My first message in over a week. I actually have three written (including this one), but sometimes life gets busy and I just can’t do everything I intend to do. But, as I’m told, that’s ok. Today is a new day, this week is a new week, and we are still in the season if advent awaiting the coming of Christ. So let’s get back to the story, HIS story…
This is the third message in a row from Luke Chapter 1, the third message about a birth. But the the birth I am looking at, the birth Luke has been telling us about, has not been the birth of the Savior but of the forerunner. Luke has not been telling us of the coming of Christ, but of John the Baptist.
Zechariah had received his message from the angel Gabriel, had been struck mute, and the message he had received from the angel had come true. Zechariah and his wife, both beyond child bearing age, had conceived and were now “with child”.
Skipping forward about 9 months now, it’s time to have this baby. “Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.”” Luke 1:57-60 ESV. John? Who’s John? There’s no John in your family! Shouldn’t you name the boy after his father? After all, you’ve waited so long! Why not call him Zechariah? This is, after all, the name of the boys father, even if he is struck mute. “And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.” Luke 1:61-64 ESV
His name is John, and as soon as Zechariah wrote on the tablet that the boys name was John, in obedience to the word that had come from the angel, the angel Gabriel lets him go and he immediately begins to praise God and prophecy.
So here’s a question – Why does Luke begin his Gospel in this way? Mark begins like this – “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark 1:1 ESV. Matthew begins “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Matthew 1:1 ESV. John starts with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 ESV, and immediately tells that Jesus is the Word. Luke, on the other hand, is 25 verses in before we even here of Mary, and Jesus is not born until chapter 2. He’s well into his story before we ever hear the name Jesus, yet it is the Jesus story he is telling. He is writing for us the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So why the long wait before we hear Jesus’ name in this gospel?
Luke waits so long to mention Jesus because he is writing with a Gentile audience in mind. Luke doesn’t want his Theophilus, the Lover of God, or even us, to think Jesus just showed up out of nowhere. That’s very often a mistake we make, that all of a sudden Jesus just showed up. Luke wants us, his gentile audience, to understand that the Jesus story began a long, long time ago. It’s a continuation of the story of Abraham and Sarah. That’s why we have that echo of Abraham and Sarah in Zechariah and Elizabeth, an old couple beyond the child bearing age who, miraculously, can conceive in their old age with divine intervention. Luke wants us to know that Jesus is God keeping covenant with Israel. God has made covenant promises with Israel which are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.
But here’s a beauty that we miss in the gospel story – Jesus is also Israel keeping covenant with God. Israel has had a long, sometimes ugly history of not being faithful to the covenant. But Jesus is finally the faithful son of Israel who keeps covenant with Yahweh.
Understand this – Jesus is not God starting over. God was not trying for thousands of years to do something in the Old Testament, saw it wasn’t working and then started over. No, God is not starting over, he’s keeping his covenant promises to Abraham that He will bless the whole world through his seed. He’s keeping his covenant promise that a son of David will reign over the nations forever.
In Christ, God is keeping ancient promises made in the Old Testament. Luke is not telling the story of how God starts over, he’s telling the story of how Israel’s Messiah becomes king of the world. That’s the Gospel, and that’s the story Luke is telling.
Zechariah began to prophecy over his son as soon as a Gabriel let loose his tongue. Let’s look at Zechariah’s prophecy – “And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”” Luke 1:67-79 ESV
Zechariah is prophesying this – that from all our days, all our struggles, all our history, all the promises are coming true. He speaks of Abraham, David, all the prophets and the covenant between Yahweh and Israel. It’s all beginning to happen right now. Zechariah could not yet imagine how it would all play out, how it is that Christ would become king, and neither could John. Nobody could. Even Jesus’ disciples on the way to Jerusalem still could not fathom that he would be crowned king in crucifixion. This is the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, but remember how it ends with the two disciples heading home from Jerusalem, dejected and completely disappointed. Then Jesus appears. “And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”” Luke 24:17-24 ESV
So they talk about Jesus to Jesus. They talked about all the mighty deeds this one they thought was Messiah had done. They thought he was Messiah, that is, until he was crucified on Good Friday, and their hopes and dreams had died right along with him. “And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:25-27 ESV.
Zechariah’s prophecy is a beautiful prophecy, but as is often the case in prophecy, he is saying for mare than he could know at the time. He’s prophesying over his son John, John the Baptist, that he might guide our feet into the way of peace. His son will prepare the world for the dawning of a new day. It’s the end of the Old Testament night. There have been some luminaries lighting the path along the way. They had some like Moses, the prophets, Elijah, there were some who provided light in the darkness by which Israel could navigate their way. But, as the apostle John tells us “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” John 1:18.
John the Baptist should be understood as last of it prophets, the bridge that ties the two together. But with the coming and completion of his ministry we have the end of the night. As Malachi said “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” Malachi 4:2 ESV. The day of the Lord has come, the dawning of God keeping his promises, and the sun (son) of God being righteous to keep his promises begins to peak over the horizon. This is what we celebrate with Jesus being born. As those rays begin to illuminate and warm the earth we begin to be healed in those rays that come from the sun of god’s covenant faithfulness in giving his only begotten son. A child is born, the Son is shining, we can finally see God, the Son has made him known. A light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of his people Israel.