And his 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.Luke 1:67-80, ESV
Zechariah’s prophetic word at the birth of his son John is packed full of the good news but I think it is a passage that is often accidentally overlooked. Maybe Luke’s first chapter is a bit long and we get a bit lazy in our reading toward the end, or maybe we are so excited about the virgin birth we know is coming in chapter two that we impatiently breeze through this last passage in chapter one. Whatever the reason might be, let’s use this as a reminder to slow down as readers and take in every hilltop and valley of God’s Word. Remember, there are no wasted sentences in the Scripture. There are no fluffy paragraphs in the Bible. From cover to cover, God’s Word is His revelation of Himself and His will for us to receive with thanks and learn with humility.
Malachi is the last of the Old Testament prophets before the so-called 400 silent years (see my blog post Wheres the Chariot for more info on 400 silent years https://aaronirlbacher.com/2020/12/05/wheres-the-chariot/). Zechariah is calling Malachi’s fourth chapter to mind as he declares, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways”. He likens the coming grace of God to “the sunrise”. God’s work here has a symmetry that seems poetic. Malachi is the last prophet to speak authoritatively on behalf of the Lord and in His last chapter, he prophesied the coming of a prophet he called Elijah and the Lord’s coming to bring judgment. Zechariah is now announcing his son John as that prophet Elijah and the Messiah’s soon arrival.
For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”Malachi 4, ESV
Zechariah said, “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.” Look at the fulfillment of the 400-year-old prophecy from Malachi. First, the prophet of the Most High is the reference to Elijah the prophet who comes before the Lord. Second, when the Lord arrives to judge the wicked with unquenchable fire those who have feared the Lord, with faith and repentance, will not be burnt up but enjoy the beauty of the Lord as a sunrise.
The Sun of Righteousness is a title for our Lord Jesus Christ and Zechariah is referencing this title as a sunrise. What can we learn from a sunrise? The sunrise marks the beginning of a new day. Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Our world is broken by the curse of sin, and in this dark world (Eph 5:8, Joh 1:5) unrighteous men live for the love of themselves and the love of their evil deeds (Joh 3:19-20). The world as we know it has so much beauty, but all that beauty is shrouded in darkness. We are living in a perpetual night that is marked by sin and misery.
The Apostle Paul describes the state of the created order in Romans 8 as a place of terrible suffering. He said, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” This dark and broken world will have a definitive end. The night of this cursed world will end and a new day will dawn. Jesus is that Sun of Righteousness who brings the joy back into His created world with a new day. All this suffering, sickness, death, greed, hatred, and such will be judged once and for all.
The definitive end to the perpetual night of our broken world is called “the great and awesome” or “great and terrible day of the Lord” by Malachi 4. Why is the sunrise that replaces the darkness and weeping with joy and light called great and terrible? That day of the Lord is in reference to the final judgment of the earth. In the final judgment Jesus will welcome the adopted sons and daughters of God into His eternal kingdom where there will be no more night (Rev 22:5), but all the unrighteous will “burn with unquenchable fire” to quote John the Baptist in Matthew 3:12. Therefore, the day of the Lord that ends the perpetual night and replaces it with a perpetual day will be wonderful for some and horrific for others.
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”Acts 16:30-31, ESV
*for more information about salvation follow this link https://aaronirlbacher.com/2019/08/07/the-gospel/