Expecting the Water Boy John the Baptist Luke 1:5-25, 39-80
The announcement of John the Baptist's birth signals God's renewed activity on behalf of his people in light of promises made long ago. God is again at work to bring his promise to pass. His Word will be fulfilled as the people long expected.
Read together: Hymn 343 “Prepare the Royal Highway” (LSB) Prepare the royal highway; The King of kings is near! Let ev’ry hill and valley A level road appear! Then greet the King of Glory Foretold in sacred story; Hosanna* to the Lord, For He fulfills God’s Word! (*Hosanna in Hebrew means “Oh, save now!” It is used as an expression of joy and praise for DELIVERANCE granted or anticipated/expected.)
Imagine your home team returning to your city after winning the number ONE position. What would you and your friends do to celebrate? Have the home team ride on a float in a parade? Have a rally to cheer the team? Put their pictures and their stories in the newspaper, on TV, and on the internet? Have a large community dinner in their honor? You probably would do everything you could think of doing to celebrate the victory.
Now imagine yourself the water boy for the team. Keeping the team hydrated during the game is an extremely important job and yet, where is the water boy during the homecoming celebration? The water boy is in the crowd celebrating the victory like the rest of the community. The water boy becomes part of the crowd, no one special, just someone that did a job for the team.
Today’s lesson looks at the prophecies and the birth of John the Baptist. It had been a long time since the people of God had experienced a prophet in their midst. The Israelites had settled into life under the Roman Empire. Life was far from perfect but the day-to-day of life was passable. The Israelites hated the rule of the Roman government with the heavy taxes and governmental limits in their lives. Their worship to God had become a set of rules to be followed. There were many faithful believers but it had been so long since God had spoke to them. And now……the stage is set for the long expected Savior.
Exploring God’s Word Zechariah Luke 1:5-25 Luke 1:5-7: The Setting for God’s Plan This event was to happen when King Herod ruled in Judea. This places the event in a very real time. Writers outside the scriptures recorded when Herod was king so we can know the approximate year this event took place. The people involved are Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth. 1: both are descendants of Aaron. Aaron and his descendants were to be the priests* of God’s people from the time of the Exodus from Egypt and forward. 2: Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were upright in the sight of God and were blameless. (Noah, Joseph, and Simeon are also described with these words.) 3. They had no children. Elizabeth was barren. 4. They were both well along in years. (*Priest: In the Old Testament, the priests were descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother. They were to be the go-between God and His people. The priests were to offer the sacrifices to God according to the regulations God had given them. And to maintain the temple which included keeping the incense burning at the altar in the Holy of Holies.) The above points of show God’s great grace and love not only for Zechariah and Elizabeth but also for the people of God.
Luke 1:8-23 Zechariah: The unexpected happened! Verses 8-10 Zechariah, being a descendant of Aaron, served as a priest. As per God’s command, only one priest could enter the Holy of Holies to keep the incense burning and maintain the space, again, according to God’s requirements. This service was extremely important and honored. To make sure the “right” priest would serve. Zechariah was chosen by lot. (Like throwing of dice or pulling a name out of a hat). It was his job to go into the Holy of Holies to fuel the incense. (Burning incense was offered to God when the people gathered to pray. The incense smell told the people the incense was being offered and the smoke rising from the burnt offering help the people visually understand their prayers were going up to God. Read Revelations8:3-4 for further understanding of the relationship between incense and prayer.) It is important to note that Zechariah did NOT volunteer for this service time, but was chosen by random chance. Verses 11-20 By chance Zechariah is serving God and the people during prayer time. Then something unexpected happens. An angel appears. Listen to what the angel says, “Your prayer has been heard” “You wife will bear a son: The son’s name is to be “John” 1 “He will be a joy” “Many will rejoice because of his birth” “he will be great in the sight of the Lord” “He is never to take wine”3 “filled with the Holy Spirit from birth” “Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.” “Go….in the spirit and power of Elijah 2…” “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children” “turn the…disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous” “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” 1 the name ‘John’ means The Lord is gracious” 2 Elijah was a powerful prophet in the Old Testament times 3 John is to be a Nazarite (optional activity at the end of this lesson)
Listen to the loving words of the angel, “Your prayer has been heard. (” Psalm 141:2 May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Psalm 130:7 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.”) Since the day of their marriage Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed for a baby. It was the deepest desire of a marriage. All of society expected married couples to have a baby. And yet, no baby came.
The angel then announces words that were music to Zechariah’s ears. “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” WOW!!!!!!!! Do you understand what the angel just said? First : Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a baby, and not just a baby, but a son. (This was way before sonograms that reveal the sex of a baby.) Zechariah and Elizabeth were OLD, way past child-bearing years. They expected to die with no child born to them. And yet, THEY were going to have a baby! Very unexpected good news! And extremely hard to understand because of their age.
The angel told them what name to call the son – John which means ‘the LORD is gracious’. The baby would be a ‘joy’. During the first century, society thought not having a child was a punishment for disobeying God and the couple would be pushed to the side of society. For the wife, she lived in disgrace.
Remember the setting of this event – Zechariah and Elizabeth were considered upright and blameless in God’s eyes and yet, no baby. How conflicted they must have felt. But now, God, having heard their prayers, was showing them great grace – a baby. Elizabeth would no longer live in disgrace in society. What unexpected joy she would have at the end of her life! We hear Elizabeth exclaims later in Luke “The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Many people would rejoice because of this baby. Now there are several ways to look at this statement. Society knew Zechariah and Elizabeth loved and served God. People probably felt sorry for this couple for not having a baby so when the news came, they rejoiced with this couple. Finally things would be right. Unexpected joyous news for the community! But there is a longer view of the angel’s statement. As an adult, John would lead people back to God. Through John they would experience God active in their midst. After a long silence from prophets, this was welcomed news. People rejoiced in hearing God’s Word. Once again, a prophet lived with God’s people. This was unexpected news.
