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His name is John

Sermon passage: (Luke 1:57-66) Spoken on: December 13, 2020
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Dr. Tan Hock Seng
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Luke

Tags: LUKE 路加福音

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About Dr. Tan Hock Seng: Dr. Tan teaches New Testament studies, theology and languages in various seminaries in Singapore.
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Title: His Name is JOHN
Preacher: Dr Tan Hock Seng

The Moral of the Story?
An initial reading of this passage gives the impression that the story is about Elizabeth’s bickering with relatives over the name for her baby. The moral of the story is not, “Don’t let your relatives or friends see your new born baby until you’ve named him.” Otherwise, they will tell you, “This name, no good; that name, no good.”

That’s not the Luke’s intent in telling the story.

The Jewish Custom of Giving Name
Naming a baby was a community affair for the Jews. Relatives and friends will take part in that event. Their participation acknowledges their importance in the child’s life. Normally, a baby is either named after a living relative, or a departed one, in order to honor that person. In this case, the folks probably wanted to name the infant “Zechariah Jr.” to honor the aged father. Thus, they confronted Elizabeth, “There’s no ‘John’ in your family”; so, “Whom are you honoring?”

The Issue in the squabble: Whom are you honoring?
Names are important because they can impact children as they grow. A name usually comes with a story, and a hope for what the child would become. The people were eager to know, “What then is this child going to be?” As God had already chosen ‘John’ for the baby before his conception (1:13d), that name will proclaim what God is about to do soon.

Luke is introducing John as the forerunner of the Messiah.

In the other three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and John, the appearance of John the Baptist was abrupt.

Matthew’s introduction:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:1-2).

Mark’s Introduction:
2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region … (Mark 1:2-4)

John Gospel Introduction:
6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify … (John 1:6-8)

Luke told us in his Introduction: “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you …” (Luke 1:3)

Luke’s investigation is crucial because there were many messianic pretenders before and during the time he wrote his Gospel account (AD 67). Luke had to assure his readers that Jesus was not another messianic pretender. The true Messiah would be preceded by a forerunner foretold by Isaiah. John shall be that forerunner.

Thus, the historian Luke gave a multi-faceted introduction of John. He wanted to show that the man who had been baptizing people in the Jordon was clearly God’s prophet who came to prepare the way for the Messiah. He was not any “Hong Lim Park” speaker in Israel, whom religious fanatics conveniently declared, “Neh! He’s the one Isaiah prophesied lor”.

As the result, we read about an angel announcing John’s birth to Zechariah (1:8-20); Elizabeth’s unborn baby leaped for joy, hearing Mary’s voice (1:39-44). We also learn how the baby finally got the name “John” (Luke 1:57-66).

But “why the name ‘John’ ? Why not ‘Zechariah’? The latter is also a meaningful name. In a prayer-context, ‘Zechariah’ can mean [Slide #15.1] “May Yahweh remember.” In other words, “May Yahweh hear my prayer.” “May Yahweh hear my prayer” is the flip side of “May Yahweh remember”.

In the temple Angel Gabriel assured Zechariah, “Your prayer has been heard” (1:13b).

Q: What had Zechariah been praying for?

There are two possible requests which we can derive from the text:

The first possible request is the “Prayer for a child”.

Probably that was a prayer that Zechariah had long forgotten.

1.A Prayer that was Long Forgotten
Luke introduced Zechariah and Elizabeth with these words, “But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years” (1:7). [That means, they became Pioneer Generation]. The angel told Zechariah, “Your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son…” (1:13) “You will have joy and gladness …” (v. 14).

2.A Hope that was Dead
Zechariah and Elizabeth could have been praying for a child; but after waiting for a long time yet nothing happened, they stopped praying. Eventually they forgot about that prayer. The couple’s hope died.

When our hope is dead, our trust in God can also be affected. Zechariah’s reply to the angel, “How can I be sure of this?” could be his polite way of saying, “Don’t bluff, lah!” So, the Angel retorted, “I stand in the Holy Presence of God.” [“You think I dare to bluff?”] The angel exposed Zechariah’s unbelief,

“You did not believe my words … [so] now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens” (1:20).

3. An Old Wound that Still Hurts
From Luke’s description of Elizabeth, it is probable that Mrs. Zechariah had lived with an old wound that had been hurting.

The Angel knew that many people called Elizabeth “barren” (1:36). During the second trimester of her pregnancy Elizabeth said. “In these days He has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (1:25).

Although Elizabeth had been childless for a long time, she still felt the social stigma of childlessness. [An old wound that was still hurting even after many, many years had passed].

