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Luke 1:67–79  (ID: 3635)

While Luke wasn’t an apostle, he determined to provide an orderly account of Jesus’ life based on true, historical facts, not poetical speculation. His Gospel includes unique details, like Zechariah’s experience as priest and father to John the Baptist—the one who would prepare the way for the long-awaited Messiah. Alistair Begg walks us through Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1, focusing on the source, reality, and purpose of God’s promised salvation. Because of His mercy, light shines into darkened hearts, sins are forgiven, and true peace can be enjoyed.

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn to the Gospel of Luke and to chapter 1 and to follow along as I read from verse 67. Luke 1:67. I was greatly encouraged just a few moments ago to find a young girl feverishly concerned because she had left her Bible behind, and she knew that she would need it. I said, “Well, thank you, Lord.”

Luke 1:67:

“And his father”—that is, John the Baptist’s father—“Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

“‘And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

“And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.”


Our God and our Father, we turn now to your Word, the Bible. We pray that you will help us to read it, mark it, learn it, inwardly digest it, to the extent that our lives become yours alone, that the declarations that we make in our songs may be built firmly into the expressions of our lives. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Now, the verses to which I would like to draw your attention this morning are verses 78 and 79 of the passage that we just read.

This prophecy of Zechariah is unique to the Gospel of Luke. There are a couple of things in Luke’s Gospel that are present that are not there in the other Gospels, and this is one of them. And you will notice in verse 67 that we’re told that “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.” And that opening word, “Blessed,” in the Latin translation is the word Benedictus. And depending on your background, if you’re familiar with the liturgy of the church, then you will have known of this particular section of Luke’s Gospel under the heading Benedictus, which we take as our heading for this morning’s study. Luke provides us with three hymns: one, Mary’s song, the Magnificat; the other one, Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis (permission to depart; “Lord, let your servant depart in peace”[1]); and this one, the Benedictus.

Now, in coming to the section of the Gospel this morning—and, indeed, in coming to the entirety of the story of the Gospel—and not least of all in coming to it in a period of time where a measure of familiarity is part and parcel of our understanding, I found it very, very important to go back to the way in which Luke at the beginning of his Gospel (and I’m talking about, here, the first four verses) introduces his Gospel. We’ve noticed in our studies in John that there is a control factor in the way in which John, to the end of his Gospel, explains why he’s written his Gospel. And we won’t rehearse that now.

Luke, he tells us at the outset of his Gospel just how important it is that he has done what he’s done. So, you can follow as I read. “Inasmuch,” he says—verse 1:1—

as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things [that] you have been taught.

Now, if we’re right in understanding that Luke was Paul’s attendant physician, it’s not difficult for us, those of us who every so often find ourselves under the scrutiny of a doctor; and he asks or she asks all kinds of questions, some of which appear to be rather invasive; and we might wonder just why it is they’re doing what they’re doing. Well, they’re wanting to make sure that they have covered every facet of our earthly pilgrimage in terms of our physicality, at least, and sometimes our psychology as well, in order that, building a case study, they may be able to make application of whatever treatment is required.

And in many ways Luke, in his undertaking of this Gospel record, is doing the same thing. What he’s actually doing is he’s saying, “I want to tell you that I guarantee the truth of all that comes now from my pen. I’m dealing,” he says, “in definite, historical facts. I’m not dealing in speculation. I’m not dealing in theories.” It’s very, very important that we understand this. Luke was not an apostle. Luke was, if you like, in many ways an ordinary individual anointed by the Spirit of God in order to provide this material for us. And so he sets it out by saying, “If you’re going to read through this, make sure you understand where I’m coming from. I’m writing this so that you might have certainty in relationship to these things.”

Now, it is particularly important, of course, when we encounter immediately the supernatural elements in the Gospel. Because within very short order, we’re immediately confronted by angelic visitations. We’re immediately encountering thought forms and ideas that seem alien to us. But when you think about it, what is being recorded for us here is the inbreaking of Almighty God, the creator of the ends of the earth, stepping down into human existence in the form of the second person of the Trinity. Therefore, it would seem to be very strange if the reality of that—which is essentially the most pivotal event in the entirety of human history—if that event were simply reported the way in which the result of the Browns victory is reported or if it was included along with the weather forecast, as it were, just there: “Oh, and by the way, God came.” No, not for a moment. And you see that.

I say this to you because when I went to school, we had a little book called the Cambridge Bible, and they had commentaries for all the different books of the Bible. The commentary on Luke was done by a man called Dr. Luce, who was from King’s College, Cambridge. He was also the headmaster of Durham. And for whatever reason, he decided that the best thing he could do for us as young boys and girls was disavow the very foundation of the work of the Gospel writer himself. And so, for example, he writes, “These beautiful stories are the imaginative poetry of devotion rather than the sober prose of history.”[2] So, here we are as schoolboys and schoolgirls, and we’re going to learn the Gospel of Luke, and we’re going to look to those who are brighter and better than us, and this individual decides the best thing he can do for us is make sure that we don’t swallow any of this supernatural nonsense. No, no, not for a moment!

Well, on the contrary, au contraire, Luke offers these events not as poetical speculations but as pure history—not poetical speculations but pure history. And that is why you go immediately, then, to verse 5: “In the days of Herod, [the] king of Judea…” And when you go to chapter 3, you find that his historical setting is even greater. You can read it for yourself in the opening verses of chapter 3. And what he’s doing is he’s simply saying that we need to realize that in the days of Herod, these were dark days. These were calamitous days. These were dreadful days in Jewish history. We needn’t delay on it at all. We recognize that. We quickly realize what a character Herod was in response to the arrival of Jesus himself. And so the context is set very clearly for us.

Not only were they dark days, but they were silent days. Because, you see, you had to go back four hundred years to the last time that we had heard the words of the prophet. The words of the prophet had died, if you like, in the atmosphere. The time had come when the ending of the cry, looking forward down through time… And for four hundred years people had lived, grown up, raised their children, looked after them, went on vacations, did everything, holding on to the fact that all the things that the prophets had said would come true. And that’s why when you turn to the Gospels, you find that they’re picking it up right there.

The Context of Verses 78 and 79

Now, I want to ask for your patience by setting the two verses to which I’ve just referred in the wider context here for a moment. Because the voice of the prophet had not been heard, and here we are introduced to a priest named Zechariah.

Now, it seems almost so small, doesn’t it? “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.”[3] You say, “Yeah, okay, okay, okay. What’s the point here, you know?” Well, we’re going to see what the point is. He came from a very good family. His wife was the daughter of a priest. They were both known as righteous in the community. But according to verses 6 and 7, they were not only righteous, but they were childless. And as a result of their childlessness, there was a sadness about them.

How good of God to continue to use us even in our moments of unbelief or spasmodic belief!

Now, we should understand as well that to introduce a priest like this—“There was a priest, and his name was Zechariah.” After all, there were thousands of priests! It’s not like there were twelve of them. There were literally thousands of priests. And they were assigned in different ways, you see. This is “the division of Abijah” that he was in. And in the course of the exercise of the ministry of the temple, they would receive assignments according to their category. And then within that category, they would determine who it was who on a particular day was going to have the privilege, as you see in the text, of lighting or offering up the privilege of burning incense. You see that in verse 9: Zechariah “was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and [to] burn incense.”

In other words, this is all we need to know: it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It wasn’t something that he was doing the way I have the privilege of coming here Sunday by Sunday. No. He would exercise his priestly duties, but to be given the privilege of doing what he’s doing was unique to him. Therefore, it would be the kind of thing where, along with his wife Elizabeth, as you would imagine in any other context, she would say, “Well, I hope it goes well for you this morning, honey. It’s quite a wonderful thing that you have been set apart in order to burn the candles of incense,” and so on.

Well, he was not to know just what a special moment it was going to be for him. Because —and you must read this on your own; I can’t work my way through it—because we’re told that an angel appeared. An angel appeared. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. That’s what they did. So out in the court, all the people there were praying. And they knew that the priestly function was being carried out and that there was someone in there—in this instance, Zechariah—who was going to be doing the incense thing. And so the program was you would wait there until the indication of that had been accepted, and then he would emerge, and things would continue as before. “And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.”[4]

Let me ask you a question: Who invents stuff like this? Who just sits down and says, “You know, I think I’ll come up with a few things that’ll make it virtually impossible for people to say, ‘Oh, yes, I understand that we’re dealing here with history’”? Nobody does. Nobody does. “And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled.” He was fearful.

And then you see this encounter: “Do[n’t] be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.”[5] He’s praying for the redemption of Israel. Remember Simeon: that he was waiting for the redemption of Israel.[6] And his role was, year after year with the priests that had gone before, to pray, “Come, mighty Messiah. Come and save us. Come and liberate us. Come! Come!” And in the midst of that, the Jewish people knew that there was going to come this King, this Prophet who would out-prophet all the prophets. And at the same time, he and his wife presumably were praying, “You know, it would be wonderful if perhaps we could have a child.”

