Great Joy! The Birth of John (vv. 57-58)
Luke draws our attention away this morning from the palaces and halls of the rich and mighty to the obscure and hated homes of the godly. What men highly esteem is an abomination to God (Luke 16:15), but his eye is upon those who fear him. Blind men cannot tell you what is important; they cannot see. Only those in the light of Jesus Christ can see what is truly important. The birth of John was more important than what Caesar August was doing that morning, or Herod; it remains more important than political shenanigans and Super Bowls. For in the birth of John, the Lord of Hosts kept his promise through Malachi, that he would send another Elijah, a forerunner who would herald the coming of his Son and point him out as the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.
Nine months after Gabriel’s appearance to Zacharias, the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered of this child, not the “desire of the nations” child, but the child that would say to us, “HERE HE IS! HERE IS THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD, THE ONE WHO BRINGS SALATION, RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND PEACE ON EARTH.” Elizabeth’s family gathered for this event. They attributed her conception and birth to the great mercy of God, which it was. Salvation is all of God’s mercy. We cannot save ourselves. We do not help God save us. God saves dead men, and John’s conception and birth bore witness to this hated truth. We cannot save ourselves – before God, our nation, our family – God alone saves sinners, and he shows mercy to whom he will. And we must rejoice in his faithfulness, as Elizabeth’s family did. We are unworthy of God’s mercy, but he freely extends his mercy to us, for he is good, and delights in mercy.
Surprised by Grace! The Naming of John (vv. 59-66)
John’s circumcision was a particular time of rejoicing for the family. As with the baptism of believers’ children, Zacharias and Elizabeth undertook this sign and seal of God’s covenant in faith, worshipping him for his faithfulness. They gave him the mark of circumcision because God commanded it as a testimony to our uncleanness at the very root of our existence, as well as a public declaration of faith in his promise to cleanse away our filthy sins by the blood of his Son. They did not circumcise John to make him a part of God’s church but because he was a part of God’s church by virtue of his birth into a believing family that was under God’s covenant provisions. The 8th day circumcision was also the time to give the child his name. Friends and family suggested Zacharias, after his father, but Elizabeth said his name would be John, which means “Yahweh is a gracious giver.” Her family was surprised – no one else was called by that name. What a dotard they must have thought mute Zacharias, but they asked his opinion. He wrote on a tablet, “HIS NAME IS JOHN.” They were surprised, but not nearly as surprised as when at this very moment, the Lord loosened his tongue, Zacharias spoke, and he glorified God and began proclaiming the gospel that Luke immediately records. Everyone stepped back in wonder. Fear came upon all there, and the anticipation spread into the surrounding area of Judea. With such a birth, what kind of child would this be? Of course, had the people listened to Zacharias, they would have known! And God’s hand was upon John, much like Samuel, and it was anticipated that he was would be a prophet and notable servant of God.
God Has Visited and Redeemed His People (vv. 67-73)
Bless the Lord, Our Redeemer! (vv. 67-68)
All who had a part in these great things became singers of God’s praises – Elizabeth, Mary, and now Zacharias. The work of the Holy Spirit is again emphasized; from his filling, the water of life flows from God’s throne. The Holy Ghost was not simply Luke’s “theme,” as if Luke picked his subject and then selected and interpreted events accordingly. God was then making bare his holy arm, as the prophets foretold, to bring salvation to the nations. The Holy Spirit was the promised gift of the great day of salvation, and he began to make this known from the very beginning. Zacharias’s song, sometimes called The Benedictus, from the first word, “Blessed,” may be the content of the “praise” he spoke when his tongue was loosed (v. 64). Perhaps he said and sang this in the days and weeks following. His words were prophecy (v. 67), for they were from the Holy Spirit. By prophetic is meant the all-embracing, directing, creating word of God to man. The Spirit’s words do not simply shape reality, but they make reality what it is. With the coming of the incarnate Word, he began speaking again: no more silence! I am doing great works, and I want you to know what they mean. God’s word is necessary to interpret God’s words, and we must remember this, for too many arrogant souls say they can read history and current events and find out secrets without God’s word. But we are blind as moles about history as much as about redemption, until God shines the light of his truth in our minds.
