His name was Zacharias.
And he had a wonderful message to deliver.
He knew something that no other man on earth knew. He had the “news scoop” of the day. He had knowledge of that for which man had waited throughout the ages. To him had been revealed that which should be cried out from the housetops.
Yet he was unable to utter one word, one syllable of it!
The story is well known to you without any doubt. But let us get it clearly before our minds. Zacharias was a priest to whom the privilege had been given to offer up incense on the golden altar in the Temple of God. Only once in a lifetime was a priest given this privilege. And in his old age the lot fell on Zacharias for this work before the face of God. He and his aged wife Elizabeth had entered the twilight of their earthly existence utterly childless. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him there in the Holy Place with the astounding message that even now, when humanly such things were without a shadow of doubt completely impossible, they were to have not only a child but a son!
That in itself was a matter that would be too good to keep to oneself. Would the man not rush home to tell his wife, Elizabeth about this wonderful message which he had received from God through His angel? Would he not hasten to her side? to cheer her yet in her old age with that promise which every woman in Israel longed to receive: the birth of a son. No, it was not that they desired no children. It was the will of God that they be kept from having children until this time that He might show forth His glory. And now when the two of them had both given up hope and saw the hopelessness of it all, the promise is given them of a son to be born within the year. Run home, Zacharias! Hasten and watch the sparkle of joy return to the eyes of your barren bride. Tell her the news as quickly as you can. Do not let the poor woman spend another day, another hour with that hopeless feeling and empty longing for that which now seems impossible.
But Zacharias returns home a deaf and dumb man, utterly unable to speak this joyful word unto his wife. (That he was both deaf as well as dumb is evident in that when the child was circumcised, “they made signs to his father, how he would have him called,” Luke 1:62.)
Still more, this was no ordinary child that would be given unto them. “He would be great in the sight of the Lord. And he shall go before Him in the spirit of Elias to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just: to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Plainly this is also a message of the nearness of the day when the promised Messiah will appear. One does not appear to prepare the way for Him centuries and centuries before He comes. One does not prepare the meal for honored guests years and months before the arrival of the guests. The birth of this son to Zacharias — a son that would be great in the sight of the Lord— can only mean the nearness of the birth of that Son of God Who is the promised Messiah. Besides, does not the angel speak of this son coming in the spirit of Elias? And the last prophecy that God spoke through one of His servants, in fact the very last words which God spoke in the Old Testament dispensation in Malachi 4:5 were to the effect that Elijah would come — this John the Baptist—and that he would come shortly before the appearance of the Messiah. Indeed, Zacharias has a message for which the church was and had been waiting lo these many years. Of all men on the face of this earth Zacharias alone had knowledge of the nearness of that day and of the coming of that Messiah.
Today men would call that a “news scoop.” Today the newspapers and magazines would pay Zacharias a handsome price for an exclusive interview and for exclusive rights to his story. Special editions of the newspapers would be printed. Newspaper boys would cry out their “Extra! Extra”!
Cry it out then, Zacharias!
Outside in the Temple is a multitude of morning worshippers. How happy they will be to hear these words and this news. Send them home rejoicing, Zacharias! Do not keep such a glorious truth to yourself. Comfort God’s people. You are a priest, Zacharias. You function in the office of the mercy of God. Reveal that mercy of God to His Church by transmitting to that Church what God in His mercy has revealed to you. When you go out to the congregation to pronounce the blessing of God upon those assembled, give content to that blessing and preface it with this message which shows that God is indeed blessing His people. Cry, Zacharias! Shout and sing!
But no, Zacharias cannot utter a word.
He beckons to them but remains silent. And they presuming —and that correctly— that he had seen a vision went home without the good news revealed in that vision. We can but wonder how Zacharias felt at his utter helplessness to speak one word of this glorious truth.
But we can explain it. He was speechless through unbelief. Unbelief always is speechless. The unbeliever can speak. In the natural, physical sense of the word, he finds no difficulty it all. He may be a silver-tongued orator. He stands up and shouts and cries out his unbelief. Freely and at length he can speak of things natural. And even though he may speak the Word of God from memory or read it with perfect diction, proper emphasis and with modulated voice, because of unbelief a man remains speechless, He is not free to speak the things that count; is not free to confess God and his sins: is not free to praise, bless and thank God; is not free to instruct his children in the things that have everlasting value. Instead of having freedom of speech he is a slave of the father of lies.
Zacharias could not believe this good news of the angel and asked for a sign. And the angel gave him that very sign of being deaf and dumb exactly to illustrate that truth that, through unbelief we are speechless. He who does not believe can have nothing to say concerning that matter. Still more, our everyday life will reveal that the child who is born deaf will never learn to speak. Not hearing the sounds of the words he is not able to sound them for you. Zacharias turned a deaf ear to the words of the angel when he said to the angel, “Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife is well stricken in years.” And if he did not deceive this word of the angel, how can he speak about it and proclaim it to others? If we close our hearts and minds to the truth, how can our tongues, which express what is in our hearts and minds, speak that truth? How can the well give forth water which it has never received? By faith we receive the word into our souls; and then with our mouths we express that which we believe. Paul writes, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation,” Romans 10:10.
Therefore freedom of speech is not something that men can give unto you. It is not something the government can guarantee you and promise you. It is something that God gives you through the Spirit of His Son. Listen to the words of Him Who created the tongue and had the true freedom of speech. Jesus said, “If ye continue in my words, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” John 8:31-32. The truth makes us free from fear, free from want and bestows upon us freedom of religion and therefore freedom of speech.
It all comes down exactly to that fact, even as we mentioned it in passing last time: Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are inseparable. You will never find the one where the other is lacking. Freedom of speech is impossible where there is not freedom of religion. And freedom of religion will always produce freedom of speech. We say again, that which men call freedom of religion really is no freedom of religion but rather freedom of irreligion, freedom to propagate all the false religions of the world unharmed and with equal — if not superior—right to the freedom of the true religion of Jehovah, the only true God. And herein also you see the close link between freedom of religion and freedom of speech. In our land freedom of religion means the right to speak out our beliefs and to teach them to our children, to express them without fear of penalty or persecution for them.
But this is true freedom of religion: The liberty and power to serve God according to His self-revelation in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son. Paul, who had this true freedom of religion’ and also therefore was free to speak the truth says about this in Romans 8:2, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” There you have it! The man who is not free from that law of sin and death has no freedom of religion. He is still a slave to the law of sin and death; and a slave is not free by any stretch of the imagination, and knows himself every day that he has no freedom. Although in our land this freedom of religion is relegated to the background—though once our Pilgrim Fathers fled to this land to seek it — and freedom from want and fear are deemed more important, yet this freedom of religion is basic. He who is not freed from the law of sin and death must live in fear of our God Who is a consuming fire. He wants the thing that he needs above all and can never have the joy of the freedom from want. He wants (lacks) God’s favour and blessing. He wants (lacks) Christ. He cannot say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I want nothing.” And all his speech will only reveal that he is a slave under the law of sin and death.
Our Church Fathers spoke of this true freedom of religion with its freedom of speech—and we will not bother you with the Latin phrases—when they spoke of Adam in Paradise before the Fall as “able not to sin”; of man after the Fall as “not able not to sin”; and of man as he is freed from the law of sin and death and will be seen in the New Jerusalem as “not able to sin.” There, indeed, is the highest freedom, to be free only to do good and to speak the truth. Righteous Adam, we may say, was free to speak the truth. That was his freedom of speech. Fallen Adam was freed (separated) from speaking the truth. And redeemed man walking upon the street of gold in the New Jerusalem will be free only to speak the truth.
Freedom of speech is only for those who fear God, for freedom of religion, upon which it is based, is freedom to live in the fear of the Lord. Walking after the Spirit is walking in His fear. And the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made us free from the law of sin and death. We are freed from not walking in His fear and made free to walk in His fear. Therefore it is the regenerated child of God alone who has the true freedom of speech. Walk in that freedom.