The Coming of a Forerunner
I. The Backdrop
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division ofAbijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced inyears. Luke 1:5-7
As we have already covered in a previous session how we get our dates as well as the back drop concerning the political leadership of Herod, we know that this is a time of unrest as Israel is under the control of the Roman Empire, there is a wicked king over the land who was not even an Israelite and there has been roughly four hundred years of silence of the word of the Lord. Now suddenly everything is about to change.
In the days of King Herod, there was one named Zacharias a priest, who was of the descendants of Aaron. He was married to Elizabeth who was also of the descendants of Aaron, the scriptures point out that they were both righteous and walked blamelessly before the Lord. They fulfilled the commandments before the Lord with an upright heart that was pleasing to Him. However, at this point they were advanced in their years and still had no child because Elizabeth was barren.
It was considered that if a man who was descended from Aaron were to marry a woman who also was descendant of Aaron, that they were considered to be blessed. However, it was also considered that if a husband and wife produced no child and the wife was barren that she (or perhaps both of them) were in sin or cursed, and thus they would be shamed. It would seem that the Lord wanted to highlight their uprightness before the barrenness so to dispel any thought of them being in sin or cursed.
It would also appear that the Lord revealing that they were both descended from Aaron, to show both their lineage, that they were truly blessed (as we will soon see just how blessed) and that if Elizabeth is a Levite then that makes it possible that Mary her relative could be part Levite, thus; making Jesus both a descendant of David and Aaron or rather both King and Priest. If this is true that Jesus has the lineage of both priest and king it would just add to the prophecy in the book of Zechariah that there would be one who would marry the two roles together in themselves.
“Then say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD. 13Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’ Zechariah 6:12-13
II. A Forerunner Foretold
8Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. Luke 1:8-10
If what we have already suggested previously is true then that would place Zacharias’ time serving in the temple around the first week of October 6 B.C. Zacharias was selected to go in and offer incense to the Lord via the casting of lots, though it would seem God had already chosen who He wanted to come in that day. As Zacharias went in to offer incense with fear and trembling, the multitude of people gathered outside in prayer were prayer to the Lord, for themselves, their nation as well as for Zacharias as he entered into a place many of which could only dream about with fear and trembling.
11And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. Luke 1:11-12
Zacharias went in to perform the daily offering of incense. This was to be done before the altar of incense which was in the Holy Place, this was not the same as being before the Ark of the Covenant which was found in the Holy of Holies. As Zacharias entered into the Holy Place he beheld something that frightened him to the core, for behold an angel was found standing to the right of the altar. This was a sight that he would not have entered in expecting to see. This was the sort of sight he would have heard stories about and even possibly joked about with friends; but now it has happened and to him. One can only imagine what it was like for Zacharias when he saw the angel, the thoughts and the emotions he would have been experiencing in the moment. If walking into a room and not expecting someone to be there is not shocking enough, consider in the context of this being not any ordinary room but the Holy Place and an angel instead of a regular person.
13But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.
Here there angel speaks comfort to Zacharias in order to comfort him as he is most likely quite startled by his surprising guest. Here in his old age one can even wonder if the thought had come into his mind “Is this angel here to take me away?” The angel goes on to tell Zacharias that his prayers had been heard and that his wife would bear a son and that he was to be called John. This promised child was to bring great joy and happiness to his parents and it would cause many to rejoice. Since they were advanced in age and still barren many would have thought them to be cursed or in sin and for them to have a child would dispel that idea.
15For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.
This child would carry the gaze of the Lord and would be found great in His sight. This child was to be a nazarite from birth which simply means he was to be fully consecrated unto the Lord and would bear the sign of the nazarite calling in his hair (See Numbers 6). This child was to be filled with the Holy Spirit even in his mother birth. This is a very special part as it would be one of the only children to be born being filled with the Holy Spirit if not the only one.
16And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”
Here Zacharias reveals what is in his heart, that being doubt in the word of the Lord. When Zacharias questions if this word was right, he instantly reveals the doubt hidden in his heart and then shows it even more when he uses the excuse of his age. It is as if he thought that he was beyond God being able to use him. Unlike Mary’s word this was not a new thing to happen in the Jewish history as we see in the life of Abraham and Sarah.
