Today, we celebrate the birth of St John the Baptist, the forerunner to the Lord Jesus.
Firstly, let us look together at what the holy scriptures tell us about this blessed and miraculous event in Lk 1:5=25 (NIV):
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. 8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “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. 20 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 appointed time.” 21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
So let us now try to picture this joyous scene:
We have the parents, the Jewish Priest Zechariah and Elizabeth who were both advanced in age and were beyond the child=bearing years. Also, Elizabeth was barren and unable to conceive. The blessings and sheer joy at the birth of their son must have been immeasurable! All the family would have been there celebrating this wonderful event because in those days, the birth of a Son was a major celebration of joy and music. This sadly wasn’t the case in those days for female births. The Lord our God truly blessed his parents by giving them and also us as a world, John.
But the significance of John’s birth,his life and ministry goes way beyond that of a usual birth. John was sent with a purpose, he was sent to be the forerunner who would pave the way for the coming into the world of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and who would also be the person who later baptised our Lord. John the baptist shows us by his life how we truly should be living as a child of God, and there are several lessons we can learn from him. Firstly, whole-hearted belief in Jesus Christ is possible. John could have chosen to believe in and worship any number of gods available to him before Jesus arrived on the scene. But in his life John knew that the Messiah was coming. He believed this with his whole heart and spent his days “preparing the way” for the Lord’s coming (Matthew 11:10). But the road was not an easy one to prepare. Daily he faced doubters of various influence and popularity who did not share his enthusiasm for the coming Messiah. Under hard questioning from the Pharisees, John shared his belief: “‘I baptize with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie’” (John 1:26-27). John believed in the Christ and his great faith prepared him for hardships, but it kept him steadfast on his course until the time when he could say as he saw Jesus approach, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). As believers, we can all have this steadfast faith.
Secondly, anyone can be a strong and devoted witness for Jesus Christ. John’s life is an example to us of the seriousness with which we are to approach the Christian life and our call to ministry, whatever that may be. We pattern our lives after John’s by first examining ourselves to be sure we are truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Second, like John, we are to know and believe that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), so we can be fearless in the face of persecution and death. John lived his life to introduce others to Jesus Christ, and knew the importance of repenting of one’s sins in order to live a holy and righteous life. And as a follower of Jesus Christ, he also was unafraid of calling out people such as Herod and the Pharisees for their sinful behaviour.
Thirdly, John shows us how to stand firm in our faith no matter what the circumstances. Paul reminded Timothy that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). But for many of us who live in freedom, persecution takes on a very mild form. As he lived in an occupied country, John had to be aware that anything contrary to utter devotion to the king or emperor was asking for trouble. Yet his message was unchanging, bold and strong. It was John’s belief, his message, and his continual rebuke of King Herod that landed him in prison. While it is hard to know for sure what John was feeling as he sat in prison, we can be sure that he might have had some doubts about the Lord who tested his faith.
Let us look at the examples that we can learn from the birth and life of John the baptist and let us incorporate these lessons more fully within our own lives as the children of God.
Let us pray:
Father, we thank you for sending John the Baptist into the world to prepare the way for the coming of your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Help us to learn from the examples of his life and to more fully incorporate them into our own lives, so that just as the life of John the Baptist gave you glory, that our lives may also glorify you.