Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Zechariah: God's Attention Getter
You’re travelling down the freeway at, um, 65 miles per hour when suddenly you see blue flashing lights in your rearview mirror. What’s the first thing that you do? Look at the speedometer and worry about how you’re driving. Those lights are a universal attention getter. If you don’t see the lights for some reason, there’s always the siren.
Attention getters are important to keep us safe or alert us to danger like the road sign: “Bears are dangerous, stay in your car if bears are encountered.” Like I’m going to jump out and hug them?
God used an attention getter in the birth of John the Baptist. He wanted people to talk about this boy because when he grew up he’d have a very important mission: prepare the way for the Messiah and be an attention getter himself to the presence of sin in the life of Israel and the need to repent.
John’s father had had a hard time believing the angel Gabriel when he told Zechariah that he and his wife would have a baby in their old age. So Zechariah could not speak, and likely not hear either, until the baby was born. When Zechariah could finally speak again, his words were heard far more than they would have, given the attention-getting manner in which God spoke through him.
57 – 58
Just as the angel Gabriel had predicted, Elizabeth had a son. They didn’t have ultrasounds in those days, of course, so the sex of the baby was not known until the birth. Verse 58 is very interesting and suggests to me that Elizabeth might have told only a few people about the pregnancy. In verse 24 it says she “kept herself in seclusion for five months” but the fact that it is only after the birth that her neighbors and relatives understood this great mercy shows she didn’t spread the news very far. Now they, along with John’s parents, could rejoice!
59 – 63
Jewish law (Lev 12:3) required that a boy’s foreskin be circumcised on the 8th day. Normally they would have been named at birth, but apparently because of Zechariah’s inability to speak (and possibly hear), it was delayed. It was customary to name the child after his father or grandfather. But Zechariah had probably already written to Elizabeth that his name was to be John so that’s why she responded with “He will be called John”.
The fact that they “motioned” to him in verse 62 suggests that he was deaf as well as dumb. So they handed him a writing tablet, basically a small wooden board covered with wax, so he could use a wooden stylus to etch the words into the wax.
They were amazed especially since Zechariah could not speak or hear.
The angel had told Zechariah that because he doubted God’s word he would not be able to participate verbally in the wonderful thing God was doing until the child’s birth (Luke 1:20). He’s been waiting over nine months to be able to speak—and that was a lot of time to ponder his original reaction. Now his first words are not doubt, but praise to God. Just a thought here—when we finally make it through a trial, are our first words praise to the Lord, or just relief that we made it through?
We’ll learn the content of Zechariah’s words in a moment.
65 – 66
The miraculous birth of John and the miracle of Zechariah not being able to speak—had the effect of causing fear (Greek: phobos). Both of these events were well beyond the normal occurrences in the lives of these people. It was a topic of discussion and it was something people thought a lot about—realizing that God was really doing something here. I’m sure as he grew up, many people watched John closely.
So far we’ve seen Elizabeth filled with the Spirit and speak about Mary and the joy of the baby John in her womb—and Mary herself speaking about the wonderful plan of God to rescue those in need with His plan of salvation. Now it’s Zechariah’s turn, and Zechariah goes even further to describe what God is about in the births of these two boys.
67 – 79
As with Elizabeth, we see Zechariah filled with the Spirit—this is a divine utterance and brings into focus what God is doing for His people in bringing about deliverance—from the real enemy of us all—sin, and his son John’s part in that plan. Notice too that Luke points out this was a prophecy—which is a special truth-telling from God. Let’s break it down into four categories: the process of salvation, the potential of this salvation, the process of this salvation and finally the person of this salvation.
68 – 71 The Process of Salvation
These verses also have a very psalm-like feel to them. Zechariah praises God for:
1. Visiting His people (Isaiah 29:5-8 speaks of God visiting Israel and destroying her enemies). “To visit,” means to care for. God is caring for Israel (and us) by destroying a very real enemy.
2. Providing redemption Greek: ransom—Jesus would become the ransom—see Psalm 69:18 “Draw near to me and redeem me; ransom me because of my enemies.” And Hosea 13:14 “I will ransom them from the power of Sheol. I will redeem them from death. Death, where are your barbs? Sheol, where is your sting?” And: Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”
3. Raising up a “horn of salvation” – a horn signified strength, so a strong rescuer would perform this redemption and refers to the Messiah Himself. The Greek word is a form of soterion which is used of Jesus in Luke 2:30 when Simeon speaks while holding the baby Jesus in his hands: “my eyes have seen Your salvation.”
