By Mark Scott
Musicians have their warm-up acts, knights have their introducers, kings have their cupbearers, and the Messiah had his forerunner. A forerunner is a predecessor, literally someone who runs before. For Jesus that person was John the Baptist. John the Baptist ran before Jesus.
Today’s text backs up from last week’s lesson. Before Gabriel made the announcement to Mary about Jesus, he gave the announcement to Zechariah about John. In this text we learn of the forerunner’s father and the forerunner’s future.
The Forerunner’s Father
Luke 1:8-13, 18-20
Zechariah brackets the text for today. He appears at the beginning and at the end. The scholars call that literary feature inclusio. Zechariah starts and ends the text. Another literary feature of this account is character delineation. In other words, where is Zechariah at the beginning of the story? (Shocked and bewildered.) Where is he at the end of the story? (Unbelieving and silenced.)
Zechariah features prominently in this passage. As much text is devoted to him as to his son. We learn several things about him. His priestly division was on duty to serve in the temple. King David had gone to extreme measures to set this sophisticated priest system in place (1 Chronicles 24). Priests represented the people to God and God to the people. This was done through prayer and symbolized by incense. Zechariah was chosen by lot. This was a game of chance under the sovereignty of God (Proverbs 16:33). Many priests were born, served all their lives, and died without ever being allowed this privilege. The people were conscious of how nervous a priest might be in such a setting, so they prayed outside. They may well have prayed that the priest representing them would not die.
It most likely was 3:00 p.m. (Acts 3:1). Zechariah could not have been more surprised when an angel of the Lord (later identified as Gabriel) appeared to him to his left on the right side of the altar of incense. Zechariah gave the typical human response to such a divine visitation, namely fear. The word means to fall into a disturbance or trouble. One of the things that could explain this reaction is sin. Somehow we know that we do not deserve such a visitation from above. Gabriel quieted him (Don’t be afraid), assured him (your prayer has been heard), and promised him (Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John).
This was all a bit much to receive. Zechariah asked, “How can I be sure of this?” He was not asking like Mary did, “How can this be?” It was like he was asking, “What miraculous sign can you show me to ensure that this will happen since we are the Abraham and Sarah of the New Testament?” Gabriel (and God) was put off by such a question. As punishment, Zechariah was unable to speak for nine months. Nine months would be sufficient time for Zechariah to wrap his mind around this stunning event. Is it possible to allow God to surprise us?
The Forerunner’s Future
Gabriel not only announced to Zechariah that he and his wife would be used to birth this special child. He also announced several things about John, the forerunner’s, future. First he would be a joy and bring joy. This would certainly be true for his parents who longed for a way out of barrenness. But others would rejoice as well (extended family, the nation of Israel, and proselytes). Secondly, he would be great in the sight of the Lord. In fact, Jesus said that he was the greatest man ever born of a woman (Matthew 11:11). Thirdly, he would be under a Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:1-21), which would underline his dedication to the Lord.
Fourthly, he would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. Evidence of this was in last week’s lesson (Luke 1:44) and indicated that he would speak by special inspiration. Fifthly, he would bring Israel back to God. This would be shocking to some Jews because they were Israel after all. Sixthly, he would play the role of a spiritual Elijah. He would abruptly “happen” on the scene much like Elijah did
(1 Kings 17). Finally he would turn the hearts back home. This is a touching citation from the last line of the Old Testament (Malachi 4:5, 6).
United families and repentant people make for a great Christmas and a successful revival.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.