Fellowship at Cross Creek
The Story of Sin…
Part VI: Zacharias’ Prophecy…
The Knowledge of Salvation by Forgiveness of Sins…
By Joseph M. Cross
While my previous gleanings were certainly rich, because I had not looked up every reference to sin and unrighteousness or hamartia and adikia in the New Testament myself, I was still curious. What would I find if I looked up every reference for sin and unrighteousness?
I couldn’t resist, but it was no small task. When one includes the verbs, adjectives, adverbs and other noun forms of each word group, there are well over three hundred references (250 references of the hamartia word group and around 75 references of the adikia word group) to examine, but despite the seemingly daunting task, I decided to plow through each and every reference in its context.
I should have seen it all to begin with, and perhaps, I had before, but nothing near to the extent of what I saw when I decided to examine the New Testament through these contextual lenses of hamartia and adikia. The results were astonishing, and once again, my curiosity was incredibly rewarded.
Zacharias’ Prophecy: The Knowledge of Salvation by the Forgiveness of Sins…
Allow me to walk you back through a portion of my journey so that you can see what I had NOT seen, but should have seen CLEARLY before.
My initial curiosity began with the angel’s command to Joseph concerning the child Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit in Matt. 1:21…You shall name him Jesus (Yah-Saves) for he shall save the people from their sins.
I really had not fully appreciated the next critical NT reference to Sin until I had first read the fruit of others’ labor, as well as, examined the over 300 references of Sin. For me, it was like rewatching a film’s introduction, after having seen the entire film. One sees the beginning of the film in an entirely different light…in the context of everything that is about to follow. That’s what happened for me, particularly with this next passage. I missed its significance the first time; I did not the second time. The next references to “sin” occurs in the sister passage to Matthew 1’s birth narrative–Luke 1.
The setting is – as he was serving in the Herodian Temple there in Jerusalem, John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, was visited by the angel Gabriel and was told that his elderly wife, Elizabeth, was indeed pregnant with a son. When Zacharias questioned how this could be, Zacharias’ voice was divinely silenced for the entire length of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Then, when John was born, Zacharias’ tongue was finally loosened. Inspired by God’s Spirit, Zacharias utters the following doxology.
Note: For our purposes, try not to get too bogged down in the details for now, but rather absorb Zacharias’s tone of joy and the reason for his joy.
Luke 1:67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people,
(Redemption from what? Redemption means to buy back. How had the Lord bought back or redeemed His people and from what had he bought them back from? Read on. Let’s see…)
69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of David His servant –
(Note: David refers to King David a thousand years before, and according to both Matthew and Luke’s genealogies, Jesus [Yah-Saves] was direct descendant of David.)
70 As He (God) spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old–
71 Salvation (or deliverance) FROM OUR ENEMIES,
And FROM THE HAND OF ALL WHO HATE US (ref. Ps. 106:10);
(So a portion of what God was buying His people back from would be their domination by their enemies… whomever that might be… perhaps the Roman Empire at this time?)
72 To show mercy toward our fathers,
And to remember His holy covenant,
73 The oath which He swore to Abraham our father,
(Note: within the Abrahamic Covenant or treaty that God had made with Abraham over 2,000 years before Zacharias’ prophecy, God had promised to bless Abraham, who, at his advanced age, had no children at the time, with: 1) descendants as many as the stars in the sky…if they could be counted, 2) lands that for all practical purposes amounted to be the rich Fertile Crescent and 3) to somehow be a blessing to the entire world. See Gen. 12, 15 and 17 for a more detailed accounting of this unilateral covenant between Yahweh God and Abram. Thus, what is being implied here is that something has gone horribly wrong, because the Abrahamic Covenant has not been completely fulfilled. In addition, not only do Abraham’s children NOT possess what amounts to the rich Fertile Crescent, but for some reason, they have been dominated by their enemies and thus are NOT blessing the world. In other words, God’s children are at the proverbial bottom of the barrel, not its top, as the Covenant promised. So what has gone wrong?)
74 To grant us that we, being rescued 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 (John the Baptist), will be called the prophet of the Most High (God);
For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS (See Mal 3:1; Is. 40:3);
77 To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins (See Mark 1:4).
78 Because of the tender mercy of our God (See Is. 63:9), with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
79 TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 And the child (John) continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the desert until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
So bottom line: what is the tone of Zacharias’ prophecy? One of excitement and jubilation. Why? Because God is remembering his 2,000 year old promise to their father Abraham. How? He is about to redeem his people from the heavy hand of their enemies, and Zacharias’ son, John, will prepare the people for God’s deliverance. How? By giving them the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins. In so doing, God’s people will be prepared to receive God’s salvation.
Certainly, that is something to be inspired about!
It was v. 77 that once again captured my imagination. What exactly is Zacharias prophesying here? In the larger context, essentially that his son, John, will prepare the way for the LORD’s coming, as predicted centuries before, by two OT prophets–Isaiah and Malachi. And how will Zacahrias’ son, John, prepare the way for the LORD’s coming? By giving his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness (or release) from their sins?
But what sins? And are these sins the reason for God’s people being dominated by their enemies? And what is this knowledge of salvation via the forgiveness of sins? I mean, how does it work? And why now? And does Zacharias have any clue as to how all this will come about? And will God’s people really receive the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant?
In the end, what I propose to ask and then answer is that the meaning, message and blessings of Christ’s salvation that we, the church, take so for granted today, 2,000 years after all these events took place, was not as clear to its original New Testament audience, at least not in the beginning, and for that matter, I am still not sure just how clear the meaning of Jesus’ “saving the people from their sins” is for many today?
Next time: Part VII: Thirty Years Later…Zacharias’ infant son. John, has grown up and is preaching what his father prophesied he would preach at John’s birth… the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins…