Rev. Erik Veerman
From Silence to Singing
Our focus this morning is on Zachariah’s prophecy at the end of Luke 1. Earlier in our service, Tim read the section of Luke 1 where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah the priest. He told Zechariah that his ife was going to have a child. The challenge was that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, were both advanced in years. We don’t know exactly how old that means. That phrase indicated they were at least 60. So Elizabeth was well past childbearing age. Because of that, Zechariah didn’t believe Gabriel. And as a consequence for his lack of faith, Zechariah was made mute - unable to speak.
Let’s pick back up with the narrative starting in verse 57. You’ll find that on page 1017. This is 9 months later and Zechariah was still not able to talk.
Please turn your attention again to God’s holy and inspired Word.
Reading of Luke 1:57-80
This coming Friday, on Christmas Eve, NASA will be launching a new telescope into space. This one is a joint effort with Canada and several European nations. They say it will be 100 times more powerful than the Hubble telescope. The images from this new telescope will no doubt mind-blowing, truly testifying to the wonders of God and His creation. Even the pictures we have from the Hubble have been amazing.
My favorites have been the images of black holes. From what I’ve read, a black hold is a collapsed star that has become this incredibly dense gravitational field. It’s gravity is so powerful that it literally bends time and space. And as it gets more and more compressed, the heat and energy build up to immense levels. The fusion reaction is so intense, that not even light can escape. When that happens, it looks like a hole in space - a pitch black hole. The other part of what happens when a star implodes is a supernova explosion of light and material into space. They say the supernova is more powerful than a few octillion nuclear war heads. I had to look up what an octillion is. It’s a 1 followed by 27 zeros. In other words, the supernova explosion is that many times bigger than a nuclear bomb. And it gives off this amazing display of power and light as captured by modern telescopes. From darkness to light.
That’s what’s happening in these verses. It’s like a black hole that has exploded into an array of light with all the wonder and awe of God at his fulfillment.
For over 400 years, silence. Generations of Israelites had come and gone. The prophet Malachi had been the last Old Testament prophet. After him, there was a prophetic darkness. You see, all the prophecies, and all the covenant promises, and all the events and people that pointed to a coming savior had all dried up. And the intensity of that darkness was not diminishing. No, it was building up in intensity because God’s people more and more had thought that God had abandoned them. That he had forgotten his covenant, that the promises to Abraham and David of a savior king would never come. That the prophecies had failed. Israel was at it’s lowest point.
It was like a black hole. Light could not escape. But then it happened. An explosion of light in the darkness. To use the language of Zechariah’s prophecy, like a “sunrise” verse 78 after years and years of darkness. In fact, that idea of a sunrise comes from Malachi 4. The Lord spoke through Malachi, “but for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings”
Zechariah’s song here in Luke 1, brings it all together. All the prophecies and all the covenant promises that pointed to Christ. God’s voice was heard yet again.
Someone said that these verses from 67-80 have more Old Testament references than any other passage in the New Testament. While I couldn’t confirm that, I will say the list of cross references is overwhelming.
And John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zechariah’s son, will become the last Old Testament prophet. And this prophecy from his father sets the stage for both John and Jesus.
I titled my sermon “From Silence to Singing” for three reasons. First, the over 400 years of silence which led up to this time and the resulting rejoicing. The Second reason for us. When salvation comes to us, we respond with singing and rejoicing in our heart because of the salvation that God has given us. That response is in here, too. And third, which is the most obvious one, Zachariah was silent for 9 months leading up to his song, this prophecy.
9 months with an inability to communicate with words. That’s a long time. Every day leading up to the birth of his son, he was reminded that God did fulfill his promise – Elizabeth was pregnant, and he was reminded of his lack of faith, not believing the angel Gabriel – he still couldn’t talk.
Well, the time came for Elizabeth to give birth. She had a son as God had promised. And as was the custom, on the eighth day they had the boy circumcised. That’s also the point in time when he was to be given a name. The usual practice was to give the boy a family name, like his father’s name. That would signify the continuation of the family lineage. It’s why the people assumed he would be named Zechariah, verse 59. But Elizabeth responded, “he shall be called John.”
“Wait, wait, wait! No one in your family is named John. That doesn’t make sense! Let’s go ask Zechariah. He’ll straighten this out.” So they motioned to him. Now, it’s possible that Zechariah also could not hear. The Greek word for “mute” used earlier in the chapter can include both - not being able to speak or hear. It’s more likely, though, that he could hear. It’s just that the people were just used to using signs to communicate with someone who couldn’t speak.
Whatever the case, Zechariah was given a tablet and he wrote, “his name is John.” The name John means “God has been gracious.” It’s what the angel Gabriel had told Zechariah to name him. And Elizabeth agreed. And as soon as he wrote on the tablet, Zechariah could speak!
The people were amazed. Word got out. And people wondered who this child would be. For God’s hand was upon him.
