin.

Nancy: Well, it’s taken us the last six sessions to get through the first sentence of the text we’ve been studying from Luke chapter 1. Although, in all fairness, it is a very long sentence. We’ve been in Luke chapter 1, verses 67 and following: the hymn of Zechariah, a blessing that he spoke, a benediction (in Latin, it’s called the benedictus), and the blessing he spoke to the Lord and of the Lord when the Lord sent His Messiah to the earth.

Now, Messiah hasn’t yet been born. Mary is still carrying that child, but the Holy Spirit let Zechariah know that the child who has just been born to him and to Elizabeth (their son’s name is John) will be the one who will go before the Christ to prepare His way. Zechariah has been speaking words of not only praise, but shedding light on some precious theological concepts: salvation, redemption, deliverance.

What does it mean to be saved? What does it mean to be redeemed? These are truths that if you don’t have a love for those truths, then you really miss what Christmas is all about. We’ve seen that in this passage, and we’ll see it as we continue.

Picking up today in verse 76 of Luke chapter 1, we find the first direct reference to Zechariah’s son. This is the eighth day birthday party of this son who’s been born to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age. It’s a wonder. It’s a miracle. People are excited. The family is there. The friends are there. It’s the day of the circumcision. It’s the day of naming of the child. It’s the welcome home party.

Yet from verse 68 through 75, Zechariah says nothing about the son whose birthday party it is. Who’s he been talking about? He’s been talking about Jesus, a son yet to be born, a son who would be given for the salvation of the world. Only now in verse 76 does he turn and look at his son John, who would be John the Baptist, and he speaks now of the mission of his son John.

He says in verse 76, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” Now, when he says the prophet of the Most High, the Most High is clearly speaking of Christ, Christ who would come. You will be the prophet, the one who will go before Him, Christ the Most High.

If you think back earlier in this chapter (Luke chapter 1, verse 32), the angel said to Mary about her son Jesus, who was to be born, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Now, there it’s clearly talking about Jehovah God.

So now in verse 76 when Zechariah says you will be the prophet of the Most High. You will go before the Lord to prepare His ways. He’s saying Jesus is not only the Son of the Most High, He is the Most High God. This Son to be born is God, and you will go before Him—God on earth—you will go before Him to prepare His way.

Now, John’s mission in life, his reason for living (and it wasn’t a very long life; it was quickly extinguished), his whole role, his whole purpose, his whole calling in life was established before he was born by God.

His mission in life was foretold in the Old Testament. You remember in Isaiah chapter 40, verse 3, where it talks about “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” You read in Malachi, chapter 4 about how One will come in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for the Lord (see v. 5).

These were Old Testament references to the birth of John, who we know is John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for the coming of Christ to earth. Not only was this foretold in the Old Testament, but when the angel came to Zechariah in the temple, earlier in chapter 1, and said, “You’re going to have a son. Your wife is going to have a son,” Gabriel had told Zechariah what would be the purpose and the mission of his son’s life.

Look back at verses 16 and 17 of Luke chapter 1, where the angel is speaking to Zechariah. Luke chapter 1, verses16 and 17: “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Much of that quote comes from Malachi chapter 4.

So now Zechariah is standing over his eight-day-old son and is saying, “Son, child, baby, you will be called the prophet of the Most High. You will go before the Lord to prepare His ways.” So from the time this child is an infant, Zechariah is passing on to his son God’s vision for his son’s life.

I have no doubt that Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were righteous, godly, devout people who loved the Word of God continued through the raising of their son, through his childhood years, his preschool years, his elementary years, his adolescent and teenage years, until he became a man and was out of the home, I am confident that they continued to remind John of why God had sent him to this earth.

His purpose in life, his mission . . . They were saying, “Son, this is why you were born.” Let me just suggest that this is not something that only parents of a “John the Baptist” should do with their children, but I hope that you as moms and grandmoms are giving your children a vision for God’s purpose for their life.

