No salvation is possible without forgiveness. Our Father cannot forgive our sins on the grounds of justice, and therefore He does so through His tender mercy. He has made Himself our God by giving us grace—undeserved favor. He passes by the transgressions of His people because He delights in mercy. He is so full of pity that He delays to condemn us in our guilt, but looks with loving concern upon us to see how He can turn away His wrath and restore us to favor.
Micah 7:18 adds, "Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy." God is love, and love is kind, but perhaps our approach to His forgiveness has been prosaically legal. The Scriptures reveal that God does kindness with intensity of will and readiness of mind. He forgives with all His heart because He delights in mercy! He says, "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies." God's nature works to give mercy, not punish; to create beauty, not destroy; to save, not lose.
Can we not see a lesson in this? Are we anywhere near God's image in this? How many of us, fellowshipping among God's people, are hiding resentment and bearing the seeds of bitterness against a brother because of some offense—or carrying a grudge, or filled with envy, or communicating gossip? Are these things acts of kindness? Does a forgiving spirit that delights in mercy enter into acts that destroy a brother's reputation and widen existing divisions?
One other phrase in Luke 1:78 shows the kind and tender nature of our God: "He visited us." God did not merely pity us from a distance, nor did He allow His compassion for us to remain as an unresolved, inactive feeling. David writes in Psalm 8:4, "What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?" But God did just that!
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed he does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like his brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18)
God has not merely pitied us from a distance, but He has entered into life, our life, on our level. The Creator stooped from His high and pure abode as glorious God, and veiled His divinity for an abode of animated clay. He assumed our nature, was tempted in all things like us, took our sicknesses, and bore our infirmities for the express purpose of being a merciful and faithful High Priest. He did not enter into our world and yet maintain a status superior to us. He truly walked in our shoes and still went about doing good.
Christ, Paul adds in Galatians 1:4, "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." Who knows how many individual acts of kindness—from the conception of the plan to its fulfillment—are contained within this simple statement?
This is the heart of God's nature. He generously and mercifully gives that others might benefit. Now, because of what He did, this nature is growing in us. By His Spirit He has taken His abode in us to enable us to work out our salvation, and as we yield, our lives are changing, gradually conforming to His image. He dwells in us despite all our provocations, stubbornness, neglect, and rebellions. How often we must disappoint Him, and yet as our High Priest and Intercessor, He stands ever ready to serve us with yet more kindness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness
Verses 76-79 comprise a prophecy devoted without qualification to John and his work.
From the very beginning, John and Jesus are allied in the salvation scheme. However, the Bible shows in interesting ways how John is subordinate to Jesus. For instance, in Luke 1:36, Mary and Elizabeth are shown to be related, probably cousins. Both women conceive in a miraculous way, but Mary's conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit is far more miraculous. Then, when Elizabeth greets Mary (Luke 1:39-41), John, while still in her womb, leaps for joy in the presence of our Lord in His mother's womb. Finally, Luke 1:76 shows John to be only a prophet, but verses 32-35 show Jesus to be the Son of God and Heir to the throne of David.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Elijah and John the Baptist
There are two ways to translate the word "Dayspring" in verse 78. It is anatole in Greek, meaning "rising up," and Greek speakers usually use it of the sun and stars rising. It often has the sense of "from the east," since the sun rises in the east.
Its second meaning, though, is "shoot" or "branch"! It is the same word that the Septuagint, the Old Testament in Greek, uses in Jeremiah 23:5 and Zechariah 3:8; 6:12 for "Branch"! At the very least, this is a double entendre, a play on both meanings of the word, to describe the Messiah. This could be translated "the Branch from on High," which is very similar to Isaiah 4:2, "the Branch of the Lord [YHWH]."
The translators chose to use "Dayspring" because verse 79 contains the imagery of giving light in darkness, just as the dawn chases away the darkness of night. They are undoubtedly correct in their choice, but the idea of "the Branch" is lurking just behind.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Luke 1:78: