Luke 1:56-80 – John the Baptist's Birth

We have two sections to cover this week as we work through the end of chapter one.  The first section a record of fulfillment.  The fulfillment of Gabriel’s words to Zechariah in the Temple.  The second section is prophetic.  It records Zechariah’s Spirit-filled prophetic song about Jesus and John.

Luke 1:57-66 – The Birth of JtB

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.  Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.  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.”  Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.  He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.”  Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.  The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things.  Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

Fulfillment is a theme throughout Luke, and this is just the beginning.  Aside from the amazing things said of John the Baptist in Gabriel’s appearance to Zechariah, it is amazing in and of itself that Zechariah and Elizabeth have a child in their old age (Luke 1:13, 57).  People study this stuff and the studies show childbirth when a couple is “well along in years” has a greater risk of miscarriage, and other various complications.  In spite of their age, God fulfilled his promise as spoken through Gabriel and they bore a son.  Their neighbors respond properly, rejoicing with them about this especially amazing event (Luke 1:14, 58).  They had not done the studies, but knew from experience that this was a tremendous event.  They knew that indeed, “the Lord had shown [Elizabeth] great mercy.”

Gabriel told Zechariah his son would be named John (Luke 1:13), the fulfillment of this causes a bit of confusion to those attending John’s circumcision.  (Luke  1: 59-63).  Why are all these people at JtB’s circumcision…seems a bit personal, right?  Well, circumcision, according to Grenz & Nordling, is “the external act signifying entrance into the Old Testament community of faith. The Mosaic law prescribed that every Jewish male was to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth” (Grenz, S., Guretzki, D., & Nordling, C. F. (1999). Pocket dictionary of theological terms (26). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.).  It is not abnormal that neighbors and relatives would come to celebrate a son’s circumcision.  What is interesting is that the people in attendance seem to be pressuring Zechariah and Elizabeth to name the child after Zechariah.  It would be very common to name a child after the father or grandfather, especially given the child will likely be their only heir…we are not told of any other children by Zechariah & Elizabeth.  However, Zechariah and Elizabeth agree on the name of the child.  Elizabeth responds to the crowds prodding first by saying, “No! He is to be called John.”  At this, they try to get an answer from Zechariah.  Since he can’t hear, they make signs to him, and he asks for a writing tablet, a piece of wood covered with wax.  On the tablet, Zechariah writes definitively, “his name IS John.”  Zechariah in this moment has demonstrated he is yielding to and trusting what the Lord told him in the Temple through Gabriel.

Immediately, the crowd’s confusion turns to wonder as Zechariah begins to speak (Luke 1:64-66).  For almost a year, Zechariah has been deaf and mute and now he “begins to speak, praising God.”  What once was a celebration of neighbors and relatives has overflowed “throughout the hill country of Judea.”  It is clear to all watching and hearing about John’s birth that “the Lord’s hand was with him.”  This is very important because the Lord’s hand has been absent in Israel for the better of 400 years.  Not only have Z & E had JtB; at the same time Zechariah has begun to speak again.  Now we will look at what Zechariah says in his prophetic song.

Luke 1:67-80 – Zechariah’s Prophetic Song

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.  He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us– to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.  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,  to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,  because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven  to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”  And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.

For 400 years there has been silence from the Spirit of the Lord and now in a matter of months we have a whole family experiencing the fullness of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15, 41, 67).  It is likely that the words recorded here in Luke 1:67-80 are the words Zechariah spoke as soon as “his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed” (Luke 1:64).  The things Zechariah says are profound.  He first gives praise to the Lord for the work God has accomplished in Israel (Luke 1:68-75).  This section is reminiscent of Mary’s song which exalted God for His mercy to Israel (Luke 1:47-55).  Next, Zechariah speaks of what God will accomplish through the ministries of John and Jesus (Luke 1:76-79).

Luke 1:68-75 – What has God accomplished?

