Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
There has been a lot in Luke about God fulfilling His covenant with Israel, and much talk of the Messiah. More, I think, than in the other two gospels. Each story so far has revolved around this theme. And that is the main point of Zechariah’s prophecy. He talks about John and his future, but only as it relates to the Savior. Israel had been waiting for a Messiah for generations upon generations. The faith of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary, at least, that God would provide one is the perfect reminder of why God chose Israel in the first place: they had a great capacity for faith.
Zechariah’s story is a great allegory for the story of God’s people. He had great faith and was a righteous man, so God loved him. But in the hard times, his faith in God was forgotten, so God punished him. But during his punishment, his faith was renewed, so God lifted his punishment from him. The people of Israel have repeated this cycle over, and over, and over again, from the book of Exodus all the way through the Old Testament.
And THAT is why the Jews needed John. They were ready to be faithful again, and all they needed was a Prophet to remind them of the way. Then Jesus, the Messiah, will come and forever release them from punishment. Never again will we be punished for our sins, because Jesus has finally fulfilled God’s covenant with Israel! The cycle is OVER!!
Unfortunately, not all the the Jews got the memo. This time God’s people will not be of one mind. And the half that refused to change after both John and Jesus will never be freed from the punishment of sin and death.