Luke 1:57-80 • December 17, 2023 • s1367
Pastor John Miller continues our series in the Gospel of Luke with an expository message through Luke 1:57-80 titled, “The Hymn Of Zacharias.”
We’ve learned that the Gospel of Luke is the Gospel of singing. There are so many songs in the beginning of the book of Luke. And it is natural that there would be, because there is the dawning of a new day.
I discovered that birds like to sing in the morning. We had a house years ago that had a lemon tree right outside our bedroom window, and I slept by the window. The birds liked to congregate in the lemon tree, and they would sing every morning. It was a natural alarm clock. Sometimes I would want to sleep in, but they would wake me up. We don’t know why birds sing in the morning, but they do.
We saw Elizabeth sing in Luke 1:42-45, we saw Mary’s Magnificat that she sang in verses 46-55 and now we have a third song, Zacharias’ Benedictus, in verses 68-79. The word “Benedictus” is Latin taken from verse 68, the word “blessed.” “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel” is the title of Zacharias’ song. It is a song of praise and blessing to the faithful God of Israel, who always keeps His covenant promise.
In Zacharias’ song, there is a lot of Old Testament theology. Zacharias, like Mary, was full of the wisdom of God and the Word of God. And when he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he began to speak and out came all this old theology and Scripture about God’s covenant-keeping faithfulness to the nation of Israel and to us, as well.
It’s a song celebrating the dawning of a new day. It’s described in verse 78 as “the Dayspring from on high has visited us.” What a great way to describe Christmas. This is a reference to Jesus’ first Advent. “Dayspring” refers to the dawning of a new day. So the world was living in darkness, and the coming of Christ in His first Advent was actually “the Dayspring from on high.” Charles R. Erdman said, “This song is an ecstatic expression of gratitude to God for His boundless goodness.” I like that.
Before Zacharias blesses God in his song, Benedictus, his son, John the Baptist, is born and it sets the stage for the story of Zacharias’ song. So let’s look at the first section, verses 57-66, the birth of John the Baptist. “Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.”
There is significance in the term “full time came.” It’s obviously referring to her pregnancy with John the Baptist; she’s now nine months into the pregnancy, and it’s the time for her to be delivered. But the time reference in verse 57 also refers to God’s fullness of time, God’s appointed time of His promises to Abraham and David to be fulfilled. He would send forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who are under the Law and that we might have the adoption as sons and daughters.
Have you ever discovered that God is right on time? He doesn’t come on our time clock. But He does come in His perfect timing.
So the time was fulfilled, “and she brought forth a son.” This was a fulfilment of the prophecy given by Gabriel in Luke 1:13 to Zacharias that he would have a son. God always keeps His promises. In the very same chapter, we have a prophecy of a son and its fulfilment. God speaks and He fulfills His promise and the son is born.
When this child was born, Elizabeth’s “neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.” When a baby is born, we rejoice, because children are a gift from God. They are not punishment; they are blessings. “Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them,” Psalm 127:5. What a blessing children are! And in the culture of the Bible times, they knew and understood that. So they gathered together and rejoiced. The Bible says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep,” Romans 12:15.
They rejoiced with Zacharias and Elizabeth, because God had shown great mercy on them. Elizabeth had the reproach of no children; she was barren. So God had been gracious and merciful to her and gave her a child. Now everyone rejoiced together at this child, a gift from God.
Verse 59, “So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias.” So they assumed he would be Zac, Jr. In Leviticus 12:3, the people of Israel are instructed that when a male child is born, eight days later he would be circumcised, as a sign of the covenant that God made with Israel. It was a ceremony where the family and friends came together and rejoiced, and at that time, the family would announce the name of the child. For eight days, you wouldn’t know the child’s name. Some feel this custom was taken from Genesis 17, when God had Abraham circumcised and changed his name from Abram to Abraham.
Verse 60, “His mother answered and said, ‘No; he shall be called John.’” The Greek scholars made it very clear that in the Greek this statement is emphatic. So Elizabeth would have said, in the Greek, “No; his name is John.” How did she know that? God told her husband but not her. And her husband can’t talk. We’ll see that he had a writing tablet, and he probably made it very clear on his writing tablet, “His name is John.” Then he wrote, “Don’t mess with that name; that’s why I can’t talk!”
