Zacharias’ Prophecy (over his son, John the Baptist)
And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant – as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old – salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:67-79 NAS
These are beautiful words aren’t they? The Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace?” So be it Lord! These were the words Zacharias used to break his angelic-imposed silence. It did not make print but I deeply suspect Zacharias might add, “And never, never, never, ask an angel to prove his point.”
“A Zachariah’s Heart” was the title of a sermon I preached in 2009. (Titles were required for the bulletin. I’m having a flashback, “Here is your bulletin, now find your seat so you can begin to worship.” The word “bulletin” sounds odd today.)
In my 15 years as an elder of Grace World Outreach this message got the most feedback. (For the record, I only spoke a few dozen times.) It was essentially about bitterness – a malady of the heart that can quietly decimate a Christian and those around him (or her). It may have had some additional punch since, my teaching was not just exposition; it were exposé. I was able to offer some insight, from personal experience, as to where a human might get the chutzpah to challenge an angel.
They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. Luke 1:6-7
In the presence of Levitical qualification, a blameless life and, no doubt, petition upon unanswered petition, Elizabeth remained barren. What had Zacharias done with his dissapointment over the years? I believe, he asked, “Why God? Why us Lord? Have we not served you blamelessly?” Perhaps he did not quite voice this in his prayers, but he may have added, in his heart, “And ‘this’ (barrenness) is the thanks we get?!”
Yes, I’m speculating, but not from a total vacuum. I too have asked, “Why?” But, I didn’t bother with Gabriel; I knew with whom I had to do and it was God; “God, why in the prime of my life (with my handicap at 10 and shrinking) did you permit my back to go out? Have I not been zealous for your ways?” “Why are you permitting so much pain into my life? Did I not fast and pray for 40 days? Did I not prayer walk around my city in your behalf?” I finally discovered, through some severe mercy, what I had been doing with my disappointment and I speculated that Zacharias had done the same.
There is an energy in being offended. It can attach itself to the heart like a battery charged with bad current. The silly flesh is powered up with a cause, proclaiming with false dignity, “I have been wronged!” In the Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis speaks of a grumbler becoming a grumble. Zacharias’ chutzpah can best be explained by a complainer having become a complaint. The offense is not necessarily voiced, instead it is nursed. Sadly, one can go about the discharging of their religious duties, with this out-of-phase current, operating in the heart, at least until the circuit blows.
Think of the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He was going about his chores, powered by this same bad current. He once had a seemingly innocent question; “What does father think about me?” The fallen heart has a genius all its own in incorrectly answering this big question. In its Eden-born insecurity, it replies, “To my father, I am but a laborer. He may call me a son, but I’m really just like the hired hands.” He further reasons, “Perhaps if I do my chores without a flaw, his feelings toward me might change.” This approach to his father is doomed. When the hired hands reported that the younger brother had returned and received the favor he had craved, it exposed what was in his heart – a massive distortion of everything around him. Zacharias, the elder brother and I, had all mismanaged our hearts, allowing a question to leaven and become a cancer to our souls and to our communities.
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. Hebrews 12:14-15
Bitterness has a subtle and potentially fatal effect on the expression of God’s life in us. It is the baseless continuation of our futile revolt. It is the exact opposite fruit of what God is endeavoring to grow in our hearts. If you have ever wondered why Jesus told Peter he must forgive 70 x 7 times, it was because of His love for Peter and the Church which Peter would be entrusted with. When these questions about justice and fairness arise in our hearts, we must put them in their place – at the foot of the cross. We are stewards of a precious space, where the kingdom of God has been planted. Forgiveness is life to that new soil. We are the stewards of this field and God anticipates a great harvest.
And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear. Matthew 13:8 NASB
Having allowed this tare to grow in my own heart, I am a big advocate of proactive stewardship of our hearts. The weed of bitterness will rob essential nutrients from our heart-soil. Bitterness is a thistle. It may have a pretty flower but its fruit is toxic. It may look impressive but the plant is covered with thorns and will reproduce 700 x 7. How big of deal is the stewardship of our hearts? A reread, better yet a saturation in Matthew 5 will underscore the answer. Solomon also knew of this spiritual reality…
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23
A dear friend made an astute comment to me this past week and it has been resonating within me. He said, “All sin, at its root, is a violation of Love.” When we are bitter, we are withholding the good will and peace on earth that Jesus came to bring. We are sinning against Love. This is counter to our new natures in Christ. Bitterness is a bane to the kingdom of God. Nursing it will estrange our hearts from Father and wreak havoc upon our communities.
Father, may Your tender mercies prevail. May we see the visitation of the Sunrise from on high. Shine upon those who sit in darkness, seeing only the shadows of death. Guide our feet into the way of peace. For Your name’s sake. Amen,