Great Expectations Yet a Humble Birth

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When the long awaited Messiah is finally born he is born in the most humble and obscure of circumstances.

This is the thirteenth post in the series The Musical That Changed the World.

The birth of Jesus Christ is perhaps one of the greatest ironies in human history. It’s so remarkable that it defines a mythological type of the promised child who comes in humility but grows to be a savior of a people. It wasn’t the first. The births and childhoods of Isaac, Moses, Samuel, Samson, David and others were similiar, yet they pointed forward to this birth of the promised Messiah.

TMTCTW_blogseries_angelThis child, born to Mary in a stable, would be a phenominal figure just from what was told of him in the Old Testament. He would fulfill the covenants God made with Abraham, Moses and David. He would bring in the promised New Covenant. He would save his people from their enemies, free the captives, feed the hungry and heal the wounded. He would conquer sin and death. And he would establish an eternal kingdom when he would take the throne of David. That’s quite a resume’.

Yet nothing about his birth traded on the currency of his true nature. He’s born to a peasant, teenage girl in a smelly stable located in an impoverished, low class city whose economy was fueled by raising sheep for wool, food and the Temple sacrificial machine. There were no attendants, no satin sheets, no wine poured in celebration, no announcements sent or trumpets sounded. Few knew of his birth. The King of the Ages was born, and no one cared.

But on this night of the birth of God’s Son the heavens would not remain silent.

Read the previous post The Mercy of God and the Light of the Savior.

See the full index of this series The Musical That Changed the World.

The Musical That Changed the World: The Index

As we are going through quite a lengthy blog series looking at the four songs of the nativity story, we’ve created this page for easy reference.  It’s our heart that this series will encourage many to look at these songs deeper and discover they are gazing at a beautiful portrait of the person and work of Jesus Christ, our merciful Warrior King who came to save. I would encourage church leaders to teach these songs to their flocks, and parents to teach them to their children. May we recover these songs that should dominate our Christmas season if we seek to make Christ the center.

Introduction

Video: Why is The Promise a Musical?

1. The Musical That Changed the World

2. How Do Our Christmas Carols Stack Up Against the Songs of the Nativity?

3. The Nativity Proclamations Paint a Marvelous Portrait of Jesus Christ

Mary’s Song of Joy

Video: Mary’s Song of Joy

4. What’s Behind Mary’s Magnificent Song of Joy?

5. Magnificent Praise for a Magnificent God

6. His Mercy is For Those Who Fear Him

7. The Savior is a Revolutionary World Changer

Zechariah’s Song of Blessing

Video: Zechariah’s Song of Blessing

8. What Then Will This Child Be?

9. The Warrior King’s Deliverance is the Epic of All Epics

10. A Prophet to Prepare an Unprepared People

11. The Preparation of Salvation

12. The Mercy of God and the Light of the Savior

The Angelic Birth Announcement

Video: The Angelic Birth Announcement

13. Great Expectations Yet a Humble Birth.

14. Good News of Great Joy.

15. The Savior, Christ the Lord.

16. The Heavens Rejoice.

Simeon’s Song of Blessing

Video: Simeon’s Song of Blessing

Post 17. Prepared in the Presence of All Peoples

Post 18. A Light to the Gentiles, Glory to Israel

Post 19. A Savior who Divides, A Savior Opposed

 

Bibliography

These are the books I used in my research for both the script for “The Promise” and this blog series.

Bloomberg, Craig L., Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, Second Edition, B&H Academic, 2009.

Bock, Darrell, L., Luke (NIV Application Commentary), Zondervan, 1996

Bock, Darrell L., Luke 1:1-9:50 (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), Baker Academic, 1994.

Calvin, John, Commentary on The Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark,  and Luke, Calvin Translation Society, Digital Edition by Olive Tree.

Carson, D. A., and Beale, G. K., Commentary on The New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Baker Academic, 2007.

Carson, D. A., Gaebelein, Frank E., and Douglas, J. D.  Matthew, Vol. 1 (Ch. 1-12), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan, 1995.

Carson, D. A., and Moo, Douglas J., An Introduction to the New Testament, Zondervan, 2005.

Lloyd-Jones, Martyn, Magnify The Lord: Luke 1:46-55, Christian Heritage, 2011

MacArthur, John, Luke 1-5: MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Moody Publishers, 2009.

MacArthur, John, The Miracle of Christmas, Zondervan, 1993.