Well, that’s the angelic announcement: “Your prayer[’s] been heard, … your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you [will] call his name John.” Big news! “One: your wife’s going to be pregnant. And two: you’re going to have a son. And three: I have his name for you.” Wow! “And you will have joy and gladness.”[7] And then he goes on to explain what will happen with the arrival of this son.

“And Zechariah said to the angel,” in verse 18, “‘You expect me to believe that?’”[8] That’s what he’s saying: “Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’”[9] Did he think that the angel didn’t know that he was old? It’s a strange thing to say, isn’t it? But no, of course: “You’re going to have a son.” He should have known better, shouldn’t he? He knew about Abraham and Isaac. He knew about the childlessness that led to the birth of Samuel. He was in a very significant position, to do what he was doing on that day. He believed God, but he just didn’t believe that he could do this.

He was going to learn the hard way, the way some of us have to learn the hard way, about what it means to actually believe God and to take him at his word. “I am old,” he says, and the angel says, “[And] I am Gabriel.” (Oh! Yeah, that’s the ace right there. Boom! You know.) And “I stand in the presence of [Almighty] God.” (Do you understand who you’re talking to, Zechariah?) “I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”[10]

“And behold, you’re going to be silent. You’re getting a time-out. I’m turning your microphone off for the time being.[11] And the reason is that you don’t believe. You’re actually unbelieving. You’re prepared to exercise your jurisdiction, to fulfill your privileges, to accept your responsibilities, and yet when push comes to shove, you actually don’t believe.” It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? Meanwhile, all the people were outside. And they must have been saying to each other—looking at their watches, as it were (which is an anachronism), and looking up at the sun and saying, “He’s been in there a long time; I wonder what has happened to him.” And then he eventually comes out. He’s going like …. And they’re going, “What the …? What, are you kidding me? What is this program?” There he is.

Now, fast-forward to verse 57. At least we’re making progress, all right? We’ll eventually get to these two verses. You fast-forward to verse 57. He’s come out mute. He’s forced to use some form of sign language—inventing as he goes, presumably. And then we read, after the other parts of the Gospel, “Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.”[12] And then we have his strategic use of an early iPad. Because the circumstance concerning the naming of the child is there in those few verses: “They made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.”[13] So it would appear that not only was he mute, but he was also deaf. So it’s a wonderful picture of almost chaos. And this big question about “You just can’t call him John,” and “he asked for a writing tablet”—a flat piece of wood that would have been covered with a film of wax that could be traced upon by the use of a stylus. And onto that he simply wrote, “His name is John.” And all the people “wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue [was] loosed.”[14]

Now, think about it. He’d had nine months to think about what he would say when he got the chance to speak again. Can you imagine you had nine months of silence? What’s the first thing you’d say? I don’t know. But it’s not just anything that he’s going to say. Notice that “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit.” You see, what he was about to say was divine revelation. It was the unfolding of the purposes of God through the lips of a sometimes unbelieving servant of God. How good of God to continue to use us even in our moments of unbelief or spasmodic belief!

And so he begins: “Benedictus…” “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” And if you want to study this on your own, I suggest to you that it breaks out as follows: 68 to 70, he is giving thanks for the Messiah who will come. That’s the significance of “A horn of salvation has been raised up for us.” It’s a picture of might and power and strength, and this from “the house of his servant David.” Seventy-one to 75, he’s describing the nature of this great deliverance that will come. In 76 and in 77, he is speaking of his own child who will come—namely, John the Baptist.

Only by revelation could he come up with this, couldn’t he? I mean, first of all, he didn’t believe that it was going to be possible for his wife to be expecting. Now she has produced this baby boy, and then he says, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High.” This is no ordinary boy.

For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins.

And so, when you read this in the Gospel, you say, “Well, I’ve got to read on and find out how this worked out for this John the Baptist fellow. How did that work?” And then you read on a few chapters, and you realize that John the Baptist is doing exactly that. There he is on the side of the river, and he’s pointing, and he’s saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”[15] Where did John the Baptist come up with that story? “Filled with the Holy Spirit,” he speaks as follows.

And the final two verses—because 80 is a comment by Luke and is not part of the prophecy—verses 78 and 79 (the two verses to which I’d like to draw your attention) concern the coming salvation.

And I’ve been struck by this most recently: I was struck particularly by the notion of sunrise—sunrise or dayspring, whatever. And it occurred to me that we have sunrise services at Easter, but the real sunrise is actually the sunrise of the incarnation, as we’re going to see.

