Fear Not: The Savior is Born

I love Christmas.

I love the lights. I love the music. I love the way people smile at each other. I love the cookies. I love the candy canes.

But most of all, I love dwelling on the story of the Nativity.

Growing up, my family would participate in an outdoor Living Nativity, complete with shepherds, camels, sheep, horses and a lift for an angel with a 10-foot wingspan. As an adult, I find myself often remembering the smell of the hay as I bowed down in my shepherd costume before the manger scene, Mary and Joseph huddled around the baby, sheep bleating, the breeze blowing and “O Holy Night” tinkling over the speakers. It was beautiful.

When I was telling my children the Christmas story,  I realized that I had memorized and could recite the angel’s message to the shepherd’s because of so many nights out on the hillside hearing the deep booming voice.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord…”

My kids weren’t nearly as impressed as they should have been, which seems to be a recurring theme.

Like many, I have reread the Christmas story again this year. I found myself spending a lot more time on the prophecy of Zechariah in Luke 1. One line about Jesus really stuck out for me this time.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

~Luke 1:68-75

Serve God without fear? What does that mean? What does Jesus have to do with this?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t often think about being afraid to serve God. But, as a priest, Zechariah would have known better than most just how monumental this statement was. Zechariah knew all about the fear of serving the Lord.

Fear in Serving God

Being a priest was scary. Like really scary.

The Tabernacle, and later the Temple, was divided into three parts: The courtyard, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, where the presence of God would dwell behind a huge veil. All the Israelites were allowed to enter the courtyard. Only the priests could enter the Holy Place. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement.

Priests would enter into the Holy Place each day to offer different sacrifices and daily rituals. There was a precise process for entering the Holy Place.

  • They had to properly cleanse themselves and wash their hands and their feet, or they would die (Exodus 30:19-21)
  • They had to put on and correctly wear all the priestly clothes, and be sure that they were modestly covered, or they would die (Exodus 28:35, 42-43)

To enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement required much more, including the sacrifice of a bull to atone for the sins of the High Priest. Without it, he would die.

Why was this nessesary?

The restrictions were a way to protect the priests. It is clear throughout scripture that man cannot stand in the presence of God without help. Because of our sin, the purifying presence of God would destroy us on our own.  (Isaiah 6:1-7, Exodus 33:16-23, Exodus 20:20-24) To protect the priests, God made a way for them.

To be in his presence and to serve him, the priests had to be made clean and show their faith through obedience. They had to go through so many steps because who they were and how they were, tarnished by sin, was not holy enough to be even close to the presence of God.

The priests would have been painfully aware that they were not enough on their own.

Why so strict?

One clear reason is that by needing to follow these rules so exactly, it was showing exactly who was in charge: God, not man. The priests could not make their own way to God. They had to follow the way God made.

If you were a priest, you did things the way God said. You followed the way God made for you or you died like the sons of Aaron when they burned the wrong kind of fire before God. (Leviticus 10:1-7)

Why so harsh a judgment?

After the sons of Aaron died, Moses tells us:

“This is what the Lord meant when he said,
‘I will display my holiness
    through those who come near me.
I will display my glory
    before all the people.’” ~Leviticus 10:3

The people who drew near to God, the priests, had an incredible honor and weighty responsibility. They were to display God’s holiness and glory.

This would happen either through His presence with their obedience or through His justice with their disobedience. Either way, the holiness and glory of God would be known. The choice was theirs as to the way that would happen.

That sounds intense to us, and it is. God is intense.

His holiness is intense. His righteousness is intense. His justice is intense. And His love, demonstrated so tangibly through the gift of the baby in the manger, is intense.

Zechariah’s Service

There were daily rituals to perform in the temple.

There were a huge number of priests around in Zechariah’s time. They were divided into 24 groups. Two times a year using lots, each group chose 5 priests from among them to serve in the temple for a week at a time. There were hundreds of priests within each group, so being selected to serve in the temple was very likely a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

This is how Zechariah was chosen to serve. He was selected for the burning of the incense in the Holy Place in front of the veil to the Holy of Holies. He wouldn’t actually go into the Holy of Holies, but he would be pretty close, standing right in front of it. He would have thoroughly washed his hands and feet and put on all the required clothing so he wouldn’t die when he entered the Holy Place. I’m pretty sure he would have gone over all the requirements in his head, mentally checking them off multiple times. I know I would have.

I wonder if Zechariah thought he was going to die when the angel appeared to him. I wonder if he frantically went through that mental checklist.

“Did I scrub my hands and feet enough? Am I wearing my robe right? Are my clothes attached properly? Am I good enough? Have I done enough?“

But that’s not why the angel had come. The angel tells him that he would have a son, John the Baptist. This baby would be a prophet of God. John would prepare the way for the Messiah.