Zacharias began by blessing God for visiting and redeeming his people. To bless God is to confess that all our good comes from him, and his favor is life (Ps. 30:5). For God to “visit” his people does not imply that he has forgotten about us or left us; it means that he is coming to us for a particular purpose and in fulfillment of his promise. It implies also his compassionate gaze upon us, and that he has seen our afflictions and will come to help us (Ex. 3:16-17). Notice that Zacharias speaks first of a son greater than his own, the Lord Jesus Christ. Elizabeth, Mary, and Zacharias were all focused upon the greater birth coming, to which John’s birth was vitally related but secondary. The wonder of John’s birth is that as the second Elijah, this means that the Christ of God is to be born. He is the One who brings redemption and salvation to the world. A “horn” of salvation likely means God’s exalted power displayed in salvation or the power with which he will accomplish salvation. Jesus Christ is no less the gift of God’s power than of his love; it was sovereign power that obtained our salvation as much as it was sovereign grace and love.
God’s Visit Is Our Salvation (v. 69)
This is Zacharias’ song, and it must be ours – God in his Son has come into the world to exert his almighty power to save us from our sins, from all sin – original and corrupting sin in Adam, indwelling and actual sin in each man, from the power of sin in the believer, and one day from the presence of sin when God casts sin, death, and the wicked into fire that burns forever – total deliverance from all evil. This is what salvation means. God has taken his great horn of power and reigns on the earth through his Son (Rev. 11:17). The greatness of his power is emphasized by the lowliness of the means – the house of David. Our Savior was the last shoot of a dishonored and dead house, but from that root of Jesse, what a great salvation he has accomplished! Why does God use such weak means, work out of the expected course of things, and do far more than we ask or imagine? Salvation is all of him and not from man (John 1:13). God is teaching us this lesson again, and it will be bitter for his enemies to learn it. Too long have they clung to the coattails of the spiritual capital and blessings of Christians in this land, but God seems to have cut the tether and left them to their own devices. They will learn now that the way of the transgressor is hard, that all those who hate me love death, and that there is no peace for the wicked (Prov. 13:15; 8:36; Isa. 57:21).
God’s Word Constant and Fulfilled (vv. 70, 72-73)
And why did God do this but because he had promised! This was God’s word from the beginning and down through the ages from the world began. Notice that the Holy Spirit locates the beginning of the world and the promise of God to save the world. From the beginning, there has been a long line of prophets to teach us these things – Adam and Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and down to our own times – and there have been no other times, and no other important times, for only those men who lived near to this light of gospel hope (Melchizedek, Job) had any real hope. It also means that Adam fell soon after he was created, and no long ages are to be read in Genesis. From the beginning, this has been God’s promise, his controlling word, and now he has kept it.
Since the Holy Spirit has said this to us, we should be firmly persuaded that what we believe as Christians is no new story or cleverly devised fable; it has been God’s truth and promise from the beginning. And we must therefore hear Moses and the Prophets, as Abraham said in Jesus’ famous parable, for they wrote of Jesus Christ and his saving work (John 5:47). And when we are tempted to despair of the times in which we live, perhaps thinking that the world is too far gone to hear again the joyful gospel sound, let us remember that this has been God’s plan from the beginning. He will not fail to accomplish it. Men do not want saving. Even those who profess to be Christians often do not want saving from their sins, as much as they want to have their cherished opinions to be left alone, to pursue their pleasures without guilt under the guise of grace, and to be praised and petted by others. This great work of salvation is all God’s, and those who believe it must be constant in prayer, for only God can open blind eyes and quicken dead hearts to repent and believe.