You say, “Well, I haven’t got any prophecies about my child’s life. What will I tell him or her?” Go to the Word of God, and get God’s promises, God’s purpose for putting His children here on earth: to know God, to enjoy Him, to make Him known. Begin from your children’s earliest days to instill in your children a sense of vision, a purpose. “Daughter, son, this is why God has put you here on this earth.”

Instill in your children a sense of vision.

I tell you my parents did a terrific job of that. My dad went to heaven when I was just twenty-one years old, but I want to tell you in my early childhood years and through my teenage years, he was instilling not only in me, but in my six brothers and sisters that God has a purpose for your life. God has a mission for your life.

He got us into the Word of God so that we could see we’re not here to serve ourselves. We’re not here to entertain ourselves. We’re not here to live according to our own will or our own purposes. I see John the Baptist having the benefit of parents who did that for him, a dad who did that for him.

Now, John’s whole life centered around the visitation of Christ. That’s what dominated his brief life here on earth. He must increase, John the Baptist said of Jesus, and I must decrease. There was this humble heart that didn’t want to be in the spotlight, didn’t care that people would remember him. In fact, he knew his life was expendable. And he did lose his head for representing righteousness, for fulfilling God’s purpose in life. Ultimately, he was beheaded. But all that mattered to him was that Christ would be magnified.

Is there any richer, grander, nobler way to live your life than to say, “I live so that Christ can increase. I must decrease. Christ must increase”? Think about how that applies as you’re mothering, as you’re in the workplace, as you’re a single woman, a single mom, a teenager (we have a lot of teenagers who listen to Revive Our Hearts), an older woman, an empty-nest woman. We have some men who listen to Revive Our Hearts. Whoever you are, whatever season of life, He must increase. It’s all about Christ and His glory and His Kingdom, and we must decrease.

He spent his life preparing the way for Christ to come, giving people the knowledge of salvation. That’s what it goes on to say. “You will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (vv. 76–77). He gave people the knowledge of salvation, the knowledge of God’s mercy, the knowledge of God’s forgiveness. 

Luke chapter 3, tells us that "John went into all the region around proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (v. 3). That was his mission: to prepare the way for people to experience the forgiveness and the mercy of God.

I see my purpose in life and our purpose in life as being not to prepare the way for Christ to come physically to this earth as He did the first time, but we have a responsibility to prepare the way for His coming spiritually into other people’s lives.

Preparing the way for your children to come to faith in Christ. Preparing the way for your coworkers, people in your neighborhood, family members to come to faith in Christ. How? By giving them knowledge of salvation and of forgiveness through faith and repentance even as John did.

So that was John’s mission, to prepare the way by making known the way of salvation and the way of forgiveness of sins. And then that says something to us about his message. Verse 77, “To give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.” This theme of deliverance, this theme of redemption, this theme of salvation that Zechariah talks about and that was John’s message . . .

Let me remind you, it was not a political salvation. It was a spiritual salvation—to give knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of their sins. It’s salvation from sin. That’s what we read about in Colossians chapter 1, verses 13 and 14, where Paul says, “He 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.” This is a spiritual need we have in our lives to be released from our sins.

God has visited and redeemed His people. He’s provided the forgiveness of sins. This would be the message of John, but remember how He did that? It wasn’t by the birth of Christ alone. Christmas alone could never save anyone from sin. We are saved not by the birth of Christ, but by the blood of Christ shed for the remission of sins and according to God’s Word, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.

So as Zechariah says to his son, “You’ll prepare the way by giving the knowledge of salvation and the forgiveness of sins.” He’s saying, “This child whose way you’re preparing—He will grow up and it’s a foreshadowing of the cross where the penalty for our sin would be paid through the death of Christ.”

This is the message people needed in Zechariah’s day. People who were dead in their sins, they were separated, alienated from God, they could not be reconciled to God because of their sin. They needed the message of forgiveness, of salvation, release, deliverance from sin. They needed to know how their sins could be forgiven. But it’s also the message that is desperately needed today. It’s no less needed today. Now that Christ has come, people still need the message of the knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of their sins.

