John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and has redeemed them.’ (Luke 1:67–68)
What Zechariah prophesied is recorded as one of Luke’s songs, sometimes called the Benedictus. It’s rich in Old Testament references and it’s all about a problem and a solution.
Zechariah recognises a problem. There’s a lot in this song about enemies, darkness and the shadow of death. It may sound as if Zechariah has a gloomy view but he lived in difficult times. God’s people Israel were crushed under the brutal political domination and they suffered under a decaying religious system of their own that was in need of renewal. The people were weighed down and oppressed and they needed divine intervention.
Actually, that’s the reality for a lot of people today.
Zechariah doesn’t get bogged down by the problem but focuses on the solution: a person, a deliverer, described as a mighty Saviour from the royal line of his servant David, a ‘rescuer’ and ‘the Lord’. Zechariah is sure that this great figure is going to bring salvation through forgiveness of sins, light to those who sit in darkness and guidance into the path of peace. It is always a blessing when the solution is bigger than the problems.
What is particularly striking in Zechariah’s hope is how certain he is. He sees God’s deliverance as being so guaranteed that he talks about it in the past tense: God has visited and has redeemed his people, he has sent us a mighty Saviour, we have been rescued from our enemies. This demonstrates an extraordinary trust in God: Zechariah is so confident that the God who has promised these things will deliver them that he effectively considers them a ‘done deal’.
There is a lot to think about in Zechariah’s prophetic song. Perhaps you can readily identify with the problem: the need for deliverance. Perhaps your life is in darkness. You may even know something about enemies or about being hated. Well, if you know something of the problem, take hold of the solution that Zechariah points to: the Lord about to come in Jesus.
An easily overlooked feature of Zechariah’s song is that his long-awaited son, John, gets only a brief mention. Zechariah sees John’s importance simply in the way that he prepares the way for Jesus. This humility is exactly the attitude that John the Baptist shows, decades later. Then, John says of himself and Jesus: ‘He must become greater; I must become less’ (John 3:30).
The very best that any of us can do is what John did: prepare the way for the Lord.