Three observations, all right?

The Source of Salvation

Number one: if he’s writing about salvation, what is the source of the salvation? He’s going “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.” John the Baptist goes out preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He says, “I am only the forerunner. There is one coming after me whose sandals I am unable to even stoop down and deal with. I baptize you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”[16] And the source of this—verse 78—is “because of the tender mercy of our God.” Where does salvation come from? Because the heart of God is full of mercy towards us. The heart of God is full of mercy towards us.

Now, when you think about this—and it’s very important that we do think about it—Adam and Eve were made by God, for God, to love God and to obey God. They said, “No, we don’t want that program. We’re going to try it on our own.” They doubt God’s goodness, they reject his wisdom, they rebel against his authority, and they find themselves banished from his presence—and ourselves included in that program. Because by nature, we do the very same. We reject his authority. We rebel against his rule. We want to decide for ourselves what we’re going to do. And what we discover is that we can run, but we can’t hide from God. And the reason we can’t hide from God is that God, in his tender mercy, comes to seek us out. That’s why we just sang, “What grace is mine, that he who dwells in endless light called through the night to [save] my distant soul.”[17] Why? Because of his tender mercy.

When God reveals himself on Sinai to Moses, you will remember that he reveals himself as a “merciful and gracious” God, “slow to anger, … abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”[18] In Mary’s song, here in this same chapter, she extols God for the great things that he has done for her, and she declares, “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”[19]

You see, the tender mercy of God is, if you like, the outgoing of God’s love towards sinners. The outgoing of the love of God towards sinners. It’s not that God is extending his love to the people who’ve done their best, and they’re trying their hardest to make sure that they don’t violate things. No, his love—his tender mercy, his unconditional, unprovoked love—reaches out to men and women in their rebellion. As the New Testament unfolds, this becomes clearer and clearer. Saul, then Paul, says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”[20]

The love of God for us, expressed in his tender mercy, is not caused by anything in us. It is undeserved.

But it’s better than that. Because the mercy of God is not only his love extended towards sinners in general, but it is his love extended to individual sinners. To individual sinners! This is not some blanket consideration, taken care of in a generic fashion, into which you or I may enlist ourselves: “Include me in this.” No! The tender mercy of God extends to your sin and to my sin. That’s why when we sing:

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to [his] cross, and I bear it no more.[21]

“Bless the Lord”—benedictus—“O my soul.”

That is why, you see, this is the testimony of the true Christian. This is the testimony of the true Christian. We understand the love of God for us, expressed in his tender mercy, is not caused by anything in us. It is undeserved.

And it is such a powerful picture. Because although it is somewhat difficult in polite conversation, we need to recognize that when we come up against this in the Bible, the verb and the words that are used are almost explicitly dealing not with the heart but with the bowels. In fact, if you’re old enough to have read the King James Version, you will have come across the phraseology “in the bowels of tender mercy.” In Hebrew thought, affection was not in the heart. It was in the gut. So when it says that Jesus looked at the crowd and he was moved with compassion for them,[22] it was a gut-wrenching reaction to the lostness of humanity he had come to save. That is what Zechariah is referencing here: a tender mercy expressed to sinners, and to sinners as individuals.

And when, in the fullness of the incarnation, God appears, he doesn’t come in the form of a judge, executing vengeance; nor does he actually come in the form of an angel with a flaming sword, such as those who were making it impossible for Adam and Eve to reenter the garden. But he comes as a gentle person. He comes as the lowest of the lowly. He comes as a humble King.

The Reality of Salvation

That’s the source of the salvation. And then, secondly, the reality of it, the Savior himself—78b: “whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high.” “The sunrise shall visit us from on high,” or the dayspring, or the first light of heaven. In other words, this is a new day dawning. You see how masterful this is on the part of Luke? “In the days of Herod the king: darkness, calamity, despair, so on. A new day is dawning.”

Now, this is where our understanding of the Bible and our knowledge of the Old and the New Testament together helps us. As I pointed out to you, Malachi chapter 4 speaks of the very same thing. “The sun of righteousness,” Malachi says, “shall rise with healing in [his] wings.”[23] What are the wings? You know, when you have those pictures of the sun—we got one this year, which we bought as a gift for my son, who I don’t think was really attracted to it (but that’s by the way)—but it was a wonderful sun, and then spreading out from the sun are all these things, like wings. It’s just a picture, isn’t it? He “shall rise with healing in [his] wings”—that where his light penetrates the darkness, there is transformation. That’s why Justin began in Isaiah chapter 60. Did you pay attention?

