The arrival of a baby is always a surprise. The entrance of Zachariah and Elizabeth's child in Luke chapter one was particularly remarkable. We'll find out why today on Truth for Life as Alistair Begg sets the scene for Zachariah's prophecy. Today's message is titled, His Name is John. of our desire to praise you and to extol your marvelous grace. We come to these moments when, in our study of the Bible, we continue to worship you by the declaring of your mighty deeds. So grant to us, then, worshiping hearts as we preach and listen and seek to understand and obey. For Jesus' sake, we ask it. Amen.
I invite you to turn again to Luke chapter one and verse 57 as we resume our studies. There are few, if any, moments in life that are equal to, both in terms of their drama and their wonder, the arrival of a baby. Somebody says, push, and suddenly all the months of waiting are over, and hopes and dreams are about to be turned into reality. If it happens in a small neighborhood, it becomes a community event. Even in suburbia, young mothers discover that perfect strangers may come up to them and ask about their baby or arrive at the front door of their home to offer them something, having heard that a child has arrived. Within a very short period of time, relatives show up to offer their advice and every so often to offer their help. But they arrive, and you are inundated by this crowd of people.
Now, this is a familiar experience in all of life. And therefore, when we come to a story such as this, the record of the arrival of John the Baptist, we need to recognize that all of this and more is wrapped up in the events that are described for us here. The arrival of this child, born to this elderly priest Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth, has a little more to it than normal. And of course, we understand this, because back in the eighteenth verse, still in this first chapter, we remember that when the angel came to Zachariah, he came to one who had a wife who was, in the King James version, stricken in years. And of course, Zachariah himself, as we noted, was, as we say, no spring chicken.
They were the most unlikely couple to become parents at this point in their lives. Added to that, of course, had been the silence of the father Zachariah. And for nine months, not by desire but by God's design, Zachariah had been unable to communicate verbally.
You will recall in our study that he was rewarded for his unbelief with dumbness. And so he had gone through these months, through all the time of Elizabeth's expectancy, having to find alternative ways to communicate not only with his wife but also with all who would come around. So you can imagine that within the environment in which Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth were staying, there was a tremendous buzz as it became more and more apparent that the day of her delivery was drawing near. And we would remove this to a realm beyond the practicalities of human existence if we didn't recognize that people in the normal course of their days would have been mentioning these circumstances and would have been talking at least about Zachariah. And if we had been in the bazaars, if we'd been at the markets picking up produce, there would have been people saying to one another, have you seen Zachariah lately? Another would have said, yes, I saw him going down the street the other day. His wife must be due soon. Another person chiming in says, is he talking yet or is he still doing that sign language and writing on his tablet all the time?
Strange business that, says another, highly unusual, you know. I mean, I was really amazed when my wife told me she was expecting. I might have been struck dumb for a moment or two, but not for nine months. Maybe, says one going out the entryway, maybe he'll get his voice back when the baby comes. And then as you hear him going down the street, he shouts over his shoulder, I wonder what the first thing is he'll say when he gets his voice back. I wonder what would be the first thing we said if we couldn't speak for nine months.
Well, we're going to find out. The narrative unfolds, and we discover that it wasn't until eight days after the baby was born that Zachariah's voice was to be heard again. She had given birth to a son. Verse 58, the neighbors and relatives had heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, which he had. It's always his mercy and the gift of a child.
It's a peculiar mercy at this stage in life. And consequently, they all shared her joy. Now, what I'd like to do is to simply view the scene with you, which is described between verse 57 and 66, and then begin to consider the song with you, which begins in verse 67 and goes through to the 80th verse. First of all, in the scene, I put in my notes three headings.
And for those of you who take notes, this may be helpful to you. First of all, I made note of the discussion, the discussion that is provided for us in this scene. It doesn't take long for parents to discover the fact that when it comes to naming your child, everyone seems to have an opinion. Even total strangers will be bold enough to tell you that they never ever considered the list of names that you volunteered to them when they met you somewhere and they said, and do you have any names in mind? And you gave them your top three boys and your top three girls, and they were completely unimpressed. And they were gracious enough to let you know that they had never heard of anybody naming their children such amazing things, and they like these names, and they'll let you know. And it niggles you a little bit. It makes you feel uncomfortable. Relatives often have far more to say on the subject than they ever should, more than is wise, more than is helpful. And so it's no surprise to discover that in the events surrounding the arrival of this boy, the exact same thing is happening.
Everybody apparently has an opinion on what's going on. And on the eighth day, when the time came, according to the process of the law, for the child to be circumcised, you will notice what it says, they were going to name him after his father Zachariah. Now the question is, who was they? Because it clearly wasn't Elizabeth and Zachariah. So it seems it was everybody else.
