Luke 1 New Testament vrs 57–80
Reading and exploring the Bible.
Overall, the passage of Scripture which we are studying falls into two major parts. The first segment deals with the “family feud” over the naming of John and its aftermath (vv. 57–66). The second segment records the praise of Zacharias, when the power of speech is once again given to him (vv. 67–79), with verse 80 summing up the early life of John as a concluding statement.
The Birth of John the Baptist
57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” 62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a hornc of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us —
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
80 And the child grew and became strong in spiritd ; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.
Our text begins at this point. Elizabeth bears the promised “miracle child,” and her neighbors rejoice with her in this blessing. It is at the circumcision of the boy that his name will be given. Under normal circumstances, his name would unquestionably be Zacharias, but Elizabeth insisted that it must be John. The resolution of this standoff comes with the pronouncement of Zacharias, as it is written on a tablet. The “family feud” occurred at the time of John’s circumcision. We know that this ceremony took place on the child’s eighth day vrs59. Normally, it would seem that the father took the leading role in the ceremony, but since Zacharias wasn’t able to speek, 22 he seems to have been much less involved in the ceremony. The occasion may very well have taken place at the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth. We are told that “they” came to circumcise the child, and that “they” were going to call him Zacharias (1:59). A certain group of people came to the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth to witness and to take part in the circumcision ceremony. They same group seemed intent on naming the child Zacharias. This group of people was composed of close friends and relatives, who would have had a personal interest in John’s circumcision. It would be something like a baptising service today. Somewhere in the ceremony, when the name of Zacharias was being given, Elizabeth interrupted, insisting that the child’s name was to be John. Since this was not the name of the father, nor was it the name of a relative, there was a strong reaction to Elizabeth’s demands. Zacharias was made aware of the problem, and given the opportunity to decide upon the name of the child.
One of the first and strongest impressions we gain from these verses is the sense of the prominence of Elizabeth, and of her determination for her son to be named “John” rather than “Zacharias.” Her actions may well have been considered inappropriate by those who observed her. Elizabeth to be outspoken and insistent may have shocked them as totally “out of place” for a woman. Nevertheless, Elizabeth did so, and Luke strongly implies that she was both godly and right in so doing. Zacharias is certainly more passive and silent than normal. When Zacharias is made aware of the dispute and when he is asked to “cast the deciding vote,” he writes that the name John will be given to his son. This was truly shocking to those who stood by.
Why was the naming of the child so important, and so emotional? The naming of the son after his father implied that this child would “walk in the steps of his father,” that he would carry on the father’s name, and thus his work as well. Had John been named “Little Zach,” he would have been expected to grow up as a priest, just like his father. He would thus have gone about with his father as he carried out his priestly duties, learning how to do things, just like his daddy did them. To be named by any other name would have implied just the opposite. John would not follow in his father’s steps. He would not learn to do what his father did. He would not be a priest. This, of course, was precisely the case, and thus the reason for the name John. It isn’t the meaning of the name “John” which is so important, then, but the message implied by having any name other than Zacharias which is such an emotional issue. If many of those gathered at the circumcision ceremony were relatives, Elizabeth’s insistence that the boy be named John was to renounce the family, its work, and its perpetuation through the next generation.
When Zacharias wrote the words, “His name is John,” on that tablet, he once again was given the power of speech. At that moment, he began to praise God. Verses 65 & 66 thus report the “gospel by gossip” which was spread abroad the “hill country of Judea” vrs 65. As “strange events” began to pile up, all related to this child, John, the expectation of the people in the area began to grow. The statement, “For the hand of God was certainly with him” vrs 66, may indicate that there were a number of other unusual or miraculous incidents associated with John in his childhood which testified to his unusual origin and mission in life. Luke must be selective, and thus he gives us but this general statement, suggesting that much more could have been written. The outcome of all of these things was a sense of expectancy among the people of that area.
Note that God does not announce the coming of the King, or of His forerunner in the Temple, nor in Jerusalem, but in the “hill country of Judea.” It is not to the mighty or to the religious elite, but to the humble that the announcements of the nearness of Messiah’s appearance are made. This is but a prototype of the ministry of John and of Jesus, who came not to the “healthy,” but to the “sick;” not to the “righteous,” but to sinners (cf. Luke 4:16–21; 6:20ff.; Mark 2:15–17).
Rather than to record the inspired praise of Zachariah precisely, Luke includes the parenthetical comments of verses 65 & 66 so that this psalm serves to conclude the section, as it summarizes the impact of John’s ministry, and of Messiah’s ministry, of whom he is the forerunner. Zacharias’ psalm has two major sections. The first section, contained in verses 67–75, is praise directed toward Messiah, in the light of His ministry. In this section, Zacharias directs His praise toward God in the light of the benefits of Messiah’s ministry for the nation Israel. If Mary’s “Magnificat” majored on the social implications of Messiah’s appearance, Zacharias’ praise highlights the political blessings which the nation Israel will experience. Note the frequent emphasis on the nation Israel in these verses:
“the God of Israel”
“He has come … and redeemed His people” — v. 68
“in the house of His servant David” — v. 69
“as He said through his holy prophets” — v. 70
“salvation from our enemies” — v. 71
“to show mercy to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant,
which He swore to our father Abraham” — vv. 72–73
“to rescue us from the hand of our enemies” “to enable us to serve Him” — v. 74
Everyone in his account who praises God for Messiah’s coming does so in the light of their own circumstances, and in the light of their own hopes and aspirations. Messiah’s ministry is many-faceted, like the many facets of an expensive gem. Each psalm of praise tends to focus on one facet, and all of them together point out the manifold blessings of God manifested through His Messiah. As Zacharias was informed by Gabriel, John will be the forerunner of the Messiah, whose task will be to prepare men and women for His coming, by preaching of sin and of forgiveness for sins. In both the praises of Mary and of Zacharias, there seems to be more emphasis on the results of the Christ’s second coming, than His first.
Verse 80 serves as the conclusion to Luke’s account of the birth and childhood of John the Baptist. And 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 (Luke 1:80). Here, Luke gives us his reason for including the account of John’s childhood. Luke here informs us as to his reason for including the account of the “family feud” in conjunction with the naming of John.
Luke informs us that John was being prepared for his public ministry in solitude. John’s spiritual growth and development, Luke tells us, took place “in the deserts.” Luke tells us of John’s calling, as indicated by the announcement of Gabriel, before the child was even conceived. God’s purpose for John was announced, even before his conception, so that his parents might raise him in the light of those purposes, thus helping to prepare him for this ministry. Second, John was filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth, so that his spiritual growth would be enhanced, during his childhood, in preparation for his ministry. Finally, John was prepared for his ministry by being separated from his family, culture, and religious system.