78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
1901 ASV Translation:
78 Because of the tender mercy of our God, Whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us,
79 To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; To guide our feet into the way of peace.
In verse 78 the Textus Receptus has the aorist form of the word translated "hath visited" and the Nestle/Aland 26 has the future tense "shall visit". The speculation of the textual critics is that a copyist altered the future tense to conform to the aorist of the same word in 1:68. Speculation is just that; but, for our studies it makes very little difference because both the historical aoristic sense of the visitation is correct as well as the futuristic sense.
I. From 1:76 Zacharias has turned his attention upon his son.
II. In his focus upon his son, Zacharias has majored upon the idea that he will be the focal instrument of God for the enlightenment of the people of God regarding how they may become "prepared" for the coming of their God.
III. In this focus, the fundamental "preparation" is to be enlightenment about the relationship between the promise of "salvation" and the "banishment of their sins".
IV. In the verse before us, Zacharias attributes both the "banishment of our sins" and the subsequent "salvation" to "the tender mercies of our God".
I. The Issue of the "Dayspring"(AV/ASV)/"Sunrise" (NASB).
A. In order to understand Zacharias, we must grasp the imagery he is using.
1. It is an ancient imagery; the Old Testament has multiple references to the the "problem" of the "darkness" and the "shadow of death".
2. It, clearly, has to do with "creating light" so that those enveloped by darkness can see.
3. The association with John's function of "giving knowledge" and the "Dayspring" giving light so that the feet of the people can be guided on to the Road of Peace makes the imagery that of the Sun's rising in the dawn. This is the only imagery that has a sufficient example in the physical universe. Even the brightest full moon leaves too much in the "shadows" (of death?) to be a good basis for Zacharias' metaphor. A brilliant star would do even less.
4. Matthew 4:16 actually uses the same imagery and applies it to Jesus' ministry in Galilee.
B. It must be clear, however, that the physical image is a mirror of something far more profound: the "darkness" and "shadow of death" is "doctrinal error".
1. It is impossible to escape the fact that Zacharias is fixated upon the real necessity for "knowledge" and "clear guidance upon the Road of Peace".
2. It is also impossible to escape the fact that it is knowledge of Truth that gives "light" so that people can live in a way that is describable as "Life".
C. The particular issues of "doctrinal error" are two.
1. Most critical is the "T"heology of God in terms of His essential character: this is established by Luke as "merciful".
2. The next most critical is the "t"heology of divine methodology for the "saving" of man by way of "redemption": this is established by Luke as "gracious".
D. The Rising of the Sun/Outshining of the Son ("we beheld His glory") is the central issue of the First Coming: the Incarnation (God clothed in humanity so that humanity could "see" the glory of God in a way that transcends "revelation by words").
1. Interestingly, though, we see God reverting back to words after a very brief historical irruption (a breaking into history from without).
2. Never, however, has the "word" been sufficient: it has always required the special added impact of the "Spirit". Created "mind", divorced from its Creator, has always been a land of "darkness" and "shadow of death". If the Light of the Spirit does not attend the "words", there is no "light" even when the words are absolutely true without even the slightest variation in "jot" or "tittle".
a. This means that a doctrine of "inspired" Scripture is of no use if all that man has is an abolutely accurate verbal record of God's thoughts.
b. This also, however, means that the Spirit does not illumine apart from truthful words, nor does He illumine apart from the original intention of those truthful words (an intention that includes a focus upon God and not man and a focus upon Servanthood and not dominion).
II. The Visitation.
A. Is "by which" in reference to the "tender feelings of God" which arise out of His "mercy". The visit does not spring out of anything divorced from God's "tender feelings".
B. Is "from on high".
1. Luke uses this particular term twice in his Gospel (1:78 and 24:49).
2. In both places, he is deliberately associating "high" with "God".
3. In chapter one, Luke deliberately calls "God" the "Most High" (1:32, 35, and 76).
a. This has far-reaching implications for a non-Jewish readership.
b. This forces all who would deal with the "Sunrise" to go beyond all of the "gods" so-called to the "Most High".
C. Is a "visitation".
1. A "visitation" is the bringing of a solution to a real problem.
2. The real "problem" has been identified as "darkness" and the "shadow of death".
3. The "solution" has been identified as a fixation upon "mercy" and "grace"...not as men define and apply the words, but as God defines and applies them. Men tend very heavily into the direction of "mercy" as the supply of some physical benefit and "grace" as God's condecension to men of merit. God defines "mercy" as the supply of the core of Life (which has its greatest expression in the spirit and its least expression in the body) and "grace" as His own activity in spite of man's lack of merit.
a. In this text, the greater need of man is to have his feet placed upon the Highway of Peace.
1) This is not the greatest need. Man's need is "Life".
2) This is the greatest methodological need. There are "methods" by which "Life" is experienced. Walking upon the Highway of Peace is the method of "Life".
b. This "need" is referred to in multiple ways as "salvation". In this text, the complication from which man needs to be "saved" is the darkness of death.