I would invite you to open the Word of God again to the first chapter of the gospel of Luke. As you know, the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – record the arrival and the life and death and resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. His story is told by all four writers. Luke in particular is the one who details for us the story of the angelic visitor who comes to Zacharias and Elizabeth and tells them that even though they have been unable to have children because of her barrenness and they are now in their old age, much like Abraham and Sarah, the Lord is going to allow for a miraculous birth, and from them will come the first prophet in four hundred years and the greatest prophet of all prophets. In fact, our Lord said the greatest man who had ever lived, this man called John, who later became known as John the Baptist. And he was the forerunner of the Messiah, as we read. His job was to make the way ready for the arrival of the Messiah by gathering the people, preparing their hearts so that they would be ready when the Messiah came.
Now we have come through the account of Luke all the way down to verse 67 of Luke 1. At that point, Zacharias now has his voice back and he begins in verse 64 to speak in praise of God, that God had indeed given them a son whose name is John which means gift of God. Zacharias, according to verse 67, was then filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied – not the idea of predicting the future, but the word simply means to speak on behalf of God.
“So Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to say the following words,” – let’s follow them, verse 68 – ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant – as He spoke by the mouth of the holy prophets from of old – salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued 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 on before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.”
What you have here from Zacharias is essentially a song. It’s a song. And that’s what people do when they celebrate. We are familiar with that because Christmas is filled with music, song upon song upon song, and we never get enough. It is natural for people to sing when they’re happy, and at the greatest occasion in all of human history it’s little wonder that so much music is identified with the coming of the Savior.
But this is nothing new really for the people of God. Songs of praise are all over the Bible. In fact, the book of Psalms is a book of songs, a hundred and fifty songs that the children of Israel would sing – songs of worship, songs of praise, songs of petition, songs reciting history, songs of confession, songs of joy, songs of sadness. They expressed everything in their lives in song, and God gave them a songbook to sing so that their songs they’re singing would be accurate. But again, much of the Psalms is joy and praise to God for what He has done.
And again, that is not even new. If you go back to the book of Exodus, you will find that Moses and the Israelites, when they had passed through the Red Sea that God had parted, they went through safely, and then the water closed and drowned Pharaoh. Upon getting to the other side safely, Exodus 15:1 records these words: “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously. The horse and the rider He has thrown into the sea.” It was a song of deliverance because God had brought through the children of Israel and drowned Pharaoh’s pursuing army behind them. They sang a song of deliverance, a song of salvation from the Egyptian force.
A little bit later in the book of Judges, again we find Deborah and Barak, two of the judges that God used to rescue Israel from surrounding and vicious Pagans. And when God had declared His victory, they burst forth in praise. Essentially it’s a Deborah and Barak duet that proclaims the strength of God in delivering His people, Judges chapter 5. It goes all the way for thirty-one verses, this song of deliverance.
And then there was Hannah who had been delivered from the stigma of not having a child, and the Lord had promised to give her a child and had given her Samuel, and she sings in response to that deliverance from that stigma, 1 Samuel chapter 2, the opening ten verses – you can read them. It’s her song of praise. Solomon had a great choir for the temple, a choir to sing praise to God – praise for God’s glory, praise for God’s deliverance and salvation. And when the shekinah glory entered into the temple, you remember all the trumpeters showed up and all the singers showed up and they began to praise the Lord with thanksgiving for all He had done for Israel, and you see that in 2 Chronicles chapter 5.
And then you add to that – there are many other songs that I skipped over, even some back in the book of Genesis. But it seems as though very often in the early years of Israel’s history, they punctuated significant action by God with songs. And whenever they came together to worship they would sing, and much of what they would sing, of course, came from the Psalms. The dominant theme in their singing and the dominant theme even in the Psalms is God’s deliverance, God’s salvation. In fact, through the Psalms you find the expression “new song” a number of times. And the new song all through the Psalms is always the song of salvation, the song of deliverance. “God has seen us in our situation, the dire reality of it, and God has delivered us,” the song of deliverance, the song of salvation.
