Who wrote this song? The author is most surprising: a Jewish priest who’d been struck dumb for nine months! Zacharias was his name, and the cause of his lack of speech was unbelief.
Zacharias just hadn’t reckoned that his elderly wife could possibly become a mother for the first time, even though God himself had sent an angelic messenger to confirm it to him.
Now the period of waiting had ended, the miracle baby had arrived, and the name John had been given to him, in accordance with God’s direction through the angel. As the Baptist, John would be the forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ, preparing the hearts of needy people to receive God’s blessing through him.
This song gives a realistic picture of a world of lost people, sitting in darkness, cut off from any relationship with God their Maker, with death, like a sword of Damocles, hanging over them.
Who wouldn’t be in despair if this was all the future held? The Bible makes it clear that death entered the world at the very beginning; that it was a result of deliberate rebellion — ‘sin’ is the Bible word — and that all of us have joined in this disobedience.
We have all asserted our independence from God, and daily live in defiance of his laws — such laws as: you shall have no other gods before me; you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; honour your father and mother; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not covet.
We deserve to be cut off from God and can do nothing to prevent the judgment of God on our misbehaviour. We are all without oars or rudder in the same boat, heading for the rocks, utterly without hope unless someone comes to the rescue. Yes, but God has come to deliver us!
But Zacharias is certain of a deliverance. He describes it as a finished act, even though he is writing more than 30 years before its completion: ‘God has visited and redeemed his people’ (Luke 1:68).
How can we be so sure that this deliverance is for us? Let’s follow the old priest as his music becomes sweeter, and his tone more and more urgent. By the time he reaches the glorious final chord, all doubts are dispelled.
Deliverance was promised from the beginning. God is never taken by surprise. He knew that man would fall into sin, and he promised that a Saviour would be sent on a great rescue mission. This Saviour would not come from the priestly line of Levi, but would rather be descended from the royal line of David.
This deliverer would be a strong Saviour, able to save all who come to him, because, as Isaiah prophesied 700 years before Christ was born: ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5).
This perfect Saviour was strong enough to bear the whole weight of his people’s sins at Calvary. By taking their whole load, God’s perfect justice was satisfied.
The saving work of Jesus would do three great things for sinners: deliver them from the fear of death; free them from the slavery of sin; and provide forgiveness for their sins, through God’s tender mercy in Christ.
Jesus said, ‘If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.’ (John 8:36). This freedom involves the privilege of serving the Saviour with a renewed heart, not out of drudgery. Because we are made new people, we can do as Zacharias says — ‘serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life’ (Luke 1:74-75).
Zacharias’ son would be given the crucial role of preparing people for this coming deliverer.
The climax of Zacharias’ hymn likens the arrival of the promised Messiah to the rising of the sun after a gloomy night. Jesus is described as the Dayspring sent from God’s very presence in the highest heaven, sent to give light and hope and peace to those in the darkness of sin and unbelief.
Jesus is the light of the world. There is no better way of describing this than in the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn:
‘Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness arise,
Triumph o’er the shades of night;
Day-spring from on high, be near;
Day-star, in my heart appear.
‘Visit then this soul of mine;
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, Radiancy divine;
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more Thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day’.
What of you who are reading this song? If you recognise the gloom of sin and unbelief as true to your experience, why not come to this strong Saviour now? He has promised, ‘The one who comes to me I will by no means cast out’ (John 6:37).
Christ says of himself, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life’ (John 8:12). Abandon all hope in yourself and trust this mighty Redeemer. You’ll never regret it!
Martin Wells served as an elder at Welcome Hall Evangelical Church, Bromsgrove