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Dec 8 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 3, 2016 – Luke 1:67079

Gateway to God’s Heart

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people,
And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of David His servant–
As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old–
Salvation from our enemies,
And from the hand of all who hate us;
To show mercy toward our fathers,
And to remember His holy covenant,
The oath which He swore to Abraham our father,
To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear all of our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.” 
Luke 1:67-79

Intro: John the Baptist occupied a unique turning point in biblical history

The transition from the Old Testament era to the New Testament times
– more specifically, John was the end of the prophetic tradition associated with Elijah
• a tradition that reached its climax in John (Lk. 7:28)
• in fact, there was a strong link between John and Elijah
◦ he came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk. 1:17)
◦ in some way John was a prophetic fulfillment regarding Elijah (Mal. 4:5-6; Mt. 17:10-13)

For all the prophets and all the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Mt. 11:13-15)

– it is clear that Zacharias and Elizabeth still stood very much in the Old Testament
• for example, their connection to Aaron and their description, “righteous…and walked blamelessly” (Lk. 1:5-6)
• in fact, their situation echoed that of Abraham and Sarah
◦ the old couple who could not produce a child, yet miraculously gave birth to Israel
– my point is: the more you know about the Old Testament, the easier it is to interpret Zacharias’ poem

When it came time to name Zacharias’ son, certain uncanny events occurred
– such that neighbors were astonished and even fearful
• the were wondering, What then will this child be(come)?
– the poem is God’s answer to that question
• that is why Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit
◦ so he could deliver this inspired poem

There are two parts to Zacharais’ poem

The two parts are delivered in two long sentences
– the first part is history, the second was the present and future
• first, the poem travels backward through time to David, the prophets, then Abraham
• then it turns around and addresses his child’s future and One whose way he would prepare
– the first part is praise, the second is prophecy• three key words in the first part of the poem are repeated in second part:
visited and will visit (vv. 68, 78)
salvation (vv. 69, 77)
mercy and tender mercy (vv. 72, 78)

Visit here does not mean “to spend a short time somewhere”
– it is more like the time when God saw Israel’s misery and came to their rescue (Ex. 2:23-3:8)
• God visits a people when he comes and changes their circumstances
• in both parts of the poem, the outcome of God’s visit is positive

Salvation in the first part of the poem is concerned mostly with enemies
– enemies are a challenge that rises frequently in the Psalms
• just about anyone could become an enemy
◦ from heathen kings to a close friend
– what Zacharias envisioned was a safe environment for God’s people
• they could enjoy a life of worship (serve, v. 74) in ideal conditions
◦ without fear, in holiness, righteous, God’s presence and for an entire lifetime

Salvation in second part of the poem is something known by experience
– salvation does not do us any good if we do not know it
– here, the doorway to salvation is forgiveness
• Jesus is the light of God that shines into our darkness
• that light guides our steps into the way of peace

Mercy in first part of the poem is seen in God’s faithfulness to his covenant
– the covenant stood on an oath God swore to Abraham
• it was still in effect, not because Israel was faithful to it
• but because God was merciful
mercy in second part of the poem is the source of forgiveness

A thought I that while meditating on Zacharias’ poem

The feasibility of us enjoying the life of worship Zacharias envisioned
– I imagine the simplicity hippies hoped for when they moved into communes
• it seems we would need a home in a remote forest or secluded beach
◦ minimize our needs to create time for daily scripture, prayer, etc.
◦ isn’t this the attraction of monasteries and convents?
• for us, this vision does not pass the feasibility test
– our challenge is to find God in our daily activities
• this doesn’t mean our minds aren’t focused on what we do
◦ but we dedicate everything we do as prayer
◦ Gerald May suggested that before we begin performing a chore, we dedicate it as prayerful intercession

David Steindl-Rast, “‘But what if I’m not even thinking of God?’ someone will ask. “Can this still be prayer?” Well, are you still breathing, even though you are not thinking of the air you breathe? Action is realized by acting, not by thinking about it. . . . Lovers are closer to love than scholars who merely reflect on love.”

• God’s light guiding our steps into way of peace (shalom),
◦ does not mean he leads us out of the world, but into it and living it in a new way
◦ in verse 78, the Sunrise is a new day unlike any other day
▫ on normal days the sun rises from eastern horizon, but this Sunrise is from on high

A second thought that came to me

How important it is that we learn to say yes to God
– and this is not something we do one time
• we have to reiterate our Yes every day — perhaps many times a day
• Rainer Maria Rilke captured the significance of our Yes
◦ it is allowing ourselves to be “dominated”

From “The Man Watching” (trans. Robert Bly)

“What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself is small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament. . . .

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined to fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.”

– We learn to say, “Yes! I am willing to be led”
• willing to surrender to Your mercy, willing to be saved by You

A third thought . . .

