Luke 1:13-17 God is Gracious

When the angel Gabriel came and spoke to Zacharias he brought wonderful news. He and his wife who were now too old to have children were going to have a son, his name was to be John. His very name, "John" means, "Jehovah has been gracious; Jehovah has graciously given" 1or simply, “the grace…of the Lord” 2We know him as John the baptist and we have some idea about who he was and what he did. But try for just a moment to consider the perspective of this old priest standing in the holy place in the temple hearing that he was going to have a son who’s name proclaims God’s grace.

Of course the first thing we usually think of when a baby is to be born is joy. Never a truer word was spoken for these parents. But their great joy is not just for a child – that would not necessarily cause many to rejoice at his birth. This child is different, it is his name which points to the great grace and Mercy of God about to be revealed.

There are three different and very distinct words in use here expressing various shades of rejoicing. The first ( χαρά ) is translated joy and represents that exuberant yet fleeting happiness which we are all familiar with. 3The second (ἀγαλλίασις)
is translated gladness, or great joy. The NIV takes that second one as delight. The idea is that of extreme rejoicing. There’s certainly the personal joy in the first term represented from having a child in answer to prayer but something even greater is going on, there is joy that is fitting to that occasion as well as great rejoicing that is fitting for something far greater. In particular elsewhere in Luke, this second word “… indicates the joy and happiness that arise from [experiencing] God’s saving action” 4 In fact it is often connected with the external expressions of jumping shouting for joy.

The third term ( χαίρω) is rejoicing by the “many” – It also is a distinct term. It too indicates a joy that goes way beyond mere happiness which comes and goes but which here indicates a joy that is both spontaneously external as well as enduring
5. It was often used as a well meant greeting or as the ending to a hymn. 6

The birth of John the baptist will cause such outrageous joy not merely because he is a child in answer to the prayers for a child but because he is the child who will bring about a great national revival by pointing to the Messiah. He will be personally Holy, he will call the people of Israel to Holiness and he will be the one to introduce the Holy one of Israel.

In a very real sense, even though everyone in Israel was waiting for the Messiah, they were all waiting for also for John the Baptist. For God’s final words through Malachi were the promise to Send Elijah before the Messiah’s coming. John is the answer to that prophecy. And as a result many will rejoice at his birth. In fact this morning I think we need to join the multitudes through the ages who have celebrated the birth of John the baptist. For it is he whom God selected to point to the real cause of rejoicing in Jesus the Christ.

But who is capable of such a task? What sort of person, what kind of man could fulfill that holy calling? Zacharias was to have a son, but what sort of man is John to be? As we look at the kind of person and the kind of task that is given to this Child I want us to examine by extension what sort of people do we need to be in order to point others to the Savior? Certainly we need to be people of grace
but let’s look at five distinct characteristics of this miraculous baby named John whose days were planned by God to be the one whose destiny was to prepare the way for the Messiah and bring about so much joy and exceeding rejoicing.

1. He will be great in the sight of the Lord.

The world is full of so called "great men". Depending on your definition of "great". If Great men affect the tide of international events than even Hitler was a great man. If Great men affect the ebb and flow of economics, than Warren Buffett is a great man. But there’s a catch in the term great. It’s not the meaning of the term so much that matters, we all understand the principle of greatness. No, what truly matters is the one assigning the title of great.

J.C. Ryle wrote, “The measure of greatness which is common among human beings is utterly false and deceptive.”
7 But what makes greatness so deceptive among people isn’t necessarily the measurement of greatness, it is the people who are doing the measuring. Our vision is flawed, our hearts and minds are scarred by sin, and too often our scale is not accurate because we compare men to men rather than men to God. True greatness is not when men call you great but when God calls you great.

John is to be great in the sight of the lord; His greatness is authentic because it is God’s character who compares him and finds him worthwhile. John, by virtue of the task that he will perform and the character that he will hold, but mostly by virtue of the God who considers him to be highly ranked, John will be great.