We talk about a lot of different topics on Revive Our Hearts, and we try to help women in many different specific areas of their walk. We have programs dealing with singleness, programs dealing with felt needs, like loneliness and guilt and anger and depression. We’ve talked about all those topics. We’ve talked about moral purity and how to deal with sexual issues. We’ve talked about intimacy in marriage and how to be a godly wife and how to have a servant’s heart—many practical applications of Gods’ Word.

But I’m reminded as I’ve been studying this passage that it’s not sufficient for a ministry like ours or like yours to just help people have better marriages or be happier or be emotionally more stable, though those may be byproducts of their salvation and their relationship with Christ. But we do people a huge disservice if we have failed to give them the knowledge of salvation, if we have failed to tell them how they can be forgiven of their sins.

I was in a conversation the other day about someone else who was dealing with a major addiction and had been through a twelve-step program. They’ve been through a residential treatment center trying to deal with this addiction, but the concern of the person I was talking to was they didn’t have Christ in these programs.

They’re good so far as they go—some very practical steps—but if you just give people steps and principles and they don’t have Christ, they’ll never really get fully delivered. Oh, they may stop drinking or they may stop doing the sinful behavior, but true heart freedom cannot come apart from salvation and forgiveness of sins. So we need to make it clear that salvation means people being delivered from their sin.

Often I think today when people present the gospel, we often represent salvation as God delivering a person from an unhappy life or from a lack of meaning or purpose, from addictions or bad habits, delivering them from pressures or problems. We’ll quote John 10:10. Jesus said. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” So trust Christ and you’ll have an abundant life is the implication.

But if you’re talking to someone who already thinks his life is fine—and I know some people who fit this exact category. They have no huge bad habits. They’re well off. They’re healthy. They feel safe. Why would such a person need Jesus? Why do they need a savior? It’s not that the gospel doesn’t address those issues—meaning and purpose in life, bad habits, difficult circumstances—but ultimately God did not send His Son into this world to die to save us from those things.

He came to save us from our sins. He came to save us from the power of sin, from the penalty of sin, and ultimately from the very presence of sin. He came to save us from being slaves to sin. He came to save us from the wrath to come, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:10. And why is the wrath of God coming? It’s coming because of sin.

Jesus came to save us from the power of sin, the penalty of sin, and ultimately from the very presence of sin.

John MacArthur said in one of his messages something that I think is so powerful on this very matter. He said,

The universal problem from which the Lord sent a savior to deliver us is not the problem of purposelessness or unfulfilled living. It’s not the problem of passion or lust or unbreakable habits. It’s a problem of sin and guilt. That’s the issue.

And he goes on to say in very direct terms.

You have broken the law of God and you are on your way to eternal hell, and you need to be rescued from sin. In the presentation of the gospel, that’s where we need to go, that’s the issue of the gospel.1

I read a message by John Piper on this text of Zechariah speaking about John giving people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. Let me close by reading what Pastor Piper wrote about this because I think it was so visual.

He said,

If someone gave me a guaranteed, super-duper mousetrap for Christmas last year, I would have felt very little appreciation. We never had any mice in our old house. However, if somebody gave me a ‘guaranteed-to-catch-a-mouse’ trap this Christmas, I’d really feel appreciation because now we have got mice, and I can’t catch them all.

If you offer me a quick ride after service to the emergency room at Metropolitan Medical Center, I’ll think you are strange unless I see the gash in my arm or feel the severe pain in my abdomen. Then I would love you for the offer.

If a police car screeches to a stop beside me on my way home from church some night and a man hollers for me to get in, I’ll think he’s putting me on unless I see the armed gang lurking ahead around the corner.

And so it is in all of life. We do not appreciate gifts that meet no needs or satisfy no desires. We do not value or love an offer for help unless we know we are sick or endangered by some enemy.

Vast numbers of people look upon Jesus and the Christmas story of His coming as a useless mousetrap, a crazy trip to the emergency room, a bothersome pickup by the police because they don’t know that they have a terminal illness called unforgiven sin, and they don’t believe in the fearful enemy, Satan.