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
 and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
 and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
 and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light.[24]

In Ghana. In Nigeria. In Iran. “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

And I always say the same thing, but I can’t help it: I just imagine Isaiah’s wife saying to him, “Well, what did you write this morning?”

And he said, “Well, I started chapter 60 of my prophecy.”

“And what were you on about?”

“Well, I was talking about the rising that will come—the sun rising.”

And she said, “Well, how is that going to work?”

And he said, “Well, I don’t really know. I don’t know. I just know it’s going to happen.”

You say, “Well, you made that up,” you said. No! Because Peter says the very same thing: that the prophets were standing on their tiptoes, looking down over the corridors of time to see exactly how it was going to work out, what it was they were saying.[25] And a certain priest called Zechariah, in his routine duties, filled now with the Holy Spirit, writes, and suddenly the pieces of the puzzle begin to come into place.

That’s why the best of hymns are all biblical. Wesley got this. Wesley got it. He borrowed from this when he wrote,

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by…

He’s the humble King!

Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.[26]

Remember where we started? “I am writing this,” he says, “as a result of my own careful investigation, that you may come to the awareness that we’re dealing not in poetical speculation, but we’re dealing in real history.” And the God who created time has stepped down into time in this way.

“Silent Night,” you’ve got the same thing: “Silent night! Holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light.” Listen to this: “Radiant beams from thy holy face…”[27] Ah! In Jesus—in Jesus—God turns the face—his face—and the light of his countenance upon his world that is in rebellion against him, in mercy. Paul would later put it, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,”[28] because the great object of his coming was not to live, but to die.

You know, when you get old, you start to do all kinds of things. And the last couple of days, I’ve had reason to just be… I just had a little bit of time, and so I went back to one of my old singers, a guy called Roger Whittaker, who was born in Kenya. And he used to whistle, and I think my father liked him, and I used to think, “How can you like this? I mean, the guy plays a guitar and whistles.” And now I’m as old as my father, and I’m saying to Sue, “Do you like to listen to this? You know, how can you like to listen to that?” But because I was reading this, I went to him: “Everybody talks about a new world in the morning. New world in the morning, so they say.” And his chorus goes, “And I can feel a new tomorrow comin’ on.”[29] See, because the heart of man longs for this. You see, there’s got to be some way that the darkness is penetrated. There has got to be some way that the emptiness of our souls is dealt with.

Reading yesterday, in The Times, an interview with Ozzie Osbourne’s wife, and she was cataloging the various places that he had gone to look for answers in his life. And the person interviewing asked a question, and her reply was “Oh, yes. He has a great big hole in the middle of him that he doesn’t know how to fix.” That was Pascal: there is a God-shaped void within the heart of all of God’s creation that only God can fill.[30]

The Purpose of Salvation

Finally, and quickly, notice the purpose of his coming. The source is his tender mercy. The essence of it is Christ himself—sunshine, Light of the World. Why has he come? Well, for two reasons.

One: “to give light to those who sit in darkness and [under] the shadow of death.” What a picture that is, living under the shadow of death! Again the Old Testament prophets help us. Prophesying in chapter 9, Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” It’s so guaranteed that it’s going to happen that he speaks of it in the past tense. He’s prophesying. It’s the prophetic perfect. “The people who walked in darkness.” Who are these people? Well, they’re still to come. They “walked in darkness,” and they’ve

    seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
 on them [a] light [has come].[31]

We know it. We understand it. Jesus has come to dispel the darkness. The darkness is actually not outside of us. The darkness is inside of us. Remember when we studied Romans 1: Paul says, “And their foolish hearts were darkened.”[32] “Darkened.” The darkness is inside. It’s the darkness of my rebellion. It’s the darkness of my self-centeredness. It’s the darkness of my desire to figure it out by myself and go on my own. But I can’t fill the gap. And that’s why Jesus steps forward, and he says, “I am the light of the world. [He who] follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”[33] When Paul writes, he talks about how we have been “delivered … from the domain of darkness and transferred … to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”[34]

Though we need peace, the real disruption in our world is between ourselves, as sinners, and a holy God.

