I Will Sing of My Redeemer
December 20, 2015 Series: Miscellaneous Sermons
Passage: Luke 1:67-79
Turn in your Bibles to Luke 1:67-80.
This is a wonderful passage. I chose it because it has to do with the birth of Christ and because it has always intrigued me; but I didn’t realize until I began studying this week how complex it is.
I told Pastor Kit midway through the week, “I feel like in order to preach this passage, I have to preach the whole Bible,” because Zacharias draws on so many OT passages and because he’s talking about promises that won’t be completely fulfilled until the Millennium.
I thought this was humorous—I logged on to Grace to You yesterday to see what MacArthur had to say about a particular point, and I noticed that he took six sermons to cover this passage. And I’ve just got one shot at it. So I’m going to do my best, but I’d also ask you to join me in that and to really pay close attention. If you do, I trust this passage will be a tremendous blessing to you this morning.
We probably should begin by setting up this passage’s context, so we are going to begin by taking a whirlwind tour through Luke 1.
Luke introduces us to a man named Zacharias in 1:5-7. So we see that Zacharias is a priest with a wife named Elizabeth, and that both he and his wife are righteous before God and blameless. However, they had no children; and finally, they were both quite old.
The story picks up in v. 8. Zacharias is offering incense in the temple when the angel Gabriel appears to him. The angel tells Zacharias that his wife Elizabeth is going to bear him a son, and that they are to name him, “John.” John is going to be great in God’s sight, and is going to have a particularly fruitful and important ministry. He will fulfill prophecy by going ahead of the Lord to prepare for His coming by urging His people to repent.
So how does Zacharias respond to this news? He bursts forth into praise, right? No, he doubts. Look at v. 18. In vv. 19-20, we see that as a result of Zacharias’s unbelief, Gabriel renders him unable to speak. Later on, we see that people are communicating with Zacharias through hand signals, which tells us that he was unable to hear as well. And Gabriel tells Zacharias that he will remain in this condition until “the day these things take place.” Meanwhile, Elizabeth does conceive.
Six months later, Gabriel appears again to a relative of Elizabeth named “Mary,” and tells her that she too will have a son. Mary’s conception will also be miraculous, not because she is old, but because she is a virgin. Mary is to name her son, “Jesus” (vv. 26-31). Jesus will be great as well, and actually much greater than John (read vv. 32-33). Like Zacharias, Mary responds by questioning Gabriel. However, instead of a rebuke, she receives an explanation. She will conceive by the Holy Spirit. And lest she think this is impossible, she should know that Elizabeth has also conceived in her old age. And Mary responds with that great statement, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38).
After the angel has departed from Mary, she leaves Nazareth and goes to visit Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, she pronounces a Spirit-filled blessing upon Mary, who believed the angel’s message, and upon her baby, whom Elizabeth calls her “Lord.”
Mary responds with a song of praise to God and then remains for three months with Elizabeth (vv. 46-56).
Well, John was finally born, and taken to be circumcised on the eighth day like every Jewish boy. And at that ceremony, a debate arises over what he should be named. The people think that they boy should be named “Zacharias” after his father, but Zacharias insists that he is to be named, “John.” Just then, God loosens Zacharias’s tongue, and he praises God, as he should have done nine months earlier. God had apparently done a great work in Zacharias’s heart during those long months of silence so that now he is bursting with praise for the Lord.
And that brings us to v. 67 and the content of Zacharias’s praise, which according to the text was also Spirit-filled prophecy. Let's read vv. 67-79.
As we walk through this passage this morning, we are going to consider first of all what it says and then secondly, what it means for us.
Two Crucial Words
There is a sense in which v. 68 functions as a thesis statement for the entire psalm (v. 68).
Verses 68-75 are centered around the idea of redemption, and vv. 76-79 are very closely tied to the concept of visitation.
So we’ll come back to both of those words, but I think that it’s important for us to really examine them on the front end of this sermon in order to get our footing, so to speak.
However, even before we do that, I want to us to consider the question, “Whom will God visit and redeem?” Well, according to v. 68, He will visit and redeem “His people.” So who is that? Is it Israel or the church? Well my belief is that it’s Israel, both here and throughout the passage. Now obviously Jesus’ birth is vital for the church as well, but that’s not what this passage is about. This passage is about the implications of Christ’s birth for the nation of Israel. Applications to the church, though present, are secondary.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s examine these two important terms, “visit” and “redeem.”
First, Zacharias says that God has visited His people (v. 68). To visit means “To make an appearance in order to help.” The term “visitation” was used in reference to the Exodus (Gen. 50:24-25; Exod. 3:16). So God showed up to help His people.
Now there is obviously a figurative element to this terminology. God didn’t actually travel to be with them. He was already there with them in Egypt because He is omnipotent. And yet God uses the idea of “visitation” in order to capture the very personal nature of salvation. God doesn’t just wave a magic wand in heaven and say, “Be delivered from your enemies.” He makes personal visits to deliver his people. And when He does so, they sense His presence.
So there’s obviously a figurative element to God’s visiting His people. But as we are going to see later on, there is also a literal element to this visitation (v. 78). God visited His people by means of Jesus. Jesus is God, so when Jesus visited, God visited.
So that’s what visitation means. Now let’s examine the word, “redemption.” The term “redemption” basically means “liberation through payment of a price,” and it is used in the Bible in both a political and spiritual sense. For instance, it was used in a political sense to refer to God’s liberation of His people from Egypt (Deut. 7:8) and to end-times liberation for Israel (Isa. 51:11; Luke 1:28).
However, as we know, the word “redemption” also has a rich spiritual sense, especially in the NT.
Now I’m not going to take the time to go the NT passages which deal with spiritual redemption because that would take too long and because Pastor Kit has covered this topic recently in His 1 Peter series.
However, we could sum up the teachings of those verses by saying that Christ redeems us from the enslaving effects of sin. He paid redemption’s price when He shed His blood and died on the cross. And redemption is something that God starts we trust Christ as Savior and completes when we are glorified in heaven, never to sin again. Hopefully that sounds familiar.
So the million-dollar question is this: which type of redemption was Zacharias referring to in this passage? So what do you think?
Well, I would say that because Zacharias is speaking under inspiration, I think it’s appropriate for us to interpret the idea of redemption in this passage both politically and spiritually. After all, Christ provided both types of redemption. However, I want reiterate that when I refer to spiritual redemption, I am talking about spiritual redemption for Jews. Obviously, Christ also paid for the redemption of Gentiles, but I don’t think that is what Zacharias is talking about. I hope that makes sense.
So I think it’s obvious that Zacharias is referring to political deliverance from enslaving political enemies (vv. 71, 74). Now, there are those who would disagree with that statement. They would say that Zacharias is using OT imagery to refer to spiritual realities, which they would transfer to the church. But I think that they are clearly wrong. Zacharias certainly expected political deliverance.
But that type of redemption was only going to be possible if the people of Israel would repent of their sins. That’s what Zacharias says in v. 77. Salvation (i.e. political salvation)… by the remission of sins (v. 77). You see, for Israel, political redemption and spiritual redemption were intertwined.
They weren’t going to have one without the other. And we’ll consider that thought in more detail later on. So I think there are two aspects to the redemption Zacharias refers to.
Are you still with me? I know that was a little bit complicated and it’s going to stay complicated for a while, so I want to make sure you are following.
Now before we move on, I want you to notice the tense of the verbs in v. 68. What tense are they? (They are both in the past tense.) Which is interesting, because Zacharias is clearly referring to events which have not taken place. I mean, Jesus has not yet died on the cross, and the children of Israel have not yet been delivered from their enemies. So why does Zacharias use the past tense?
Here’s the answer. Zacharias could refer to these events as already having taken place because he had seen God fulfill some significant promises. Can you name some of them? (His promise that Elizabeth would conceive, His promise that Mary would conceive, and His promise that Elizabeth would safely give birth to their son) These fulfillments filled Zacharias with the confidence that God would fulfill all of His promises to His people through the baby that Mary had conceived.
