December 6 - John's Birth Foretold

Saturday, December 6, 2008

December 6 - John's Birth Foretold - Luke 1:5-17

Each of the Gospels begin at different points in the life of Jesus. Luke begins with the birth of the man who would prepare the way of the Lord. He was the Elijah of that generation. The Jews had been without a prophet for hundreds of years. They had settled into a fairly secular way of living, though it looked quite religious on the outside. Herod was a puppet king, in place to keep the Jews quiet, but everything he did was at the behest of the Roman government. Things were actually pretty peaceful in Jerusalem, there was no religious uprising, just an uneasy tension between God's people and the rule that they were subjected to.

The time was becoming ripe for change. But, not yet ... the stage had to be set, the players put into place.

The first was John. His father was Zechariah, his mother was Elizabeth. In Luke 1:6, we read that both of them were wonderful, holy people, both from the tribe of Levi. Zechariah was a priest. We read in 1 Chronicles 24:7-18 that there were 24 divisions of Levitical priests - Zechariah from the division of Abijah (1 Chron. 24:10).

Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the Holy of Holies. This was a once in a lifetime event. Everyone was praying outside. Can you imagine the anticipation in his heart? Even though he knew that the presence of God was to be found in the Holy of Holies, I suspect that there had never been a story told by other priests like the encounter he was about to have. Luke 1:12 gives his exact reaction - he was startled and gripped with fear.

He would have expected to enter the Holy of Holies and had time to pray - to lift up specific requests to Yahweh - but he would have expected to physically be alone in that space. Not only do we know that the angel was in there with him, we know where the angel was standing. (Luke 1:11)

With the stunning news that his wife would bear a child came the directions to raise the child as a Nazirite. There is a lot of similarity between this and the announcement of the birth of Samson, who was also a Nazirite (Judge 13:3-5). In both cases, the parents had been childless, and both children were set apart from birth for a special task. That Nazirite vow is found in Numbers 6:1-21.

Generally a Nazirite vow was voluntary and short-term. There were only three people that were committed from birth - Samson, Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11) and John the Baptist.

Gabriel also told Zechariah that John would come in the spirit and power of Elijah. This fulfilled the prophecy from Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1 and Malachi 4:6. The people of Israel prayed for the return of Elijah. John was the fulfillment of that prayer.