Different texts have different concerns. While the stories of Aesop Fables may help us navigate this present evil age, the narrative of God’s story that we find in Holy Writ is intended to get us into the age to come or alternately teaches us how the age to come overcomes this present evil age. Aesop fables tells us how to live in this world. Scripture teaches what God has done to make us fit to live in the next World AND how His work of making us fit for the next world re-creates this World so that the Kingdoms of this earth become the Kingdoms of our God.
We must be careful not to read Scripture as if it is a story about us. The purpose of Scripture is to give God’s story of Redemption and what it is He has done to put us in His Story. There is a perpetual danger on our part of taking God’s story and stuffing it in our own personal narratives with the result that God is the kind of co-star whose role is to approve of our story line while making sure that we, in our lead roles, look good. When we read Scripture like this Scripture goes from being a Story about the glory of God as seen in providing redemption for sinners to being a Story about our glory as seen in how we have spent our lives with God as our co-star who gladly conforms His actions according to our script.
The danger of reading scripture like this is that conceivably someone could quote Scripture backwards and forwards rattling off Scriptures from memory like a Brooklyn Bookie rattles off odds for the latest sporting events and yet we wouldn’t have any idea what Scripture means or teaches. To ‘know’ Scripture like this would leave us as ignorant of the Gospel as the Bat People Tribe who have never heard of Jesus who live in the deepest jungle of Borneo.
We need to keep this in mind when we come to passages like the Benedictus which is before us this morning. If we were to follow an all too typical type of sermon we might say something like,
“Zechariah serves for us as an example of faith, all be it tardy, that we ought to follow. Zechariah eventually obeyed God and we should also. Zechariah teaches us that God never gives up on people, even if he has to discipline them for a season and so if we have failed God we can still be faithful and He will give us another chance.”
But is it really the purpose of this pericope to teach us to emulate Zechariah’s example, or is there something about God’s story that we are to draw out from this?
Quite clearly we would be abusing this Scripture if we turned Zechariah into some kind of moral exemplar while all the time missing that what is happening here is that God’s Story of Redemption is reaching its climax. Zechariah’s prophecy isn’t even about Zechariah let alone about us. Zechariah’s prophecy is about God’s novel reaching its climatic moment. All the anticipations and adumbrations are being fulfilled. All the disappointments of the Novel in past characters and epochs that failed are going to be set right. The Hero who will kill the tyrant dragon who has so long unjustly oppressed the King’s people, as so many Damsels in distress, is being introduced into the novel. This is the Hero that has been promised by the King’s spokesmen (1:70) throughout the ages and it is the literary relief that God’s novel needs in order to go forward.
Zechariah’s son will be the last great royal Herald going forth with trumpet fanfare to announce the coming Hero (Luke 1:76f). But this novel has its own twist. Both the Herald and the Hero are rejected by those they came to rescue (“His own received Him not”). Worse still some of the royal people are traitors (Not all of Israel is of Israel) and are in league with the Dragon oppressor, aiding and abetting in the attempt to destroy the Herald and the Hero.
Yet that gets us ahead of where Zechariah is at in Luke 1. Zechariah is one of the Characters of the novel who the author is using to announce that the great King is true to His promise to provide a deliverer to redeem His people (Luke 1:68, 74).
First we should note that the story is linear and has teleology. That is to say that the part that Zechariah has to play in the story is consistent with earlier portions of the novel and is indicative that the Novel has a destination. This Hero comes from the promised house of Heroes (Luke 1:69) – a house that had been reduced to a withering stump (Isaiah 6:13). Further the coming of the Hero is consistent with promises that were given by God way early in the novel (Luke 1:70 cmp. w/ Genesis 3:15) that He would provide a dragon tyrant slaying Hero who would deliver and redeem His people from the clutches of His enemies (Luke 1:71). Indeed, Zechariah being filled with the Spirit of the Author of the Novel (Luke 1:67) can say that this Hero was part of a storyline that includes in it earlier Heroes such as David (Luke 1:69) and Abraham (Luke 1:73) who were literary anti-types of the great Hero in God’s novel.
Second, as we read this part of the story we realize that this story is framed by covenant (Luke 1:72). This is the literary tool used to unite the whole story. Covenant is how God, as a Novelist, brings unity and diversity into His story. The literary tool of covenant allows the novel to keep building while at the same time providing a sense of wholeness to the story as it unfolds. When Dr. Luke wanted to show early Christians that the Heroes’ life and ministry were the fulfillment of God’s ancient purposes for His chosen people, he pointed to the covenants and quoted Zechariah’s prophecy which reveals that believers such as Zechariah in the very earliest days of ‘the new and better covenant’ understood Jesus and His messianic work as a fulfillment (not a ‘Plan B’) of God’s covenant with Abraham (Luke 1:72-73). God didn’t shelf the previous story of the Old Covenant with the arrival of Jesus and start a new story with the intent of getting back to the previous story once he had finished the new story. No, Zechariah’s appeal to the covenant reveals that the characters in God’s novel understood that this was one incredible narrative.
The Novel doesn’t change plot lines with the coming of Jesus. The author of the Novel doesn’t suddenly switch to an alternate plan of rescue for His people all because His royal people reject the Hero. Quite to the contrary this was part of the Author’s intention from when He began writing His novel.
Another thing we want to see about this novel is that it is interactive, which is to say that God’s story is not a story that leaves us unaffected. While it is certainly not the case that we are to turn God’s story into our story, it is the case that God takes us up into His story so that we become participants in his story. Zechariah notes that the salvation (deliverance, redemption) that is being provided by the Messiah is to have the effect that God’s people might ‘serve Him without fear.’ The idea is that having been delivered we might be loyal servants (hence royal priesthood) to God. The redemption provided by God in His story doesn’t end with a people who deaf dumb and mute to the extension of God’s Kingdom. No, in God’s story we are delivered in order to serve. God does not become a participant in our story but we do become participants in His story, and we do so by rendering Him the service a delivered people delight in rendering.