The Savior, Christ, and Lord
The Savior, Christ, and Lord
Main Idea: Our response to the birth of Christ should be to teach, treasure, and tell.
- God’s Mercy Means Joy and Praise for Elizabeth and Zechariah (1:57-66,80).
- Mercy brings joy to Elizabeth (1:57-58).
- Mercy brings praise for Zechariah (1:59-66).
- Suffering and enduring God’s chastisement
- Lessons to parents and children (1:66,80)
- God’s Mercy Means Salvation and Worship for Israel (1:67-79).
- The plan of salvation (1:68-73)
- The purpose of salvation (1:72-75)
- The prophet of salvation (1:76-77)
- The peace of salvation (1:78-79)
- God’s Mercy Means the Highest Glory through Jesus Christ (2:1-20).
- A lowly birth (2:1-7)
- Humility before glory
- Glory in the highest (2:8-20)
Soul music began largely as a genre focusing on ballads. The pioneers of soul were “crooners,” bellowing out sultry lyrics for lovers. Marvin Gaye was perhaps one of the most famous soul singers of his era. Gaye—who grew up in a pastor’s home in the Deanwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C.—became the poster boy of smooth, sultry, romantic sound with hits like “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You,” “I Heard It through the Grapevine,” and with Tammi Terrell “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.”
However, by the 1960s many artists and genres of music became more concerned with the political issues and causes of the day, including Marvin Gaye. Gaye released a string of chart-topping hits like his 1971 tune “What’s Going On?,” “Inner City Blues: Makes Me Wanna Holla,” and “Mercy, Mercy Me.”
“What’s Going On?” and “Mercy, Mercy Me” captured the anguished cry of a disenchanted and disenfranchised generation. The songs were urban laments, longing for an almost mythic day when things like hunger and war would cease to exist.
In other ways the songs gave voice to a question—a prayer, really—that almost irrepressibly escapes one’s lips amidst life’s turmoil. Gaye seemed to be crying out with his generation for mercy. The cry for mercy is as old as humanity’s fall in the Garden. It’s been uttered, whispered, and yelled in every generation among every people since sin entered the world. When we reach those limits, something in us looks for mercy.
Luke 1:57–2:20 contains two natural births, two supernatural messages from God, and one main point. This passage of Scripture reveals that Jesus is the Savior. That’s good news for humanity, for great mercy comes from a great God and his Savior.
God’s Mercy Means Joy and Praise for Elizabeth and Zechariah
Mercy Brings Joy to Elizabeth (1:57-58)
Nine months have passed since the angel Gabriel visited Zechariah in the temple and promised that he and Elizabeth would have a son. Things happened just as the angel said they would. The simple words of verse 57 remind us that we can trust God’s word because God’s word is true.
Part of what the angel promised in 1:14 is that “many will rejoice at his birth.” Verse 58 partially fulfills that promise. Picture the scene. You have this old woman, well past the years of childbearing, who had suffered the reproach of being childless, now finally giving birth. What no one thought would happen has finally happened. Neighbors and relatives had given up, too. Their hopes for Elizabeth had long faded. And now, here she is with a baby boy! Everyone is rejoicing with her.
Here’s the important thing the people recognized: “the Lord had shown [Elizabeth] his great mercy” (v. 58). This was no regular circumstance. God was involved. God was showing part of his character—specifically his mercy. God shows mercy when he punishes us less than our sins deserve. God shows mercy when he relieves us of our suffering. That’s what he does for Elizabeth in the birth of John. J. C. Ryle wrote,
There was mercy in bringing her safely through her time of trial. There was mercy in making her the mother of a living child. Happy are those family circles, whose births are viewed in this light—as special instances of the mercy of the Lord. (Luke, 1:30–31)
All children are gifts of God’s mercy—no matter the circumstance. Psalm 127:3 declares, “Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, offspring, a reward.” We all should receive children with the joy that Elizabeth received John. We all should recognize children as God’s mercy to us.
Mercy Brings Praise for Zechariah (1:59-66)
Zechariah and Elizabeth were faithful in their obedience to God, so “they came to circumcise the child on the eighth day” (v. 59). God commanded that all the male children of Israel be circumcised when they were eight days old. Circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant relationship with Israel. Apparently, Jewish families at the time of Christ held the ceremony of circumcision in the home with family and friends.
And, apparently, they named the child on the eighth day at his circumcision. All the family and friends just know the boy is going to be a “junior” (v. 59). Funny how the extended family assumed they could name the child as if it’s theirs! But maybe they were thinking the best. Maybe they were thinking, They’ve tried for so long. They’re so advanced in years now. Surely they’ll name the child Zechariah and keep the father’s name alive.
But the people are unaware of what God has said through Gabriel. They do not know that God has already named the child. Naming was sometimes associated with dominion or rule; this child will be under God’s rule, not man’s.
Elizabeth speaks up (v. 60). That should have ended it, but the family pushes back. They’re like, “What kind of name is ‘John’? No, we don’t like that.” Then they try to pull rank by motioning to Zechariah. The fact that they make signs indicates that not only did the angel close Zechariah’s mouth, he also closed John’s ears. For nine months now, Zechariah could not hear or speak. He has had to make some adjustments. That is why a writing tablet was handy (v. 63). In Greek, the emphasis on what he writes is on “John.” More literally Zechariah writes, “John is his name.”
At that precise moment of faith and obedience, in mercy God lifted his punishment and freed Zechariah’s mouth. And praise came flying out! As Ryle put it,
He shews that his nine months’ dumbness had not been inflicted on him in vain. He is no longer faithless, but believing. He now believes every word that Gabriel had spoken to him, and every word of his message shall be obeyed.
Let us take heed that affliction does us good, as it did to Zecharias. . . . “Sanctified afflictions” . . . are “spiritual promotions.” The sorrow that humbles us, and drives us nearer to God, is a blessing, and a downright gain. No case is more hopeless than that of a man who, in time of affliction, turns his back upon God. (Luke, 1:32)
Zechariah’s praise is contagious. All the neighbors are in awe of God (v. 65). Those who were there talked about it everywhere, and everyone who heard the report knew something miraculous and supernatural was happening (v. 66).
Suffering and Enduring God’s Chastisement
Our suffering will either make us bitter or make us better. It made Zechariah better. “Zacharias had learned, probably, more about his own heart, and about God, than he ever knew before” (Ryle, Luke, 1:32). The proof of that is the praise for God that leaped from his mouth that day.
How are we handling our suffering? Is it working in us deeper thoughts of God’s goodness, or harder thoughts about our circumstance? Are we growing warmer or colder toward God?
Lessons to Parents and Children (1:66,80)
The people at John’s circumcision and naming ceremony knew God was at work among them. Verse 66 says, “For, indeed, the Lord’s hand was with him.” They had a sense that God was at work through John. What a beautiful sentence that is, isn’t it?
What does that look like? How can we recognize it? Look at the first part of verse 80: “The child grew up and became spiritually strong.” When God’s hand is on our children, they grow and become strong—not just in body but, more importantly, in spirit. Their whole being matures into spiritual strength before the Lord as he guides and protects them.
God’s hand was with John. That is part of what it means that John “was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (v. 80). The wilderness is where prophets are prepared for the hardship of public ministry. That part of verse 80 is unique to John, but doesn’t the first part of verse 80 call us to want the last part of Verse 66 for our children? Don’t we want God’s loving, powerful hand to make our children spiritually strong? And the children of the church? And the children of the community?
Once again J. C. Ryle offers penetrating insight:
This is the portion that we ought to seek for our children. It is the best portion, the happiest portion, the only portion that can never be lost, and will endure beyond the grave. It is good to have over them “the hand” of teachers and instructors; but it is better still to have “the hand of the Lord.” We may be thankful if they obtain the patronage of the great and the rich. But we ought to care far more for their obtaining the favour of God. The hand of the Lord is a thousand times better than the hand of Herod. The one is weak, foolish, and uncertain; caressing today, and beheading to-morrow. The other is almighty, all-wise, and unchangeable. Where it holds it holds for evermore. Let us bless God that the Lord never changes. What he was in John the Baptist’s days, he is now. What he did for the son of Zacharias, he can do for our boys and girls. But he waits to be entreated. If we would have the hand of the Lord with our children, we must diligently seek it. (Luke, 1:33)
God waits to be asked. We must diligently seek his hand on our children’s lives. So let us pray like we never have for the hand of the Lord to be on our children.
God’s mercy means joy and praise for Elizabeth and Zechariah. It means the same for us if we receive it.
God’s Mercy Means Salvation and Worship for Israel
This is what we learn in Zechariah’s prophecy. God in his mercy has sent salvation to his people. That dominant idea finds expression in four parts.
The Plan of Salvation (1:68-73)
Zechariah blesses or praises God because God has visited and redeemed his people with a strong salvation. A “horn” is used in the Bible to symbolize strength or power. This is the powerful salvation for Israel that was promised to come through David, that was prophesied through the prophets of old, and that in verses 72-73 goes all the way back to the “fathers,” or patriarchs, and to Abraham. This salvation is an act of mercy (v. 72). God saves us to prove his mercy. The entire Bible—from Abraham to the prophets down to King David—is about this one thing: salvation. The Bible has one story: God visiting or coming to get his people. That was and is the plan.