Verse 61, “But they said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.’” The custom was that they would name the child after the grandfather, not so much after the father. But because Zacharias had no other children, they made it clear that it should be Zacharias. But Elizabeth made it clear that his name would be John.
Continuing, “So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.” This is why some commentaries say that Zacharias possibly was also deaf. They couldn’t speak to him, so they made sign language. So evidently he couldn’t hear and he couldn’t speak, because he didn’t believe in the angel’s promise of a son.
Verse 63, “And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying…”—emphatically—“…‘His name is John.’ So they all marveled.” One of the words that Luke used over and over in his Gospel is “marveled.” It means “to be struck with awe outside yourself,” and he used it with a lot of the miracles that Jesus performed. When Jesus performed a miracle, they were struck with awe, filled with wonder and were amazed.
“Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed.” So for nine months, Zacharias had been silent. He couldn’t speak and possibly he couldn’t hear for all that time. The writing tablet was a little piece of wood with a layer of wax or clay over it. Using a stick with a sharp point, they would make impressions in the clay. Then they would smooth it over to use it again. So Zacharias wrote, “His name is John.” The moment he wrote that, his lips were open, “And he spoke, praising God.”
J.C. Ryle commented on this passage, and he made mention of the blessing of discipline in our lives. Think about Zacharias. He didn’t believe God’s promise, he was disciplined by God with silence, but now God has worked in his heart and in his life. Through that chastening or discipline, now his heart is filled with praise, his mouth is now loosed in faith and he begins to praise God. There is blessing and benefit that comes to us when God chastens us, because of our lack of faith or our disobedience. So Zacharias spoke and praised God, which he hadn’t done for nine months.
Verse 65, “Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea.” So the gossip chain started; they told this story throughout this area. “And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, ‘What kind of child will this be?’ And the hand of the Lord was with him.” This is referring to John.
In light of this last statement, the story is not about Zacharias, it’s not about Elizabeth, it’s not about John the Baptist. It’s about God. As is all of Scripture—it’s about God and not about us. The Bible is a revelation from God about God. God reveals Himself, His plans and His purposes in His Word. So when you are studying the Bible, look for God, look for the hand of God, the plan of God, the purposes of God and the work of God.
All through this narrative in Luke 1—God sending an angel to Zacharias, God sending an angel to Mary, God conceiving in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit, the filling of the Spirit, the prophecies—it’s all the hand of God. And now we see the hand of God on this child, on John the Baptist.
Let’s look at the end of the story in verse 80. “So the child…”—that is, John the Baptist—“…grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.” Everything before this verse is parenthetical and is the prophecy about him, in the song of Zacharias. So notice John goes into the desert and the Isaiah the prophet says that John is “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God,’” Isaiah 40:3. So he’s out in the desert, and some believe he might have joined the company of the Essenes, the Qumran community. But there is no evidence for that.
It’s interesting that John is “strong in spirit,” and he comes in the Spirit. That would be his human spirit and the Holy Spirit working in his life. And John became a great preacher. He actually was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament preachers. He linked together the old covenant with the new covenant. Jesus said, “Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist,” Luke 7:28.
Whenever you study the Bible, you don’t want to read into a text what is not intended by the original author to be in the text. I’m always careful to do that. I don’t know if this was intended to be there, but many commentaries say they see Zacharias as a foreshadowing or a picture of Israel’s unbelief, and then when Zacharias names his son John and he speaks and prays, that is Israel’s future restoration.
I think that’s an interesting thought. Zacharias’ unbelief, dumbness and chastening from the Lord speaks about the blindness on Israel temporarily “until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in,” Romans 11:25. That’s the church. Then God begins to work again with the nation of Israel, and in the second Advent of Christ when He returns, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced,” John 19:37, and will come to see Jesus as their Messiah. Faith will return, there will be restoration and they’ll enter the kingdom age. It’s interesting that God granted them such a great man as John the Baptist. He had preached repentance and prepared the way of the Lord, as God’s hand was upon him.
In verse 67, we see Zacharias begins to sing. This is the second section of our text, verses 67-80. So we have two, large sections: the birth of John the Baptist and the blessing of Zacharias. “Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying…” This begins the Benedictus, the song of Zacharias. Notice the reference again “was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit, John was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb, Mary was filled with the Spirit when she gave forth her Magnificat and now we see Zacharias is filled with the Spirit. So all through the Christmas story we see all those who were filled with the Spirit.
