************ Sermon on Luke 1:13-17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 12, 2010
"John: God has Graciously Given"
We are looking at John the Baptist today as we continue to observe advent. We looked at his mother, Elizabeth, last week. And, we are looking at his father, Zechariah, next week.
I The Name "John"
A When we look at Scripture we realize the Lord's angels sure are repetitious. They come with announcement after announcement of a baby and also a name for the baby. God's angels did this with Hagar (Gen 16:11), Abraham (Gen 17:19), Joseph (Mt 1:21), and Mary (Lk 1:31). Today, we see an angel doing this with Zechariah (Lk 1:13; cf Is 7:14 for another instance). Zechariah was told,
(Lk 1:13) Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.
So, in obedience to this command, Zechariah and Elizabeth named their son "John." This surprised their neighbors and relatives who were going to name the baby after his father Zechariah (Lk 1:59). It was Elizabeth who spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John" (Lk 1:60). In disbelief, the neighbors and relatives asked a mute Zechariah who wrote, "His name is John" (Lk 1:63).
B "You are to give him the name John (Lk 1:13)." Why the name John? We need to keep in mind that the Lord gives names because of what they mean and what they say about the person having the name. He doesn't select a name because it sounds nice. Nor does He just make up any old name.
"You are to give him the name John (Lk 1:13)." Did you know that "John" is the most common name in our church? We have 17 members with either the name "John" or one of its variations. "John" is also a very common name in the Bible. The name "John" is mentioned 135 times in the New Testament.
"You are to give him the name John" (Lk 1:13). The name "John" means "God is gracious" or "God has graciously given." The focus of the name is on God and what He has done. Too bad – actually I should say "isn't it awful" – that we have taken the name "John" and use it as a slang word for "bathroom" – not exactly a proper use of a name meant to convey God's grace.
II John as a Gift of God's Grace
A As far as Zechariah and Elizabeth were concerned, John certainly was a gift of God's grace. Remember what we looked at last week? John's parents were old and barren and they had given up all hope of having children. They had prayed for a child but God delayed His answer to display His power in human weakness. John, then, was a gift of God's grace to a couple who were old and barren in order to advance His plan for our redemption.
B "He will be a joy and delight to you" (Lk 1:14). The actual Greek is more expressive: "He will be a joy and great joy to you." Do you hear the repetition? This is supposed to make Zechariah think of something. This is supposed to make Zechariah think of Isaac. Zechariah's son shall be another Isaac.
Do you remember Abraham's and Sarah's laughter? Abraham laughed in unbelief when God told him that he, a man a hundred years old with a wife who is ninety, would have a child (Gen 17:17). Similarly, Sarah laughed in unbelief when she heard God repeating this promise (Gen 18:12). So, when a child was born, what did Abraham and Sarah call him? They called him "Isaac" meaning "laughter" (Gen 21:3).
(Gen 21:6-7) Sarah said, "God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me." (7) And she added, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age."Do you see how the laughter of unbelief was turned into the laughter of joy? The exact same thing happened with Zechariah: unbelief was turned into joy because God has graciously given a son – a son, like Isaac, who advances God's plan for our redemption.
"He will be a joy and delight to you" (Lk 1:14). Really? Let's fast forward to John as an adult. Do you think his parents were still filled with joy at that point? For instance:
-Where John's parents filled with joy when John went into the wilderness like a hermit (Mt 3; Lk 3)?
-Where John's parents filled with joy when they realized the topic of everyone of John's sermons was repentance (Mt 3:2; Lk 3)? Repent! Repent! Repent! John was like a broken record.
-Where John's parents filled with joy when they saw his food and clothing? John ate locusts and wild honey; his clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist (Mt 3:4).
-Where John's parents filled with joy when John confronted King Herod, was thrown into prison, and was later beheaded (Lk 3:19-20; Mt 14:8-12)? We read that Jesus mourned when He heard about John's death (Mt 14:13). So, I am sure John's parents did as well. Yet, their underlying emotion remained one of joy.
Why? Why will Zechariah and Elizabeth have joy in spite of what happens with John?
