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Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Birth of John the Baptist, Zechariah's Song

Sermon / Homily on Luke 1:57-80

The Birth and Circumcision of the Forerunner

by John Stevenson, Studies in the Gospel of Luke

Scripture: Luke 1:57-80

And it shall be said, "Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstacle out of the way of My people." (Isaiah 57:14).

The ministry of John the Baptist was a special ministry. He was called to be the Forerunner of the Lord. It would be his task to go before the Lord Jesus and to prepare the hearts of the people to meet their King. And so it is fitting that. the birth of John the Baptist should precede the birth of Jesus.


Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she brought forth a son.

And her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her. (Luke 1:57-58).

We are given very few of the details surrounding the actual birth of John. This will he seen in contrast to the birth of Jesus.

There is a principle here. Johnís importance will be seen in his relation to Jesus. The same can be said to be true of us. Sometimes we get to thinking that we are very important. But it is the One whom we serve who is important.

1. A Promise Fulfilled: She brought forth a son (1:57).

This is one more example of the great truth that God always keeps His word. He has a 100% record. He has never failed.

This means that, when He makes a promise to you, that you can bank on it. If He was going to start breaking His word, He probably wouldnít be starting with you.

2. God Glorified: They were rejoicing with her (1:58).

The workings of God were obvious. Iím sure that Elizabeth had told her neighbors and friends the significance of her pregnancy. The result was that they glorified God at the birth of this baby.


And it came about that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father.

And his mother answered and said, "No indeed; but he shall be called John."

And they said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name."

And they made signs to his father as to what he wanted him called.

And he asked for a tablet, and wrote as follows, "His name is John." And they were all astonished.

And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God.

And fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea.

And all who heard them kept them in mind, saying, "What then will this child turn out to be? For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him." (Luke 1:59-66).

Imagine the scene. Early on the morning of the eighth day following the childís birth, the family and friends of Zacharias and Elizabeth gather together at their home. Elizabeth greets each guest as they enter into the house. Zacharias smiles his greeting.

When all of the guests have arrived, Elizabeth takes her infant son and hands him to the priest. The priest takes this infant son of Abraham and speaks a benediction over the child. Then, he takes a knife and carefully cuts around the foreskin of the infant, marking this child as a son of Israel, the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant now on his own little body.

The child has not been named. Since God had changed the names of Abraham and Sarah at the time that He gave them the Covenant of Circumcision, so the Jews would name a male child only after he had been circumcised.

This rite of circumcision completed, the priest would now offer up a prayer:

"Our God, and the God of our fathers - raise up this child to his father and mother, and let his name be called in Israel Zacharias, the son of Zacharias."

Suddenly there is an interruption. It comes from Elizabeth. All turn in wonder and astonishment at the outburst of this aged mother. "What did she say? Did I hear her correctly?"

A Name of Promise: "He shall be called John" (1:60).

Whatís in a name? In my own American culture, the meaning of names are normally ignored. People are generally more concerned with how a name sounds and that it have no negative associations. For example, I donít know of too many parents who have named their child "Benedict Arnold" or "Judas Iscariot."

But names in the Hebrew culture were often very meaningful. Abram and Sarai both had their names changed to reflect their abandoning of their old pagan worship as they began to worship the Lord.

Abram ("father of high places")
Was changed to...
Abraham ("father of a multitude")

Sarai ("contentious")
Sarah ("princess")

When Elizabeth says, "He shall be called John," this is a future passive indicative. The future tense indicates that it is not a present reality. The indicative mood means that it is really going to happen. This is the form of a prophecy.

The name "John" is a Hebrew name (Yhohanani) meaning "gift of Yahweh." This is going to be a very meaningful name. It will be this same John who will go out to proclaim the coming of the One who will be Godís gift to the world.

A New Name: They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name" (1:61).

It was customary in that day to name a child after someone in the family. Thus, the people had assumed that this child would be named Zacharias Jr.