Whatever else saying Yes might entail,
– it means we surrender ourselves to God’s tender mercy
• this is God throughout scripture and especially as he revealed himself in Jesus
• God’s mercy will be echoed later on in Jesus’ teaching

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Lk. 6:35-36)

Conc: Perhaps Zacharias held his infant son in his arms when he said,

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High

A couple of chapters later we meet up with the adult John’s

And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Lk. 3:3)

– salvation means lives that are blessed
• this is what God desires for us
• it means more than him forgiving our bad deeds
◦ it is God’s Spirit working a change in us
◦ ridding from us all we hate about ourselves–past and present

I will close with with an exchante of emails from this week
– perhaps it will help clarify what I’ve been trying to say


Got this from reading [an author’s] devotion. Is there scripture that supports this idea of God only seeing Christ in us? Either way I like it.
“When God looks at us, God can only see ‘Christ’ in us. Yet it’s hard—for us!—to be naked and vulnerable and allow ourselves to be seen so deeply. It is hard to simply receive God’s loving and all-accepting gaze. We feel unworthy and ashamed. The very essence of all faith is to trust the gaze and then complete the circuit of mutual friendship. ‘The eye with which I see God is the same one with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love,’ as Meister Eckhart says.”


I like the thought of this too, but there are problems with it. To answer your question, I do not know of any place in scripture that would support it, but I can think of a few passages that suggest God sees everything there is to see in us. Eckhart was one of those Christian mystics who walked paths that were outside biblical revelation. I don’t fault him for that, because I’m convinced that all truth is God’s truth. But some of Eckhart’s teaching–for example, his writing on “detachment”–go too far and into, what I consider to be, untruth.
Also, theologians know better (or should know better) than to talk about what God does or does not see. It’s okay to use sight as a metaphor, but if we are taking it literally, it “anthropomorphizes” God. That is to say, it makes him altogether too much like us, too human. Then we have created God in our own image.
The more I think about it, the less I like [the author’s] thought. I want God to know me through and through. He is the Physician of my soul, so I want him to see the deep-seated problems. I want to know that he loves me, not because of what he sees in me, but in spite of what he sees in me. Also, that he will heal, fix, repair, redeem in me whatever is flawed, defective, broken, etc. I know that the Father loves the Son, but I need to know that he loves me too and not just his Son in me. In fact, he sent his Son to us, and to ransom us, BECAUSE he loved us. And he did this while we were “helpless,” “ungodly” and “while we were yet sinners” and “enemies.”
I hope this isn’t too disappointing. And, of course, you can make your own decisions about all of it. At least, that’s what I believe Jesus would have you do.


I agree, it just felt so good for a moment that God could see us as clean without sin, I guess that’s something to look forward to when we get to heaven. When I read [the author’s] thought it felt good then it didn’t feel right. I think it felt good because of the sixty plus years of hearing each Sunday what terrible sin there is and how bad we are because of it.
I like the idea to welcome God into the deepest part of us to begin the healing process.
Thanks for taking time to respond.


Much of what we had dumped on us growing up created this dark abyss of negativity in our hearts and minds. This in itself is evidence that it did not come from grace. We need a new way to understand sin. It’s not that we have to make sin less important or serious, but that we need to understand it in a way that does not leave a toxic residue in our conscience–a stain that can’t be washed out of our self-image. We have to objectify sin so that I do not identify with it. That is to say, sin does not define me; my true self. Paul does this when he says, “So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing ispresent in me, but the doing of the good is not” (Ro. 7:17-18).
God knows the believer’s true self. We are that new “creature in Christ Jesus.” However, it is still possible to do something out of the old self and miss the mark. When we realize that is what has happened we go to God and seek his help to make a “course correction.” I don’t want to say that sin is no longer that big a deal, because “Christ died for our sins.” But I do not believe God ever meant for us to be psychologically oppressed by our sins–past or present. He’s provided the remedy and gives it generously, freely and abundantly.
God knows evil. When he looks into “the deepest part of us,” that is not what he sees. Rather, he sees his own reflection, for he made us in his image. He is not blind to the ways we miss the mark, but his way of dealing with that is not to load us with depressing guilt. Instead, he takes us outside to throw a football back and forth and while doing that he teaches us, again, the fundamentals. And with the fundamentals of throwing a ball or swinging a bat, he mixes in life lessons. He disciplines us like a father or a coach, “for our good.” When we receive his discipline for what it is–the loving guidance of the perfect and ultimate Father–and smile and say, “Thank You, Abba,” I believe he is pleased. But if instead of playing catch with him, we run to our room, turn out the lights, agonize in misery over how much we’ve disappointed him–well, I do not believe that pleases him at all and we end up more distant from him than closer to him.
If God really was the angry deity that our Sunday school teachers and youth leaders (and preachers) presented (and represented to us by their own anger), then I doubt we could hold on to faith in him our whole lives. We would give up. Some of us would just walk away from religion. Others of us would still sit in church every Sunday, but we would not venture to get any closer to God than whatever our tithes and offerings could buy us.
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free” (Gal. 5:1). I hope we never forget that.

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