His Name Is John
Sermon 1725 Luke 1.57-80 December 20, 2020
We are getting close! It is just around the corner! The next time the doors of this church open for worship it will be the big day! So it is time to talk about the birth of a baby! John!
Yes, John! He’s the start of the whole Christmas story in Luke. You don’t know John, you don’t know Jesus. Let me show you from the Sunday School lesson, the Birth of John.
His Name Is John
1. The Lord’s chosen spokesman.
2. The Lord’s redemption.
The angel Gabriel’s Christmas chores started six months before he appeared to Mary and that was barely nine months before Christmas. He had been sent to Jerusalem, to the Temple where an old priest, Zechariah, had drawn the lot to present the daily sacrifice inside the Holy Place. Gabriel had told Zechariah his prayers had been answered after all these years. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were going to have a son, set apart for the Lord, the last prophet! He would prepare the way for the Lord and personally introduce the Savior to the people of Israel.
But Zechariah didn’t believe. “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.” Yikes! I’ve made a note never to doubt an angel sent by the Lord. For the next nine plus months Zechariah can’t even sound out vowels. But Elizabeth becomes pregnant. Mary comes to visit her when Elizabeth is six months along. At the appointed time, Elizabeth gives birth to a boy. On the eighth day they circumcise and name the child.
“They were going to name him after his father, Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, ‘No! He is to be called John (Luke 1.59-60).’” Of course they don’t listen to her. She’s only the mother. “‘There is no one among your relatives who has that name.’ Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child (61-62).” Of course they think because Zechariah can’t speak, he also is hard of hearing. I can see them now. WHAAAAT DOOOO YOOUUUU WAAAANT TO NAAAAAAME THE CHIIIILD?
Zechariah motions for a writing tablet and scribbles down, “His name is John.” Zechariah has learned his lesson. He believes. And he can talk. And boy, does he talk, filled with the Holy Spirit, inspired by the Spirit. He talks about his boy, his name is John, the Lord’s chosen spokesman.
“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, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace (76-79).”
His name is John, the Lord’s chosen spokesman.
The Lord knows silence is golden. Every famous speaker in history made good use of his pauses, the breaks in his delivery where the listeners immediately filled in the blanks, so they found him agreeing with their sentiments, rather than they being swayed by his arguments! The Lord had been silent for four hundred years. What was coming was important. John was coming. The message of the Lord through his prophet, John, was important. The Lord had chosen John, already from the womb of Elizabeth, yes, even before he had been born.
John was to prepare the way for the Lord. For the concert goers among us, this is the lead-in act. It gets the crowd ready to hear the big name and loosen up a bit with a not-so-talented band. I am not saying John would not be talented, but he certainly would not be the Savior. So, I guess, that comparison is good. But the comparison is good for another reason. The people of Israel were not at a particularly high spiritual point in their history. They had been under the thumb of Roman rule for almost forty years. Their own religious rulers had buddied up with the Romans to keep their positions. King Herod was Jewish in name only, and only if you couldn’t spell Jewish. It was a time of anything goes if you have the power and the money. That makes for a disillusioned population, prone to giving up on everything. Trade in your heritage for a quick buck. Live for the moment, because it isn’t going to last.
Zechariah says John would prepare the way for the Lord. He would get people thinking about the Lord again. He would make religion something people cared about, not just a topic for idle conversation after dinner was cleared away and the tea was still hot. I will give the story away by telling you all the people from Jerusalem and Judea and the surrounding countryside would come out to see John and hear him preach. Even another King Herod would be both the subject of some of John’s most pointed sermons and the personal audience of John’s prison speeches. Some would even wonder if John were the Savior who was to come into the world.
Zechariah also says John would give people the knowledge of salvation. He would be a teacher, showing the people the way to heaven. That is not common knowledge. That is not something we are born with. If we had one of those game shows where we had to guess the most popular answers, the “Way to Heaven” category would have “Be Good” first. “Be Nice” would be a close second. "Try Hard” would come in third and all the other options would dribble off into something like, “Do the Best You Can” and “Hope God doesn’t mean what he says.”
