Summary of sermon by Erlo Stegen, 21 Jun 2015
57 And the time was fulfilled to Elizabeth for her to bear. And she bore a son.
58 And her neighbors and her kinsfolk heard how the Lord had magnified His mercy with her, and they rejoiced with her.
59 And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and were calling it Zacharias, after his father’s name.
60 And his mother answered and said, No, but he shall be called John.
61 And they said to her, There is none of your kindred that is called by this name.
62 And they made signs to his father as to how he would have him called.
63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they all marveled.
64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosened. And he spoke and praised God.
65 And fear came on all who lived all around them. And all these things were talked about throughout all the hill country of Judea.
66 And all those who heard laid them up in their hearts, saying, What kind of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.
67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,
68 Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David,
70 as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from eternity;
71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,
72 to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant,
73 the oath which He swore to our father Abraham,
74 that He would grant to us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest, for you shall go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins,
78 through the tender mercy of our God; by which the Dayspring from on high has visited us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit and was in the deserts until the day of his showing to Israel.
This matter of the birth of John the Baptist is amazing. Jesus said of him that there were none born of women greater than he. He was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. Even his birth was miraculous. His father Zacharias and mother Elizabeth were well advanced in age, well past child bearing age. But then God revealed Himself to Zacharias that they would bear a son and call him John, meaning the “grace of God”.
The birth of John was prophesied many years before. Isaiah who lived about 740 BC prophesied of his birth and so too Malachi, about 540 BC. One could have a whole sermon on Isaiah’s prophesy and another of Malachi’s. They prophesied how that John would be the forerunner of the Messiah.
The parents of John were true believers, and God revealed His glory and power and grace in their family. Zacharias was an upright man, who together with his wife served the Lord in an upright way. There was no fighting and arguing and disunity between them. When the Lord revealed to him that they would have a son and call him John, he shared it with his wife, and she didn’t argue with him, although it went against tradition, that he should have been called after the father, Zacharias.
Zacharias at first doubted the angel that he would have a son at his and his wife’s advance age. In God’s eyes it was a grievous sin, and he was struck dumb. His unbelief was no small matter in God’s eyes, even though he was an upright man. But Christians take sin lightly and think nothing of a lie here and there or of not trusting God and harboring unbelief. Your unbelief might just manifest in a different way, through your actions or the way that you speak to others.
He was dumb for a long time, until the child was born. The family wanted to name him Zacharias, but then Elizabeth spoke and said that his name must be John. They then asked his father and he wrote that his name must be John, and then he could speak again. All those who witnessed these things were amazed and wondered what child he would be. He got a different name, a name ordained by God. It should make us think about what names we give to our children.
This story also reveals God’s power. It also reveals to us how God’s grace and mercy was at work in his life, and also in the life of the parents. These parents were blessed indeed. Even while his mother was carrying him, God’s grace was at work in his life. It also reminds us of the birth of Jesus. Now John grew up in the desert and that’s where he had his ministry. So the grace of God at work in that family also spilled over to all those who witnessed it and they marveled and glorified God. So too when the grace of God works in your life, it will spill over to those around you.
The Chinese illustration for quarreling is a house with two women inside. But that’s the case when God’s grace is not in that house. When God’s grace is working you have nothing to hide, it first changes your life, then your family and then those around you.
Before the Gospel came to Germany they also practiced witchcraft just like the ancestral worship in Africa. They had various gods that they worshipped, but then the grace of the Gospel appeared and they were transformed. They drank beer out of a human skull, but God’s grace changed all that. One cannot even imagine such a thing any more today. And so too in Africa wherever the grace of God appeared, people are changed and transformed, young men are reconciled with their parents, and occultism and ancestral worship come to an end. Families are changed and transformed, and where there were fighting there’s peace now.
Do you know this God’s grace, transforming you, then your family and finally those with whom you come into contact?