…the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:78b-79
Christmas is a season in which we see many glittering lights and enjoy visits with friends and relatives. But how much more glorious is the Light that God sent forth to shine in darkness! And, how much more wonderful is that visit of the Dayspring from on high!
Zacharias had not been able to speak because he doubted God’s word when the angel first announced that he and Elisabeth would have a son. When their baby was born and believing Zacharias wrote “His name is John,” his mouth was immediately opened and he praised God.
He does not merely praise God that he and Elisabeth had a son after so many years; rather, he praises God for His covenant faithfulness in visiting His people. Jehovah God had kept His promise to send the Messiah, the Dayspring from on High. The birth of John (the Baptist) meant that the birth of the Dayspring was just a few months off. The Dayspring was ready to give His glorious light.
The wonder that we celebrate this season is that the Dayspring has visited us! Jesus Christ, the Lord God, has come in the flesh.
That is what Zacharias was celebrating on the day he spoke the words of our text. For thousands of years, God had declared through the prophets that He would send a Savior into the world. Zacharias adds his voice to the chorus of all those prophets: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant” (Luke 1:68-72).
Since the world began, God has proclaimed essentially one word of promise through the mouth of His prophets. He promised to send the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head. God made essentially the same promise to our father Abraham in Genesis 17. Zacharias was familiar with Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. We find the very last prophecy concerning Christ in Malachi 4:2: “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise….” Malachi depicts Christ as a rising Sun.
That and many other prophecies were being revealed as Zacharias spoke. For thousands of years, God promised to send a Savior for His people. Now, the promise had become reality. Undoubtedly, Zacharias knew that his son once leaped in Elisabeth’s womb at the presence of the Messiah, who was yet in Mary’s womb (cf. Luke 1:44). Now, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Zacharias declares that the promised Dayspring has come.
A dayspring refers to the rising sun. As the sun comes from below the horizon, pierces through the fog and scatters the darkness, so too the Dayspring, who is pure light and perfectly righteous, came to dispel the dark and dismal shades of sin and death. This Dayspring comes “from on high;” that is, He comes from heaven. The Dayspring is God Himself come in the flesh.
Jehovah God Himself has visited us! That is why Zacharias says, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for he hath visited and redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68). “Visit” in the original has the idea of coming and making a careful inspection with a particular purpose. We read of God visiting Israel in Exodus 3:16: “The Lord God of your fathers…appeared to me saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt.” When God visited Israel during their bondage, He saw their taskmasters, heard their cry, and set Himself to deliver them. So it is with the Dayspring; He came down from heaven and visited us. Not only did He see our misery, He experienced our misery as He took on human flesh. Already in Bethlehem, when there was no room in the inn, He felt that misery. Visiting us, He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Especially as He was forsaken on the cross, Jesus experienced our misery.
The Dayspring did not visit the earth for every man, woman, and child. Luke 1:68 says that God “visited and redeemed His people.” Verse 73 speaks about the oath that God made “to our father Abraham,” the father of all believers. The Dayspring visited us, who are God’s elect and set Himself to give us light.
The visit began with the true Light coming into the world; but His visit did not end there. The Dayspring continues to shine in darkness and gives to us glorious light. Zacharias says that the Dayspring visited us “to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78).
But, before we appreciate that glorious light, we must see our gloom. Only as we begin to fathom how deep is that darkness in which we sat can we appreciate the glorious light that visited us in Bethlehem. That darkness is so deep that it is called “the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). The darkness is a picture of our condition by nature as we are afflicted by the chains of sin. In Adam, we all fell into that bondage. By ourselves apart from grace we are dead in sin, unable to do any good, in the grips of death. By nature, we dwelt in that hopeless, dark shadow of death (cf. Ps. 107:10ff.).
Such was the darkness of our bondage that only the cross of Christ could deliver us from it. Only through the darkness that Christ suffered on the cross could we be freed from the punishment that we deserve for our sins. As Jesus was surrounded by darkness, cursed and forsaken by the Father, suffering His infinite wrath, He satisfied God’s justice in our place.
Why did the Dayspring from on high, the Light of the world, suffer such darkness? He came “to give light to those sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.” As a light shining into a dark place, the Dayspring shines His grace towards us. No matter how thick the darkness, the Dayspring overcomes it. The light shines out bringing healing to us.
The Dayspring overcomes the darkness of sin, first by taking away the guilt of sin, granting us the verdict of righteousness in God’s sight. Secondly, He breaks the power of sin so that we are free to walk in His glorious light. After giving us that new freedom, He also guides “our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). God establishes harmony between us and Himself on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness. The way of peace is the pathway that leads to peace now and perfect peace that we will experience in heaven.
We never would desire that way of peace as we were by nature. But the Dayspring brings us into that way. The Spirit of Christ continues to work in our lives to guide us along that way so that we walk in harmony with God in righteousness and holiness. The Dayspring began to shine in Bethlehem, but He continues to shine on us and causes us to bear fruit.
What a glorious light is that Dayspring!
All because of His tender mercy!
What drove the Dayspring to shine upon us so graciously? It is “through the tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:78). God sent His only begotten Son to be born in Bethlehem and to die on the cross on account of His tender mercy. Our salvation and every blessing connected to our salvation has its fountain in the tender mercy of God.
Mercy is the tender affection of God whereby He pities us in our misery and desires to deliver us from it. God saw us sitting in darkness and pitied us. Mercy is why He sent the Dayspring to bring us out of our darkness. Not just mercy, but “tender mercy.” Literally, “bowels of mercy.” Ancient people saw a connection between the innermost organs of a person and the mercy they showed, probably because when one feels great pity it affects them inwardly. And so too God’s mercy towards us is not a cold, calculated determination to deliver us. Rather, His mercy reaches to the very core of His being, affecting Him to such a degree that He sets Himself to save us. Two thousand years ago God manifested His covenant mercy in Bethlehem when He kept the oath that He sware to our fathers. He caused the Dayspring from on high to visit us.
The light of the Dayspring from on high has shined upon us in this life. We have covenant fellowship with our God. But, the brightness of that Dayspring will reach its fullness when God takes us to glory. Then we will see His light in all its fullness. How glorious is that tender mercy of God manifested in the Dayspring!