The Birth of John The Baptist
Topic: Prophecy Verse: Luke 1:57–1:66
“THE BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST”
Theme: The power of God’s Word causes men to give glory to God.
I. The Outworking of God’s Purposes Brings Joy – 1:57-58
A. The Consummation of God’s Promise – v. 57
- This next section of Luke’s Gospel provides us with a continued narrative of how God worked to provide the final prophet who would finally announce the arrival of the Messiah.
- The Spirit of God clearly desired to communicate the unique circumstances surrounding the birth of John – an indication of God’s stirring out of His “absence” to engage again in bringing blessing to His people through His redemptive plan.
- “Elizabeth” is the woman we were introduced to as the wife of Zacharias, the priest to whom Gabriel had appeared and promised that his wife would conceive in her old age and give birth to a son.
- Given the circumstances of Zacharias’ age, Elizabeth’s age, her barrenness, and other details, this prophecy was met with huge skepticism and doubt, resulting in Zacharias’ being unable to communicate – cp. vv. 20-22.
- As we are told in v. 56, Mary had been visiting and likely departed just before John was born to be “out of the way” for this major event.
- We now come to the end of this promised child’s gestation and the Scripture states that “the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son.”
- This fulfillment of God’s Word should be of no surprise – the Word of God is sure and His promises will never fail – cp. 1 Kings 8:56; 2 Corinthians 1:20; Hebrews 10:23
- God had promised that their barrenness and the despondency that accompanied it would end and that “you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at His birth” – v. 14; now it had come to pass.
B. The Celebration of God’s Compassion - v. 58
- Luke records that Elizabeth’s “neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.”
- The fulfillment of God’s Word was astounding to all who knew Elizabeth since her pregnancy and now the birth of her son were perceived as an evidence of the Lord’s “great mercy toward her.”
- God had relieved Elizabeth of the stigma of barrenness that dominated the culture during this period in Israel – a picture of the greater mercies of God that deliver us from the stigma of our sin and the suffering resulting from it – cp. Luke 1:50, 54, 72, 78
- There was clearly a work of God underway and the people who knew about it were abuzz with excitement, delight, and joy – a fulfillment of the promise of God that the birth of this son would cause rejoicing.
- If these people had rejoiced at the birth of John, how much more ought we delight in the work of God since we know more fully through hindsight the true significance of what was happening as God initiated His work of redemption?
II. The Obedience to God’s Proclamations Brings Blessing – 1:59-64
A. The Commitment to Consecration – v. 59
- The righteousness of Zacharias and Elizabeth is seen as they, like many believers who become new parents, desire to “do it right” – and they brought their son to the Lord to consecrate him according to the Law – cp. Genesis 17:9-14
- Luke states: “And it happened that on the eight day they came to circumcise the child …”
- This ritual was performed for a variety of purposes – both practical and spiritual:
- Health Benefits: circumcision reduced the danger to infection by removing the foreskin under which bacteria could be hosted.
- Symbolic Benefits: (1) It symbolized the participation in the Abrahamic Covenant – the mark of national identity as a member of the covenant. (2) It symbolized the removal of the corruptions of sin under which every person is born – a circumcision of the heart
- The practice also included the formalizing of the child’s name – after the precedent of Abram’s name being changed to Abraham at his circumcision – cp. Genesis 17:5
- The custom was common that a name was given to a boy on the day he was born, but it wasn’t official until the eighth day when he was circumcised.
- We are told that the extended family and friends were already honoring Zacharias by calling the baby boy by his name – “… and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father.”
- The phrase “going to call …” [ἐκάλουν] – is literally they “were calling him” – they were acting as if it were a “done deal.”
- It was more common to name a child after his grandfather rather than his father – but given the miraculous expression of mercy in John’s conception and Zacharias’ old age, they desired to honor him.
- During that first week, Zacharias was unaware of what they were calling his son as he remained deaf by God’s judgment of his unbelief.
- We are not sure what Elizabeth was saying, but the response that we are told she had to their presumptions shows that she likely had been objecting all along.
B. The Commitment to Compliance – vv. 60-64
- Luke records both Elizabeth’s and Zacharias’ commitment to total obedience to the Word of the Lord – “But his mother answered and said, ‘No indeed; but he shall be called John.”
- Her response is an emphatic construction similar to “by no means” or “no way!”
- These family members who were invited to the circumcision event are the typical “pushy relatives” – they argue with her by objecting to her unprecedented attempt to thwart what they think best – “And they said to her, ‘There is not one among your relatives who is called by that name.’”
- In an attempt to overrule her, they dismiss her and appeal to Zacharias – “And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called.”
- Again, Zacharias had been excluded from the discussion because of his debilitation resulting from his encounter with Gabriel – and they had to attempt to communicate with him through “signs” as he was both deaf and mute.
- He settled the matter: “And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, ‘His name is John.’”
- This “tablet” [πινακίδιον] was a wooden plank covered with wax on which you could use a stylus and make impressions that could be pressed out for a new surface and thus repeatedly used.
- This had been the mode of communication for over nine months!
- His written declaration is interesting as it demonstrates that the child’s name has been settled from the beginning – “His name is John.”
- As we have already noted in earlier studies, “John” means “God is gracious.” – not only to Zacharias and Elizabeth, but also to all men and would prove it through the coming Messiah.
- Luke provides almost comic relief as he states: “and they were all astonished.” – apparently, these family members were used to getting their way!
- We ourselves often face overwhelming pressure to alter what we know the will of the Lord to be through His Word as we interact with family and friends; yet, like John’s parents, our duty is to fulfill what we know to be God’s will.
III. The Observation of God’s Power Brings Fear – 1:64-66
A. The Astonishment at God’s Power – v. 64-65
- Luke informs us that instantaneously, Zacharias’ debilitation is healed – “And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God.”
- Unlike the false “miracles” performed by healers today, this event was an immediate fulfillment of the promise of God through Gabriel – cp. 1:20
- Much of what Zacharias declared is contained in the next section – vv. 67-79
- Yet the response of the people standing in witness of these events were dramatically impacted – “Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea.”
- The people were amazed at all of this – the news of the appearance of Gabriel in the Temple; Zacharias being deaf & mute; Elizabeth conceiving despite both her & Zacharias’ old age; the birth of the forerunner of the Messiah; the naming of the child; and Zacharias’ miraculous healing was all that people were talking about throughout the region.
- The “fear” [φόβος] – a reference to “intimidation” or “alarm” – it came upon them because of the awareness that God had visited them.
B. The Anticipation of God’s Power – v. 66
- Yet, the long-term impact was the stirring of anticipation – “All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, ‘What then will this child turn out to be?’ For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.”
- If the beginning of John’s life was this spectacular with angelic appearances, the breaking of an old woman’s barrenness, a miraculous healing, and a prophetic name – what will the rest of his life bring?
- The undeniable conclusion was that “the hand of the Lord was certainly with him” – a description common throughout the Old Testament as a description of Providence and divine enabling through God’s presence – cp. Joshua 4:23-24; 1 Kings 18:46; Ezra 7:28.
- Such anticipation of God’s work through John set the table for John’s effective ministry as the forerunner to the Messiah – Jesus Christ.