Songs of Christmas Praise
Zechariah’s Song of Hope
December 03, 2017
Close your eyes and let me create an imaginary situation you might find yourself in. Imagine what it must be like to be lost out in the woods in the BWCA of northern Minnesota. There you find yourself in vast areas of forests and lakes with no houses or roads for miles and miles in some places. You are lost, somehow you have gotten off of the trail you were on, and now the sun has gone down and it is so dark. The sky is overcast, so you have no light from the moon or the stars. You stumble even on the smallest of twigs and rocks.
Since you were just out on a short scenic hike for an hour or two, you have no food, water, or even a compass for a sense of direction. You continue to wander because you know if you stop you may lose hope and maybe even perish out there in the cold. So, you keep going with the hope of finding a road, a cabin, or a light of some kind, so that you can be saved.
As you continue to stumble your way through the woods, there are times that you think to yourself, “why continue on, there is no hope of being rescued, no one will miss me till morning and who knows how many days it would be before they find me.” As the night passes and it becomes early morning, still stumbling in the dark, your hope fades of being rescued.
But then you remember that there is a sunrise to come in the morning. The sun always comes up and there will be daylight. What a promise of hope for you that will come in the morning. Though you may still be lost, you find great hope in knowing that sunrise will soon be on the horizon. So even as you stumble in the woods in the darkness, there is hope, there is hope for the coming light.
I create this imaginary scenario for you because, you see, Israel was a nation that lived 400 years in darkness. Between the prophecies of Malachi and the birth of Jesus in the New Testament, God’s people lived in darkness. God did not speak to His people through His prophets during that time and it seemed as though God had left them in the dark to fend on their own.
Just like a person who stumbles around in the woods in the dark, hope for Israel faded and for some it was completely lost. The only thing they knew to do was to keep on stumbling around in the darkness of everyday life because they knew if they stopped, they would perish. But there was one thing that kept them going, the hope of sunrise. The promise of a Messiah was like the promise of sunrise for a person lost in the dark.
The people of Israel held on to the promises of a Messianic sunrise. Those who knew and understood the Old Testament Scriptures held to the promise of a Deliverer. This Messianic hope can be seen from the beginning pages of Genesis all the way through the end of Malachi. Now God’s people were in 400 years of living in the darkness holding on to the hope of the Messianic sunrise.
Like a person lost in the woods, looking for the signs of sunrise, so the people of God were looking for the signs of their Messiah. There were glimmers of light beginning to grace the horizon when Gabriel spoke to Zechariah about the birth of John, then Gabriel’s proclamation to the virgin Mary about having a child that she would name Jesus. Then the wonderous meeting of these two pregnant mothers when Elizabeth gives a Spirit filled proclamation and Mary’s magnification of the Lord in her Magnificat.
Yes, things were looking like a new day was breaking, hope was being fulfilled and daylight was coming. These quick flashes of light gave assurance that sunlight would soon shine from the horizon. Then with the birth of John, it was like the glow, right before the sunrise.
People all around Jerusalem, and even the whole nation of Israel, were talking about these signs of the Messianic sunrise. They recognized that hand of the Lord upon Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John. As you may well remember, Zechariah could not speak during Elizabeth’s pregnancy because he doubted God, but now that John is born, God opened his mouth and people asked Zechariah about the new dawning that was about to take place.
Great excitement filled the air as people recognized the signs of the Messianic hope, much like a person lost in the woods would be excited to see the signs of sunrise. What did all this mean? In Luke 1:68, Zechariah, as he was filled with the Spirit of God, 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."
This song of Zechariah, or Zechariah’s Benedictus as many call it, is nothing but praise from beginning to end. It is a glorious praise song announcing the sunrise, the Messianic hope for all people. This is not just a song of hope, it is a song announcing the fulfillment of hope. Zechariah’s song begins by looking back at the covenant of God with David.
You see, God promised:
A Salvation From the House of David (vv. 68-71)
In 2 Samuel 7, God tells David that He will establish an enduring kingdom from the family of David, that David’s offspring will not only build the Temple, and of course Solomon did that, but that the throne of God’s kingdom will be ruled forever from David’s family.
Listen to Isaiah 9:6-7 and see if you recognize what it says:
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Zechariah recognized the signs of the Messianic sunrise. He knew the Old Testament covenant God made with David. Zechariah probably read many times these prophecies of the child to be born as their Messiah, passages like we just read here in Isaiah 9.
In verse 69, Zechariah refers to it as a raising up of the horn of salvation. The picture here is of an animal getting ready to charge as he throws up his head showing his power over the enemy. Zechariah refers to the Davidic covenant as a horn of salvation. It is a horn that is raised up showing great power over the enemy as signs of the Messianic sunrise appear on the horizon.