There are three things I want you to notice in the text that Zacharias blesses God for. The first blessing is in verses 68-71. He blesses God in his song, because God kept His promise to David. He will mention what I believe to be the Davidic Covenant. He refers to the house of David, blessing God for His promise to David. Zacharias said, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel…”—this is where we get the name Benedictus—“…for He has visited and redeemed His people.” Whenever you read in this song “His people,” He is referring to the nation of Israel. He’s not talking about the church; He’s talking about God’s chosen people, Israel. He’s visited and redeemed His people.
Verse 69, “…and has raised up…”—notice he’s speaking in the prophetic, past tense, as Mary did—“…a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began, that we…”—that is, Israel—“…should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.”
Notice the statement in verse 69, “the house of His servant David.” God gave to David, the King of Israel, a promise called the Davidic Covenant. If you’re going to understand your Bible, you have to understand God’s covenant to David and His covenant to Abraham in the Old Testament. Now we have the new covenant in the New Testament, the covenant in Christ’s blood. But the covenant or promise that God made with David, the Davidic Covenant, is found in 2 Samuel 7.
The story goes that David lived in a beautiful palace, but God’s temple was not yet built; God was still living in the tabernacle or tent. David felt bad that he lived in a beautiful palace of cedar while God was living in a tent, so he told Nathan the prophet that he wanted to build God a house, a temple. Nathan said, “Go, do all that is your heart,” verse 3. But that night God spoke to Nathan and said that was wrong what he told David. David could not build God a house, because David was a man of war; there was blood on his hands. But his son, Solomon, would build the temple. But God promised He would give David a greater Son, who would sit on David’s throne, and from David’s lineage, the Messiah would come. Nathan relayed this to David.
This is why Jesus Christ was called “the Son of David.” Jesus was from the tribe of Judah of the line of David. That was the Messianic line, because God promised it to David. God would give David a Son, He would sit on David’s throne and “He would reign forever…and of His kingdom there will be no end,” Luke 1:33.
When David heard this, the sweet psalmist of Israel was speechless. He wrote beautiful songs of praise, but now he didn’t know what to say. “I’m disappointed I can’t build God a house, but He is going to give me a Son, who will be Messiah, the Savior of the world?!” “He will reign forever…and of His kingdom there will be no end” will happen at Jesus’ Second Coming. At His first coming, Jesus suffered and died for our sins, but at His Second Coming, He will come, as the Son of David, to establish His throne and reign forever. This is the Davidic Covenant.
We see the covenant in Isaiah 9:6-7, 400 years before Christ was born. We get it on many Christmas cards. “For unto us a Child is born…”—that’s His humanity—“…unto us a Son is given…”—that’s His first coming—“…and the government will be upon His shoulder.” That’s His Second Coming. He’ll come and reign the second time. “And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father…”—which is actually “Father of Eternity—“…Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David…”—there it is—“…and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” So God made this promise to David, and Zacharias said that God is faithful to keep His promises.
Do you know that? God always keeps His promises and His covenant made with David.
Now for a footnote. Many times in the Old Testament, as we saw with Isaiah 9, sometimes the prophets would put together in a single verse the first Advent of Christ with the second Advent of Christ. A lot of times the Jewish people did not make a distinction between the two—that there now has been a 2,000-year gap between the two Advents. “For unto us a Child is born” is the Incarnation or Christmas. “Unto us a Son is given” is His deity. “The government will be upon His shoulder” is the Second Coming. So in that one verse, Isaiah 9:6, we have reference to His first Advent and His Second Advent, which has a gap of 2,000 years between the two. We are still waiting for the government to be placed on Jesus’ shoulders.
Every time I hear the politicians talk and hear all the stuff going on in our nation today, I say, “Oh come, Lord Jesus!” Then the government will be on His shoulders, and He will reign on David’s throne forever. God will keep that promise. God faithfully kept the promise He made to David; He came the first time—“Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son was given.” And He will faithfully keep His second promise. Jesus will sit upon the throne of David and reign forever, and “of His kingdom there will be no end.” So when you celebrate Christmas, don’t just respond in joy about His first Advent, but also look forward to the promise of the Second Coming. Jesus Christ will come again.
