First Week Of Advent
© 12.01.08 By D. Eric Williams
It is customary in the first week of advent to teach from the Old Testament. This makes sense because the first week of Advent season is about prophecy. As we all know, the Old Testament contains dozens of prophecies delivered throughout hundreds of years concerning the Messiah. However, today I'd like to do something a little bit different and write to you this week about a passage found in the New Testament. It is still a prophecy about the Messiah; indeed this is the last prophecy delivered about Jesus Christ prior to his birth. It is the prophecy of Zacharias (the father of John the Baptist), as found in Luke 1:67-75. There we read:
And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying, Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from eternity; that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham, that He would grant to us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. (Luke 1:67-75)
In this passage we see that God grants redemption in honor of his covenant that his people might serve him. Now, it is important that we understand the nature of prophecy before we go any further. Privacy is not primarily a foretelling of the future. Certainly that is part of the character of prophecy. However, prophecies primarily for telling the truth. It is a proclamation of truth and of gods character and how that bears on the subject at hand. In this case we see truth presented in the present tense when Zacharias says "bless the Lord God of Israel for he has visited and redeemed these people." Certainly this is foretelling the future because the redemption provided in Jesus Christ was realized 30 years later. Nonetheless Zachariah's proclaimed that God is "looking after" his people. This is what the Greek term translated as visited can mean. And so Zacharias begins his prophecy by claiming that this blessed God is looking after his people and is concerned with their welfare. In other words he is concerned for what is best in the lives of its people. And what is best is that they be redeemed.
Do you know what this means -- to be redeemed? Well, it means to be a ransomed or to be recaptured. In the culture of the old covenant age it was the duty of the kinsman redeemer to ransom his relative who had been sold into slavery for debt or some other reason perhaps. Indeed we see the same principle come into play when God -- the kinsman redeemer of his son Israel -- claims that he is going to redeem his people from the hand of Pharaoh (Exodus 6:6). The kinsman redeemer's duty is likewise presented in the law and is detailed in Leviticus Chapter 25.
However, this redemption motif is introduced as early as Genesis 3:15. It is there that we read of God's pronouncement against the serpent wherein he says that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent's head. This may not sound like a promise of redemption but it is in fact a promise of the kinsman to overcome the slave owner. You see, it is no accident that Jesus is called the last Adam. He redeemed his kinfolk from the clutches of sin and Satan. Those who remain in the line of Adam are those who are not redeemed. Those who are brought into the new household of Jesus Christ have been redeemed from the house of Adam. Thus, the promise of victory in Genesis 3:15 is a promise of redemption.
To fully understand the character of redemption would require a thorough study of the use of that term in the Bible. We don't have time for that today; there are about 112 references to redemption in the Old Testament. Yet, in the New Testament this term is used just three times. Once in today's selection from Luke chapter 1: a second time in Luke 2:38 and thirdly in Hebrews 9:12. In order to have an idea of what it means to be redeemed let's take a look at the passages in Luke chapter 2 and in Hebrews chapter 9
And she [Anna] coming in at that instant gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those in Jerusalem eagerly expecting redemption. (Luke 2:38)
And in Hebrews:
Nor by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered once for all into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (Hebrews 9:12)
What these scripture verses show us is that redemption is that first step in salvation. We have been brought out of we have been ransom from slavery to sin. And this redemption requires a kinsman redeemer. It has always been that way. In a sense, God could not redeem us. Of course I mean this in a purely "theological" way. Obviously God can do whatever he wants. Nonetheless, it is true that God has chosen not to act as the Redeemer. Now I know that he is the Redeemer in and through Jesus Christ; what I mean is that God determined that our Redeemer would be a true kinsman. He is fully man as well as fully God. You see, the kinsman redeemer of the old covenant is a type of Christ. Jesus is the anti-type and fulfills all of the details surrounding the law of the kinsman redeemer. Zacharias says that God has raised a cohort of salvation for us in the house of a servant David. This is further evidence of Christ's role as the kinsman redeemer. Paul reminds us that Jesus is out of line and house of David according to the flash. And it is in this debate line that a horn or a authority with the power to scatter the enemy is raised out. This debate kinsman keen has the power to release us from bondage. He has the power to overcome are any Satan and those who are impelled by him. Jesus does this by slaying the old man and making our enemies are friends. If he chooses not to go this route the evil actions of the enemies of God are used for his own glory and for our benefit nonetheless. Indeed, all things work together for those who are called according to God's purpose (Romans 8:28). That's the reason the redeemed of the Lord are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).
