(Luke 1) The Last Old Testament Prophet

College is an exciting time of life — in spite of the long hours of study and tests. It is a time of learning, growth, relationships, and freedom previously not known. Most importantly, it is a time of preparation. You need to move from childhood to adulthood. This requires that you be prepared to face the many challenges and unknowns of your future life. College helps to prepare you for the future.

God used “college” experiences to prepare His people for future challenges in life. He had in mind to give the land of Palestine to the Hebrew people. Yet they went through four hundred grueling years of slavery in Egypt before God delivered them from Pharaoh’s grip. He sent Moses and Aaron to prepare the Hebrew people for this deliverance.

Moving forward to the time of the first “Christmas,” God had left the world without a prophet for four hundred years. It was time at last to send His Son, the promised Messiah, into the world. God sent the last of the Old Testament prophets into the world. His name was John the Baptist. John the Baptist came to “prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.” (Luke 3:4, NKJV)

A prophetJohn was the last of the Old Testament style prophets sent to proclaim the word of the LORD. The job of the prophet was to clearly identify the sins of the people, declare God’s message to the people, and point them to future events whereby they would know that the LORD had indeed spoken. In particular, the prophets would point forward to the Messiah or Christ who would usher in the kingdom of God. John the Baptist emerged on the Judaean landscape to prepare the hearts of the people for the imminent appearance of Christ.

What does God have to do to prepare you to receive His Son, the LORD Jesus Christ? The account of John the Baptist shows us the extraordinary lengths God has used to reach you with the good news of His salvation. Even after 2,000 years, God still speaks today through the words of the prophets and apostles recorded in the Bible.

Main Point:

God used miraculous means to prepare people for the coming of His Son, the LORD Jesus Christ, so that you can hear and believe His good news of salvation.

Scripture Passage:

Luke 1:5-80

Outline:

  1. A barren woman in a barren world (Luke 1:5-7).
  2. A promised son to a praying priest (Luke 1:8-17).
  3. A silenced tongue for a skeptical servant (Luke 1:18-22).
  4. A miraculous birth of a mysterious man (Luke 1:57-66).
  5. A powerful proclamation of the prophet’s purpose (Luke 1:67-80).

 

1. A barren woman in a barren world.

5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. (Luke 1:5-7, NKJV)

A time of oppression:

The days of Herod’s reign in Judea were 37 – 4 B.C. It was a time of great oppression of the Israelites. The land was ruled with a rod of iron by Rome and Roman soldiers. The Roman Empire used local vassals to give some appearance of local autonomy. It was clear, however, who was really in charge. The people of each conquered nation, including Israel, considered the local “king” to be a traitor. Yet there was nothing the people could do against the strength of the Roman soldiers.

A time of depression:

The people of Israel, chosen by God to be His light to the world, had been without a prophet for 400 years. There had been no true prophetic utterances from God, no word from the LORD to guide the people. Furthermore, though the Israelites had regrouped to form their nation once again, they were now enslaved by the Roman empire. The people were confused about God’s plan, discouraged, angry, and without hope. They lived in a spiritual wilderness.

A time of expectation:

There were many who appeared during this time claiming to be the Messiah or Christ. Gamaliel, a highly regarded teacher of the Law in the first century, notes Theudas and Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:34-37). While their movement came to nothing, the interest of the people in Messiah was at an all time high. There was an air of expectation that God was going to fulfill His promise at last.

A time of rejection:

In the midst of this barren world, the Bible tells us of “a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.” (Luke 1:5, NKJV) They were godly people who loved the LORD (Luke 1:6). Yet they had no children (Luke 1:7). For the Jews, this was considered a reproach upon their character. Even today, many people think that there is something wrong with you if you are married but have no children. It is a terrible misconception that God is displeased with you in some way.

