24 June 2015

Luke 1:57-66, 80

“Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son… [his father] asked for a writing tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed.” (vv. 57, 63)

Psalm: Psalm 80:1-7


Today the Christian Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist. The reading from Luke's Gospel tells the story.

You can read about John's parents a little earlier in Luke's Gospel (Luke 1:5-24). They were Zacharias and Elizabeth, both "getting on years" (Luke 1:7) and childless. They were both of priestly stock, and it was whilst Zachariah was performing his duties in the temple that an angel appeared to him, telling him that Elizabeth would have a son whose name was to be John. Zachariah's disbelief that this would be possible led to his being struck dumb.

Elizabeth was a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John was born six months before Jesus. For an elderly woman to give birth was a sign of God's favour - hence the rejoicing of neighbours and relatives. The argument over the baby's name resulted in Zechariah's regaining of speech as he affirms the name John, which means "The Lord is gracious".

John the Baptist played a crucial role in the early account of Jesus's ministry - not least when Jesus came to him to be baptized (Luke 3:1-21).

John's birth, and his naming, is presented as amazing all who witnessed the events. A strong hint of what was to come is in verse 66: "'What then will this child become?' For indeed the hand of the Lord was with him." There follows a prophecy from Zachariah (verses 67-79) which is often used in Christian worship, known as theBenedictus, (from the Latin of the first word), "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them."

The final words of today's passage tie the story of John's birth to the wider story of his ministry and its relationship to Jesus' ministry.

To Ponder

  • Have there been times when you found it hard to trust God's promises? What have you learnt from those experiences?
  • John the Baptist's role was to point to Jesus. Can you think of people who have done just that? Who are they? And what might you be able to learn from them?

Bible notes author

The Revd Stephen Burgess

Revd Stephen Burgess is chair of the York & Hull District of the Methodist Church. He initially trained as a chemist and after some years in industry and teaching served in two school chaplaincy appointments before becoming superintendent of the Cambridge Circuit and then moving to Yorkshire.