56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. 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 was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.

65 The neighbors were all 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 and has redeemed his people. 69 He has raised up a horn 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 fathers 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 spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.  Version: New International Version

COMMENTS

General:

  • The special child is born (v.57), christened John and baptized (just kidding!) Finally Zechariah is able to give praise to God (v.64)!
    • He is circumcised on the eighth day (Leviticus 12:3); his impeccable spiritual pedigree is established. (See Philippians 3:5.)
    • Normally Jewish boys were not named after their fathers. Naming after grandfathers was much more common. It seems that the people wanted the boy named after Zechariah in order to honor the mute and afflicted father.
    • He sees that through Mary's son the redemption of Israel is imminent (v.68ff). The promises and prophecies to Abraham and David are being fulfilled. (See also Matthew 1:1-17, where these are the key figures in the genealogy.
    • Zechariah looked forward to being able to worship and serve God without fear. (Did he have one eye on the present Roman occupation?)
    • Only now does he have a prophetic word concerning his own son. His son will prepare the way for the Lord, just as Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3 say.
    • The divinity of Christ is implicit in the term "Lord" in v.76.
    • John will help people to truly know God, through forgiveness of sin. This would take place through his baptism (3:3). And yet this is only a dim shadow of the spiritual blessings to come through his successor, Christ (Ephesians 1:3).
    • In v.78 we again have a reference to Christ (see Malachi 4:2).
    • And in v.79 we have a reference to Isaiah 9:2; 42:16; 58:10.
  • The response of the crowd (vv.65-66) is one of amazement and fear. After all, the circumstances of John's birth were exceptional, as was his naming. Add to this the unexpected healing of Zechariah, and the deep sense of awe is no surprise.
  • John grows both physically and spiritually (v.80).
    • In good time (a few decades) he will begin his public ministry.
    • The stage is now set for the greatest birth in all of history.

Advanced:

  • Verses 68-79 are called the Benedictus, from the first word of v.68 in Latin, which means "blessed." There are echoes of Isaiah, Psalms, Malachi, etc.
  • In many respects John the Baptist is similar to Jesus:
    • Both births (of firstborn sons) were unexpected.
    • Both boys' names were announced by angels, before their births.
    • Both grew in body and spirit as they were prepared for their future tasks (1:80; 2:52).
    • Both remained single all their lives, and waited about three decades before beginning their public ministries.
    • Both were private persons, yet bold public figures.
    • Both were executed in their 30s.
    • And each fulfilled multiple O.T. scriptures.

Thought questions:

  • Why is it so difficult to appreciate salvation without understanding forgiveness of sins?
  • Zechariah paid for nearly a year for his refusal to believe, before he was able properly to praise God. Have you ever gone through a long down period before you were able to see clearly, understand spiritual things, and glorify God again? What lesson(s) did you learn from that experience?