This salvation has multiple parts to it. One part, as verse 71 puts it, is to save Israel from their enemies and from the hand of all their haters. This is an actual, political, physical rescue. But that’s not all.
The Purpose of Salvation (1:72-75)
The goal of their physical deliverance was not simply their physical freedom. The goal was worship. This is the New Testament version of what God told Moses to tell Pharaoh: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me” (Exod 7:16; emphasis added).
God saves so that we might worship. Freedom is a good goal, but it’s not the ultimate goal. The freedom that God seems most interested in is the freedom to worship him. Just as Zechariah worshiped God when God mercifully opened Zechariah’s mouth and ears, so all Israel is to praise and glorify God for the salvation he brings.
The Prophet of Salvation (1:76-77)
Zechariah now prophesies about John. John will be great. He will be called a prophet of God. He will be unique among the prophets because he will be the forerunner. He will soften the ground. He will till the soil of Israel’s heart. He will not be the Savior, but John will make things ready for the Savior by teaching people how they are to be saved. John will be a giant index finger pointing the way to God’s salvation from sin.
Zechariah’s prophecy defines John’s life in relationship to Jesus’s life and mission. Beloved, all lasting meaning is found when we define our lives this way. Greatness comes from serving the Lord, not from serving ourselves. Greatness comes when we, like John, say, “We must decrease; Jesus must increase” (see John 3:30). The prophet of salvation never replaces the bringer of salvation.
The Peace of Salvation (1:77-79)
Zechariah begins to describe the effect of this salvation on the people.
First, this salvation is ultimately spiritual and personal. It involves “the forgiveness of their sins” (v. 77). Why must sin be forgiven? Why is sin a problem? Because it is an offense against God, who is holy. God in his holiness and anger will punish the sinner forever unless they are forgiven. When we talk about being “saved,” we should ask, “Saved from what?” The Bible’s answer is, “Saved from God.” We need to be rescued from God’s coming judgment against the world. Unless we are rescued we will suffer punishment in hell forever. Have you escaped God’s condemnation? Do you know how?
Second, this salvation is by God’s mercy. Verse 78 says it is “because of our God’s merciful compassion.” That’s the only reason anyone is ever forgiven of sin: mercy. You cannot earn forgiveness. You cannot demand forgiveness. You cannot swap forgiveness with a trade. There would be no peace in salvation if we had to earn, demand, or buy forgiveness. We would only worry if we had done enough, if we were strong enough, or if we had paid enough. Forgiveness comes only by mercy. Which means forgiveness is free and undeserved. The only step we can take to find forgiveness with God is to ask for it. Beg for mercy, and God will show it. Confess your sin, and he is faithful to forgive it (1 John 1:9).
Third, this salvation brings light. Verses 78-79 declare, “The dawn from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death.” Through the mercy of our God we receive light. This light is Christ himself. He is the sunrise, or you may have a translation that says the “dayspring” (KJV). In our sin we sit in darkness like a prisoner locked in an underground dungeon. But when Christ comes into our hearts, he brings light. All of a sudden everything shines. Darkness flees. Death is defeated. “The way of peace” (v. 79) refers to an entire life of peace. Salvation brings peace. Peace with God. Peace with man. Peace within ourselves.
Do you have this peace? Has the sunrise dawned in your soul yet?
God’s Mercy Means the Highest Glory through Jesus Christ
Glory is not the first word you think of when you think of Jesus’s birth.
A Lowly Birth (2:1-7)
First, Jesus is born when Israel is under roman rule. Caesar Augustus and Quirinius are in positions of power. God’s people are an oppressed people. Oppressed people don’t have glory or power or honor to speak of.
Though that is true, it is not the highest truth. There is an invisible power behind and over these human rulers. They do not know it, but God uses Caesar and Quirinius to fulfill what he promised long ago. In Malachi 5:2, four hundred years before the birth of Christ, God told his people the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. Joseph and Mary start out in Nazareth of Galilee (v. 4). God uses the emperor’s census to move them back to Joseph’s hometown—Bethlehem.
God’s people need never fear the laws of men. Over those laws are the laws of God. Even when men rule for their own ends, God is at work to fulfill his plan.
Second, Jesus is born where no child should be born (vv. 6-7). The God of the universe is laid in an animal’s feeding trough. There is no glory in that. We think of something the Lord would later say: “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (9:58; Matt 8:20). That was the Savior’s lifelong testimony.
Nothing about this scene says “glory.” But there is much in this scene to instruct us.
Humility Before Glory
Before there is glory, there must first be humility. That is the way the kingdom of God operates. The first will be last, and the last will be first (Mark 10:31). God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5). Humble yourself before the Lord, and in due time he will exalt you (Jas 4:10). In the kingdom of God, first comes humility then comes glory. We see this modeled for us right from the Savior’s birth. True greatness is not always visible greatness.
