We consider today the words of an old man. He had served in the temple as a priest of God for many years. The man we refer to was Zacharias. The words he spoke are recorded for us in Luke 1:68, 69: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.”
The events surrounding Zacharias’ song of praise were of a strange nature. We say this because Zacharias’ tongue had been tied and his mouth closed for about nine months. He had not spoken a word. He was not able to speak because God had made him deaf and dumb for these past months. Why? Because of Zacharias’ unbelief. You see, Zacharias and his wife, Elisabeth, were both very old. They were well beyond the age that a man and especially a woman are able to have a baby. Besides this fact, Elisabeth had been barren her whole life. She was not able to have children. From a human point of view this old couple simply could not have children anymore.
But then one day while Zacharias stood in the temple performing his work, the angel Gabriel appeared to him. This angel brought the good news that Zacharias and Elisabeth were going to have a baby boy. The best of us would have doubted this word of the angel. Well, Zacharias did too. He was weak in his faith. He had forgotten what had happened to Abraham and Sarah of old who also received a son from God when they were past age. This was impossible! Yet, before the events of the next couple of years would transpire, Zacharias would find out that God could perform wonders far greater than that he and Elisabeth have a baby in their old age. Soon a young virgin was also to conceive in her womb and bear a son. What is impossible with men is very much possible with God! But Zacharias doubted this. He asked Gabriel for a sign. And he received a sign too: he was struck dumb—unable to speak. This was to last until the time in which Zacharias’ son was to be born.
Now the time had come. Elisabeth had just given birth to a boy. His name? Well of course, it had to be Zacharias, named after his father! At least, so the relatives thought. The name “John” that Elisabeth is thought to have proposed was out of the question. So, in order to settle the dispute, his relatives made signs to his father how the boy would be named. Zacharias asked for a slate and wrote on it: “His name shall be called John.” The moment this took place, Zacharias’ tongue was loosed and his mouth opened and he began to speak. The words we consider here out of Luke 1 are the first words that came out of his mouth. They are words of praise and blessing to God. Words of great joy that we together take upon our lips as we rejoice in the birth of Christ.
I. Divine Visitation
I find it striking that the first words that came out of Zacharias’ mouth did not speak of his own son. When Zacharias said, “Thou hast raised up a horn of salvation,” he was not referring to John. These were words of praise lifted to God for the coming of Christ. Sometimes we forget that another miraculous event had taken place prior to the birth of John: the Christ child had been conceived. Zacharias knew this too, because the one who had conceived was a young cousin of Elisabeth. More than likely the young virgin Mary was present at the birth of John. She had traveled to Judea from Galilee to see Elisabeth and Zacharias to talk about the two children she and Elisabeth were carrying. Zacharias knew therefore that the Christ child would soon be born. The first words he spoke, therefore, were not about his own child but about the Christ child to whom John would be the forerunner.
A little later in this same prophecy Zacharias spoke of John with these words in verse 76: “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways.” But Zacharias first blesses God for the coming Messiah. We truly can understand why too. Consider how long God’s people had been waiting and longing for the promised Messiah! His coming had been promised to Adam and Eve in Paradise some 4,000 years earlier. For 2,000 years since the time of the Flood, God’s people had looked for His coming. With Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the promise of Christ’s coming had been confirmed and strengthened. It was with them and their seed that God had established His covenant. Israel under God’s hand had become a mighty nation, that nation known by God’s name in this world. To Abraham, Isaac, to Jacob, and Israel, God had spoken the promises of His covenant. “I will bless you and make your seed as the stars of the sky in multitude! I will give to your children the land of Canaan. I will be your God and you will be My people! I will uphold you with My strength! I will never leave you.” But all these promises that God had given Israel were bound inseparably to one sure promise: “I will send you a Messiah—my Anointed One—and for His sake alone all the promises I speak to you will never fail.”
On the coming Messiah hung all the promises God had sworn to His people. Why? Because they, as we today, were not worthy in themselves of receiving God’s blessings. They were sinners who constantly rebelled against the God who saved them from their enemies. They murmured and disobeyed the very God who made them a nation unto Himself in this world. Therefore all the promises were wrapped up in the very person of the Messiah who was promised. He would redeem God’s people from sin and would be powerful to save! Here was the hope of God’s people therefore throughout the ages. And now? Now the time of redemption was at hand! Zacharias was privileged to know that this long expected Messiah was soon to be born! What a thrill!