God Saves Us from our Enemies (vv. 71-73)
God’s saving work in Christ is spiritual and physical, earthly and heavenly. It embraces everything. Some are squeamish about this word “enemies,” for they say it is too “old covenant,” by which they usually mean that it lacks grace or hope that God’s enemies will be saved. Enemies can certainly be abused in this way, and whatever else we may say about the word and the view of history that the word implies, we are commanded to love our enemies, pray for them, and do them good. Each believer must honestly testify that “when we were yet enemies, Christ died for us,” so that his sovereign grace and mercy are the only things that make us to differ from the world of evil men who hate God, blaspheme his name, and would, if they were able, crucify Jesus Christ again.
The Bible uses “enemies” to refer to hardened wicked men who will not repent, who more or less consciously hate God, oppose his word, and do all in their power to quench the light of his truth and build their own kingdoms of rebellion against God (Ps. 139:21). Thus, not all unbelievers are “enemies” in this sense, for most lost men simply want to be left alone to go to hell as quietly as possible. Others are not content to go there quietly but would deny to others the hope of heaven and the light of God’s Word. From these enemies, Jesus Christ has delivered his church time and again – from the harlot persecuting power of apostate Judaism and the beastly persecuting power of the Roman Empire; then from Marcion and a long line of heretics who first deny the Bible, then the deity of Christ, and finally the Trinity itself; and then from men who not only allowed the gospel of God’s grace to be mingled with man’s works and ceremonies, but who also killed those who proclaimed the gospel of grace.
Up into our own times, God our Savior has been delivering us from statist schemes to make the Bible illegal, to make churches conform to statist regulations, to stop Christians speaking in the name of Jesus Christ, to tempt Christians to adopt the world spirit of their times, and to prohibit Christian parents from separating their children from alien philosophies that are destructive to youthful innocence of evil. He will yet deliver us again, for our current enemies are being driven mad at this moment, to extremes of violence, butchery, suppression of the truth, because they are being consistent with their hatred of God and of his Church as the light of the world. Our Savior will deliver us again and again, for we are the apple of his eye, and he rules over all things for the sake of his church (Eph. 1:19-23).
This deliverance from earthly enemies is also part of God’s covenant promises to us through the fathers (vv. 72-73). This is a very important truth, but one that many Christians find hard to accept. Everyone is not a friend; we are not friends of everyone. Our race is divided into sheep and goats – not along racial, ethnic, and economic lines but along spiritual lines – the sighted and the blind; the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman; the heathen that rage against God and his children that love him; the city of man and the city of God. God promised deliverance for the church from the hands of those that hate us. This is one reason he delivered Israel from the Egyptians, gave them Canaan, for centuries protected them, and later delivered them from exile. And now in Christ, Zacharias recognizes, a fuller, wider deliverance is coming – yes, from the Romans and unbelieving Jews, but also from the evil one, Satan, who is continually stirring up all his slaves to attack the church.
If we are to believe the totality of the gospel, we must embrace the reign of Jesus Christ and bow before him as our King. The way God delivers his church from her enemies is by setting his Son upon his holy hill of Zion, the throne at his right hand, the true throne in David in heaven (Ps. 2:5-12; Acts 2:30-36). A key aspect of our deliverance from sin is Jesus Christ reigning at God’s right hand, protecting us from evil men who hate his church and gospel, and warring against them by the sword of his mouth (Rev. 19:11-15). Understand that much furor being instigated by evil men is satanic in its origin, anti-Christ in its tendency, and utterly impotent in its effects. For Christ reigns! He is the Prince of the Kings of the earth! This is not triumphalism, for we are companions in his kingdom and tribulation (Rev. 1:9). We do not do full justice to God’s redemption in Christ, however, unless we worship the King, expect our resurrected and enthroned Savior to fight for his church, and to appeal to him day and night to deliver us from evil and make the nations his disciples.