You need to realize the meaning and context of joy in Luke's gospel. Joy is always a response to salvation. There is joy over the birth and life of John because John fits into God's plan for our salvation. John prepares the way for the coming of Jesus.
Zechariah and Elizabeth are not the only ones who rejoice. The angel says, "He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth" (Lk 1:14). The rejoicing of many is recorded for us in verse 58:
(Lk 1:58) [Elizabeth's] neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.Do you hear the joy of the neighbors and relatives with the parents? They rejoice that another old and barren couple, like Abraham and Sarah, have been blessed with a child that advances God's plan of redemption. They rejoice that another old and barren couple are given a child as a gift of God's grace and mercy. All good people rejoice that such a religious couple as Zechariah and Elizabeth have a son. They further rejoice because they know John will grow up in a godly home where he is given God-centered instruction.
Also, do you remember the response to John's ministry? People went out to him in droves: people from Jerusalem, Judea, and the whole region of the Jordan (Mt 3:5). All kinds of people: Pharisees and Sadducees (Mt 3:7), tax collectors (Lk 3:12), soldiers (Lk 3:14). John's message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins brought joy to the hearts of those who believed.
C "He will be great in the sight of the Lord" (Lk 1:15). I just mentioned the large crowds that went to see and hear John. John was the man of the hour. But John knew that fame is a fleeting thing (Jn 3:30). Pop artist Andy Warhol famously predicted that we each would have ten minutes of fame. Anyone watching the news should know that fame is not all it's cracked up to be. If you look past the hygienist smile and the designer plastic, you'll find terrified and lonely people who hide behind publicists and high-security fences. Stalking the perimeters are obsessive wannabes and paparazzi. On the inside are fair-weather friends who ditch you at the first sign of trouble.
"He will be great in the sight of the Lord" (Lk 1:15). Notice that phrase "in the sight of the Lord." Those are great indeed who are great in God's sight – not those who are great in the eyes of a vain and carnal world. John's greatness lies in the fact that he was God's servant – used of God to prepare the way for Jesus. In fact, among those born of women there is no one greater than John (Lk 7:28).
"He will be great in the sight of the Lord" (Lk 1:15). Zechariah is being told that John bill be one of the Lord's favorites. The honor of having a son is nothing next to the honor of having a son who is great in God's sight. Parents, grandparents, how do you pray for your children and grandchildren? I urge you to pray for children and grandchildren who are great in the eyes of God rather than great in the eyes of man.
D "He is never to take wine or other fermented drink" (Lk 1:15). A double negative is used here. In other words, a very strong prohibition against any alcohol. Do you realize what this means? It means John shall be set apart for the Lord's service like a Nazarite (cf Numbers 6). Notice, Luke does not tell us John will fulfill all aspects of the Nazarite vow. But he does tell us John – like the Nazarites Samson (Judges 13:7) and Samuel (1 Sam 1:11) – would be set apart for the Lord's service from the womb. It further means John is set apart to God from everything that is polluting, that John is holy. As the leper was the living symbol of sin, so the Nazarite was the living symbol of holiness. Those who would be the servants of the Lord must live a life of self-denial, they must be dead to the pleasures of the world, and they must keep their minds from everything that is impure.
"He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth" (Lk 1:15). Did you know that every person in Luke's advent story is filled with the Spirit? John is filled with the Spirit. In fact, he is filled with the Spirit before birth. Do you remember what happened when Mary visited Elizabeth before John was born? Baby John leaped for joy in his mother's womb at the approach of the Savior (Lk 1:41). That was the Spirit's doing. Even then, already, the Holy Spirit took possession of his heart. Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit (Lk 1:41). Zechariah was filled with the Spirit (Lk 1:67). So John, like his parents, was filled with the Spirit. Mary, also, was filled or overshadowed by the Spirit (Lk 1:35). The ministry of the Holy Spirit, obviously, is very important in and with the coming of Jesus. It is the Spirit that empowers and enables John's ministry, Elizabeth's greeting, Zechariah's song, and Mary's virgin birth.