In our text, in verses 68-69, we have His Incarnation, “for He has visited.” John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Then in verse 68, we have His redemption at His First Advent. He “redeemed His people.” Redemption is a picture of being in bondage and being set free from it. It is a picture of being bought, taken out of prison and being set free. The price that was paid for our redemption was the blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
Now we see, in verse 69, His power to save in the imagery of “a horn of salvation.” Whenever the Bible uses the word “horn,” it’s not talking about a horn like a trumpet that you blow. It’s talking about the horn of an animal; in this case, the horn of an ox or bull. The horn was symbolic of power and strength. Jesus is likened to the horn of God’s salvation—God’s power, God’s strength, God’s might to redeem us. So the first Advent of Christ was to come as the “horn of salvation” to save us from sin.
But notice the Second Coming of Christ, in verses 70-71. “As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets…”—he doesn’t tell us which ones—“…who have been since the world began…”—going all the way back to Genesis—“…that we…”—Israel—“…should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.”
Now remember verse 71 when you watch the news about Israel’s war with Hamas, the Palestinian issue and the conflicts going on in Israel today. There will come a day when the Lord will deliver them from all their enemies. It will be when Christ, the Messiah, comes and sits upon the throne of David. Jesus’ first coming came to save us from sin when He went to the Cross. In Jesus’ Second Coming He will come to save us from our enemies, and He wears the crown.
The second reason Zacharias praised God was because He kept His promise to Abraham. It’s called the Abrahamic Covenant, verses 72-75. “…to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath…”—the same thing as a covenant—“…which 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 the days of our life.” This looks forward to the Second Coming of Christ, as it will be fulfilled in Zacharias’ song.
In verse 72, God made an unconditional covenant with Abraham. Zacharias mentions that covenant specifically in verse 73. It is also referred to in Genesis 12, Genesis 15 and in Genesis 22. These are the three times God came to Abram, who later became Abraham. God called him to leave his home in the Ur of the Chaldees and to journey “to a land that I will show you,” Genesis 12:1. God promised that all that land would belong to him and his ancestors, which again is significant, in light of what’s going on in our world now. And Abraham would have a son. In Genesis 15, it is reiterated. In Genesis 22, after Abraham offered Isaac on the altar, but he was spared, God reiterated the covenant He had with Abraham.
In Genesis 12:2-3, there are five things God said to Abraham in this covenant. “I will make you a great nation…”—that has happened—“…I will bless you…”—that has happened—“…and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.” That has happened. “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Whenever you hear about the United Nations unanimously voting against the nation of Israel, remember that promise. “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” is a promise of Jesus Christ, a promise of the coming Messiah.
The promised seed, Messiah Jesus, would do several things. He would bring mercy, verse 72; “to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant.” There is Hebrew parallelism there: “mercy promised to our fathers” and “remember His holy covenant. God is merciful and always remembers and keeps His promises.
He would also bring deliverance and freedom from fear, verse 74. “To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies…”—this is at the Second Coming—“…might serve Him without fear.”
And in verse 75, they would have holiness before God and righteousness before men. “…in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” This will happen in the kingdom age or the millennial reign of Christ at His Second Coming.
This is how theological, how insightful Zacharias’ song was. It was rooted deeply in the Word of God, the Old Testament. So it’s important to understand these covenants that God gave in the Old Testament. The reason I’m emphasizing the two comings of Christ, God’s plan for Israel, is because what is popular today is what’s called “replacement theology.” That’s basically a teaching that the church has replaced Israel in God’s future plan and program; that there’s no more future plan or design for the nation of Israel. God has transferred His promises from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David to the church. I don’t believe that is scriptural. The promises to Abraham and to David were unconditional. So if you literally interpret the Bible in its plain sense, as you should, God is not finished with the nation of Israel yet.
Romans 9, 10 and 11 talk about Israel’s election, Israel’s rejection and Israel’s future restoration. What is God’s plan and purpose for the nation of Israel, in light of what is going on in the world today? Zacharias’ song is consistent with Romans 9, 10 and 11. God chose Israel, God cut off Israel and God will restore Israel.
The new covenant is God taking the Gentiles and grafting them in to the covenant promises He made to Israel in the Old Testament. So the new covenant is with Israel; not with the Gentiles, because we’re grafted in. God has a plan and purpose for the nation of Israel.