By the way, we read the first chapter of Luke and we did not read Mary’s Magnificat, verses 46 to 55 of chapter 1, but that too is a song. Mary is offering a song, a song of praise to God for sending salvation through the very Child that she would bear. She says, verse 46, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Salvation again. God has sent through her a Savior. So much of our singing is connected to our salvation. In fact, we could argue that were there no salvation there would be no singing. Salvation is the heart and soul, the core reality that gives us all our Christian music.
And it wasn’t just the people who sang in the times of deliverance. Occasionally there was a heavenly choir as well, such as at the birth of our Lord Jesus. Luke 2, look at verse 13: “Suddenly there appeared with the angel” – who appeared to the shepherds – “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’” And we heard all the glorias, didn’t we, sung so beautifully this morning. The angels joined the celebration, and the angels offer glory to God because of the arrival of the Savior and thus the arrival of salvation.
Even Simeon, down in chapter 2 of Luke’s gospel and verse 25, is at the temple. And when Mary and Joseph bring the child there for the celebration and the ceremony of purification for the new Child, this man Simeon is introduced to us in verse 25. “This man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God and said,” – and here this appears to be a short song – ‘Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the nations, and the glory of Your people Israel.’” A short song, a solo, if you will, from Simeon at the arrival of the Messiah.
There’s no greater joy than salvation. We understand that, right; that’s the greatest reality. Nothing else would matter if we were lost in sin and facing divine judgment. We need salvation. That is why when you go to heaven in the fifth chapter of Revelation you come to the end of the New Testament and you listen for what is going on in heaven. According to Revelation chapter 5, this is what you would hear: “And they sang a new song saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.’ And then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’”
And so in heaven they’re singing the hallelujah chorus. They’re singing Handel’s Messiah with all the glorias and the declarations of salvation. We will always sing the song of salvation. And as I said, all the music of Christianity is based on our salvation. If we were not saved, if we were still in our sins, there would be nothing to sing about. So Luke actually opens his gospel with five songs, as the celebration expresses praise for salvation having arrived – promised, yes, for a long time, but actually arrived in the announcement of a prophet to announce the coming of the Savior and the announcement to Mary that the Savior would be born.
The Old Testament ended with a promise. The book of Malachi, the promise comes in the last chapter: “The Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in His beams.” And the curtain goes black at the end of the Old Testament and it stays that way for four hundred years. For four hundred years there’s no prophet, there’s no word from heaven, there’s no revelation. But the last word is echoing in the ears of the people of God, “The Sun of Righteousness, the Messiah will arise with healing in His beams.” Four hundred years have gone by and the darkness remains, until this monumental time when Gabriel comes from heaven and announces the coming of a forerunner, and then announces the arrival of the Savior, the Messiah Himself. The salvation of God was to break out very soon on Israel and on the world. The light was only a few decades away when the announcements came to Zacharias, Elizabeth, and Joseph and Mary.
In the text before us then we hear from Zacharias the joy of his heart over the arrival of the promised Savior. And Zacharias knows that if he’s going to have a son and this son’s name is John and the son’s duty is to be the forerunner of the Messiah, then Zacharias knows the Messiah is coming soon. And in fact, Elizabeth and Mary, Elizabeth bearing John and Mary bearing Jesus, meet together. They were born only months apart. And when John had grown to manhood, he went into the wilderness and began to prophesy the coming of Messiah. And soon the Messiah showed up, and John pointed to Him, said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” This is a glorious moment, and Zacharias understands it fully.