And they had all decided that since it was such a community event, and since they had all been looking forward to the arrival of this child, it was very appropriate that he should be named Zachariah also. Now, the response of Elizabeth is fairly clear. No. You don't have to be brilliant to understand that.
That must have sounded out fairly stridently. No. He is to be called John. Now, I have a view on this that I have dealt with along with my wife—I'm sure other men can concur with this—that as far as I'm concerned, if the lady goes through all of this process to produce this character, when push comes to shove, she can choose the name. She deserves to choose the name. She deserves a lot more than choosing the name, but she can at least have the final vote on the name.
So here's the scene. Everyone's around, the baby's arrived, the circumcision takes place, it's a community event, and the word is buzzing around, and guess what? We've decided to call him Zachariah. Oh, no, says the mother.
We're going to call him John. Now, you would expect that that would end the conversation right there, wouldn't you? After all, she's the mother.
Look at these people. Verse 61. You can just imagine somebody on the front row with a kind of… Just a face, you know. There's no one among your relatives who has that name. And Elizabeth, trying to be a good holy lady, she wants to slap the person in the face, say, What's it to you?
Where did you come from? You know. So, unable to get closure to their desire, they turned to the father, old silent Zach, you know. And they made signs to the father to find out what he would like to name the child. Now, remember, when we said that he was struck dumb, we went forward to this verse, and we noted the fact that they were making signs to him. Now, I think that probably he was deaf as well.
But if you have ever dealt with disabled people, either in deafness or where they are devoid of the ability to articulate their words, then you sometimes find yourself making signs to them in the way that they make signs to other people. It's really rather irrelevant, because we're not told exactly. Suffice it to say that they communicated to him and were seeking to determine what his position was on this important subject. So the discussion leads to the decision.
And that's my second point. In verse 63, he asked for a writing tablet, a flat piece of wood that would have been covered with a film of wax, on which letters could be traced with a stylus. And you would simply mark out the letters and leave the background in the wax, and so form your letters. And he writes on it, and presumably had become very good at writing on this, because he must have had to have some means of communicating in the nine months that it elapsed. And he writes in such a way so as to leave no one in any doubt as to the name.
He doesn't take a lot of time with it. He doesn't, you know, say, in my humble opinion, we have decided to call him John. He doesn't even write, I think it would be best if we agreed with his mother, and he should be called John, I think. He wrote on it, His name is John.
Clear. I think Zechariah has a great name, said the group. Oh no, he's to be called John.
What do you think? His name is John. Now, when a number of things happen simultaneously, one of the things is that the people were totally astonished. What was it they must have said to themselves that makes this couple so united in their commitment to this name John?
I mean, Elizabeth was on it immediately. Now we've turned to him, and he is also very clear. The answer, of course, that we know from reading the story is that God had commanded it. And as in Mary's case, the angel had come and said, And you will give him name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. And the angel comes to Zechariah and says, Your wife is going to have a child, and it will be a son, and you will call him John. Now, the word John, the name John, means Jehovah is gracious. The fact that the angel gives no explication of the name need not lead us to assume conclusively that his name is without significance. Indeed, no child was named without significance. And therefore, for God to determine that this particular child, who is to fulfill the function of the forerunner, should be called Jehovah is gracious, is surely purposeful. And as we will see in the unfolding story, the cries of John that ring out from his place in the desert, urging men and women to repentance and urging them to turn their gaze to the Lamb of God, are expressions of the meaning of his name.
Now, their astonishment is more than matched by the rediscovery of his voice. So the discussion leads to a decision and leads, in turn, to a question. Now, the question is in verse 66, in one simple sentence, what then is this child going to be? Every baby is a bundle of possibilities.
Every time you take a child on your lap and you look at it, you hold the little thing in your hands, and you realize all of the potential that is wrapped up, you project your thoughts ahead at all, and you say, Well, I wonder what will become of this wee one. I wonder how they will end up. Where they will live. Will they marry? Will they be single? Will they be successful?
What will they be? And that's the question these people were asking. And it was made all the more dramatic by the events that had taken place. But back up and notice that when he wrote on the tablet, His name is John, we're told immediately his mouth was opened.
The word here is a graphic word. It's at the beginning of the sentence in order to make the point. It wasn't that sometime later in the afternoon he realized he could speak again. No, he wrote on the tablet, His name is John. And suddenly, in the same way that his unbelief had been responded to with dumbness, so now his obedience is responded to with the rediscovery of his voice. It's almost as though God could hardly wait to remove his punishment and to reward his obedience. It's interesting, but it is the same statement in Luke chapter 15, when the prodigal son returns with his speech to his father, and he says to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son. You remember the first word out of the father's mouth is quick. That's the first word he says. Quickly, immediately, bring a robe for this boy. The father is prepared immediately to respond to this expression. Indeed, the father's longing heart has been the underpinning to the very response itself.
