A Horn of Salvation
Scripture: Luke 1:57-80
Jesus is the horn of God’s salvation come to save his people, and John will prepare his way.
Well, in the Old Testament, God’s people would picture God’s power using a variety of images, mental images. For example, one of my favorite images comes from the Proverbs. In Proverbs 18:10 it says, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe”. And so, this picture is, of course, God’s power as the protective power. Last week we heard Mary use the metaphor of a strong arm of God, which both scatters prideful people, while simultaneously lifting up the weak. And this pictures God’s justice and God’s mercy happening simultaneously. One of our young people this week here at church said, “What does God do with his other arm?”. It’s a pretty good question, actually. It’s probably one-handed pushups. That’s my guess. But there’s another image that we’re going to look at this week, and I cannot tell you how much you are going to love this image. You specifically, you’ll see what I mean here in a little bit. In 2 Samuel 22, one of the songs written by King David is recorded. It’s also recorded in Psalm 18. David writes in response to finally being free of his enemies, including the Philistines and King Saul. He’d been running away from King Saul, who was trying to murder him. Listen to how this song starts. There are a lot of images here that I’m about to throw at you. There’s one, in particular, I want you to focus in on. Here’s how it starts. “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence.” So, God is like a fortress, and like a rock, and a shield. And those are all great images. But the one I want us to focus in on here is where David says that the Lord is the horn of my salvation.
Now, my whole life, when I heard this phrase “the horn of salvation”, I thought it was like one of those pictures of angels brawling on a trumpet. That was the horn that the angel was lifting up and raising a horn and blowing the horn and saying, “God’s salvation has arrived”. This is what I’d always picture. And as nice as that sounds, that’s not it at all. This is actually what we should be picturing. It’s true. This is it. The salvation of God that saves us from death and destruction is pictured like the great horns of a ram or a bull that are raised up sort of majestically to take on its enemies. The idea is that we are saved from something. When you read “horn of salvation”, think enemies are coming. I need to be saved from this enemy. There’s an enemy to be defeated. And the power of God to save his people is like a bull that lifts up his horn as the enemy comes. And it slays the enemy, and it protects its family. This, by the way, was a very popular image of power in David’s time. It originated in the ancient Near East at the time of King David, as you can see from these artifacts that were created near the Bronze Age. The Bronze Age being around 1000 years before the time of Christ. These artifacts were forged. Those helmets that you see there, the helmet there on the right side, was actually found in Denmark, which is why people have spun the myth for years that the Vikings wore horned helmets. It’s been a myth for a really long time. The Vikings weren’t around for about 2000 years after the Bronze Age. And there is not one piece of evidence that they ever wore horned helmets. Not one bit in all of the world. There’s not one bit of evidence. In fact, an archaeologist at Aarhus University in Denmark, when asked if the Vikings wore horned helmets, said, and I quote, “It’s nonsense”. Okay, let’s get that cow back up there. What isn’t nonsense, however, is the imagery of God’s salvation rising up like a great horn that has come to vanquish his enemies, and at the same time save his people. And today, we’re going to look at another song. Only this song is not so much a song of praise as it is a Holy Spirit inspired declaration of who Jesus is and what John will be. Jesus is the Horn of God’s salvation, come to save His people, and John will prepare the way for him.
So, if you have your Bibles, go ahead and open them to Luke 1:57. I know you’ve already heard it read this morning. I’d like for you to have it open in front of you. Won’t be on the screen. So, you want to keep it in front of you so you can follow along. There are three parts to this portion of scripture. The first finishes the story of Zechariah himself. The second is the beginning of Zechariah’s prophecy when he talks about Jesus. And the third is where he switches in verse 76 to talk about his own son. So, let’s start with the story, and what a story it is. You’ll remember back earlier in this chapter, Zechariah was serving as a priest in the temple of Jerusalem, and he was seemingly randomly chosen to go into the part of the temple where they burn incense. And I say seemingly because from our perspective it was a random appointment. They cast lots, which for us would be like flipping a coin or drawing straws. It would be something that we would consider random. But from God’s perspective, nothing is random. Nothing at all. What we consider chance is actually divine appointment. And by the way, if you don’t see the world that way, you should. Knowing that God is in control and that nothing drops on you randomly is a great comfort when you pair that truth with Jesus as our Savior and our protector. That’s not the point of the passage this morning, but that’s just a little bonus observation. When Zechariah gets into the Holy of Holies, which is this center part of the temple where he’s going to do his work, he’s encountered by an angel named Gabriel. And Gabriel tells Zechariah that his prayers have been answered, and that he and his wife Elizabeth are going to have a son, and they are to give their son the name John. And when John grows up, verse 16, “he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God”. And in verse 17, he’ll go before the Lord in the same way that Elijah in the Old Testament preached repentance and told the people to turn from their ways. And so, John is going to have a very special and important role that will precede the ministry of Jesus. We’re going to see a little bit more of that later. Zechariah’s response to Gabriel is essentially, can you give me some proof that this will actually happen? And so, Gabriel says, Well, how about this? How about you spend the next nine months in verbal time out? How about that? That must have been nice for Elizabeth, huh? So, God takes Zechariah’s ability to speak. Because he didn’t believe the words that God had spoken, Zechariah is not going to speak for a while. Church, it is not a bad thing if God introduces limitations and seasons of difficulty into your life routine. It is not a bad thing if he does that. You’ve just entered his training ground. The goal is that you will emerge on the other side of this thing much more like Christ than when you entered into it.
