Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 12/17/2000
John the Apostle tells us that in the beginning was the Word. When that eternal Word came into the world, his coming generated other words, which were true as He was the Truth. Some of them were spoken by Zachariah at the very moment he recovered his speech. They shed some interesting light on the coming Messiah and his mission. They are cast in very Old-Testament language of course, and that very fact helps us reconceptualize Salvation in more biblically accurate terms than the ones we have become familiar with.
The first thing they help us to see is WHAT CHRIST CAME TO SAVE US FROM: An Enemy (v. 71), a powerful enemy who hates us. No doubt the others in the room thought Zacharias was referring to Rome. But this verse is a quotation from Psalm 106, which hints that Zacharias may have seen deeper than that. This psalm is a rehearsal of Israel's history from the standoint of her captivity in Babylon. Again and again she has sinned. God has allowed her to be oppressed as a result, but he has always sent deliverance, and will again in spite of Israel's unworthiness. The whole thrust of the psalm is that it is Israel's sin and unbelief that is her real enemy, not Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar. It is her sin and unbelief that gives her oppressors their power over her. Indeed, Zacharias will go on in v. 77 to define the deliverance (or salvation) that Messiah will bring as forgiveness of sin, which is a rather strange thing to say if it is all about overthrowing the Roman oppressor. His son would fulfill this prophetic vision by identifying Israel's deliverer as "The Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world." So it is sin which is the real enemy, and behind sin lies Satan, the Enemy of our Souls.
We know that Satan is God's enemy, but it would be helpful to remind ourselves that he is ours too. As God is love, Satan is the embodiment of hatred. He hates you and wants you to be miserable. God wants to share his life with you, joy unspeakable, and indeed his own glory; Satan wants you to share his misery, for, as Mephistophelis reminds us, "Misery loves company." He is a powerful adversary, capable of disguising himself as an angel of light when he is really a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. And because Satan is behind it, Sin too is aggressive: Gen. 4:7 describes it as crouching at the door, like a beast of prey. And it lusts for us, but we must master it.
By describing salvation as being from an Enemy who hates us, Zacharias reminds us of the importance of these biblical metaphors. We picture good and evil as simply neutral choices just lying there waiting for us to make up our minds. But sin is not passive; becasue Satan is behind it, it is an active principle, dynamic, aggressive and predatory. And we are not neutral; we are twisted in the direction of sin by the corruption of our natures caused by the Fall. Why do we have such trouble shaking loose of our besetting sins? One reason is our substitution of tamer pictures for the biblical ones describing the Enemy. This allows us to trust in our own wisdom and strength rather than fleeing to Jesus alone as the all-sufficient Deliverer.
Zacharias also helps us to restore our vision of WHAT CHRIST CAME TO SAVE US BY: the Forgiveness of Sins (v. 77). The knowledge of salvation is the forgiveness of sin, he says. As we have seen, this is a rather stange thing to say if we view Rome as the enemy. God wants to deliver us from our Enemy who hates us. So what prevents him from doing so? What keeps him from just raiding Satan's kingdom and taking us out? Two things: our Sin and his Justice. That is why the death of Christ was necessary, and why his incarnation was necessary. He must take on our nature so he can serve as our Substitute. He must die to take our penalty and wipe out our guilt so that God can receive us back as his own and shield us from our deadly enemies for ever more, in spite of our previous wilfull entaglement with them. And he must ever live as the Head of our restored humanity and Mediator between us and the Father so that his perfect obedience can come to live in us. Thus Zacharias anticipates the Pauline doctrine of Justification by Faith as the ground of salvation and the door to sanctification.
A third reality Zacharias can help us reconceptualize is WHAT CHRIST CAME TO SAVE US FOR: Himself. He came to die so that God could "grant" us to serve him without fear (v. 74). This, as Paul emphasizes in his correspondence with Timothy, is perhap the greatest of his gifts. We tend to view salvation negatively, as release from eternal punishment. And this view is true, though incomplete. But Zacharias helps us to see it also as positive, as saved not just FROM but FOR. What greater gift could there be than the ability to serve God without fear? Service is not something we OUGHT to do if we are especially zealous Christians; it is something we GET to do as the fulfillment of our redemption. He also pictures it in terms of light dawning (v. 78b-79a) and peace (v. 79b). Once again, the English word for peace is more negative: peace is the absence of conflict. But the Hebrew Shalom is positive: not just the absence of conflict but the presence of God's rich blessing enjoyed in security and contentment.
Let us allow these words to sink deep into our minds and transform our thinking. The more we come to picture salvation as Scripture does, the more we will realize what a great salvation the Lord came to that stable to bring us, the more we will realize what a great and marvelous and all-sufficient Savior we have. Then we will flee to him indeed, and then we will serve him with joy.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams