Grace For The Journey
A few weeks ago, we began a study of the Gospel of Luke and today we are finishing chapter 1. In this opening chapter we have read how the Angel Gabriel appeared to two different persons at two different times in two different locations to tell them about the soon arrival of two very important people, one the Lord Jesus who is to be Messiah; Savior of the world, and the other, John the Baptist, the one who will prepare the people for the Messiah. When Gabriel appears to Zacharias, while he is in the heart of the Jewish temple, Zacharias does not believe what the angel says. He does not believe that his old, barren wife Elizabeth, will conceive and bear this little child who is John the Baptist. Because he does not believe, he is stricken with the inability to speak until the child is born. Nine months later John the Baptist is born and his father, Zacharias, is able to talk. His tongue is loosed and the first thing he does after nine months of silence is to praise the Lord.
What we have before us in our passage today is the substance of this praise or hymn of Zacharias. The praise is often referred to in the Catholic Church and liturgical Protestant churches as the “Benedictus,” called so because of the first word in the hymn which begins at verse 68. The first few words in verse 68 state, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,” in the Latin Vulgate translation is “Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel.” You will hear this hymn referred to by that phrase and this is our Latin lesson of the day!
I do find it interesting that this phrase, Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel, or, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,” is a phrase that occurs at two significant times in biblical history . . .
One from the Old Testament
One from the New Testament,
Both of them in connection to
The Messiah, the coming Savior,
The Lord Jesus Christ.
In the opening chapter of 1 Kings, with reference to Solomon, the son of David, the first son to rule on the throne, David says, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel” (1 Kings 1:48). And now, in the New Testament, with reference to the ultimate Son of David, the one who would reign forever upon the throne of David, we have the words again, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel” (Luke 1:68). I note this largely because it reminds us of the sweet, divine order of events as unfolded in the Scriptures by our providential God. We will look at this hymn of praise Zacharias speaks when his tongue is loosed.
Have you ever been a place with no light. I remember when I was young that my parents took us to see Carlsbad Cavern. It was a marvelous day of exploration and adventure. At one point in the cave the guide wanted to point out the danger of the darkness of caves. He had the lights turned out and I was amazed and startled at how dark it was – I could not see anything even with time to adjust to the darkness. I thought how ill-prepared we were if we had to find our way out without the aid of light. Without light, we were in major trouble!
In the text we will look at this morning, the Lord Jesus Christ is spoken of as one who “gives light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” This is a perfect metaphor to describe salvation. Most of us can relate to this metaphor, like my experience at Carlsbad Cavern. We can also relate spiritually – we once lived in darkness. We did not understand the things of God. We sat in darkness as one sits in the dark depths of a cave. Then, some way or another, the glorious light of the Gospel shined upon us, and we were guided out of the darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). We now are children of the light, and we walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7).
This song, this praise, this benedictus, is . . .
A song or prophecy about salvation.
Salvation is something to sing about!
Let’s make our way through the verses and then I want to sum up with three crucial questions for reflection. I have arranged the material under three descriptive headings. First, we have a . . .
I. Prophecy Of The Spirit – Verse 67.
Verse 67 introduces the praise or hymn of Zacharias. It is important that we pause long enough at verse 67 to note that this praise or prophecy is made possible by way of the Holy Spirit. Luke writes, “Now his father Zacharias was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit,’ and prophesied.” Why is this important? Well, for one, we see that we have a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy, namely that spoken by the Prophet Joel back in Joel 2:28, where he says, “it shall come to pass” … “that (God) will pour out (His) Spirit on all flesh; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your old men shall dream dreams.” So, Zacharias, an old man, is filled with the Spirit of God and utters a prophecy about the coming salvation for all people.
This phrase in verse 67 also reminds us that it is the Holy Spirit who makes possible all that Zacharias says here about salvation. This word about salvation is spoken by Zacharias because God is guiding him. God is behind this. This is a prophecy of the Spirit.
What follows from verse 68 to verse 79 is the benedictus proper. It breaks down into two verses of song, the first verse from verses 68 to 75, one sentence in the original Greek, and then the second verse from verse 76 to verse 79.
The second descriptive heading is the . . .
2. Promise Of Salvation – Verses 68-75.
Verse 68, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.” The word “redeemed” means “to be set-free from slavery, in this case, slavery from sin and oppression.” The verbs here, “visited” and “redeemed” are both spoken by Zacharias in the past tense. So certain is the coming salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord that Zacharias can speak of it as having already occurred. There is no question here. The Lord God “has visited” and “has redeemed” His people. What is true for His people Israel, is true for all the nations of the earth. Salvation has come in and through the Person of Jesus Christ. What else has God done?
Verse 69 tells us, “And has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.” The phrase “horn of salvation” occurs frequently in the Old Testament. In fact, scholars have identified in this text are over 30 allusions to the Old Testament! The phrase “horn of salvation” refers to the God who is “mighty to save.” For a person of the ancient near east, the horn of an animal was the strength of the animal. That makes sense, doesn’t it? People then could not look at modern military tanks or intimidating jets that fly in the sky. They looked at animal with horns and said, “That’s where the strength and power is. Don’t let that horn find you unawares!” Jesus Christ is the Strong One of God who is mighty to save. And He comes – last part of verse 69 – from “the house of His servant David.” Jesus fulfilled the promise of Messiah who would reign on David’s throne.
Verse 70 declares, “As He (God) spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began,” here is a reminder that the Messiah was prophesied to come from the House and lineage of David. Then, the description of this salvation in verse 71-75, “That we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath 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.” Zacharias is speaking both of spiritual and political salvation but has in mind here primarily that of political salvation. God’s people were very much interested in “being delivered from the hand of their enemies.” Jesus comes the first time, however, to take care of our spiritual salvation. When He comes the second time, He will then take care of our need for political salvation. That is, when Christ comes again, He will rule and reign on earth over all those who are opposed to the things of God. So, ultimate salvation, in terms of being delivered from the hand of the enemies will occur at Christ’s second coming.
The third descriptive heading is the . . .
3. Preparation For The Savior – Verses 76-80.
At this point in the Benedictus, Zacharias looks down at this little boy, little John the Baptist, and he speaks concerning this one who lives to prepare others for the coming Savior. He says in verse 76, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.” John the Baptist was born to prepare people for the ways of the Lord. That someone who would come before the Lord to prepare His ways was known to every faithful Jew who studied the Old Testament Scriptures. Recall that the last book of the Old Testament, the Book of Malachi, ends this way, looking forward to this one who would come in the spirit of Elijah to prepare a people for the Messiah. Or Isaiah 40:3-5 states, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted And every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth; the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’” These believers in Old Testament times grew up looking forward to, and living in expectation of, the coming Messiah. They knew that a messenger would come first to prepare the way for the Savior. Zacharias looks down at his son on the 8th day, the day of his circumcision, and he recognizes his son, John, to be the one to prepare people for the Lord, the One in whom salvation was found.
In this sense, we are not surprised by his preaching method. We will look at it more closely at a future time, but most of us know how John began his sermons. People would be coming up to the Jordan River to be baptized by him and he would welcome them with, “You brood of snakes and vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?!” (3:7.) Not exactly the most “seeker friendly” sermon introduction!
- John spoke this way so that this people would know their sin.
- He spoke this way to prepare them for the One who would come behind him.
- He spoke this way so that when Christ would come and John would say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
- He spoke this way so that there would be no question of their need for Him, no question that they were ugly snakes and vipers, sinners in need of a Savior.
John the Baptist prepared people for the Savior. John would tell God’s people how to find salvation. Verse 77 tells us that John’s message would, “(to) give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission (or, forgiveness) of their sins.
From whom would this salvation and forgiveness of sin come? Verses 78 and 79 state, “Through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high 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.” That phrase, “the Dayspring from on high,” is a reference to Jesus Christ. The “Dayspring” is a word that conveys the “Dawn,” the rising of the sun. Christ is described in Malachi as “the sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2). He is described in Peter as “the Day Star” (2 Peter 1:9), and in Revelation as “the Bright and Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16). Jesus said of Himself in John 8:12, that He is “the light of the world.” He brings us out of spiritual darkness into glorious light.
Verse 80 says, “So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.” Here is a summary statement of John’s early years. He became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts, or the wilderness, till the day of his manifestation to Israel. He lived in the wilderness until he emerged publicly as the one who prepared others for the coming Messiah.
These verses are all about “salvation,” a term used more by Luke than any other Gospel writer. I want us to conclude our study today by asking and answering three very crucial questions about salvation. These questions naturally rise from the text before us.
First question . . .
1) Do We Know Anything Of Forgiveness?
