GO, TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN

 

Week of December 20, 2009

 

Bible Verses:Luke 1:67-79.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson is about Zechariahís recognition of Godís fulfillment of His plan of salvation at the coming of the Messiah.

 

God Saves Us from Sin: Luke 1:67-71.

 

[67]And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, [68]"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people [69]and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, [70]as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, [71]that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;[ESV]

 

[67]Whereas Mary gave praise for God meeting personal needs, Zechariah gives praise for God raising up a Messiah for the nation. The hymn is traditionally called the Benedictus, a name that comes from the first word of the hymn in the Latin version. Zechariahís note of praise, after months of silence, answers the crowdís question concerning the role of John the Baptist in the context of Godís plan. Zechariah gives his praise while full of the Spirit. In every case where someone was Spirit-filled in Lukeís nativity account, the result was Spirit-directed worship. This hymn is not only given under the Spiritís inspiration, it is also called prophecy, serving as inspired commentary on the events. In Johnís birth, Zechariah is certain that Godís plan of salvation is beginning to move to completion. The Messiah is coming in Zechariahís lifetime, and his son had been chosen to pave the way which causes Zechariah to sing out this hymn of praise to the faithful, covenant-keeping God. This was a remarkable instance of the goodness of God, that not only did Zechariah recover the power of speech, which he had not enjoyed for nine months, but his tongue became the organ of the Holy Spirit.

 

[68-71]Zechariahís praise begins by focusing on Godís visitation in messianic redemption. The call to praise God for a specific act is the common introduction for a praise hymn. God is to be blessed, to be honored with praise. The language of the verse is that of Old Testament national salvation, as the God of Israel is blessed in terms that are commonly used in the Old Testament. The verbs in this hymn are clearly prophetic past tense indicating the certainly of the future events described in the hymn. A reference to Godís visitation can refer either to a gracious act or to judgment. Here the reference is to Godís gracious act. The phrase is important to Luke as a description of Godís coming salvation in the Messiah Jesus. What the Messiahís visitation means for Godís people is redemption. As the following verses make clear, the redemption in view here is a deliverance from enemies, so that Godís people are free to serve their God in righteousness and holiness. This redemption has both political and spiritual elements, since the hymn includes not only nationalistic themes [1:71,74], but also a statement [1:77-78] about the forgiveness of sins. What Zechariah praises God for is the expectation of a total deliverance for Godís people. Such a linkage between spiritual and political blessing is not surprising, since it parallels the blessing and curse sections of Deuteronomy. What will be new is the division of the deliverance into two distinct phases tied to two comings of Jesus. Of course, Zechariah has no such twofold conception here: he simply presents the total package. Only subsequent events explain how the plan has two parts. Along with Godís visitation of redemption, Zechariah also praises the raising up of a powerful Messiah who will deliver the nation. The idea of God raising up someone is the way the Old Testament expresses Gos sending a significant figure to His people. The figure in view is clearly regal as the reference to the house of David makes clear. Messiah is a picture of power and strength. The reference to the horn of salvation is drawn from the Old Testament, where it pictures an ox with horns that is able to defeat enemies with the powerful thrust of its protected head. The image was transferred to the warrior who had a horned helmet to symbolize the presence of power. The figure is also used to describe God Himself [2 Sam. 22:3; Psalm 18:2]. The nature of the powerful messianic deliverance is spelled out in the following verses, especially Luke 1:71and 74. Zechariah portrays a Messiah of great power and strength who will deliver Godís people from their enemies. Zechariah now brings in the theme of promise [70]. The coming of a powerful Messiah corresponds to the promise of the prophets. The predictive element is emphasized by the multilayered description of the prophets. First, the promises that were spoken came by the mouth of his holy prophets. The singular reference to the mouth of the prophets portrays them as secondary agents in the presentation of Godís promise. It also presents their message as unified: they speak from God with one mouth about the Messiah. Second, the prophets are holy prophets. This description is present in Judaism: the prophets are set-apart instruments of God. Third, the prophets who uttered this promise date back to of old, which characterizes the prophecies as laid out in a long succession of prophets, dating back to the early days of the nation. In verse 71 Zechariah specifies the nature of the messianic salvation set forth by the prophets. The term saved means deliverance or preservation, whether it be physical preservation of health, deliverance of a nation, or the spiritual deliverance of salvation before God. Here the reference is to the deliverance that comes through the Messiah, a deliverance promised by the prophets so that it contains an earthly element as well as spiritual overtones. The salvation is from enemies and from the hand of those who hate. The reference to the hand of those who hate us is a figurative allusion to the power of the opponents, from whom the faithful are rescued by the Messiah. The Messiah will deliver the faithful from the clutches of the enemy.

 

God Saves Us to Serve:Luke 1:72-77.

 

[72]to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, [73]the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us [74]that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, [75]in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. [76]And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, [77]to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,[ESV]

 