I remember years ago talking to a Jewish rabbi who said to me, “I admit I don’t understand the New Testament. I don’t have any knowledge of it. I’ve spent my whole life studying the Old Testament. What would be the most help to me in understanding the New Testament and its relation to the Old, how they are connected if, in fact, they are?” And I said, “It’s not really difficult. Would you believe the testimony of an Old Testament priest, like an Old Testament rabbi, an Old Testament scholar, a scholar in the Old Testament who had spent his long life studying the Old Testament? Would you believe his testimony about the meaning of the arrival of the Savior Jesus Christ?”
And he said, “Well, I would be more prone to believe the testimony of an Old Testament priest or rabbi.” So I said, “Well then, I would like to introduce you to one. His name is Zacharias. He’s an Old Testament man. He’s been declared righteous by faith. He’s a man whose life is marked by blameless behavior before God. He’s a true worshiper. He’s a teacher of the Old Testament. And if you want to know how an Old Testament priest views the arrival of Jesus, here it is; he’s given it to us in the first chapter of Luke.”
At that time, I had been going through the gospel of Luke, and so I had about, I don’t know, seven or eight messages on this passage. I sent them all to him, and I said, “This is how you’re going to know the significance of the New Testament.” I had hoped to hear from him. I heard nothing except a thank you for sending those things, nothing beyond that. But this is the testimony of an Old Testament priest to the reality of the arrival of Messiah.
Now down in verse 76, Zacharias does make reference to his own son, who will be the prophet of the Most High. “You, child,” – he’s speaking now to the little infant John – “will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways.” And he borrows that from Malachi where there’s a promise of a prophet who would come, and he would be in the spirit and power of a prophet like Elijah, and he would prepare the people for the arrival of the Messiah. So he does make reference to his son in verse 76. But the rest of this Benedictus – as it’s been called because of the word “blessed,” which is the beginning word of it – the rest of it focuses past John to the arrival of the Messiah Himself.
Zacharias understands that this is a time to praise God for the salvation that will come through the Messiah. This is such a joyous occasion in the mind of Zacharias that he says nothing about judgment at all, nothing at all about judgment. Even in Mary’s Magnificat there are comments about judgment, verse 52: “He brought down rulers from their thrones. He sent away the rich empty-handed.” But there are no such references to judgment in the song of Zacharias. This is pure praise. With the birth of John, John’s father knew Messiah was near; and that was validated, of course, when Elizabeth and Mary met, and the Lord Jesus was soon born.
Now I want you to take a look at this from his perspective as an Old Testament priest. He knew that there were three very important promises that essentially laid out God’s pledge for the future of Israel’s salvation and the world. And he, by the way, understood that it was not just Israel, but it was far beyond that; it was the world. There were three promises. One was made to David, one was made to Abraham, and one was made to the prophets, in particular, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. And so, as Zacharias begins his praise, he identifies the fact that the Messiah’s arrival is a fulfillment of a promise to David – and you’ll see David’s name in verse 69 – and then that it is a promise made to Abraham being fulfilled – Abraham’s name is in verse 73. And then finally, in verse 77, it is a promise fulfilled to give the people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, which promise was given to the prophets, particularly Ezekiel and Jeremiah. So the view of Zachariah or Zacharias is this is fulfillment of specific Old Testament promises. This is so very, very important, critical for Jewish people to understand that the story does not end at the last book of the Old Testament. It doesn’t end with promises unfulfilled. The New Testament is the revelation of the promises fulfilled in Christ.
Let’s look together at verse 67: “His father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and preached or prophesied, saying, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.’” This is why it’s called a Benedictus, pronouncing a blessing. He is filled with joy, filled with gratitude, as well as being filled with the Holy Spirit. This was very common for Jewish people to say, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” You find it scattered throughout the Psalms. You find it in other places like 1 Kings chapter 1, verse 48, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” And this is a Jewish expression, very familiar to a Jewish priest. He blesses God because he sees the coming of Messiah as the fulfillment of God’s promises. He says this: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us. He has visited us.” He anticipates the arrival of Messiah as if it’s already happened, puts it in the past tense.