Verse 77 describes a “knowledge of salvation.” This word “knowledge” means more than an intellectual grasp of something. It means more than merely understanding some facts. The word knowledge here has to do with “experiential” knowledge, that which we experience personally.
This is very important as
We talk about salvation.
A concern I have about much evangelism is that it deals only with the intellectual grasp of information and does not deal with the experiential grasp of information. In concerns merely the head and not the heart. People are given a set of facts to believe and then they are asked if they believe those facts and if so, why not bow their head and repeat a prayer, and that is it. The person is told he or she is saved and we mark them off the list. Evangelism must involve the head to be sure! We must grasp intellectual facts, but to “know salvation” as in verse 77, then we must have both head and heart. As someone has said, “Salvation is at once cerebral and cardiological.”
It is that which was experienced by Lydia in Acts chapter 16 where the Bible says that, as she listened to Paul teach the Gospel, that the Lord “opened her heart to believe” (Acts 16:14). You see the two working together, head and heart. The Holy Spirit must bring about conviction of sin. Our heart softens and we then accept these things as true. We know they are true not only objectively, but subjectively. In fact, the subjective knowledge of salvation comes through or by the objective forgiveness of sin (verse 77). We move from merely understanding some factual information about the Gospel to personally appropriating that truth into our hearts.
Do you know anything of forgiveness? Do you know, experientially know, that your sins have been forgiven? It is not the joining of a church that brings forgiveness, or the memorizing of information, a creed, or a catechism, it is not the participating in a sacrament, ordinance, confirmation, or baptism. Salvation comes to us when heart and head work together as one and we receive the truth of the Gospel into our lives.
Second question . . .
2) Have We Turned From Darkness To Light?
An implication of this question is whether or not there is a visible change in our life. Some who have supposedly “prayed to receive Christ” are still walking in darkness. There is no visible change in their life. You prayed a prayer someone led them to pray, but you are still living in your sin and not being changed by the power of the Gospel. In these cases, it is highly possible, if not probable, that a person merely prayed a prayer to get out of a fix. Your prayer was not for salvation but, “God, fix my marriage! Get me this job! Keep me sober!” And so, a person rushes to Christ in an emotional experience and at first there seems to be some change but, in time, the person goes back to that old lifestyle. Why? Because they never really turned from darkness to life. These are they who, like our Lord Jesus teaches us later in Luke 8, are like seed sown among thorns. At first, the seed begins to grow, but is later choked out by the cares of the world and pleasures of life and so never grows. Why? Because this person never really turned from darkness to life.
If you are truly born again, there is a visible difference in the way you live your life. You once did not go to church except on Christmas and Easter. God has changed your life and your want to. Now, you want to be in God’s house every Sunday morning and evening. Once, you found the Bible boring. Now, you cannot get enough of the Scriptures. Once, you lived for yourself. Now, you live for others.
Have we turned from darkness to light? If so, we need also to ask, “Are we helping others turn from darkness to light?”
The hymn-writer reminds us that . . .
Millions grope in darkness,
Waiting for Thy Word,
Set my soul afire,
Lord, Set my soul afire.
There are folks in your family sitting in darkness. Will you shine the light of the Gospel into their lives? There are people at your workplace and at school sitting in darkness. Will you tell them about the Light of the World? How will they hear if not from you? What of the over 6,000 unreached people groups all over the world who sit in darkness? Will you be missional by praying, giving, or going to them? One-third of the world’s population sits in darkness waiting for someone to guide their feet into the way of peace, unreached people groups. We worry over our trivial problems that are so self-centered. Why am I not happy? Who will care for me? How much money did I lose? Nobody calls me! Meanwhile, millions grope in darkness, waiting for God’s Word.
Do we know anything of pardon? Have we turned from darkness to light?
Third question . . .
3) Have We Tasted Peace With God?
Verse 79 tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ comes, “to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Our greatest need is peace with God. Note, not peace “of God,” but peace “with God.” This peace comes to us by our being forgiven of sin. Apart from Christ we stand in opposition to God. It does not matter how nice you are, how good you are, or how generous and kind you are. The Bible says in Romans 3:23 that we are all sinners. Every one of us! We are at enmity with God. We are separated from God because of our sin – He is holy and we are not. God comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ to bridge the gap of separation so that we have peace with our Maker.
Peace comes to us when God declares us forgiven when we place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Master. The Bible says in Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Do you have peace with God? You cannot have the peace “of God” until you first have peace “with God.”
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”