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His Name Shall Be Called John

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
December 5, 2023 12:00 am

His Name Shall Be Called John

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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December 5, 2023 12:00 am

Whenever Christmas rolls around and we are reminded through songs and nativity scenes about the Christmas story, one significant part of it usually gets left out: the birth of John the Baptizer. John’s life and ministry was also a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and an important part of the Christmas story. Today, Stephen tells us more about this great prophet. Access all of the resources for this series at


In the months leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ, a priest named Zacharias received a remarkable message. Zacharias, the sun is about to rise on redemptive history and you and Elizabeth, an unknown country priest, you are chosen to bear the forerunner of the Messiah.

Your physical inability is now the perfect platform for God's supernatural ability. At this time of year we pause and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Another baby was born at about that same time. His name was John. He was born to a priest named Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth. John was the cousin to Jesus. As an adult, he was known as John the Baptist.

Today on Wisdom for the Heart, Stephen Davey begins a series called Christmas Cousins. John's life and ministry were also a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and an important and interesting part of the Christmas story. This message is called, His name shall be called John.

When Malachi the prophet put down his quill, God put away the prophetic word, the Old Testament era was followed then with 400 years of silence, not one word recorded from God. When God finally spoke again through his messenger Gabriel, one family in particular, an extended family would have their lives turned upside down by children. One married woman who couldn't get pregnant would get the news from Gabriel that she was going to be.

Her unmarried cousin who shouldn't be pregnant would get the news that she is about to be. The Christmas story will actually involve this extended family. In fact, most people think that when Gabriel arrived to end 400 years of silence, he came with a message to Mary.

He didn't. The angel came first to the husband of Mary's cousin, Elizabeth. The story of Christmas is in many ways fascinating to me. It involves the lives of cousins, Elizabeth and Mary, and then first cousins, their baby boys, John and Jesus. This extended family is about to begin the ride of their lives.

And if they had cameras back then, some of the photos would look very differently than anything they could have ever imagined. I want to go back to the beginning with you and take a look at how the gospel writer in chapter one of the gospel by Luke delivers to us the news in this first chapter of not just one miraculous conception, but in another unique way. Two of them. Luke chapter one and verse five, after Luke introduces the gospel to his high ranking official friend named Theophilus, he begins the story. Verse five. In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias of the division of a by job. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly and all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. Now, listen, at the very outset, we're given some historical context for this story.

This is taking place. We're told during the days of Herod, the king. So immediately we're given a contrast between a wicked man and a godly man.

In fact, a godly couple. This is the man known as Herod of the great. He was appointed king by the Roman Senate about 37 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.

By the time these two cousins will be born, Herod is already known. He's established himself as a brutal, vicious man. He's already ordered the murder of the Jewish high priest simply because that priest was more popular than he was. He clung to this particular title with vicious power, the king of the Jews. It was his to claim in his alone, which is why less than two years later, he will order the execution of every little boy in and around Bethlehem for one of them has been identified by visiting Persian dignitaries to be this king of the Jews. Matthew chapter two. By the time you get to Luke's introduction in his gospel, Herod is about 70 years old.

He is insanely jealous, petty, brutal, but he had accomplished one thing that kept his ratings soaring. He had expanded and refurbished the Jewish temple. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, tells us that this temple was refurbished, much of it reconstructed by the hands of 10,000 specially trained Jewish laborers under the direction of 100 priests. And they built something astounding. Josephus wrote that the temple was refurbished with imported cedar and white marble.

Much of the temple, including the massive double doors at the front, were overlaid with plates, solid plates of gold. By the way, it was all designed by implication to fulfill what their last prophet had promised just before the darkness had come and the silence of God, which had now lasted for 400 years. It was all designed to reflect effectively the prophecy of Malachi that said one day the brilliance of the sun, S-U-N, would rise. The sun of righteousness would arise with healing in its wings. Malachi chapter four, verse two. So the people are waiting for and they're longing for and they're praying for the darkness to be banished by the rising of prophetic sunlight. But for 400 years it's been darkness and despair and confusion and even corruption. No wonder Zacharias will say in his response to the angel's announcement later on in chapter one, the sunrise is finally coming to shine upon those of us who sit in darkness. The sun's about to rise.

Not for everyone. Herod the king, the darkness will only envelop him more. For him the sun would never rise. And he's immediately contrasted then with this godly couple introduced to us by Luke in verse five. In fact, we're told that this priest named Zacharias was faithfully serving in his division, the division of Abijah. We know from history that there were about 10,000 priests living in and around Jerusalem. And they were divided into 24 groups.

Each of the groups was assigned to work for one week periods twice a year. His grouping was under the heading of this particular famous former priest, Abijah, which we know was the eighth class or division of priests. And I know you're not going to remember that for the quiz, but I want to tell you that because that's significant. What that does tell us is that Luke or what Luke tells us is that Zacharias was not one of the elite members of the priesthood. He was way down the list. In fact, he didn't live in Jerusalem. Only the well-connected, those higher up in the priestly hierarchy lived in Jerusalem. He was not a member of the priestly aristocracy. Zacharias lived out in the country. In fact, he would have been referred to in this day as one of the country priests, never really making a blip on the radar of what mattered religiously.

We're told that he faithfully served. However, in fact, we're told in this verse that he was married to Elizabeth, a direct descendant of Aaron, Israel's first high priest. In fact, she was named after the wife of Aaron, Elizabeth. Now, a priest in this culture who was married to the daughter of a priest was considered to have a blessing. But for Zacharias, it was doubly so because he was married to a woman who was directly descended from Israel's highest priestly family.

And by the way, their son will act in many ways as a high priest should act before the people, preparing their hearts to hear the voice, the word of God. Now, you notice that Luke describes this couple with glowing terms. Verse six, they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. Now, they aren't perfect.

In fact, we'll see that in a moment. But they were passionate about the Lord, their God, and his ministry. Verse seven says, but I've told you everything that's good, but note this, they had no child because Elizabeth was barren.

Now, this is shocking news, what you would have expected the next phrase to read. And they had 12 or more children. They were exceedingly blessed and prospering just as the Abrahamic covenant promised to those faithful ones from among this covenant people.

That's what you would expect to read. No, but, he says, they were childless. Now, the religious culture around them would have been unforgiving in their prognosis. Faithful believers could expect to participate fully in the Abrahamic covenant, blessings of prosperity and fertility. In fact, those that go into that Abrahamic covenant pull them out and wrestle them into the new covenant era for us. We call them prosperity theologians, that we ought to be healthy and wealthy and have everything we want, a misinterpretation of the covenant blessing.

But for them, they're living in it. A barren woman in the Old Testament covenant would have assumed that she has somehow offended God. She has somehow been abandoned by his grace, maybe some fault of her own.

In fact, everyone around her, in her world, they wouldn't say it to her, but they would conclude it. That's why when Rachel in the Old Testament finally had a son and named him Joseph, she said, God has taken away my reproach among the people, Genesis chapter 30. That's why Elizabeth will later say in chapter 1, God has taken away my disgrace. See, the rabbis were teaching by the time of Jesus Christ's birth, there were categories of people, they had made this up, that were unable to experience close communion with God. And one of those seven categories was a Jewish man whose wife was unable to have any children.

Because of that, they had established even further complications by allowing barrenness to be considered valid grounds for divorce. And so who does God choose to communicate with? Who does God come to? Outsiders.

The unimportant. God is getting ready to turn everything upside down. Get ready.

The sun is about to rise. Now don't overlook the last phrase of verse 7. Look there. Dr. Luke knows that we need to understand the extent of a miraculous conception of the cousin of Jesus. Luke adds this little commentary, this little footnote.

They were both advanced in years. Your translation may read, they were well stricken. I like that translation.

That's how you feel. Well stricken. Struck by the years. Which is by the way I think a better translation because it allows us to understand that there were several different kinds of phrases the Jews used to categorize age.

This was one of them and that's insightful for us to understand. They believed that the commencement of old age began at 65. You weren't old at 60, 62, 63, 64 and when you hit 65, you were just commencing old age.

I don't know how that makes you feel. I hope it makes you feel younger. At the age of 70, a Jewish person was said to have reached hoary headed age, gray headed age. In other words, at 70, a person was now among the gray haired and the wise. I'm hoping when I turn 70 to have some.

To turn gray. At the age of 80, they were considered, they were called well stricken in age. So Zacharias and Elizabeth, get this, they're in their 80s.

They're in their 80s. At this age, their spotted hands would never, ever expect to hold their own child. So by the time we're introduced to them, you need to know they're not praying for a baby any longer. And they're not praying to conceive by the providence of God. There were a couple who stopped praying that decades earlier.

They lived in this culture, in this generation, faithful to each other even though God for some unknown reason and how they must have searched their hearts. God was not listening. The name Zacharias means God remembers.

The name Elizabeth means the promise of my God. I can't imagine how over the years the enemy would have whispered to them, God remembers you. God is the keeper of his promises to you. Can't help but stop and ask the question for all of us, what does it take us to stop worshiping him and serving him and trusting him? How easily do we give our ear to the enemy who whispers, God doesn't care about you. His promises are for everyone else but me. Joseph Parker, the famous pastor in London who pastored at the same time as Spurgeon several generations ago, he wrote into his journal these words, oh God, why is it that your hand of blessing is on everyone else but me?

You ever felt that way? What I love about the rising sunshine of God's redemptive light is that God uses an ordinary country priest, someone who really never made much of a contribution to the priesthood, in the eyes of his peers and their neighbors. He was just an old man who's probably reaching the point where they expect he'll stop going to Jerusalem.

In fact, why bother? See, the remarkable thing to me, ladies and gentlemen, is that in spite of all of this, Zacharias didn't quit. He didn't resign. And Elizabeth didn't come along and say, listen, Zacharias, God hasn't paid his fair share. We've been living and serving God for more than 50 years and we've been living under this cloud of suspicion and it hasn't been worth it.

Why don't we hang it up? I wonder if you or I would go 50 years living under that kind of cloud, the darkness that they must have felt often. Instead, this priest from the country, twice a year, would gather his clothes, pack his saddle bags, get somebody to look after the estate and look in on his wife and she would pack some food, maybe patch his robe, prepare for her own week of silence as he went off to serve a God who seemingly wasn't all that interested in them.

They stayed at it, even though now at the age of 80 they had stopped praying for certain things like children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren. But all that's about to change, by the way, so fast you cannot hardly believe it. In fact, we're going to pick up the pace at verse 8. Now it happened.

I love that. It just so happened. Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, in other words, now get this, he's in Jerusalem now. He's come for his week of service, verse 9. He was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord, which is how they did it, and burn incense while the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense burning.

Listen, here's what's happening. Hundreds and hundreds of priests never had the lot land on their name. Thousands of priests over the years had never had the order of entering the holy place to offer incense, to burn it before God as a symbol of prayer, the prayers of the nation ascending to the very presence of God. This was the ultimate culmination in a priest's office and ministry.

In fact, it was so unique that you could only do it one time in your entire lifetime of ministry. At 80 years plus, the lot falls on his name. He will now represent the entire nation in prayer before God in the holy place. Now, here's how it happens.

We'll pause and let me read in between the lines and set the stage for you. He would be allowed to choose two friends, two priestly friends who would accompany him into the holy place. Between the three of them, they had some duties to perform. They would trim the wicks, clean the table of showbread, take the old loaves out, put new loaves in. They would bring coals, burning coals from the brazen altar in and put them into the cleaned altar of incense, which they would clean and then place the burning coals there. And then those two friends would reverently back out of the holy place, leaving Zacharias alone in there by himself. While he's in there, the two priests back out, they strike a gong, and everyone that has come falls prostrate in prayer before God, including all of the priests.

They're now on their knees before God. Zacharias would walk over to the golden altar of incense where those glowing coals were. And he had a container filled with liquid frankincense, a costly fragrance or perfume.