You can read all about what happens next in Luke 1, about the angel visiting Mary and Mary visiting Zechariah and Elizabeth. We are going to fast forward to the birth of John and the prophecy that Zechariah spoke about the coming Messiah at this birth.

Specifically, I want to focus on this line, highlighted before:

that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. (Luke 1:75)

Jesus was going to deliver us. He was going to make a way for us to serve God without fear. He was going to make us holy and righteous before God.

How? How was Jesus going to do that?

By dying on the cross.

By saving us from our sins.

The Enemy Defeated, The Final Sacrifice and The Torn Veil 

There was so much that happened with the death and resurrection of Christ.

The Enemy Defeated

When Jesus died on the cross, he took on our true enemy. Not the Romans as the Jews may have expected, but the powers of darkness, sin and death. He defeated them all with his death and resurrection. He delivered us from their hand.

On the cross, Jesus crushed the head of the serpent as was foretold in the Garden (Genesis 3:15) He broke the power of sin by living a sinless life and paying for the sins of the world. He defeated death by rising again.

We are no longer bound to the slavery of sin and we do not need to die. We can live eternally with God because Christ did this for us. All we need to do is believe.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only son. That whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” ~ John 3:16

The Final Sacrifice

He was the sacrifice for sins that made us clean. We never need another sacrifice again because of what Christ has done.

 “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” ~Hebrews 10:11-12

The priests stood. Jesus sat.

This sitting down was not just relaxation. It’s a contrast.

The priest stood daily, offering the sacrifices over and over again. Though these sacrifices were commanded by God, they in themselves did not take away sins. They were a way of looking ahead to what Christ would do. There was no chair in the temple to sit down on because the work was continual.

But Christ’s sacrifice was different. It was final. It was for the sins of all time for those who had faith in God: those who came before and those who came after. The sacrifice was made and Christ sat down.

The work of salvation is finished.

The Torn Veil

Because the debt of sin is paid, the final sacrifice made, we can now be in the very presence of God.

When Christ breathed his last, the veil in the temple tore in two, from top to bottom.

God took on flesh, was born a baby, gave his life on the cross and tore the veil that marked the separation between God and Man.

Can you imagine the first priests to look upon the torn veil? Can you imagine the fear they must have felt staring into the Holy of Holies?

But they didn’t need to fear. Those who have faith in God could now have the confidence to enter into the Holy of Holies, into the presence of God, because of Jesus’ sacrifice for sins.

The author of Hebrews explains:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” – Hebrews 10:19-23


Even more than that, God’s presence on earth would no longer live in the temple, but inside the temple of the human heart. We would have the presence of God within us with the Holy Spirit.

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
~1 Corinthians 3:16

Can you picture the difference?

Instead of being separated by a curtain, we can have the presence of God within us! Instead of being afraid of serving God, we can approach the very throne of God with confidence. With hope. With the full assurance of faith.

Everything the priests had to do to enter the presence of God has been done for us!

  • We don’t have to wash our hands and feet because Christ has washed us with his blood. (Ezekiel 36:25, Hebrews 9:22, Titus 2:14, 1 Corinthians 6:11)
  • We don’t need to wear the right clothes because we are clothed in Christ. (Revelation 7:14, Galatians 3:27, Romans 13:14)
  • We don’t need to sacrifice for our sins because Christ made the sacrifice. (John 1:29, Hebrews 9:14, Revelation 1:5)

Jesus did it all. All we have to do is to have faith in Christ and trust in what he has done.  This kind of faith will naturally pour out into the kind of works that God wants from us, but these works do not add to our salvation.

If we accept this gift, we are made holy and righteous before God.

Holy and righteous!

Not because we have scrubbed our hands and feet enough. Not because we are wearing the right clothes or undergarments.  Not because we have done enough works to earn a spot. Not because we have tithed a certain amount or know a secret handshake. Not because our good works outweigh our bad. Not because we have prayed enough, evangelized enough, done enough.

We could never do enough.

But we can enter the presence of God by faith because Christ is enough.

Our Savior is enough.

The Savior the angels announced to the shepherds in the hills of Bethlehem. The baby that Zechariah prophesied. Today, the message is still ringing.

Fear not.

There is Good News of great joy!

A Savior is born for you.

He is Christ the Lord.

And He is the Way that we can serve God without fear.

Glory to God in the highest!


Note: Fear of the Lord, as in the proper response to understanding His power, justice, authority over creation, and wrath toward sin is good and wise. This is different from serving the Lord with fear. Check out the difference here: https://www.gotquestions.org/fear-God.html