As we continue in Luke’s Gospel, we’re coming to the final section in this massive first chapter—eighty verses. That’s like four chapters in any epistle. So, eighty verses, good job. We’ve come through it; we’re getting to the end here. And this is Zechariah’s song. It’s also known as the Benedictus. This is the longest of all the canticles, all the songs, in Luke’s Gospel. As you can see there, it runs from verse 60 to verse 79. There are 12 truth-filled, prophecy-packed verses of praise to God in this song. It actually begins in verse 67. The title, Benedictus, comes from the Latin translation of that first word of Zechariah’s benediction, “praise.” It’s “Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel.” That means, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” just like it says there in that first line. As we learned from our time last week, when God removed the sentence of silence from Zechariah, when God finally opened his mouth because Zechariah was repentant and because of what he promised—“until the day that child was born, you will be silenced”—all of a sudden his mouth was opened and Zechariah burst forth in praise to God. And as you can see, it says there in verse 64, “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed and he spoke, blessing God.” “Blessing God.” And now we see in verse 68 that that was an apropos summary statement because the first word out of his mouth was the word, “Blessed.” “Blessed.” “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” Eulagao is the verb, eulogotos is the predicate adjective describing it. The same root—it’s the root “to praise, to speak well of.” And after that, everything else that follows from verse 68 forward is all reasons for blessing God. These are reasons that Zechariah blesses the Lord God.
And just as we begin here, right at the beginning, I want to prepare you for what we’re going to do today. The task of expository preaching is often and widely misunderstood. That adjective “expository” has been attached to preaching that’s probably more properly called topical preaching, maybe even textual preaching. Sometimes people mistakenly believe that they’re listening to expository sermons just because the preacher is going passage by passage through the Bible, maybe even working all the way through a book in the Bible. But in reality the understanding that’s gained from the text is superficial, the points are not derived from the text, the context is ignored, and the preacher is saying what he wants to say, but using these Bible verses to kind of springboard his point. So faithfulness to the text is lost. That’s not expository teaching. It’s replaced by devotional thoughts or one of the preacher’s favorite hobby horses—things he likes to talk about. That’s not expository preaching either. The preacher is bound in expository preaching to preach what the Spirit puts there in the order that he puts it, in the tone and the tenor which he writes it.
I once visited a church, a home of a very popular preacher. He was preaching that kind of a message, not an expository message, though he was known as an expository preacher. He calls it expository. That’s what his congregation believed he was doing. And he was preaching from a text actually in Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus said, “I came to cast fire on the earth and would that it were already kindled.” Jesus went on to ask rhetorically, “Do you think that I’ve come for peace on the earth? No, I tell you but rather division.” Jesus continued to describe the division. His coming would drive a wedge between relationships, even dividing close, close family members. It’s one of the consequences of Jesus’ ministry. Your allegiance to Jesus can sometimes cost you. And the preacher said that the big idea that Jesus was trying to convey there is that evangelistic zeal brings division. Sounds good enough. But he said that the fire refers to passion, refers to zeal, aggressive evangelism, not judgment, like the passage clearly says. It sounded good. He said the evangelistic zeal that you have is like a fire, and it makes people uncomfortable. So when you have that fire inside of you and you share that fire with others, eventually people around the water cooler at the office don’t want to hang out with you anymore. People in your family separate from you. You know it’s probably true in some cases, but that idea didn’t come from that text. More likely it came from preacher’s own personality; he was very fiery, from his own imagination. In the context, Jesus is talking about coming judgment. He’s talking about his own baptism of suffering that he would have to endure, the division that would come from allegiance to Jesus Christ. The tone of the text there is somber and sober. The implications of the text have to do with faithfulness in proclaiming the coming fire of Christ’s judgment and wrath.
So as an expository preacher, if I’m going to be faithful to the text, I need to be preaching the content of the text, and I need to consider the context of the text that you and I can both see clearly before us. And I need to honor the tone of the text as well. If I’m to be sensitive to the author’s intent—I’m talking about the human author and the Holy Spirit author—if I’m to be sensitive to the author’s intent, I need to lead all of us to read the passage in the spirit of the passage. We all need to learn what it says, what it means. We also need to learn what it says and what it means in the spirit and the sense, the tone, so to speak, that the author intended, and that’s how we’ll learn to discern the proper interpretation. But also the proper tone of the truth that the writer wants to convey to all of his readers.
