24 June 2016

Luke 1:57-66, 80

“The hand of the Lord was with him” (v. 66)

Psalm: Psalm 80:1-7


In some parts of the global Church today, Christians are marking the traditional date of the birth of John the Baptist. Our passage today recounts part of the story of his miraculous birth from the opening chapters of Luke's Gospel. We read that John's parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, were relatively old and had been unable to have children. However, during an important ceremony at the temple in Jerusalem, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and told him that Elizabeth would bear a child that would "turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord" (Luke 1:16). Zechariah doubted that this could happen and was struck mute by the angel until the birth took place (Luke 1:18-20). In today's passage, the angel's prophecy is fulfilled.

In many ways, today's story looks both backwards and forwards. The story is very much a continuation of God's revelation to God's people that began in what we now call the Old Testament. Most notably, the child was born to a woman who had been told she could not conceive, like Sarah (Genesis 18:14) or Hannah (1 Samuel 1:20). It is hard for us to appreciate in the English translation but even the language in which this section of Luke's Gospel was originally written seems deliberately designed to imitate that of the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) that many of Luke's contemporaries used.

The passage also very much looks forward, though. Women play an important role in Luke's Gospel and it is arguably significant that here Elizabeth speaks while the man, Zechariah, is silent. This miraculous intervention by God in human affairs also produces both joy and fear, presaging the divided reaction to the ministries of both John the Baptist and Jesus. Most importantly, Luke's Gospel makes clear that this baby will not remain a simple child for long but has an important and difficult mission to fulfil. This mission will initially take him out to the dangerous desert places of Judea, but will eventually lead him to challenge the sins of a king and pay with his life (Luke 3:19-20).

To Ponder

  • How important is it to read the New Testament in the light of the Old Testament?
  • Why do you think that John's birth bought both joy and terror?

Bible notes author

The Revd Geoffrey Farrar

Geoffrey Farrar is currently a Methodist presbyter in the West Hertfordshire and Borders Circuit of the Methodist Church, where he has pastoral charge of three churches in the Watford area. He trained at Wesley House in Cambridge and has recently completed an MA in Ancient History with the University of Trinity Saint David.