Seeing the face of God brings death in the old covenant; here in the new, the angel tells Zechariah’s unborn child that he is “the prophet of the Highest” and one who “goes before the face of the Lord.” John is “makes ready [God’s] ways” as a crier in the dark night who carries a great torch to light the way.
God is come “to give science of health to His people, into remission of their sins,” proclaims John the Baptist. How does God accomplish this? “By the inwardness of the mercy of our God.” In other words, God’s own mercy visits us.
“And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord, to make ready his ways. To give science of health to his people, into remission of their sins; by the inwardness of the mercy of our God, in the which [in which] he springing up from on high hath visited us.”
And this is the science of health – that God Himself visits us with mercy.
Reads like a headline, doesn’t it? “Hear ye, hear ye: Experts in the Law Reject the Purposes of God.” Luke writes this rejection of God’s purpose for these religious experts is due to the fact they are not baptized by John. Rather, “they are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other.” (Luke 7:32) The experts in the law complain that no one responds to their “flute” or to their “dirge” — people neither dance to their joyous tune nor do they cry at their morose funeral march.
The experts in the law complain that John the Baptist “has a demon” even though he “comes neither eating bread nor drinking wine.” (Luke 7:33) They complain even more when Jesus, “the Son of Man comes eating and drinking.” They call Jesus “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Luke 7:34) Only the way of the old covenant works for them. They follow only Moses, missing completely that Moses always points to Jesus, the Messiah.
And how Jesus longs to gather these religious leaders to Himself, but they reject His purposes for them because they reject the means to the end they so desire. They refuse baptism by John.
Jesus hears of the murder of John the Baptist, takes a boat and withdraws ‘privately’ to a lonely place. People “come after Him in crowds by land from the towns.” (Matthew 14: 13) We don’t know how long the people wait for Jesus to return, but when He “sees a great crowd; His heart goes out to them.”
What does He do? He doesn’t pray for them. Instead, He heals those who are sick. (Matthew 14:15) Then He sees the people are hungry. Likely they waited for Jesus all day for the disciples complain that “the day is gone.” (Matthew 14:15)
Jesus wants the disciples to feed the crowd. He says, “There is no need for [the people] to go.” (Matthew 14:16) But the disciples don’t have much in the way of provisions. Jesus takes what little they have, and multiplies it — just like that. Everyone has more than enough to eat — even leftovers! Jesus feeds about 10-15 thousand people, given that men, women and children are in the crowd.
Jesus meets needs. He doesn’t stand afar off in the boat, and lift hands to heaven. He comes ashore. He heals the sick. He feeds the hungry. He loves strangers and sinners, men, women and children. He disciplines His disciples. He takes care of Himself, going away ‘privately’ to a lonely place.
Guess which one He does first?
The Lord God says, “Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths: Which is the way to good? Then take it and find rest for yourselves. But they protest, ‘We won’t!’ I appoint watchmen over you and say, ‘Listen for the sound of the ram’s horn.’ But they protest, ‘We won’t listen!’ ” (Jeremiah 6:16-17)
John the Baptist, in a camel-hair garment and leather belt around his waist, comes to the Wilderness of Judea and says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” John, who eats locusts and honey, is the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!” (Matthew 3:2-3) People listen, flocking to him to confess their sins and be baptized in the Jordan River.
Among these people are Sadducees and Pharisees. John calls out to them, “Brood of vipers!” The religious leaders of his day; and John calls them ‘vipers.’ He asks them, “Who warns you to flee the coming wrath?” essentially agreeing they own the knowledge needed to escape destruction. He goes on, however, to accuse them of not acting on that knowledge. “Therefore,” John says, “produce fruit consistent with repentance.” John warns them with the ram’s horn not to presume that because Abraham is their father, they are safe. God is able to make His children “from these stones!” declares John. The Baptist is almost saying, these stones are better children of God than you are! (Matthew 3:7-10)
John baptizes with water, but tells of “the One who is coming after me.” (Matthew 3:11) John knows Jesus is more powerful and will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The Holy Spirit will seal the repentant; and “the chaff He will burn up with fire that never goes out.” (Matthew 3:12)
Which is the way to good? Jesus says, “I Am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
For us, God’s Son is given.
He is our Prince of Peace, our Everlasting Father, our Wonderful Counselor. He is the Mighty God come in the shape of a newborn infant in a manger.
He is completely helpless, totally dependent upon His human parents to provide shelter, clothing, food, guidance, love.
The government rests on Him. He speaks in the temple at twelve years of age with authority which comes directly from God, the Father. He spends forty days in the wilderness with our adversary and overcomes him with the Word of God, setting for us an example. He goes to John the Baptist to be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Obedience marks His life. Again, He sets for us an example.
He preaches to us to love our enemies, to do good to those who misuse or even hate us.
God’s Son is given unto us. May we accept Him in His fullness.
Zechariah sings first to God and then to his unborn son. He sings a song first of praise, then of delight. He sings of joy that his own child will be “called the prophet of the Most High,” and predicts his son “will go before the Lord to prepare His ways.”
John will preach “knowledge of salvation.” He will tell of “the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1: 78 – 79)
John when he has grown into a man sends two messengers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus, after healing many, answers: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” (Luke 7: 20, 22 – 23)
Before they leave, Jesus asks John’s messengers, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.’ I tell you among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7: 24 – 28)