The reason for this redemption is to honor God's covenant. Zacharias says that we have been saved from our enemies to perform the mercy promised our fathers and to remember God's holy covenant -- indeed the oath which was sworn to Abraham.
When we consider the oath sworn to Abraham, we often think of the promises made to the patriarch concerning the land of promise. If we were to look at the various references in Genesis chapter 12, chapter 15, chapter 22 and so on leaving scene that the promises concerning the land are indeed part of the old sworn to Abraham. But we need to ask ourselves: is this what Zacharias is concerned with? Is Zacharias making this profound prophecy concerning the Messiah only to be focused upon a small strip of real estate in the Middle East? The answer is no. In fact, if we look at the Old Testament record, we will see that the promise concerning that particular region has been fulfilled. Look at Joshua at 21:43 there we read:
And Jehovah gave to Israel all the land which He swore to give to their fathers. And they possessed it, and lived in it. (Joshua 21:43)
Now look at 1 Kings 4:21. There we read:
And Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt. They brought presents and served Solomon all the days of his life. (1 Kings 4:21)
I challenge you to look back at the promises made to Abraham. You will find that he was promised the land which had been conquered and ruled and was under the dominion of the debate changed by the time of Solomon. The point is simply this; the Type had been fulfilled. But as with any type the fulfillment is not complete. For instance, the promise made to David that he would have a son on the throne of Israel forever was fulfilled in the Type of his offspring as they ruled in June that. Nevertheless this tide fell short of actual fulfillment in so far as the Kings of Judah failed to retain the throne perpetually. Indeed there were hundreds of years where no two days teen reigned in Jerusalem. Likewise the promise made to Abraham concerning his offspring found fulfillment in Isaac. Yet Isaac was a type and so the fulfillment was not as absolute. Rather, in each case the type merely looks forward to the anti-type who is Jesus Christ. All of the promises of God are yes and Jesus Christ says the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 1:20). Therefore any fulfillment of the promise which is seen in a tie is merely a temporary impartial and telecom in the anti-type. There is no question that God fulfilled the land promises he made to the people of Israel; according to the Bible that took place during the days of Joshua and even (if possible), more fully under the reign of Solomon. Yet that fulfillment was a type and pointed ahead to the absolute fulfillment of God's promises in the anti-type Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus is not only the true son of David and the true son of Abraham is also the true land in that the entire world is blessed through him. In fact, this is the aspect of the promise given to Abraham I believe Zacharias had in mind when he said that this redemption took place so that the mercies promised might be realized and that the oath sworn to Abraham might be fulfilled.
The apostle Paul is of this mind. For instance in Galatians 3:13 -29 we read:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone having been hanged on a tree"); so that the blessing of Abraham might be to the nations in Jesus Christ, and that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brothers, I speak according to man, a covenant having been ratified, even among mankind, no one sets aside or adds to it. And to Abraham and to his Seed the promises were spoken. It does not say, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, "And to your Seed," which is Christ. And I say this, A covenant having been ratified by God in Christ, the Law (coming into being four hundred and thirty years after) does not annul the promise, so as to abolish it. For if the inheritance is of Law, it is no more of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by way of promise. Why then the Law? It was added because of transgressions, until the Seed should come to those to whom it had been promised, being ordained through angels in the Mediator's hand. But the Mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. Is the Law then against the promises of God? Let it not be said! For if a law had been given which could have given life, indeed righteousness would have been out of Law. But the Scripture shut up all under sin, so that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under Law, having been shut up to the faith about to be revealed. So that the Law has become a trainer of us until Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But faith coming, we are no longer under a trainer. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many as were baptized into Christ, you put on Christ. There cannot be Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is no male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:13-29)
The point is simply this; we are redeemed in fulfillment of the covenant promises given to Abraham. We are redeemed in fulfillment of the covenant promises given to David. We are redeemed in fulfillment of the covenant promises given even to Adam and Eve on the day that man first sinned. Even Abraham understood these things. According to Jesus Christ, Abraham rejoiced to see the day of the Messiah (John 8:56). In other words, Abraham understood that all of the promises given to him would be fulfilled in his seed Jesus Christ and in no other.