Ryle, J. C., Luke Volume 1 (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels), Banner of Truth, 1986

Tiede, David L., Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Luke, Fortress Press, 1988

The Mercy of God and the Light of the Savior

TMTCTW_blogseries_banner_zechThe Savior comes as a heartfelt move of God’s mercy to illumine the darkness and guide many captives out and to peace with God.

This is the twelfth post in the series The Musical That Changed The World.

Have you ever wondered why God would offer a salvation in the forgiveness of sins to mankind? We not only rebel against his decrees and design, we are indifferent to him, ignore him, blame him, curse him, demand entitlements, and deny his existence. What would move God to make such an offer in the face of so much offense?

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.”
(Luke 1:78-79 ESV)

One of the most astounding attributes of God is his tender mercy. This mercy is a theme that repeats itself through the nativity story. It was present in Mary’s song of joy (verse 50) and it is woven into Zechariah’s song twice. Within the pantheon of gods what other gods are known for tender mercy? None. In fact, many look at the God of the Old Testament and believe him to be unmerciful compared to Jesus. Yet here, in the first century, before the arrival of Jesus, both Mary and Zechariah rejoice in the tender mercy of this “Old Testament” God.

His visit to mankind through this Messiah, this Warrior King of Salvation, is the greatest display of his mercy toward us. How does his tender mercy unfold?

zech_lightThe Rising Heavenly Light

Zechariah presents the Messiah as a light rising from the heavens. It’s a messianic image from the Old Testament, as we read in 2 Samuel:

he dawns on them like the morning light,
like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,
like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.
(2 Samuel 23:3-4 ESV)

The most direct reference comes from Malachi,the last prophet of the Old Testament:

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. (Malachi 4:2 ESV)

Darkness refers to those who are oppressed, who are locked up in ignorance, who lack righteousness, who are unjust, and who are in need of forgiveness and deliverance. These things frame the context of numerous messianic promises.

This light pierces the darkness where mankind sits. We know we’re all there because they sit in the shadow of death. All mankind is under the curse of death, and therefore we need the rising light to guide us away from the curse of death to the way of peace. That’s peace with God. Again, these are messianic images that we find in the Old Testament.

zech_riseThe people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
(Isaiah 9:2 ESV)

It’s through this Messiah, Jesus Christ, that we can have peace with God.

[5:1] Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Romans 5:1 ESV)

Only Christ can reveal the path that will lead to peace with God. If we don’t walk in his light and follow his guiding we will remain in darkness. Zechariah closes by casting salvation in terms of finding peace with God. This is the epic mission that Zechariah’s son is to be a significant part of. Zechariah’s rejoicing is fitting, and it’s a rejoicing that we should join.

Read the previous post The Preparation of Salvation.

The Preparation of Salvation

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As prophet of the New Covenant, and forerunner of the Messiah, John’s prophetic task is to proclaim the heart of the Gospel

This is the eleventh post in the series The Musical That Changed The World.

As Zechariah answers the question of his friends and neighbors, “What will this child be?” he declares that his son will be a unique prophet, the forerunner of the Messiah. His mandate will be to prepare a people for his coming. The nation who anxiously awaited their Messiah were unprepared for his coming. The prophet Malachi, 450 years ago, warned the nation that the Messiah’s coming will not necessarily be a pleasant experience unless they changed. But nothing changed, in fact, the people grew worse. What did John need to do to prepare them for the coming Messiah?

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 ESV)

John was to prepare the people by giving them a knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of sins. This is exactly what John did, as Luke later tells us.

And he [John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
(Luke 3:3 ESV)

Salvation through the forgiveness of sin is the heart of the New Covenant. Throughout history God made covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and David, but salvation through forgiveness of sin is not found in any of them. The only place it is clearly taught in the Old Testament is in the prophets when they look forward to the promise of the New Covenant, such as in Jeremiah:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
(Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV)

zech_backlitThis New Covenant is what Jesus tells his disciples is the heart of their mission as the church.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
(Luke 24:44-48 ESV)

And this is the mission that drove the Apostles. When they were brought before the Sanhedrin and commanded to stop teaching in Jesus’ name Peter answered:

The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things,
Luke 24:30-32

Paul preached this New Covenant message to the Gentiles.

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you,
(Acts 13:38 ESV)

Even though the nation Israel was occupied by Rome, the preparation most necessary for the people is the same preparation all humanity needs before a holy God — and that is salvation through the forgiveness of sin. The Bible knows no other kind of salvation. Though under the old covenants this was foreshadowed in a variety of ways, under the New Covenant it is now clearly explained.

