The very first words spoken in the New Testament occurred in the conversation the Angel Gabriel had with Zacharias. Gabriel gave Zacharias four announcements in the discussion. First, God heard your's and your wife's prayers regarding a child. Second, even in your wife's old age, she will conceive and deliver a boy. Third, your baby boy's name will be called John. And fourth, John will be the forerunner of Jesus Christ. Within the position of the forerunner, he will preach on many of Israel's failures.
To better understand why Zacharias struggled with believing these important announcements, we need to know where he was spiritually at the time of these announcements. Luke 1 gives us insight into knowing where Zacharias was spiritually. First, Zaharias and his wife Elizabeth were righteous before the Lord and walking blamelessly in the commandments of the Lord (Luke 1:6). Zacharias and his wife were cleansed, saved, made righteous, part of the redeemed and members of the family of God.
Second, a person’s righteous standing before the Lord does not mean he or she is perfect. Just the opposite is true. Our righteousness is the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ (Romans 4:22-24) because we still sin (1 John 1:9). Zacharias was no different from us; he was not perfect. At the time of Gabriel's announcement, his confidence level in God was dangerously low. For the believer in Jesus Christ, confidence in God is everything. Without confidence, our serving faith becomes powerless. We capture the confidence problem Zacharias had with God in his response to Gabriel's four announcements. Zacharias asked: “Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years” (Luke 1:18). In other words, Zacharias wanted a sign from heaven to validate Gabriel’s announcements.
A person who needs a sign from God to validate His words struggles with believing God is a God of His word. Jesus mentions the problem with signs in John’s Gospel: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe” (John 4:48). Much Later Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth with similar words: “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe” (1 Corinthians 14:22). The Christian who believes and acts upon God’s word needs no sign from Heaven for validation. Zacharias asking for a sign is a big clue that he struggled with the promises of God.
How did Zacharias come to the place of lacking confidence in God? Luke gives us two possible reasons. First, he and his wife would have prayed for years, if not decades for a child. Probably, only stopping because Elizabeth transitioned to a new phase in her life where she could not naturally bring forth a child. Not having a prayer answered can be discouraging. Prayer was never designed to be a discouraging event. The influences of the world and the deception of Satan plants the seeds that cause prayer to be a discouraging event.
We live in a results-oriented society. If we are not receiving the results, we hope for than our efforts are vain. We view prayer in the same philosophy in mind. God did not design prayer as a vehicle to get everything we want. We have allowed the world to transform prayer into asking the Jeanie to fulfil our wishes. If our desires are not met, then prayer is useless, and our confidence in God wanes. As I said, prayer is not designed to get all or any of our request answered. The main design of prayer is to grow closer to the Lord in a dialogue conversation. God speaks to us through His word, and we speak to Him through prayer. The foundational reason I pray is to let God into my life. “The Biblical purpose of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself…To say that “prayer changes things” is not as close to the truth as saying, “Prayer changes me, and then I change things."
A second possible reason for lack of confidence in God was Israel's condition. Zacharias praise focused on God’s plan for Israel (v. 68-79). Zacharias praising God for His plans for Israel suggests that before the angel’s announcement, Zacharias felt God had abandoned Israel. From Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament to Gabriel ushering in the New Testament with words he spoke to Zacharias, four hundred years had elapsed. Most of those four hundred years, Israel was oppressed by foreign powers: Persians, Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians, and Romans. During this time, Jerusalem was the site of many battles, with scores of thousands of Jews perishing in these battles. The temple that was erected during the time of Ezra was desecrated by foreign powers, and for the first time in their history, Israel was persecuted for their faith. The only glimmer of hope they had during this period occurred with the Maccabean revolt, which brought short-lived independence.
However, during their period of independence, they ended up merging the king with the priest, thereby corrupting both offices, which produced effects experienced during the time of Jesus Christ. If this was not bad enough, these four hundred years are known as the silent years in which God did not raise a prophet of the stature of Jeremiah or Malachi. These times were so dark that many Jews, beginning with Philo, began to allegorize the scriptures. Instead of taking God at His word Philo desired to combine Hellenism philosophies with the Law of Moses. These events did not occur over the decades but hundreds of years. After four hundred years of silence from God and seemingly, not working through the chaos, corruption and violence in Israel, Zacharias lost confidence in God.
Regardless of the possible reasons why Zacharias lost confidence in God, God held him accountable for not believing the announcements from His messenger. The truth is that Zacharias was living proof that God was not finished with Israel and was still working in the lives of Israelites. God saved Zacharias and Elizabeth! Satan wants us to lose confidence in God. He is so good at deceiving us into believing God has abandoned us; yet, our conversion is living proof of God's love for us and His continued work in our communities.
The consequence of not believing Gabriel's message was nine months of silence and not being able to hear. God did not open his mouth and ears to function until Zacharias obeyed the Lord's command in naming his son John. Once the Lord opened the mouth of Zacharias the first words out of his mouth were praise to God. The word "praise" means to speak well of someone. After nine months of not being able to speak and hear, Zacharias could not wait to speak well of God. Many people, to include me, believe the "praise" of v. 64 were the words of v.68-79. The principal reason is the first words of v. 68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. "The "blessed" in v.68 comes from the same root word of "praise" in v.64.
Luke wanted to impress upon Theophilus Zacharias innermost desire was to praise God. Over the last couple of weeks, the Lord has convicted me on this matter of praise. How often do I praise God? As I examined my life, I discovered days would go by without me speaking well of God to anyone. This is shameful and unacceptable, and I want to change. I am afraid to be in the same place Zacharias was before his wife's conception if I am not in the regular habit of praising God.
The theme of Zacharias praise stems from three of the six Old Testament Covenants. God made six covenants in the Old Testament. The Noahic Covenant was a promise God made to Noah that He would never destroy the earth with a global flood. The Mosaic Covenant was a promise God made to the nation of Israel, where God promised to bless Israel for her obedience and punish Israel for her disobedience. In Numbers 25, there is the Priestly Covenant God made with Israel. These three covenants are not directly related to salvation. However, the other three covenants, the covenants Zacharias mentioned in his praise, are directly connected with salvation. These three Covenants are known as the Salvific Covenants. They are the Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants. The Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants cannot come to pass without salvation covenants and we cannot receive the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants without the New Covenant.
This morning I will frame these three covenants into three reasons Zacharias “Blessed…the Lord God of Israel” (v.68). Zacharias blessed the main Person of the Covenants, the Plan within the Covenants and the purposes of the Covenants.
The Person v.68-69
There are keywords and phrases in v.68 worthy of mentioning. First, the word "visited" means. God looked upon His people with the purpose of aiding those in need of help. “The idea is to go to see with the goal of relieving distress, sickness or bondage.” Second, the word "redeemed" means to ransom and pay the price to deliver a captive of war. When Zacharias mentioned “His people,” more than likely his reference point was Jewish. However, praise the Lord, both the Old and New Testaments reveal that God has included the Gentiles as His people (Romans 11:17). Zacharias and we can bless God for the same reason: God visited and redeemed us.
Verse 69 is where Jesus comes in. The phrase “Hath raised up” literally means arousing from sleep. We use a similar phrase: be careful not to wake up a sleeping giant. However, the verse has metaphorical usage (i.e. Horn of salvation), so “Hath raised up” should be taken metaphorically; therefore, the meaning is to cause to appear in history. God caused Jesus to appear in history at the most precise moment in time. Paul refers to this time as the “Fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4).
Jesus came as a "horn of salvation." Zacharias used the title "horn" to illustrate the strength of Jesus Christ. Jesus is strong in everything He does. He was strong when He created most of the universe out of nothing; just speaking matter into existence. He was strong when He created man out of dirt and woman out of a kidney from man. Honestly, I do not know what is harder, to create out of nothingness or to create man using only dirt. Jesus was strong when He walked on water, calm the waves and wind, healed the sick and raised the dead. Zacharias could have focused on any or all of these areas, but he did not. Instead, Zacharias praises God by saying Jesus is the "horn of salvation." Nothing else mattered for Zacharias. Yes, Jesus is the creator, and He did heal the sick, walk on water, control nature with His words, and brought back to life some who were dead but without salvation, none of these has eternal weight. Zacharias highlighted Jesus mighty strength in salvation.
He needed to highlight this because we have no strength to come to Jesus. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). Salvation is the complete work of Jesus Christ. Several years ago, Life Alert put together a commercial whose catchphrase still resonates with people. The catchphrase is "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up." The idea behind the commercial is what happens if you fall, cannot get up, and have no means to get to a telephone. All you would have to do is push a button on a necklace and help is around the corner. The person who fell and could not get up needs someone to interfere in their life so they can stand back up. Similarly, Jesus Christ came as a strength in salvation to help us who were stuck in our miry clay by reaching down and lifting us onto solid ground (Psalms 40:2).