In the first portion of this song Zechariah gives praise to God for the coming of the Messiah.  While Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks truths about Jesus, he cannot fully comprehend what Jesus’ ministry will be like.  One of the key themes to the book of Luke is his attempt to describe to his readers why they ought to be confident in their faith as Christians in spite of intense persecution from the Jews and the Romans.  A common question for a gentile (non-Jew) in this context would be…if Jesus is the Messiah the Jews were expecting, why are Christians being persecuted and why aren’t more Jews coming to Christ?  The simple answer to this question is that the Messianic Expectation was not equal to the Messianic Reality.  Throughout Luke’s gospel we see how Jesus is at odds with what was expected of Messiah, and this portrayal is Luke’s very thorough effort at explaining the difference between the Messianic Expectation and the Messianic Reality.  As a result he reassures the faith of the Christian community by showing that although Messiah came in a way that was unexpected, Jesus is the Messiah, and that He is reigning over the Kingdom of God.

His praise in this portion of the song is for God’s remembrance of His people.  He praises God, because after such a long period of silence, God’s plan is once again in motion.  On this side of the cross it is easy for Christians to read into the text with the knowledge we have, but the cool thing about Luke is he is true to the history that was handed down to him.  He did not alter Zechariah’s song to emphasize the Messianic Reality.  Rather, Luke preserved faithfully Zechariah’s Messianic Expectation.  Though Zechariah doesn’t know all the details of the Messiah’s life, he praises God because of what he knows the Messiah will do.  Zechariah has faith that the people of God ARE rescued and the horn of salvation HAS been raised and the oath he swore to Abraham IS remembered.

Zechariah grew in the year that he was deaf and mute, and one thing I think he learned is that God is true to His word.  Being a priest, he knew the Scriptures and he knew the things the Messiah would accomplish.  So, when the Spirit speaks through him in this song, he declares the acts of the Messiah as if they had already happened.  He has faith now to do this because he has learned not to doubt the word that God speaks.  The Lord spoke to Zechariah concerning John and he doubted the Lord’s strength for his situation.  A year later, Zechariah has seen the impossible things Gabriel spoke come to life and he has learned not to doubt for a moment the word of the Lord.

Luke 1:76-79 – What will God accomplished?

In the second portion of his song, Zechariah prophecies about what his son will do in his ministry and closes by looking at what the Messiah will do.  While John’s ministry is extremely important, probably more important than we tend to consider, it is clear even from John’s dad’s prophetic song that Jesus is the of greater significance than John.  Zechariah spends 75% of the song focusing on the work of the Messiah.

Zechariah prophecies three things about John.  He gives us JtB’s role, he gives us JtB’s mission and he gives us JtB’s message.  John’s ROLE is to be a prophet, prophet of the Most High.  Again, for 400 years there has been no prophet to Israel, and now John breaks that silence.  John’s MISSION is to prepare the way of the Lord (Luke 1:17,76).  Zechariah’s faith concerning the imminence stems from his complete confidence that the things said of his son by Gabriel are true.  He believes his son to be the forerunner to the Messiah.  John’s MESSAGE is “the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins.”  John’s call to Israel as we will examine more in the coming weeks is for repentance, and according to Zechariah’s song it is also that salvation will NOT come through the works of men, but from the forgiveness of sin.

Verses 78-79 turn to focus on Jesus explaining first that salvation will come through forgiveness because of the tender mercy of God.  God in His mercy does not expect humans to bridge the spiritual gap by their own efforts.  Rather, He offers salvation through the forgiveness of sin which is found in Jesus.  The rising sun comes to us from heaven by the mercy of God.  The last verse of Zechariah’s song is so powerful as it speaks of what Jesus will do for His people.  He will “shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”  God came down, taking on the flesh of man, fully God-fully human and spoke words of life into the darkness.  This is the ministry of Jesus, and he has passed this ministry on to His Church.  The call of God on the life of every Christian is to imitate Jesus in this way.  No longer is it rare for the Holy Spirit to fill someone for all who are in Christ are full of the Holy Spirit, and the grace which has transformed our lives ought to radiate from us in the midst of a world so filled with destruction.  Let us not quench the Spirit and hide this light under a bowl, let us stir up the Spirit within us and place this light on a stand (Matthew 5:15).

This week in addition to praying for one another our community group prayed for:

  • Grace Church in Dunedin
  • The Journey in West Chester PA
  • Bahrain

As always, if you are interested in being a part of this community group which meets on Wednesday nights in Clearwater, feel free to email me at blakewferrell@gmail.com.

God bless!
Blake

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