We’ve come to a place like that in the text. Luke has indicated here in no uncertain terms that we need to slow down. We need to do some meditating. We need to do some pondering right here. Okay, let me show you what I mean. Luke told us in verse 64 that Zechariah opened his mouth, and out of his mouth he began blessing God. And then Luke waits until now—from verse 64 until now. He waits until now to let us know what Zechariah said. He unpacks that here. And that not only allowed Luke to wrap up that narrative section, to put a good finishing touch on it, bring it to a proper conclusion, but it also allowed Luke the opportunity to highlight what we’re about to read in Zechariah’s song. Notice first the conclusion of that narrative section. We covered that last time—verses 65 to 66. We can look at it there. Luke shows us there the reaction of the people who were on scene. They were the first to hear the news that came out, and “fear came on all of their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts saying, ‘What then will this child be?’” You can get the sense that a reverential awe has fallen on all those neighbors. Remember them? Those neighbors? They were the ones who came bursting through the door demanding that the child be named Zechariah after his father. When Elizabeth protested, they were audacious enough to just bypass her completely and appeal to her husband. But then when Zechariah agreed with her and affirmed, “His name is John,” writing it down on the slate, his mouth was opened. And he burst forth with prophetic, spirit-filled praise. Then it was the neighbors who stood there in silence. Dumbfounded.
They were in awe at what was taking place, and Luke wants us to join them to ponder the significance of what’s happening. Not only that, Luke also tells us how the word spread far and wide “throughout all the hill country of Judea.” The impact had sunk deep down. “All those who heard about these things laid them up in their hears.” So what God was doing, how he was beginning to act, the stirring of the Holy Spirit—he was making a deep, profound impact in people. It was spreading far and wide so it was making a widespread impact. Luke wanted Theophilus, who was his first reader, and all of us who read the story after him to feel that impact. He wanted us to get the significance of what was taking place.
Notice also, Luke repeats the question people were pondering in their hearts. These were things they were thinking about and were saying, “What then will this child be?” Again, he wants us to enter into that pondering, he wants us to enter in to that anticipation, what’s coming around the corner in chapter two and all the way through the rest of Luke’s Gospel. Here, at this point, the end of verse 66—this is where Luke, as the narrator, enters into his narrative at the very end of the account to help us to get a sense of the amazement that gripped the people then. So, he explained the reason for the wonder about John, letting us know the hand of the Lord was with him. That’s why people were amazed. That’s why people were wondering what was happening.
So Theophilus is representative of probably most of Luke’s Gentile readers like us. Theophilus may have had some familiarity with the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament. It’s possible he read portions of the law and prophets available to him, maybe through a local synagogue. Perhaps he had some exposure to wisdom literature, to the Psalms. But since most likely Theophilus is like many of us, he didn’t grow up with the Old Testament. He didn’t grow up immersed in it. He didn’t grow up immersed and surrounded by Jewish culture. He wasn’t attending synagogue or rabbinical school. He wasn’t steeped in Biblical revelation. He wasn’t anticipating the fulfillment of divine covenants and promises. He was like all the rest of us gentiles, an alien and stranger to those things. It would be brought near. So, he could have easily missed the significance of what was happening, so Luke did not want that for him. So, he inserted elements into the narrative that would slow down the reading.
Listen, if that were true for a man like Theophilus, it’s certainly true for us, right? Living more than 2,000 years later, we’re on the other side of the world. We’re separated by geography, by culture, by language, the expanse of time. Some haven’t immersed themselves deeply into the Biblical text. A number of us are at different levels of growth, different years in the faith. Not all can see what is here. So, we need all the help we can get, right? We want to see all that the Lord has put here—understand it all. So, Luke just puts the brakes on, slows us down, causes us to look at these awestruck masses. It’s kind of like passersby on the road. You see an accident, what happens on the road when there’s an accident? Everybody slows down to take a look. In L.A., we called those “rubberneckers,” and we didn’t like that one bit because “I have got to get down the 405! You just added another hour to my commute.” But we’re like that, and it’s okay here to be rubberneckers, to slow down. Like onlookers coming up to a gathered crowd and trying to look over the shoulders of the people who are all surrounding to see what’s going on, what’s happening, what’s captivated their attention, their interest.
“Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.”Travis Allen
So that’s what we’re going to do this morning. We’re going to slow down. Rather than dive in and speed along, knocking out verse after verse, well, we need to respond to the authorial intent here. We need to put the brakes on. So, we’re going to slow down, ponder the significance, the meaning of what Luke is trying to highlight for us. And we’ll do that just by getting an overview. Luke has isolated this section of Scripture. He’s drawn our attention to focus on Zechariah’s song. So, we’re going to take a bird’s eye view of the text. We’re going to get an overview, and that’s going to give us a greater appreciation of what Zechariah has said. And it’s also going to help us as we move forward in the text to anticipate, to discover the significance and the meaning of what Luke has written. So, we’re going to get a better grasp and understanding of what happened when God entered the world through his Son in the incarnation.
As verse 78 says, look at it there, “The sunrise was about to visit from on high.” What is that metaphor about? Sunrise from on high. And it’s going to “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” It’s going to “guide our feet into the way of peace.” That’s what we need to recognize here right from the start. Zechariah, here in his song anticipates the coming of the Gospel. That’s what this is about. This is about the Gospel. Gospel themes are all through this text. And Zechariah praises God for it. He blesses God for it—he Gospel that God is holy and man is not, that God is righteous and man is separated from him in sin. The Gospel that says God has provided a way, a lamb, a sacrifice for you so that you can be forgiven of all your sin—cleansed, made pure and righteous and holy, just like him. And because you are pure, righteous and holy, you stand in perfection. God will draw you near, he’ll bring you close, you’ll be one of his people and you’ll live with him forever to praise and to worship him in righteousness and holiness without any fear—that’s the Gospel. That’s the theme that’s here. So, what God did then in those days had not been done before, and it changed everything. God drove a stake through time. And he marked the midpoint of history right here—changed everything. Changed the calendar of the world, changed Before Christ, or After his Death or Anno Domini—The year of our Lord. The year of what Lord? Our Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. It starts then, right here. Even changed the map. Our map is different because of these events because the Gospel changed Europe. It changed the world.
So Luke slows us down before telling us the rest of the story. He wants us first to hear from Zechariah so we’ll have a greater appreciation of this Gospel we’re about to see. So with all that in mind, let’s begin by reading the text. Starting in verse 67: “And his father [Whose father? The child that was first-born, right?] Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered 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 before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’”
Beautiful song. Beautiful, beautiful song. As I said, we’re just going to get an overview today of the song. And I want to give you a simple outline, make sure no one loses the way, okay? First point in the outline is this: All praise is consummated in the Gospel. Another way to say that is all praise is completed in the Gospel. Notice verse 67 again, “His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.” Everything that follows after that, after the word, “saying” that is the prophetic word. Everything that follows is prophecy. Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, so the Spirit empowered him, energized him to speak divine revelation, superintended every word so that what comes out of him is God’s word, but it’s also doxology, isn’t it? It’s praise. This gives glory to God; so it’s God giving glory to God. Keep in mind when Zechariah emerged from the temple back in Luke 1:22, after Gabriel paid him a visit in the sanctuary—poof, angel right there—Zechariah had been silenced for his unbelief. We talked about that and that temporary judgment meant he was not able to come out of the temple, come to the steps of the top of the temple and pronounce the Aaronic blessing on the people, which was expected. God gave the priests Numbers 6:24 to 26, he gave them this blessing to pronounce upon the people, “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you, be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” So when Zechariah came out of the temple, he didn’t say that. He didn’t say anything, and the people knew something was wrong. But now, with his mouth finally open, with his speech restored, he picks up where he left off. He’s been enabled here now to pronounce a blessing, and the Spirit has filled him to pronounce this blessing, but it’s not he Aaronic blessing; it is something new, something different. It’s a Gospel blessing; this is a Gospel doxology. So, Zechariah blesses God for the Gospel and his Son as the forerunner of the Gospel.