Even though their prayer was not answered, Zechariah and Elizabeth remained “upright in God’s sight”. Luke 1:6 says,

“Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly”

The God Who Remembers
Zachariah and Elizabeth might have been praying for a child when they were young. When they became the “Pioneer Generation”. Their hope for a child was dead. For Elizabeth, she had had an old wound that still hurt; for Zechariah, a prayer that had been long forgotten. Nevertheless, the LORD heard their prayer.

The angel’s message, “God has heard your prayer” speaks to us what our heavenly Father is like. Our Heavenly Father listens to our praying even when we do not always receive what we asked for.

Reaction:
You may react, “ What happened to Zechariah and Elizabeth is not a norm. It was an exception”. I agree! We have many unanswered prayers. We pray for healing; we pray for a job; we pray for family conflicts to be resolved. But we don’t get the answer we need. Too many unanswered prayer in our lives can make us disappointed with God, and even angry at God.

Sometimes, we know why God did not answer our prayers; and sometimes, we don’t. God may not answer according to our timing; and God may choose not to give what we wanted very much in view of His wisdom. God is wise. We can never fathom God’s wisdom, Unanswered prayers shall remain as mysteries to us. Don’t try to formulate theology of unanswered prayer, like, “May be I’m not good enough”; “May be I don’t have enough faith”; or “May be I did not ask many people to pray for me?” Those are faulty theology. One day God Himself shall explain the mysteries to us. Our heavenly Father will have many, many, many angry and disappointed children to comfort.

He will comfort them in His Presence one day. The book of Revelation tells us,

He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain … (Rev. 21:4; Cf. 7:17; Isaiah 25:7-9)

God remembers the prayer in which we had lost hope, or had long forgotten. Remember, we have a Heavenly Father who listens whenever we pray. Yahweh Remembers.

Applying What We Learned about God:

How Should We Pray?

Just keep praying
We may ask God what we want. Just pray, as long as our desire is not evil or sinful.

Adopt Jesus’ Attitude in praying
However, we should learn Jesus’ attitude when praying. Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing … yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). As we bring our needs before God, we shall also acknowledge, “If you are willing; yet not my will but your will be done.”

Stop praying when God tells you to
So keep on praying; unless God tells you to stop. God does tell people to stop praying. He told the prophet Jeremiah to stop interceding for the people [Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14; 14:11].

Prayer is not supermarket shopping. People usually read a list of things they want to God. They hope that God will just check-out all the items in their trolley. That’s not the concept of prayer.
The Prayer Time is a time of communion with God.

When we commune with God, we come before His Presence. We let His Presence engulf us. We talk to God; and we listen. We must learn to listen. We must be willing to be still, in order to listen. Prayer should be a two-way communion with God. Picture yourself as a child sitting on your Heavenly Father’s lap. There is no distraction, or interruption. You talk; the Heavenly Father listens. Then the Father talks; you listen. You enjoy each other’s company. That is communion.

These three prayer-pointers are just guidelines. They are not to be treated like a formula for prayer. We need to grow to experience the reality of God’s presence with us.

First, Zechariah could have been praying for a baby. But he stopped after decades of futile waiting. Although he forgot his prayer, the LORD still remembered.

Second, Zechariah could also have been praying for the Messiah.

The biblical narratives often teach us about God at two level.
First, there is a personal level – the way that the Creator God pays attention to ordinary people and then, the macro level – the faithfulness of God to His Covenant.

Zechariah ‘s prayer for the Messiah is reflected in his prophetic words in verses 68-79.

The prophecy has two parts one, “The Messiah is Coming” (1:68-75); and two, “John shall be the Messiah’s prophets (1:76-79). The second part answers the people’s question, “What then is this child going to be?”

The Messiah-to-come will deliver God’s people from oppression (1:71-74a). He will make the people approachable to worship Yahweh (1:74b-75). “Deliverance for Worship” was Yahweh’s purpose for the Hebrews during the Exodus. In the New Covenant “Deliverance for worship” is also God’s purpose for the people whom Jesus saves. John will be the one who will prepare the way for the Messiah (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1).

Besides Zechariah, there were other faithful men and women who had been praying fervently for the Messiah.

Four Persons Who Had Been Praying & Waiting for the Messiah.
In chapters 1 & 2, Luke introduces 4 people who had been praying and waiting for the Messiah. Those four are: Zechariah, Mary, Simeon and Anna. We will read about Simeon and Anna in chapter 2.

Anna was a 84-year-old prophetess, worshipping God day and night, fasting and praying (2:36-38). Many readers might find Anna’s life very boring, “Praying day and night in the temple,” as if she had nothing better to do. Anna had good reasons to pray. In her days, there were religious corruption in the temple; power-struggles within the religious orders; and many villagers in the countryside frequently oppressed by the Roman soldiers when they were marching through.