Now in the Old Testament you have God visiting. Occasionally God visits in judgment, God visits in wrath, like in Exodus 32. Sometimes God visits for gracious purposes such as in Exodus 4 or the book of Ruth chapter 1, verse 6. But a visit from God was always monumental, whether it was for judgment or for an expression of grace. It’s a very common Old Testament term. It literally means to visit as if someone showed up to be in your presence for some important purpose. God showed up. God showed up when Jesus came. God showed up when Gabriel came to Zacharias and Elizabeth. God had arrived in history. Decades had gone by, centuries had gone by, millennia had gone by, people waiting and waiting and waiting for God to arrive. And finally, He comes.
Why did He come? Back to verse 68: “He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people.” He accomplished redemption for His people. That’s what His people were looking for. Over in chapter 2 and verse 38, this is Anna who was advanced in years. She lived with her husband seven years, verse 36, after her marriage, then he died. She became a widow until she was eighty-four, seventy-seven years a widow. “She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment” – when Jesus was taken to the temple and she happened to be there – “she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
They were all looking for the redemption. They were looking to be redeemed, the true and faithful, godly ones. They wanted redemption. They wanted to be bought back from the bondage of sin. They wanted to be rescued. Redemption is to rescue at a cost, in fact, a very high price.
She along with other faithful, godly Jews were waiting for redemption, and Zacharias sees it. God has come and accomplished redemption for His people. Birth of John then signals the arrival soon of Messiah, and that means God will show up to rescue His people to purchase them back from sin and death and judgment and hell. And God had shown great power to redeem, and the touchstone for that was the Egyptian display of divine power. He had rescued them after 430 years of bondage in Egypt in miraculous ways through the plagues and the exodus and the dividing of the Red Sea and all the miracles in the wilderness. Psalm 106, by the way, is a celebration of that rescue.
So God is a Savior, God is a deliverer, God is a rescuer of His people. And now He has come to redeem His people, and through them to bring redemption to the world. And how will He do that? How will God accomplish redemption? Verse 69: “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us.”
“Horn” here not in the sense of trumpets or trombones, French horns – as you heard this morning – but in the sense of an animal. When the Jewish people talked about strength, they would speak, as a figure of speech or kind of a metaphor, of animal power. And the power of an animal basically was in its horns, its ability to do killing damage. So a horn became an expression for power; and you see that very often in the Old Testament. For example, numbers of times in the Old Testament we read this statement: “The Lord is the horn of my salvation. The Lord is the horn of my salvation.” It means the strength, the power of my salvation.
Psalm 132:17, “I will cause the horn of David to spring forth.” Wow. What is the horn of David? That is the Messiah who comes in the line of David. And that’s exactly what you have here. That’s from 132:17 in the Psalms. And here, Zacharias says, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people.” And how? “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant.” This is essentially to say what Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 50, verse 34, that our Redeemer is strong, our Redeemer is strong.
Redemption will come. Redemption will come through a powerful, powerful Redeemer. This Redeemer comes to save. And I need to just stop and add a footnote here. That’s why Jesus came. “Call Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” That’s why He came. The problem was the people of Israel in general, except the faithful remnant like Anna and Simeon, and Mary and Joseph, and Zacharias and Elizabeth, and all the others waiting for redemption in Israel. They knew they needed to be redeemed. The rest of the population didn’t think they needed a Redeemer at all; all they wanted was a king. They were ready to receive the kingdom, they were secure in their own self-righteousness.
Luke wants to make it crystal clear that Jesus didn’t come to be a king over people who were already righteous, but He came to be a Redeemer for people who were in bondage to sin and death and judgment and hell. In fact, Luke makes such an issue out of the fact that Jesus came to save that over thirty times he refers the person and work of Jesus as a saving work, or Jesus, in specific, as a Savior, more than any other gospel. And it’s Luke who says, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” That is why He came, and that is what set Jesus on a collision course with the self-righteous that ultimately caused them to reject Him and send Him to the Romans to be executed. Zacharias knows that the Messiah comes as a Savior, as a Redeemer, to redeem His people back from the bondage of sin and death and judgment and hell. In order to do that, He has to be a mighty Savior.
