This morning, we’re going to be wrapping up the first chapter of Luke. Someone asked me a few weeks ago how many sermons or how long we’re going to be in Luke. The answer is until we get to the end. I don’t know how long it’s gonna be, but I think it’s been five—this will be five—sermons just from chapter 1, and my answer is this: if it takes us five years to get through Luke so be it, because we’re going on a journey with Jesus. We’re getting to know who this person is who was born so long ago but also who reigns for eternity.
Now, as I said, we’re going to be looking at the end of chapter 1, beginning in verse 57, going through the end of the chapter (verse 80). So, Luke 1:57-80. And if you have that—if you have book Bibles (paper Bibles), you can go and turn there; if—well, you probably already turned there—if you have it on your phone, you can flip or search there; if you’re using the YouVersion app, you can actually, well, it’s already right there—advantage of that: you don’t have to find it, it’s already right there. But let’s go and have a word of prayer and then we’ll read the Word of God.
Heavenly Father, as we look at your Word, as we read your Word, first I ask that you are glorified by the reading of your Word. And I ask that you would lift your Word up in our hearts, you would infuse it into us, that you would sub—drive us to be submitted and submissive to your Word that we can be transformed by your Word. Father, thank you for giving it to us. You could have remained silent, but you speak to us through your Word because you want us to know you. So help us to know you, and I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Beginning in verse 57, Luke writes:
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
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;
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,
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.”
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
There are two things that we see in this passage, and the first one is in the narrative section—the basically, the storytelling section—of verses 57 through 66. But then in the prophetic or poetic section—which actually begins in verse 68 but is introduced in verse 67 going through the rest of the chapter—we see a second thing. And both of these things have to do with Messiah and why Messiah is here. The first thing we’re going to see in verses 57 to 66 is that God fulfilled his promise to send Messiah’s forerunner.
God fulfilled his promise to send Messiah’s forerunner (vv. 57-66)
God fulfilled his promise that he made to Zechariah and to Elizabeth that he would send Messiah’s forerunner. Now, we learned about that earlier in chapter 1, but here that promise has been fulfilled, and there’re actually two aspects of this promise, two parts you could say. The first one is that, first, God will give them a child. God told them “I will give you a child.” Well, that was kept. In verse 57: “Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth.” A child. Promise kept.
The second part of the promise was that—it was actually part of a response to Zechariah’s disbelief. If you remember when Gabriel told Zechariah, You will have a child,” his answer was basically, “Yeah, right,” and Gabriel said, “Because you disbelieved, you will be silent until certain things happened”: the child was born, and the child was named John. Well, what happened after Zechariah said his name is John? In verse 64, “And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke.” God promised this judgment will be removed. Promise kept.
God keeps his promises, but the ultimate promise is about God sending Messiah’s forerunner and God kept that promise. Now, in these verses the naming of John is actually quite prominent—it’s a big deal— and we see some things about Elizabeth and Zechariah (about who they are, what they do), and we also learn a lesson about—well—priorities.
So, what do we see in Elizabeth and Zechariah? We see that Elizabeth and Zechariah were the kind who pretty much followed the Law and, to a point, followed Jewish tradition. How do we know that? Verse 59: “on the eighth day they [Elizabeth and Zechariah,] on eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have [named] him Zechariah after his Father.” Now, this deals with, first, the Law. In Genesis 17 verse 12 and in Leviticus 12 verse 3 it says that the child will be circumcised on the eighth day. What do they do? Elizabeth and Zechariah circumcised their son on the eighth day, obeying the Law. Now, the naming of the child, in tradition—at the time—the tradition was that the child would be named after the father or grandfather. That wasn’t a law, wasn’t commanded by God, it’s just a Jewish tradition. Well, they partially kept this because part of the tradition was that the child would be named at the circumcision. Well, this child had not been named yet. Eighth day, they circumcised him, and on that day (following that tradition) they were going to name the child, but they broke from tradition. They broke from the tradition by saying (verse 60), “but his mother answered, ‘No.’” In other words, “Is he going to be named after his dad?” “No; he shall be called John.”
[impersonating traditionalists at John’s birth] “That’s not how you’re supposed to do it. That’s not what we do around here. That’s not how we do things. We’ve never done it that way before.” And her answer was, “I understand, but God said, which trumps everything.” They decided, “You know what? We could name him after his dad or his grandfather, but no, God said he shall be called John and his name is John.” And the people were shocked! How can they buck tradition like that? How can they not do what is typical? How can they not do what is normal? How can they not do what the rest of us do? Because God said so.
And so they looked at Zechariah, a priest, “But, surely the priest is going to keep up with the tradition; Surely, the priest isn’t going to go against the norm.” And they said (well, they indicated) to him, “What’s he going to be named?” And Zechariah wrote down on the tablet, “His name is John.” And they (the people) were shocked: “How can this priest and his wife go against what we do?” Because if you read earlier in chapter 1, the Lord, through Gabriel, told them, “He shall be named John.”
They decided—Zechariah and Elizabeth decided, “We have two options: we can either follow the tradition of man or we can follow the word of God.” They’re in conflict in this time. God says name him one thing, tradition says another. They’re in conflict. “What do we do?” Bye-bye tradition to man; hello word of God. We should be the same way. There’s nothing wrong with tradition, but we are not bound to it. We are bound to only one thing and one thing only: this [holds up Bible]. This.
We can learn from the past, and we should learn from the past, we should honor and respect the past, but we should never live in it. We live in the Word of God. And Zechariah and Elizabeth went against tradition. So much so, that word got around. Not just in their family, but it says, “in the hill country.” It says that, beginning in verse 65, “fear came on all the neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea.” This priest went against the norm and, boy, were people talking. And it raised a question: who is this child? Who’s this child? This child that is not going to be named after the dad or the grandfather. This child that has a different name. And on top of it, after they declare what the name is going to be, after they say, “This is what the Lord has said and we’re going to name him John,” this man who was silenced is all of the sudden talking again and he’s praising God. He’s praising the Lord! Who is this child? What’s going on?
And we get to that question in verse 66: “and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, ‘What then will this child be?’” Well, Luke tells us: “For the hand of the Lord [the hand of Yahweh] was with [the child], was with him.” But the answer to the question, “what then will this child be” comes in verses 67 through 80. It’s so nice of God to say, “Here’s the question” and then “Here’s the answer.” He actually does that quite a lot in Scripture. Well, the answer, as I said, is actually found in this prophetic statement that Zechariah gives and Luke records. And in this, we see that God fulfilled his promise to send salvation: in verses 67 through 80, God fulfills his promise to send salvation.
God fulfilled his promise to send salvation (vv. 67-80)
Now, it’s interesting, if we begin in verse 67, “his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Now, that’s key because that means that what Zechariah is going to say next is not merely from his own opinion. He’s not spouting, “Here’s what I think.” He’s prophesying under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which means that what Luke has recorded here is exactly what God wanted to have said because what has said here is exactly what we need to know, and it reveals something about Jesus, and it reveals something about salvation, and it reveals something about John.
So, he’s under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and he prophesied. And beginning in verse 68 going through verse 79, we have this poetic section. Now, it is very common for prophecies to be recorded in Scripture in a poetic form. So, we’ll go through this a little bit—not literally line by line but kind of going through it—in the order that it’s presented here.
First, in verses 68 to 75, we see that Messiah defeats spiritual enemies. What’s he say? What’s Zechariah say: “Blessed be the Lord God.” Well, if you remember earlier, he says in verse 65—uh, 64—that when he opened his mouth and his tongue was loosened, “he spoke, blessing God.” So, Zechariah is blessing God in this prophecy. Yes, it’s a prophecy. Yes, it’s a declaration about Jesus and about John. But it is more than that. It is also a song of praise.
In this prophecy and throughout this prophecy, Zechariah is blessing the Lord. He’s glorifying Jesus, I mean, glorifying God—well, yeah, glorifying Jesus, I’ll say that, too. But he says, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he [God] has visited and redeemed his people.” God has visited his people. Now, there’re a couple ideas there. First, how did God visit his people? Well, sent Mary to her (to Elizabeth), and said—and Elizabeth said—“Mother of my Lord.” Jesus is Messiah. God sent Messiah. God sent John. God visited his people.
But also, this is part of the name of Jesus that we actually see in Matthew (Matthew really picks up on it): Immanuel, God with us. What Zechariah ultimately is doing by saying that “he [God] has visited and redeemed his people,” is saying two things. First of all, that Jesus is God the Son—he is God incarnate, God with us—but also that Jesus, Messiah, is the redemption of his people. And so, God has visited his people.