Think about it this way: the incarnation had already taken place. Even though Jesus had not been born, He had already become human, and He was at that very moment living inside of Mary.
So Zacharias takes the liberty to praise God for what He will accomplish through Jesus, even though Jesus hadn’t been born yet.
So that brings us through the thesis statement in v. 68 and to what we might call point #1, which is basically elaborates on the concept of redemption.
First, Zacharias explains how God will redeem His people. He will redeem them by raising up a horn of salvation (v. 69).
When the OT says that God raised someone up, it means that He sent a significant figure to His people, whether a prophet, judge, priest, or king. Here, God raises up a horn of salvation.
The word “horn” is a reference to the horn of a bull. It was a symbol of strength, power, dignity, and glory.
In the visions of Daniel, horns represent kings; and in at least one OT text, the Messiah is pictured as a horn. Notice also that Zacharias says God had raised up this horn in the house of His servant David. So who is this horn of salvation? (It’s the Messiah.)
In 2 Sam. 7, God made a covenant with David in which He promised that David’s kingdom would be established forever. And as time went on, God revealed through His prophets that this promise to David would be fulfilled through a King who would proceed from David’s line. When Gabriel appeared to Mary, he made clear that her son Jesus would be that King. So Zacharias is talking about Jesus. So Zacharias explains that God will redeem His people by raising up Jesus.
But he also makes the point that God’s raising up of Jesus represents the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant and of numerous prophecies that went along with it (v. 70). Zacharias speaks of numerous prophets whom God used as instruments to communicate His message. Though separated by great distances of time, these prophets spoke with one mouth—that is, they presented a unified message about the coming Messiah.
Alright, so far in point #1, Zacharias has explained how God will redeem His people, and He’s emphasized the significance of redemption in light of prophecy. Now he describes in more detail what redemption looks like (v. 71).
For Zacharias, redemption looks like salvation from bondage to enemies who hate Israel. These are primarily political foes, most notably, the Romans. These enemies hated Israel, and they held God’s people in their grip, thus the reference to being delivered out of their “hand.”
I think the picture is pretty clear. God’s people were in bondage to their enemies, but God was sending the Messiah to set them free.
Now in v. 69, we saw that Jesus became a man to fulfill the Davidic Covenant. But according to vv. 72-73, He also did so to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant. The word “mercy” here parallels the Hebrew word “hesed” and probably includes the idea of “loyal love.” So by raising up the Messiah, God was displaying loyal love to the fathers, which is probably a reference to the patriarchs.
Which brings up an interesting question. How could God act mercifully toward people who were already dead? Have you ever thought about that? Well, there is a sense in which you can show loyalty toward a person who has already died by honoring them promises you made to him while he was still living. But do you remember what Jesus said in Luke 20:38? “[God] is not the God of the dead, but of the what? (living) So I think it’s safe to say that Luke 2:72 implies that the patriarchs are still alive, and that they too enjoy the benefits of redemption.
Verse 72 says that God remembered His holy covenant—that is, His covenant with Abraham.
Not that He ever really forgot it, but that after a long delay, God is acting to fulfill His covenant.
In the OT, God is said to remember His covenant with the patriarchs when He delivered His people from Egypt. And it is that same covenant which motivates Him to send Jesus to redeem His people.
The most complete statement of the blessings associated with the Abrahamic covenant is found in Gen. 12:1-3. Now there had been times in Israel’s history in which some of these promises seemed to have been fulfilled. And yet, in Zacharias’s day, Israel certainly didn’t seem like a great nation through which all of the families of the earth were being blessed, and they certainly weren’t occupying the land God had promised to Abraham. But God was acting to fulfill those promises through the Jesus.
So God will redeem His people by sending Jesus. Jesus will save Israel from its enemies, and in doing so, fulfill all of God’s OT promises. Now the final thing Zacharias does in point #1 is tell us why (v. 74).
In the OT, God told Moses to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” He freed His people from Egypt so that they would serve Him. And that is exactly the same reason He will free His people according to Luke 1. He doesn’t just save people so that they will have a more enjoyable existence. God delivers them from their enemies so that they will serve Him. We could say that redemption is doxologically oriented.
And notice that the freedom to serve God is a gift. It’s something that He grants. Notice that freedom to worship God has been the intense desire of God’s people since OT times. And this verse reveals that it is part of God’s saving purposes to grant that freedom. God liberated the children of Israel from Egypt, but then they forfeited their freedom by means of their sin. However, there will be a day in which the nation of Israel will enjoy complete freedom to worship apart from persecution or government interference of any kind, because the Messiah will be their King.
Application: I think this is a great place for me to stop and encourage you to be thankful for the freedom of worship that we enjoy in the United States of America. In light of this text, that freedom is a little taste of heaven; and we should never take it for granted.
So God was going to redeem Israel so that they could serve Him. But also notice that God was concerned about their manner of their service (v. 75). He wanted His people to serve Him fearlessly, in holiness and righteousness. You see God didn’t just want His people to perform acts of service toward Him; He wanted them to be a specific kind of people—a distinct people set apart to Him, and a people characterized by righteousness.
I think vv. 74-75 are true in both a political and a spiritual sense. Through Jesus, God intended to act on multiple levels in order to grant His people freedom to serve Him fearlessly in holiness and righteousness.
Not only was God concerned about the manner of service, but He was also concerned about the location of service (v. 75). God wanted His people to serve “before Him.” In other words, He wanted to be with them. This was true in relation to the Exodus and also applies to eschatological redemption (Exod. 29:46; Rev. 21:3). God’s presence is the greatest blessing of redemption.
So God was concerned about the manner of service, the location of service, and finally, the duration of service (v. 75). According to Zacharias, redemption has results which last forever.
That brings us to the end of point #1 of Zacharias’s song, which focuses on redemption. Now for point #2, which has to do with visitation.
The first thing Zacharias says about God’s visit, is that preparations must be made for it (v. 76). Thus far, Zacharias has been praising God, but at this point, he turns and addresses His Son. Perhaps Zacharias looks baby John in the eye as he holds him in his arms. And Zacharias tells his baby boy what Gabriel told him nine months earlier.
First, he tells John that he will be called “the prophet of the Highest,” which is clearly a reference to God. Gabriel told Mary that Jesus would be called “the Son of the Highest.” So we see that both John and Jesus are connected to God—John as His prophet, but Jesus as His Son.
And Zacharias tells John that his role as prophet will be to prepare for God’s coming.
The word “Lord” in v. 76 is most likely a reference to God the Father, as it was in v. 68 as well as in vv. 16-17. Verse 76 hearkens back to two OT passages: Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3, both of which refer to a messenger who would prepare the way. “Prepare the way” is a metaphor that compares roadwork with some kind of spiritual task.
Zacharias explains the metaphor in v. 77. (Read. v. 77.) “Knowledge” in v. 77 is not head knowledge, but experiential knowledge. And the word “salvation” should probably be taken in the political sense. So John’s ultimate purpose is to give God’s people the experience of salvation.
However, they would only experience political salvation once their sins had been forgiven. By the way, this concept was nothing new. It was bound up in the New Covenant that was promised to Israel in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:25-28. In the New Covenant, God promised to put a new heart in the children of Israel so that they would be forgiven and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, paving the way for the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to them. And according to v. 78, this whole plan was rooted in God’s mercy.
In v. 72, the word mercy was a reference to God’s loyal love. But here, it is a reference to His compassion. The New Covenant was rooted in God’s compassion for His sinful people. So that’s where John came in. He was to preach so that God’s people would repent, be forgiven, and be saved. Unfortunately, most of the children of Israel rejected John’s message, so political salvation for the nation of Israel was delayed. But that does not mean that God’s plan had been thwarted. Instead, Israel’s rejection of Jesus actually led to His crucifixion, by which He ratified the New Covenant. And the next time Jesus comes, according to Romans 11, Israel will receive Him and be saved. We look forward to that day.
