Sunday, December 18, 2011

Luke 1:57-80 - The Birth of John and the Benedictus

Zecharias writes John's Name (Jacopo Pontormo)
Contextual Notes:
So far in Luke we have seen enough to see a pattern coming into play. From the announcement in the Temple at Jerusalem of John’s birth, received by the priest Zecharias in unbelief (Luke 1:5-25), we see the announcement in an insignificant town of Nazareth of Jesus’ birth, received by the virgin Mary in belief (Luke 1:26-38) and a Magnificat poem of praise, celebrating the coming prophetic fulfillment of the Covenants in the Lord Jesus (Luke 1:46-56).

Today we will see the unusual circumstances of John’s birth and the sense of expectation his birth created in the countryside (Luke 1:57-66), ending with another poem of praise, Zecharias’ Benedictus, layered with prophecy of the Messiah to come (Luke 1:67-80).

Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 1:57-80 to relate the birth of John and lead believers to an expectation of a coming favor and to praise the Lord for a coming salvation in Messiah.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about the birth of John.
Key Verse: Luke 1:60, 63
Pray and Read:  Luke 1:57-80

Sermon Points:
1.   John’s birth foreshadows the Messianic Expectation of a Coming Mercy (Luke 1:57-66)
2.   John’s birth foreshadows the Messianic Promise of a Coming Salvation (Luke 1:67-80)

