Last time, we finished our look at the beautiful Song of Mary, and saw that after visiting her cousin, Elizabeth, in the hill country of Judea, Mary had returned to her home in Nazareth. We now take up the story with the birth of the first of the two baby boys foretold by the angel, Gabriel – John the Baptist…
57Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.
Recall from verse 24 that Elizabeth had hidden herself for five months following the conception of her son, John the Baptist. We might see a little hint here why Elizabeth hid herself, although there was no requirement to do so under the law of Moses. Perhaps Elizabeth wanted to be completely sure that she would be able to bear the child to term before revealing the pregnancy to her neighbors. Regardless of that, we see here that her neighbors rejoiced with her at the birth of her son. Their rejoicing fulfilled another part of Gabriel’s prophecy to Zacharias…
And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.
59So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.”
61But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” 62So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.
63And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled.
As all faithful Jewish parents do even today, Zacharias and Elizabeth brought their son to be circumcised on the eighth day, in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant…
9And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.
There are two points in this passage that I find quite interesting. First, the priests who performed the circumcision, also officially recorded the name of the child, and apparently also had a role in choosing the child’s name. Second, since Zacharias had been struck mute for his unbelief in Gabriel’s announcement of the coming birth, the priests apparently were able to override the wishes of the child’s mother, even though she only insisted on naming the child John in obedience to the words of Gabriel given to Zacharias. Notice that Gabriel gave Zacharias, not Elizabeth this direction. Either Zacharias had somehow told Elizabeth of Gabriel’s announcement, or Elizabeth herself had received this word directly from God’s Holy Spirit.
One other important point to make here is that names were extremely important in ancient Hebrew culture. Everyone knew his lineage going back even to Adam. Official genealogies were kept to verify various claims – e.g. the inheritance of land. This Jewish obsession with lineage carries through even to modern times. Apart from the loss of lives and property during the Holocaust, another tragic loss to the Jewish people that doesn’t get much attention outside Israel is the virtually complete destruction of the records of births, deaths, and marriages that had been maintained in the synagogues of Europe destroyed by the Nazis. Sadly, in Israel today, most people can’t say with any certainty even which tribe they come from.
64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him.
We aren’t told whether the people of Zacharias’ and Elizabeth’s home town in the Judean hills had heard what happened to Zacharias at the altar of incense on the day he had received the announcement from Gabriel and been struck dumb in his unbelief. Of course, the very birth of their son to this elderly couple was a miracle in itself, but just in case they hadn’t heard about Zacharias’ encounter with Gabriel before this, when Zacharias was miraculously healed at his son’s dedication, all of the people recognized that John the Baptist was no ordinary baby. Small wonder that they asked themselves, “What kind of child will this be?”
How overjoyed Zacharias must have been, not only at the birth of his son, John, but that he could at last praise the Lord out loud for what He had done…
67Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
68“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people,
69And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of His servant David,
70As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
Zacharias is speaking here of the Lord Jesus, not his own son John, of course. Zacharias would have heard from Mary or Elizabeth (or both) about Gabriel’s visit to Mary, and his proclamations about the son she would soon bear. As a Levite in the service at the temple, Zacharias would have been well versed in the Messianic prophecies, and recognized the significance of the virgin’s miraculous pregnancy.
The Jewish people had been awaiting the Messiah since the time of Moses. Recall Moses’ proclamation to the Jews just before his death…
The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear,
Furthermore, they knew from Isaiah that this Prophet would be born of a virgin…
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
It is this visitation of Immanuel – God with us – that Zacharias speaks of here in Luke 1:68.
The idea of redemption harks back to the law of Moses. Speaking to Moses from the burning bush, God declared that the nation of Israel is His firstborn…
Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Israel is My son, My firstborn.”
God gave specific directions regarding the redemption of the firstborn…
1Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine.”
11And it shall be, when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore to you and your fathers, and gives it to you, 12that you shall set apart to the LORD all that open the womb, that is, every firstborn that comes from an animal which you have; the males shall be the LORD’s. 13But every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.
Later on, God relieved the nation of Israel from the need to consecrate their firstborn sons to the Lord, taking the tribe of Levi as His own inheritance in their place. Furthermore God, Himself, redeemed the nation of Israel – His own firstborn – as a whole, by the sacrifice of Jesus – the Lamb of God – on the cross of Calvary. Isaiah also prophesied concerning this redemption, which for Zacharias here in Luke 1 was still in the future…
1Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
3He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
7He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
8He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
9And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
10Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.
11He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
12Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.
When Zacharias speaks of a “horn of salvation,” he echoes the words of David when the Lord delivered him from his enemies and finally defeated Saul…
1I will love You, O LORD, my strength.
2The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised;
So shall I be saved from my enemies.
Finally, as we saw earlier when we studied Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, the prophets declared that the Messiah would come from the line of David. We looked then at several instances of these prophecies, for example…
5“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD,
“That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
A King shall reign and prosper,
And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.