“So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.” Genesis 21:2
19The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20And 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 will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
Here the angel reveals his identity as Gabriel the one who stands in the presence of God. We also know that he had visited Daniel to give him a message and will later on visit Joseph and Mary. This angel is makes it clear that he is in the presence of God or rather close enough to Him to be given special messages to deliver. He has been sent to him to give him good news, that being he will have a son in his old age, no longer will he be in reproach do to his wife’s barrenness. Because he has chosen to not believe what Gabriel has spoken to him, he will now be made mute until the time of the birth of his child.
21The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. Luke 1:8-22
As Zacharias was speaking with Gabriel in the temple the people and rest of the priests were left outside wondering as to why it was taking Zacharias so long. To their amazement when he emerged from the temple mute the people realized that he had some form of an encounter. Though unable to speak we know he made signs and even found other forms of communication to the people.”
23When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home.24After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 25“This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.” Luke 1:23-25
When his time was finished he returned home to his wife and she became pregnant. Elizabeth with a different heart posture kept herself in seclusion and gave thanks to the Lord for he had removed her reproach among men.
III. The Birth of A Forerunner
One could only imagine what the next nine months would be like as the advanced in age couple lives life with Elizabeth miraculously pregnant, Zacharias miraculously mute and then suddenly Elizabeth’s pregnant virgin cousin Mary shows up six months in. We will save their time with Mary for a later session but consider what it must have been like during those nine months for the couple, the pressures.
56 “And Mary stayed wither about three months, and then returned to her home. 57Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.” Luke 1:56-58
After the nine months were up and Mary had already left Elizabeth gave birth to her son. At the birth of their son there went forth great rejoicing among the people as they witnessed the great mercy and compassion the Lord had towards Elizabeth and Zacharias.
59And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. 60But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” 61And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” 62And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. 64And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. 65Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. 66All 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.
At the time of the circumcision and the naming of the babe on the eighth day they went to call the child Zacharias after his father, but as the Elizabeth said his name was to be John. The people questioned her on the decision since there was no one else with that name in their family. When Zacharias wrote on a tablet the name of his son his tongue was instantly opened. Right at the opening of his tongue Zacharias began to worship the Lord and fear came upon those nearby. The people began to realize that there must be something special going on— something supernatural. They began to ask themselves: “What then will this child turn out to be?” They realized there was a significant calling over his life.
The Song of Zacharias (Luke 1:67-79)
67”And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:” At the point of declaring the name of his son Zacharias’ tongue is loosened and he becomes filled with the Holy Spirit and begins to prophesy.
68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, 69and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant— 70As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old— 71Salvation FROM OUR ENEMIES, And FROM THE HAND OF ALL WHO HATE US;”
The Lord has not only visited both Zacharias and Elizabeth, but ultimately He has visited His people as well as brought forth redemption. Here he begins to prophesy of the root of Jesse, the branch of David this being the promised messiah that was to come from the line of David and sit as king of all Israel. Through this messiah salvation was to go forth for the house of Israel and deliverance from all of her enemies. Zacharias begins to quote from Psalm 106:10 “So He saved them from the hand of the one who hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.”
72to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, 73the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, 74to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. Here he brings up two aspects about God:
The Lord is merciful to Abraham and his descendants. The Lord is faithful to his covenant which He made with Abraham and is faithful to fulfill it.
76“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS;
John was to be a prophet of God. He will go forth to prepare the way of the Lord.
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me.” Luke 3:1
77to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, 78because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, 79TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
John would go forth and proclaim the good news of the Lord’s salvation that would come through the forgiveness of their sins. This will all come about because of the tender mercies of the Lord. Because of the merciful heart of God the sunrise shall come to the people of Israel or rather the Christ shall come to His people. He shall release light in the midst of darkness or in other words declare the knowledge of God to the people that would bring deliverance and guidance for the people of Israel into the way of peace.
80And 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.
The child, John grew up and became strong in the Lord in the place of hiddenness seeking the Lord, until it was the time for the Lord to begin to use him. It was in this secret place that a prophet was forged. Many question why John would grow up in the desert instead of a house, the main idea is that because of the advanced age of his parents at his birth they most likely could have passed away at a young age. But we shall cover this in more depth in a later session.