Series on Luke, II The Identification, C The Baptist’s Arrival, Text: 1:57-80, Title: The Horn of Salvation


We have earlier seen the announcement of the remarkable birth of John the Baptist, and now we see the words of the angelic messenger to Zechariah fulfilled. There was considerable amazement in this event. Not only  the late life pregnancy of Elizabeth, but the fact that Zechariah had lost his ability to speak by the action of the Lord, and then the naming of the child in a non-traditional way. We read about the reaction in verses 57 and 58, When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy... and again, after his naming, in 65 and 66, The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. They would see more later when John’s ministry began and the crowds flocked to the Jordan to hear him. The main point of this passage, however, is to show that John himself was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy which predicted a forerunner for the Messiah in Isaiah 40. The covenant that God has made with His ancient people, the children of Abraham was being fulfilled. So we see three things about the covenant here, it is observed, obligated, and offered.

I The Covenant Observed

We see the covenant observed in verses 59-64, 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant which God had given to Abraham. Faithful Jews practiced it and thus signified that they were Abraham’s children. They named their infant sons on that day because they were being acknowledged as heirs of Abraham and the covenant. There had been times when the sign  was neglected, but overall it played an important part in their history, and was regarded by believers as being very important. When Paul sums up his credentials as a son of Abraham in Philippians 3:4-6 he is telling the church not to put confidence in the flesh. He had more justification for doing so than any of them, but he says, If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. You could not be an authentic Jew unless you had been circumcised. Now the covenant is a promise and circumcision is a sign of that promise. The promise was that God would send a redeemer, a seed of Abraham and a seed of David who would save His people and sit upon the throne forever. When Zechariah and Elizabeth bring John to be circumcised they are acknowledging their confidence in God’s covenant promise being fulfilled.

II The Covenant Obligation

The song that Zechariah sings on this occasion celebrates that promise of God and as we listen to it in verses 67-75 we note that because this is God’s promise to Abraham and God’s promise to David, God who never lies is obliged to keep it. When God makes a promise He is obliged to keep it, His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. Though the sign of circumcision requires the recipient to keep the covenant, sinful humans fail in that, but God cannot fail and not one Word of God will pass away until all be fulfilled. God promised Abraham that his seed would inherit the blessing, and Paul says in Galatians 3:`6 and 17,  The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. In II Samuel 7:11-14 God said to David, The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. These promises were treasured by true and faithful Israelites and here Zechariah celebrates their fulfillment in his time. That fulfillment begins with the forerunner to the Messiah, John the Baptist. Thus this prophet from a priestly family will introduce the people to Jesus, the son of Abraham, the son of David, and the Son of God.

III The Covenant Offering

Zechariah then prophecies concerning his son John in verses 76-80, And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel. Jesus is the messenger of the covenant. John is the forerunner. John is prophesied in Isaiah 40:3-5, A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.  For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” The forerunner levels the ground and clears the way for the messenger who is the glory of the Lord and the Lord Himself as we see in verses 9-11 of Isaiah 40, You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”  See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. The message is clear. In the wake of the forerunner’s leveling, which is John’s preaching repentance to the people, comes the Lord with power and a saving arm and He is the good shepherd who gathers the lambs. Thus the long awaited salvation is offered to Israel, for the tidings come to Jerusalem first. But please notice that the prophecy emphasizes that the offer is not just for Israel. Zechariah sings, that the Messiah, Jesus, will be like the rising sun who will shine over areas of previous darkness, He will shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death. So through Him, not only Israel, but all mankind all nations are offered salvation. Thus is fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed, and thus Jesus says to the Apostles after His resurrection in Matthew 28:18-20,  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The horn of salvation is raised up. The horn represents power and Paul wrote in Romans 1:16 and 17, I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”