************ Sermon on Luke 1:63 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 24, 2006
"John or Zechariah Jr?"
I God Breaks Tradition
A Zechariah and Elizabeth finally had a child. Scripture says, "When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son" (Lk 1:57). Luke sees God's plan unfolding, but only in its proper time, according to His timetable, what the Bible calls the "fullness" of time.
Scripture doesn't tell us the ages of Zechariah and Elizabeth but we can well imagine they were in their sixties or seventies, maybe even older, when they had their child. Can you imagine someone going through life's changes, giving up all hope for a child, and still becoming pregnant for the first time? That's what happened with Elizabeth and Zechariah.
Everyone was so excited for the old couple. Neighbors and relatives, we are told, shared their joy (Lk 1:58). Eight days after the birth they came together for the baby's naming and circumcision.
B Everyone expected the child to be named after his father. That was the custom among some of the Jews. The angel Gabriel, however, had told Zechariah that the boy's name was to be John. Elizabeth knew this as well – more than likely Zechariah had communicated the angelic message to her a hundred times over. Since Zechariah could not speak, Elizabeth spoke up for him. "No!" she said to calling the baby Zechariah. "He is to be called John" (vs 60).
Relatives and friends objected. The name John they said, was not in the family tree. They thought that the baby should be called Zechariah Jr. They expected the child to walk in the steps of his father, to carry on the father's name and work. So when Elizabeth said the baby is to be called John, they went to Zechariah to find out what he thought the baby ought to be called. To everyone's astonishment Zechariah wrote, "His name is John" (Lk1:63). Actually, the Greek puts it much stronger. It says, "John is his name." It is a settled thing, not up for discussion.
The point was driven home by what happened next: Zechariah's mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. It was doubt about the angel's message that had made Zechariah silent for some 9 or 10 months. Now it was obedience to the angel's message that reversed the punishment.
C Have you ever asked yourself why Luke bothered to include a family argument over the name of a child in his gospel? We know that every word and thought in Scripture is inspired; there is a divine reason for including every story that we find in the Bible. So, what is the Holy Spirit's reason for including this story, this argument, between family and friends on the naming of John the Baptist? Why was God violating human custom and tradition in the naming of this baby? Why couldn't he be called Zechariah Jr?
Obviously, God is teaching us something. The question is, what is He teaching us? What is He telling us?
II God Claims John
A The act of naming someone is very important in the Bible. First, to name someone is an expression of dominion over that person. For instance, it was Adam who named the animals in the Garden of Eden; that showed his dominion over them. Second, it was normally the father's privilege to choose a child's name. Thus, the act of naming someone can also show a cherished parent-child relationship.
Think of what this means. When Jacob wrestled with a man – who was God appearing in human form – it was God Who gave Jacob the name Israel (Gen 32:24-32); this showed God's dominion over Jacob and it showed that Jacob stood in a special relationship with God. God showed His dominion over and His special relationship with Abram when He changed Abram's name to Abraham (Gen 17:5). The same thing was shown when He changed Saul's name to Paul (Acts 13:9; cf Gen 16:11; 17:19; 1 Kings 13:2; Is 7:14).
God told Zechariah that the boy's name was to be John. God was showing His dominion over John. God was showing that John stood in a special relationship to Him. God was claiming the whole life of John for the special calling He had in mind. That's why God gave the child a name that departed from custom and tradition. God always acts according to His good pleasure. He has the right to lay His claim on John or on you or on me according to His will.
B In naming the baby "John," God lays claim to John the Baptist. John is not so much the baby of Zechariah and Elizabeth as he is God's baby. John was put on earth to fulfil God's plan and not the desires and dreams of his earthly parents. The baby is not Zechariah Jr. He is not "little Zech." He is not meant to follow in the footsteps of his father. He is not meant to carry on the family name.
In naming the baby "John" and not Zechariah Jr, God is showing that the baby is and will be different from his father. John was a prophet; Zechariah was a priest. John was a Nazarite; Zechariah was not. John lived in the solitude of the wilderness; Zechariah lived among the people. John stood apart from the religious system; Zechariah was part of the religious system.
In naming their baby "John" do you know what Zechariah and Elizabeth were doing? They were confirming what Luke said about them earlier as being an upright, righteous, and godly couple (Lk 1:6). Zechariah and Elizabeth were following God's plan rather than their own. Zechariah and Elizabeth put aside their own wishes and desires and chose to be obedient to God.
In naming the baby, then, God was claiming John as His own and for His work.
C Did you know, God lays claim to us and our children too? In baptism God claims us as His own. And, God has also given you and me a name. The name He gives us is Christian. This name shows His dominion over us. This name shows the special Father-child relationship He has with us. The only question is: Do we live up to this name? Do we show His dominion in the way we live? Do we show He is our Father in our daily life?
III God Reveals His Mercy
A Names chosen by God have meaning. They are a form of revelation. They tell us something about the person with the name or the person giving the name.
Subtopic: Of the Saints
Until the time of Napoleon, most people in Europe had only one name. But with an increase in the population, surnames were added so people could be more easily identified. These came from four primary sources: an occupation, such as Cook or Miller; a location, such as Overhill or Brook; an ancestor, such as John's son (Johnson); and a personal characteristic, such as Small, Short, or Longfellow.