6In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell safely;
Now this is His name by which He will be called:
THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
Of course, the most famous of these prophecies is…
6For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Before we move on, notice that Zacharias recognized these prophecies concerning the Lord Jesus had been made since “the world began.” It is important for us to remember that salvation through Jesus’ birth, sinless life, atoning sacrifice, and resurrection is by no means God’s “plan B!” When satan fell from Heaven, and when mankind subsequently fell into sin, God didn’t say, “Shucks, they broke it. Guess I’ll have to come up with some way to put it all back right.” God knew before He created the universe, what would be needed to redeem mankind. Jesus – the Word of God, by whom all things were created – knew before He spoke that Word that He would die on the cross to redeem the creation He was about to speak into being by the power of His Word.
71That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
72To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
73The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
74To grant us that we,
Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
75In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.
Remember the promise that God made to Abraham…
1Now the LORD had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
2I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
3I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Zacharias knew very well that this promise to Abraham had not yet been fulfilled. Even at the height of their power during the reign of Solomon, the nation had never fully possessed the full measure of the land that God had promised to Abraham. Like all Jews before and since the time of Zacharias, he expected this promise to be fulfilled by the Messiah. We also know that Zacharias believed Mary’s child to be that Messiah – Jesus. Even after His crucifixion, and resurrection, Jesus’ disciples expected Him to establish an earthly kingdom within the framework of human politics…
4And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
They either hadn’t heard, or didn’t recognize the significance of Jesus’ answer to Pilate.
33Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”
34Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?”
35Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?”
36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
37Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?”
Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
Of course, we know what Zacharias didn’t – that within less than 100 years of the birth of his son, the city of Jerusalem and its temple would be totally destroyed (just as Jesus Himself prophesied), and virtually all the Jews would be scattered throughout the world or killed outright. Indeed, even today, the promise to Abraham has yet to be fulfilled. The people have indeed returned to the land of Israel by the grace and mercy of God, but they have not yet been delivered from the hand of their enemies to be able to serve God without fear. Nor can Israel truly say that they have ever lived in holiness and righteousness all the days of their lives. This prophecy still remains for the future…
1Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
5Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
6And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.
76“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
77To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
One of the duties of the Jewish father on the occasion of his son’s circumcision is to bless the child. In doing that here, Zacharias recalls the words of Gabriel concerning the child…
16And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Although it doesn’t say as much right here in black and white, I think Zacharias recognized that his own son, John, would also fulfill prophecy…
1“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”
Says your God.
2“Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the LORD’s hand
Double for all her sins.”
3The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.
4Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth;
5The glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
We’ll take a closer look at this prophecy a little later when John the Baptist also quotes from it pertaining to himself.
78Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
This intriguing name of the Lord Jesus – Dayspring – is the Greek word ἀνατολή anatolē. It is the same Greek word from which we get the ancient word for the Asia Minor peninsula of Turkey, Anatolia – the land of the east. Literally, it means “rising of the light” or dawn, and is used figuratively for the eastern direction. It is found 10 times in the New Testament.
Other English translations render ἀνατολή anatolē here in this verse as…
the morning light [NLT]
the rising sun [NIV]
the sunrise [ESV]
the Dawn [HCSB]
the Sunrise [NASB]
In all NKJV instances except this verse here in Luke it is translated “east.” Some examples…
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East [ἀνατολή anatolē] came to Jerusalem,
For as the lightning comes from the east [ἀνατολή anatolē] and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
You may recall that in the 25th year of the Babylonian captivity, the prophet Ezekiel was shown a vision of the temple in Jerusalem. There is no biblical record of the glory of the Lord ever filling the second temple built by Ezra following the Babylonian captivity as He did the temple of Solomon which we read of in 1 King 8 and 2 Chronicles 5. Nor is there any such record of the Lord‘s filling the temple of Herod the Great which was in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. I believe the temple that Ezekiel saw is yet to be rebuilt. Just as Zacharaias prophesied in Luke 1:71-73, Ezekiel records the coming of the Lord into this future temple from the east…
1Afterward he brought me to the gate, the gate that faces toward the east. 2And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. 3It was like the appearance of the vision which I saw—like the vision which I saw when I came to destroy the city. The visions were like the vision which I saw by the River Chebar; and I fell on my face. 4And the glory of the LORD came into the temple by way of the gate which faces toward the east. 5The Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple.
6Then I heard Him speaking to me from the temple, while a man stood beside me. 7And He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry or with the carcasses of their kings on their high places. 8When they set their threshold by My threshold, and their doorpost by My doorpost, with a wall between them and Me, they defiled My holy name by the abominations which they committed; therefore I have consumed them in My anger. 9Now let them put their harlotry and the carcasses of their kings far away from Me, and I will dwell in their midst forever.
79To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.
Once again, Zacharias is quoting here from the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the coming Messiah who had now come to be born of the virgin…
The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
80So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.