[72-75]Godís mercy and His covenants are brought together. His actions reflect both: in saving His people through the Messiah, God is faithful to His covenant promises that He will pour out His covenant-love upon His people. The result of the messianic salvation of verse 71 is that mercy is displayed and covenant is remembered by God. Mercy describes Godís loyal, faithful, gracious love as He acts for His people. Godís display of mercy means that He takes decisive action for His own. Messianic salvation also results in Godís remembering His holy covenant. Again, the description holy marks out the covenant as special or set apart. To remember covenant or confirm an oath is an Old Testament expression. The idea of remembering is not merely cognitive, but refers to Godís bringing His promise into operation. The phrase could well be rendered ďto actĒ or ďto effectĒ His holy covenant. Godís acting for His covenant should encourage Lukeís readers that God will also act on the rest of His promises. The particular covenant that God remembers is His promise to Abraham. The recollection of the oath made to the fathers is an Old Testament and Jewish theme. The mention of Abraham recalls that God is faithful to His original commitments. Verses 74 and 75 teach that God committed to the Abrahamic covenant so that the faithful could serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness. Note that this wonderful privilege of serving God is granted to us by God [73]. It is not something we earn, but rather is a gift of Godís grace to His covenant people. And the calling and opportunity to serve God only comes after redemption (being delivered from the hand of our enemies). The desire to be rescued from the enemy has Old Testament roots, as well as being a theme of Judaism. The enemies in view here are opponents of Godís nation and people. The idea of being rescued is subordinate to the idea of serving God. The covenant is made and granted to the faithful in order that once the faithful are rescued they may fearlessly serve God. God saves for service which here refers to the total service one gives to God, not just to the worship or sacrificial service that a faithful Jew would render in the temple or synagogue. In the New Testament, the term is used exclusively of service given to a deity, whether it be to God or, in pagan settings, to the gods. Godís deliverance enables one to serve God with oneís life. At least, that is Zechariahís desire. The purpose of deliverance is to allow continuous service before God; but such service is not merely activity on behalf of God. There is a moral quality to this worship. Godís people are to serve in holiness and righteousness before him. The combination of these two terms reflects an attitude that respects Godís moral demands in obedience and conforms to His call to righteousness. The essence of worship is responsiveness to Godís demands. Zechariah desires undefiled, undistracted worship of God, a worship that is both personal and moral. It is conducted with the realization that all service is done before God. Such worship is not tied to a locale, but is related to all of life. In addition, it is a continuous worship that spans the lifetime of the delivered faithful, thus, the reference to service given all our days. Zechariah wishes to be a useful servant of God. Deliverance, in his mind, will make this desire more possible; that is why he rejoices at its prospect.

 

[76-77]Zechariah now turns his attention to his child. John is Godís prophet who will prepare the way for God, who Himself comes to His people through Jesusí messianic visitation. This verse begins the second major unit of the hymn, as the topic shifts from what God is doing for the righteous, to what He will do through John and the Messiah. The shift is indicated by the change of topic and by the switch from past tense to future tense verbs. The Most High refers to God as the exalted transcendent deity and repeats the reference to Him found in 1:32. Whereas Jesus is the Son, John is a prophet. Thus Johnís subordination to Jesus is clear. The explanation of this prophetís role comes next. John will go before the Lord for the purpose of preparing the way for Him. How John prepares the way is explained in verse 77. John prepares the way for the Messiah through the message of salvation that he brings, a message that declares the forgiveness of sins. As Zechariah describes it, Johnís basic task is to give knowledge of salvation to Godís people. This knowledge is not merely theoretical or cognitive but deeply experiential, resulting in a fundamental change of heart and behavior. Johnís message centers on the forgiveness of sins. The stress of the verse is on the intimate connection between salvation and forgiveness of sins. The key spiritual operation of salvation is in the sphere of forgiveness of sins which is a precondition to peace with God. No one can enjoy peace with God until the guilt and pollution of their sin has been removed and forgiven.

 

God Saves Us for Peace:Luke 1:78-79.

 

[78]because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high

[79]to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."[ESV]

 

[78-79]One word, mercy, characterizes the entire plan. Both the forerunnerís and the Messiahís tasks are the concrete expression of Godís mercy. Combining the word tender with the term mercy is unique and refers to a compassionate mercy. Mercy as the ground of Godís actions repeats a key theme. Salvation is ultimately an act of Godís mercy. The visit of the sunrise Ö from on high introduces a new figure for the Messiah. He was called the horn of salvation in 1:69 and now is called the coming light. Thus God sends His Messiah as the bright dawn of salvation shining upon the face of people. Zechariah concludes the hymn and describes the Messiahís mission of guiding the lost, those dwelling in darkness, into Godís way. The imagery of the shining heavenly light continues in the reference to give light. The image of light appearing in the darkness to aid people is common in the Old Testament, whether the light is God Himself or an agent of God. The idea of the Messiahís shining describes His coming to humans, His teaching on their behalf, and His ministering to them. The need for such ministry is described in bleak terms. People sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. These Old Testament images appear to refer to those who are oppressed spiritually and physically, like Israel before the exodus. They refer to people locked up in ignorance, on the edge of death. Threatened with rejection, they lack righteousness, do not demonstrate justice, and stand in need of release and forgiveness. Those who are uncertain of Godís way have in the Messiah a light by which they can see the road. The Messiahís task also involves guidance. The purpose of His appearing is to lead others to God, into the way of peace. The consequence of deliverance is a full life, which is able to serve God. The description of salvation in terms of peace is another common theme in Luke. The Old Testament idea of peace refers to a personís total well-being as a result of being in harmony with God. For Israel, the way to peace was through the guidance provided by the Messiah.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† List the verbs in verses 67-71 where Zechariah praises God for His actions on behalf of the people. What does this tell you about the work of Jesus as the Messiah? Look up 2 Samuel 22:3 and Psalm 18:2. What does the Old Testament symbol, horn of salvation, tell you about the work of the Messiah?

 

2.†††††††† Continue listing the verbs in verses 72-75 that describe the activity of God. What do these verses teach us about serving God? What does it mean to serve God in holiness and righteousness?

 

3.†††††††† In verses 76-77, how is John to prepare the way for the Messiah? What knowledge is John to give to Godís people?

 

4.†††††††† Why must mercy characterize Godís entire plan of redemption? What do the symbols of sunrise and light add to the picture of the work of the Messiah?

 

References:

Luke, Darrell Bock, Baker.

Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke, William Hendriksen, Baker.