The third reason Zacharias praises God is because He kept His promise to David, verses 67-71; He kept His promise to Abraham, verses 72-75; and He kept His promises by giving us a new covenant, verses 76-79.
Starting in verse 76, Zacharias begins to sing to John about John. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest…” This is a reference to John the Baptist and not to Jesus. “the Highest” is a reference to the heavenly realm. “…for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways…” That’s taken from Isaiah 40:3. In Isaiah, “the Lord” is written in all capital letters, which is “Jehovah.” In the New Testament, it’s a reference to Jesus and His deity. Jesus is Jehovah.
Verse 77, “…to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us.” Jesus hadn’t been born yet, but Zacharias speaks in the prophetic, past tense: “has visited us.” “‘…to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.”
Zacharias starts to sing about John and directs his words toward John. John the Baptist would be the forerunner of Messiah. John bridged the Old Testament with the New Testament. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, God promised a new covenant. So He made a covenant with Abraham, the Abrahamic Covenant; He made a covenant with David, the Davidic Covenant; and then He promised in Jeremiah 31 a new covenant. That is covered in Luke 1:31-34.
As Christians in the church today or as Gentiles, we often forget that the new covenant, that we’re so excited about in Christ, was made with Israel. The Gentiles were just wild, olive branches that were grafted into the olive tree, the root of which is Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Thus the church became beneficiaries of that promise made to Israel. So we are not to be high-minded but humble. If God is able to set aside the natural branches, how much more could He break off the wild branches that He grafted in—us. Jeremiah 31:31-34 basically says, “I will put My laws in their minds, and write it on their hearts…They all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them…Their sin I will remember no more.” And we would have a relationship with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. So the new covenant was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas.
What would this new covenant bring? It would bring the remission of sin, verse 77. “To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins.” What a great blessing it is that God has forgiven our sins. It is the greatest blessing! Because of Christ, your sins have been forgiven. It is a picture of the carrying away or the blotting out of our sins. Remember John pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29.
They used to pronounce their sins on a goat. That’s where we get the term “scapegoat.” They would then shoo the goat off into the hills. It was a picture of their sins being taken away for a year. Now Jesus is the Lamb who carries away our sins permanently. He drops them in the sea of forgetfulness, never to be remembered again. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Praise God for forgiveness! The church is a community of forgiven people. We are sinners saved by God’s grace.
Matthew 1:21 says “And you shall call his name Jesus…”—or “Yeshua”—“…for He will save His people from their sins.” In Matthew 26:27-28, Jesus “took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” Jesus takes away our sins in the new covenant.
And the new covenant would bring a dawning of a new day, verses 78-79, “…through the tender mercy of our God…”—He shows us grace and mercy, forgiving our sins—“…with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us.” That’s the dawning of a new day. Jesus came as the light of the world to deliver us from darkness. Before Christ was born, the world was in darkness and sins could only be covered by the rites and rituals of the old covenant. They couldn’t be blotted out and carried away.
And the new covenant brought us peace with God. “…to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
So He forgives our sins, He gives us the dawning of a new day and he guides “our feet in the way of peace.” In Romans 5:1, Paul says, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That’s what Christmas means. It means my sins can be forgiven. It means the dawning of new day. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new,” 2 Corinthians 5:17. It means that now I can walk in holiness and righteousness and can have peace with God, which is salvation, and can have the peace of God, Philippians 4:7, which “will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” How marvelous! How wonderful!
Has your sin been forgiven? Jesus’ blood can blot out your debt. Have you been delivered from darkness? Jesus brings “the Dayspring from on high,” the dawning of a new day. Do you have peace with God? Jesus brings you peace with God and the peace of God.
John the Baptist preached on sin. A lot of preachers don’t do that today. He was a preacher, he preached on sin and Jesus said, “Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist,” Luke 7:28.
You must realize you’re a sinner and repent of your sins. One of the greatest blessings of the mercy of God is when He allows you to really understand that “I am a sinner and I need a Savior.” That’s the greatest thing that could ever happen to you!
So if God is convicting you of your sin, Jesus is the Savior and you must realize you’re a sinner, repent, turn from your sin and receive Jesus Christ as your Savior.
Pastor John Miller continues our series in the Gospel of Luke with an expository message through Luke 1:57-80 titled, “The Hymn Of Zacharias.”