In fact, that’s how this song is divided—blessing God, blessing his Son. You can see it there; it’s actually two long sentences in the Greek. The first sentence is verses 68 to 75. And the second sentence is verses 76 to 79. They’re long sentences. They’re complex sentences and they are packed with significance. You’ll notice in the first sentence, all the verbs are in the past tense in that first section. Zechariah is using the third person address. He’s looking at what God has done. And he begins by blessing God in verse 68. Everything that follows is the reason for that blessing. God had visited, God has performed redemption for his people, God has raised up a horn of salvation just as he said he would. Why? To perform mercy, to keep his covenant, to grant them unhindered worship. No more enemies, no more persecutors, no more sin, no more unfaithfulness. God had acted for them in a perfect and final way. That’s Gospel. That’s Gospel. It’s the ultimate good news.
Second section—verses 76 to 79—that looks to the near future, what’s coming right around the corner. But there are future verb tenses there, and the second person address draws attention to that newborn baby, John. There in verse 76 you can almost picture Zechariah lifting up his child in his arms and saying, “And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High.” Why? Because John would go before the Lord to prepare his way into people’s hearts. And that meant the knowledge of salvation. That meant pointing blind, fearful, guilt-laden people to the rising sun of God’s tender mercy. That rising sun was going to visit the people to provide illumination to those who were subdued in darkness. It was going to provide liberation to those who were cowering in fear under death’s dark shadow. It would also provide direction, guiding God’s people into the way of peace. John—he’s going to go before the Lord, tell them about it. Again, the Gospel, the ultimate good news.
Now, I want to show you a fascinating feature of Zechariah’s song. Commentator Alfred Plumber makes an excellent observation when he writes this. Listen—“As the Magnificat, [that’s Mary’s song, right?] as the Magnificat is modeled on the psalms, so the Benedictus is modeled on the prophecies and it has been called the last prophecy of the old dispensation and the first in the new. While the tone of the Magnificat is regal, the tone of the Benedictus is sacerdotal, [that is, priestly] and the one is as appropriate to the daughter of David as the other to the son of Aaron.” Fascinating, isn’t it? Mary, a descendant of David, she sings a new psalm in the Magnificat. Zechariah, a priest from the tribe of Levi, he proclaims a new prophecy in the Benedictus. A psalm from the descendant of David; a prophecy from the descendant of Levi. Each one playing their proper historical role, and it’s in the very first sentence of Zechariah’s prophetic song that he reveals the significance of what he’s saying.
As I said from the very beginning, Zechariah begins with a thesis statement in verse 68. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” As I said, everything that follows from that developed his reasons for blessing the Lord God of Israel, but with that very first sentence, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” you know what he’s telling us? He’s saying all praise is consummated in the Gospel. You say, “How’s that?” Let me show you. That sentence is not original to Zechariah. He’s borrowed it. He’s grabbed if from the Psalter, the songbook of Israel. What I want you to do is go ahead and turn back in your Bibles to Psalm 41:13. We’re going to do a little page turning, but I’m going to stick with the Psalms for now. So, Psalm 41 verse 13; Psalm 41 is a Psalm of David, and in verse 13, the last verse, it says, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.” It’s called a doxology. It’s a statement of praise that gives glory to God and it sounds very familiar to Zechariah’s doxology, doesn’t it? You say, “Yeah, but it doesn’t prove anything.” Okay, granted. Now, turn a few pages ahead to Psalm 72:18. Try to get there quickly, okay, we’ve got a lot to cover. Don’t hurt yourself, okay, sprain any wrists, but get there.
Psalm 72 is not written by David; it’s written by his son, Solomon, and the final word there in Psalm 72 verses 18 and 19 is this, “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does wonderful things. Blessed be his glorious name forever, may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen.” Another Psalm, another doxology, the first from David, the second from Solomon. Now turn ahead to Psalm 89. In verse 52, you can probably guess what I’m going to show you there, right? Something similar. This Psalm is written by Ethan the Ezrahite and in the final verse, Psalm 89:52, it says—you guessed it—“Blessed be the Lord forever! Amen and Amen.” Another doxology, a little bit shorter than Zechariah’s and some of the others we looked at, but again, it’s parallel—parallel to Zechariah’s doxology.
One more. Finally, turn to Psalm 106 verse 48. Psalm 106 – it’s an anonymous psalm. It doesn’t name a title or an author, but of all the psalms I just mentioned, the entirety of Psalm 106 so vividly parallel’s Zechariah’s song. You might want to read that later today, sometime this week. But, it looks back to the redemption from Egypt and it looks ahead to the future redemption. But for now, notice the last verse, verse 48, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Praise the Lord!” You know what all those verses have in common? Each of them—all these psalms—each of these verses closes out a psalm. The first one closes out a psalm from David, then one from Solomon, then one from Ezra, and then one that’s anonymous. And each of those psalms closes with a doxology, an expression of summary praise, which blesses the Lord God of Israel.
Not only that, but each doxology closes out the psalm that is closing out one of the books of the Psalms. The entire Psalter, the 150 psalms in the Book of Psalms, is divided into five sections. Book one goes from Psalm 1 to Psalm 41. You know where it ends? Psalm 41:13, which we read, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.” Book two goes from Psalm 42 to Psalm 72. And it ends with the verses we read, Psalm 72 verses 18 and 19 again, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.” Book three—Psalm 73 to Psalm 89—ends with one we read: Psalm 89 verse 52, “Blessed be the Lord.” Book four, that’s Psalm 90 to Psalm 106, ending with Psalm 106:48, again, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel. The final book, Book five, runs from Psalm 107 all the way to the end, Psalm 150. That final psalm—Psalm 150—is a general psalm that expresses universal praise. So, it’s a doxology that is all encompassing. And Psalm 15 verse 6 says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord [then it repeats it] Praise the Lord.” Everything that has breath—not just Israel’s people—everything.
You think any of this is an accident? You think it’s a coincidence? I don’t. Zechariah’s expression of praise to God has been bottled up within him for the better part of a year. He’s been watching his wife’s belly grow as that baby grows inside of her. He’s been thinking about Scripture, and he summarizes it all right here with the first word out of his mouth. It burst forth. When he spoke, he spoke Scripture. He took the exact same language from each of those doxologies closing out each of the five books of the Psalter. Why? What’s the point? What’s being conveyed through this? I believe Zechariah’s intent—and I believe it’s the intent of the Spirit who filled him and superintended this prophetic song—is this: That phrase, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” which is the benediction to close out each book of Israel’s Psalter, that is the most fitting, the most appropriate doxology to announce the coming Gospel because the praise that’s evoked from the entire collection of the Psalms is consummated in the Gospel. Without the Gospel, there is no praise. With the Gospel, all praise. All the praise that’s elicited by the Book of Psalms, all of it written by David, Solomon, and Ethan, Moses, any other Psalm writer, all praise is consummated in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So as the sunrise from on high rises over Israel, Zechariah directs Israel’s praise in this climatic doxology, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” He’s reminding them of the psalter. He’s reminding them and then pointing them ahead.
I’d love to spend more time here. We need to keep moving, though. Let’s look at a second point for this morning. Zechariah didn’t just borrow the opening phrase from the Old Testament psalms; the entire song is actually saturated with Scripture—every thought is borrowed from the Old Testament. It’s Scripture-saturated. So, point number two—All Scripture is fulfilled in the Gospel. I told you the first point is all praise is consummated in the Gospel; all scripture is fulfilled in the Gospel. If you’re familiar at all with the Old Testament, you can hear those themes resounding in Zechariah’s song. It’s probably impossible to get an accurate count of all the references that are there, but just a quick count on my part—a references and allusions count shows more than 40 references to the Old Testament text here in Zechariah’s song. We don’t have time to review them all, obviously; I’ll spare you that for this morning. But, we will work through some of those things as the weeks go by.
But there’s just one I can’t resist showing you now. I’ve got to show you now, okay? That line—“The sunrise shall visit us from on high”—you know where that comes from? Turn back to Isaiah 60 for a second. Turn back to Isaiah 60. It was the post-exilic prophet, Malachi, who summarized Isaiah’s prophecy in Malachi 4:2. He referred back to it, and he encouraged the returning exiles by pointing back to that and then pointing them to the future. And this is what he said—this is what Malachi said, okay, don’t confuse. I’m turning you to Isaiah 60, but I’m going to read Malachi 4, okay. Listen, “Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But as for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” Talk about mixing metaphors there—sun with wings. “The sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. And you shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” A lot of hope wrapped up in what Isaiah said. Malachi borrowed that from this pre-exilic prophet Isaiah, who was prophesying the coming exile in the Babylon, and he wanted to preach hope. Even in the midst of judgment, he wanted to preach hope—Isaiah 60 verses 1 to 3 says, “Arise, shine, for your light is come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising.” Fantastic prophecy.
So Luke speaks, or Zechariah more properly—he speaks of the sun rise from on high, but as we look back to Isaiah 60, the source of that thought, it says, “The Lord will arise on you.” So, the sun rise is the Lord. And the Lord is rising, and when he rises, you will be seen. He’ll be seen upon you. Because Christ is come, the fulfillment of that prophecy has begun and it will one day be fully consummated when the Lord returns to rule and to reign physically on this earth, on the throne of his father, David, in Jerusalem. But the fulfillment is already underway, isn’t it? Already underway. So much more I could say, but I just want to focus on a special category of Scripture that Zechariah highlights in this song as being fulfilled. He anticipates this being completely fulfilled in the Gospel, and it’s the category of Scripture we call Biblical Covenant. Covenant. You can see that this is a richly covenantal song as well. Zechariah is overjoyed because he’s watching God act to ensure the fulfillment of every covenantal promise he’s made to Israel. He’s absolutely thrilled, ecstatic to see the dawn of righteousness and God’s covenantal faithfulness coming into play.
A couple of things I want to draw your attention to in the text. First of all, there’s a reference to David in verse 69, if you see it there. There’s a reference to Abraham in verse 73. Then there’s a reference to the forgiveness of sins in verse 77. All three of those are covenantal references. Okay, there are six covenants that are specifically named in Scripture. There’s the Noahic Covenant. There’s the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, the Priestly Covenant, the Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant. Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly, Davidic and New. The Bible refers to each of those agreements between God and man, usually them, you know, the man side represented by a mediator—someone who’s mediating the covenant—but the Bible refers to each of those agreements or promises as a covenant because it uses the specific word for covenant to refer to each of them. In Hebrew it’s the word beriyt and in Greek it’s the word diatheke. You say, “Great, What’s a covenant?” Okay, great question. I’ll make this really simple. A covenant is essentially a promise, it’s an agreement. It’s almost like a contract between two parties. Sometimes even today we talk about a marriage covenant. That’s proper. We should talk about marriages as covenants. A man, a woman make their vows before God and before witnesses, and they’re joining together in exclusive marital intimacy for the rest of their life. That marriage ceremony is meant to formalize those vows, to solemnize them, so to speak, to publicly seal the covenant before God and before witnesses. So, everybody can hold them accountable to that covenant they’ve made to each other. Divorce is an absolute breaking of the covenant. It’s infidelity, its unfaithfulness.
In the Old Testament, tribes could make covenants. Nations could make covenants. Families made covenants. These were binding agreement that obligated each party by threatening consequences for breaking the covenant. Sometimes the solemnity and the seriousness of the covenant in the Old Testaments would be symbolized by cutting animals in half—placing the dividing parts on either side of a pathway, either side of a walkway, and the two parties who were making the agreement would join together in the middle and they’d walk through the divided pieces. You say, “Oooh, kind of gory.” Yeah, it was because the obvious unspoken message was this:May he who violates this covenant end up like these slaughtered animals—dead, bloody, cut into pieces. That threat had a way of keeping people faithful to the covenant, keeping them honest. Covenants today just have little slaps on the hands, don’t they? Little financial penalties. Imagine if we divided up animals and started passing through the pieces, actually enforcing covenant unfaithfulness. Wow! Covenants contained incentives for keeping your promises. Fulfill the terms of the covenant and you get the blessing of the covenant. Fail to fulfill the terms of the covenant, and you receive the curses and the penalties for your unfaithfulness.