Imagine what the few believers in Israel must have been witnessing in this time. Israel had departed so far from the ways of God that she was just a shell of her former self. Very, very few were looking for redemption any longer. They wanted to be delivered from their political enemies. But they no longer considered their sin and the need for salvation from sin. The people that had returned from captivity had slowly but surely forgotten the covenant of God and its promises. The nation had become worldly minded. They followed freely after the sins of the nations around them.
The Pharisees for a time attempted to put a stop to this loose living during this period, but their cure for the sins of Israel was reactionary. They swung to the opposite extreme and attempted to push all kinds of rules and traditions upon the people. Their policy making, their legalism, had only led this nation into the error of work righteousness. The nation of Israel had wandered far from the paths of God therefore—no one saw their need for the coming Messiah to deliver from sin.
Even the house of David had virtually disappeared. There was no more glory to the line of the kings that were born of David’s seed. No one was even concerned about the line of David any longer, since no one was really all that concerned about redemption. That house of David to whom God had in former days sworn His covenant had sunk into oblivion. The vine of God’s Old Testament church had been cut down. God had in His judgment over this nation removed His candlestick from her midst. Her glory had not only grown dim, it had been extinguished! Zacharias and the few who yet looked for redemption in Israel saw that! This is why to be given the knowledge as he had that the Christ child had now been conceived must have thrilled his heart and soul. The words of praise bubbled forth out of his mouth: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited his people!”
God had visited His people! God had visited that vine that He had cut down. He had visited the house of David. That is a beautiful term, that term “visited.” It means that God now “looked upon” Israel—this nation that had about withered and died. He looked upon Israel from heaven. He intently gazed upon her and His mercy awoke. God then stretched forth His arm of mercy and, so to speak, paid a call on the nation of Israel. He saw the misery of His people. He saw the hopelessness of their sin and in that time when deliverance was least expected He looked upon Israel. Ah, that all of the nation would receive this visitation by God! But that was not to be. The nation of Israel as a whole had departed so far from Jehovah God that His just judgment rested upon this nation as a whole. But as is obvious from our text, God still had His true church embodied within the nation of Israel. His people were still to be found there, and God would now send John to call this nation to repentance in order to prepare the way for the Christ. By His mercy and grace God would turn the hearts of His people from sin and to salvation in Christ.
The question is: how did God now visit His people? Did He simply look upon them from afar? Did He view them at a distance and send help from afar? The answer is no! His visit to Israel was a personal visit! God Himself came to His people in Israel—personally! How? By sending forth His only begotten Son Jesus Christ! Mary had conceived in her womb a child that was the Son of the Highest! He was God! Through that Christ child God visited His people. This is why Christ was called Emmanuel, God with us! Through the very Person of His Son therefore, God came to men of low degree and dwelt with us. That is the amazing wonder of the incarnation. Put yourself in Zacharias’ place once! Can you imagine the thrill and the wonder of it all! To be a part of all that! Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!
II. Divine Salvation
But why is this so great a thrill? Other than the fact that God has come to earth, why so great a thrill? Because God had now fulfilled what He had promised for centuries, for thousands of years! Here was the Messiah! Look at that house of David! I know it is pretty difficult to find it. We will have to search through the little villages of Galilee. There is a young girl and her family in Nazareth, a poor village. Oh, we would not even be able to detect that she is a descendant of that royal line of David. One would never know. Except that we follow her to Bethlehem. Why would she go there? Because Bethlehem was the town of her lineage. Who of Mary’s line was born in Bethlehem? Why, it was the great king David! This poor woman of Nazareth was the descendant of the glorious king of Israel!
And her Son that was soon to be born—it is the child of the Most High God! Out of the line of David to whom God swore that He would raise up a Son that would sit on His throne forever, out of that house of David comes now the long expected Messiah! Is not this what Zacharias prophesies in verse 69 of Luke 1, “[God] hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David”? In this house of David God now raises up a horn of salvation! A horn in Scripture is a figure of power and might. The bull or the ram uses his horns to battle his enemies, to defend himself, and to show his strength. When Christ is described here as a horn of salvation we find the very purpose for which He is sent into this world: to save by His power and might.
