“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. 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 ancestors 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.
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.”
(Luke 1:68–79 NIV)
With the final episode of Luke 1, the anticipated birth of John the Baptist took place. Zechariah named him John as instructed earlier by the angel Gabriel (1:13, 63). In response, and as promised, Zechariah’s ability to speak was then restored (1:20, 64).
With his speech regained, Zechariah was immediately filled with the Spirit and prophesized (1:67–79). His words make up the second great song in Luke 1. They fall into two parts.
In verses 68–75 Zechariah praises God for raising up a deliverer for Israel, thus fulfilling promises made to Abraham long ago. Freed from her enemies, Israel will be able to “serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (1:74b–75).
With the words “And you, my child” in verse 76, Zechariah turned to the second part of his song, a word of prophecy to his son. John would be called a prophet of the Lord. In that role he would do two things. First, he would “prepare the way for the Lord.” This imagery comes from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (40:3). Once in exile from the promised land, Israel’s prophets envisioned God’s future deliverance of Israel from its enemies in terms of God’s original deliverance from enemies: out of bondage, through the wilderness, and into the land of promise. In all of this, God would lead. Malachi also spoke of one who would go before the Lord to prepare Israel for salvation (Malachi 3:1). Zechariah, echoing Gabriel (1:17), said John would occupy this role.
In doing so, John would carry out his second role, namely, giving his people “knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (1:77). In the parallel prophecy regarding John in Luke 1:14–17, the angel Gabriel also spoke of John bringing “back many of the people of Israel to their God” (1:16). In other words, John’s ministry would produce repentance from sin. Confronting and dealing with sin lay at the heart of God’s purposes for John.
In verses 78–79, Zechariah’s prophecy draws all this together by citing the cause of this mighty work God would accomplish through John. It all stems from God’s ongoing “tender mercy.” Once again, the language of the Old Testament reverberates in Luke’s gospel by echoing the language of Psalm 130:7–8. There the psalmist writes, “Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”
The end of this chapter recalls the lyrics of Charles Wesley’s great hymn, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.”
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King;
Born to reign in us forever,
Now thy gracious kingdom bring.
Questions for Reflection
- In what ways have you experienced the tender mercy of God in your life?
- What appropriate words of praise and thanksgiving can you express to God for his tender mercies showered upon you?
Jesus sums up the entire biblical message as follows: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 NRSV). But what does that love look like where we live? Where we work? With the people we do life with everyday?
In answer to such questions, Jim Miller draws practical lessons from Luke’s Gospel in order to help us live a life modeled after the example of Jesus Christ. This involves his pattern of prayer, relating to others, establishing holy priorities, and a host of day-to-day issues that together establish what Jesus himself called the abundant life. Get the Bible study from our store here.