Scripture: And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “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. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Luke 1:67-80 ESV
[Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Luke tells the story of John the Baptist’s birth. Following the Lord’s command to Abraham, Elizabeth and Zechariah circumcise John on the eighth day. And as a later-developed tradition, they name the child during this circumcision ceremony. But much to the surprise of family and neighbors, Elizabeth announces he is to be called John rather than name him after his father. Perplexed because none of their relatives are called John, they ask Zechariah what he would like to name the child. Still mute, Zechariah writes on a tablet, “His name is John.” Instantly, he regains his speech and blesses God—provoking fear in their neighbors as they realize the magnitude of John’s birth. Nevertheless, they spread the news throughout the hill country of Judea, raising the people’s spirits as they pondered what the future holds, for the hand of God was on this child.
Today’s reading, known by the historical church as the Benedictus (based on the first word in the Latin Bible translated from the original Greek, eulogētos, “blessed”), is Zechariah’s two-part song of praise. Having regained his speech and being filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah prophetically speaks a blessing directed to the God of Israel for fulfilling his covenant to the house of David in raising a horn of salvation (the Messiah/Christ), who will rescue Israel from its enemies and show mercy to his people so that they might righteously serve him without fear under the Abrahamic covenant.
In the second part (vv.76-79), Zechariah pronounces a blessing on his son, for John the Baptist will be known as “the prophet of the Most High,” and thus prepare the way for Jesus through his ministry of repentance and forgiveness of sins that leads to salvation in Christ. It is the dawn of a new era where God is with his people in the soon presence of the incarnate Son, who will bring light to those lost in the darkness of unrepented sin (which results in death), and who will lead them into his way of peace.
Of note: Zechariah’s prophecy follows a chiastic structure of inversing the repetition of terms with the main idea at its center, which points to God’s covenantal faithfulness. Also, “horn” (v.69) is a metaphor used throughout the Old Testament to refer to God’s “power.” Here, it applies to our Savior, as David foretold (Psalm 132:17).
Takeaway: Regarding Christ, this prophetic song of praise confirms the fulfillment of two Old Testament covenants by which God first promised the patriarch Abraham that he would credit Abraham’s faith as righteousness to him and his future spiritual heirs from all nations (see Genesis 15:5, 22:16-18; Romans 4:9-13). Regarding David, the Lord promised him an offspring who would reign on his throne forever, be eternally loved, and be obedient in all matters, even unto discipline with the rods and stripes of men—pointing to Christ’s crucifixion (2 Samuel 7:12-16).
As for the second part of the Benedictus, Zechariah’s description of his son in verse 76 (the prophet of the Most High who prepares the way of the Lord) points to Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1; 4:5 and echoes what the angel Gabriel told him earlier when he learned that Elizabeth and he would conceive a child in old age (1:16-17).
Our takeaway? Zechariah’s prophecy demonstrates our biblical narrative’s seamless, progressive, and organic nature, particularly as it applies to God’s covenants. And Zechariah has painted a masterpiece for us of what has come to pass. Christ has gloriously visited us with power and redeemed us, bringing us salvation and fulfilling all messianic prophecies, covenants, and laws.
How do we respond? Truly, Zechariah has additionally blessed us, for we serve Christ “without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” So under our New Covenant of Grace, we prepare the way for others to meet Jesus. And we have the incomparable advantage of being filled not with the spirit of Elijah but with the Holy Spirit, who, being the third person of the Trinity, has prepared us to receive the indwelling of Christ (Colossians 1:27). Indeed, it’s our turn to take “Christ indwelled in us” outward bound to those who dwell in darkness.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who obeyed you in all matters of your covenantal promises—even to suffering and death—to redeem us and restore your shalom peace in us. And we thank you that your Son and your Holy Spirit indwell and empower us to continue his outward-bound mission. So would you please help us to submit to your Holy Spirit and follow his lead to bless those who dwell in darkness with our message of hope? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling