The Birth of John the Baptist
The Prologue (1-4)
The book of Luke opens up with Luke identifying what he wishes to accomplish for Theophilus who I have described in the introduction. Many had, by Luke's day, put together their own stories of Jesus but none were satisfactory for Luke's purpose, to provide of complete defense for the Christian faith and particularly for Paul as he was facing trial in Rome (1).
The other accounts were largely from the perspective of eyewitnesses—Luke was wanting to put together an orderly account which would serve as a legal document, not as an eyewitness but one who interviewed the eyewitnesses and investigated the story for accuracy (2-3). Luke wrote the book so Theophilus, who was likely Paul's lawyer, could know for certain what he was talking about (4).
Two Births Predicted (1:5–2:52)
The Prediction of John’s Birth (5-25)
Luke was seeking to define the setting of John the Baptist’s birth by first defining who was ruling over the larger area of Palestine which would have been Judea, Galilee, and Samaria—Herod the Great. He was a tyrant and a great builder who reigned from 37 B.C. to 4 A.D., the time of John the Baptist's birth.
With Luke, the reader was going to enter the Old Testament world.
The setting not only describes the one who was the vassal king of Palestine, Herod, but it also describes John's parents—his father was a priest. John's father was Zechariah who belonged to the division of Abijah. The priesthood was divided into twenty-four divisions—each group would serve in the temple twice a year, Zechariah belonged to the eighth group (1 Chronicles 24:1-19). Zechariah's wife Elizabeth came from Aaron, so she was a woman of special pedigree (5). Both Zechariah and Elizabeth are described as being advanced in years, devoted to Yahweh, and barren (6-7), When Luke pointed out Elizabeth was barren, he was also pointing out that they were being especially devoted to the Lord while they were living with the shame of barrenness.
Luke gives detail as to the providence of God regarding the announcement of John's birth. Zechariah's division of priests were on duty, and lots were cast to see which priest would enter the Most Holy Place to burn the incense—the lot fell to Zechariah (8-9). At the hour of prayer, Zechariah entered the temple to burn fresh incense on the altar, when an angel appeared to him in the Most Holy Place, standing to the right side of the
Altar of Incense (10-11).
Of course Zechariah was startled and filled with fear, while at the same time the angel was seeking to calm him down with those famous words, "do not be afraid," assuring Zechariah he would not be harmed. He then announced a huge event was going to take place, and it was going to take place as a direct response to prayer, for the angel assured Zechariah their prayers had been heard. They were to be given a son who they would name John (13). John meant "the Lord shows favor," thus John was "beloved."
Where God gives a name, He also lays claim. John was to certainly give Zechariah and Elizabeth a great cause for joy and celebration, but the child would belong and be devoted to Yahweh in a very special way. He was devoted to live before God, separated to God, and as such would become great before God.
John was not to drink fermented drink, which was one of the stipulations of the Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:1-21). In most cases, the Nazarite vow was only temporary; however in John the Baptist's case, like in Samuel's case, it was to be a lifetime vow (1 Samuel 1:11,15).
John would be separated to Yahweh by the Holy Spirit Who would fill him and separate him to Yahweh in his mother’s womb (15). His mission would be like Elijah’s—he would turn many in Israel to Yahweh, for Yahweh would go before John the Baptist expressing the same spirit and power he had expressed in Elijah, which had brought a great turning of Israel to God when Ahab was king of Israel (1 Kings). In that revival, many northern kingdom Israelites left the golden calves of Jeroboam and turned and traveled back to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh. John's ministry would return humility to the heart, children would honor their parents, and those with disobedient hearts would begin to listen to wisdom. All of this was to prepare a people who could receive the Messiah, Jesus, when He appeared (16-17).
Doubting Zechariah (18-23)
Oddly, the very angel who had given Daniel the vision concerning seventy weeks until Messiah would come was the same Gabriel appearing before Zechariah announcing the seventy-week prophecy which was beginning to be fulfilled, and the Lord needed their son to h to really believe elp prepare the way.
Gabriel was just not good enough for Zechariah to come to faith. Zechariah needed a greater sign than the archangel Gabriel, who had come directly from the presence of Yahweh, to really believe (18-19). Gabriel struck Zechariah with muteness until the day his son was to be born, likely to keep his mouth shut so he would not spread unbelief any further (20).
Usually a priest would enter the Most Holy Place with a fire pan, place it on two bars, heap up the incense on the coals, and fill the room with incense. He would then withdraw to the Holy Place, say a short prayer, and exit without delay. Zechariah's delay, due to the heavenly visit, began to make those praying outside uneasy as the usual protocol was being violated (21). When he did emerge, he was mute, and those waiting in prayer realized he had seen some kind of a vision which had left him speechless and reduced to signing for his remaining time of service at the temple (22-23).
