31 July 2013

Luke 1:67-79

“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 ... to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (vv. 76-77, 79)


This is a song sung by Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, called 'the Benedictus'. An angel had appeared to Zechariah (Luke 1:5-20) when he was on duty in the temple and had told him that his elderly wife Elizabeth would bear a son, and that this son would prepare the way for the Lord. Zechariah had been incredulous because he and his wife were elderly. He had then been stuck dumb for his lack of belief. John the Baptist was born as predicted and Zechariah's speech recovered (Luke 1:57-64). Filled with the Holy Spirit, this was his song of praise that God was coming to bring salvation to people.

The song stresses the importance of John as the one who would prepare people for the coming of the Lord, and God's kingdom on earth. He would give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins, and bring hope to those who sit in darkness. This was to be a ministry to change people's hearts and minds to prepare them for the coming of God and God's reign on earth.

John would go on to begin a ministry of baptism in the wilderness (Luke 1:80). The wilderness was a symbol of a liminal, disorientating space in the Bible, where God transformed people. People with messed up lives came to John, repented of their sin (wrong attitudes and actions) and were baptized in the River Jordan with water to symbolise forgiveness of their sins (Luke 3:3). Jesus himself would also, in due course, come to John and be baptized (Luke 3:21-22). By doing this Jesus would closely identify with human beings in their flawed humanity. Identified with humanity, he would die on the cross, and break the power of sin, and through the Holy Spirit be raised in bodily form in the Resurrection. People through the Baptism of Jesus would symbolically die with him (and to their old flawed way of life), and receive the Holy Spirit empowering them to live in a new community in the ways of God as children of God. John said Jesus would baptize not only with water but with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16).

To Ponder

  • Can you tell the story of a time where you created a space that prepared someone to experience something of God? What happened?
  • In what ways are you tempted to act like God, rather than be the one who prepares for the work of God?
  • What does Baptism mean for you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Jenny Ellis

Jenny is a Methodist minister and this year has permission to study, as well as work alongside a rural chapel to help it find a new physical presence and sense of mission in its village. She is leading a number of quiet and study days.