Summary: How much do you remember about John the Baptist? Camel hair clothing, locust diet, or loaner lifestyle? While those are memorable, John is arguably one of the most significant people in Jesus’ life and ministry. See how the unexpected surrounded John's birth.
While at the children’s hospital this summer in California, my wife Nikky and I were sitting in the atrium to the main entrance one day when I noticed a man in a black suit and an ear piece walking around. He was looking all over the place and talking to people. As I watched him I leaned over to my wife and said, “I bet he’s secret service.” She kind of rolled her eyes at what she thought was my overactive imagination and I kept watching. A few hours later a whole entourage of people show up with photographers and more men dressed in black suits and sunglasses. They surrounded a woman who was being given a tour by the woman whose name was on the side of the building whose family happens to own the San Francisco 49ers. I never did figure out who the woman was, but obviously she was someone important because of the special preparation that took place. (Important guests require unique preparation.)
Go back 2000 years. God was about to enter human history and do what he had long ago promised. Such an arrival certainly required special preparation. The main person to provide this preparation was man who would eventually be known as John the Baptist. Over the next three weeks we’re going to look at this man – a man on a mission – a mission to prepare people for the arrival of the Son of God Jesus.
“This was not what I expected!” I wonder how many times that thought crossed the minds of John the Baptist’s parents Zechariah and Elizabeth. It may have begun in the years immediately following their marriage as they tried and tried to have children but nothing happened. How many times did they think, “This was not what we expected. We had hoped to have children and maybe even a few grandchildren.” When the Bible first introduces us to Zechariah and Elizabeth that time for having children had long since passed. But over time they had come to accept that children just weren’t in God’s plans for them. They could accept that plan because they trusted the Lord and his love for them. They were of that group of Jews who continued to trust the Lord was going to do as he had promised and send them a Savior, someone who would repair their sin-wrecked relationship with God. That repair would require the shedding of blood and the sacrifice of life, something that Zechariah and Elizabeth were regularly reminded of each time they went to the temple which they repeatedly did.
Zechariah’s family was among that group of Jews called Levites who God had selected to serve in the temple and help the priests. Zechariah had recently received the honor of being selected, “to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense” (Luke 1:9), an honor that a Levite could receive only once during their life. The burning of incense was one of the ways that God reminded his people of the privilege to come to him in prayer – their prayers rising to him like incense.
When Zechariah entered that special room of the temple called the Holy Place, he was met by something that he never expected. We’re told, “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense” (Luke 1:11). This was certainly not what Zechariah expected! Naturally, “he was startled and gripped with fear” (Luke 1:12). But the unexpected was just beginning as he listened to what the angel said, “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John” (Luke 1:13). Zechariah certainly did not expect to become a father at this stage in his life! Bu the news got even more unexpected as the angel described what Zechariah’s son, John, had been chosen by God to do. Listen carefully, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). That first and last phrase identified the specific mission that God had chosen John for: to “go before the Lord…make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah’s son was to prepare the way for the promised Savior of the world!
Not only was this something that Zechariah did not expect, but he had a hard time believing it. And when he doubted the message, he was given a 9-month reminder of what he had heard. The angel announced, “And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time” (Luke 1:20).