A Priest’s Prophecy
We come to the third response to the good news of the incarnation found in the gospel of Luke. We have met this person before, Zechariah. As he was serving in the temple the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him the news that his wife Elizabeth, who was barren and both of them were advanced in years was going to have a son. However, Zechariah did not believe the words that Gabriel had spoken to him. The last words which came from his lips were a question of unbelief to the promise of having a son. Mary and Elizabeth have had their response to the incarnation. Mary is about three months pregnant and just left the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth gives birth to a son. As it with when a baby is born everybody is excited, the neighbors and relatives know that it is because of God’s mercy that Elizabeth was able to conceive. We know Zechariah had been praying for this for some time (Luke 1:13).
Times have changed, when we have had our children, we are not allowed to leave the hospital without having a name for the child. However, during this time the name of boys was given on the eighth day when they were presented to have the covenant sign of circumcision administered to them. When the moment came to have his name written on his birth certificate Elizabeth said that his name shall be John. Now, Gabriel had told this to Zechariah (Luke 1:13). Now this upset the whole circumcision ceremony. The family members in the pews started mumming among themselves and finally, they said, “None of your relatives have this name.” Now I am sure they were not only stating a fact but as they turn to Zechariah to have him correct Elizabeth. Zechariah calls for a tablet (not an iPad kids), a writing tablet. Zechariah begins to write. The suspense was high as Zechariah scribbled with his pen. As he turns it over everybody reads, “His name is John.” The family members were astonished and I am sure this would be the talk of all of their family gatherings in years to come.
Now at this time, Zechariah was able to speak. What comes from his mouth is surprising. He has not been able to speak for at least 9 months if not longer and he beings to bless God. Now many of us in this situation might being to question God. The fear had come upon his neighbors and family. This news started to spread and more questions were raised about Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son, John. Like Elizabeth and Mary before they are filled with the Holy Spirit and Zechariah beings to prophesy, which is where we will spend the rest of our time. Before we do we should note that this word is used by the great prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. However, God has been silent for about 400 years. Something great is happening, in a short time, Gabriel has visited Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph. God is speaking once more. This is a great and glorious time in the history of God’s people. The Holy Spirit is moving in the hearts of his people. God is working. So what can we learn about how Zechariah responds to the good news of God’s movement? How is God moving, what is God doing?
A brief note: There are many ways you could look at this text. If we were amazed at the references and connections in Mary’s Magnificat then we would be even more amazed if traced all the connections in this prophecy, not only back into the Old Testament, but forward into the Gospel of Luke and the rest of the New Testament. One book that has comprehensive cross-references shows 144 different verses that are connected to these 12 verses that come from Zechariah’s mouth. We need to notice that the New Testament sees the Gospel of Jesus as a Continuation of the Old Testament, not a replacement.
Remembering his promise of old
First, God is fulfilling his promise that he said he would do. He mentions the God of Israel, David, the Prophets of Old, our fathers, his holy covenant, Abraham, the Most High, and connects all of this to his son, John, himself, and his neighbors by saying ‘our God.’ Now we could look at all of these connections, but we do not have time to dive into that much detail. However, notice two things; 1) that is it God who is doing this great and glorious work and 2) how Zechariah sees this as being accomplished.
There are three things in this section that I put under this category. God is visiting his people, remembering his covenant, and preparing his people. Now, these categories all overlap with other portions of this prophecy. The gospel pattern is nothing new. God always initiates and starts to meet his people. Abraham never went looking for God, David was summoned by Samuel, Samuel was summoned by God, Jacob was sleeping on a rock, and Moses was looking after sheep in the wilderness. The Covenant of grace I believe can be summarized by the glorious phrase God’s voluntary condescension to his people. We cannot go to God, so he comes to us. God has visited his people. Secondly, God is remembering his covenant. This is not to say that God has forgotten what he has promised, but God’s work is connected to the promise made in the past. This is similar to what is said about God before he saved his people from the hand of Pharoah (Ex 2:24) Lastly, God is preparing a way for his people. Zechariah looks down at little John as a baby and recalls what Gabriel had spoken and also prophesied over this eight-day-old baby. He would be the one preparing the way for the Lord. Gabriel had said that Mary’s child would be the so. Of the most high. Little John would be the prophet of the most high. Pointing others toward God. John is not the center of what God is doing and even his dad Zechariah, proud as he would be for his son realizes that John is a servant of God doing his will.