All of this took place that the people of God might serve him. That, in a nutshell, is the purpose of redemption. We've seen the "why" as to the responsibility of covenant keeping but the "why" concerning the purpose is service to our Lord and Savior. Zacharias says that because of the work of the Christ we are delivered from the hand of our enemies (redeemed), in order to be able to serve God without fear. Ultimately the enemy from whom we are delivered is Satan. And we must remember that everyone who is in the line of Adam is under the authority of the devil. Therefore, this redemption is accomplished so that we are no longer slaves of sin and Satan but free to serve God.
As redeemed people we are not really concerned with physical freedom. It doesn't matter if we find ourselves in bondage to another human being or wasting away in a cold dark dungeon somewhere. In Christ our freedom is spiritual. In Christ we are made free and enabled to obey and to serve our Lord God no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in.
In Christ we are given the ability to cultivate the new creation. Indeed, redemption implies -- or rather demands -- the new birth. It is because we are redeemed and made a new creation that we are free to work out our salvation. It is because we have been redeemed in fulfillment of the covenant promises that we are able to cultivate this law which has been written upon our heart. Frankly this is what it is all about. Redemption has no meaning if we are not made free to do the will of God.
And this freedom to serve is characterized by a lack of fear. Zacharias says that we are redeemed so that we might serve God without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our lives. What he refers to is the fact that in Jesus Christ we are no longer subject to the condemnation of the law. Certainly the law guides us in holy living. Certainly the law has been written upon our heart so that it is our very character. Moreover, there is no question that we are still held accountable for our actions. Nevertheless in Christ there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1). This is true because we are not under law but we are under grace. Now, to be under grace simply means that we are redeemed. To be under the law is to be in the natural state. To be under the law means that one is subject to judgment and damnation in light of one's lawlessness. However, if we are under grace -- if we are redeemed -- then we are a new creation and it is no longer we who sin but sin that dwells in us.
Paul describes this state of affairs in romans chapter 7. What he means is that if we are a new creation in Jesus Christ our true character is no longer sinful. Any sinful tendencies we encounter arise because of the sin that has been left behind by the old man. As I said before, it is not unlike a house that has been vacated by a former very dirty tenant. That former occupant left behind boxes of trash. We have a responsibility to remove those boxes of trash. Unfortunately, sometimes we trip over those boxes. Sometimes we want to keep those boxes and look at them and perhaps even rummage through them from time to time. That is sin which still resides in us. Paul puts it this way:
But now it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing. For to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I do not find. For I do not do the good that I desire; but the evil which I do not will, that I do. But if I do what I do not desire, it is no more I working it out, but sin dwelling in me. (Romans 7:17-20)
So you see we serve without fear because we are no longer under the law to be judged. There is no longer any fear of judgment. Because of that fact we can serve with joy and confidence -- we can serve in the strength of Jesus Christ. We do so as the very righteousness of God. Paul explains it this way:
For He has made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Hence, we find ourselves with a new nature, part of a new family, with a new covenant head who is Jesus Christ our Redeemer. And we can serve in full confidence knowing that nothing can snatch us out of his hand. When we fail to walk in obedience we have the assurance that if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all and righteousness. We are safe and secure in him.
As I said at the beginning of this article, there were dozens of prophecies spanning hundreds of years that concern Jesus Christ. This prophecy of Zacharias seems to sum up them all. Here Zacharias declares that we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb in honor of God's covenant that we might serve him in righteousness and holiness. This prophecy reminds us that the baby in the manger grew up to be the man on the cross. And it is because of that, that we are participants in the promises and covenant of Almighty God. What a gift! What a privilege!
But this is not without responsibility; we are called to serve him and it is only this service to him that we have to give as a gift to show our gratitude. In this Christmas season I encourage you to give this gift of obedience to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
It is hard to believe that we have already entered the Advent season. It is also hard to believe how perverted the Christmas season has become. The inhuman, barbarous display of self interest and cruelty exhibited just last week which resulted in the death of an innocent bystander should serve to shock us concerning the terrible need for truth in our nation. There is a terrible need for redemption because mankind is utterly lost without the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ.
Another Christmas season is upon us and once again I want to urge you to make a special effort to serve our Lord during this Advent time. God knows this world needs to be redeemed and he has given us the responsibility to tell them about that need. He has given us the responsibility to share the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - the truth about the baby in the manger who grew up to be the redeemer on the cross. Amen.