In the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, we enter into a glimpse of Elizabeth, a woman who has lived righteously before the Lord, but is unable to bear children. Beyond her child bearing years, I’d assume Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, have simply given up hope of having kids, accepting that this is the fate the Lord has for them.
Then, out of the blue, an angel appears to Zechariah to give him some surprising news: he and Elizabeth will bear a child.
Naturally, Zechariah is in disbelief, because he and Elizabeth are too old to have kids. But, because of his disbelief, the Lord takes away Zechariah’s voice, and he is mute for the entirety of the pregnancy.
Fast forward to Luke 1:57-66, and it’s now time for Elizabeth to birth her son.
All of her relatives rejoice with her, but to my surprise, it is not just because of her newborn child, but because the Lord has shown Elizabeth… mercy. I couldn’t find a translation that used any other word. I know Jesus has mercy on us, but my understanding of mercy is that it’s what I receive from the Lord when I do something wrong. Yet, Elizabeth was “righteous” and “walked blamelessly in all the commandants.” Why did she need mercy?
Upon further research, I found the original translation – the Greek word “eleos” – is actually closer to “pity” or “compassion,” especially in regard to showing kindness to people in need. What an incredible quality of Jesus. We have a God who looks at us when we’re going through tough times and feels compassion for us. It’s truly amazing.
Next, we come to the circumcision and naming of the child. The community is ready to partake in the tradition of naming this child after a relative – in this case, his father, Zechariah. (I’m particularly sensitive to this, since I was named after the hospital I was born in. Both situations seem like a lazy way to name a child, but I digress...)
Rather than observing tradition, Elizabeth pipes up and says her son is to be named John (much to the dismay of her friends and family). Of course, we know this already – the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah in verse 13 that his wife will bear him a son, and he shall be called John. But this is the first time we find that Elizabeth, too, knows this name. What an awesome example of divine providence. In the few times I have been able to witness firsthand God’s inter-working between believers, I’ve felt more reassured than ever before. Similarly, when Zechariah writes on a tablet, “His name is John,” the crowd is shocked to find that God has given the same name to two different people, one of whom has been mute for the past nine months. And with that, Zechariah’s curse is lifted, and he is made able to speak. He praises the Lord, and the people know that this child is special.
In this passage, which centers largely around the naming of a newborn child, one of the things that strikes me most is that the name “John,” directly translated, means “Yahweh is gracious.” This must have many implications, but here’s what it means to me: Yahweh, the Lord our God, was gracious enough to prepare our hearts for Jesus – He did this through John the Baptist. John came to pave the way for the Messiah.
John helped to transition people from the old covenant to Jesus’ new covenant. Similarly, an unexpected person helped to transition me from being a non-believer to being a devoted follower of Christ. I was a young college student, and it was a typical night: I was out at a bar with my friends. But I ended up finding myself in a strange conversation with a girl I’d just met. I don’t remember how it came up, but she told me she had a relationship with Jesus.
I didn’t remember much from that night, but I remembered the girl. I wasn’t so much interested in her faith, but I was intrigued by her. I didn’t know where I might see her again, so I chose a church at random, and went the very next day – just to look for her.
To keep a long story short, I never found the girl. But I did end up in church, where I found myself riveted listening to what the pastor had to say. So many things started to make sense and were undeniable to me. So I went again. And week after week, I fell more in love with the gospel.
As I read through the story of the birth of John the Baptist, the man who prepared our hearts for Jesus, I can’t help but think of the girl who paved the way for me – and of everyone who has paved the way for a new believer.