A Walk through the Book of Luke
February 22, 2023
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
“What’s in a name?”
In the late 1990s, I was immersed in full-time church work and taking classes through Concordia University, Wisconsin. One of my courses was an in-depth look at the Gospel of Luke. Although I read all four Gospels often, Luke is my favorite.
Although Luke was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus, he states in 1:3 that his writings are a result of “carefully investigating everything from the beginning.” Luke’s Gospel brings us a historical account, from start to finish, of the life of Jesus.
There are many familiar stories found in other Gospels. But, in Luke’s Gospel, we find eighteen (18) unique parables not found in the other Gospel writings.
Luke is also unique in that his Gospel is part one of two books he wrote. The second is the book of Acts. Each of the books is addressed to Theophilus. And at the beginning of the book of Acts, Luke references “my former book,” which scholars believe refers to Luke’s Gospel.
Over the next 55 days (February 22, Ash Wednesday through April 6), we’ll take a walk through the book of Luke (except for Sundays, where I will write on the Gospel lesson of the day.)
So, please read, enjoy, and learn along with me as we dig into, The Gospel of Luke.
I am of Italian descent. All four of my grandparents were born in Sicily, Italy. My best recollection tells me that at the time of my birth, 1951, it was still a tradition to name your children after their grandparents.
So, I was named after my Father’s dad, Joe or Joseph, and my brother was named after my mother’s dad, Sam or Salvatore. This naming tradition is not followed today as it once was. We named my daughter Heather because we liked the name. She did the same with her son, my grandson Keegan and my granddaughter, Taytum.
In biblical times the naming of a child was more often than not after the Father or mother. But that didn’t happen with John (the Baptist).
There are parallels and differences between the birth of John and Jesus. Today we’ll look at what John’s role was to be in God’s plan. Tomorrow we’ll examine how Zechariah and Mary responded to the angel Gabriel.
“In the time of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty, and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and, for five months, remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days, he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” Luke 1:5-25
This passage is abundant with stories that can stand alone. King Herod is mentioned. Elizabeth is mentioned twice in reference to her inability to have a child and being beyond the age of childbearing. Then, the angel of the Lord, Gabriel, appears to Zechariah. Gabriel tells Zechariah what to name the child his wife will have. Then, he is made mute for the nine months of his wife’s pregnancy. Zechariah couldn’t believe or, at the very least, couldn’t fathom how this pregnancy could possibly come about in his and Elizabeth’s advanced years.
That is a lot of stuff packed into twenty verses. But wait, there’s more. The name John means “The Lord has shown favor.” And favor is what God showed. He showed favor to Elizabeth and Zechariah by gifting them with a child.
But John was not just any child. As Gabriel said,
“He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
John’s job was to turn the hearts of God’s people and prepare the world for the coming of Jesus (John’s cousin). Like his parents, he was brought up to be pious (Devoted to God, His teachings, and being a servant).
Finally, it’s interesting to note Elizabeth’s words after she became pregnant.
“The Lord has done this for me, in these days, he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
In Biblical times women were looked down upon is they were unable to bear children. After what must have been years of suffering indignation among her family and friends, this dark curtain is lifted. She is with child. But not just any child. John would pave the road for Jesus to do the work the Father sent Him to do.
(Tomorrow, The Birth of Jesus Foretold)