What does it take to be great in the sight of the Lord? Matthew 5:19 says those who keep and teach the commandments of God are great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 20:26 is where Jesus teaches that the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all here. But greatness is not a trophy to be grasped at as though you can obtain greatness by holding it in your hands. Greatness is that measurement of your worth from God which is given based upon the true value of your character and holiness.

Do you want to be great in the sight of the Lord? It takes humility and faith. It requires being a servant to all with one hand, while holding firmly to the word of God with the other hand.

2. He will be separated for Holiness.

The mandate that the forerunner will neither touch wine nor any other alcoholic beverage (Lk 1:15) is indicative of being separated to Holiness. The requirement not to drink places the baptizer alongside such old testament heroes as Sampson who was also marked by the same prohibition by an angel who announced his birth. It is a reflection of the Nazirite vow seen in Numbers 6:1-2. Being a Nazirite required more than merely abstaining from alcohol but also included not cutting the hair for as long as the vow in question remained unfulfilled and staying away from burial sites – so as not to become ceremonially unclean. At the end of the Nazirite vow several offerings were brought to the Lord.

John was not taking a Nazirite vow, but he was going to share in the principle of it which means he is separated for Holiness. The closing verses of Malachi promise that Elijah is coming. Like Elijah, the baptizer- John will live an ascetic life, that is a life without many comforts and marked by self-denial.

Therein lies the distinction. John was separated for Holiness, not to be sidetracked or distracted by worldly and fleshly lusts. I fear the great weakness of distinction in the church today is that we are far too fond of the world to let it go, and in the process of trying to hang on to godliness and worldliness we make ourselves an enemy of God instead. We cannot serve both masters, we must choose.

One of the reasons for our weakness in this culture is that our distinction is lost. The world does not see enough separation to holiness in Christianity to make it conceivably different. Are you separated to holiness or is holiness just something you hope to do in addition to doing your taxes and other odious tasks? Like John, God has created us for this purpose that we might walk in Holiness before Him. For he has said, “Be Holy, For I am Holy.” For the Christian holiness is not an option it is the option.

3. He will be filled with the spirit.

Rather than risking drunkenness with wine, he will be consumed and filled by the Holy Spirit, even in the womb. The evidence of which we will see later when he responds to Mary’s voice while yet unborn. (Luke 1:41)

What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? For one thing it doesn’t mean to be filled the way a glass is filled so that you’re either full or empty. It means that it is a defining and controlling force in your life. Elsewhere Luke will talk about the disciples being filled with fear – that is that the fear consumed and controlled them, directing their actions out of the overflow of the fear within them.

To be filled with the Holy Spirit is not some merely ecstatic experience it means that God dwelling within as he does every believer – also has controlling influence over you. Ephesians 5:18 says don’t be drunk with wine, instead be filled with the Holy Spirit. Consider the implications of that.

If you’ve ever seen a drunk you know that the alcohol has entered their blood stream, been carried to the brain where it effects proper firing of the neurons and causes uncoordinated movements and degrades judgment so much so that in a court of law you can speak of the alcohol being a controller of a perpetrators actions.

Being filled with the Spirit of God doesn’t mean that you go from empty to full like a water-glass it means that God is the controlling influence in your life. It means that as God directs you follow.

What is the significance of being filled with the Spirit while yet in the womb? It indicates the totality of God dedicating John to this purpose. It, and in fact everything about John’s birth, filling and task are a strong testimony to the sovereignty of a God who chooses even before the creation of the world. Like Jeremiah who was set apart before he was born, John will have a task which is assigned before he is even created. In brief it means that the task which John is given is so huge that the power of the Spirit must be with him.

Do you want to point men to God? You will not be able to do it upon your own influence. You must be empowered by the Holy Spirit of God Himself. Listening and obeying his promptings to you.

4. He will turn Israel back to God.

It’s one thing to turn someone to the Lord when they have never cared to follow Him, but it is another task entirely to turn a people who already think they are following God. That is the task of John the Baptist. As a man with a Holy Calling he is to be thoroughly empowered by the Spirit of God within him to call Israel to repentance.

