Summary: One day, John the Baptist would stand at the water's edge, see his cousin Jesus walking towards him, and would cry out, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"
Luke 1:57-80 The Birth of John
12/19/04 D. Marion Clark
Is there a more momentous event than the birth of a child? We hear people say when they have experienced some great achievement or honor, “Next to the birth of my child this is the greatest experience of my life.” For parents the birth of the first child is especially memorable. I am the fourth born in my family, and though I was to become the favorite born(!), still I must accept that it was the first birth that gave my parents their greatest thrill. Nothing can replace the first experience of bringing forth life.
To give birth to a son is what initially had thrilled Zechariah and Elizabeth. Indeed, they were so excited, that Elizabeth went into seclusion, perhaps to handle nervous excitement at having their dream come true. The first passage we looked at ended with Elizabeth saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” Skip nine months to the day of delivery.
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child.
The neighbors who had looked upon Elizabeth as a woman denied blessing by God, now see her as one to whom God had shown great mercy. To have a baby! How wonderful of God to be so kind. The day to circumcise the child comes. The child receives the sign of the covenant. Evidently, over time it became the custom to officially give the child a name also. Our concept of the christening service comes from this ritual. The child receives the sign of the covenant through baptism and officially named. The neighbors who had gathered expected the child to be named Zechariah, Jr. but were surprised.
And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60but his mother answered, "No; he shall be called John." 61And they said to her, "None of your relatives is called by this name." 62And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And they all wondered.
John? There’s nobody in the family named John. What are they thinking? Surely they are not expecting more children. Zechariah needs to get the name right this time. Well, he does get the name right, and, when the Lord gives his speech back, he says just the right thing: he blesses God.
64And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, "What then will this child be?" For the hand of the Lord was with him.
The neighbors feel a bit like Zechariah did when the angel Gabriel had appeared before him in the temple. A fear came on them. Something beyond the ordinary is taking place. They must have known something peculiar had happened to Zechariah ever since his return from Jerusalem, since he could not speak. I doubt that he had told them the details of what had happened and the message about his child. Already, the neighbors regarded the child as special, seeing as he was born to parents “advanced in years.” But now comes the insistence of a name that, though it is not an unusual name, nevertheless, does not have an ordinary reason for using it. Then the father is suddenly able to speak. There must be something about this particular child. What is he to be? Zechariah answers that question:
67And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
Like his wife Elizabeth, he also received the anointing of the Holy Spirit and becomes a prophet about his son. Let’s follow what he has to say. We can break the prophecy into two parts. Do you recall how, in the previous two sermons, I gave the context for the announcements of John’s and Jesus’ births by taking you through the Old Testament passages about Elijah and then about David? That is what Zechariah does in the first part, which covers verses 68-75. He puts John’s role and Jesus’ in the perspective of the covenant that God made with his people Israel.
68"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,