Luke 1:57-80 (ESV)
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, 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 before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
What an honor, and what a job: to be the forerunner to the Lord God, manifest in human flesh. No wonder he disappeared at an early age into the wilderness. Was he trying to run from the task? I don’t think so. After all, he leapt [for joy] in his mother’s womb, when Jesus approached in His mother’s womb. His cousin, Jesus, the Messiah. John must have felt the weight. Yet it was a weight he willingly took. When asked about Jesus, in the early days of Jesus’ ministry, John answered: “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:29-30
Zechariah, who has been mute for nine months, responds to the question about John’s name by asking for a tablet, and writes: “His name IS John” [emphasis mine]. Why not call his name Elijah? The Scripture said he would have the spirit of Elijah. Obviously not literally, but the spirit of Elijah certainly could refer to one who would recognize the Master, the Messiah, the Lord of Life, The Prince of Peace, Immanuel. He clearly did recognize his cousin, the Messiah when the Lord approached him for baptism, thus the exchange about who should baptize whom.
So the question comes to mind. Will we recognize the Messiah when we see Him? Sometimes I wonder. I certainly do not always see Him when a homeless man seeks change on a street corner. I wonder if he is actually homeless or someone who is just trying to get something for nothing. Once in a great while, I am moved to help one of them. Maybe I am wrong. I don’t know. It is so hard to know, in a world that is false in so many ways. Sometimes I think I should not worry about it. If I help someone and they are just scamming me, The Lord will certainly take care of the issue. But if I am prompted to assist, and do not, The Lord will certainly chastise me.
Most people in Jesus' day did not recognize Jesus either. Most people saw someone who was a problem, or a zealot, or someone else that was not important. Some thought He should be a great military leader, or an earthly king. People have a hard time wrapping their heads around a Messiah that is to lay His life down to gain forgiveness for the sins of the world.
What do I see in Jesus? What will I do with Jesus? This is what we each need to ask ourselves. The answer may ACTUALLY be life or death. Eternally.
by Virgil Stripes
photo: painting depicting Jesus' baptism in the Church of John the Baptist in Israel.