The incarnation of the Son of God in an animal’s feeding trough puts our glory-craving hearts in check. Matthew Henry rightly observed,
He well knew how unwilling we are to be meanly lodged, clothed, or fed; how we desire to have our children decorated and indulged; how apt the poor are to envy the rich, and how prone the rich to disdain the poor. But when we by faith view the Son of God being made man and lying in a manger, our vanity, ambition, and envy are checked. We cannot, with this object rightly before us, seek great things for ourselves or our children. (Commentary, 5:257)
Glory in the Highest (2:8-20)
We do not see the glory of this passage until we learn what the shepherds learn. They are out at night keeping watch over their flock (v. 8). This is not glorious work. This is not the best shift. Shepherds had bad reputations. The nature of their work meant they could not observe Israel’s ceremonial laws. They were considered unreliable and could not give testimony in the law courts. They were a despised class of people.
On that night “an angel of the Lord stood before them” (v. 9). The dark night runs away from the shining light of God’s glory. And they were filled with fear; awe and reverence grip their hearts.
To these lowly men, the angel gives the highest theology (vv. 10-12). These despised shepherds are the first to receive the announcement of the gospel. These men are the first to learn of “great joy for all the people.” They understand that the gospel is not just for Israel but for all the nations, that all may have this joy.
These despised men hear the most wonderful thing about how this joy comes. It comes through the birth of “a Savior . . . who is the Messiah, the Lord” (v. 11). This is the only time in the Gospels this phrase is used. It’s the only time we see all the titles of Jesus brought together—Savior, Messiah, Lord. He will save his people from their sins. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah promised to Israel. And most staggeringly of all, he is Lord. He is God. He is Maker of all. He is Ruler of all. The angels not only give the gospel to the Shepherds; they give the true identity of Christ.
It seems that God believes high theology should be given to low people. That’s why we want to teach as robustly as we can the deep truths of God. We do not want to be unnecessarily complex. The angels speak plainly here, but they use plain speech to convey deep truth. That is what preaching should do. It’s what it should do for poor and despised people. There is nothing about poverty that prevents people from knowing God well. There is nothing about class that determines what people can afford to know about God. The fullness of the gospel goes to the poor just as it would to anyone. The truth is that Luke shows us it is the poor that receive it, not the educated, powerful, and rich. As J. C. Ryle put it,
Let us beware of despising the poor, because of their poverty. Their condition is one which the Son of God has sanctified and honored, by taking it voluntarily on Himself. God is no respecter of people. He looks at the hearts of men, and not at their incomes. Let us never be ashamed of the affliction of poverty, if God thinks fit to lay it upon us. To be godless and covetous is disgraceful, but it is no disgrace to be poor. A lowly dwelling place, and coarse food, and a hard bed, are not pleasing to flesh and blood. But they are the portion which the Lord Jesus Himself willingly accepted from the day of His entrance into the world. Wealth ruins far more souls than poverty. When the love of money begins to creep over us, let us think of the manger at Bethlehem, and of Him who was laid in it. Such thoughts may deliver us from much harm. (Luke, 1:141)
When the angel had finished preaching the gospel to the shepherds, the angelic choir came on for a closing hymn. Then God revealed his glory (v. 14). God’s mercy to men brings God’s highest glory in heaven.
Luke 2:15-18 remind us of 1:65-66. The shepherds visit baby Jesus and his earthly parents in the stable. They tell everyone what they’ve seen and heard. People are amazed.
Verses 17-20 lay for us a pattern to be repeated by disciples of the Lord throughout all generations. The shepherds teach others what they heard and saw. Mary treasures it in her heart. Then the shepherds return home to tell others of the glory of God. From the time of the Savior’s birth, those receiving the Savior have followed this pattern of teach, treasure, and tell. Can there be any other response to God’s mercy in Jesus Christ? Can there be any other response to seeing the glory of God? Let us teach it, treasure it, and tell it abroad forever.
Reflect and Discuss
- Have you ever been in a situation where you needed mercy? What was it like?
- What difference did receiving mercy make for you? Did it bring you joy or relief?
- How would you say you handle suffering? Does suffering tend to produce in you deeper thoughts of God’s goodness or hard thoughts toward God?
- In Luke 1:68-79, how does God show mercy to Israel and the world? What goal or purpose does God have in mind for man’s salvation?
- How does God’s mercy reveal his glory?
- In what ways should our Lord’s incarnation humble us?
- Can you think of three persons to teach about the Lord and his salvation? How will you share with them? Write down your plan, including when you hope to share and what you hope to say. Do you treasure these things in your own heart?