J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

The End of Fear and Shame – Luke 1:68-75

Once upon a time, there were two Godly people, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah served faithfully as a priest, and both he and his wife were described as walking righteously before their God. It would seem the only sadness in their lives was that Elizabeth was barren, so they had no children in which to take joy.

One day, Zechariah is serving in the temple, and an angel of the Lord appeared to Him. Out of great respect and fear, Zechariah trembled before this messenger of God. The angel of the Lord tells him, “No need for fear. Your prayers have been answered and your wife Elizabeth is pregnant. You are to name your child John. He will be a great among God’s people. He will set himself apart both by his lifestyle and his message. He will make the paths straight for the coming of the promised Savior.

Now that’s a pretty good day. You serve in the temple. An angel shows up. Tells you the one thing that you have prayed for the most will be given to you by God. And the child you desire so much is going to be a great man used by God to usher in the Savior of the World.

That would seem to be a pretty good day. You would think Zechariah would jump for joy.

Instead, he says, “Um, how do I know this will all come true? Elizabeth is getting up there in age.”

The angel of the Lord responds and says, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the very presence of God and have been sent by Him to give you this message, and you want reassurance? How’s this? You won’t be able to speak another word until that baby is born. That will probably assure you that God means what He says.”

And just like that…Zechariah fell silent…for the next 9 months.

Now, we like to read this story and criticize Zechariah. It is easy to wonder how he could doubt when Gabriel is standing before him telling him what God is going to do. We wonder why Zechariah was so doubtful that God could cause him and his wife to be pregnant when again, Gabriel is standing before him.

It would do us all very well, however, to relate to Zechariah. Zechariah was…scared, plain and simple. Though the promise from God was great, though the delivery of that promise was great, though God was granting him everything that he ever wanted, he was still scared. So scared in fact that it causes him to doubt God himself.

In that, I bet you and I can relate to Zechariah. It is our fear that most often causes us to doubt God. This week, as we begin to celebrate our Advent season, we are going to explore just how Jesus and His work removes us from all fear. If we can embrace that, we will be transformed people. So, let’s try to answer this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question: How does the birth of Jesus not only repair our relationship with God but also remove us from fear and shame?

Luke 1:68-79

68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people

We found ourselves in this passage moments after the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Upon the sight of his son being born, Zechariah bursts into song as he sees the fulfillment of God’s promises literally come to life. I always thought that it made sense that Zechariah sings this song and not Elizabeth. I’m sure if anyone put a microphone to her face so quickly after getting birth she would have yelled, “Get those cameras out of here.”

But Zechariah begins His joyous song of thanksgiving by declaring that the Lord God of Israel has visited and redeemed His people. Now how can he say that God has visited and redeemed His people? John is not the Savior. John the Baptist is not going to die for anyone’s sins.

Well the answer is found in doing a little bit of word work. Zechariah is saying a lot when he says that God has visited His people. Visited is the same word for “looked after”. Jesus uses the same word when He says “I was sick, and you looked after me” God’s visiting His people is not the kind of visit many of us just experienced over Thanksgiving where you show up, do your best to not offend anybody for 4 hours and then leave. God’s visiting is to meet the incredible sin need of His people. It is an active caring visiting.

But how has God redeemed His people? That my friends is a statement of faith. If God is going to give Elizabeth and Zehcariah a child so late in life, then supernaturally silence Him for 9 months, then surely God will keep His promises of bringing about Savior through the ministry of John the Baptist. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah sees that God working salvation in the path of John and ultimately Christ. God’s redemption of His people is as sure as done as John the Baptist will help bring about the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Look at how Zechariah describes Jesus’ work in verse 69.

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,

Now in scripture, a horn of something always symbolizes “power” and in this case the language implies a “destructive power”. Essentially God has raised up a destructive power of salvation. With that in mind, we should ask, “What is it that God needs to destroy to bring salvation? Don’t answer esoterically. What in scripture has told you that something must be destroyed so that people might be forgiven and saved?

Well, way back in Genesis 3:16, when all of humanity fell under the curse of death because of their willful choosing to sin, God promised salvation. God said it would come in the seed of the woman (Eve) crushing the head of the serpent (Satan). What is necessary for salvation is that the Savior must overcome the curse of sin and the accusations of the enemy. That destructive power of salvation is going to come from the house of David. Immediately we know that Z is not speaking about the destructive power of salvation coming from his son, John the Baptist. That would be the house of Levi. He is speaking of Jesus who would fulfill another promise of the OT that was given to King David when God told Him that one of descendant would sit upon the throne for all eternity.

