Luke 1:57-80 “Zechariah’s Prophecy”
This is the first story in the Gospel of Luke. This is not a peripheral story to Christmas. It is at the heart of Christmas. It prepares us for Christmas. Just like we have prepared so many other things, this story prepares our hearts for the coming of Christ.
To be sure, Frosty the Snowman is a peripheral story to Christmas. Santa Claus, or the story of Saint Nicholas, who was a real saint of the Christian church, is a peripheral story. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a fun story that has really little to do with the coming of Jesus as a baby. The Grinch and Who’s down in Whoville do not tell “who” Jesus is! Yet, the story of Zechariah has everything to do with the coming of Jesus!
Luke tells us that Zechariah was in the Temple in Jerusalem, an elder respected priest when the Angel Gabriel came to him. This is the same angel that came to Mary. The angel tells Zechariah that John the Baptist will be born to him. Zechariah does not fully believe the angel. He doubts because both he and his wife Elizabeth are getting on in years—probably forty years old or more by that time. Because he doubts, the angel informs Zechariah that he will be mute until all this transpires.
Zechariah comes out of the temple unable to speak. People wonder what is going on, but he is unable to say. Indeed, Elizabeth does become pregnant with John. Then we have this short story of when Mary and Elizabeth visit each other. The babies in each womb jump for joy in recognition of each other! Then John is born. Of course, the people wanted to call him Zechariah after his father. Elizabeth says no that his name is to be John. They defer the issue back to Zechariah who scratches out on a tablet (not a computer tablet but a real tablet) that the baby is to be named John. At that very moment he is given the gift of speech once more. Praise God! What the angel foretold has come to be.
As soon as Zechariah is able to speak again, what does he do? Try to imagine if you have been mute for the last nine months and suddenly regained your voice. What would you say? Your wife has just given birth to your first son. What would you say? Well, Zechariah starts prophesying not about his own son John but rather about Mary and Joseph’s yet to be born son Jesus. That’s right, he lifts up the coming of the Messiah in verses 67-75. Only after doing this does he then address his own boy. He states that his son will be the one who prepares the way for the coming of the Messiah by doing something that must have sounded very odd to the people standing around him then. John is to give the knowledge of salvation to God’s people by the forgiveness of their sins. That is a lot to put on a baby who has just been born.
I mentioned in last month’s newsletter article that the time between the last prophets of the Old Testament, Hebrew Scriptures, and the New Testament was three hundred years. For three centuries we have no written evidence of any prophetic word coming from God to Israel. Then, as we know, all of the sudden, God comes down from heaven in the form of Jesus the little baby in the manger. With Zechariah’s words at the birth of his son John, all of the sudden the prophetic floodgates from heaven are opened up again just before the birth of the Savior. More than any other story, John the Baptist prepares us for the coming of Jesus Christ. This is, therefore, a true Christmas story!
Despite this, I have never heard a “John the Baptist” song being sung at Christmas. In fact there are very few songs about John the Baptist ever sung in church. Ironically, I looked in the “Baptist” hymnal, but found nothing about John the Baptist therein! I am going to have to do more research obviously.
John was sent to prepare the way of the Lord. We need to be prepared because we are not ready to receive the Lord. That makes perfect sense. God up in heaven is looking down at us and seeing that if God were to come down that we would not be in any way ready to accept that as truth. We need to have our hearts changed in order to be able to accept Jesus.
Now, some of the preparations for the coming of Jesus, I feel we are not even fully aware of. This is true about so many things that we tend to take for granted somehow in our own lives. The other day I was in the new nursery playing with building blocks on the floor. Let me assure that the kids were in there first, and I was joining in on the fun. I just don’t go play with blocks on the floor for fun by myself. . . .but, then the question struck me: “Why don’t I go play with blocks on the floor by myself?”
According to Early Childhood Development theory, children play with blocks to learn how to affect their own environment. They will start by putting the blocks end-to-end on the floor. This is an important skill for brain development since thoughts, and reading, and most things in life will go in a certain order. Next thing is that the child will make a circle with the blocks. Then, one day, the child will go sit in the circle. The child will define him or her self inside that circle. Then, walls will be built up. Towers made. And, the whole thing will be eventually knocked over or disassembled. All of this hones the “pre-learning” skills needed by the child. If you cannot line up blocks, you may never learn how to form a proper sentence.
When we are children, we are just playing with the blocks. We do not understand that we are in that “pre-learning” phase that is needed for later on in life. In fact, playing with blocks is God’s “step one” to reading God’s Word! It is the preparation that is absolutely needed.
In this same way, we have significant “pre-learning” that needs to take place before we can understand the Christmas Story at all. Look at line 68 of our Scripture. Zechariah says something that is really hard to understand, but must be understood, in order to grasp the meaning of Christmas! “God has ‘redeemed’ His people.” Note that it is in the past tense (aorist tense in the Greek), showing that it is an action already completed even though Jesus is yet to be born!
How does that work? Let me throw something at you that you have learned in the last ten years that applies here. You see, in my day, when you bought something at a store, you would pick up the item and take it to the retailer in order to pay the price for that item. We do not necessarily do that anymore, do we? Now, we order something on-line through the computer, and we pay for it even before we see it or have it in hand!
I used to work for Sears Catalogue department. I even worked at Christmas time—sixty hours a week at the same time as doing finals and papers in college. Let me assure you that when people made orders back in the day, they would never pay for it until it was delivered to them. “C.O.D.” Anybody remember that? “Collect on Delivery.” C.O.D. does not exist anymore. In fact Sears Catalogue does not exist anymore. Today we pay upfront on the hope of delivery.
Up in heaven, God has already “redeemed” us. God has already paid the price for our redemption. That is what redemption means: a price has been paid already. God waits nine months then for the delivery. Jesus is finally delivered by Mary—if you ask me still the best delivery ever made! WE RECEIVE WHAT GOD HAS ALREADY PAID FOR!
Let us assume that you come home one day and see a package on the driveway that has been delivered to you. You search your brain but you just cannot recall making an order for something. You do not remember paying the price up front as we are forced to do now. Maybe even you think the worst of the situation that someone has stolen your bank account number and is now making orders for you that you do not want!
It is a Christmas gift that someone has paid for you on your behalf and sent to you to make your life happy and blessed! Yet, your response is: “Wait, I did not order that package!” How do I refuse delivery now? What is going to cost me to ship this thing back?!
But, what if you get a message ahead of time that someone who loves you very much has paid a great price to send you this gift at Christmas? Your response is completely different. This is not a nuisance, but rather a great hope fulfilled. This is what Zechariah’s prophecy and the life of his Son John the Baptist is all about! “God has paid the price already and has given us this incredible gift at Christmas.” All we have to do is accept it.
Look at verse 77. Herein it is clearly stated what John the Baptist is to do at this time of Christmas: “Give knowledge of salvation.” This is step one, basic building blocks, of our faith. Did you know that? God wants to save you! Somehow we all know that! Everything at Christmas comes back to that very basic understanding that we all somehow know deep in our hearts.
Even if you have done things that would make you think that you only deserve the proverbial “lump of coal from Santa,” God has mercy. God will forgive. God has already paid the price of your redemption. Because of Zechariah’s prophecy and the ministry of John the Baptist, we can accept that gift from God.