Lesson Text: Luke 1:57-58, 67-69
Background Scripture: Luke 1:57-80
Devotional Reading: Luke 1:59-66
Luke 1:57-58, 67-69 (KJV)
57 Now Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.
58 And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.
67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,
68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,
69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,
75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,
78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
To understand Zechariah's significant prophetic role in predicting the coming Messiah Jesus, as well as and his son John’s role in introducing Jesus.
To know that God is always faithful to fulfill His promises, and actively works out His will at the proper time; not our time.
To frequently praise God for fulfilling the promise of sending Jesus to be the Savior and light of the world!
The Prediction Business
How many predictions have you heard this past week? Probably quite a few. "Experts" offer their confident forecasts of where the stock market is headed, what tomorrow's weather will be like, and which team will prevail in the big game. Of course, many predictions prove to be completely inaccurate. However, that does not stop people from making them or us from listening to them. The human desire to know the future seems insatiable.
Of course, only God knows the future. And only He can give us the kind of future that is truly worthwhile. God announced His plans for the future through prophets. God's prophets were more than mere human experts who could use personal expertise to project a likely future. God spoke through them to announce authoritatively what He would do to bring His will to reality.
God promised to bring about a future that would bless His people in ways that exceeded their hopes. In so doing God invited His people to trust Him, to look forward patiently in faith. Alongside the promised blessing came a warning: those who did not submit themselves to the God who controls the future would be judged as His enemies.
Though we commonly think of prophets in terms of the Old Testament, God continued to speak through prophets in the New Testament. At the birth of John the Baptist, Zacharias (his father) spoke in a way that recalled the great prophets of the Old Testament. In so doing, Zacharias prophesied that God was beginning the long-awaited time of fulfillment. John's birth signaled the start an important transition by God.
Time: 7 or 6 B.C.
Place: hill country of Judaea
Today's text forms the climax to the prophecy of John the Baptist's birth. Zacharias, an elderly, childless priest, had received from God's angel a pledge that he would become the father of a son who would announce the fulfillment of God's promises. Zacharias responded with disbelief; as a cautionary sign of judgment, God rendered him unable to speak for a time (Luke 1:5-22).
Zacharias's ultimate reaction, like Mary's song (Luke 1:46-55, last week’s lesson), is a poetic expression of praise to God. Employing parallel expressions typical of biblical poetry, Zacharias's song echoes key themes of prophetic promise from Israel's Scriptures. As God had fulfilled His surprising promise that Zacharias would become a father, so God would fulfill His greatest promises for all.
1. Prior to Elisabeth’s pregnancy, why was her husband Zachariah unable to speak?
The angel Gabriel had announced to Zachariah that Elisabeth would give birth to a son, and Zachariah would call him John (Luke 1:13). The name, which means “the Lord is gracious,” signified the reason for John’s birth—to herald the advent of the Messiah, the gift of God’s grace. God’s naming John before his, birth suggests that the Lord was singling him out for his important work.
After the angel had spoken, Zachariah asked how he could be sure Elisabeth’s pregnancy would occur. Zachariah was questioning the truth of the revelation he had received because of their old age. The angel declared that because of his unbelief, he would not be able to speak until the Lord’s promise was fulfilled (vs. 18-20).
Promise Fulfilled (Luke 1:57)
Fast-forwarding to today’s lesson, Luke has already pointed out that elderly, childless Elisabeth did indeed become pregnant as promised (Luke 1:24). Now the birth is narrated, and again God's promise proves faithful: the child born is a boy, as the angel had announced (v. 13).
2. Why was the birth of John an event for Zachariah's and Elisabeth's family and friends to rejoice? (Luke 1:57, 58)
When Elisabeth’s neighbors and relatives had heard how merciful the Lord had been to her, too, “rejoiced with her” (Luke 1:58). The birth of a child is always a cause for rejoicing, and John's birth, coming so late in his parents’ lives, is especially so. Eight days after the child was born, Elisabeth and Zechariah had their infant son circumcised in accordance with the law of Moses (see Gen. 17:9-14; 21:4; Lev. 12:3). The ceremony signified that John belonged to the Lord and the community of His people.
This ceremony was a joyous occasion when family members and friends gathered together. Those present assumed the parents were going to name their newborn after Zechariah, his father (Luke 1:59). Elisabeth, however, objected, saying that the child’s name was John (v. 50). The guests were surprised by the mother’s statement, for no one in her own or her husband’s family was named John (v. 61). Those present made gestures to Zechariah to discover what he wanted to name his son (v. 62). From this verse it seems likely that Zechariah was deaf as well as mute.
