As I wrap up the year in my Bible reading, I’ve returned to doing a little HEAR journaling. This is a technique that helps me to focus on something from the daily readings and unpack it a bit. HEAR stands for highlight, explain, apply, and respond. I find this pattern helpful, and perhaps you will too.
H – Highlight
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
E – Explain
Here Zechariah speaks a word of prophecy over his newborn son, John—later John the Baptist. John will prepare the way for Jesus to come. Even more, he will prepare the people of Israel to have something greater than they have known before. John is not going to simply prepare the way for the nation to have general success, land promises, and the rest. John will help the people toward knowledge of God and forgiveness of their sins.
Because of my recent work in the covenants, the topic of forgiveness coming to the people from the promised one rings in my mind. Much of the Old Covenant made room for the nation of Israel to live in the presence of God in the land. The forgiveness achieved in the sacrificial system was first a forgiveness that kept God from having to destroy the nation. God, of course, would not destroy the whole nation, because he intended to bring the Messiah through the nation of Israel. But personal forgiveness of sins and personal relationship with God was not achieved through animal sacrifice. Instead, relationship with God was achieved by God’s grace through faith as the faithful Israelites believed the promises of God. The sacrifices pointed toward the work God would achieve when he finally sent his Son.
Thus, what grabs me is just how much greater the salvation is that we see promised in Luke 1. What John will point the people toward is greater than the Old Covenant. It is sweet and merciful. It is glorious and gracious.
A – Apply
I think the best way to apply this passage is to again stop, think, and be very grateful for life in the New Covenant. We do not look at a bloody animal sacrifice and long for the fulfillment of a promise of a sacrifice that will give us true forgiveness. Instead, in Christ, our forgiveness has been achieved. Our hope is now in his return. So, right response is gratitude, faith, hope, and worship. Right application is a call to love the gospel and be sure to proclaim it.
R – Respond
Lord, I thank you for forgiveness in Christ. I know that I could never achieve anything that would earn me your favor. I know that I deserve death a million times over. That you would send your Son to be my salvation is glorious. I pray that you will make me faithful to you, to your worship, to your church, and to the spreading of your gospel for your glory.