The Lord has come to his people and redeemed them
Luke has been interested in the great detail and backstory of the birth of Jesus. The angel Gabriel first came to an old priest named Zechariah and told him his wife, Elizabeth, would have a baby to be named John. Then Elizabeth’s cousin Mary was visited by the same angel to be told that she will give birth to the Christ to be named Jesus. When the two miracle mothers got together there was crying and praising God and Mary spoke poetically about God’s mercy in remembering his promises to Israel.
We come now to the birth episode of John which also contains a prophesy by Zechariah. He had been made silent because of his unbelief. Now his mouth will be opened with inspiration from the Holy Spirit.
This section has a narrative layout like Luke 1:5-25 but with an extended prophecy just before the close of the story. The turning point of the story is with Zechariah. Just as he had shown doubt to be the key to the first story, he now displays belief with praises to God. Verses 67-79 may have been the very words he spoke in verse 64.
- 57-58 The beginning of John’s birth story
- 59 The problem of John’s birth story
- 60-64 The Solution – John is named John
- 65-66 The response to his name
- 59 The problem of John’s birth story
- 67-75 Zechariah prophecies about Jesus
- 76-79 Zechariah prophecies about John
- 80 The end of John’s birth story
This section closes off the first chapter of Luke and while Luke did not place chapter numbers in his original script, we see this whole chapter as a build up to the opening of chapter 2 when the Messiah comes into the world. Jesus is not the main character of any of chapter 1 and yet his coming is the central theme.
57-58 The beginning of John’s birth story
“…she gave birth to a son.” These verses orient the reader to what is about to take place. The occasion is the birth of her son and this section is concluded in verse 80 with the summary of her child growing up. Over nine months her friends and family had come to grips with an old lady being blessed with a child and they were happy for her. Again, we are simply brought up to date with the characters and climate of the story – the scene is set.
59 The problem of John’s birth story
“…came to circumcise the child…” As per Jewish law and tradition (Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3).
“…they were going to name him…Zechariah…” Theophilus knows that the child was meant to be named John (Luke 1:13) and so as he gets to this part of the story, he hears the problem. It would seem best to give him a family name but Zechariah was not the name told to the father and the father was unable to speak anything to correct it.
60-64 John is named John
“…but his mother spoke up…” The problem is amplified with the discussion between Elizabeth and the people. She wanted John but the people argued their case also.
“…they made signs to his father…” either they made the common human mistake of thinking that mute people can’t hear either or Zechariah had also lost his hearing – perhaps with age. This is likely.
“His name is John.” Zechariah, who had shown doubt and faltering in his first scene, now comes through with the goods. Short and to the point. John means “God (Yahweh) is gracious”.
“Immediately his mouth was opened…” Luke 1:20 prophesied that Zechariah would be unable to speak until the baby was born and named John. Here the prophecy is fulfilled. Amazingly, the first thing he does is praise God with his tongue and prophecy about Jesus and John, the two miracle babies.
65-66 The response to his name
“Everyone who heard this wondered about it…” Wrapped in a visual prophecy is the spoken prophecy. The people had been observing Elizabeth and Zechariah for nine months now and witnessed a strange event with the opening of Zechariah’s mouth. They could be amazed at that since it was a very strange thing. But the words spoken by Zechariah make up the ‘song’ of verses 67-79. They, therefore, had all the words of his prophecy to wonder about rather than just temporal muteness, aged childbirth and a strange name.
67-75 Zechariah prophecies about Jesus
“…filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied…” What he speaks in verses 67-79 is inspired and revealed by the Holy Spirit. He was taken up by the moment and the Spirit used this occasion to pronounce precise truths about the two babies we have been hearing about.
Verses 68 to 70 contain words like “redeemed” and “salvation” which embrace the New Testament proclamation of why Jesus came – to save people from their sins. But verses 71 to 75 have a very Old Testament flavour where we expect Israel to regain power and peace among the nations – no longer in fear of others but free to serve Yahweh unhindered. This saviour seems to be a conqueror for the favour of Abraham’s descendants.
There is no conflict, however, since there is no such conflict between the Old and New Testament. Zechariah uses language that he understands as fulfillment to the promises made to Abraham and yet they are true also of our Lord and Saviour. He did bring grace and peace from God to the true people of Israel. All who stand opposed to God’s people are promised to be dealt with in judgement while those who run to the redeemer are saved from sin and death. The greatest enemy to be destroyed is death itself. Lookup and listen to Jesus’ own use of the term ‘enemies’ in Luke 6:35; 10:19; 19:27,43; and 20:43.
To appreciate the non-contradiction here, a course like “God’s Big Picture” is invaluable.
76-79 Zechariah prophecies about John
In these verses we have the prophecy of John who will be a prophet of the Most High (God). Here we see language again of “forgiveness of sins” and “mercy of our God”. John’s calling will be to give people the knowledge of salvation. Luke chapter 3 describes the words and ministry of John the Baptist who “exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.” (Luke 3:20).
John will prepare the way for the Lord – to give people knowledge of salvation which means sins forgiven.
Sins forgiven come from the mercy of God as the light of the world comes to shine in the darkness. The world as we know it lives in the shadows of death but God is bringing salvation – proclaimed and prepared by John – and to be received by the people.
Zechariah has come a long way from doubt and uncertainty. He now proclaims the goodness and mercy of God to be fulfilled by his son in proclamation of the Sun! This mute man can now speak and he talks of light shining in the darkness.
80 The end of John’s birth story
This transitional sentence to close off this segment tells us in brief that John went on to be devoted to God. Luke will leave John the son of Zechariah until chapter 3. Luke, remember, is writing about events that have been retold hundreds of times by people and John’s ministry was not done in secret – he was a public figure and well known in Israel.
Knowledge about salvation and confidence in God’s mercy are key to the kingdom of God. Zechariah appears now to have no doubt about what is happening. What he proclaims now is that God has come to bring salvation and his son will prepare the way by reminding everyone of God’s promises and the need to desire holiness and righteousness. God continues to fulfill his word and Luke continues to underscore the real life events of his salvation plan.
- List all the promises declared by Zechariah in verses 67 to 79 and discuss how they are a reality now and how John and Jesus have changed the world that we know. Which realities do you take for granted and which do you think are still to be fulfilled?
- Discuss the connections between the Old Testament and the New. Some in your group may be very familiar with how the Old and New testaments complement one another. How would you explain the relationship between the two to an outsider?
- Pray through Zechariah’s prophesy in your group to simply praise God for his redemption, salvation and light shone into this dark world.
Prayer of the Week
Lord and God, thank you for coming into this dark world to show us your truth. We praise you for Jesus and we thank you for John and Zechariah who prepared the way for your Son. Help us to speak of your salvation and love so that we may guide others to the path of peace. Amen.