We don’t like to talk about sin, but without dealing with sin, and the forgiveness that is necessary, we will never experience God’s salvation. And Zechariah’s epic song in the nativity story lays this out clearly even before the Savior was born.

Read the previous post “A Prophet to Prepare an Unprepared People.”

A Prophet to Prepare an Unprepared People

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Zechariah’s son is to be a prophet of the Most High who is tasked with an assignment that is both wondrous and tragic.

This is the tenth post in the series The Musical That Changed the World

Zechariah’s song is an answer to the question raised by his neighbors and friends:  “what will his son be?” Yet, only two verses in this entire song are devoted specifically to this infant boy.  Did Zechariah short-change his son?  Not at all.  The reason is that Zechariah’s son will play a key role in the much larger movement of God in his epic plan of redemption.

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 ESV)

John is the “prophet of the Most High,” and though he may bear similarities to the Old Testament prophets, he is unique.  The prophets of the past announced God’s promises, but John announces the imminent fulfillment of these promises. He is a prophet of the New Covenant. Jesus will one day say that John was “the greatest of all the prophets.”

zech_john1Prepare the Way

Zechariah turns his attention to John’s prophetic purpose, that he is to “go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” We call this a “forerunner.” A forerunner was someone sent to a city before a dignitary would arrive and make sure the arrangements necessary for his visit are in order.

But the unusual thing about John’s preparation is that the Messiah wasn’t coming to visit some strange location. He was coming to his own people, and they were eagerly awaiting his arrival. But they weren’t ready for him. They needed to be prepared. Malachi warned Israel of their dire spiritual condition 450 years earlier which would make the Messiah’s coming a less than pleasant experience.

“Behold, I send My messenger,
And he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek,
Will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant,
In whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
“But who can endure the day of His coming?
And who can stand when He appears?
For He is like a refiner’s fire
And like launderers’ soap.
(Malachi 3:1-2 ESV)

The nation of Israel would not be able to endure the Messiah’s visit, and it’s only hope rested in the preparation that Zechariah’s son, the New Covenant prophet, would bring. And we will see what that preparation is in the next verses.

Read the previous post, “The Warrior King’s Deliverance is the Epic of All Epics.”

The Warrior King’s Deliverance is the Epic of All Epics

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The coming of the “horn of salvation” is both an act of mercy and an act of war.

This is the ninth post in the series The Musical That Changed The World.

Zechariah’s song is a ballad of war and redemption. It’s an epic poem that announces the coming of a warrior king of salvation, a “horn of salvation,” who will redeem his people from their captors.

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.
(Luke 1:71-75)

We don’t think too much about covenant today because we attribute it to an “Old Testament” era. But nothing could be further from the truth. The grand sweep of the covenants that the warrior king, Jesus Christ, fulfills has a direct impact on us, and Zechariah’s song helps us to see this.

The previous verses tell us that this Messiah fulfills God’s covenant with King David. In this section the Davidic covenant overlaps with God’s covenant with Abraham, which was made before the Hebrew people were even a single offspring, much less a nation. Zechariah tells us that these covenants were merciful promises entered into by a God who keeps his covenant promises.

raiseahornofsalvationDelivered From — Delivered To

These covenants made the promise that God will deliver his people from their enemies. He is their champion of salvation. The spiritual significance is that God’s people will be delivered from the captivity of sin and death, as Paul explains in Romans chapters 5 and 6.

Not only are God’s people delivered from something, they are delivered to something, and that something is “that we might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” This points us back to the exodus. God delivered his people from the enslavement of the Egyptians, not just to free them, but to enable them to worship and serve God without any fear of oppression or ridicule.

To Serve God Without Fear

The concept of being saved by God to serve him is lost on our society today. When people talk about salvation they often talk about being saved from missing our potential, and saved to a life of “fulfillment,” in leisure, pleasure, or success in some human arena. None of this is part of the New or old covenant promises. Zechariah clearly lays out that God’s people are saved to serve him by pursuing a life of holy and righteous living. This is the big overarching goal of the lives of God’s people.

Have you ever thought about Christ being a warrior king of salvation, who has come to wage war against the enemies of his people, to deliver them to a life where they can serve him without fear, living lives of holiness and righteousness? Just as he was deliverer of the Hebrews in Exodus, he is a deliverer of people today. And we will see more about that in the next verses.

Read the previous post “What Then Will This Child Be?”