Just A Few Words
Impressions and Reflections
“Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." / 57 “When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 68 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John. 61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” 62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is John." 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking "What then is this child going to be?" For the Lord's hand was with him.” Luke 1:57-66
The Last Herald
Miracles are a very important part of God’s Word and work in this world because God is in the miracle business! We have in our reading today one of the miracles that preceded the birth of Jesus. God was at work in the Old Testament weaving threads together by bringing the Messiah to us through time and people. These were not special people. They were ordinary folks just like you and I. Yet they were chosen by God in ages past to do His will upon this earth. One such couple was Zechariah and Elisabeth. They were of old age when Zechariah was told by an angel that his wife, Elizabeth, would become pregnant with child and this would happen even though she was long past her child-bearing years. Have we heard this story before? Remember Abraham and Sarah? They too were ordained with a child in their late years to secure the lineage that led to the coming of the Messiah. Remember, “Nothing is impossible with God.” In that culture to be barren, without children, was thought to be a curse from God. Zechariah, a priest, was the one ‘chosen by lot’ to enter into the Temple, specifically the Holy of Holies, forbidden to all but those in the priestly lineage of Aaron. This priest at this time would go in to offer incense of prayers before God for himself and the people. It was a privilege and yet foreboding experience. No one would dare enter this area without the thought of perishing by the hand of God if they were to make a mistake. God laid down the regulations centuries before. So you can imagine that when Zechariah encountered an ‘angel of the Lord’ in the misty, smoke filled space, he was indeed startled and afraid. Not knowing what to expect anyway and to have this happen was a shocking experience! When the angel spoke to him I suppose he quaked in his sandals! But the message the angel had was one of hope and strength for him and his wife. The announcement stunned him so much that he wouldn’t believe it. So the angel told him that he would become silent, unable to speak, because of his unbelief until the child was born. Immediately He was paralyzed in his communication with everyone. But there was another stipulation: he was to name the child John. This child is none other than John the Baptist the predecessor and the cousin of the Messiah through Elizabeth, Mary’s relative. In God’s timing they would be a significant part of God’s plan.
All four Gospel accounts include the person and the work of John the Baptist. Only here in Luke do we have the complete story of his birth. Through Luke, as well as in the other three Gospel accounts, we have his mission as the ‘forerunner’ of the Messiah. In fact when we read John’s Gospel we can get confused as to whom the Apostle John is writing about. In his Gospel he never refers to his own name with the exception of calling himself ‘the one whom Jesus loved”. This is due to his close relationship with Jesus and he didn’t want to expound on that fact. John explains more about John the Baptist and his mission than the other writers. Luke reports on the full story of how and when and through whom John was born. It is interesting then to hear what the angel had said to his father Zechariah: ”Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Paving the way for God’s Son, his task would be to awaken people’s hearts and minds. As I have said many a time, John is the last Old Testament prophet. I say this because up to this point people were wondering when God would speak again through a person. The last prophet who wrote was Malachi and in the Inter-Testamental period, the period from Malachi to the birth of the Messiah, there was no recorded prophecy like there was prior to Malachi. In Malachi’s last words he wrote: “See I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers . . .” (Malachi 4:5-6) John the Baptist was to become the person who would announce to the people of Judah that Jesus is indeed the long awaited Messiah. It is interesting to note that the Jewish people, who won’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah even up to this day, are awaiting this prophecy to come true. As the angel announced, John the Baptist would come in the ‘spirit and power of Elijah.’ Even Jesus announced that John was Elijah: “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:13-15) So John is fulfilling the destiny God had planned through him as told many, many years before.
Now we pick up when John was born. In their society, a male child was to be named after his father or a relative. Elizabeth is the first to announce that the child would be named John. According to custom, the child had to be named by his father. But remember that Zechariah couldn’t speak. That is why they questioned Elizabeth. “On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John. They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Why the name John? I don’t know! However this name came from God perhaps to distinguish him from his family. Whatever the case that is what they named him just as the angel announced. Yet the people wanted to hear from his father. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is John." Tho he couldn’t speak he could write! He confirmed what his wife had said to everyone’s amazement! Then another miracle happened. “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.” Notice where his acknowledgment was, it was to God! He knew what had happened in the Holy of Holies that day the angel spoke to him. I am sure he wrote repeatedly about that experience and only Elizabeth would have perhaps believed him. Here was the proof. As soon as he wrote the name John, he was then able to speak and speak he did! He immediately gave praise to God and everyone then wondered about who this child was to be. They would only find out when the time was right for John to begin his ministry “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. (Mark 1:4) This was the beginning of the ministry of Jesus for He soon came on the scene alongside John.
John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus. He baptized people in the Jordan River and taught people to turn from their wicked ways. People thought that he could possibly be the Messiah. He was even questioned by the religious leaders to whom he had called a ‘brood of vipers’! He very well could have met his fate! However John always pointed to the fact that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. He never took credit for himself. It was later in his ministry that he baptized Jesus. Now Jesus didn’t have to be baptized in keeping with repentance; He was the sinless, spotless Lamb of God who came into this world to free us from our sin. So why did Jesus allow John to baptize Him? It was to connect us with Himself and with God the Father. We are baptized the same way He was baptized and it is in our own baptism that we are connected through the element of water with the Messiah. Being baptized does not remove our sin. Only by believing and trusting in Jesus as our Lord and Savior does this take place. Yet the Son of God allowed John to baptize Him so we can have a relationship with God through Jesus. I am reminded of the song: “What can wash away my sin” and the answer is astoundingly “Nothing but the blood of Jesus”. We are saved not through our baptism, only through the cross of Jesus the spotless Lamb of God. We connect with Him when we confess our sins and acknowledge that He is Lord of our life and then we follow Him by being baptized in His Name. John the Baptist came only as the last herald of the Old Testament to proclaim that God is still at work in this world. Jesus is indeed the only One who can correct all our mistakes and to carry us into God’s heavenly Kingdom! John is the Elijah that was to come and through whom God spoke about His Son. Do you remember your baptism? It was at that point that you confessed your sins and through your being baptized that you are following Jesus as your Lord and Savior. We have a rich inheritance through the work of God in John proclaiming Jesus. Miracles are still happening today as more and more people come to faith as we have. Just think how blessed you are!
To God be the glory, forever and ever. AMEN!! Pastor Bill