All of this has had to do with the preparations for God’s visit. But Zacharias also tells us about the visit itself (v. 78).
Zacharias says that like forgiveness of sins, God’s visit is based on his compassion. And then He refers to the Visitor as the Dayspring. The Greek word for “Dayspring” means “rising.” It can refer either to the rising of a heavenly body or the growth of a branch. And it shows up in a number of incredibly diverse Messianic passages from the OT.
It is the word for “BRANCH” in Jeremiah 23:5, and Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12. It describes the way that the horn of the house of Israel “springs forth” in Ezek. 29:21. And it describes the rising of the star from Jacob in Numbers 24:17 and the Sun of Righteousness in Malachi 4:2. Based on the reference to light in Luke 1:79, it should probably be translated “Sunrise” or "Dawn" in v. 78. However, many scholars also believe that Zacharias intended to draw on all of those OT images for the Messiah when he used this particular word here. God visited His people through Jesus, the Dawn from heaven.
So Zacharias has told us about the preparations for God’s visit and about the visit itself. Now, the last thing he tells us is the purpose of God’s visit.
The purpose of God's visit is to bring peace (v. 79). The OT refers often to the idea of God shining upon His people as a metaphor for deliverance and blessing. Darkness has to do with slavery and hopelessness, and light has to do with freedom and joy. Isaiah 9:2-3 illustrates this point well. (Read Isaiah 9:2-3.) And how was God going to fulfill these promises? (Read v. 6a.) By sending a child—a little baby named “Jesus.” Both Isaiah 9 and Luke 1 go on to talk about the peace that Jesus will bring. This is “shalom”—complete wholeness as a result of being in harmony with God. What a promise!
Now I know that we’ve covered a lot of ground, and it would be tempting simply to stop there, but I think it’s important that before we close, we ask the question, “What does this mean for me?” After all, I’ve contended that this passage is about the implications of the incarnation for the nation of Israel. So you might be wondering, “Why should I care?”
Well, you should care because you can become a participant in the New Covenant by means of union with Christ.
What does that mean? It means that by repenting of your sins and believing in Jesus, you can gain access to many of the blessings listed in this psalm (Eph. 2:11-13). You can be redeemed from the enslaving power of sin. You can be delivered out of the hand of Satan, and freed to serve God fearlessly in holiness and righteousness before Him all your days. You can have forgiveness of sins. And you can have joy, hope and peace. That truly is wonderful news, isn’t it?
So let me ask you the question: “Have you availed yourself of these blessings?” Have you repented of your sin and believed in Jesus?
If you have, please let me challenge you in two ways.
First, let me challenge you simply to serve God. According to vv. 74-75 and many other biblical passages, God saved you to serve Him. Israel served God by offering the prescribed sacrifices, observing the Sabbath and the Festivals, fasting, praying and tithing. According to Romans 12, we are to serve God by presenting our bodies to Him as a living sacrifice. And Paul says that to do so is only reasonable.
So how are you doing? How effectively are you living out God’s saving purpose for your life? Are you serving Him? And remember that God also cares about your manner of service. He doesn’t just want you to do things, He wants You to be someone. He wants you to serve Him in holiness and righteousness. So if your life is characterized by service, but not by holiness and righteousness, then you are not fulfilling God’s redemptive purposes in your life.
And also remember that God cares about the location of your service. He redeemed you so that you would serve before Him. So I hope that you value God’s presence. It should be your greatest joy. So if you’re a Christian, first serve God.
And second, praise God. I mean, turn off “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and sing some carols of praise to God! Cut out some time to get alone with Him and just praise Him in private prayer. Incorporate praise into your family’s Christmas traditions. This Christmas season, do what Zacharias did, and praise God for sending Jesus.
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.”