Not only is it a salvation from the House of David, But Zechariah goes back even farther and sees this as:
A Deliverance Swore to Abraham (vv. 72-75)
Back in Genesis 12, God promised Abraham a child. Abraham and Sarah were childless and beyond child bearing years, but God promised a child. Not only that, but that through this child there would come a great nation of people and that the whole earth will be blessed by what God does through this nation.
This covenant was further emphasized to Abraham as he was about to sacrifice that only son in obedience to God. God stopped Abraham’s hand in midair, provided a substitute, and restated the blessing of God upon Abraham, this child, the resulting nation, and the whole earth.
Zechariah recognized that these signs of the Messianic sunrise are a result of that oath God made to Abraham. In verses 72 and 73 Zechariah’s praise calls for us to remember this holy covenant made with Abraham. The nations of the earth will be blessed by the deliverance swore to Abraham.
~ A Salvation from the House of David.
~ A Deliverance Swore to Abraham.
Then Zechariah’s praise song gets personal as he looks at his new born child and he knows that he has a part in the way of salvation, the blessing of Abraham for the whole earth, a salvation from the house of David.
The way of salvation is:
The Way Prepared by John (vv. 76-78a)
Let’s read verses 76-78 again:
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.
Zechariah is praising God for the part that his son, John, will play in the salvation of the Lord. R. Kent Hughes says,
“We cannot overstate Zechariah’s emotion here. There had been no prophet among the Jews for four centuries. Zechariah had just recovered his voice, and he was using it to praise and prophesy. His baby boy was the focus of divine revelation. Surely Zechariah’s words were not calm utterances.”
Zechariah knew that his son, John, would prepare the way for the Lord, he would preach the knowledge of salvation and the forgiveness of sins granted by the mercy of God. Zechariah knew that salvation involved the forgiveness of sins. Zechariah knew his son was a part of the Lord’s salvation. John would prepare the way, preaching to people about this:
~ Salvation from the House of David.
~ Deliverance swore to Abraham.
You see, this was hope, hope for a very dark time for human kind. Like a person lost in the woods, in the dark of night, but early in the morning seeing the soft glow on the horizon, being reminded that a new day is about to dawn and a bright new hope for being rescued becomes apparent. Zechariah knew the promises of Scripture and he recognizes the:
The Sunrise of the Messianic Hope (vv. 78b-79)
Look how Zechariah ends this song of praise in the last half of verse 78 and 79:
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.
Zechariah pictures his people like that person lost in the woods, in the dark of night, even the eminence of death in their minds, but Zechariah knows that the sunrise is coming. The signs are clear that there will soon be light on the landscape. They will no longer be lost in darkness, but rather the light of the sunrise will guide their feet to ways of peace.
So many passages in the Old Testament speak about the coming Messiah. Zechariah probably knew them all but it is very clear here that he knew about the prophecies which speak of the coming Messiah as a sunrise. Like Malachi 4:2
But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
Zechariah’s son, John, will be preparing the way of salvation. He will be preaching about the coming Messiah, about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Zechariah was not just a proud father of a new born child. Zechariah was beyond being ecstatic about the Messianic sunrise for not only his people, but the people of the whole earth.
We can experience the reality of this hope for our lives today. The salvation Zechariah looked forward to, we can experience today. The forgiveness of sins that he praised God about is for you and me today. We can experience the sunrise of salvation in hearts today. We can be rescued from our sin, and God will guide our feet to peace with Him.
Zechariah’s song of hope is not some grand piece of ancient poetry, it proclaims:
~ Salvation from the House of David
~ Deliverance Swore to Abraham
~ The Way John Preached
~ The Sunrise of Hope for all.
Jesus is the fulfillment of this song of hope. Jesus spoke of this forgiveness Zechariah talked about when He used the elements of the Passover meal to symbolize His death for our sin. Matthew 26:28:
For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
What an incredible song Zechariah sings. This is not just a song about his son John, but about God’s rescue from darkness made available to us through God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
But Jesus had to become like us in human flesh, yet without sin. So, Jesus was born as an infant to a virgin mother named Mary. He was not born in a palace like we might expect, but in a stable, laid in a feeding trough for a bed. This baby was the hope for all mankind. but remember, He was born as an infant for the purpose of taking our penalty of death for sin.
Born to die. So as we come to the communion table today, may we be reminded of the wonder of this time of year. We celebrate the birth of our Savior, but in order for Him to be a Savior, He must die. So as the song says, “we rejoice and grieve.” As we take of the elements of the communion table today, we will be singing “A Communion Hymn for Christmas.” May the words of this song cause us to mediate on what it means that Jesus, the Messianic hope, Messianic sunrise, came to be our Savior in His death.