“…he will be great in the sight of God”. What an affirmation of Zechariah’s son! And what better family to place this child – Zechariah and Elizabeth were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. They would raise this son to be right with God.
“be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.” Mary, pregnant with Jesus, went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Read Luke 1:41. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb…” It was by the power of the Holy Spirit the fetus of John recognized the fetus of Jesus. There was joy in John that recognized Jesus as the promised Savior. John leaped for joy!
John was given a specific task to do for God. He was to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” In the first century, most roads were but dirt paths. The roads would have to be paved if a king would travel with his carriage and all his belongings so the road must be smooth and not dusty. John was not going to build roads of brick but he would build roads in people’s hearts to prepare for the coming of Jesus.
The angel’s prophecy echoes Isaiah 40:3 “in the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” With the power of the Holy Spirit, John would preach the Word of God in its truth to bring people to repentance and to recognize their need for a Savior. John baptized with water (pun intended: John was the water boy for the team.) for the forgiveness of sins. John’s preaching prepared the hearts of the people for the Lord.
Notice John was to “prepare for the Lord.” John was NOT the promised messiah. Being filled with the Holy Spirit John would serve the Lord. As an adult John spoke these words, “Jesus must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30 John understood that he would never be #1. He would always be #2 and he lovingly served God with his whole being as #2.
Reflection time When you make plans to do something, how many times do you plan to finish second? (Let students talk) It just is not in our nature. We expect to be #1. With the birth of John, John was to be the #2 guy. He would not receive the glory of being #1. What are your thoughts in being #2?
Read Luke 7:28 Jesus said, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” What did Jesus’ words say about John?
Read Luke 1:76And you, my child, will be called prophet of the Most High….go before the Lord to prepare….” What is John’s in relationship with Jesus? (John is like the water boy on the team. He was the worker behind the scene. He was to announce Jesus as Lord. He was to prepare people for the coming of Jesus. )
Read Luke 1:19-25 Zechariah pushed the angel Gabriel to give him a sign that what was said would actually happen. Starting with the announcement of the birth of a son to an elderly couple who physically could not have a child, everything the angel decreed seemed impossible to Zechariah. And yet, the angel told Zechariah to expect the impossible. What sign was given to Zechariah?
The angel announced the son should be called John in Luke 1:13. Why was this an unexpected name for this son? Read Luke 1:59-66. What did the people expect in the naming of this child?
Think about the name John and it’s meaning “The LORD is gracious”. Why is this a fitting name for John? This event recorded in the Bible illuminates an important attitude in our life. What can you learn about God in your life by reading about the announcement and birth of John? (Answers will vary. Some possible answers would be: I can expect to have God hear my prayers and answer them. I can expect the unexpected from God in my life. God has a plan for my life. (Luke 1:16-17 and Jeremiah 29:11) Jesus will honor me as I serve him.)
Key Bible Verses John 1:6-9 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light (Jesus), so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the word.
Prayer Our Great Lord, we pray to you with our hopes and our dreams and our needs. Help us to expect your answer in the unexplainable and against all odds. You are the Lord of heaven and earth. With you, nothing is impossible. Thank you your gift of unexpected love in our lives. Amen
Cycle of Church Observations Pages x – xiii in the Lutheran Service Book outline the Church Year as the Christian world celebrates God with us (Immanuel). Please note the following dates.
June 24 The Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Boldface to indicate the observance as a principal feast of Christ and is normally observed when it occurs on a Sunday.
August 29 The Martydom of St. John the Baptist (church calendar)
September 5 Zechariah and Elizabeth (A commemoration) The Lutheran reformers understood that there was great benefit in remembering the saints whom God has given to His Church. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession gives three reasons for such honor. First, we thank God for giving faithful servants to His Church. Second, through such remembrance our faith is strengthened as we see the mercy that God extended to His saints of old. Third, these saints are examples by which we may imitate both their faith and their holy living according to our calling in life. (p xii LSB)
The Nazarite Numbers 6 According to Strong’s Hebrew dictionary a Nazarite is a man or woman consecrated or devoted to God. It was a means to separate oneself to the LORD, away from people and society. The rules God set up for the Nazarite made the person very distinct from the norm of the people. The typical time of service was one year.
Verse 2: To be a Nazarite the man or woman is to make a special vow to the LORD. Vow = promise. This was not to be taken lightly as you were making a promise to God.
Verses 3-4:to abstain from wine and other fermented drink. Not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins or any part of the grape. Since grapes were a staple in the day-to-day life of the people this rule helped to set the Nazarite apart.
Verse 5: No razor used on his head.
Verses 6-7: Not go near a dead body because of the symbol of his separation to God is on his head.
Verses 9-13 describe how a Nazarite is to deal with his vow if someone should die in his or her presence.
Verses 13-21 describe how a Nazarite ends his time of dedication to the LORD.
In Judges 13-16 tells us about a Nazarite who was a Nazarite from birth like John the Baptist. Today we do not have a Nazarite distinction of people. However, there are many people that dedicate their life in service to God. Many do not married so as to have no family distractions. Many live among the poor of the world so as to not deal with the materiality the world has to offer.
What would you need to “give up” so as not to distract you from serving God?