Text– Luke 1:67-80
Theme — God
Subject — God’s Faithfulness to His Word
Proposition — God’s faithfulness to His Word in Zacharias’ “Benedictus” is seen by the recollections found throughout the song.
Purpose — Therefore, having seen God’s faithfulness to His Word in Zacharias’ “Benedictus” to fulfill all that He had promised let us be thankful that God continues to be faithful to His covenant people in all things.
In Luke 2 Luke records Zachariah’s prophecy and in verse 70 Zachariah can say, in reference to the advent of the Messiah, ‘As He (God) spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the World began.’ Clearly Zachariah is teaching us here that the Scriptures of the Old Covenant spoke of and taught Jesus the Messiah, and that from the very beginning.
Luke makes this same observation regarding Christ in the OT again at the end of His gospel (24:27) when he records Jesus, following His resurrection, leading a bible study on the road to Emmaus with two disciples who had missed how the redemptive events were spoken of in the Old covenant Scriptures.
It is obvious that Luke is telling us that the old covenant Scriptures, were, in the phrase of the Puritans, ‘the cradle where one would find Christ.’ All the Scriptures, from Genesis 3:15f are first and foremost about Christ and tell God’s story of how He does all the work in redeeming a people of His own choosing to be their covenant faithful God. We do a great disservice to Scripture when we use it to cram God into our story instead of seeing that God uses Scripture to tell His story – a story that the redeemed are swept up into as so many leaves are swept up into a tornado. God’s story is objective but as men, in each generation, are placed into its storyline by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, that objective story continues to change everything in its path in each generation.
Zachariah was part of Redemptive History. His prophecy was part of God’s objective story of God’s raising up a horn of salvation for His people (2:69). His recognition that all of Scripture was teaching the story of Christ is our good news. BUT Zechariah also understands that this good news is done for a couple of purposes. The first purpose was so that God would be seen as faithful to His promises and covenant (vs. 72). The second purpose was that God’s people might serve Him without fear (vs. 74).
In God’s story when God provides salvation, one purpose of that provision is that God’s people might live in a covenantal faithfulness that echos back God’s covenantal faithfulness to His name and His people. When God’s elect are swept up into His story it is always with the consequence of having been freely saved they will now freely serve according to God’s standards.
Calvin can say at this point on this idea,
“Zechariah’s point was, that, being redeemed, they might dedicate and consecrate themselves entirely to the Author of their salvation. As the efficient cause of human salvation was the undeserved goodness of God, so its final cause is, that, by a godly and holy life, men may glorify his name.”
Calvin then goes on to talk about our responsibility to live a life of service to God, citing the abundant scripture that teaches this truth and ends by saying,
Scripture is full of declarations of this nature, which show that we “frustrate the grace” (Gal. 2:21) of Christ, if we do not follow this design.”
So Zechariah’s Benedictus (Luke 2:67-79) teaches us that God does all the saving but also that those who are saved serve God in every area that God has dominion over. We do disservice to this idea when we do one of three things,
1.) Forget that the Scriptures are first and foremost about God’s work of doing all the saving.
2.) Forget that Scripture do not end with souls saved but rather speak clearly of what the redeemed life looks like in every area of life.
3.) Invert the order so that we do not realize that #2 is always the consequence of #1 being rightly set forth and so speak as if #1 is dependent upon number 2.
But lest we get ahead of ourselves let us map the passage out.
We should note that the passage comes to us in a literary style called a Chiasm.
Explain — Demonstrate Chiasm
This literary device is seen throughout Scripture and the constant usage of it gives us insight into the way the Hebrew people thought.
Zacharias is prophesying about two different individuals, (Jesus and John) but the Chiasm forms a unitary thought because the two different individuals are understood in light of God’s keeping His promises made in the Abrahamic Covenant. He believes the Abrahamic Covenant is finally being fulfilled.
The chiasm is as follows:
A 68 – Visited by God
B 69 – Horn of Salvation
C 70 – Prophets since the world began
D 71 – Salvation from Enemies
E 72 – Mercy promised to fathers
E’ 73 – Covenant to father Abraham
D’ 74 – Salvation from Enemies
C’ 76 – Prophet of the Highest
B’ 77 – Knowledge of Salvation
A’ 78 – Visited by Dayspring
Verses 75 and 79 do not fit into the chiasm, but that is because these verses conclude the section about Jesus and John respectively.
At each one of the points Zachariah recalls Scripture in order to articulate God’s faithfulness to all He promised.
This reminds us of the tie between Revelation and Redemption. When Zachariah speaks, he speaks by recalling God’s verbal Revelation. Zacharias’ mind is conditioned and shaped by Revelation.
I only offer that at this point because we should, like Zacharias, be shaped by a proper understanding of God’s Revelation. This is important because the Church in the West has largely become un-moored from thought patterns that are conditioned and informed by a right understanding of God’s written Revelation.
Vs. 68 — Blessed Be the Lord God of Israel
Zachariah opens this thanksgiving by praising God’s name.
Even this kind of opening is a typical Scriptural pattern
I Kings 1:48 And the king also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who has granted someone[a] to sit on my throne this day, my own eyes seeing it.’”
As to this greeting Calvin offers here,
Zechariah thus distinguishes God from all the idols which were then worshipped. He makes it clear that although God was, in a sense, hidden, and appeared to have withdrawn his help from those he had chosen and reserved as his inheritance, nevertheless he remained, from first to last, God. Now anyone judging the condition of the Jews at that time might well have thought they were deluded fools to trust in what the Law held out to them. …In short, anyone who saw the Jews’ plight was bound to conclude that they had been wrong to hope in God who had revealed himself in the Law, and that his promise of a Redeemer had been entirely vain.
Zechariah counters this temptation and supplies believers with the arms to overcome it, by affirming that the God of Israel retains his power and that our preoccupation with temporal affliction takes us far away from him. God’s power is not weakened by our affliction nor has he abandoned those who hope in him. He does indeed test them and brings them almost down. Despair and turmoil may surround them. Nevertheless God is in heaven. He keeps his promises and fulfils them when the time is right. That, then, is the reason why Zechariah fixes upon the God of Israel, and not as the ignorant do upon some vague deity who rules in heaven. He knows that the one who made covenant with Abraham and the other patriarchs, who gave his Law by Moses and who promised to redeem his people through the servant he would send, is truly God. We must reject every other idle thought and cling to him alone.
…We need, therefore, Zechariah’s teaching, and the assurance that the God of Israel who in former times made himself known to the fathers, and who welcomed them, few in number though they were – that he who sent his only Son to be our Redeemer, is indeed the living God. And although he allows us to suffer torments and permits the wicked to raise their horns against us, although we lack the means to resist and, as the saying goes, can be swallowed as easily as a gnat, nevertheless he remains our God and defender, and has given invincible power to our Lord Jesus Christ. He has committed us to his protection in order to lead us to salvation. So we should always wait for his help, even though we fear he may come late and that all will be lost if he tarries. We should continue even so in patience, and overcome all the blandishments with which Satan tries to dazzle us and to destroy our faith (pp.71-74).
And why does Zachariah bless God’s name?
Well, because God has visited and provided Redemption.
Zacharias’ idea of divine visitation hearkens back to the same kind of language used in Exodus when God visited and Redeemed Israel.
Exodus 3:16 Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, hath appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt:
There should be little doubt that Zachariah is purposefully using this kind of language with tie ins to the God’s previous visitations. All that heard Zachariah speak would this prophesy would have understood that God’s intra-testamental period of silence was finished and He was visiting, speaking, and redeeming again in the context of the promised Messiah.
Redemption is one of the major themes of Scripture and we find it here immediately on Zachariah’s lips.
Redemption throughout the Scripture, it must be remembered is accomplished by God at a cost. When Israel was Redeemed from Egypt it was at the cost of the First-born of Egypt. And when God Redeems His people in the New Covenant it comes at the cost of His own First-Born.
So, Redemption happens here in a setting wherein God seeks to buy back for Himself, at a cost to Himself, that which is His by creation but has been stolen from Him and sold into slavery and bondage.
Israel, at this point is in bondage. God’s people were in bondage to sin and to false teaching concerning God’s Revelation as well as being in bondage to Roman rule.
Zachariah sees through all that and sees that God has provided Redemption.
Of course our bondage today still comes through sin and because of false teaching concerning God’s Revelation. And just as their deliverance was through the Messiah that was coming so we are Redeemed by Christ who provides all of our redemption.
We should emphasize what Zacharias emphasizes here. All of Zacharias’ prophecy is about how God has rescued and Redeemed His people. God is doing all the Redeeming and saving here. Even when we get to vs. 74 where Zacharias speaks of “our service” even that service is understood as only possible because God has saved His people for that end. We have been Redeemed to serve him without fear in Holiness and Righteousness but we served as people who are and have been Redeemed.
The Reformed Church is a Church, when it is being true to its origins and calling, which always labors to keep that theme of Redemption before God’s people. We have been Redeemed completely by God’s initiation and action. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone. There is nothing of us in this Redemption that Zachariah speaks of.
During every season, including the Advent season, we are reminded that God sent Christ to accomplish Redemption. There is over the cradle at Christmas the shadow of the Cross as repeatedly pictured from the Revelation of God in the OT.
Refer to Handout
Illustration — Cloth soaked in Dish of Water // If you could animate this cloth what would it speak?
Zachariah is the Cloth and what he has spent his life soaking in is the OT and when Zachariah speaks he speaks that which he was soaked in His whole life. He speaks the Scriptures.
Of course what we want to first emphasize here is the continuity between the Old and New Testament. Zachariah is one of the first spokesmen in what we would call the NT age and what he cites is the OT Scripture. This is consistent with what Augustine taught … “The New is in the Old Concealed and the Old is in the New revealed.”
Secondly, we want to note that Zachariah is really not that unusual in that he speaks out of the fullness of a text in which he had been saturated all of his life. We all spend our lives soaking in our texts so to speak and then speak and act out what we’ve soaked in all our lives.
And this explains why the texts we soak in should be texts that are able to make us wise. It explains why the primary text we should soak in, is Scripture. The Apostle Paul could say elsewhere in Scripture that “Bad company corrupts good character,” and so we must be very careful about the company we keep in terms of the texts that we saturate our lives in — Whether those texts are literal texts or other people.
This redemption that Zacharias speaks of is accomplished by a “horn.”
The primary means by which God would accomplish this redemption of Israel was through the Messiah. Zacharias speaks of the Messiah as a horn of salvation. In Scripture, horns are frequently a symbol of strength and power, as with the horns of an oxen (Deut 33:17),
17 In majesty he is like a firstborn bull;
his horns are the horns of a wild ox.
With them he will gore the nations,
even those at the ends of the earth.
Such are the ten thousands of Ephraim;
such are the thousands of Manasseh.”
I Kings 22:11 Now Zedekiah son of Kenaanah had made iron horns and he declared, “This is what the Lord says: ‘With these you will gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.’
Daniel 8:5 As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between its eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. 6 It came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at it in great rage. 7 I saw it attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering its two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against it; the goat knocked it to the ground and trampled on it, and none could rescue the ram from its power.
So when Zachariah (Luke 1:69) mentions that God has raised a Horn of Salvation for His people, of course the reference is to Jesus Christ who is strong to save.
Jesus Christ …. the Messiah is the Horn of Salvation.
