Why Did Jesus Come?

| Luke 1:68-79

Week of June 24, 2018

The Point:  Jesus came to remove sin.

Zechariah’s Prophecy: Luke 1:67-79.

[67] And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, [68] “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people [69] and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, [70] as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, [71] that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; [72] to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, [73] the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us [74] that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, [75] in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. [76] And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, [77] to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, [78] because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high [79] to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”   [ESV]

“Benedictus.  The opening chapters of Luke are like a duet from an oratorio. One voice begins to sing, followed by another, and then the two voices harmonize. For a while the second voice is silent while the first voice sings alone. Then the first voice leaves off and the second carries the music until finally the song ends with a chorus of angels. The first melody we hear belongs to John the Baptist. It is the promise of his birth, given to his father Zechariah by an angel, but fully believed only by his mother Elizabeth. Then we hear the song of the Savior: the virgin Mary will give birth to the Son of God. When the two mothers meet, their melodies harmonize into one song. But after three months Elizabeth is ready to give birth, and Mary goes back to Nazareth. It is time again to sing the song of John the Baptist.

Zechariah’s Benediction [1:67-79].  Zechariah was not able to speak for at least nine months, which is a long time to remain silent. So perhaps it is not surprising that when he finally broke his silence, he had something important to say. The first words out of his mouth were praises to God. This showed the true condition of Zechariah’s heart. His suffering had done him spiritual good. Before he did anything else, he wanted to give praise to God. What came out next was an exuberant eruption of praise. All of the joy that had been pent up inside the priest during the long months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy now came pouring out in a cascade of exultation. Luke tells us that as soon as he had named his son, Zechariah’s mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God [1:64]. Once he believed, he had to worship, because whenever we know what God has done for our salvation, we are compelled to praise Him for it. Genuine faith always expresses itself in jubilant praise, and where there is no real worship, we may wonder if there is any true faith at all. After telling how people responded to what Zechariah said [1:65-66], Luke goes back and provides the lyrics to his song [1:67-79]. Zechariah’s hymn of thanksgiving is usually called the Benedictus, meaning “blessed,” because this is the song’s first word in Latin. Perhaps this priestly benediction was spontaneous, or perhaps it was composed during Zechariah’s long months of silence. Either way, it was the song of his heart. It is also the word of God, for the Bible says, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied [1:67]. His benediction comes in two parts: a blessing for God [1:68-75] and a blessing for his son [1:76-79]. First Zechariah blesses God for coming to save His people. This blessing tells us all about salvation. Apparently Zechariah understood the staggering implications of what the angel had promised, or else, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he spoke better than he knew. His son would be the forerunner to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. And if his son was the forerunner, then salvation was on its way. At stake in the birth of these two babies was nothing less than the salvation of the world. God had raised what Zechariah called a horn of salvation. This phrase comes from the Old testament [e.g., Ps. 148:14], where horns are often used as the symbol of an animal’s power and strength. Horns are an animal’s “business end,” so to speak, and in a similar way, the Messiah is the business end of God’s saving plan. With the coming of Christ, He was tossing the mighty horn of His salvation. What is salvation? According to Zechariah, it is something that comes from God, and not from us. The priest blessed God for visiting His people [1:68]. This was something he had experienced personally when the angel appeared to him at the temple. But this visitation was not for him alone. By sending the angel, by giving Elizabeth a baby, and especially by putting His Son in the virgin’s womb, God was visiting His people. He was entering our situation from the outside, because without His intervention, we could never be saved. Salvation is not a human invention, but a divine visitation. It is not something we achieve by going to God, but something God has done by coming to us in Christ. No one is ever saved except by the grace of God. God’s gracious salvation comes in fulfillment of His promise. Zechariah mentions King David and the ancient prophecies about him [1:69-70]. This makes it clear that the priest was not speaking about his own son, who came from Levi, but about Jesus, who came from the house and line of David. After spending three months with Mary, Zechariah knew about her child. He also knew that God had promised to lift up a horn of salvation for David [Ps. 132:17], giving him a son to rule on this eternal throne [2 Sam. 7:12-13]. Then Zechariah went back even farther, to the holy covenant God made with Abraham [1:72-73], that the nations would be saved through his son [Gen. 17:4-7]. All the prophecies were coming true: Jesus was the Savior God had always promised to send. This salvation – the salvation that comes from God, in fulfillment of His promise – means deliverance. In verse 68 Zechariah calls it redemption, which is a release from bondage through the payment of a price. In verse 71 he describes it as being saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. God’s people have always had enemies. Since people hate God, it is only natural for them to hate His followers. In the Old Testament Israel’s enemies included the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians. For Zechariah the great enemy was the Roman Empire. People were longing for a new exodus, in which God would rescue them from Rome. So when Zechariah spoke of deliverance, he may partly have been thinking in political terms. But as we shall see, he was also looking for a more lasting liberation – one that would bring freedom from sin. The last thing Zechariah did in the first part of his song was to explain God’s purpose. God was raising up a horn of salvation so that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days [1:74-75]. Again, Zechariah may have been thinking partly in political terms. In order to serve God without fear, His people needed freedom from the tyranny of Rome. Few things are more precious than the freedom of religion. However, something far more glorious than political liberation is meant: the whole-hearted service of the Lord in complete freedom from all bonds of sin, guilt, punishment, curse, Satan and destruction. To serve God is to glorify Him in our worship and in everything else we do, leading holy lives. And this is the goal of our salvation. God wants to do something more with us than simply get us to heaven. His goal is for us to live for His glory, but to do this we first have to be liberated from the selfishness of our sin. God’s salvation is for our sanctification, and this always leads to service. This was Zechariah’s song – a song of salvation. Now everything He promised has been fulfilled for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the salvation that comes from God. God had to intervene. Unless He sent His Son to be our Savior, we never could have been saved. We needed someone to live a perfect life and die an atoning death in our place, this was the promised salvation, and it was a mighty deliverance, as salvation always is. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ have delivered us from sin, death, and Satan. We are no longer enslaved by our selfishness, but are free to give our lives away in service to others. This is why God has saved us: He has given us His grace so that we can live for His glory.