Isaiah 40:3 “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.’”

Consider again Zacharias’ position. As a priest and a righteous man – his hopes and prayers must surely have been for the restoration of His people, The prayers of Zechariah continue to be answered not merely in gaining a child but by what this child will accomplish. The final words of Malachi are that the coming Elijah will restore the hearts of children to their fathers. Here the prophecy expands in a way that is greater than imagined.

I have been praying for a long time that God will raise up someone who will bring back many to the Lord. May it be that God will answer my prayers and raise up such a one who is so full of the Spirit that many repent at his preaching.

And let us consider this morning who we are. Are we more like John the baptist calling others to him, or are we among the many who think that we are following after God while we in truth are following after the world? This morning I echo the rallying cry of the kingdom, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Cut off your sins and double-mindedness which keeps you isolated from the power of God. Turn away from vain pursuits and embrace full obedience to the commands of Christ. Turn your back on the comforts of this world and embrace with hope the joys of the kingdom of God. For life does not exist in fleeting happiness but in the presence of the eternal.

We cannot make that cry for repentance until we have obeyed that cry for repentance.

5. He will prepare the way for the coming of Christ.

This fifth item is a result of the other four. The birth of John the Baptist is the event that all of Israel was waiting for because it signals that God is finally about to move in sending his long promised Messiah. All the way back in the garden of Eden, God had promised one who would crush the head of the serpent of old, the devil. That deliverer, the suffering servant of Isaiah, the coming Davidic king – Jesus is coming!

And why will John do these four things in accomplishing this fifth? Because it fulfills God’s program. You don’t go about fulfilling a 400 year old prophecy on your own, you are called, equipped and empowered, yes – even created for such a task!

And you also are called, equipped, empowered and created for a task! Ephesians 2:10 declares that “… we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph 2:10 NAU)

Now then, how will you walk in them? First, God has created you for them, therefore you know that it is His will that you accomplish them. I must ask then if you are surrendered to fulfill His will? Will you humble yourself before the Lord to take on the tasks that He has set apart for you? Second, you know that God has created you for them, so they are tasks which only you can fulfill. If you will not set your heart to seek God’s will through prayer and his word – yearning for his voice you will continue to serve your own interests and not the interests of the kingdom.

Do you really know Christ or do you only know religion? You cannot accomplish the works which God has created for you – without faith, and certainly not without faith in Christ Jesus. For those who are outside of true saving faith remain "dead in your trespasses and sins" (Eph 2:1) The dead do not serve the Lord. They cannot. Only when the soul is awakened through Christs’ resurrection is life possible.

Through Gabriel, God called out to Zacharias that he would experience a miracle. Zacharias and his wife though incapable of having children would bear a son who’s entire life purpose was to point people to the Savior. He was the source of rejoicing because he was (1) Great in the eyes of the Lord (2) Set apart for Holiness (3)Filled with the Spirit (4) He turned people back to the Lord (5) and he went as a messenger in front of Christ to prepare people to receive Him.

We are called to nothing less. We are called to make ready a people prepared for the coming of the Lord, we are called to rally repentance among those who are far off from Him. We are called to be filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered by God in order that we might also point to the Christ!

Therefore let us humble ourselves before His Spirit and seek Him with all our hearts. Walking in the way he has prepared for us, that many might come to know Him.

1Stelman Smith and Judson Cornwall, The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos, 1998), 147.

2(citing Cruden). J. C. Ryle, Luke, The Crossway classic commentaries (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1997), Lk 1:13.

3Cref Luke 8:13; 10:17 where it is particularly fleeting together with Luke 24:41, 52 where it is poignant but not permanent.

4 I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke : A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New international Greek testament commentary (Exeter [Eng.: Paternoster Press, 1978), 57.

5to enjoy a state of happiness and well-being Louw-Nida 25.125

6TDNTA 1299

7 J. C. Ryle, Luke, The Crossway classic commentaries (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1997), Lk 1:13.