Again, it is striking that at the time of the birth of Christ we are also informed of His death. The two cannot be separated from each other. God visited His people in the Person of His Son for the express purpose of saving His people. Salvation has two aspects to it. First, to save is to deliver. Christ was born into this world as Deliverer. But the deliverance He was to bring was not deliverance from all earthly, political enemies and powers. This is what the unbelieving Jews sought after in their Messiah. This is why Christ was rejected. On the contrary, Christ came to deliver from sin, the sin that alienated us from the presence and fellowship of God.
That speaks of the other aspect of salvation: Christ came to bring us back to God. It was not enough to deliver us from sin and therefore from destruction and hell. Christ came to bring us back into the favor and presence of the living God. Christ came into this world to accomplish this. And He did it powerfully! As the Son of God who was sent by God, Christ was all powerful to save. When He died on the cross, what He set out to do was accomplished. He is the horn of salvation after all! All those for whom Christ died He saved! That means that if He visited Israel with the intent to save all of Israel, they all would have been saved. In fact, so powerful and all-sufficient was Christ’s death that if He would have died for the sins of everyone of this world, everyone in this world would be saved!
But He visited His people. For these God had sent Him into this world. For these He died. The death of Christ was all powerful to save them all. This is true because Christ accomplished this salvation by means of redemption. We read of that truth at the end of verse 68. God visited His people and redeemed them. God visited His people in the person of His Son with this express purpose in mind: to redeem them. The idea of this term is all but lost in modern theology. It is still used but used only in a general way to refer to salvation. We ought not to lose sight of the beautiful meaning of the term “redeem” however. It means “to pay a ransom.” That is what Christ did on the cross: He ransomed us.
The idea is this: you and I, when we fell into sin became captive to sin. Sin itself took hold upon us and engulfed us so that we became in bondage to it. Fallen man is in slavery to the power of sin. Such sin also entails death. We stand under God’s death sentence on account of our sin. We are guilty of offending the most high majesty and holiness of God. The only way to escape sin, its guilt, and therefore the death penalty is by paying the price of sin. For this reason, a ransom price has to be paid. What is that ransom? Death! One must suffer under the eternal anger of God and fulfill what is owed to Him. Such is the very reason that Christ was sent to us by God: our redemption. He came to do what we could not do. He came to suffer under the eternal anger of God for the sins of all His people. God heaped upon Him all the punishment we deserved in order that the price of our sin and guilt might be paid. Christ bore this on the cross for us. By doing so Christ paid the price of sin for His people and ransomed us from sin and death!
Again, no wonder Zacharias was filled with such joy! No wonder we are filled with such great joy! What makes our hearts rejoice is that this act of Christ was not only an act of mercy and love on Christ’s part. We rejoice in our Savior in our salvation, no doubt. But our rejoicing goes beyond that. “Blessed be our Lord God!” God has raised up this horn of our salvation. God has visited us and redeemed us. He did this in faithfulness to His promise. It is not as if God hates us and is out to destroy us and that Christ comes in the nick of time to save us from God’s wrath. God knows His own from eternity. He sees them in Christ from eternity, and out of His great love toward His people, He saves them! God is the God of our salvation!
III. The Praise of the Redeemed
For this reason we praise our God. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” Zacharias prophesies. The term “bless” means “to speak well of.” So, what we have here in the words of Zacharias is a doxology of praise to God. Blessed, praise, speak well of the Lord God of Israel. He as God reigns in the heavens over all the events of this world. He as Lord directs all things to the honor and glory of His name. The first words Zacharias pronounces when his mouth is opened again is praise to God. Praise Him, honor Him, glorify Him, and thank Him! All that is implied in the idea of “blessed.” All this must fill our hearts as we commemorate the birth of Christ. Our praises ring out in our prayers, in our worship, in our songs, in our lives.
This same praise that we raise to our triune God we raise to His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice in God and in His Son whose birth we remember at this time of year. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. One cannot but be reminded of the words of Revelation 5:13: “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” This is the blessing we raise, together with Zacharias and all of God’s saints. This is a praise that will go forth unto all eternity.
We thank God for visiting us. We praise Him for His redeeming love. We praise Him for raising up unto us a horn of salvation to sit on the throne of David. Truly God has done great things! Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.