And so his voice returns, and he begins to speak. Notice verse 64, praising God. Praising God.
That in itself is not insignificant. Some of us, if we had been struck dumb for nine months, as soon as we opened our mouths, we would have already begun to talk about ourselves. And we would have been going on and on and on and letting everybody know how it was. No, he opens his mouth and he praises God. I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever. With my mouth will I make known your faithfulness, your faithfulness. O Lord, open thou our lips, that our mouths might show forth your praise. What comes out of our mouths is an indication of what's going on in our hearts. You remember James points out the incongruity, the ridiculous picture of a spring of water gushing forth fresh water and salt water from the same source. He says, can it happen?
No. And then he says, well, why should it be that out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing? Out of the abundance of our hearts, our mouths speak. And that is a salutary challenge to those of us who are most verbal.
For it is so easy for us to sin with our lips. But for Zechariah, he has moved now from this once-in-a-lifetime event, which had been the genesis of his dumbness. You remember, he had had the privilege of burning incidents in the context that only happened to one of these individuals once in his lifetime. And he had now fast-forwarded through all of this.
He had gone back to it in his mind many times. He was there for the great day of his life. His wife would have been excited.
His community would have been pleased. The worshipers, we were told, were waiting outside, and they were praying. They were longing for him to come.
And he had finally appeared, and he was unable to speak. He had gone through the events of these months with his wife in seclusion, the conversation between herself and Mary, the birth of the child, the insistence on the name, now the rediscovery of his tongue, his sincere and his enthusiastic praise. And as a result, the neighbors were all filled with awe. And throughout the hill country of Judea, people were talking all about these things.
Isn't it amazing what God can do with an elderly priest, with a little old man and his little old wife, with things that may be regarded as dramatic on the one hand and yet trivial on the other? Have you asked yourself, believer, lately, what's going on in my community? What are my neighbors filled with when they hear me speak?
What are my work colleagues consumed with when they listen to my conversation? What are the words that are out of my mouth that would make it possible for people in the hill countries all around me to talk about nothing except the dramatic things that I have been able to tell them about the unfolding plan of salvation? I found this sixty-fifth verse very, very challenging.
The neighbors were all filled with awe. And throughout the hill country of Judea, people were talking about all these things, and everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, What then is this child going to be? This was far more than just the news of the birth of a baby. And Zechariah contributes to it. Now, in verse 80, as the chapter closes, tells us of the physical and spiritual development of the child.
And little more than that. Indeed, we have a silence in terms of the formative years of John the Baptist's life. There is more than an even chance that he was orphaned at a fairly young age.
That would make sense. After all, his parents were very old when he was born. Therefore, in the normal run of things, they wouldn't live long enough to see him through all of his years. The chances are that he spent a fair amount of time on his own, and it was out of the desert that he finally came to cry, prepare the way of the Lord.
But we won't get there until chapter 3. An elderly woman gives birth to a son. The child's name is given by God. A father's nine-month silence is broken. Like tabloid headlines, these things made people wonder about God's purpose for John. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg, and we'll hear the conclusion of this message on Monday. If you listen regularly to Truth for Life, you know our pattern is to teach directly from God's Word. In fact, Alistair routinely reminds us to follow along in our Bibles. Over the years, we've had many requests to make a Bible available for those who struggle with the small text. Well, today we are delighted to offer you a large print Bible that comes in the English Standard Version, which is the one Alistair teaches from. This Bible has extensive cross-references at the bottom of each page, and it's bound in top-grain leather. This is a Bible that sells for $200, but you can purchase it from Truth for Life today at our cost of only $35.
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You can also give our customer service team a call at 888-588-7884 or mail your donation to Truth for Life, Post Office Box 398000, Cleveland, Ohio 44139. To say thank you for your support, we'll invite you to request a copy of a 31-day devotional titled, Be Thou My Vision. This is a beautiful hardcover book. It presents daily readings comprised of prayers from throughout the centuries. For each day there's a sequence of prayers from historical writers, including many Puritan authors. There's also scripture readings that work together to enhance your time with God. Ask for your copy of Be Thou My Vision when you give a year-end donation at truthforlife.org slash donate or when you call 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. We hope you enjoy your weekend and are able to worship with your local church. On Monday we'll explore Zachariah's song, What Is It That Got Everyone Talking? The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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