An Appeal to Zacharias: They made signs to his father (1:62).

Zacharias had not uttered a word since that day nine months ago in the temple. As is often the case, the people had assumed that because he could not speak, he was also unable to hear. Thus, they try to communicate to him through the means of sign language.

An Affirmation of Faith: "His name is John" (1:63).

Notice the difference between the statement of Elizabeth and the written statement of Zacharias.

He shall be called John
Future passive indicative

His name is John
Present active indicative

This is a present active indicative. The present tense brings out a definite finality. Notice that Zacharias does not write that he is going to name the child. The child already has a name. God has named the child.

The last spoken words of Zacharias had been delivered in unbelief. As he speaks now, his words are going to reflect a steadfast and unwavering faith. Before he had spoken in doubt. Now he is going to speak with assurance.

A Loosened Tongue: And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed (1:64).

Gabriel had promised that Zacharias would he dumb until the prophecy had been fulfilled.

"And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time." (Luke 1:20).

Part of that prophecy had been that Zacharias would give his son the name "John" (Luke 1:13). It was not until that part of the prophecy had come to pass that Zacharias was given back his power of speech.

A Matter of Record: All these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea (1:65).

When Zacharias had first been stricken dumb, it had occurred within the confines of the temple ó the spiritual center of the Jewish race. We may conclude that the news of this event spread out from Jerusalem to the surrounding countryside.

Now as the dumbness leaves Zacharias just as dramatically as it had come upon him, the word goes out again. The response to these events is described in verses 65-66.

It left the people with a fear and a reverence for the power of God.

After all, if God can open and shut. the mouth of this old priest, then I had better watch what I say. We get to thinking that God is the Master Architect who set everything in motion, but who has now gone off on a long journey and hasnít come back yet.

It led the people to begin to think and talk more about spiritual matters. When you have seen God work in a dynamic way, you begin to take Him more seriously. Part of the problem in our churches today is that people arenít recognizing the working power of God.

This "gospel by gossip" was spontaneous. It did not take place as a result of an evangelistic crusade. No one delivered a message on how true Christians ought to be sharing their faith. There was no manipulation or coercion. It was a natural outgrown of people being excited about something they had witnessed. And if the church is ever to become involved in evangelism, it will only be as believers are excited about the Lord who has saved them.

It would eventually give added credence to the ministry of John.

There is coming a day when this little baby will grow to manhood and will begin a ministry of preaching. People are going to remember the miraculous circumstances surrounding his birth and they are going to listen to him.

There is a principle in all of this. It is that God always prepares the way for a ministry. It will be over thirty years before .John begins his public ministry, but God is already preparing the hearts of the people to receive him.


And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people,

"And has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant 70 ó as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old 71 ó salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us;

"To show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant,

"The oath which He swore to Abraham our father,

"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 on before the Lord to prepare his ways;

"To give to his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins,

"Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us,

"To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,

"To guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:67-79).

Zacharias has remained silent for the last nine months. He has had a lot of time to reflect of the ways of the Lord. Whereas before he could not speak, so now he cannot keep silent. He breaks forth into a beautiful song.

The song of Zacharias can be divided into two parts, each consisting of one long continuous sentence.

Zacharias praises the Lord for having provided salvation for His people

Zacharias goes on to describe what the childís mission and ministry will be

As was the case with Maryís song, the song of Zacharias will he filled with quotes of phrases and whole verses from the Old Testament. In fact, each of these two sections will begin with a statement and then refer to the Old Testament Scripture to provide evidence for that statement.

1. A Divine Blessing: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel" (1:68).

The Greek word translated "blessed" is eulogetos. This is used as an adjective. In Luke 1:42 the same word was used as a verb.

It does not describe a state of emotion. We do not have to depend upon Godís state of emotions. We will never have to worry whether God is in a good mood or not. God never gets up on the wrong side of the bed. Eulogetos could he translated as "well spoken of" or "highly regarded."

2. A Divine Visitation: "He has visited us and accomplished redemptionÖ" (1:68).

The aorist tense is used in both of these verbs. The aorist tense indicates a point in time. Usually, it refers to past time. However, in this case, it refers to something that had not yet been completed.

Redemption would not be accomplished until Christ died upon the cross (Hebrews 9:12). Thus, the aorist tense is being used to describe something in the future. The point of this tense is that Godís visitation is bringing about the redemption of His people.

3. Visitation according to Promise: "As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets" (1:70).

Now that Zacharias has stated the doctrine of redemption, he goes on to give evidence of that doctrine from the Old Testament Scriptures.

There is a principle here. It is that the proof of any teaching must always come from the Scriptures. He does not merely use reason or logic. Neither does he depend upon feelings. The basis of his beliefs are that God has spoken.

Notice also the reference to inspiration. God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets. When they spoke, the words of God came forth.

4. The Goal of Visitation: "To grant us that we... might serve Him" (1:74).

This is the end result of redemption. This is the final goal of Godís salvation. It is that He shall acquire the redemption of those who shall be enabled to serve and to worship Him. If we were to summarize this entire sentence, then it would read like this:

"Blessed he the Lord God, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption and raised up a horn of salvation to show mercy and to remember the oath that we might serve Him." (1:68-75).

Thus, we can see that Godís visitation accomplished two initial purposes:

a. To show mercy to the fathers (1:72).

b. To remember His covenant with Abraham (1:72-73).

5. Prophet of Visitation: "And you... will he called the prophet of the Most High" (1:76).

Now, we move to the second section of Zachariasís Song. The praise has set the stage for this prophecy.

Zacharias addresses his infant son. He declares that John will he a prophet. This prophecy is fulfilled in Matthew 11:9-14; 14:5; 21;26; and Mark 11:32.

"For you will go on before the Lord to prepare his ways" (1:76).

"For" is a purpose clause. It introduces to us why John has been called to he a prophet. It is because he will be the one who will announce the coming of Messiah.

Often in the ancient world when a king was traveling to a city, he would send his servant on ahead to announce his coming so that the people would make ready to receive him with proper honors. This is the picture presented here. The King is coming. His messenger will he sent on before Him. This has already been promised in the Old Testament.

Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. (Malachi 3:la).

John is going to be that messenger that had been promised. He will go before the Lord.

"To give to his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins" (1:77).

This will be the end result of Johnís ministry. People will learn of that salvation which only comes through the forgiveness of their sins. John will not give salvation. He will only give the KNOWLEDGE of salvation.

"The Sunrise from on high shall visit us" (1:78).

This is another reference to Messiah. It also comes from Malachi.

But for you who fear My name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. (Malachi 4:2).

There is coming One who will be able to heal the sick. He will lighten the hearts of the afflicted. He will be the instrument of the tender mercies of God.

"To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death" (1:79).

Notice the vivid picture that Zacharias presents. We sit here in complete darkness, unable to see. Suddenly, there comes a light. It is THE Light. This is not a new concept. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah had foretold of One who would come.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land. the light will shine on them. (Isaiah 9:2).

Zacharias recognizes that the light Isaiah spoke of is now going to come into the world. It is the light of Jesus.


And the child continued to grow, and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. (Luke 1:80).

With this verse we shall dismiss John. This is the only record that we have of his childhood. This was the period of his preparation.

We may surmise that, since his parents were already very advanced in age, that John became an orphan rather early in life.

This was all a part of Godís plan. God is molding a man for His own use. That molding process is sometimes rather painful. However. God has the finished product in mind.

This is the one outstanding feature that we have see all throughout this chapter. It is that God has a plan and that He has provided for that plan. This is something that you can believe today. God has a plan for you and He will provide for that plan. The going will not always be comfortable. But in the end, it will be worth it.

See Also:

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the Sunday of the Birth of John the Baptist

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