HG008 Luke 1:57-80
57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 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 set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were 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. 67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: 68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us— 72 to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” 80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.
John the Baptist was a very interesting fellow and this is the story of his birth. You may remember that it was the Angel Gabriel that first appeared to Zacharias in the temple and he did not initially believe him and so was struck dumb, unable to speak. But just because this happened it did not mean he was unable to communicate for he needed to explain what had happened and so he wrote it down.
Elizabeth, who was very old, has now given birth to a son. Sons were very important in Jewish society for he would carry on the name of the family for another generation and all the rights of the firstborn and inheritance of their plot of land would go to him. All male Jews were to be circumcised or they were not allowed to be part of the Jewish Race and this happened, and still happens today, on the 8th day – the 8th day is one week later – the 1st day is the day the child is born. To be circumcised meant that he was brought into the commonwealth of Israel and its covenant with God with the obligation to live according to the law of Moses and to share in the blessings promised to his people by God. It is also the time when they name the child in a similar to a christening is done today.
Why was he called John? Traditionally we are told that he should have been called Zacharias but there was nothing that was going to be traditional about this boy: He was always going to be against convention, he was always going to be going against the tide. From the context it seems that the relatives were already trying to call the boy Zacharias but the mother intervened and said basically ‘hang on – no, don’t call him that, his name is John’.
Sometimes it is necessary to stand up to relatives, those of our own family for the right and godly thing.
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
In fact, Jesus it even starker terms in:
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
For those of us who are the sole Christians in our family we have an insight into what this is like. Following Jesus has to come first even above our families though Scripture is very clear that we should be providing for our own.
The name Zacharias means to ‘Remember God’ and this was appropriate for it had been 400 years since God had spoken but John’s name means ‘God is gracious’. God no longer needed to be remembered for He was suddenly present and acting and speaking. God’s grace came to the fore in sending to the Jewish Race a man who would turn the hearts of them back to God towards the Messiah. In John God was saying His grace has arrived.
Zacharias’ family was very surprised when he confirmed that the boy was to be called John. He was obeying the voice of the angel Gabriel but everyone was in even more awe when Zacharias suddenly opened his mouth and praised God. He had been silent for over 9 months and despite the pent-up frustration of not being able to communicate properly the first words out were praise to God. Oh if only that was us after our few hours’ sleep! What an auspicious and promising start to the child’s life! Everyone was wondering what this child was and was going to be.
So, even one week after the child was born he was already starting a spiritual interest back in the things of God which is all well and good but how long was it before John started his public ministry? How long would people wait and keep interested?
How long would people wonder today? Would they forget by tomorrow? But the people who lived near John kept a steady eye on him to see what God will do and they had to wait a long time to find it out. I suppose they had waited 400 years so what is another couple of decades?! When he became the public figure calling on people to repent they already knew that he was a man sent by God and so were more receptive to him.
John the Baptist was a very interesting figure but I am not sure that such a man would be accepted today. He went about in a camel’s skin and a belt very much like the Old Testament prophet Elijah – can you imagine the kind of things that would be said of such a man today!
John spoke of sin, of justice and of judgement. We need to preach in this way too to those whom we meet for this is the work of the Holy Spirit who wants to bring all people back to God. He was a man who lived as he preached. In fact his life was his sermon. He had boldness and integrity and brought many people to the realisation that they are sinners in the hands of an awesome God whose wrath is ready to be poured out. God has given us His Word but devastating are His works. Thank God it is not left there but people can turn to God by repenting. John’s preaching connected the conviction of sin with the necessity of repentance—a decision to turn away from sin. This is impossible apart from the grace of God, but it indicates true rebirth. Those who are born again repent, and one evidence of their rebirth is ongoing repentance.
Now the Holy Spirit took hold of Zacharias and was moved by Him:
for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Notice it is holy men of God moved by the Holy Spirit. If we want to be used by God holiness unto Him is the only way. Holiness has meanings of purity in our manner of life, what we do, what we say, what we think. God is to be number one in everything. We have to be God-minded. Life is too short to be anything else. In verses 74 and 75 we are to be in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives serving Him.
We read that Zacharias was remembering God and His promises in the Old Testament and treating them as if they had already come to pass – and Jesus had not even been born yet, and yet Zacharias, like Mary last week, speaks of the future in the past tense – such was his faith.
