Exile and Repentance, Part 10 (Luke: The Magnificat and Zechariah)

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For purposes of the next few posts, I’ll focus on Luke and Acts. Luke fits naturally with Acts, and only Acts records the dawning of the Kingdom at Pentecost. But long before we get to Acts 2:38, we need to work our way through parts of Luke.

The Magnificat

Early on, Luke record’s Mary’s words to Elizabeth regarding the impending birth of Jesus (called the Magnificat from the first word in Latin (v. 46)) —

(Luk 1:50-55 ESV)  50 “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;  52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;  53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.  54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,  55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

In response to word that the Messiah will soon come, she praises God for rejecting the wealthy and proud and caring for the humble and poor in remembrance of his covenant with Abraham.

Interestingly, God never said any such thing to Abraham — not in so many words — unless we re-learn how to read the text. The passage I think she has in mind is —

(Gen 12:2-3 ESV) 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

In Mary’s mind, there is no way for a nation to be great if it does not care about its poor and humble. There is no way for Israel to be a blessing if it doesn’t care for the vulnerable. And, of course, there are numerous OT prophecies that speak in these terms.

So in response to the announcement that she would bear the Messiah, she praises God for his concern for the poor and humble. It only makes sense once you’re worked through the Law and the Prophets, but once you’ve worked through the Law and the Prophets, it’s hard to imagine her reacting any other way.

Notice that she does not speak in terms of individual salvation or atonement. Rather, she speaks of God’s covenant with Israel.

Zechariah, the father of the John the Baptist

When John the Baptist was born, the Spirit filled his father, Zechariah, to say,

(Luk 1:67-79 ESV) And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,  

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people  69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,  70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,  71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;  72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant,  73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us  74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear,  75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.  76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,  77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,  78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high  79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

He speaks of salvation in verses 69-71, but he takes “salvation” in the OT sense of protection from national enemies (v. 74), which is an echo of (of course) Deu 30, among many other passages.

John’s role would be to “give knowledge of salvation to [God’s] people in the forgiveness of their sins” and “to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Forgiveness of sins is certainly a part of Zechariah’s prophecy, but in context, the emphasis in on the forgiveness of the sins of Israel — just as the Prophets had spoken.

Now, obviously, individual salvation is part of it all, but he sees John being sent to Israel to rescue Israel from Exile — the penalty for their national sinfulness. And forgiveness of sins will be the path into the Messianic Kingdom.

[PS — In v. 78-79, the reference to the “sunrise” likely is regarding —

(Isa 60:1-3 ESV)  Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.  2 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.  3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.]

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  1. I am glad you chose to mention Mary and Luke (ch 1). For some reason(s), this did not make it into the list of acceptable cofC sermons. Besides hearing that they were “too Catholic,” I think the idea of forgiveness and mercy (and Advent) just did not set well with some.

  2. Jay, is it possible that Mary was surprised by God granting the birth of the Messiah through the poor ? It would seem to me, and perhaps only me, that the prophets and Kings were held in very high esteem in Jewish lore. Given that the general expectation was that the Messiah would come to conquer Israel’s enemies and that “bloodline” was so very important, it seems to me that Mary is making a statement to God’s goodness that she didn’t expect. They weren’t rich.. I guess they did have the “bloodline” but they were no where near “prominent” in their society… At least that’s how I’ve always interpreted her attitude… Perhaps I’m wrong.

  3. Perhaps since Jesus says of John the Baptist there is none greater among those born of women we would be well served to delve deeper into John’s life and ministry.