And he, no doubt with his heart racing and his hands trembling, he would pour. He poured that frankincense out on top of those coals and was immediately engulfed in billowing clouds of sweet smelling perfume smoke. It was a symbol of the sweetness of the prayers of the nations sending to God. By the way, implied in the gift of frankincense to the little boy, Jesus, by the magi, you remember, that would be a symbol of the coming sweet intercessory ministry of prayer that is taking place to this day on behalf of his people by Christ, our high priest. Heart of Zacharias must have been thrilled at the pleasure of this unique ministry on behalf of his nation. To a man who never seemed to be noticed, to a couple who seemed to have been overlooked by God, they considered the lot to be, as Solomon wrote, in the hand of God and it fell on my name. And I'm in here. I'm representing the nation in prayer.

What a joy and a privilege. That's just about to start though. That isn't the end of it. Because as the smoke clears, Zacharias realizes for the first time that he isn't alone. Now let's go back into the text at verse 11. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel and fear gripped him.

That's the biblical way of saying he was petrified out of his gourd. He's in there alone with an angel. And the angel, by the way, will identify himself later as Gabriel, the same angel who 500 years earlier had come to the great prophet Daniel, that same angel that will come later to Mary. Gabriel says to Zacharias what angels typically say to human beings when they encounter them. Don't be afraid.

Stop being terrified. Our vision of angels is they're fluffy and white and we get to sit in their lap and sing to them in harmony. These are imposing heralds of God. And so he says to Zacharias, stop being afraid. What Zacharias do, okay, I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid. Okay, now we've got that cleared up. What are you doing in here?

400 years. Silence from God, no angel sightings, no prophetic word, and all of a sudden you're here. Watch this here carefully. The angel says to him, do not be afraid Zacharias, for your petition has been heard and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son. You will give him the name John. Your petition has been heard. Certainly the petition of Zacharias on behalf of the nation is being heard but that's not the construction of this phrase. Specifically Zacharias, your petition to have a son has been heard. But wait a second, that wasn't Zacharias' petition.

He's in his 80s. He's not in there praying for a son. He had prayed that prayer 50 years ago. He had prayed a million times that prayer 40 years ago. No doubt he and Elizabeth with tears often prayed that prayer 30 years ago until they had stopped. See what's happening here is delivering the stunning revelation to this old prophet or this old priest and to every one of us. Listen Zacharias, just because God never answered you does not mean he didn't hear you. He heard your prayer. He knew you wanted children. He knows that you and Elizabeth are well stricken in age. And unless he performs some kind of radical internal surgery that turns the clock back on both of you, it isn't going to happen. Zacharias, the son is about to rise on redemptive history and you and Elizabeth, an unknown country priest and a woman that have never been believed to be in close communion with God, you are chosen to bear the forerunner of the Messiah.

Your physical inability is now the perfect platform for God's supernatural ability. Can you imagine these family pictures? What a lovely grandson. Oh, it's not my grandson. Oh, great grandson. No, it's my firstborn. What are you guys eating?

Supplement program you're on. And their son, by the way, would be named John, chosen for them, which means the grace of God. John would become a daily reminder to them that God's grace had indeed been sufficient to help them persevere through the darkness of their own nighttime when the voice of God had been silent. And it would also stand to tell them that his grace would be sufficient to help them enter the challenging days of parenthood at the age of 80.

You put their three names together and you have this statement. God remembered his promise and his grace was enough. By the way, no one will be able to miss the fact that the Messiah and the Messiah's forerunner, these cousins, Jesus and John, are both in their own unique way miraculous conception. In both of these babies, God was making it clear that salvation was something he was doing.

And it's a good reminder for us as we begin this Christmas season and celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ. You're listening to Wisdom for the Heart with Stephen Davey. To learn more about Wisdom International and access more of Stephen's teaching resources, visit You'll find today's lesson as well as Stephen's second daily program called The Wisdom Journey. Visit today, then join us next time for more wisdom for the heart. You
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-05 00:31:17 / 2023-12-05 00:40:36 / 9

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