This morning we’re going to see what’s on the other side for Zechariah. Elizabeth has her son, and when she got pregnant, she immediately praised God. And there was no doubt in her mind that this was the Lord at work. And so, her neighbors and friends, they come together because they heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her. Remember at this point, Elizabeth is well beyond the years of typical childbearing. And so, when these neighbors hear that she’s had her healthy baby boy, there is a clear sense among the neighbors, and among the relatives, that God has accomplished something that only God can accomplish. So even by his birth, even when he’s just being born, John the Baptist is already causing people to turn their hearts to the greatness of the Lord. And the day comes for him to be circumcised. And that is also, by the way, the day in their culture when you would receive your name. If you were a little boy, you’d have your name proclaimed or pronounced on the day that you were circumcised; eight days after you’re born. And so, of course, all the relatives think; Well, you’re going to name him Zechariah, of course you are. This is probably your only son. It’s probably the only kid you’re going to have. Of course, you are going to give him the name of his father or some very prominent family name. But the thing is, Zechariah was told by Gabriel that he would name the boy John. The name that God had himself had assigned to him. And apparently, Zechariah had already communicated to Elizabeth that he can’t talk because of the angel, which she must have found hilarious, actually. If it were me, I would never be able to live this down in my house. They would always be talking about that time Dad couldn’t talk for nine months. But apparently, he said, here’s what happened, and by the way, here’s also what we need to do. We need to fulfill every word that God has spoken to me. We need to name this boy, John. And so that’s what Elizabeth says to the relatives. No, he shall be called John. And the relatives, they can’t understand that. They don’t have any reference for that because, that’s not a family name. And so, they go to Zechariah and, they do what I think is one of the funniest things in the Bible. The Bible is not loaded with laughs, but every once in a while. They make signs to Zechariah to find out what he wants his name of the boy to be. He’s not deaf. He’s mute. If I were him, I’d have been like, just talk, I can hear you. But they make signs to him like, what do you want the boy to be called? How should we name him? And he goes, stop that. And then he writes, “His name will be John”. And he names him John. And immediately his mouth was opened, and his tongue loosed and he spoke. And what was the content of the first thing that came out of Zechariah’s mouth, while he watches God accomplish all that God said that He would accomplish? He blesses God. The last thing that came out of his mouth nine months ago, question God. And the first thing, blesses God.
Friends, that’s what I mean when I say that a season of difficulty and limitation is the training ground of the Lord. If you are a new creation in Christ, God hasn’t left you when you go through trouble. When He brings you into a season of difficulty, he’s just training your heart in a new way. He’s shifted your circumstances so that you have a vantage point to see what he’s doing from a perspective you did not have before, so that your will, will attune to his will. And that’s what happens in Zechariah’s heart here. He becomes very open to the great plans that God has for his son. Did you hear the shift in Zechariah? He’s not an entirely different man, right? He was a righteous man. He loved the Lord before this. But his approach to the situation has changed. God takes him through that temporary ordeal, so that he comes out the other side of it, and he’s ready for ministry. God makes him into an evangelist and into a prophet. What would happen church, what would happen if we all spent less time questioning God, and far more time trusting God is at work, and praying for God to show us how he’s going to use this thing once we’re through it? What would happen? Look what he does with Zechariah. All the neighbors and the relatives, they don’t know what to do. They haven’t heard from this guy in nine months. He hasn’t spoken a word in nine months. And then finally he speaks at this pivotal moment. At this pivotal moment of naming his son in a way that they cannot understand, he speaks and suddenly he can speak completely. Additionally, his deafness has been cured as far as they’re concerned. It’s like two miracles for them. And the news of all of this starts to spread through all the villages in the hill country.
