Called to Proclaim
Luke 1:59–64, 67–80
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. List three elements of praise in “Zechariah’s song.”
2. Compare and contrast John’s role as a “prophet of the Most High” with our responsibility to proclaim Christ.
3. Write a short song or poem of praise for the area of service that God has granted him or her.
How to Say It
Yahweh (Hebrew). YAH-weh.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Dec. 10—A Messenger Is Coming (Malachi 3:1–4)
Tuesday, Dec. 11—Elizabeth Births a Son (Luke 1:57–61)
Wednesday, Dec. 12—His Name Is John (Luke 1:62–66)
Thursday, Dec. 13—God Sends a Powerful Savior (Luke 1:67–75)
Friday, Dec. 14—Preparing the Way (Luke 1:76–80)
Saturday, Dec. 15—Warnings to the Crowds (Luke 3:7–14)
Sunday, Dec. 16—A Powerful One Is Coming (Luke 3:15–20)
Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.
Why Teach This Lesson?
Shared testimonies can be powerful tools in the hands of the Lord. This is true in cultures all over the world. Shared testimonies draw nonbelievers to Christ; shared testimonies also encourage believers in their faith.
Your learners need to see the great potential of a shared testimony. An important daily goal for believers is to look prayerfully for opportunities to tell of God’s goodness and grace at work in their lives and in the world around them. When they ask God to provide such opportunities, they may be surprised when he chooses to do so in unusual ways!
A. Religious Phonies
The Didache, a Christian work written in the second century ad, offers advice on how to spot a false prophet: if a prophet comes to your house and tries to stay more than two days or if he asks for money, then he is a false prophet. Regardless of the validity of this advice, there always has been a need for a way to spot religious phonies, including those who falsely claim to speak for God.
In the Old Testament there were false prophets who predicted peace when God said there would be war and destruction (Jeremiah 14:13–16). In our own times there are those who wrongly predict the time of Christ’s second coming. There are also those who prophesy health and wealth—often in exchange for a generous donation. John the Baptist, however, was a true prophet of God. John stands in sharp contrast to false prophets of all eras.
B. Lesson Background
A genuine prophet of the Old Testament could prove that he spoke for God by being able to predict accurately what would happen. If a self-proclaimed prophet tried to do this and his prediction did not come to pass, he was to be put to death (Deuteronomy 18:20–22). But God’s prophet also had the important task of proclaiming God’s call to repentance. In the writings of the Old Testament prophets, this call to righteous living comprises the majority of their content.
Thus, foretelling and forthtelling were the two tasks of the prophet. John the Baptist came as “a prophet of the Most High” (Luke 1:76). In his predictive, foretelling role, John’s main task was to proclaim a message of the coming of the Messiah. His message was that “one more powerful than I will come. … He will baptize … he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:16-17).
In the forthtelling role, John proclaimed God’s call to repentance. Like the prophet Nathan rebuking King David (2 Samuel 12) or Elijah condemning King Ahab (1 Kings 21), John confronted King Herod (Matthew 14:4). Like many of the prophets of old, John was finally killed for proclaiming God’s truth to someone who did not want to hear it. Jesus said, “Among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28).
Unlike the prophets before John, the Bible gives us a tantalizing glimpse of the beginning of his life. Just as the angel Gabriel had promised, Elizabeth gave birth to a son in her old age. The presentation of a newborn child was a community event. So neighbors and relatives gathered in the rural village in the Judean hill country where John’s parents lived to rejoice and praise God for this blessing (Luke 1:57-58).
I. Naming the Baby (Luke 1:59–64)
A. Usual Procedure (v. 59)
59. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah,
Circumcision of infant males on the eighth day is a sacred duty of Jewish parents (Genesis 17:9–14; Leviticus 12:3; compare Luke 2:21). At this time, those in attendance are determined that the child should be named Zechariah, in honor of his father. They probably reason that it is an appropriate tribute to the father who finally has a son. The name Zechariah fittingly means, “God remembers.” Selecting this name for the baby seems the obvious choice!
B. Mother’s Protest (vv. 60, 61)
60.… but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
What Do You Think?
