Luke 1:57-66, 80
57Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. 80The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
Luke’s Gospel is the only one of the four gospels to depict the birth of John the Baptist, a figure who appears in each gospel as a prophet and forerunner of Jesus. John was a child born to a barren mother, just like the patriarch Isaac, Joseph, and the prophet Samuel. Luke tells us that John was a relative of Jesus, soon to be born to Mary, another surprising mother. Tradition places the festival of the Nativity of John the Baptist today, 24 June, exactly six months before Christmas.
The theme of this week is ‘Spirit-led,’ and John’s father Zechariah was told that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit “even before his birth”. When Mary, who had just been visited by an angel announcing she was going to become pregnant with Jesus, visits John’s pregnant mother Elizabeth, John “leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” In addition, in the passage we read today, John’s father Zechariah, who had been dumb, speaks a Spirit-fuelled prophecy at John’s birth.
The phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit” or “full of the Holy Spirit” occurs throughout both Luke’s Gospel and Acts, and is almost always followed by either prayer, or someone witnessing to the life and ministry of Jesus in bringing salvation (delivery from sin).
Luke records that John grew “strong in Spirit”. The Greek pneumatic is a word used in the New Testament for the Holy Spirit, for unclean spirits, and for a person’s ‘spirit’ (referring to something like their soul, mood or inherent personality). Put together with his birth narrative, it would seem that John’s life and ministry were brimming with the Holy Spirit. John was one of many Jewish teachers and prophets at the time, but he is the only one that the gospels tells us was ‘Spirit-led’, and the only one whose story significantly entwines with that of Jesus.
- The miraculous circumstances of John’s birth were known and witnessed publicly, causing the entire region to speak of what God had done. How often are miracles noticed today?
- At John’s birth, his father speaks a prophetic word about his life. What effect do you think this might have had on his subsequent ministry?
- Elizabeth and Zechariah lament their lack of children together. How might these Bible stories comfort parents today who struggle with childlessness? How might it be difficult for them to read these stories? How could you support such parents?