Do you see that? It starts to go everywhere. Nobody can stop talking about what is happening in this household. Did you see, did you hear, what is going on with these people? Just naming John and seeing the restoration of a father who can now speak was enough to get everybody in the region thinking, what is God up to? What is he doing? Because remember, it’s been 400 years since they’ve had a prophet from the last time that these folks had a word from the Lord. The last time someone said, “thus says the Lord”, was four centuries ago. And the last thing they heard from the last guy who spoke like that, a prophet named Malachi, was this, “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”. Could this be the next step? Could this be the thing they’re all wondering? What is God up to? Well, it says that Zechariah, (Oh, I had the cow up there the whole time, look at that) it says Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesies, meaning God reveals himself through Zechariah’s words. He moves in Zechariah to speak God’s words here on Earth, and he reveals a picture of what he has done and what he will accomplish. Not only for his own son, but for the one for whom his son was sent to prepare the way. And so, he starts with Jesus. He says, neighbors, friends, world, church, everyone, here is what the Lord is doing. Bless the Lord because he has visited, and he has redeemed. God has been silent. But not only has he now spoken; he’s come. God’s not sent a message. He’s come to be among his people. That word visit there is very important. We will see it again here in our passage. The Apostle John put it like this. The word became flesh and dwelled with us. That’s how he put it. The word of God became flesh and dwelled with us. The people were waiting on a prophet like Elijah, which Zechariah will get to here in a minute. But he starts by saying that God didn’t just send a prophet. God himself came. And he’s done so to redeem his people, to redeem us, to buy back, or to set free from some captor. And so, in this case, God’s people have been trapped by their enemies and they’re under the weight of oppression and evil. And the Lord himself has come to set his people free. And he does this by raising up a horn of salvation that will gore and destroy God’s enemies. And that’s why he calls it a horn of salvation. It’s a horn. It’s a weapon, yes. But it’s a horn that will set people free. And this horn comes from the House of David, meaning that the salvation is actually a human savior who’s in the line from David, from King David. Two weeks ago, we looked at Jesus’s role as the promised Davidic King, and that’s what Zechariah is saying here. So, if you put all this together, if you put together what he’s saying about Jesus and all that we’ve heard about Jesus up to this point, you will understand why it is that Christians make such a big deal about Jesus. The Lord God himself came into the world as the promised eternal King, who will secure his Kingdom by goring and destroying his enemies with a horn of salvation that will set his people free once and for all. And Zechariah says that this Savior is going to save us from the hand of all of our enemies, which will then mercifully set us free to worship him, to worship God in holiness and in righteousness. And as we read the rest of the New Testament, we find out that’s exactly what Jesus does. But maybe not the way Zechariah understood it. And that’s key here. Jesus does bring salvation by vanquishing our enemies. He does redeem us by buying us out of the clutches of evil. And he is the King of an eternal kingdom.
What we learn later from Jesus when he’s speaking to Pilate right before he goes to the cross, is that he is a king, but his kingdom is not of this world. It’s the spiritual kingdom, at least right now. It’s possible Zechariah thought that the horn of salvation that would redeem God’s people would be a physical upheaval of Rome. That maybe this king would come and be the one who would sit on the actual physical throne, and there would be a re-establishment of the nation of Israel. But here’s the thing. The scope of Jesus’s salvation is so much greater than that. See, the horn of Jesus’s salvation isn’t just going to gore a single oppressive nation in a particular time in space. Jesus’s horn is going to vanquish evil. It’s going to uproot sin, and it’s going to conquer death itself. The salvation will free his people, not simply from the bondage of an evil political regime, but from oppression from sin. Sin that wraps around our hearts like chains and weighs us down. And this salvation is going to be for everyone who believes. It’s not going to be just for one nation, for one people, for one nationality. It’s going to be for all nations and all peoples and all nationalities and all skin colors for all time, including by the way, Romans themselves, the very oppressors that many of the Israelites hoped would be cast off of them. Some of them are actually going to come to faith in Christ. That’s why Paul was so excited in Philippians when Roman soldiers and people from Caesar’s household were coming to faith in Jesus. There will come a day when Christ will physically return, and all those who stand in opposition to him will be physically destroyed. But he’s saving his people from sin and death right now. Salvation is for us now.
Friends, I know that here at Calvary we have a big mix of people coming from every walk of life. Many of you may not yet know Christ, and all this talk of His kingdom and salvation may seem a little bit odd to you. But let me take a guess at something this morning. I’ll bet you’d agree that in our world, there’s a palpable presence of evil. No matter where you’re coming from, I’ll bet you’d agree that there’s a palpable, tangible, experienceable, presence of evil. Call it injustice or wrongness or unfairness. I’ll bet you’d agree that there’s something wrong with humanity. Wouldn’t it be great if a good and powerful creator God would intercede and overthrow whatever it is that is driving corporate greed or racism or me-to abuse of women or callous disregard for the poor? Wouldn’t it be an unprecedented miracle if something could actually change humanity, not just kind of move humanity around in such a way, but actually change people from the inside out so that individuals made choices that were in the best interests of others, and that even loved enemies? It didn’t even require that those people love them back, but they loved them anyway, and they loved enemies, so that actual change could take place. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that regardless of what you think of the claims of Scripture, or of Jesus himself, you can see and feel that there is something wrong with the world that cannot be explained away as something less than evil.