How would you encourage a person who was experiencing opposition for doing what he or she knew was right? What gives you the courage to say what is right when you’re in the minority?
Sometime during the nine months of pregnancy that followed the angelic appearance, Zechariah apparently informed his wife what the angel had said about the child’s name. (He would have had to use some means other than audible words to communicate this, since he is mute even up to this point in the narrative.) Therefore when well-meaning friends and relatives propose the name Zechariah, Elizabeth has a firm answer: No! Instead, John is to be the name. Appropriately enough, the name John means, “Yahweh has been gracious.”
61. They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
The neighbors and relatives cannot understand such a departure from tradition. They know the family trees of both Zechariah and Elizabeth. They know that there is no one named John who is related to either of them.
What those in attendance apparently do not know is the content of the angel’s message of nine months earlier: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John” (Luke 1:13).
C. Father’s Response (vv. 62–64)
62. Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.
The people who have gathered to celebrate the circumcision and naming of the baby are puzzled. They can think of no reason why Elizabeth prefers the name John to the name of her husband. Therefore, they turn to Zechariah in the expectation that he will have the good sense to overrule his wife.
While the angel had said that Zechariah would be unable to speak (Luke 1:20), the fact that those present make signs to him may indicate that he is deaf as well as mute. In any case, those gathered are able to communicate their question to Zechariah.
63. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.”
The writing tablet that Zechariah requests is perhaps a wooden slate with a shallow surface of wax. If so, he can use a pointed stylus for writing in the wax. The stylus may be flat on the other end for smoothing out the wax to erase what is no longer needed. Zechariah has had nine months to become proficient with this instrument!
With the writing tablet in hand, Zechariah settles the issue about the name: His name is John. In that one short statement, Zechariah demonstrates obedience to God’s message as delivered by the angel. All the people gathered for this event, however, are amazed that Zechariah has chosen the same nonfamily name as his wife has. What is going on?
“His Name Is …”
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
—Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2
What’s in a name? A great deal! The name George Washington suggests diplomatic skill, graciousness, and selfless service. The name Adolf Hitler does not. The name Marilyn Monroe suggests blatant sexuality. The name Mother Teresa does not. These are more than “just names”; they carry a great deal of emotive force.
Today we give our children names based on a variety of factors, but normally without any particular realization of, or concern for, the original meaning of the name itself. But this has not always been the case. In biblical times, names were often given to carry special significance. Some even were changed to fit the situation. Thus Abram (“exalted father”) became Abraham (“father of a multitude”). Naomi (“pleasant”) changed her name to Mara (“bitter”). Jacob (“grasps the heel,” or figuratively, “deceiver”) had his name changed to Israel (“he who struggles with God”).
Both Joseph and Mary were told to call Mary’s baby Jesus (“savior”). Zechariah was told to name his son John (“Yahweh has been gracious”). When we follow the biblical plan of salvation, each of us takes on a new name: Christian (“of Christ”). Make sure you don’t change this name to something else! —J. B. N.
64. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.
What Do You Think?
What was a time in your life when you received a clear and immediate blessing as a result of honoring or obeying God? Explain.
Zechariah regains the power of speech as soon as he demonstrates his obedience. When his tongue is loosed, his first words are words of praise. All the gratitude and wonder that has been bottled up inside of him for nine months comes pouring out. Even after the people return to their homes, they can’t stop talking about this special child (Luke 1:65, 66, not in today’s text). Everyone who hears the story is amazed. What must the future hold for this child?
II. Praising the Lord (Luke 1:67–75)
A. For His Salvation (vv. 67–71)
67. His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
Earlier, Zechariah was punished for being doubtful (Luke 1:20). Now God is accepting Zechariah back into service fully as he is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies. This means that he is enabled by the Holy Spirit to say what he could not say on his own, and the words are of great poetic beauty.
While Zechariah’s words came from his heart, they are authored ultimately by God’s Spirit. The result is a literary splendor that is beyond mere spontaneous speech. Often called the Benedictus (from the Latin for Blessed), Zechariah’s marvelous outpouring has two parts. Verses 68–75 are praise to God for the salvation he is delivering to his covenant people. Verses 76–79 are a pronouncement of the role John will have in preparing for the coming of the Messiah.
68. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
What Do You Think?
Praise of God is still appropriate for us 2,000 years later. What avenues do you have for praising God? What tends to prevent you from pouring out praise to him? How do you overcome this?
The first words to come from the lips of Zechariah in nine months are spoken with joy. Praise be to the Lord is a statement of recognition that God deserves to be praised. The faithful God of Israel has not forgotten his people. Now he has come to them, which means that he is stepping into human history in an act of divine power. Now he comes to redeem, rescuing his people from their captivity to sin. The day of God’s coming is a day of deliverance! However, as Jesus would later say about Jerusalem, “You did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:44).
69. “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
What Do You Think?
Quickly think of three things for which to praise God. What do these three things say about your view of what’s most important?
Zechariah’s praise for this horn of salvation may refer to the horns on the corners of the altar at the temple. A guilty person could cling to them in order to escape death (as in 1 Kings 1:50; 2:28). More likely, however, the horn is a symbol of strength and protection (as the horns of an ox). By means of this horn of salvation, the enemy will be vanquished and the people will be delivered (compare 2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 18:2).
Zechariah expects this salvation to be for us in the house of his servant David, meaning the Jewish people (compare 2 Samuel 7:26; 1 Chronicles 17:24). The mention of David is a strong sign that the promise of a Messiah is about to be fulfilled (compare Psalm 132:11-12, 17). What will be revealed later is that Christ will be the Savior not only of the Jews, but of all who believe.
70. “ … (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
From the beginning God announced there would be deliverance. To Adam and Eve came the promise of one who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). God demonstrated deliverance to Noah, and he promised the coming Messiah to Abraham. In many different generations, he spoke through his holy prophets. Zechariah knows these prophecies and is excited that now, at last, they are being fulfilled.
71. “ … salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
In the more than 400 years since the close of the Old Testament, the land of Israel has been subjected to numerous invasions, civil war, and armies of occupation. Israel thus is eager to be saved from her enemies, especially the occupying armies of Rome. For too long she has suffered at the hand of all who hate the people of God. Zechariah, like most of the people of Israel, may be thinking mostly in terms of a Messiah who will deliver the nation from her political, earthly enemies (Psalm 106:10).
When Jesus comes, the cheering crowds will turn against him when they see that he is not going to be the kind of king they want or expect. Although Jesus will not provide deliverance from Rome, he will provide deliverance from Israel’s more important enemies: the hosts of Satan. This spiritual deliverance is the salvation that ancient Israel needs most of all. It is what we need most as well.
Saved from Our Enemy
The plotline of “alien invasion” is a staple of science-fiction books. This kind of plot goes back a long way.
The granddaddy of this kind of science-fiction theme is H. G. Wells’s famous The War of the Worlds, published in 1898. This book tells the tale of a Martian invasion of England. The staying power of this story line is amazing. Orson Welles adapted the tale into a fictionalized documentary that aired on radio on October 30, 1938, as a Halloween feature. (For the American audience, the Martians landed in New Jersey.) The story then became a movie in 1953 and again in 2005.
Whenever a book or movie features an “alien invasion” plotline, there is always a sense of relief at the ultimate demise of the invaders. And the more harm the invaders are seen to inflict, the greater that relief is! Now think about it: is there any nonfictional invader that has ever harmed humans more than the one known as sin?
“Salvation from our enemies” was Zechariah’s hope. That God did even better by making it possible for all to be saved from the enemy of sin was the result of the cross. Sin is the ultimate enemy of the human race, and God’s grace is what allows us to be saved from this mortal foe. —J. B. N.
Visual for Lesson 3
Point to this visual as you ask, “How and why will you praise the Lord this Christmas season?”
B. For His Covenant (vv. 72–75)
72. “ … to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
God had promised in the Old Testament to show mercy to his people (compare Micah 7:20). Zechariah expects that the God of all mercy is going to remember his holy covenant: if humans will give God their allegiance, he will be their protector. Just as he did not abandon the children of Israel to their slavery in Egypt, he will not now abandon his children in spiritual captivity. The meaning of Zechariah’s own name says it well: “God remembers.” Perhaps Zechariah himself is remembering passages such as Genesis 17:7; Leviticus 26:42; and Psalm 105:8, 9 as he praises God.