But then he says that God “has raised up a horn,” verse 69, “raised up a horn of salvation.” The horn reference is talking about the power and strength of Messiah to defeat the enemy of the people of God. The Messiah will defeat the enemy; he is a horn, a power, a strength to defeat the enemy.
He also says, as we’ve learned earlier, he says, “in the house of his servant David,” so Jesus is of the lineage of David, and he also says that this was promised (in verse 73): “the oath that [was sworn] to our father Abraham.”
So, this was—Messiah was promised to Abraham. Promise fulfilled.
He is of the line of David, and Jesus is the king of kings who sits on his—sits on David’s throne for eternity. Promise to David fulfilled and kept.
The son has come—Jesus the son of Mary and God—has come. Promise kept.
John was conceived. Promised kept.
God keeps his promises.
That’s a rolling theme, actually, throughout all of Luke, that God keeps his promises. Oh, by the way, so is the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit has a prominent role in Luke. But God’s keeping his promises.
But then we go on a little bit further and we see that we deal with the enemies. the enemy. “As he spoke,” verse 70, “as he spoke by the mouth,” it’s God speaking, “as God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from old, that he would,”—no—“that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” Now, two aspects here. One is the earthly enemies. But enemy can also be spiritual. Which one is Zechariah referring to?
We could speculate, or if you look at the entire context of the book of Luke, um the gospel of Luke, you will see that Jesus throughout his ministry is defeating and showing that he has already defeated Satan and his servants, that Jesus has defeated the spiritual enemy of Israel, defeated the spiritual enemy of the people of God, defeated the spiritual enemy of you and I. Thus, from the context of Luke—Luke knows what Zechariah may or may not have known—Luke knows who that enemy is: that enemy are spiritual forces at war against God and God’s people. And throughout the Gospel, Jesus is showing he has defeated that enemy over and over and over and over. Utter defeat of Satan.
Now, how are some of the ways that Jesus has defeated Satan? Well this is—I’m just gonna, let’s see—eight. These are just eight that I’ve written down here. One the incarnation itself. Messiah showed up. Satan didn’t want that to happen. It did.
Not giving into temptation. If you remember back in Adam and Eve, Satan twisted God’s word, tempted Eve, and what happened? In the book of Romans, we learned that it’s through Adam that sin came into the world. Adam was held responsible. Adam fell to temptation; Jesus didn’t. And we’ll see that later. Jesus didn’t, defeating Satan.
Jesus did miracles, revealing himself as Messiah.
Jesus taught the truth of Scripture. Satan twists it, and those who twist Scripture to make it where it’s about you and I and it’s about making you and I happy and appealing to our fleshly, earthly, worldly desires are doing the work of Satan, no matter how good it sounds. But Jesus taught the truth of Scripture, defeating Satan.
Jesus called people to repent. Well, Satan doesn’t want people repenting because if they repent, they’re going to repent of their sins and could believe in Jesus and be saved. Don’t want that in Satan’s world. But Jesus called people to repent, showing defeat of Satan.
Jesus atoned for sins, fully satisfying the divine wrath of God and divine justice, defeating Satan.
Jesus resurrected bodily on the third day, defeating Satan.
And Jesus is going to return in glory and have the final culmination of defeat of Satan. And at the end, death and hell will be cast into the fire, defeating Satan.
Jesus is the victor. Just by being conceived, the incarnation itself is victory. And as people who say, “I love Jesus,” we can either walk in the victory of Jesus, or we can remain in the defeat of Satan. There is no middle ground.
But Jesus has defeated the enemy. And, by the way, if you remember to Ephesians chapter 6 verse 12, Paul reminds us that our battle is not against flesh and blood; our battle is against powers, principalities, spiritual forces. And it is those spiritual forces that is behind, undergirding all the evil that is opposing God, and all the acts contrary to God are following and doing the bidding of these spiritual forces. That is the battle, and that is the enemy that Jesus defeated. The only way to have victory is through Jesus Christ.
But not only does Zechariah remind us that Jesus defeats the enemy, he also (in verses 76 to 80) tells us that John will proclaim this salvation that Messiah brings. What’s he say? He says in verse 76, “And you, child,” and here he’s talking to—about John, “and you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High [prophet of God],” and “for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” John will prepare the ways of the Lord. How does he do that? He does it by calling people to repent. He does it by calling people to turn away from their sins and to believe on Jesus.