It’s so wonderful, this. It’s important we get it: that Jesus didn’t come to help us somehow or another to forget our sins. That’s what the psychologists tell you: “Well, just try not to think about it. Just try and put it behind you. Try and focus. Focus, now! Deep breaths and so on.” And why is it when you drive in the car, it comes back to attack you? Because you can’t do it. Jesus did not come to make it possible for us to forget our sins. He came in order to forgive our sins. There’s a huge difference. And a God who cannot forget chooses to forget. He banishes, as far as the east is from the west, our sins from us.[35]

This is the message of the gospel: “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” We all live in the shadow of death—not just because I mentioned those who’ve been taken into the presence of Jesus, but we all live in the shadow of death. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[36] In other words, what’s happened is that Jesus has drawn the sting. He’s drawn the sting. What does that mean? Well, he bore the impact, the curse, of sin in his own body so that those who have become his followers need not fear that.

Yesterday, as I watching Luton Town play Bournemouth—which I’m sure sounds like a wonderful afternoon to you—life was going on as usual. It was the sixty-fifth minute. And all of a sudden, the camera focused on a twenty-nine-year-old guy called Tom Lockyer, for whom we prayed this morning, who fell face down on the field and suffered a cardiac arrest. And forty or fifty thousand people in the stands were immediately silenced, because they were living in the shadow of death. We all are. But certain things transpire to confront us, in order not that we might be buried in the darkness but in order that we might be brought into the light.

And into that light we then walk into the path of peace. (Our time is gone.) The only peace—the only peace—that we require is the only peace that we can discover, when Jesus says to his disciples, “In me you [might] have peace.”[37] It’s time for “Give Peace a Chance” again. It’s time for Lennon’s Christmas song. It’s such an emptiness, isn’t it? Though we need peace, the real disruption in our world is not the disruption between Jew and gentile, between Black and White, between rich and poor, between East and West. The disruption in our world is the disruption between ourselves, as sinners, and a holy God. He is, on the one side, wrathful towards sin. We, on the other side, are rebellious towards his rule. How, then, can his wrath be executed and our rebellion be dealt with? In the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is, I think, what Zechariah was giving us an inkling of. And I hope that it will be helpful to us as we enter into this Christmas week.

Father, I thank you this morning that your Word accomplishes its purpose always.[38] Thank you for the magnificent way in which, orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, individuals without loss—they weren’t automatons—without loss of their faculties, without disruption of their personalities, under the constraint of your divine providence, they wrote. Thank you for Luke. Thank you for his Gospel. Thank you that the things about which Zechariah spoke he would one day become the beneficiary of himself.

And so we pray that as the week unfolds, that our hearts may be filled with the songs of the angels, reminding ourselves that we’re dealing in the realm of the inbreak of deity into humanity. What a wonder! What joy! We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


[1] Luke 2:29 (paraphrased).

[2] H. K. Luce, ed., The Gospel According to St Luke, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936), 3.

[3] Luke 1:5 (ESV).

[4] Luke 1:11 (ESV).

[5] Luke 1:13 (ESV).

[6] See Luke 2:25.

[7] Luke 1:14 (ESV).

[8] Luke 1:18 (paraphrased).

[9] Luke 1:18 (ESV).

[10] Luke 1:19 (ESV).

[11] Luke 1:20 (paraphrased).

[12] Luke 1:57 (ESV).

[13] Luke 1:62 (ESV).

[14] Luke 2:63–64 (ESV).

[15] John 1:29 (ESV).

[16] Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7–8; Luke 3:16; John 1:26–27 (paraphrased).

[17] Kristyn Getty, “What Grace Is Mine” (2009).

[18] Exodus 34:6 (ESV).

[19] Luke 1:50 (ESV).

[20] Ephesians 2:4–5 (ESV).

[21] Horatio Gates Spafford, “It Is Well with My Soul” (1873).

[22] See Matthew 9:36; 14:14.

[23] Malachi 4:2 (ESV).

[24] Isaiah 60:1–3 (ESV).

[25] See 1 Peter 1:10–11.

[26] Charles Wesley, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” (1739).

[27] Joseph Mohr, trans. John Freeman Young, “Silent Night, Holy Night” (1859).

[28] 1 Timothy 1:15 (ESV).

[29] Roger Whittaker, “New World in the Morning” (1971).

[30] Blaise Pascal, Pensées (1670)

[31] Isaiah 9:2 (ESV).

[32] Romans 1:21 (ESV).

[33] John 8:12 (ESV).

[34] Colossians 1:13 (ESV).

[35] See Psalm 103:12.

[36] 1 Corinthians 15:56–57 (ESV).

[37] John 16:33 (ESV).

[38] See Isaiah 55:11.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.