But the second portion is to see that Zechariah does not say that God will do these things he says he has done these things. Zechariah can see that God is keeping his promise and that time is now. The fullness of time had come, the time is now. Jesus explained to the Pharisees that Abraham rejoiced that he would see my [Jesus’] day.” Abraham saw it and was glad (John 8:56-58. All those who went before John the Baptized looked to God through faith that he would finish what he started, and fulfill what was promised. Paul says in Ephesians, “… according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:9–10). Jesus said when he began his ministry, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). Zechariah knows that time is now. God is working.
Redeeming his people from foes
Secondly, knows that God is redeeming his people from their foes. Now some have commented that Zechariah was too nationalistic in his understanding of the Messiah to come. I think we need to be cautious to believe we know better than Zechariah who was filled with the Holy Spirit and also recorded by Luke who was carried along by the Holy Spirit. But notice what God is doing; redeeming, raising the horn of salvation, saving them from their enemies, delivering them from the hand of their enemies. But notice the end, that is that our feet will be lead to the way of peace. Right after the fall, God had said that there would be a conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. However, there would come a time when there would be no more war only peace. Zechariah knows that God was going to defeat the enemies of God’s people. This is particularly connected to the house of David and the promise of a King and his kingdom. The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains that “Christ executes the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling, and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies” (WSC 26). This theme is throughout the New Testament, tied with Christ and what he has come to accomplish. Paul often begins his epistles with the phrase, “Grace and Peace.” This is not just a nice greeting Paul is in the habit of writing. This is the gospel message of Christ coming to defeat our enemies. Zechariah knows that the time is now, God has come, and he has visited his people. God is going to save his people.
John his Son, is not the savior, but he will “give knowledge of Salvation to his people.” The glorious thing about the incarnation is that Christ comes in the humble estate but comes to defeat our enemies. Luke, who traveled will Paul on some of his missionary journeys might have shared Zechariah’s prophecy with him. You can see many of the same themes that Paul brings out in the book of Colossians.
“giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:12–14)
Or as Charles Wesley wrote,
Hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
ris’n with healing in his wings.
Mild, he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die,
born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing.
“Glory to the new-born King.”
Forgiving his people, a new
Lastly, Zechariah as he is speaking to his young son, John, speaks of God’s mercy which is shown to God’s people. God is going to deliver them to forgive them from their sins. He says “Sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light.” God’s people were dwelling in darkness and with the birth of John, a new era was about to begin. The colors on the horizon began to have a hue of color. The sun is rising and Christ is coming to forgive the sin of the people of God. The light has come into the world and he has a name, Jesus Christ. The Gospel message, Zechariah understood this very well. The apostle John would write about this as he begins his gospel account,
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:4–14)
Zechariah was silent for over nine months, but when he can speak again he breaks out in joyous praise of the great work God is doing for his people. We see once more the incarnation should lead us to see God’s glorious and mighty works for his people, remembering his promises of old, redeeming his people from their foes, and forgiving his people a new. But what does this passage tell us specifically to do because of what God has done? We need to note that this is all happening in the background, God is the one visiting, redeeming, raising, saving, remembering, delivering, preparing, forgiving, shining, showing mercy, and guiding. But we see him doing all of these things for a purpose. Right in the middle, Zechariah explains what the response should be for the people of God for this good news. That we might serve him without fear, in Holiness and Righteousness before him all our days. God saves us for his purpose. Saved to serve. The good news of salvation is not found in Jesus saving us from our past sins but also in changing us to not sin. That we are made new men and women who serve God. In the great Exodus of God’s people, it is not that he only saved them from slavery, but saved them to be a people unto himself. The Gospel is just that when we get focused on merely ourselves and then do not see how God has called us to live. The great work of the gospel begins with repentance and continues with repentance. Because of this salvation we have no reason to fear, we can serve him in holiness and righteousness, all because of his great and glorious works. The incarnation started in the womb but was won at the tomb. The old man is dead and the new man lives. Let us seek to respond to the incarnation with our hearts changed so that we might serve God and him alone. Charles Spurgeon says this is the Christian message, “He is no Christian who does not seek to serve his God. The very motto of the Christian should be “I serve.”