The father asked for a writing tablet and indicated that the child’s name was John. This decision amazed the guests, for it broke with the custom of the day (v. 53). Gabriel had previously said Zechariah would be mute until his son was born (v. 20). After the father indicated what his son’s name would be, Zechariah immediately received back his ability to speak. Without hesitation he began to praise God for the birth of John and for the wonderful things the Lord would do through him (v. 64).
All the neighbors became filled with awe, for they sensed that something unusual, perhaps even supernatural, had occurred. Moreover, throughout the entire hill country of Judea, the recent series of events became the topic of conversation (v. 65). The locals pondered in their hearts what the Lord had in store for John, especially since it was clear that the hand of the Lord was with him (v. 66). The latter implies that God’s favor, presence, and direction were evident in John’s life from the time of his birth.
What Do You Think?
What was an occasion when family and friends rejoiced with you over an answer to a prayer that was a long time in coming? How can you use such occasions to witness for Christ?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
For direction in life | For a job | For healing | Other
God's Promises Recalled through Zechariah’s Song of Praise (Luke 1:67-75)
3. Why did the Holy Ghost fill Zechariah? (Luke 1:67, 68a)
Luke 1:67 says that John’s father, Zechariah, became “filled with the Holy Ghost” and began to prophesy. As the following verses make clear, the elderly father spoke God’s will through a song of praise. Whereas Zechariah’s previous words expressed unbelief, his subsequent statements were filled with adoration and gratitude. His previous words had expressed doubt, but his song was full of assurance and faith.
Like Mary's song in Luke 1:46-55, Zacharias's song has a long history of use in Christian worship. It is widely known by its first word in the Latin translation, “Benedictus,” which reflects the first two words of this verse, blessed be. Echoes of this phrase in Israelite worship stretch to centuries before Christ (see Psalms 41:13; 72:18; 106:48).
In affirming that God is to be blessed, Zacharias calls on all people to praise and glorify God!
What Do You Think?
What are some ways you have found for praising or "blessing" God for His goodness to you? Which seems most meaningful, and why?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
With words |With music | With actions | Other
4. In what manner would God come to redeem His people? (Luke 1:68b)
A crucial aspect of God's promise is the pledge to once again visit His people to lead them out of bondage. Centuries before, God had warned Israel that disobedience would mean a return to the kind of bondage experienced in Egypt (Deuteronomy 29:16-28). If the people refused to listen after He had liberated them from slavery, then He would return them to domination by pagans. That was indeed what God did, as He allowed Assyria and Babylon to take His people into captivity in 722 and 586 BC, respectively.
In keeping with His promise, God restored the people to their land when the Persians overtook the Babylonian Empire. But that restoration did not fulfill all that God had promised; God's people remained under the control of the pagan nations of first Greece and then Rome after the decline of Persia. So the faithful continue to expect a future "visitation" of God, one to bring the fullness of God's promise to reality. With great joy, Zacharias is now announcing that the time of that visitation has arrived!
Zacharias and others have yet to learn is that God is visiting them in a way greater than they anticipate: God is in the process of freeing His people from a bondage greater than that of political oppression. The bondage from which He will grant freedom is that of the great enemy, Satan, and the evil that he inspires (Luke 4:1-13; 11:20-22; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8).
5. What does the idea of a horn signify? How does this relate to God’s servant David? (Luke 1:69, 70)
The horn is a symbol of power and strength (Psalm 18:2). When a horned animal lifts its head, it asserts its power to those that threaten it. When Zacharias speaks of a horn, he echoes Old Testament texts such as 2 Samuel 22:3 and Psalm 132:17. For God's people, protection comes not from their own horn, but from the one that God raises for them. This signifies salvation. While that term can mean a rescue from mortal enemies, the story of Jesus shows us that God's salvation is greater than that of a political or military rescue.
The fact that this deliverance is associated with the house of his servant David recalls the promise that God would enable David's descendant to build God's house and establish a throne that would never end (1 Chronicles 17:11-14). To this point, all David's kingly descendants have been disappointments in that regard. But God continued to affirm this promise through His prophets (see Isaiah 9:6, 7; Jeremiah 23:5; Ezekiel 34:23). Now, says Zachariah, that promise is coming to fulfillment. When we remember that both Mary (Luke 1:27), Joseph (Matt. 1:20), and their child belongs to David's line (Luke 1:32), we realize through whom God will fulfill the promise.
The coming of the Redeemer was inherent in the covenants God made with His people (Luke 1:72), and it was promised by the prophets (Luke 1:70).