John's Birth (24-25)
Elizabeth went into seclusion for the final five months of her pregnancy, likely in honor to the Lord's gift of giving her a son devoted to the Lord and in gratitude for taking away the shame of being barren for those many years.
The Prediction of Jesus’ Birth (1:26-38)
In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, Gabriel visited the fiancée of Joseph in the small village of Nazareth in the region of Galilee. They were both peasants, Mary was a virgin, and both were descendants of David (26-27).
Gabriel greeted Mary as being so special and favored of Yahweh that He was with her. Mary was troubled at the greeting, not comprehending Yahweh's special interest in her and favor of her. Gabriel, after comforting her fears, gave her a more understandable greeting: Yahweh had come to favor her with a Son, His name would be Jesus and He would be God's Son and be given the throne of David. Mary was to understand that she would give birth to the promised Messiah Who would reign over the house of Jacob and Whose kingdom would not end. Mary was now more clearly understanding the nature of the greeting (28-33).
Mary Questions (34-37)
Mary, unlike Zechariah, did not disbelieve but questioned how God was going to accomplish such a thing using such an insignificant girl (34). Gabriel told Mary her child would be a miracle, supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit, and again repeated He would be God's Son (35).
The angel also revealed the secret of Elizabeth's pregnancy and her seclusion and, further, the miracle of her conception at an old age and when barren (36).
Then the angel gave Mary an important piece of counsel which was given to Sarah when she was barren (Genesis 18:14): "nothing was impossible with God" (37). With that, Mary believed and surrendered to God's will with the same words of barren Hannah (38) (1 Samuel 2:1-10).
Mary Visits Elizabeth (1:39-56)
Mary headed south to the hill country of Judah to pay a visit to secluded Elizabeth. When Mary entered the house and greeted Elizabeth, John leapt in her womb and simultaneously Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirt and began to prophesy over Mary (39-42).
Her prophecy was made up of:
a) a predictive blessing over Mary (42)
b) a question of why she would be so honored as to having the mother of her Lord to pay a visit (43-44)
c) a declaration that Mary was a woman of faith in believing God would fulfill what He had spoken (45)
Mary's Song (46-55)
Mary responds to Elizabeth's prophecy in song. The song was probably known or common to the day, or a rendition of Hannah's song but altered a bit for the occasion.
The song Mary chose to sing was built around seven themes, and Mary:
a) magnifies God in her soul (46)
b) magnifies God by rejoicing in Him as Savior (47)
c) magnifies God as One Who honors nobodies (48)
d) magnifies God as One Who is mighty and holy toward her (49)
e) magnifies God for His mercy (50)
f) magnifies God as One Who shows strength by confusing the proud, emptying the rich, and bringing down the lofty so He can fill the lowly with good things (51-53)
g) magnifies God as One Who remembered His promises to Abraham and Israel (54-55)
Mary remained with Elizabeth another three months, likely until John was born and circumcised (56).
The Circumcision of John (59-66)
It is likely Mary would have stayed until after the circumcision of John which took place on the eighth day after his birth amidst great joy and celebration of neighbors and friends. All were assuming the couple would name the baby Zechariah after his father, but the couple did two unusual things.
First, they waited to name the baby until circumcision, and in the wait friends and neighbors were calling him Zechariah.
Second, to everyone's surprise, Elizabeth insisted on the day of his circumcision he would be named John (59-60).
The relatives were resistant, wanting confirmation from Zechariah. Zechariah, being unable to speak, asked for a tablet and wrote the name John. For a family of such distinction to wait until circumcision to name their son and then not name their firstborn after a relative was unusual, so those gathered were left wondering why.
Then Zechariah had his voice restored and his tongue loosed and he began to bless God (61-64). The whole episode caused fear to fall and left them all talking about it. Those who later heard the tale stored up in their heart all the events surrounding John's birth and wondered what the child would become, for they could not deny Yahweh was with him (65-66).
Zechariah's Song (67-79)
When Zechariah's mouth opened, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to prophesy. Zechariah's song was more than praise and predictive in nature, declaring the mission of Jesus and his son John (67).
a) Israel was in a time of great revival (68)
b) a revival of salvation (69)
c) a revival of salvation from enemies (70-71)
d) a revival of covenant life with Yahweh (72-75)
e) John would be prophet to the revival (76)
f) the revival would not center on political and military victories but center on being delivered from the enemy of sin through forgiveness (77)
g) the revival would be a personal visitation by Yahweh (78)
h) the revival would restore the long lost Genesis 1:3 light to the world, returning peace to the earth (79)
The Growth of John (80)
It would seem John's parents, being elderly may have died while John was young, leaving John to be raised in the wilderness or desert by others—some speculate the Essenes. At any rate, in the wilderness John grew to be strong of spirit.