This is the promise that the prophets have spoken of for thousands of years, and now that promise is being fulfilled. Moses called the promised one the prophet that God would raise up. David called the promised one the one who would sit at God’s right hand. Isaiah called the promised one wonderful counselor. Jeremiah called the promised one the branch of salvation. Jeremiah called the promised one the Lord. Ezekiel called the promised one the shepherd. Daniel called the promised one the son of man with everlasting dominion. Micah called the promised one the ruler of Israel. Malachi called the promised one the angel of the covenant. All of scripture and the prophets spoke of Jesus, the wonderful Savior to come, and Zechariah, a prophet himself now sings of our coming rescuer.

Not only will Jesus save us from sin and destructively put to death sin and Satan, look what else He will do. Look at verse 71.

It says He has come “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.

This is the point in the sermon where I don’t know if we’ll make it much further because there is so much rich material here. What Zechariah is doing is explaining the redemption that Zechariah spoken of in verse 68. Zechariah promises that God will save His people from their enemies and from the hand of all who hate them. Rightfully so, we should ask the question, “Who are God’s people’s enemies?”

Well, as you read the playing out Jesus’ interactions with almost every sing person in the Gospels, most folks felt that physical enemies of Israel the Old Testament were going to get an old-fashion butt-whipping. Everyone thought that Jesus was going to kick out the pagan occupants of Israel and restore a physical kingdom in that day and time. Obviously that was not part of Jesus’ agenda to everyone’s dismay so we have to wait until heaven I guess for God to give out those butt-whippings. But scripture also calls Satan, sin, death, the grave, hell as well as many other things your enemies. All these enemies hate you and seek for your destruction whether you are aware of it or not. And we just saw Jesus’ destructive salvation proclaimed.

• He defeats sin by living sinlessly.
• He defeats the grave by rising victoriously from it after He was crucified.
• He defeats Hell by rescuing sinners from it.
• He defeats Satan by obeying in the face of temptation, living for obedience, dying for sin, and rising for new life.
• Ultimately, Rev 20:10 tells us that Jesus will cast Satan and Hell into the Lake of Fire, so there is no reigning of Satan in Hell. He is defeated.

Now, that is the joy of the believer’s life and the hope offered to hurting world. But you know, in Zechariah’s job of priest, he also dealt with another enemy of God’s people that is not mentioned quite as often. Notice the language of verse 74 and 75.

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.

The deliverance from this enemy will enable people to serve God without fear in holiness and righteousness for the rest of their lives. You might ask, “After defeating sin, the grave, death, hell, and Satan, what enemy is left?” I would answer…the enemy of fear and shame. Fear and shame were always in people’s mind because of the clean/unclean system.

You see, in the OT system, to enter the temple either to offer sacrifice or do any other prescribed act of worship, the Priest would declare you either clean, unclean, or the seemingly worst category unclean and outcast. To be declared unclean meant that you were not allowed to worship or offer sacrifice until a prescribed amount of time passed. More than likely, people avoided when you were unclean so as not to become unclean themselves.

Now, not everything that caused you to be unclean was sinful. You could of course become unclean by doing something like having an affair or willfully doing something you were commanded not to do. However, you might have no choice but to come in contact with a dead body or you might have to take care of someone who was terribly sick. These things would make you unclean but not be sinful. For example, Jesus touched and healed lepers, blind men, and the women with the discharge. In all that situations, Jesus made them clean but technically became ceremonially unclean in the touching. He didn’t sin but he was unclean.

Now the clean unclean system in the OT was designed to help us understand a few things. We understand God’s purity and holiness, our own conscience and need for forgiveness, our need to have fear and shame removed from our lives.

I read one article this week that called shame “a dead weight of not good-enoughness,” and Ed Welch who is one counselor I really respect says this about shame. He says, “Shame says you are unacceptable because of what you have done or what had been done to you, and even worse, there are witnesses.” Shame makes you feel despicable because the action, whether you did it to be unclean or it was done to you makes you feel worthless.”

Despite the declaration of forgiveness and restoration from the work of Jesus, so many people are still held captive and are prisoners to their shame. Some of that shame has come from things you’ve done. Yet, some of it is not your fault. People have hurt you. People have touched you. People have mocked you. I spoke a wonderful person just this week because when I asked her what her nickname was as a kid, she couldn’t tell me. She said her dad gave it to her and it was not nice. In fact, it was scarring.

Folks, Jesus has conquered all your enemies including your enemy of shame. If you can lose shame, you will lose fear. If you lose shame and fear, then you will live a joyous life, perhaps for first time ever. Buckle, let me give you all some hope that comes from Jesus whom we celebrate and Zechariah sings. I want to walk us through some the incredible promises surrounding Jesus that speak to His defeating of our enemy of fear and shame.

Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.

Isaiah 64 for speaks of a shame so great, that even the good things we attempt are polluted and diseased. The effects of sin cause us to whither and die. Now I don’t want anyone to recall specific feelings of shame, but I think everyone here can relate to the feelings expressed in Isaiah 64. Your shame causes you to whither and you feel like dying. You feel that it is impossible for you to do any good thing because of your shame, and if you do attempt something good it is tainted.

But God calls your name and moves Himself to defend your cause. God seeks you out in the midst of your fear and shame. It is the exact opposite of what we think God will do. Our feelings of shame make us think that God is not going to be anywhere near us because He his angry. His wrath against sin has been great, and we have felt His wrath against it. But listen to the promise of verse 8.

8 But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

Doesn’t that sound familiar to the promises of Romans that we heard just a few weeks ago? The Lord your God your Father, is the potter who makes pottery into lovely honorable pieces of art. If you go a bit further back into Isaiah 54, you will see what that picture of honor and blessing looks like. Now, men before I read this, bear with the female personification of the people of God. The imagery that God uses for the church is bride of Christ, so many promises to the people of God are feminine in nature. Because of that, men sometimes have a tendency to tune out or not apply the promises in scripture that are given in the feminine. Please don’t make that mistake. The masculine need for the removal of shame is just as important as the feminine.

Now, let me set the groundwork of Isaiah 54 before we jump into it. The people of God here are described as being barren. Of course, the people of God are not physically barren. They were having plenty of children left and right. No, they were barren because they were unable to produce anything with a lasting Godly legacy. What they produce is sin and shame and God is going to rescue them from that sin and shame through Jesus Christ. That is a feeling that I think many people can relate to. You feel so much shame that you think that there is no hope of ever living a Godly life or producing any longstanding Godly legacy. So before I go any further, if you struggle with shame because you were raped or sexually abused and you feel that something has been taken from you that you can never get back, this promise is for you. If you struggle with shame because you made promises to God and you haven’t kept them, then this promise is for you. If you struggle with shame because you have been an unfaithful spouse, then this promise is for you. If you struggle with shame because not your but your spouse has been unfaithful, then this promise is for you. If you struggle with shame because of your secret internet porn addiction, then this promise is for you.

God does not intend for His children to live in shame. He has freed you from it. As I read these promises, hear them addressed to yourself.

Isaiah 54:4 “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. 5 For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.

Now you may hear that and think it sounds great. However, you might also think, “Great, God doesn’t want me to be ashamed or disgrace, but then you think that no matter the promise, it feels like God deserted you a long time ago. Knowing that God describes those feelings verse 7

7 For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8 In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer.

It does feel like God deserts in the most painful of moments. In struggling with shame, we assume that God will never come near us again. But God wonderfully promises to pursue and gather you in with His great compassion. Yes, God is angered by sin and it felt as if His face was hidden but God has an everlasting love that causes Him to pour out compassion on you. In case you want to know how sure this promise is of God to never leave or forsake you, read verse 9.

9 “This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you.

God likens His promise to never forsake to the promise He made to never flood the earth again with Noah. When God destroyed the earth because of sin, He gave Noah and humanity the rainbow as a covenant sign and promise that He would never destroy the earth because of sin in that way ever again. Now, because of the securing work of Jesus, God promises never to be angry with you again. Folks, drink that in and live that for a moment.

• Because of the incredible advent and work of Jesus Christ.
• Because Jesus absorbed all of the wrath of God on the Cross
• Because Jesus earned the good pleasure of God by living a perfect life
• Because Jesus absorbed every ounce of shame associated with your sin and any sin done to you, God promises not to be angry with you ever again.

How sure is this promise of God never being angry again? Look at verse 10.

10 For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

The earth may crumble, the mountain may fall apart, the hills might be remove, but the steadfast love of God will never depart from you. God makes a covenant with you now through Jesus. And the gift of that covenant is not shame, and it is not fear, and it is not judgment. It is a promised covenant of peace. Something so many of you long for.

And get this. Verse 17 says, “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” You are not going to leave a legacy of sin and shame because of what you have done or because of what has been done to you. Jesus, the promised Savior of Zechariah’s song vindicates you and give you a heritage, a new legacy, of righteousness. The goal is that we might serve God, free from the fear of our enemies and even free from the fear of God’s wrath. Because of Jesus has done, as Zechariah sings, you can now serve God in holiness and righteousness.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner. Read it there and help me earn a penny.

December 6, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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