6. In what way would Israel be delivered from their enemies, and for what purpose? (Luke 1:71-75)
Zechariah was thankful, for God had promised salvation “from our enemies” (Luke 1:71). Because of disobedience Israel had suffered so much at the hands of foreign invaders, so relief from their oppressing circumstances was uppermost in the minds of God’s people. In Zechariah’s time, the despised Romans ruled the Jews. God’s chosen people vented their ill will by periodically rebelling against their captors. In fact, in A.D. 70, the Romans completely obliterated Jerusalem and its temple. The salvation God promised was not in terms of political deliverance, but spiritual liberation from Satan, sin, and death. The supreme promise of God's covenant is the promise to bless all nations, the promise that He made multiple times to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 18:18; 22:15-18). Israel's restoration will mean that people of all nations can come to know God and experience His blessing. God is determined to fulfill His promise to take back His world, whether Israel is obedient or not. Through the Holy Spirit's inspiration, Zacharias declares that the time has come for God’s victory!
Note that the results of this victory are sanctity and service (Luke 1:74-75). He sets us free, not to do our own will, because that would be bondage, but to do His will and enjoy His freedom. God wants a personal relationship with His people, one where we will be totally devoted to Him!
The Forerunner and the Messiah Come (Luke 1:76-79)
7. How was Zechariah’s son John to prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah? (Luke 1:76, 77)
At this point, Zechariah focused his attention on John. He would be a “prophet” (Luke 1:76) to prepare the way for the Messiah. John was the forerunner who would tell Israel that the promised Redeemer had arrived in the person of Jesus. John clarified who the Messiah was, what role He would serve in the redemption of Israel, and what the people must do in response. When the crowds heard John preach, they recognized that he was indeed a “prophet of the Highest.”
The task of the Lord’s prophet was not pleasant, because he was called to expose people’s sins. Preparing the way for the Messiah was rough business. It was like road building through mountains and valleys (see Isa. 40:3-4).
Most of the Jews had erroneous ideas about the kind of salvation the Messiah would bring. They thought it would be political, not spiritual, in nature. God would sent John to teach them the true and correct understanding of spiritual deliverance, which is based on the forgiveness of sins through faith in the Messiah. The people desperately needed this “knowledge of salvation” (Luke 1:77; see Jer. 31:34), for they were in spiritual darkness. As John went about the difficult task of preparing the people for the advent of the Messiah, the Baptizer would light their path and show them the proper direction to walk. Indeed, though John would cause people to face up to their sinful nature, his message would focus on God’s offer of forgiveness, not on condemnation.
8. What should we reflect from Zechariah’s statement “tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:78, 79)?
Zechariah’s song acknowledged that John’s life and ministry would be blessed by the “tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:78; see Ps. 25:6; 103:4; Isa. 63:7). He himself had received God’s grace, and he was overcome by the prospect of God’s people being spiritually revived and restored under His merciful hand. God's gift of salvation comes to undeserving people. We are rebels against God. But God in His tender mercy gives us better than we deserve.
Like the “dayspring” (or rising sun), (Luke 1:78), the Father’s mercy-made available through His Son-would bring light to people living “in darkness and in the shadow of death” (v. 79; see Isa. 42:7; Mic. 7:8). Like the rising sun, God’s unfailing compassion in the Messiah would lead sinners “into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). These beautiful words reflect the majesty and glory of Zechariah’s proclamation. He was filled with praise because he knew that God was about to do something special for His people through John.
What Do You Think?
What will you do personally this week to shine Christ's light into the life of someone who lives in spiritual darkness?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Personal testimony | Deed of kindness | Christlike lifestyle | Other
POINTS TO PONDER
1. We were all born to give glory to God in our own unique way (See Job 31:14, 15; Isaiah 44:24; Luke 1:57, 58; Galatians 1:10, 15, 16).
2. God also wants us to express our thankfulness to Him for what He wants to do in our lives. (Luke 1:67-79)
A Joyful Song
Speechless for nine months, Zacharias offered an impressive, memorable song in celebration of John's birth. Layering phrase after phrase from the ancient prophets, he made clear to all that the time of fulfillment had arrived.
We are the beneficiaries of those promises and their fulfillment. We can know the promises and the gospel story that brings them to reality. We experience the salvation, mercy, knowledge, and light that God gives in Jesus Christ. Our expression of joy and thanks ought to be at least as vivid as Zacharias's, if not more so.
Great God, we thank You that by Your mercy we have received the fulfillment of Your eternal promises in Jesus. May we live in full confidence of Your abiding faithfulness. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Live in the light!