THE HOPE OF ISRAEL IS THE HOPE OF THE CHURCH
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 4, 2016
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, 68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
— Luke 1:57-80, ESV
The Old Testament is one, great, big unfulfilled promise. From Adam to Abraham to Moses to David to all of the prophets, God promised a Messiah. But Messiah never came, not in the Old Testament. And after the last words of the Old Testament were written by Malachi, four hundred years of silence followed.
By no means is this a terrible thing. As a matter of fact, it is wonderful. For there is something divine that comes in between the time a promise is made and the time when that promise is fulfilled. It is called hope.
This is why Christmas time is the most wonderful time of the year for kids. They have hope, perhaps in temporal things like presents, but it is still hope, and it is fun. This is why an engagement period is such an exciting time for couples. They hope for the wedding and their future lives together, and it fills them with joy. Hope is what kept Israel going while waiting for Messiah to come, and hope keeps the church alive while waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ.
In the words of Andy Dufresne, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Hope never dies, indeed; but, hope has to be born. The greatest hope ever born to Israel and the church came in the faces of two famous babies. First came John the Baptist, then three months later the birth of Christ.
This text focuses on John and his parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah. Relatives of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, they too had a connection to the messianic tribe of Judah and the house and lineage of David. The four hundred years of relative prophetic silence was broken when the angel Gabriel spoke to the priest Zechariah to announce the birth of the Baptist. This light of truth sparked a flame of hope that burns brightly even to this present day.
The Hope of Elizabeth and Zechariah: John the Baptist
The birth of a baby is almost always a great time of rejoicing, but the birth of John the Baptist was something extraordinary. Like Abraham and Sarah long before them, Zechariah and Elizabeth had reached old age without the blessing of children. Having a child is important, but to first century Jewish parents it carried greater weight, especially if they were able to weigh in a male child.
In spite of their age and Elizabeth’s barrenness, God promised them a son to be named John. At the time, they had no child. Even when John was conceived in his mother’s womb, Zechariah had no child to hold in his hands. All they had for almost a year was hope.
Hope should be cherished, like Elizabeth’s meeting with Mary in a previous text. Hope given by God is always realized, like in the birth of John. Hope fulfilled is a gift of God’s mercy and grace, which should be humbly recognized, as it was by John’s family. Hope fulfilled inspires obedience to God, as demonstrated in the naming of the blessed child. Hope fulfilled should inspire the awe and worship of God, and the proclamation of the promises of God, like Zechariah did when his lips were loosed.
When Zechariah’s lips were loosed, he continued to proclaim the hope of God. John the Baptist’s birth fulfilled the hope of his parents. John the Baptist’s life would proclaim the hope of Israel, the coming of the Messiah.
The Hope of Israel: The Messiah
To answer the question posted in verse 66, Zechariah utters a beautiful prophesy beginning in verse 67. His son would be “a horn of salvation” (ref. verse 69) for Israel. A horn on the head of an animal is a weapon. A horn hollowed out and held in the hands of a person is a megaphone. John the Baptist was a man with a megaphone meant to give a message about the Messiah.
Zechariah’s beautiful sermon spoke about what John would do, and about what the Messiah would do, before they ever did it. Therefore, it is a sermon of hope, inspiring the Israelites to wait and watch for the work which the Lord would do. God always fulfills our hope, although not always in the exact way we think He will.
Zechariah envisioned John proclaiming a Jesus who would do many things. Among them, save Israel from hateful enemies, establish them in the promised land, give them freedom of worship, forgive them of all of their sins, eradicate death, and give them perfect peace. That’s a lot of promise, which provides a boatload of hope.
Here is where the hope of Israel becomes inadequate, not as God gave it, but as the Israelites tended to interpret it. Zechariah, like his compatriots, was looking for a military messiah to defeat the Romans and restore the Davidic and Solomonic glory of Israel, squared. When Jesus did not fit this bill, John the Baptist himself had doubts. When Jesus appeared to be conquered by the Romans on the cross, instead of being their conqueror, almost all of Israel doubted, and still do, even up to this present day.
But I would say to Jews and Gentiles alike, the hope expressed by Zechariah is a good and accurate thing. It is a promise that has been, is being, and will be fulfilled for every true believer under the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. For the hope of Israel is the hope of the church. He is the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Hope of the Church: The Lord Jesus Christ
The Old Testament idea of Messiah, as seen in this early New Testament prophecy, is of a divine man who would be both a savior and a conqueror. To be a savior, Messiah would have to offer the ultimate self-sacrifice, His own death. To be a conqueror, He would have to rise from the dead and return. One down, one to go.
Zechariah mentioned many important spiritual things in his sermon, things John would proclaim and Jesus would fulfill. Zechariah preached about the mercy of God, the holiness and righteousness of God, the salvation of God, and the light of life given by God to man that can never go out. All of this would be proclaimed by John when he said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (ref. John 1:29). All of this would be fulfilled by Jesus Christ who “died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, … [and] was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (ref. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). And as the Old Testament prophet Joel and New Testament Apostle Paul both said, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (ref. Joel 2:32; Romans 10:13).
Salvation is a promise fulfilled. But remember, that is only half the work of the Messiah promised by Zechariah. One day we will be delivered from our enemies, those who hate us because of our faith in Jesus Christ. One day we will be delivered from a world marred and tainted by the ever-reaching ripples of sin. One day we will be delivered from death itself, and from all the ills that lead to it. One day, I hope.
Until that day, when Jesus Christ comes again, I will hope. I will hope for the day when no one flies airplanes into skyscrapers in New York, when young men do not kill other young men in Chicago, when sexual immorality no longer sells in Los Angeles. I will hope for the day when no Christian loses his head to ISIS, when communists no longer crush churches, when sins that fly in the face of God’s word are no longer championed on the courthouse squares. I will hope for the day when no family member is taken from us by cancer, heart attack, stroke, murder, or mayhem. I will hope for the day when we share the glory of our God and Savior Jesus Christ with every other born again believer on the planet, a planet where Jesus Christ is Lord, internally and externally, invisibly and visibly for all to see. I hope …
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org