Zechariah Blesses His Son [1:76-79].  There were two parts to Zechariah’s blessing. First, he blessed God for the visitation of His salvation [1:68-75]. Then he blessed his newborn son [1:76-79]. The order is significant. In spite of his fatherly pride, Zechariah recognized the subordinate position of his son. John was the last and greatest prophet of the old covenant, but what made him great was his relationship to Jesus. He was first in the birth order, but second in significance. Zechariah understood this, so his benediction was mainly for Jesus. Nevertheless, John had an important part to play in the coming of salvation, so he too received a blessing. We can imagine the emotion in the old man’s voice as he turned to his only son to give him a blessing. The blessing Zechariah gave his son was in keeping with the promises he received from God. John was the forerunner – the prophet who went ahead to prepare the way. He would do this preparatory work by preaching the message of salvation. The salvation Zechariah promised was not deliverance from earthly enemies. It was not a new form of religious freedom. Rather, John was called to give knowledge of salvation to his people [1:77]. Fundamentally, salvation is the forgiveness of sins. By and large, the people of John’s day were looking for the wrong kind of salvation. They were thinking primarily in political terms. They wanted a better economy, with more personal freedom but that was not the kind of salvation God had in mind. So before the Savior even came, someone else had to get the people ready. It was necessary that John, the forerunner of Christ, should summon the people to a realization of guilt and to a confession of sins. And should make as many of them as possible see that the real redemption needed by them was deliverance from the power of their spiritual enemies – sin and the forces of darkness, so that they might escape from the wrath of God. Like the people of Israel, we are usually wrong about what we really need. We tend to look first at our outward circumstances. We want God to save us from things like a bad work situation, a financial setback, or a troubled marriage. Of course, God is able to handle these problems, and it is right for us to pray for His help. But the first thing He has to deal with is our sin. Eventually salvation changes society, but that is not where it starts. There can be no social transformation without spiritual regeneration. Salvation begins when the Holy Spirit changes a sinner’s heart. The cleansing of sinful human hearts is the primary concern of the people of God. What we need more than anything else is to have a right relationship with God, and this can only come through the forgiveness of our sins. As Luke was later to write, Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name [Acts 10:43]. When we trust in Christ, God forgives our sins – all of them, no matter what we have done. He does this because of His mercy, which the Benedictus describes as the tender mercy of our God [1:78]. Mercy is God’s loyal, faithful, gracious love as He acts for His people. Zechariah took the biblical term for mercy and intensified it by connecting it to a word for deep feeling. Forgiveness is the supreme expression of God’s compassionate mercy for sinners. Nothing is more wonderful for a sinner than to receive mercy. As Zechariah thought about how wonderful it was, he made a comparison. He imagined a group of pilgrims on a long journey. As they traveled through the wilderness, they were overtaken by darkness. Far from the safety of home, they were exposed to the terrors of night: vicious animals and violent enemies. They sat in darkness and in the shadow of death [1:79]. This was Israel’s situation during the dark days before Christ was born. It is the situation we are all in until we are saved. We are sitting in the darkness of our sin, waiting for death to devour us. All that long night the pilgrims wondered if they would ever make it to the morning. They prayed for deliverance, waiting for the dawn. Then they saw it on the horizon: the first glimmer of the morning light. It was the sunrise of their salvation. Zechariah said, the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death [1:78-79]. With the coming of the light, the pilgrims were able to find their way. After darkness, light – this is what it means to be saved. Salvation is like the first glimmer of dawn after the blackest night. Until we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we are still living in the darkness of unforgiven sin. But when we trust Him, as Zechariah did, His light comes into our lives and we are able to see our way. Believe in Jesus! The dark night of your sin will be over, and the dayspring of His light will rise in your heart.”  [Ryken, pp. 54-64].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. List the verbs in verses 67-71 where Zechariah praises God for His actions on behalf of the people. What does this tell you about the work of Jesus as the Messiah? Look up 2 Samuel 22:3 and Psalm 18:2. What does the Old Testament symbol, horn of salvation, tell you about the work of the Messiah?
  2. Continue listing the verbs in verses 72-75 that describe the activity of God. What do these verses teach us about serving God? What does it mean to serve God in holiness and righteousness?
  3. In verses 76-77, how is John to prepare the way for the Messiah? What knowledge is John to give to God’s people?
  4. Why must tender mercy characterize God’s entire plan of redemption? What do the symbols of sunrise, light, darkness, and shadow of death add to the picture of the work of the Messiah? What is the way of peace?

References:

Luke 1:1-9:50, Darrell Bock, BENT, Baker.

The Gospel According to Luke, James Edwards, Eerdmans.

Luke, David Garland, Zondervan, (ebook).

Luke, vol. 1, Philip Ryken, REC, P & R Publishing.