One way to respond to this type of situation is to migrate. There were many priests who moved out of Jerusalem to live in the Dead Sea Region. The Qumran community was one group of such people. Another way to react is to fight. There were militant Jewish fighters during the first century AD. The Zealots were one of the militant groups.

However, for Anna, she chose to pray. She interceded for Israel and her people, that God would send a Deliverer to save the people and to restore the worship.

In Exodus 3:7, God told Moses in the burning bush encounter, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham … I have indeed seen the misery of my people …. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue … (Exodus 3:6-8). The Hebrews in Egypt prayed; God heard; and He sent Moses, the deliverer.

Zechariah mentioned about another Deliverer in his prophecy:

He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David … 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us— (Luke 1:69-71).
That Deliverer is the Messiah.

Anna, finally, got to see the baby Messiah. God was gracious to Anna.

Simeon was a righteous and devout old man who had been waiting for the “consolation of Israel”. Simeon had longed for God to fulfill His promise about the Messiah. He desired God to sustain his life until the Messiah comes (2:25-26). So, God assured Simeon him that he would see the Messiah. God was gracious to Simeon.

Mary was a young girl with a heart to do God’s will. Her response to the Angel’s startling announcement was, “I am the LORD’s servant; let this happen to me according to your word.” (1:38).

The LORD favored Mary and chose to be the mother of the Messiah. God was gracious to Mary.

Zechariah was also praying for the Messiah, but God told him that he would have a baby, and his son would grow up to be the forerunner of the Messiah (1:11-17). God was gracious to Zechariah.

Luke introduced these 4 persons to show that God has shown His Grace to His people: Simeon (2:25-26); Anna (2:36-38); Mary (1:26-31); and Zechariah & Elizabeth (1:5-6).

What do these four people have in common?

They awaited the Messiah by staying righteous. As we observe the texts, only Zechariah and Simeon were described by Luke as righteous, whereas Mary and Anna were not.

Righteousness is a trait that can be expressed by “who we are” or “what we do”. Hence, righteousness can be seen as “doing what is right in God’s sight”. It can be depicted by “leading a life that pleases God”. Righteousness can also be understood as “ walking with God”. Thus, Mary’s virtue, as having a heart to do God’s will at all costs, is an aspect of righteousness. Anna’s intercession for the nation and the people is a way of living out righteousness. These four people highlighted by Luke anticipated the first advent by staying righteous.

Advent is a time in the Church Calendar when we re-live the experience of the people who had been waiting for the Messiah. They anticipated the Messiah’s coming by leading lives that pleased God. In observing Advent, we share their hope of anticipating the Messiah. This celebration is a past orientation

However, as believers we also look forward to the second coming of the Messiah – the return of Jesus Christ.
This aspect of Advent is future oriented. When we partake the Lord’s Supper, we observe a two-fold time orientation: Past and future. Past – What Christ has done for us in the past; and Future –Christ will do for us when He comes again. Advent, likewise, has a two-fold orientation: Past – The anticipation towards Jesus’ birth; and Future – the anticipation towards Christ’s coming.

The Apostle Paul tells us that those who longed for Christ’s return shall receive a Crown of Righteousness.

8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day-- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Q: How do we express our longing for Jesus’ appearing?
The way to long for Christ’s Return is NOT by doing a countdown watch towards a speculated Day.

There are some people who love speculating when Christ will return. When the speculated date approaches, they will quit their jobs and move to live in a mountain top. There they will gaze at the sky, looking out for Jesus.

But that is not the proper way to anticipate Jesus’ Return. That kind of behavior is called Theological-Crisis Panic.

Paul tells us that those who anticipate Christ’s Return shall receive the Crown of Righteousness from the Righteous God. The believer’s righteous living will be a reflection of God’s Righteousness. We should long for Christ’s return by staying righteous. Our living should reflect who God is.

As we celebrate the First Advent of Christ’s Birth and anticipate the Second Advent, Christ’s Return, we will stay righteous. We long for Christ’s appearing by staying righteous. Staying righteous is a way to please God. Staying righteous is an aspect of walking with God.

CONCLUSION

The LORD fulfilled His promise to Israel by sending the Messiah to deliver them and sanctify them for worship.

In his prophecy Zechariah mentioned God’s fulfilling his covenant with Abraham: He has raised up a horn of salvation for us … from our enemies … to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham (Luke 1:69-73)

What is God’s promise to Abraham?

“and through you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”
This promise is fulfilled when people put their faith in Jesus Christ (Genesis 12:3b)

The LORD had already heard the prayers of Zechariah, and of others who had anticipated the Messiah. Now, people need to know that God is showing forth His grace in the Messiah, soon to be born. The name “John” means “Yahweh is gracious” “John” heralds Yahweh’s manifestation of His Grace – the sending of Jesus, the Messiah (1:31-35).