Now, look at the end of verse 64 – when Zechariah was given the ability to speak again, it says, “he spoke, blessing God.” And if you look at the beginning of verse 68. The first words of Zechariah’s prophecy say, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” So these are the words that came out of Zechariah’s mouth or a summary of them as Luke records. Blessing. This prophetic song is often called the Benedictus. That’s the Latin word for Blessing. The first words of the prophecy.
In fact, in early Psalters – a Psalter was the book with the Psalms used for singing, both Mary’s song, the Magnificat, and Zechariah’s song, the Benedictus, were included. We’ll be singing Zechariah’s song right after the sermon to a familiar tune.
Bless the Lord. It’s the focus of Zechariah’s prophecy. God. His work. His salvation.
Remember, Elizabeth was pregnant at the same time as Mary. If you remember from last week, Mary had visited Elizabeth. And Elizabeth, filled with the Hoy Spirit, proclaimed that Mary’s baby was the Lord.
So Zechariah and Elizabeth knew that their child John was not the Christ. He was not the promised one. No, as Gabriel had proclaimed and as Elizabeth had understood. John would be a prophet like Elijah. Preparing the way for the Lord.
And this whole prophecy does just that. It points to God, points to what was to come. It points to the fulfillment of all the prophecies and promises.
And there’s one theme that runs throughout – and every aspect of this prophetic song hangs on. And the theme is this: salvation.
Look at it with me.
• Verse 68 – God “redeemed his people”
• Verse 69 – He’s “raised up a horn of salvation.” We’ll come back to what that means in a second.
• Verse 71 – “that we should be saved from our enemies.”
• And similarly verse 74 – “being delivered from our enemies.”
• And verse 77 – this child John was “to give knowledge of salvation to his people.” It then explains how that salvation was accomplished.
Do you see that? Its focus is on salvation. That God has come to redeem his people.
And the very first image we’re given, up in 68, is a “horn of salvation.” That’s in reference to the horns of an animal. Think of a bull with huge horns. Or a ram. It’s the weapon that the animal uses to attack and fight. The horn represents power and might and strength.
So here, it points to the mighty power of God in salvation, that “he has raised up.” This salvation, this horn of salvation is the mighty power of a supernova like explosion. God has done it. He’s has brought it to pass. And so Zechariah is declaring, through the Holy Spirit, that God has powerfully saved. That’s the driving emphasis of Zechariah’s song from beginning to end. And it’s divided into two parts.
Look again at the prophecy from 68-79. You’ll see two sentences.
• The first sentence starts at verse 68 and goes through 75. It focuses on the fulfillment of salvation from the Scriptures.
• The second sentence starts in verse 76. Zechariah focuses on his child, John. His role as the last prophet. John specifically will point to the salvation that God has fulfilled in Christ. So this second part focuses on how God accomplished salvation.
So, first, salvation fulfilled, and second, salvation accomplished.
Let’s take those in order.
The first thing I want you to see in the first section is how full it is of Scripture. Every word is pregnant with Old Testament references and meaning. Israel, redemption, the house of David, the promised mercy to our fathers, his holy covenant, Abraham. If you have a Bible with cross references, you’ll see reference after reference. It includes the book of Joel, and 1 Kings, 1 Chronicles, Genesis, Ezra, Exodus, Psalms, Ezekiel, Micah, Leviticus, Jeremiah, and Zephaniah.
And this fulfillment is summarized by two phrases. Verse 70 “he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets” and verse 72 “to show the mercy promised to our father and to remember his holy covenant”
Prophecies and covenant promises. Really, those are the two major threads in the Old Testament that point to the coming savior.
And back to the black hole analogy. It’s like all these prophecies and promises were being pulled in by an overwhelming gravitational pull to this place in time. A convergence of everything in the Scriptures pointing to a Savior. The 400 years of silence now concluded as all the prophecies and promises began to come to fulfillment.
The prophets foretold of a savior who would deliver them. Israel’s history was replete with enemies – enemies on the outside. Other kingdoms that sought to overtake and destroy them. And enemies within – sin and false gods and lack of faith. And the prophet’s role was to call the people to return to God and to predict that God would send a savior. All the prophecies of salvation were now coming to fruition.
And the second part mentioned here are the promises. The covenant promises of God that are now being fulfilled. Those promises were given to Israel’s forefathers through faith. Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Abraham and David are mentioned here.
With Abraham, as we read earlier in the service, the promise was that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky. He would be the father of many people and nations. And part of God’s promise to Abraham is that God would protect and redeem his descendants through a savior. For King David, God promised him that a descendant of his would be a new king of a new kingdom. And ultimately through descendant, God would deliver his people.
So prophecies and covenant promises. And what Zechariah prophesied here was that the time has come. The prophecies of old were being fulfilled. The covenant promises of old were being fulfilled. Salvation had come.
We are 2000 years removed from this prophecy. But it’s still amazing. How God has done it. How all the promises and prophecies converged when Christ came. Do you know that the closest black hole and related supernova is 1000 light years away from earth? Even though we are so far removed, we can see and behold the wonder. And it’s the same thing here, we can behold God’s amazing fulfillment from a distance.