I want you to observe that the filling of the Spirit is right next to the drinking of wine or other fermented drink. The Lord's servants have a choice: to be filled with the Spirit or to be filled with wine [think of Pentecost – Acts 2]. Those who would be used by God must be filled with the Holy Spirit and must be sober and temperate and very moderate in their use of alcohol. As Paul puts it in his letter to Ephesus, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit" (Eph 5:18).
I want you to observe, again, that the filling of the Spirit is right next to the drinking of wine or other fermented drink. To be used of the Lord, John needed to empty himself of his own desires. And, he needed to be filled with the Lord's Spirit. To close the gap between what I am and what God wants me to be, I must empty myself and let Jesus and His Spirit come in and take over.
E "Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God" (Lk 1:16). To whom did John minister? To the people of Israel, to the nation of the Jews, and not to the Gentiles. He was sent to the whole nation and not just the family of the priests of which he was a part. John was like Jesus, Who was sent "to the lost sheep of Israel" (Mt 15:24).
"And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Lk 1:17). John was like Elijah. Everything about John spoke of Elijah. He dressed in camel's hair and a leather belt like Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). He lived in the wilderness like Elijah. He preached like Elijah – calling the people to repentance. He confronted sin and evil like Elijah (1 Kings 19).
Do you remember the showdown on Mount Carmel? On the one side was Elijah. On the other side were the 450 prophets of Baal. In the middle were the children of Israel wavering between two opinions (1 Ki 18:21). Elijah proposed a contest: each side was to build an altar and "the god who answers by fire – he is God" (1 Ki 18:24). So, what happened after the Lord's fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the soil and also licked up the water in the trench? The people fell prostrate and cried, "The Lord – he is God! The Lord – he is God!" (1 Ki 18:39). John's success, like Elijah's, was great. He succeeded in turning hearts. Crowds of Israelites did turn to the Lord through John's ministry (Mt 3:5-6; Mk 1:4-5).
This parallel between John and Elijah was the most exciting news the angel had for Zechariah. Did you know the angel was quoting from Malachi. Listen to what Malachi said:
(Mal 4:5-6) "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. (6) He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers ..." (Cf Mal 3:1; Is 40:3)The angel makes clear that John the Baptist is the Elijah of whom Malachi spoke (Lk 1:17, 76; cf Mt 11:10,14).
John is to be seen here as a forerunner. In the Ancient World, a forerunner is a scout sent in advance of troops, or a herald who precedes a high official to announce his coming. The term is used to describe the man who ran ahead of Joseph when he was vice-regent of Egypt (Gen 41:43). The job of a forerunner is to prepare the way. The job of a forerunner is to make ready a people. This word is often used by Christians to describe John the Baptist, because in him the words of Malachi find their fulfilment (Mk 1:2 and Mt 11:10; Lk 3:40-6).
Notice what John does as forerunner: he "turns the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous" (Lk 1:17). How? How does he do this? By his preaching: Repent! Repent! Repent! John's preaching of repentance opened people to receiving the Messiah and turning back to God. Whatever turns people from iniquity and sin – as John's preaching and baptism did – turns them to Christ as Savior and Lord.
John's name means "God has graciously given."
It is God Who gave John to an elderly couple. It is God Who causes the joy people find in John that is a foretaste of salvation. It is God Who declares John to be great. It is God Who made John pure and holy and filled with the Spirit. It is God Who, through John, made ready a people prepared for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In this season of Advent the name "John," then, makes us think of how God has graciously given. But we cannot be stuck on John. We need to look past John to Jesus.
Have you considered the similarities and the differences between John and Jesus? John's birth was miraculous but Jesus' birth was supernatural. John's birth and minstry brings joy but it is Jesus Who is the source of that joy. John may be great, but Jesus is even greater. John may be like a Nazarite and filled with the Spirit but Jesus is sinless, pure, and the Lord of the Spirit. John calls people to be ready for Christmas but Jesus calls people to be ready for when He comes again.
John's name means "God has graciously given." But Jesus is God's most gracious gift.
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