No, I mean it. Our sinful human nature doesn’t want to go to hell. It wants to go to heaven. But it thinks it can earn heaven. All it has to do is find out what the entry price is and, if it can’t meet that price, where the side door is. Be a vegetarian and you will go to heaven. Don’t get married and you will go to heaven. Make a trip to some holy place and you will go to heaven. Give x amount of dollars to the church, or, at least a good cause and you will go to heaven. That’s what people think. That’s what you and I think if we listen to our sinful human nature. And then, when we realize God isn’t bought off that easily, because our consciences are still bothering us, we get mad at God and don’t want anything to do with him. I see a lot of that in the world around us. Despair or Pharisees.
You will notice one phrase, three words, spectacularly missing. Forgiveness of sins. That’s exactly the knowledge John would impart to his listeners. The way to heaven was through the forgiveness of sins. For the sake of the Savior to come, “because of the tender mercy of our God,” God would forgive wickedness, rebellion and sin. The Savior would shine upon us and bring us over from death to life. Instead of hatred towards God in our hearts, we would have peace and a heart intent on following the path of peace with God. He would preach faith in the forgiveness of sins which the Savior would win for us all.
His name is John, God’s chosen spokesman.
His name is John. The Lord’s redemption.
I wanted to save the best for last, because that’s the way we think. You want the good news first or the bad news? We always defer and take the bad first. The Jews were just the opposite. The most important stuff came first.
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people (68).”
Redeem means to buy back. Just look at that next water bottle you grab out of the refrigerator. See that CRV on the side? Cash Redemption Value. It may be five or ten cents, depending on whether it is California, Oregon or Hawaii. You turn the empty in and you get five or ten cents back. That’s how capitalism tries to make sense out of recycling. They pay you to return the empties. They buy them back. And, because it is a government program, they are only returning the money they charged you extra in the first place. So every six pack of soda in Cali costs an automatic sixty cents more than in Nevada. You have to return six empties to get your sixty cents back. And, yes, it is illegal to buy the stuff in Nevada and return the empties in California. Don’t ask me how I found that out. But we are clear on what the concept of redemption is. Buy back. Redeem is to buy back.
The Lord has come and has redeemed his people, Zechariah says. Zechariah is a lot like Mary when she sang her wonderful song of praise. Although the purchase price will not be paid for another thirty some years down the road, Zechariah says it has already taken place. The Lord “has redeemed his people.” This is not just pious enthusiasm. This is fact.
As of last Monday, America has the vaccine. But that doesn’t mean everybody has been vaccinated. That doesn’t mean the battle against COVID has been won. It doesn’t mean we can open the casinos full bore and pack the churches for Christmas Eve. Regarding human endeavors, the cavalry is always slow in coming. But when we are talking about the Lord, it is done. It is finished. He pays it forward. The price of our redemption was Jesus’ death on the cross. Since I cannot say it better than this (and I am trying to get my Catechism students to memorize it), Jesus “purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death (Luther’s Explanation to the Second Article).”
God is such a good and gracious Father in heaven that he forgave sin ahead of time, in light of Jesus’ coming into the world. When Zechariah died, he didn’t have to cool his heels in some spiritual waiting room until Jesus died and rose again. Zechariah went to heaven through faith in what the Savior would do for him. That’s why any preacher worth listening to will say you are saved, you have been saved. He doesn’t say you will be saved, like it is something in the future. We have been saved, all our sins have been forgiven. Already now we enjoy that spiritual life with God. We love God. That would not be our attitude if we thought God had to be bought off by our good deeds. That would not be our attitude if we gave up on God, he made us so angry.
So when Zechariah looked at his son, John, he saw God’s plan of salvation completed. It wasn’t as good as done. It was done.
Right about now the panic sets in. We can’t get the items we ordered in time. There aren’t enough evenings left to shop and, to be honest, we don’t really want to go into stores to do our Christmas shopping. Why didn’t we buy an artificial tree last year? We’ll never make it to the Christmas tree lot now.
Step back. Take a breath. Christmas isn’t about things. It’s about the heart, what’s in it, how we show it. It’s about that child Mary held in her hands. It is about that son Zechariah’s son would point to. It’s about your salvation and my rescue from sin. It’s about our eternal home in heaven. It is accomplished.
His Name Is John
1. The Lord’s chosen spokesman.
2. The Lord’s redemption.
That’s why the Christmas message is impossible without the story of John. Like bacon and eggs, PB and J, John and Jesus. Next time we meet, I’ll tell you about another baby.