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   Luke 1:59 - Elizabeth’s baby boy comes soon after Mary’s departure. A week later (on the 8th day) he is circumcised among the celebration of all the neighbors and kinsfolk (Luke 1:65-66). Circumcision is a big deal for Jews. It is the only condition for a Jew to place himself under the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 17:10-14; Phil 3:5). It is the only required mark of the Covenant. It is to be done on the eighth day (Gen 17:12; 21:4; Lev 12:3).
b.   John is named at his circumcision. Usually a child received his name at birth (Gen 25:24-26; 29:31-35), but Abram’s name was changed to Abraham when he was circumcised as an adult (Gen 17:5, 23). This link to the Abraham, the man of faith, is probably intentional. Luke takes us from Mary’s son of her son Jesus’ fulfilling of the Abrahamic covenant (Luke 1:54-55) immediately into a scene of the sign of the Abrahamic covenant.
c.   Luke 1:60, 63 - Elizabeth announces his name as John, (Yochanon, “YHWH has shown favor / mercy”). The family assumed that he would be named after his father, but this name was nowhere in the family, though it was a common name in the days of the New Testament. Note that Mary also mentions God’s mercy in connection with Abraham (Gen 1:54).
d.   APPLICATION: Just as circumcision was important for Jews as a sign of being covered in the covenant, the sign represents a change of heart that points to salvation in Jesus Christ. Just before they crossed over into the Promised Land, Moses pleaded with them to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer” (Deut 10:16), and “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut 30:6). Jeremiah begged the people of Jerusalem to “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, And take away the foreskins of your hearts” before he punished Jerusalem (Jer 4:4). Paul says that one who is truly part of the Covenant of salvation in Jesus is circumcised in heart, “in the Spirit, not in the letter” (Rom 2:29). Notice that like Abraham, who “believed and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; Rom 4:3) received his new name and moved into God’s purposes for his life when he was circumcised. Circumcision is a sign of belief, and that belief in Jesus Christ, that change of heart at your deepest, most intimate place is what is most important. To be saved, you need the sign of a change of heart of belief that creates new life in Jesus Christ. Have you had that change of heart? Have you had the change of heart that takes you from death to life through Jesus Christ? At the end of this sermon, I will invite you to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
e.   Luke 1:64 – Zecharias’ mouth was opened (cf. Ezekiel 33:22). His first words are a blessing to God. Zecharias was a righteous man (Luke 1:5), but he had deficient faith. As a priest, he operated under the Law of Moses, the man who wrote the law but did not have enough faith to go into the Land. Zecharias, like Moses, operated in unbelief (Luke 1:18). The discipline (Luke 1:19-20) deepened his faith (Prov 3:11; Heb 12:5-15).
f.    Luke 1:65-66 – Pointing to the purpose of his whole life as a forerunner to stir up anticipation of the coming Messiah, the people talked and wondered what this child would become.
a.   This song of Zecharias is called the Benedictus, named after the first word in the Latin translation of the Bible called the Vulgate (c. AD 400). The Benedictus is similar to, and designed to flow with Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56), the second of four songs of praise in Luke’s birth narrative. This spontaneous prophetic utterance of the old priest Zecharias, like Mary’s song, is full of Scripture (Luke 1:68; cf. 1 Kings 1:48; the Davidic heir 1 Kings 8:15; 1 Chron 16:36; 2 Chron 6:4). And like Mary’s, there are many echoes of the Psalms (where the bless formula ends the books of the Psalter: Psalm 41:3; 72:18; 106:48; and Luke 1:71 quotes Psalm 106:10). Both of these songs focus on the great day for Israel coming with Jesus, but there are some important differences in Zecharias’ song. Most of his song focuses on the redemption and salvation of his people, and Zecharias, this Jewish priest, sings of the missionary heart of this Messiah for the Gentiles (Luke 1:78-79).
b.   Let’s look closer at the structure of Zecharias’ song. First we see the Gospel encapsulated (Luke 1:68). The message of the Incarnation, “He has come” (Luke 1:68) is followed immediately by the echo of the Cross, “and has redeemed his people.” The fullness of his salvation will be to rescue us from our enemies (Luke 1:71; cf. Psalm 18:17; 106:10; hope of David 2 Sam 22:18), enable us to serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days (Luke 1:74-75; 1 Kings 9:4-5). That, folks, is the gospel in its fullness.
c.   APPLICATION: Do you recognize this Gospel as your own? Has Jesus come and redeemed you? Are you walking in the fullness of that salvation? Has he rescued you from all your enemies who hold you in bondage? We all have some sin that entangles and enslaves us. You need to walk in freedom through confession, repentance, and forgiveness. Do you walk in fear? It is time to throw off fear and serve the Lord in fullness this Christmas.
d.   In the middle is a review of salvation and covenantal history. Zechariah mentions David (Luke 1:69; cf. Psalm 72:17); the fathers (Luke 1:72; Micah 7:8-10, 20ff) and Abraham (Luke 1:73; Gen 22:16-17; 26:3), the same two names mentioned in Mary’s Annunciation (Luke 1:32) and Magnificat (Luke 1:55). The horn of an animal is a symbol of strength (Deut 33:17). Lifting a horn symbolizes an increase in power. The horn of David being lifted is a Messianic prophecy (1 Sam 2:10; 2 Sam 22:3; Psalm 18:2; 89:24; Psalm 132:17).
e.   Second we find John’s ministry outlined (Luke 1:76-77). Really only Luke 1:76-77 say anything about Zecharias’ newborn son John. Zecharias says he will be a prophet of the Most High who will go before the Lord to prepare the way before him (Malachi 3:1; Isaiah 40:3). Zecharias recalls the prophecy of the forerunner in Malachi 4:5-6 (Luke 1:76). (Luke 1:14-17 adds that he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth and will work in the spirit and power of Elijah. These prophecies are fulfilled in Luke 3:1-6; 7:26-27.) Next, John’s ministry of repentance and forgiveness of sin are given (Luke 1:77) because of the tender mercy of God (Luke 1:78; cf. Psalm 89:28; 130:7-8; Isaiah 54:7-8).
f.    Third the vision expands into the wider scope of the dawning Day of salvation for the nations (Luke 1:78-79). The Greek word for rising (anatole, Luke 1:78; translating Heb. shemach, cf. Ezek 16:7; Zech 6:12), denotes the rising of a heavenly body (Mal 3:20; Num 24:17; Gen 49:10-11) or a growing plant (like a shoot or branch as in a Davidic heir (Isaiah 4:2-6; 11:1-2; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Zech 3:8; 6:12).
g.   Luke points to the missionary Messiah who has come. The verses evoke the prophetic picture of the darkest hour before Messianic dawn (Isaiah 9:2; 42:6-7; Malachi 4:2; Psalm 84:11; 106:10). In connection with Luke 1:79, Zecharias alludes to Isaiah 9:1-2. The citation of a line, especially at the beginning of a passage like this implies reference to the entire passage, it is appropriate to point out that Isaiah 9:1-2 (quoted more fully by Matt 4:15-16) heads one of the most important Messianic passages in the OT (Isaiah 9:6-7). These last two verses of the Benedictus also set the scene for the birth of the Messiah in chapter 2.
h.   Luke 1:80 – The phrase echoes that of Isaac (Gen 21:8), Samson (Judg 13:24), Samuel (1 Sam 2:21, 26; 3:19), and Jesus (Luke 2:40, 52).
i.    APPLICATION: The greatest benedictus, or praise of God is to make His Name great among the nations. Christ commanded us to shine His Light among the nations, those who have no chance of hearing the gospel in their lifetime, not once. What are you doing about it? Are you called to go? Are you called to send? Are you called to give or support someone on the frontier? We are called to all these things, so that the Lord may be praised.
The birth of John pointed to the Messianic promise of a coming salvation for all nations, not just certain chosen ones, but to whomsoever would receive Him. Have you received Him? Would you receive Him now, this Christmas, receiving the greatest gift that has ever been offered to you?