By Sam E. Stone
It had been 400 years since the last of the Old Testament prophets appeared on the scene in Israel. The angel Gabriel’s announcement—first to Zechariah, then to Mary—broke Heaven’s silence. When Zechariah was told that he and his elderly wife, Elizabeth, would be the parents of a son (John), the old priest was incredulous. Because he asked the angel for a sign, he was unable to speak from that moment on.
On the other hand, when Mary learned that she would be the mother of the Messiah, she humbly submitted herself to be the Lord’s slave. She then went to visit her relative Elizabeth some 60 miles away in Judea. She evidently remained there until John was born three months later, then returned home. Her song, known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), praised God for all he had done.
What God Has Done
Luke 1:57, 58, 67-75
Elizabeth’s family and friends shared her joy at the child’s birth. On the eighth day when the boy was to be circumcised, the people expected he would be named for his father, Zechariah. His mother spoke up, “No! He is to be called John.” “But you don’t even have a relative by that name,” the people objected. They asked the father what he would like to name the child. On a tablet he wrote, “His name is John” (v. 63). For nine months Zechariah had not been able to speak a word. But with his obedience to the angel’s directive, he could now speak again! Significantly his first words were praise to God (v. 67). He was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, prophets in Bible times would both predict the future and proclaim God’s message. The words of Zechariah marked the last prophetic message of the Old Testament era, and the first of the New Testament (Christian) era. His song is sometimes called Benedictus, taken from the first words in the Latin version meaning “praise.” His son, John the Baptist, would prepare the way for the Messiah who was coming to redeem the people.
In speaking of a horn of salvation, Zechariah chose a familiar illustration. An animal’s horn symbolizes strength and power (see Psalm 148:14; Daniel 7:7, 8). Offering salvation from our enemies includes all of the evil forces and carnal desires sent by Satan to lead us away from the Lord. Some of God’s purposes in salvation are outlined in vv. 72-75: to show mercy, to remember his holy covenant, to rescue us, and to enable us. God’s purpose in saving us is not simply to rescue us from the hands of our enemies. We are saved to serve. The New Testament explains, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
What John Will Do
In the closing verses of Zechariah’s song of praise, he explains both the subject of John’s preaching and its success. John the Baptist would be a prophet of the Most High, but Jesus is called “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). John would go in advance of him to prepare the way. In ancient times monarchs would often send servants ahead to smooth out rough places in the road on which they would travel (Luke 3:4). In a spiritual sense, this is what John the Baptist was to do, preparing the hearts of the people for the Messiah. Jesus called John “a prophet” and “more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:9). His preparatory ministry had been foretold centuries before (Malachi 3:1). The Messiah would bring knowledge of salvation to his people. Jesus would not just deliver them from the oppression of the occupying military forces of Rome. He would bring the ultimate freedom—freedom from sin.
The rising sun describes Christ’s coming (Isaiah 9:2; 60:1, 2). When it rises in the morning, the sun dispels the darkness. As the Christmas carol says, “Light and life to all he brings.” The lost—those living in darkness—are separated from God, not knowing their condition and having no chance to change it. Jesus would bring peace between God and man, peace between man and man, and peace between a man and his conscience. He is truly the Prince of Peace.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.