When God wanted to name an entire people – His chosen nation – He did not look to occupations, locations, and ancestors. Rather, God based the name of His people on the character of one man: Jacob.
One day in an incredible wrestling match with God Himself, Jacob insisted that the Lord bless him before departing. So God changed his name from Jacob, which means trickster, to Israel, which means he fights or prevails with God.
Remember also when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and told him to go to the Israelites and Pharaoh with the message "Let my people go!" Moses asked in response, "Who shall I say sent me?" God's answer: "I AM WHO I AM." The Hebrew word used here is Yahweh. Yahweh. I am. This is the name that reveals God to be the almighty, saving, creating, covenanting God. God, then, was revealing Himself to Moses when He told Moses His name.
Remember Ichabod? Here is a name loaded with meaning. It means the glory has departed from Israel. The daughter-in-law of Eli, the wife of Phinehas, was dying during child-birth. With her last breath she named her new born son Ichabod because of the capture of the ark of God by the Philistines and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband (1 Samuel 4:21).
Think of Abram. He was given the name Abraham. It means the father of many believers. Think of Elijah. His name means my God is Yahweh. What a testimony this is to all the prophets and worshipers of Baal. Think of Jesus. His name means Savior.
In the Bible, then, names from God are a form of revelation.
B The name that God gave to the baby of Zechariah and Elizabeth is John. This name means "the Lord is merciful." We are told that the neighbors and relatives rejoiced with Elizabeth that "the Lord had shown her great mercy" (vs 58). And, in his song after the circumcision, Zechariah sang of God's mercy.
"Give him the name John." "The Lord is merciful."
In the baby's name God reveals that He is merciful. We see this in two ways.
First of all, God was merciful in giving an aged, childless couple a child. In Israel, to be childless was a great disgrace (cf Lk 1:25) and was viewed as a sign of God's punishment (as in Lev 20:20f; II Sam 6:23; Jer 22:30; 36:30). Children were necessary to carry on the family name. Those without children lost their place in the covenant community because they did not live on in future generations. There would be no memory of them after death and their name would be erased from the land of the living and the congregation of Jehovah. On the other hand, to have children was considered a sign of blessing (Gen 1:28; Ps 127, 128); it guaranteed one's continued place within the covenant community.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were a godly couple. Yet, in spite of their obvious and sincere piety, many of their neighbors undoubtedly saw their childlessness as a sign of God's punishment (cf Lev 20:20f; 2 Sam 6:23; Jer 22:30, 36:30).
"Give him the name John." "The Lord is merciful." Every time Zechariah and Elizabeth heard that name, every time they looked on their son, they were reminded that the Lord is merciful. In His mercy God took away their disgrace. In His mercy God gave them a future place in the covenant people.
C Secondly, the Lord shows Himself to be merciful because John's birth means the Messiah is coming. As we learned a couple of weeks ago, John is the forerunner of the Messiah.
"Give him the name John." "The Lord is merciful." John's birth means God has remembered His promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David about salvation. John's birth means God has remembered the promise of the Messiah He gave to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden already. John's birth means God's plan of salvation is coming to fulfillment.
D We are all sinners and sin's punishment is death – death of body and soul, physical death and spiritual death. No sinner ever receives a harsher punishment than he or she deserves. No sinner ever receives too much punishment.
"Give him the name John." "The Lord is merciful." Mercy means we who are Christians do not get what we deserve. In fact, we get the opposite of what we deserve. Because of God's mercy we who are sinners do not get the death that we deserve; rather, we get the life we do not deserve. Because of God's mercy we get too little punishment.
Topic: MercyThat's what mercy means: we do not get what we deserve. Rather, we get – out of grace – what we do not deserve.
Title: Doesn't Deserve It
A mother visited Napoleon on behalf of her condemned son. The emperor told her the young man had committed the same offense twice, and justice demanded the death penalty. 'But Sire,' she pleaded, 'I don't ask for justice -- only for mercy.' 'He doesn't deserve it,' said Napoleon. 'No, he doesn't,' she admitted, 'but it would not be MERCY if he deserved it.' 'You're right!' said the ruler quickly, 'I'll grant your request and show him mercy!'"
E "Give him the name John." "The Lord is merciful." Right now we are living in the time of God's mercy. Now is the time of God's mercy; now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2b). This time of God's mercy began just after the flood, with the covenant of Noah. After God had flushed away the wickedness of the world, He vowed that never again would He destroy the earth and all living creatures (Gen 8:21). God promised to withhold His judgment even though every inclination of man's heart is evil from childhood (Gen 8:21). Which means that today we are living under the threat of God's judgment and under the rainbow of God's mercy. Let no one show contempt for God's mercy; Paul says it is supposed to lead us to repentance (Rom 2:4). And, don't fall asleep while the mercy of God endures for when you awake it may be too late (Mt 24:36-25:13).
"Give him the name John." "God is merciful." When it comes right down to it, that is the heart of the message of Christmas: "The Lord is merciful." Why else did He send His only Son to be born of a woman and to die on a cross?
"The Lord is merciful." Isn't that wonderful?!
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