As the horn of salvation, Jesus will one day sit upon the throne of His servant David. (v.68).
Zacharias praises God for His wonderful plan for the ages. One of the many beautiful aspects of God's plan is His plan has been "since the world began" (v.70). His plan for the redemption of Israel was before Lucifer rebelled and Adam and Eve sinned. Further, His plan for the rescuing of Israel was before Israel was ever a people. His plan of His Son sitting on the throne of David came into existence before there was life on earth. The moment He spoke the heavens and earth into existence, God had a plan for final victory. From the very first day, God already had a plan to redeem a people that had not been created.
Nothing takes God by surprise. He is not a reactive God but proactive. Before the creation of the world, God knew every event that will take place. Also, necessary to note, every event that will take place did not surprise God. He knew before He knew. Understanding omnipotence from an infinite being is an entirely impossible task for finite people. Several years ago, I heard that General Eisenhower once said that plans are useless, but planning is everything. His point was once the shooting starts; plans are useless because battles are unpredictable. Though this sentiment may be true with man, praise the Lord, God’s plans are never meaningless. Gods plan was from the beginning and is still being enacted, just as God planned.
What was the plan of God from the beginning? God will save Israel from her enemies, from the hands of them that hate Israel, and to perform the mercy promised to Israel's fathers (v.71-71). An amazing feature in this praise is that there was no material evidence to support the defeat of Israel's enemies. Israel was under Roman occupation, and over much of the last four hundred years, they have been under foreign occupation. However, with the birth of His son, Zacharias' faith was revived. Once again, he believed in the impossible and the promises of God. The birth of his son changed his view and outlook on life. How much more blessed are we by believing in the impossible and the promises of God without seeing a miracle? Jesus said, "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29).
Purposes v. 74-80
Zacharias continued to praise God for the purpose of His plan. Several years ago, I was talking to a relative of mine about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was a lost man that needed grace. As I spoke to him about his need for grace, he told me that he was a Christian. This man has never shown any fruit of salvation, so I began to open up God's word on the fruits of salvation or assurances that we are saved. I did not get very far into this when he told me that he did not have to go to church or do anything else to be saved. I have heard this same statement many times over the years. Yes, a person can do nothing to be saved; salvation is entirely a work of grace. However, if grace happened, there would be a seismic change in a person's life (2 Corinthians 5:17). The foundation of the seismic change is the Lord's Lordship over our lives and our love for Him! I told him that if you do not like going to church or being obedient to the Lord today, then you will hate Heaven. The purpose of salvation is to serve God.
Zacharias praised God for His purpose in salvation. Zacharias was amazed “that (God) would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear" (v.74). The word "might" means ability. God delivered us so that we can have the ability to serve Him in holiness. The word "serve" means a person who does a menial task. Serving Christ is not about us or our position but having the opportunity to do anything God wants us to do, no matter what the task is. Right now, there is intimidation by the world to anyone who desires to serve God. One day, all those who want to intimidate saints for serving the Lord will be done away with. We will be able to serve the Lord free from fear of reprisals. Not only this, Zacharias continues praising God by saying we will serve him in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives (v.75). The word "holiness" speaks of status and relationship, and purity from defilement. Imagine serving Christ because of a special relationship you have with him, free from any impure thought or motive. I long for this day!
Lastly, this morning, Zacharias praised God for the purpose of his son’s birth. John the Baptist had a special calling on his life. He will “go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways” (v.76) and “give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins (v.77). Indeed, John had a special calling and Zacharias praise God for his son’s calling.
Luke finished chapter one with “And the child (John the Baptist) grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel” (v.80). I believe Luke inserted this verse to show a relationship between his calling and upbringing. His parents would have been instrumental in John’s waxing strong in his faith, calling, and mission. So that when the time was ready for Joh to come on the scene, he was prepared.
Leon James Wood and David O'Brien, A Survey of Israel's History (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Academie Books, 1986), 351-81.
John Macarthur, “Zachariah's Song of Salvation: Introduction,” Grace to You, April 18, 1999, https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/42-16/zachariahs-song-of-salvation-introduction.
Albert Barnes, Barnes On the New Testament: Luke and John, 20th ed., ed. Robert Frew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), 13.