” Zechariah sees that covenant—that word of God—fulfilled in the Gospel.”Travis Allen
We’ll come back to some of this as we move through the text, but I just want to keep this as simple as possible, keep moving—it’s just an overview. As I said, Zechariah refers in this text to three covenants, and in order of appearance, they are the Davidic, then the Abrahamic, and the New Covenant. Now take a look at verse 69, first one there. “God has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” That refers, obviously, to the Davidic covenant established in 2 Samuel 7. God promised David in 2 Samuel 7 to make him a great name, to give him complete rest from all of his enemies, to establish his throne in his kingdom forever. As 2 Samuel 7:16 says, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure before me forever. Your throne shall be established forever.” When Zechariah sang this, the house of David was all but forgotten. David’s’ offspring—Mary was one of them—she and her betrothed husband, Joseph, who was another offspring of David—they lived in complete obscurity in a backwater village known as Nazareth. No great name. No kingdom to speak of. A land infested with enemies, with Gentiles, overruled by Romans, surrounded by enemies, people that hated them and wanted to kill them. Certainly no son of David on the throne. And yet, Zechariah looked ahead prophetically and he used a past tense verb to speak of the certainty of this happening. “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” He knows fulfillment was underway. It’s happening right now.
Let’s take a look. Scroll ahead to verse 72 to 73. The Abrahamic covenant. God is at work. Middle of verse 72, “To remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham.” Zechariah sees everything that is happening here as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant as well. Now I don’t want to bog too heavily here, but there are two points of emphasis here in this text. There’s a literary device that’s used here called repetition—pairs of repeated words—and we can find a chiastic structure that puts emphasis on the phrase we just read, “To remember his holy covenant.” I’ll just show you quickly. Look at verse 68 and 78 and notice the use of the word, “visit.” “He has visited,” in verse 68; “Shall visit,” in 78. Both 68 and 77 refer to “his people.” Verses 69 and 77 – there’s reference in both of those verses to “salvation.” Verse 70 refers to “the holy prophets from old.” Verse 76—“the prophet of the Most High.” In verses 71 and 74, you can also see references to “enemies.” “The hand of all who hated us”; “the hand of enemies.” You see how these references are getting closer and closer together in the text in proximity? It’s called a chiastic structure, it’s shaped like an X. Everything going from one end of the X, bottom and top, down to the middle. That’s what we see here and it draws attention to the closest pair—the couplets here—which is verse 72 and 73. You’ve got, “Our fathers” in 72, and, “Our father Abraham,” in verse 73. And highlighted between that last set of couplets—that central-most pair—is this phrase, “To remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore.” Zechariah is pointing our attention to and highlighting the faithfulness of God to remember his covenant to fulfill the promises he made to David and to Abraham. This is about the coming fulfillment of these covenants of promise. So, Zechariah is anticipating that.
There’s another very significant covenant, another literary device that calls it to our attention. Zechariah sees that covenant—that word of God—fulfilled in the Gospel as well. Let me draw your attention to another point of emphasis, and it’s at the pivot point of the passage, which is there in verse 75. As I said earlier, the song divides into two parts: verses 68 to 75 is one sentence, verses 76 to 80, another sentence. Two long sentences. The emphasis in the first sentence is on physical salvation, reminding them of physical salvation. So, the reference to David, a horn of salvation in the house of David—political power, military might. The reference to David—its military victories, its prosperity physically to the kingdom. That comes out again—salvation from enemies, “hand of those who hate us.” That’s power, strength—we’re protected from that. The promise of verse 74 to be rescued from the hand of our enemies, to serve God without fear. But the song turns a corner in verse 75. Look there, starting in verse 74, “That we, being delivered from the hand our enemies might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
You know the reason the Israelites found themselves conquered and subdued by enemies? It was because of a lack of holiness in them. It was a lack of righteousness. God had judged them and delivered them into the hand of their enemies, just as he promised he would. Remember, Israel entered into a covenant with God. It is called the Mosaic Covenant, mediated by Moses, ratified at Mount Sinai. Israel promised God before God and to Moses that they would do everything God said. Exodus 19:7 to 8, “Moses came and called the elders of the people, set before them all these words that the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.” But the people did not keep all that the Lord had spoken. And that was the reason for the condition that they were in now—sitting in darkness under the shadow of the fear of death. They were languishing because of their own unfaithfulness, because of their own disobedience. But God knew they couldn’t keep their word. There are no promise-keepers among men, are there? “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12).