4. From David’s house—this rescuer would be a descendant of David—a common theme in these early verses because God promised David that one of his descendants would be a king that would sit on an everlasting (2 Samuel 11:7-16).
5. Zechariah becomes the latest to give this news. These things were also prophesied much earlier (Isaiah 9:6, Zechariah 9:9, Isaiah 53:3-7, Zechariah 12:10 and many more).
This salvation would be from enemies who “hated us”. Our really enemy is death, as alluded to in Hosea 13:14, as I just mentioned, and later echoed by the Apostle Paul: 1Cor. 15:55 “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? 56 Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”
72 – 75 The Potential of this salvation
What’s in view here is the power of God’s salvation as a merciful act (not one earned by obedience) through the covenants or agreements God made in the past. Specifically the oath God made to Abraham when he was willing to sacrifice his only son as a picture on Mount Mariah of the giving of Jesus on the cross (on the same mountain):
Genesis 22:16 “By Myself I have sworn,” this is the LORD’s declaration: “Because you have done this thing and have not withheld your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your offspring will possess the gates of their enemies. 18 And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command.”
What’s the result of this promise?
- To “serve Him without fear”—we fear God because we are not worthy of being in His presence while we have sin, so this savior must deal with sin.
- “In holiness and righteousness” speaks of how God will deal with our sin: 2Cor. 5:21 “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
- “In His presence” is an amazing concept. The Jews knew that to be in God’s presence with sin was a death sentence: Ex. 33:20 “But He answered, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.” And yet there are hints of a way to be both in God’s presence AND be holy: Psalms 17:15 “But I will see Your face in righteousness; when I awake, I will be satisfied with Your presence.”
76 – 78a The prophet of this salvation
Zechariah now speaks directly to this newborn son—stating clearly what Gabriel told him some nine months earlier (Luke 1:13-17) but now with the clear title of “prophet” which is the Greek word prophetes which means: “to speak out”. Speaking out for God is clearly what John will do preparing the battlefield for the coming Messiah.
John’s job description was hinted at by Gabriel but now the hints are much clearer as Zechariah’s words echo Isaiah 40:3:
“A voice of one crying out:
Prepare the way of the LORD in the wilderness;
make a straight highway for our God in the desert.
4 Every valley will be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled;
the uneven ground will become smooth
and the rough places, a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD will appear,
and all humanity together will see it,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
John himself will say these words in chapter 3. And notice what this preparation entails: knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” The Jews were looking for deliverance from physical enemies and had no knowledge of their own lacking. They thought they had this God thing wired. They were wrong and John came to tell them so, and that it was through Mary’s baby that true salvation would come through forgiveness purchased by Him at the cross.
79 The Person of this salvation
So finally we Zechariah speaks of the person of this salvation: Jesus. He is described as:
The Dawn. John Chapter 1 talks about Jesus as “the true light.” This whole section mirrors: Isaiah 9:2 “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.”
So Jesus will be a light bringer to people who are wandering around in darkness—under the “shadow of death”—what death? It is the just recompense for thinking, doing, or saying anything that God wouldn’t think do or say. Death is eternal separation from God and all that is good. We are all under that shadow, except that Jesus came to bring light—and that light is the revelation of the merciful compassion of God—bringing the forgiveness of sins through the ransom paid on our behalf by this coming Child.
You see, the gospel is all throughout this prophecy. Zechariah is so excited that he can’t contain himself. This Child will guide us out of a place of war, where we are threatened with destruction, and into a place of peace—peace with God and the peace of God.
Is. 53:5 “But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.”
Finally a little, almost parenthetical statement about John’s growing up years. Because Zechariah and Elizabeth were already quite old when they had John, they likely died when he was young, so this boy ended up living in the wilderness between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, waiting until he was probably 30 to start his public ministry, as did the Child Jesus.
- Zechariah emerged from his trial a willing participant in God’s plan
- His first words were praise, not complaints that he couldn’t speak
- Though he is a priest of Israel, part of a group that will later hate and kill Jesus, he gets right in line with what’s going to happen—a declaration of the need for through a Messiah.
This time we saw the birth of John who will prepare the way for the Messiah. Next time we see the birth of the true miracle baby—Jesus Himself.