The beauty of the message of Scripture is that salvation has come. Salvation has come to destroy that evil. When the Lord visits us and redeems us through the coming of Jesus, He has come to set right a world that has gone very wrong. If you want to be part of God’s worldwide salvation mission, you can. You can. All of us can. But the destruction of evil has to start with you. It has to start with you. You need to admit your sin is part of the worldwide problem of evil. You’re not some put away section, some little righteous place over here, while the rest of the world is evil. You have to say, I’ve brought evil to the world. You need to repent of that and turn from it and trust that Jesus died in your place for it. And then you’ll be set free to use your life to worship God in holiness and in righteousness. And for the rest of your life, you can help others find this salvation. They can find it too. And you can point people to the only hope that actually can destroy evil. You can be part of the real solution to the real problem of this world.
The prophecy of Jesus ends, and then Zechariah picks it up again to describe his son, and how his son will be part of helping people find that salvation solution. He turns to his own eight-day old boy. And he says, “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”. So, John’s ministry is to give knowledge of salvation to Jesus’s people, a salvation that will focus squarely on the forgiveness of sins. That’s where it’s going to start. And so, what will that require? What would a salvation that starts with the forgiveness of sins require of John? Well, here it is. He’s going to have to do something as unpopular in his day as it is in our day. He’s going to have to tell people that they are not okay just the way they are. Hmm. And then he’ll have to point them to the only solution to their problem, as we just talked about a few moments ago. And that’s really hard to do. It’s really hard to tell people you’re not okay just the way you are. Most people don’t want to hear that. Plenty of people won’t hear from John. They won’t hear it from Jesus. They won’t hear it from any follower of Jesus for the last 2000 years. The salvation is the mercy of God to us, to all of us. But a lot of people don’t accept that and won’t accept that.
But there’s a final image here. There’s a final image in this passage, in this prophetic word from Zechariah that I think is maybe the most broadly appealing and encouraging. It’ll encourage those of you who feel the weight of the world on your shoulders right now. You love Jesus, but you are feeling this incredible weight on your shoulders. It’ll lift the soul of some of you who love the Lord, but you are just feeling evil right now. You’re just feeling the weight of evil in the world. And I hope maybe it’ll break through the skeptical, callous hearts of those of you who don’t yet know the salvation that’s come in Jesus. Zechariah says, here’s another way of thinking about the visit. I told you that word would come up again, visit. You could see it there. It’s there in verse 78. We saw it first in verse 68. Now we see it here again in verse 78. Here’s another way of thinking about this visit from God. It’s like the sun rising up to break the darkness that’s covered the earth. Have you ever sat out pre-dawn when it’s still very, very dark outside? You ever get outside and get up real early in the morning and get out there and the sun’s not shining yet, there’s no sun at all? But you’re just sitting there and you’re looking at the horizon, and then things start to get lighter, don’t they? You don’t yet see the sun, but you start to see the light shine over and then everything starts to come alive with color because what happens is the sun just breaks over the horizon, and you can start to see the edge of it. And by the edge of that sun, you can start to see everything else for the way it is. Humanity with its sinful hearts and its disregard for God. It sits in darkness. Sits in dark is not the quiet, contemplative darkness that often we enjoy. But chaos, blindness, inability to see darkness, the death and destruction, shadow of death. And the coming of Christ is like the sunrise. It throws light into this world of darkness. And the light isn’t just to make us see our situation. It does something. It actually guides us. You see that there at the end of the prophecy? It guides us into the way of peace. See, you can see the way your own heart is when you can finally see yourself for who you really are, and you turn, and you repent, and you turn to Christ, and you trust in His sacrifice, that his sacrifice has taken away your sins. What happens is that you begin a journey. You begin a journey. Now that you can see, what happens is your feet start moving. You start to live a different way. There’s a way that’s called peace. There’s a way of peace. I can start to walk in this way of peace with God. I can show other people how to have peace. You know anybody that doesn’t have peace in their life? Maybe you don’t, but I’m sure you know others that don’t. And you can walk in peace, and you can help others to walk in peace. You can show other people how to have this peace with God. I can now see how to apply God’s news to every area of my sinful, tumultuous, upheaval, in my personal life. And by the way, in the world around me, I can be a difference maker. I can give this knowledge of salvation and new life to other people in darkness. And I can see them come to peace as well. And it’s all because of the tender mercy of God who says, I am not going to leave you there. I am not going to keep you in the darkness of death. I am going to save you out of death. And to do it, I’m going to visit you myself. Would you pray with me?