There is incipient in Zacharia’s song that the Messiah is a kind of Hero / Champion who when He Triumphs His triumph is at the same time the triumph of His people. In other words … when the Hero / Champion triumphs all the people triumph in, with and through Him.
This idea of the one triumphing for the many and the many triumphing in the One’s triumph gives us a retrospective understanding of David and Goliath’s fight. David was a typological picture of Christ and just as all of Israel triumphed in, with and through David’s triumph over Goliath, so God’s people triumph in, with and through the Lord’s Christ triumph over Satan, Sin, and Self. His victory is our victory.
House of His Servant David — This indicates that Zachariah is referring to Christ who was, Humanely speaking, from the tribe of David.
So Jesus is this powerful Horn of God who is raised up in order to accomplish Salvation.
And of course we all know that the way this Horn of God provides Salvation is by His substitutionary death on our behalf wherein, as our Champion / Hero he took upon Himself our sins and having paid their penalty he turned away God’s just wrath that was against us and clothed us with all that the Father required in order to be counted admitted and loved in His presence.
As He spoke by the Mouth of His Holy Prophets — Again a reference back to Scripture
Note — Zachariah understands that God is the Speaker and that prophets are the living muses of God
These Prophets have been since the world began —
God has never left Himself w/o testimony. He has raised up His spokesmen since the World began in order to speak Christ.
Again … this is a reference to prior revelation. Note again here as I tried to emphasize last week the symbiotic relationship between revelation and redemption. Revelation is God speaking. Redemption is God acting out what God promised in His speaking. We could not know what Redemption was without Revelation and Revelation would be empty speaking without Redemption.
In the Scripture we have God speaking Redemption in Christ. As Chris is not only our Redemption but also our Wisdom, Righteousness, and Sanctification, (I Cor. 1:30) we can expect the Scripture to also speak Wisdom, Righteousness and Sanctification. As God speaks this way in His breathed out Revelation (Scripture) we need look nowhere else for God’s revelatory word. The Scripture alone is able to make us wise unto Salvation because the Scripture speaks God’s redemption in Christ.
71 — That we should be saved from our enemies
And the hands of all who hate us
Zacharias returns for a second time to the theme of salvation from our enemies. This was the great longing of Israel, and the ultimate sign that the Messiah had come. The Exodus from Egypt was a prototype of kind of deliverance that Israel looked for.
One finds a sub-theme in Scripture of deliverance from enemies and rejoicing in their demise.
I Samuel 2 / Exodus 15
This picks up the theme that we’ve spoke of often here. When Salvation is mentioned in Scripture it is joined, hip & thigh, to Judgment. God’s people are saved in the context of God’s enemies being judged. If you desire Biblical Salvation you can not have it without judgment upon the enemies of God and God’s people.
72 – 73 Crescendo Point — God has remembered
God remembering in Scripture is not merely God recalling but God recalling with purpose.
Exodus 2:24 — God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.
Genesis 8:1 But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.
God remembers and Keeps His promises. That is God’s character.
Now, we must say here that because this is true, and because you are in Christ we can say that God has not forgotten you. We might readily admit that it sometimes may seem that way and that circumstances might suggest that, but God has not forgotten His people. They are safe and secure in Christ. What comes into their lives comes into their lives from the hand of a God who has remembered them.
Note connection between the people. God remembered the Fathers (long dead) means that God now remembers them.
Vs. 74– Salvation’s Purpose
Serve him w/o fear
9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.
Our release from captivity of sin is never with a view of serving self. Our release from the bondage of self is that we may serve God. Christian, there is freedom in Christ but that freedom is to be a bond-servant to Christ. As we were made for Christ, we only find freedom when we are yoked to Christ.
I’ve been doing some heavy reading lately about those throughout History want the kind of freedom that is offered by the serpent — the freedom to flout God’s ways. It is a ugly depressing tale to read of those who in searching from freedom from God bind themselves to the ugliest of chains.
God has saved us that we might find the true freedom of serving Him.