Imagine two scenarios:
Imagine a faithful, loyal, trustworthy servant of a king—a servant whom the king knows he can depend upon. Imagine that this servant has been assigned to stand at the gate of the city to wait for the arrival of the king’s beloved son. The servant stands at the gate to the city through the long, hot days of summer. And the servant stands at the gate to the city throughout the bitterly cold nights of winter. Knowing that the king’s son will arrive one day, but not knowing when that day will arrive, the servant stays there waiting, and waiting, and waiting, anxious to welcome the king’s son as soon as he appears. Years come, and years go, and the servant remains at his post. Finally the son arrives. The servant throws his arms around the king’s son and welcomes him to the castle. He shouts out the good news of the arrival. Then the faithful servant asks permission to go home, at last, to rest.
That’s the picture Luke gives of an old man named Simeon. He had been waiting and waiting and waiting for the Messiah—the King’s Son—to arrive. He had been standing at his post, waiting faithfully throughout the years. Now, at last, when Mary and Joseph bring their baby to the temple to be dedicated, Simeon takes the baby into his arms, welcoming the King’s Son. Then Simeon asks permission to go home. Simeon greets the arrival of Jesus with a song of great joy! (Luke 2:25-32)
Now, imagine a young man—we’ll call him Jack—who is in love with a wonderful young woman—we’ll call her Janet. Though they live for away from each other, they write the most heart-touching letters back and forth, and both have promised their undying love to one another. Closer to Jack’s home, though, is another young woman—we’ll call her Kathy. Jack enjoys the company of Kathy. He enjoys the beauty of her face, her beautiful eyes, her lovely smile, her attractive figure. It thrills him when she touches his hand or puts her arms around him, or when they press their lips together. Jack and Kathy have been getting serious and have begun to talk about moving in together. As it so happens, though, Janet suddenly, and surprisingly, shows up at Jack’s door one afternoon—just as Jack is heading out on a date with Kathy. Suddenly Jack faces a dilemma. So long as Kathy was here and Janet was far away, Jack could get by. He could enjoy his heart-touching love letters with Janet and his kisses with Kathy. But as soon as Janet arrives at his home, Jack must make a choice. He has to choose between the two of them.
In a rough way, that’s what Simeon addresses when he says of Jesus, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed” (Luke 2:33-35). So long as God stays in heaven, we can send lovely prayers upward, promising our undying devotion to God, while enjoying on earth whatever sins we want to engage in, but when God suddenly appears on earth—or in our lives—we have to make a choice. Will we live faithfully or unfaithfully? Jesus’ arrival causes the thoughts of many hearts to be revealed. In this way, Jesus causes the falling and the rising of many people.
Will we live as faithfully as Simeon? Or as unfaithfully as “Jack”?
Zechariah. His name means, “Jehovah (God) Remembers.”
Why would parents choose such a name for their child? And why do we come upon so many references in the Hebrew Scriptures to the fact that God remembers?
Could it be that God is growing old and struggling with His memory? Or could it be that God is scatterbrained and not always remembering things? Or could it be something else?
The “remember” part of Zechariah’s name is the Hebrew word zakar (or zechar). Most literally, it means “to leave a mark,” or “to make an impact.” Larry Crabb adds, “In ancient Near East culture, the word referred to a king’s assistant, to a man charged with the important privilege of reminding the king of matters that required his royal attention. Zakar came to mean someone who remembers something important that moves him to do something important.” (Fully Alive, p. 67-68)
When the Bible speaks of God remembering it is not suggesting that a clarity of recall has suddenly burst through a prevailing fog of forgetfulness, but that God is about to take action on that which He has been holding in His heart. For example, Genesis 8:1 tells us that “God remembered” Noah and the animals on the ark, and the next line tells us that “God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.” When Rachel is grieving over her lack of children, Genesis 30:22 reports that “God remembered Rachel,” and goes on to tell us “and God heeded her and opened her womb.” As the Hebrew people suffered as slaves in Egypt, Exodus 2:24 records that “God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham;” immediately after that God speaks to Moses from a burning bush and sends him to Egypt to deliver His people.
When Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth gives birth to a son who will grow up to become John the Baptist, Zechariah (whose name means “God Remembers”) sings a song about God remembering His people. Luke 1:72 stresses, “Thus He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered His holy covenant.”
Holding to Biblical precedent, Zechariah is stressing that God is about to take significant action on behalf of those whom He has been holding in His heart. The action here is that John the Baptist has been born, and He will prepare the way for Jesus. Salvation is on the way!
The reason the Bible speaks so often about God remembering is for our sake: We need to remember that God always remembers us and always holds us in His heart.
I greatly appreciate Erik Raymond’s explanation of this: “We forget to remember. But God never does. You can feel the weight of this truth in a passage like Psalm 9 where the Psalmist is feeling the sting of persecution. Through the eyes of faith he is confident in God’s ultimate victory, and he even boasts of as much (verses 4-6). But in the midst of his rehearsal of who God is and what He will do, the Psalmist is reminded that God remembers them. ‘Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples His deeds! For He who avenges blood is mindful of them; He does not forget the cry of the afflicted’ (Psalm 9:11-13). Consider the beautiful irony of this passage. The King of kings, whose deeds are worthy of being proclaimed among the nations, remembers the weak. He never forgets. His mind is a veritable steel-trap. He knows the conditions and concerns of His people. How encouraging is this? Amid acknowledging your own personal weakness, you find such a castle of strength. The existence and needs of God’s people never escapes God’s mind.”
I have been told that when Martin Luther struggled with discouragement he would say to himself over and over again, “I am baptized; I am baptized.” It was his way of reminding himself that he was remembered by God, that he belonged to God, that he was held securely in covenant relationship with God.
That’s how it is for us. We need to remember that God remembers us, that God will never forget us, and that God will take action on our behalf.