Saturday, November 17, 2007

Salvation - the Benedictus

As Luke’s gospel opens he’s pretty clear what salvation is all about!

Previously ...

Maybe it’s because I grew up with the weekly classic serial on BBC, but I always quite like dramatisations of the great novels. Judi Dench and co will be joining forces this evening for the first of a five part serialisation of three of Mrs Gaskell’s novels. Miss an episode and you can always catch up with the story so far in the opening couple of minutes of the next instalment.

Something a little bit similar is going on at the beginning of Luke’s gospel.

Luke has a massive story to tell of the impact Jesus made on the lives of those who came to believe in him and of the impact Jesus continues to make on the lives of all who come to follow him. It is a massive story to tell all about Salvation.

But that story does not happen in a vacuum. It is located in a particular place, at a particular time among particular people. The coming of Jesus at this point in time is the culmination of a story that goes back much, much further.

Previously in the Old Testament ...

And it’s all there in the opening couple of chapters of Luke …

The action opens in the Temple, the place where God’s presence touches earth, with a Priest who encounters God in the most special week of his life as he serves just outside the Holy of Holies in the Sanctuary of the Temple and meets with an Angel of God.

Something’s on the move. Something’s happening. The Salvation story that began so long ago is reaching its climax.

Stories of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna have the feel of those stories from the Books of the Law of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel. Elizabeth and Zechariah were both of them righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments of the Lord. We cannot help but think of the Law of the Old Testament.

The child who is to be born to them is unmistakably a new Elijah, with the spirit and power of Elijah upon him. We are in the company of the prophets of the Old Testament too.

And then there’s the writings. Here in Luke 1 and 2 we have three of the finest Old Testament Psalms. Not just songs of praise, they go to the heart of things.

It is as if Law, Prophets, and Writings are converging on this moment in history, and this moment in history is going to impact on the lives of all of us who read Luke’s wonderful Gospel. It is the moment of salvation.

You can read the whole story of the Old Testament as the story of Salvation. It thrusts forward to a moment in time when all is fulfilled.

Nowhere is that seen more clearly than in the remarkable words of Zechariah’s prophecy.


Verses 68-75 are a massive statement of the salvation that is now happening: as John is born and Jesus is expected.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel
For he looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.

They had been looking forward to that point at which the people would be set free from all that oppressed them and weighed them down. That moment of redemption is happening. And the hand of God is behind it all. This is what Salvation is all about. Redemption, setting people free.

He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
In the house of his Servant David,
As he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.

All the expectations of the prophets that a messiah would come were reaching their fulfilment in the events that were happening now. Salvation was at hand.

We would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

Salvation – that’s what it’s all about.

This was the culmination not just of the prophets and all they stood for, it was the culmination of all that was in the Law as well …

Salvation is about the mercy of God reaching into our hearts … it is about a relationship with God that brings God into our hearts:

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
And has remembered his holy covenant,
The oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,

This is the culmination of all that the Law and the Prophets of old stood for.

Salvation – redemption, a setting free, mercy, relationship with God.

How we need a gospel of salvation now.

Things weigh us down in our world – things we have done that are not worthy of God – we are at times all too conscious of our sinfulness, of our shortcomings and failings. We are all too conscious of the weight of sin in the world around us. It can be a pretty grim world.

We yearn for salvation.

And in the coming of Christ Jesus we find salvation.

But what is this salvation like?

Is it a salvation that gets us into heaven?


Is it a salvation that gets heaven into us?

kind of salvation do we yearn for?

The next verse, verse 74, gets to the heart of the matter.

That we, being rescued from our enemies,
Might serve him, without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

Salvation is not so much about getting us into heaven: instead it is about getting heaven and all that heaven stands for into us.

That we, being rescued from our enemies – that’s salvation
Might serve him – that’s what salvation is aimed at.

Set free from all the things that are so troubling in the world we are set free for service … fearless service.

Salvation involves us in three things:
fearless service
Fearless service involves a commitment to service

Holiness is to be experienced in a life centred on God, sustained by prayer.

Righteousness involves putting God’s ways of justice right at the heart of all that we stand for.

This is the experience of salvation as heaven gets into you.

The three dimensions of Christian experience …

Salvation gives us a task to do of fearless service, a centre to our living in the prayer life that leads to holiness, and a set of values to stand by in justice and righteousness.

Leading People to Salvation

The second part of Zechariah’s prophecy homes in on John … it sets out what John is to do as he prepares the way for Jesus to come

But we can see in these words a programme for us to follow as well. We are called upon to follow in the footsteps of John the Baptist and bring people to the Salvation that Jesus offers to all.

You, child will be called the prophet of the Most High
For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.

That’s what John did as he went on his preaching ministry in the wilderness. But that is in a very real way what we are called upon to do.

As we experience salvation in the selfless service of a life centred on the holiness of prayer and focused on justice and righteousness, we are to prepare the way for Jesus to come into people’s lives.

Just as John did, so we are challenged to
give knowledge of salvation to his people
By the forgiveness of their sins.

Conscious of the darkness of the world? Weighed down by that sense of inadequacy, by our failings, our sinfulness … through Christ receive the gift of that forgiveness … it is as if the night is over and the dawn has come.

And it is all down to the gift of God’s love, the tender mercy of his forgiveness …

By the tender mercy of our God,
The dawn from on high will break upon us,
To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.

Salvation … not so much getting us into heaven, rather getting heaven into us.

I love the way Zechariah’s song finishes … as the dawn breaks, the light of God’s forgiving love shines into our hearts, so our feet are guided into the way of peace.

The way of peace: this is the way we are called to follow.

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