In the midst of this barren, confused world, Zacharias and Elizabeth longed for a child. But they were old. How could they have a son to carry on their family name? Over and over, God shows Himself strong and able to do what we are unable to do:

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27, NJKV)


2. A promised son to a praying priest.

8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:8-17, NKJV)

The Levitical priest represented the entire nation of Israel before God. Once a year, a priest could enter the Holy of Holies to burn incense before the LORD and pray for the people. It was a solemn, fearful time. Of all the things Zacharias could have prayed about regarding the nation of Israel, he used this once in a lifetime opportunity to ask for a son. Can you blame him? God is so gracious. He did not reject this earnest request from Zacharias. In fact, God gave him a very special son.

  • For he will be great in the sight of the Lord (1:15).
  • He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb (1:15).
  • And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God (1:16)
  • He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah … to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (1:17).

Talk about an answer to prayer … John the Baptist would be a mighty man of God, filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth! He would have to be…

I have a large granite rock in my yard. It interferes with mowing my lawn so I decided to try and break up the rock. It was one of the proudest days of my life as I went to Home Depot to buy my first sledgehammer. As I walked to front of the store to pay for it, I had to “strut” just a little 😉 I took it home and went to work on the rock. After 3 mammoth blows to the rock, the rock was unblemished and I broke the sledgehammer! That is one hard rock.

After 400 years without a prophet from God and a word from the LORD, the nation of Israel had become hardened spiritually. It was during this time that Judaism was formally developed as a religion. The Law, at least the Rabbinical interpretation of the Law, was developed into a rigid system of rules for living. Faith in God had become a set of rules that must be strictly followed or you were a sinner, an outcast from society. The relationship between God and His chosen people had degenerated into a man-made religion. It was against this hard-grained society that God raised up John the Baptist to be His “sledgehammer.”

His job was to break through the spiritual hardness of people to prepare them for the glorious appearance of God’s Son, the Messiah (Christ) Jesus. John would have to be tough to get through to the hearts of his people.

Sometimes you and I will have to break through some pretty hard ground to plant the seed of the gospel. If you have been praying for opportunities to share the gospel but the people you meet seem hardened, remember John the Baptist. God may need to use you as a “sledgehammer” to get people to face the reality of their desperate situation before God. People need the LORD Jesus whether they believe it or not. You and I must be faithful ambassadors, even sledgehammers, of the love and message of Christ our LORD.


 

3. A silenced tongue for a skeptical servant.

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” 21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. (Luke 1:18-22, NKJV)

John was a miracle baby to be born to two very aged parents. Zacharias was not satisfied with the promise of a miracle from the Almighty via the angel, Gabriel. It was apparently not enough to speak with an angel of God directly.

Zacharias wanted to know experientially what God was promising to do in the future. This is an obvious contradiction. But how often we fail to walk by faith because of uncertainty regarding the future!

There is a definite tone to Zacharias’ words from the original Greek text. He said, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man…” (Luke 1:18, NKJV) with emphasis on the word, “I”!

Gabriel’s response is amusing as he emphasizes the same word, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God.” (Luke 1:19, NKJV)

As a result, God closed the mouth of Zacharias until John was born. His unbelief, “you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time” (Luke 1:20, NKJV), led to immediate consequences.

Listen, when God speaks you and I had better listen and obey! Never approach the word of God with an unbelieving heart, a sleepy apathetic heart, or a double-minded heart. Approach the word of God every day with an expectation that God will speak to you: “Open my eyes that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (Psalm 119:18). That is His desire and should be your expectation. The most wondrous thing you can see in God’s word is what Jesus said, “Whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned. He has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24, NIV).


4. A miraculous birth of a mysterious man.

57 Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how he Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her. 59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60 His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” 62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him. (Luke 1:57-66, NKJV)

It was miracle enough for Elizabeth to have a child in her old age. Yet we find Zacharias is still mute; God has not yet opened his mouth. Not until John was born and Zacharias named him “John” according to Gabriel’s instruction was his mouth opened.

Note how the other priests objected to this name: “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” (Luke 1:61, NKJV) Their tradition would have the child named by his father’s name. But Zacharias now believed the word of the LORD given through Gabriel. He insisted, along with his wife, that the child’s name was John. At precisely this time, “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.” (Luke 1:64, NKJV) I like the way theologian Alfred Edersheim explains it:

It was all most fitting. The question of unbelief had struck the Priest dumb, for most truly unbelief cannot speak; and the answer of faith restored to him speech, for most truly does faith loosen the tongue. The first evidence of his dumbness had been, that his tongue refused to speak the benediction of the people; and the first evidence of his restored power was, that he spoke the benediction of God in a rapturous burst of praise and thanksgiving. 1

Why did God pronounce this punishment and later undo this mysterious silencing of Zacharias? Zacharias was a priest who, supposedly, represented the people before God. His unbelief was an offense to God and a stumbling block to the people. God needed to teach Zacharias who was God and who was not. Moreover, God used the mystery and intrigue around John’s birth to catch the attention of a nation. With the miraculous healing of Zacharias, all who were present became awe-struck. The Bible says, “Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea.” (Luke 1:65, NKJV)

God’s miracles always point us back to Him. They are not designed for entertainment but inspiration. Our eyes need to look beyond ourselves to the Almighty God who loves us. Miracles, by definition, interrupt the natural course of events and cause us to wonder. In that wondering, God can reveal the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ to us.

To me, it was a great miracle that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, willingly went to a cross and died to pay the penalty for my sins. Yet the world would only see in the cross the death of troublemaker. So in the greatest miracle of all, God resurrected Jesus Christ from the dead. This is the miracle that you and I need to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ and enter into a personal relationship with God.


 

5. A powerful proclamation of the prophet’s purpose.

67 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: 68 “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, 69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, 70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began, 71 That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us, 72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And to remember His holy covenant, 73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: 74 To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, 77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, 78 Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; 79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” 80 So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel. (Luke 1:67-80, NKJV)

Zacharias uttered a beautiful praise of thanksgiving to the LORD, a benediction. In this praise, Zacharias explains the purpose of John’s ministry. There are three key points here:

  1. The LORD God loves you so much He chose to redeem you not to destroy you (For He has visited and redeemed His people-1:68, To perform the mercy promised to our fathers-1:72).
  2. The LORD God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, for your salvation (has raised up a horn of salvation for us-1:69, to remember His holy covenant, 73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham-1:72).
  3. Salvation — being in a right relationship with God — is through God’s merciful forgiveness of your sins (To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God-1:77-78, To guide our feet into the way of peace-1:79).

John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ. In the wilderness, His preaching of the word of God was an object lesson for the people of Israel who, at that time, were living in a spiritual wilderness. What was that lesson? The people living in a spiritual wilderness had to journey a long way into a desert wilderness to hear John’s message. John the Baptist had a powerful message for the people of his time: repentance. The lesson is that they way out of the spiritual wilderness you are in is through repentance.

Repentance is a dramatic change of mind, a change of heart deep within a person. It is like doing a “U-turn” in the road of life. Before repentance, you live life without submitting to God. After repentance, you submit your life to God. John’s message was that people should turn from their sins, confess them to God, and believe in the Christ who was coming into the world. Then you have a right relationship with God where you can sing “Joy to the world, the LORD has come” because you know it in your own heart!

John the Baptist bore witness to Christ. He said, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8, NKJV). His ministry was intended to spark repentance in the hearts of the Israelites and turn them to Christ for redemption.


 

Conclusion

John’s words still echo today of salvation through Christ alone: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! … I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29,34, NKJV)

Are you prepared for Christmas this year? I am not talking about buying presents, decorating a tree, or putting lights on your house. You can only be prepared to remember the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ when you repent and believe the good news about Jesus.

Have you repented of your sin (yes, you are sinner just like every other human being and you know it)? Have you put your trust in the LORD Jesus Christ? You can be forgiven of all your sins right now and enter into a personal relationship with God through The Gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray you will make that choice in time and for eternity!

 

End Notes

1.Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan. August, 1977. p. 159.