So in kindness and mercy, God did what man could not do. He planned to rescue them, announcing to them the New Covenant. In Jeremiah 31:31—if you can get there quickly—but in Jeremiah 31:31 the New Covenant is found in a couple of places, but most particularly there. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” You know what? That is what Zechariah saw with prophetic clarity. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah was seeing in the birth and the coming ministry of his son the inauguration and the fulfillment of that New Covenant.
Verses 76 and 77: “You, child, will be called prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in”—what?—“the forgiveness of their sins.” The New Covenant. So, if there’s an emphasis on physical salvation in the first half, there’s an emphasis in the second half on spiritual salvation. John is coming to prepare people for spiritual redemption, the promise of salvation, forgiveness of sins, the compassion of divine mercy, deliverance from darkness and the fear of death. He’s going to burst a door wide open to the way of peace. The Abrahamic covenant, the David Covenant, the New Covenant—all three of those covenants were about to fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. None of those covenants would be fulfilled without an inauguration of the New Covenant, inaugurated by Christ. Pretty special, pretty special.
As God fulfills his word in the Gospel, we find all our praise consummated in the Gospel and that stands to reason because, just a final point, point three: Our God is fully revealed in the Gospel. We just don’t have time to develop the point, but as we make our way through Zechariah’s song recorded here in Luke, we’re going to find rich, rich theology of divine grace. It’s beautiful. From beginning to end and everything in between, this is a song about God’s mercy, it’s about his initiative to save, it’s about his kindness and his goodness. Look at verse 68, God visited, God redeemed; verse 69, God raised up; verse 70, God spoke; verse 71, God saved; verse 72, God showed mercy. Down in verse 77, God forgives. I just want to draw your attention to one word, the word in verse 78, “Because of the tender mercy of our God.” The word “tender” there is the word splanchnon. Say that ten times fast. Splanchnon sounds a little funny, maybe, to English-speaking ears, but it is a profoundly rich and wonderful word. Literally, splanchnon refers to the inward parts, the guts of a person, literally, entrails. Figuratively, though, it refers to the seat of emotion, what we might call the heart, the feelings. When we read about the tender mercy of God and that all Zechariah is praising God for, it is precisely because of the tender mercy of our God.
We need to understand, God has a deep, deep affection for his people. It’s the word love. It’s saturated in this text. Love. He loves dearly, he loves profoundly, he loves deeply, and he proves that love not just by nice soft words; he proves his love by sending his Son to die horribly on a cross for our sins. His most precious gift, the gift of his beloved son, that’s what enables us to enjoy another gift, which is described there in verse 74 to 75, “that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies.” Okay, maybe it’s not the Babylonians for us, but it’s the hand of our enemies like sin, our enemies like Satan and his angels. It’s the enemies like death. Those are the most profound enemies that have oppressed us all of our lives. And you know what? God is delivering us so that “we might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” Look, folks, this is what this is all about. We’re redeemed because of the deep theology that is described in this text, and it’s our eternal joy—it’s our profound joy to join Zechariah in blessing the Lord God of Israel. Amen.
All praise consummated in the Gospel because all Scripture has been fulfilled in the Gospel and that means God has fully and finally revealed himself to us in the Gospel, in the person and work of our blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let’s pray in his name.
Father, we give thanks to you because you have planned all of this from the very beginning. Time fails us, attention fails us, we’re weak. We can’t get everything that’s here. We can’t grasp it all, but there’s so much here, so much you’re trying to show us and teach us, and it ultimately has to do with your character and your grace and your glory. You want to reveal it to us. We’re thankful that we don’t just have this hour to learn. We have all of eternity. You’ve given us eternity to spend with you, to learn your glory, and we just get a little foretaste of that now. Thank you for what you’ve shown us in Luke’s Gospel. In Jesus’ name. Amen.