73, 74. “ … the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
The oath in question is found in Genesis 22:15–18. There God promised Abraham that his seed would become a mighty, victorious nation.
Zechariah may be speaking better than he knows. The promised deliverance is not to be the kind often seen in the Old Testament, where Israel was delivered temporarily from oppressors. By the Messiah’s deliverance, God’s people will be able fully to serve him without fear, without the specter of further defeat hanging over their heads. This will be God’s gift to his people, a favor that he will grant.
75. “ … in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
As a devoted priest, Zechariah knows what it means to serve the Lord. All his life he has been “upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (Luke 1:6). Now righteous Zechariah eagerly anticipates a day when all God’s people will be able to serve him in holiness and righteousness. This hope will be partially fulfilled when Christ establishes the church, whose members are “a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5; compare Titus 2:11–14). The fulfillment will come when we serve him in full holiness in Heaven (Revelation 22:3).
III. Predicting the Messiah (Luke 1:76–80)
A. Preparing the Way (v. 76)
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,
The second part of the Benedictus concerns the role of John the Baptist. Speaking tenderly to the infant, Zechariah prophesies the future of his son. John will be not only a prophet of the Most High, he also will be widely recognized and called as such. In that role, John’s job will be to prepare the way for Jesus (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; Matthew 3:3). Some 30 years after Zechariah prophesies the words before us, John will tell the people to repent and get ready for Jesus (Matthew 3:11-12; Mark 1:1–8; Luke 3:1–18; John 1:19–34). The beautiful words of Zechariah echo the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3–5.
B. Proclaiming Salvation (vv. 77–79)
77. “ … to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
After John grows up and begins preaching in the wilderness, he will proclaim a baptism of repentance “for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). John’s preparatory ministry will be a vital first step for his people to learn the knowledge of salvation. Through John’s ministry the people will learn at least two important things. First, they have sin, of which they must repent. Second, only God can provide forgiveness of their sins.
78, 79. “ … 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.”
When God sends John the Baptist to call people to repentance, it will not be an act of anger. Rather, it will be an act of deepest love, an act of tender mercy.
Matthew 4:15-16 (from Isaiah 9:1-2) speaks of Jesus as a dawning light (see also Isaiah 58:8, 10; 60:1–3). The promise of the rising sun (or dawning of the sun) is a promise that the Messiah will come. What a glorious day when God visits his people! To those living in darkness (Psalm 107:10), Christ will come as the light of the world (John 8:12). To those in the shadow of death, the promise will be that those who believe in Jesus will live, even though dead (John 11:25). To the lost, Christ will come as the way to guide their feet. To all who do not know the path of peace, Christ will come as the prince of peace. Today, the fulfillments of Zechariah’s prophecies are facts of history.
What Do You Think?
What are you doing today to live out a life of service to God? How do the seasons of life affect this?
C. Getting Himself Ready (v. 80)
80. And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.
Raised in a godly home, young John grows both physically and spiritually. At some point his elderly parents die, and John lives in the desert of Judea. Year by year the time for his public appearance approaches. Captive Israel is going to hear the message of redemption!
John’s mother, Elizabeth, stood up against the pressure of popular opinion and insisted that what God said about naming the baby would be carried out. John’s father, Zechariah, was faithful as well—once he had learned from nine months of silence. He joyfully proclaimed the praise of God and the salvation of God. Following in his parents’ footsteps, John was faithful to his own call to proclaim. To people who trusted their own goodness and ancestry to save them, John proclaimed repentance. To a nation largely unaware that they sat in darkness, John proclaimed the coming of the Lord. He was the prophet—the spokesman—for God.
We can learn from the example of the godly family of today’s lesson. God has called his people to proclaim. Let us be faithful to that call.
Thought to Remember
John was called to proclaim. So are we.
Our Father, we praise you for your tender mercy. We thank you for the remission of our sins. Loosen the self-imposed silence of our tongues so we can be bold to proclaim your wonders. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2007-2008. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing, 2007, S. 139