And again, Mary understood that. Mary said, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Listen, even Mary knew she needed a Savior. She was not sinless, she was not virgin-born. She was a sinner like every other human being; she needed a Savior. “My Savior is coming,” she said.
So we now know the theme of Mary’s praise and the theme of Zacharias’ praise. It is, again, a song of salvation, like so many other songs throughout the Old Testament. A mighty Redeemer has come. And before the Redeemer begins His ministry, His forerunner will go out to make the way for Him to come. Zacharias’ son John will be the prophet who announces His arrival, as it says in verse 76, “to prepare the way for the Lord.”
Now Zacharias understands this very important reality, and this is what I want you to draw from this beautiful, beautiful, magnificent song of salvation. He understands that it is a fulfillment of promises made to David, promises made to Abraham, and promises made to the prophets. This is what connects the New Testament to the Old Testament. Zacharias builds the bridge for us.
First, he says, this Savior comes in the house of David – end of verse 69 – God’s servant. He is in the line of David. That’s why Matthew begins, “Jesus was the son of David.” The Redeemer, the Horn, the Messiah will be from the house of David. Zacharias knows that it’s not John. John’s not the Messiah because he, Zacharias, is from the house of Aaron; that’s the priestly line. And his wife Elizabeth, as I read, also from the house of Aaron. John, therefore, is a descendent of Aaron by both parents and not from David; so he knows he’s not talking about his son John. John is the prophet, the announcer.
The Messiah, according to Psalm 132:17, will be the horn of David. The Savior was to be born in the royal line of David. And why is that so important? Because back in 2 Samuel 7, God said in verse 16 to David, “You will have a greater son who will reign on your throne everlastingly, eternally, in a kingdom that will never end.” This was not Solomon, this was the Messiah far down in history but in the line of David. That’s why Matthew gives a genealogy of Joseph, showing he comes from David’s line. And we have also in Luke a genealogy of Mary who came also from David’s line. So the Messiah was born. Bloodline: Mary from David. And right to rule, you could say, was past down even through His adopted father Joseph. The Messiah will come to fulfill the promise of a Son of David to reign on the throne of Israel. And it would be beyond that; He would reign over the whole world.
Go back to chapter 1 and verse 31. When Gabriel comes to Mary, he says to her, verse 31, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus,” which means Savior. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Verse 35 he adds, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” Son of God, Son of the Most High, Son of David. Messiah has to be in David’s line. Psalm 89 – I read that to you a little bit last week – declares this as well.
But Psalm 2 tells us that His rule does not end just with the Jewish people. It’s the line of David, and He rules over Israel. But it’s beyond that. Listen to Psalm 2: “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing?” – talking about the nations. “And the kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Messiah, saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!’ He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury, saying, ‘But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.’” God installing His Son the Messiah as King. And then He goes on to say, “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.’” He not only comes as a King over Israel, He not only comes as a King over Jerusalem, He comes as King of the whole world. He has an eternal and boundless kingdom.
So Zacharias understands that the Messiah’s arrival is for the purpose of salvation. “Salvation” – according to verse 71 – “from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us.” He comes to deliver His people. He comes to be a Deliverer, and then a Sovereign who will not only rule over Israel, but He will extend His rule over the entire world. That’s the promise of the Old Testament. The Child is the King of kings.
And then starting in verse 72, Zacharias takes a look at the second promise and covenant that is fulfilled. “He comes to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” He comes not only to be a Sovereign over us, but He comes to be the object of our worship, the object of our affection, and the source of our holiness and righteousness.