And so for those people, the horn of salvation that we’ve been studying about in this passage is a useless toy. For me, it is my only hope of recovery from this deadly disease of sin that infects my soul and my only protection from Satan, the most dangerous external enemy. What a salvation.

Christmas—the coming of Christ to this earth—is not a useless mousetrap. It’s something we desperately need. It’s the only thing that fulfills the deepest needs and longings and crises of the human heart. It’s the only way we can experience deliverance from sin and from the enemy, Satan.

So Zechariah says, “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.” One we need. Am I right? And he says to John, his son, “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” (Luke 1:76–77).

Do you have that knowledge? Do you know what you’ve been delivered from? Are you sharing that knowledge with those around you? You say, “They don’t seem like they need Christ.” Do you know why they don’t realize that? Because they don’t realize the condition they’re in. They don’t realize their desperate need and as we present the gospel, the gospel is not good news to people who don’t know they have a need.

So part of sharing Christ, part of sharing the gospel with people is sharing the bad news, that you are a sinner who needs a savior. That will not always be a politically correct message, but I’ll tell you what, those with whom we share that and those whose hearts God moves to believe and to repent will for all of eternity thank you for giving them the knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of their sins.

Leslie: As we lead up to this Christmas week, a lot of listeners are enjoying time with family and friends. But Christmas can also remind us of how painful and lonely life can be. As we open God’s Word today, we know women are hearing it in all kinds of life situations. Nancy, you received an email from a listener who’s had a tough year.

Nancy: 
Yeah, Leslie she celebrated her one year wedding anniversary this year. She wrote us and said:

A few months after I got married my parents got a divorce. Even as a twenty-three-year old woman with the world ahead of her, my parents divorce rattled me and caused great bitterness in me. My sweet husband had to [deal] with more emotion in our young marriage than most people and he has been a great source of joy and encouragement for me. Revive Our Hearts has also helped me through some dark moments. Earlier this week I listened to the episode "Bitterness Is Harbored Hurt" and I realized that I was still holding in the bitterness and anger in an unhealthy way and I needed to release it.

Bitterness really is a poison that could have affected every area of this young woman’s life. I’m so grateful she found freedom in Christ in this season of life with so many years ahead of her to build her marriage and advance God’s kingdom. She went on to say:

Please know that though you may not see all the fruits of your labor at Revive Our Hearts, the Lord is actively using you to impact the next generation every day.

I think that describes those who support Revive Our Hearts by praying and by giving. You may not see all the fruits of your investment, but you made it possible for us to speak to a young woman about the bitterness that could have destroyed her life. But instead, she found freedom in Christ. I’m thankful the Lord could use Revive Our Hearts, and those who support Revive Our Hearts, in the process. Women will be listening throughout 2016 with all kinds of tough life situations. You play a big role in making sure Revive Our Hearts can be there for them.

About 40 percent of the donations we rely on through the year are given in December. It’s such an important time that some friends of the ministry are doubling every gift this month up to a matching challenge amount of $820,000.  I want to say a huge "thank you" to each person has given toward this challenge. We want to make sure to max out the challenge and enter the year in a healthy financial position ready for a new year of ministry. So if you've not yet had a chance to give, would you ask the Lord how He wants you to be involved, whether by praying for the ministry or by your financial support? You can donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can call us 1–800–569–5959. I’m excited to see how the Lord works through our listeners "for such a time as this!"

Leslie: Don’t you love to deliver good news? Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been exhorting us to spread good news about the reality of sin and the wonder of God’s grace. That message is part of a series called "Zechariah's Hymn." If you've missed any of the teaching in the series, you can hear more at ReviveOurHearts.com.

God is powerful and awesome, but He is also as tender and compassionate as a mother with her baby. Tomorrow Nancy will develop this idea and show us how incredibly compassionate God is. Please join us for Revive Our Hearts.

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

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

1 John MacArthur. "The Announcement of Jesus' Birth--Part 2." Luke 2:8-14.

 

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