That is the same message that we see in the prophets in the Old Testament: repent and believe in God. John has the same message—repent and believe on God—and he pointed to Christ, he pointed to Jesus. John was the last of the—what they call the Old Testament prophets, and he was the only one who was able to say, “There! Right there is Messiah.” The rest could say, “Messiah is coming,” but John could say, “He’s here.” But his message was repent. The message of Jesus!
Now, the world would say, “Jesus taught love.” Yes. But Jesus’ primary message: “Repent and believe in me.” The message of the Apostles: “Repent and believe in Jesus.” And the message that we have today: “Repent and believe on Jesus.”
That is the message, and that is exactly how John prepared the way for Jesus, by calling people to repent. In other words John, shared the gospel. He shared the gospel that salvation is in Christ alone, that salvation is through Christ, through Jesus only. He shared the message that we must repent of our sins because we’re all guilty and all under the wrath of God.
Now, he didn’t have the benefit of being able to look back to the cross—it hadn’t happened yet—but we do. John could say, “repent and believe on Jesus,” but we can say, “repent and believe on Jesus who died and shed his blood for the forgiveness of sins, satisfying God’s divine wrath and divine justice; repent and turn away from your sins and believe on Jesus alone because salvation is a free gift—free gift, grace—it is only by grace that we are saved and we receive it only through faith and through faith only in Jesus.” That is the gospel, and John’s message was salvation, forgiveness, repentance.
But, then Zechariah actually refers to salvation using three metaphors. First, he calls it “mercy.” He calls it mercy in verse : “because of the tender mercy of our God.” This is a metaphor for salvation. In other words, grace. The grace of God. The grace of God is something that we don’t deserve. The world wants to say, “Well, I’ll get what I’ve got coming to me.” If we all just simply rested on that, we’re all going to go to hell because that’s exactly what we deserve. Even the smallest of sins: hell. No such thing as two degrees or two types of sin; you either are in obedience or not. That’s it. And the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is grace through Jesus Christ. Grace. And Zechariah reminds us of the grace of God freely given and available because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
But he then calls it “light.” Continuing on in verse 78, “because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light,” verse 79, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” Salvation is referred to as light. Light removes the darkness. Light gives hope. Light gives guidance. And we know from John chapter 1 that Jesus is the light—the light that came into the world and shined that light in the darkness, and that darkness is sin. We are all, apart from Jesus, in that darkness, and Jesus is the light that shines the truth on us, revealing to us the sin that we’ve tried to hide and deny. but calls us to the grace and mercy of himself for salvation.
But we also—by the way, I love that Zechariah included this phrase: “in the shadow of death,” verse 79, the light in the shadow of death. Reminds me of Psalm 23. That great shepherd, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And in that psalm, we learn about the valley of the shadow of death. And what’s interesting about this psalm is in verse 5: “I’ve set a table before you in the presence of your enemy” in the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus, God, says, “I’m setting a table there; fellowship with me even in the struggle that you’re—in even in the hard times, no matter what’s going on, focus on me,” indicating in this prophecy—that Psalm 23—is about Christ and salvation.
But then at the end of it the last phrase, last stanza, verse 79, “to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The third metaphor for salvation is “peace,” referring to the fact that apart from Jesus we are enemies at war with God. We don’t like to think about that or in those terms. Sometimes, apart from Jesus, we’re not just non-believers, we’re not just people out there or the lost, no we are enemies—enemies—of God, and yet Jesus shed his blood for his enemies. How many of us would lay down our lives for someone we like, least of all someone that we absolutely are in conflict with?
We, apart from Jesus, are his enemies, but salvation (those who are saved, those who put their faith, those who’ve repented and put their faith in Jesus) are no longer enemies, but are now at peace with God. By the power of God, he brings peace. But also, he brings peace between believers. As believers seek Jesus, as we as individuals get closer to Jesus, we will get closer to each other, but it requires that we seek Christ.
So, we see in this prophecy that God kept his promise to send salvation. Jesus is that salvation, and John proclaimed that salvation, and Mary—not Mary—Elizabeth and Zechariah were reminded that God kept his promises to them, to Abraham, to David, and to many others. Do we walk in that salvation, though?
Do we live our lives to glorify Jesus, or do we live our lives on our own timetable, in our own priorities, in our own preferences? Do we seek self-pleasure, satisfying our flesh and our minds and our personal ideas, or do we seek to glorify Jesus even if it means sacrificing of ourselves? What’s our priority: the Savior or self?