And our response should be exactly Zechariah response. Praising God. Verse 68. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” Singing and rejoicing. Rejoicing at what God has done and is doing in your life. Salvation. Zachariah, after 9 months of silence, was singing. And for you, maybe you’ve been through a period of silence, but God has brought you to a place either being reminded of his salvation or believing in his salvation for the first time. Rejoice as Zechariah rejoiced. Rejoice at God’s work of Salvation.
And part of that is marveling at how God fulfilled and accomplished salvation. You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the Old Testament. Not at all. In fact, knowing of God’s promises and prophecies will only serve to deepen your understanding of God and his salvation in Christ. It will serve to deepen your sense of awe and wonder at God’s saving work. All the Scriptures are so amazingly rich in their testimony about God, about our need for his grace, and about what God has done in Christ for us.
I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m constantly amazed that you pay me to study God’s Word and bring it to you. I can’t think of anything more satisfying and enriching. What I’m saying is how amazing it is that God has orchestrated it all.
Be blessed by the Scriptures and in return bless the Lord through how he has fulfilled them.
Ok, that brings us to the second part of Zechariah’s prophecy. Verses 76-79. The first part told us that the promised salvation has been fulfilled. And then the second part tells us how. How the fulfillment of salvation will be accomplished.
Here’s where Zechariah’s prophecy shifts focus to John the Baptist. Verse 76, their child will be “prophet of the Most High.” In other words, he will point to the savior, Jesus.
And what’s wonderful, is that even though these verses are about John’s role, they really emphasize the Lord and salvation. John was just the one leading the way to Jesus, to the salvation of God found in Christ. His function was to declare that the Christ had come.
And we’re given specifics about that salvation. For one, we’ll be forgiven of our sins, verse 77. Not because we’re somehow worthy of forgiveness. No, it says in verse 78, “because of the tender mercy of our God.” We’ll be forgiven through the grace of God. Through his lovingkindness and mercy… Verse 78 says he will “visit us from on high.” God will come to us. The meaning of the word “visit” is more than just a presence. It also includes the sense of being there in comfort and bring relief. Through God’s grace, he would visit them to deliver them by forgiving them. Salvation.
And Zechariah describes this visit from God as a “sunrise,” verse 78. And in verse 79 a “light” in the “darkness.” Not just generic darkness like in a closed room, but the darkness described as “the darkness of death.”
John was pointing to the supernova. The light emanating from the darkness. The light of the Gospel as God has visited and redeemed us through Jesus. What a role to have, to be the last prophet, to fade off into the sunset as Jesus rose to prominence. To know that the savior has come. That he would fulfill all the promises and prophecies of God.
But we have to recognize… that even though they understood that the prophecies and promises were being fulfilled, they still didn’t fully understand what it all meant
It’s like they were in the midst of the amazing supernova of light as God visited his people. But when you are in the midst of something, it’s often hard to see the big picture.
But for us, we can look back. It’s like we have a telescope to see and understand what happened and how it happened. We know what that salvation involved. When Jesus came, God visited us from on high. He was and is one of us and God at the same time. And because of that, he was and is able to forgive sins. We know the full story. How Jesus lived a righteous life – the life that we were called to live, and he died the death that we were destined to die – you and me. So that in his death and in his resurrected life, we might live and be righteousness before God.
That’s salvation. That’s the Gospel. That’s what this is all pointing to. The amazing mercy of God in redeeming and forgiving us in Christ.
Salvation fulfilled and salvation accomplished.
Final Application and Conclusion
As we come to a close, you keen observers may have noticed, I skipped a couple verse. The second line of verse 74 and verse 75. After Zechariah spoke of deliverance from our enemies, he gave us this command: “that we… might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
Isn’t that what happens. When we behold the wonder of our God, when we see and know his salvation, when we’re reminded of the amazing love for us, that God visited us, that Jesus was born, lived, died, and was raised, that he’s living now. When we see the light. When we know God’s salvation in Christ, there’s a response in us that desires to serve him. That wants to pursue righteousness and holiness.
Not to win our salvation, but to respond to it. In fact, that’s why we were saved! To serve and love God.
And note that little phrase there at the end of 75. “All of our days.” All of the days that the Lord gives us, we’ll want to serve and pursue him in righteousness. It’s why we remind each other every week of the great salvation of our God.
In conclusion, verse 79. Zechariah closes his prophetic song by calling you to believe. Back to the light in the darkness. If you are in the darkness. That may mean that don’t know of God’s salvation in Christ. There is light. There is hope. There is a sunrise of God’s mercy. He has come near to you. There is the wonder to behold of God’s salvation. And everything that Zechariah prophesied, guides your path in the way of peace. That’s how this song ends. Peace with God. Light in the darkness. You no longer need to live in the shadow of death, because God has fulfilled and accomplished salvation.