This is referring back to Abraham. “God made a holy covenant” – verse 72 – “based on His mercy toward our fathers,” Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the fathers. God gave the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that He would have a people come from the loins of Abraham. They would be a people that would spread across the earth, they would be a blessing to the nations of the world; they would have a land. They would have blessing, they would become a blessing. A little later in the book of Genesis we find out that this covenant also includes a Redeemer, and that is graphically predicted in Genesis 22, where God tells Abraham to go slay his son Isaac. And then as he’s about to do that, God says, “Stop, I have a substitute,” and brings out an animal to be slain in the place of Isaac. And God is saying there will be a divine substitute, a sacrifice who will suffer death on behalf of God’s covenant people.
So it is a covenant of salvation. It is a covenant of redemption, as illustrated even by the Abraham and Isaac incident in chapter 22. This is because God is merciful and He sends the one who is the descendant of Abraham. That’s why Matthew 1 says He’s not only Son of David, He’s a Son of Abraham, to grant us to be rescued from the hand of our enemies, so that we could serve Him without fear and holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. He will not just rule over us, He will provide holiness in us. He will provide righteousness, covering us. This speaks of the fullness of salvation, that it’s an imputed righteousness that’s over us, and it’s a righteousness and holiness that’s in us. This is fulfilling the redemptive aspects of the Abrahamic covenant, to grant us salvation from our enemies.
David promised that there would come a Ruler, a King, and His kingdom would extend over the whole world. And that sovereign rule would be a kingdom in which we would all dwell who know Him and love Him. Through Abraham’s promise that there would be for all of us in that kingdom a transformation so that we would be literally covered by righteousness through faith as Abraham was. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” We would have an imputed righteousness, and we would also be converted so that there would be holiness and righteousness within, and we would become true worshipers, serving the Lord without fear. So the Messiah was going to bring the promise of a Sovereign Ruler and the promise of a Savior who would totally transform us from sinners into those who are righteous.
There’s a third covenant in the mind of Zacharias down in verse 77. “The Messiah will come, the Horn will come, to give His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” This is the first time this is mentioned. The Davidic covenant doesn’t talk about forgiveness. The Abrahamic covenant doesn’t talk about forgiveness, it talks about the sovereignty of God and the rule of Messiah over the world in the Davidic promise; it talks about a righteousness and transformation in the Abrahamic covenant. But now we’re talking about forgiveness.
Where did Zacharias find that? Go back to Jeremiah 31. Back to Jeremiah 31. And I’m just giving kind of the broad view to you. But in Jeremiah 31, verse 31 comes the most important of all Old Testament covenants: the new covenant. Verse 31: “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. Not like the Mosaic covenant. No, the Mosaic covenant was simply this: “Here’s the law: you obey it, you’re blessed; you disobey it, you’re cursed.”
There’s coming a new covenant, not like that one, not like a covenant that requires obedience or death. There’s a new covenant, a new promise. What is the character of this new promise? Verse 34: “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” That’s the new covenant. The new covenant promises forgiveness of sins. So Zacharias understands that the Davidic covenant is being fulfilled in that a King is coming. The Abrahamic covenant is being fulfilled in that a substitutionary Redeemer is coming. And now he says there is the reality that the knowledge of salvation depends on the forgiveness of sin. So this is the fulfillment of the new covenant, when our sins will be completely forgiven.
We can’t overlook Ezekiel commenting on this, in Ezekiel 36, as he receives revelation from God. He says, verse 24 of Ezekiel 36, “I’ll take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your filthiness, from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you, cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. I’m going to change your heart. I’m going to change your spirit.” That’s the new covenant. The new covenant is a transformation in the forgiveness of sins.
So all of this is in the mind of this Old Testament priest. Everything that was promised to David is going to be fulfilled in this Child. Everything that was promised to Abraham is going to be fulfilled in this Child. And that most glorious of all Old Testament promises called the new promise or the new covenant, the covenant of forgiveness is going to be fulfilled. Here comes the One who will make the provision by which God can forgive our sins.
