LUKE 1:57-80—The Benedictus—Zechariah’s Song
57Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her. 59So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60His mother answered and said, ”No; he shall be called John.” 61But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” 62So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.63And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. 64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.65Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea.66And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?”And the hand of the Lord was with him.
There are four “New Testament Psalms” in the book of Luke which the Church has sung throughout its history, particularly during Advent. Their names are taken from the first word of each song in the Latin Vulgate translation: “The Magnificat” sung by Mary—”My soul magnifies the Lord” —Luke 1:4-6; “The Benedictus” sung by Zechariah— “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel”—Luke 1:67-69; “The Gloria in Excelsis” sung by the angels—”Glory to God in the highest” —Luke 2:13-14; and “The Nunc Dimittis” sung by Simeon—”Now let Your servant depart, O Lord”—Luke 2:22-32. The song before us today, “The Benedictus” is a revelation from God. Zacharias was “filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied…” (v. 67). He does not speak as a private individual but as a prophet in Israel, to Israel. His son, John the Forerunner, will be the last of the Old Covenant prophets. He would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb.
Zechariah’s sings of God’s action on behalf of His people (vv. 68-75). John’s mission would be specifically to “go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways” (Mal. 3:1), and “to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins” (vv. 76-77).
Something was wrong with the world: people were suffering. Wicked foreigners had come from far away, with hatred in their eyes and weapons in their hands. Darkness and death had stalked the land. If you lived in Israel during this period, and you were a godly person, you would especially be concerned about the spiritual conditions around you, formalism in worship, and emptiness of profession. But there is still somehow a larger hope—a sense that even though much has gone wrong, and much is still going wrong, things can still be put right. Things willbe put right. There are many in Israel who have not lost hope, who are trusting God and seeking to live for him—Elizabeth and Zacharias, Simeon and Anna, Joseph and Mary. Zacharias has pondered the agony and the hope for many years, and he now finds both the agony and the hope bubbling out of him as he looks in awe and delight at his baby son John, named as Zacharias’ tongue is loosed. “Benedictus” is a poem about God acting at last, finally doing what He promised many centuries ago, and doing it at a time when His people had had their fill of hatred and oppression. Zechariah praises God for having provided salvation for His people, in fulfillment of prophecy and of His holy covenant with Abraham. And Zechariah sings of his child’s mission as the one who will prepare the way for the Messiah. “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel” (Psa. 72:18; 111:9). Imagine yourself in Zechariah’s position: seeing the fulfillment of the oldest promise in the O.T., the promise of a Redeemer (Gen.3:15). The Redeemer was specifically promised to the seed of Abraham, the Covenant race. The Lord has “visited” His people, “visited” because the God had come to His people Israel when they were in desperate straits, as they were at the time of the Exodus and the time of the captivity. They were so sunk in disaster, so crushed under a heap of woes that no one thought God’s blessing was upon them. God has “raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.” (Psa. 132:14-18; Ex.27:2, 30:2-3; Ex.29:12; Lev.4:7, 18). With the destruction of the throne of David and the dispersion of the people, the hope of salvation in particular had fallen. Now, the tabernacle of David was going to be raised up again and established. This promise has to do with “the oath which He swore to our father Abraham.” God had called the descendents of Abraham to be the priest to the nations (Gen.17:7; Lev. 26:42; Psa. 105:8; Micah 7:20)
—Pastor Mickey Schneider, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Valparaiso, Florida
O Lord, remind us in this Advent season, that You sent John the Forerunner to prepare the way for the Messiah, and that all of our children are given to us as a gift from Your hand. When we read that “the hand of the Lord was with him,” we ask that Your hand will be upon our family and our children and that You will use us in the plan You have for the ages in Christ. AMEN.
Discuss with your family what you ought to seek for your children and your children’s children in the light of the coming of the Messiah and the work of the forerunner. What is the portion we ought to seek for our children—that they be successful? Rich? Influential? It is good to have the hand of parents over them, the hand of teachers, pastors, elders, wise bosses; but it is still better to have “the hand of the Lord” upon them.