Zacharias says God has raised up a horn of salvation. When we read of horns it means strength, after all horns on a bull means you would not stand in its way when it comes towards you unless you are a matador! Here Zacharias speaks of a horn of salvation. This is a strong salvation; He is mighty to save. Jesus was Saviour long before He was born – before even the world’s creation the plan was already put in place. This salvation cannot be overcome just as Jesus cannot be overcome. He is a strong Saviour, a strong deliverer and no one can go against Him.
This is evident even in the crucifixion of which Jesus says He of His own accord lays down His life but of greater evidence is that He could take up His life even when dead. He is so strong that death could not beat Him and so Jesus overcame the greatest enemy of all. He is the one who is so strong that all enemies are defeated, all that seek to keep us in bondage, all that seek to keep us slaves, all that seek to bring down, all these Jesus has overcome and set us free.
And once we are free this does not mean we are free to pursue our own thing, our own pleasure, but we are free to serve God without fear and instead pursue holiness and righteousness in Him every day of our lives. This means we are to be those who turn away from those things which are wicked and to instead be dedicated to good works.
Oh the joy that Zacharias must have had for him then to turn to his own son whom he had longed for all his life and have the privilege of being the father of the one who would prepare the way for the Saviour. John’s ministry will be one of turning people back to God and for them to have peace. He was also fulfilling prophecy of being light and life to those he came:
There I will make the horn of David grow; I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed.
He was being an example of being light to those around him just as we are called to be light to those around us. People are in darkness though they think they can see but true sight comes in and through Jesus alone.
It is a dawn of a new day which is what Dayspring in verse 78 means. He has come to give life to those who are in the shadow of death. Not the old one revamped but a brand new life with the old gone. The new is come. Much of the reason we live in the old life is because we do not realise that the new is ever present and that the old no longer needs to be lived. If we walked truly in the freedom given to us by Jesus then we would realise we are forgiven, that the old IS gone.
Old IS gone means it went in the past and old IS gone means that it is gone right now. The new IS come means that the new came to us in the past when we acknowledged that Jesus is Lord and the new IS come means that it is right now, brand new at every moment of every day. Forgiveness is ever present – not just in the past but right now – our feet are guided into the way of peace – and peace is knowing we are, right at this moment and every moment hereafter, reconciled to God and nothing can separate us from His love. This is why we can live without fear. Our enemy is defeated.
Forgiveness of sins and assurance of the love of God is what is missing in people’s lives today. People carry around a heavy conscience knowing that they will have to live with the things they have done all their lives. Everyone has sinned. Everyone is lost. Everyone needs a Saviour.
The bad news is that there is a penalty to pay which is death and the wrath of God to come.
The good news is that Jesus paid the penalty in full. Life and peace are offered.
The chapter ends with John growing up and becoming ‘strong in spirit’. He starts to lead a solitary, desert life as a young man, ‘till the day of his manifestation to Israel’.
One man who was changed was Zacharias. To start with he did not believe the angel that was sent to him despite seeing with him with his own eyes but later we see that he put His trust in the God who will fulfil His promises and he went further than that. He put His trust in the God has already fulfilled His promises because he knows that when God speaks it is as if it has already happened.
We are to put our trust in God, to be those dependent upon God, to be those who are holy to God leaving behind the ways of the world the flesh and the devil and live out our lives continually repenting. To be holy to God is not just being pure but it is being separated to God and His purposes.
Let me finish with a verse of a poem by Charles Kingsley:
Be earnest, earnest, earnest—
Mad if thou wilt;
Do what thou dost as if the
Stake were Heaven,
And that thy last deed before
The Judgment Day.
John lit the way to Christ for the 1st advent in which Jesus came for us to be our Saviour. This is what we remember this morning. Jesus Himself was the light of the world and His purpose was to bring light into our lives and there was only one way that was possible and that was through dying on the cross to save us from our sin so we could be reconciled to God and destroy the darkness within. We were wretched and completely undeserving yet He showed mercy and for this we can only be thankful:
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
We just said we proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes so we, like John the Baptist, are called to Prepare the Way of the Lord for there will be another event, a 2nd advent in which He will come again with great power and authority. Are we prepared to do our part and follow in the footsteps of John and of Jesus?