And Zacharias understands why God would do this. Look back at verse 78: “because of the tender mercy of our God, because of the tender mercy of our God.” This is what defines God: tender mercy. If mercy is music to your ears, then tender mercy is a symphony. Who is a pardoning God like You, overlooking transgression? This is the highest of all causes for praise: the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. The forgiveness is only possible because the Redeemer has come. And the Redeemer has been the substitute taken to the altar in our place and slain for us.
As a result of all of this, Zacharias knows that the final promise of the Old Testament has been fulfilled in the arrival of the Messiah. Listen to what it says. Malachi 4:2, right at the end of the Old Testament. “But for you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His beams.” The Sun of Righteousness will rise. That’s the last word in your Old Testament; and then the screen goes dark, the curtain drops and it’s all darkness.
But Zacharias knows. Look at verse 78: “The Sunrise from on high will visit us.” Finally, the Sunrise. Literally, the rising. It’s a term that simply refers to the dawn. The first light of sun rising to dispel the darkness of the night. Jesus who said, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever believes in Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
The rising has come, the darkness is over – darkness, four hundred years of darkness, and darkness for millennia before that; the rising, the sun. “And He will” – verse 79 – “shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Jesus, he says, is the Sunrise promised at the end of the Old Testament, to shine upon us.
Isaiah makes much of that in chapter 9, chapter 59, chapter 60. You can read that on your own. Messiah comes then as the dawn, as the dawn. That’s why the book of Revelation concludes with that most magnificent recognition, Revelation 22:16, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root” – says Jesus – “and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Brightest morning star is the sun, isn’t it?
The Old Testament ends with the Sun will come and dispel the darkness. The New Testament begins with the rising of the Sun. The Bible closes with a declaration that Jesus is that Sun, dispelling darkness. And for those who come to Him and to the Light, “He guides our feet into the way of peace.”
Zacharias knew his Old Testament. And what that tells me is so did John the Baptist. If this was his dad before he ever went out into the wilderness to begin, he had been taught all these things and many more. And when that day he pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” he was essentially saying, “Forgiveness has arrived. The Sun has risen, the darkness is over.” And for every person who believes in Him, that’s exactly what He does: He dispels the darkness and He opens the way of peace.
Our Father, we come again this morning as we conclude this time to talk with You – that’s what prayer is – and to say thank You. We bless You. We say with Zacharias, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. Blessed be the Lord God of the nations. Blessed be the Lord God of creation. Blessed be the Lord God of salvation.” We bless Your name for sending the Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham, the One who would provide the sacrifice on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven. He bore in His body our sins on the cross, so that believing in Him we can be forgiven, because He paid the penalty. There are not enough songs of salvation to sing the praises of the Savior.
We thank You for the continuity of Your precious Word. All that was promised in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New. The pledge made to David and to Abraham and the prophets all came together in the arrival of the Son of the Most High, Son of God, Son of Man, Son of Mary, the Dawn, the Sun of Righteousness rising with healing in His beams. I pray, Lord, that there’s not a person in this room today who has not come to Christ for forgiveness of sin. The wages of sin is death. Death is an entrance into eternal punishment in hell. You came to save us from our sins, from our enemies, not just temporal, earthly enemies, but that enemy of our souls, Satan and all his forces. You came to save us from the enemy, sin, who powerfully resides in our own flesh. You came to rescue us, and Christ accomplished all that was necessary to provide that salvation when He died in our place on the cross. For all who believe in Him, there is complete forgiveness, no condemnation, reconciliation, restoration, redemption, adoption, sanctification, and one day, eternal glory. No wonder we sing the songs of salvation.
Father, I ask that You would work in every heart here, that You would draw conviction, repentance, and faith in those hearts that have resisted the Lord, have resisted confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior, the only one who can provide forgiveness. May Your Spirit draw hearts out of the darkness into the light of the glory of Christ, even today we pray. Amen.
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