Zechariah & Elizabeth’s son John once said of his role as the one who was to prepare the way for the Messiah, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” It is an attitude that is also reflected as we recount of the births of John and Jesus in Luke’s gospel. For all the miraculous events surrounding the birth of John, neither he nor his parents get much play. It is a shame, since Luke and the Holy Spirit saw fit to share their stories, and for good reason. As I was studying today, my eyes inadvertently fell on the words of Zechariah and his prophecy concerning John’s future ministry. Luke 1:67-79 (HCSB) says:
67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
because He has visited
and provided redemption for His people.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of His servant David,
70 just as He spoke by the mouth
of His holy prophets in ancient times;
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the clutches of those who hate us.
72 He has dealt mercifully with our fathers
and remembered His holy covenant —
73 the oath that He swore to our father Abraham.
He has given us the privilege,
74 since we have been rescued
from our enemies’ clutches,
to serve Him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness
in His presence all our days.
76 And child, you will be called
a prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord
to prepare His ways,
77 to give His people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of our God’s merciful compassion,
the Dawn from on high will visit us
79 to shine on those who live in darkness
and the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
There is much that could be discussed here, but one sentence really jumped out at me today: “Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the Dawn from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (vs. 78-79) What interested me about this passage is due in part because of what I was studying in the moment. Preparing for my message this coming Sunday, I was looking at the events surrounding the announcement of Jesus’ coming birth, and the three names the angels use: Savior, Christ, and Lord. Now, I’m not going to give the whole message away here, but I was looking at that moment at the need we have of a Savior. That brought me to Zechariah’s prophetic words, and verse 77, which speaks of forgiveness of sins.
Sin, however, is not all we need to be saved from, or saved unto. Zechariah prophesied that we would be saved from our sin, and then went on to give us a chief purpose of Jesus having come to live and walk among us: “to guide our feet in the way of peace.” Too often, our message of salvation can be boiled down to forgiveness of sin, and eternal life. But what about the vast in-between? God has great plans for that vast in-between. In fact, it’s the point of his coming in the first place.
“Because of our God’s merciful compassion” Jesus didn’t just come to save us from sin, or to save us from death. Seeing how sin and our fallenness had wrecked relationships, households, and hearts, God sent his Son to show us a better way forward, a way of healing. The life we live now is not a mere circling of the airport in a holding pattern. It is not a boring waiting room for the next life. It is not without purpose. God has given His Son — not just on the cross, but from the cradle to the cross — to show us how to live in the “way of peace.” Peace with God, peace with ourselves, peace with our neighbors. All by watching Jesus, learning how to live, and putting into practice and building into our character the love of God and neighbor that he exemplified. Graciousness, service to others, looking beyond ourselves, caring for the sick, the elderly, the poor, being peacemakers…what we see Jesus do in the gospels, how we see him love and serve…this is the way of peace. Jesus is the way, not only to forgiveness of sins, or to eternal life, but to a life of peace and peacemaking. Right here, right now. “Peace on earth, good will toward men” is not just an angelic greeting. It is our mission as followers Jesus in the way of peace.