09 Dec Snapshots Of Christmas: John The Baptist
Luke 1v11-17; 26-28; 39-45; 57-66
Zechariah was in the sanctuary when an angel of the Lord appeared, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was overwhelmed with fear. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! For God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son!
And you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice with you at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or hard liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will persuade many Israelites to turn to the Lord their God.
He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah, the prophet of old. He will precede the coming of the Lord, preparing the people for his arrival. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will change disobedient minds to accept godly wisdom.”
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a cry and exclaimed to Mary, “You are blessed by God above all other women, and your child is blessed. What an honor this is, that the mother of my Lord should visit me! When you came in and greeted me, my baby jumped for joy the instant I heard your voice! You are blessed, because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”
Now it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, and it was a boy. The word spread quickly to her neighbors and relatives that the Lord had been very kind to her, and everyone rejoiced with her.
When the baby was eight days old, all the relatives and friends came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!” “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” So they asked the baby’s father, communicating to him by making gestures. He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John!” Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.
Wonder fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “I wonder what this child will turn out to be? For the hand of the Lord is surely upon him in a special way.”
In the book of the prophet Isaiah, God said, “Look, I am sending my messenger before you, and he will prepare your way. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness: Prepare a pathway for the Lord’s coming! Make a straight road for him!
This messenger was John the Baptist. He lived in the wilderness and was preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had turned form their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.
His clothes were woven from camel hair, and he wore a leather belt; his food was locusts and wild honey.
John the Baptist
As we study this Christmas story, we meet another character, John the Baptist.
From his birth, He is a strange man, unique for his time, somewhat out of place. His mannerisms and office come from a much earlier time.
The 400 years of silence has been broken and the first real spokesman for God that comes onto the scene is this crazy, camel hair wearing, grasshopper eating John.
There is a uniqueness about him that causes us to notice him. He is a man of whom Jesus speaks later and will say, “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist…”
As we study this man, we encounter a unique calling and it is found in the declaration of the angel to John’s father, Zechariah:
“He must never touch wine or hard liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.”
This phrasing is important. It is the language of the Nazarite vow.
Historically, the Nazarite vow is one that was given to the people of God through Moses.
In Numbers 6, the vow is presented as a voluntary option for anyone wanting to draw closer to God. Some were chosen by God, from birth, such as Samson and John the Baptist.
The requirements of the vow were simple and specific.
The word, Nazarite, means, “consecrated and set apart.”
If we break down this lifestyle, there are 3 important aspects the Nazarite was called to.
Called to have no contact with wine or grapes in any form.
The Nazirite was forbidden to eat or drink anything from the grape vine; this was a form of self-denial connected with the idea of a special consecration to God.
Generally speaking, wine and grape products were thought to be a blessing (Proverbs 3:10), something to be gratefully received from God (Psalms 104:15).
The idea is that the nazarite would surrender his or her passions and natural appetites to the counsel of God. That counsel would come through a simple obedience to the Scriptures.
Called to allow the hair to grow without cutting.
The hair was to be allowed to grow all during the period of the vow, and then cut at the conclusion of the vow. This was a way of outwardly demonstrating to the world that this man or woman was under a special vow.
Called to abstain from contact with death.
Dead bodies – even those of a close relative – were not to be approached during the vow of a Nazirite. Separation from death – the effect of sin – was essential during the period of the vow.
The fundamental focus of the vow was a prescribed purity unto an increased intimacy.
This dedication required a stringent lifestyle, not for the holiness of this lifestyle, but for showing a constant, “holiness or separation unto God.”
For many Nazarites, the desire to step into this vow was driven by a desire to serve God with greater focus and connection with Him.
It is important for us to understand that these Nazarite abstained from certain practices, not because of any these practices carried specific importance, but because these would be very obvious signs to the culture around them that these individuals had made a choice to separate themselves to God.
The vow was a reminder to the world around them of God’s authority in the Earth.
These were people for whom the things of heaven were their greatest goal.
The nazarite lived to see others walk right with God. They understood their lifestyle had power in the culture they encountered.
If we look over the life of John the Baptist, we see a man would spend his life preaching about change and repentance to the masses. He was calling people to prepare for and embrace the coming Kingdom of God. In essence, He gave his life to be a signpost, refocusing people towards heaven.
His manor and custom was that of an older world. He was the last of the Old Testament Prophets. His very gifting and style hearkened to voices that had been lost in the culture.
He is the human being that God used to reveal Jesus.
But there is an aspect of his life that goes unnoticed, and I believe it is of vital importance to us:
God outlined the lifestyle of John the Baptist in a prophetic word to Zechariah, his Father.
John’s parents shared this word with their son, as was their job.
Yet, what John did with the word is what captures me.
John made the choice to align with the invitation to a consecrated life.
John’s choice causes me to consider an idea and ask a question:
Can I consider the supernatural power of a consecrated life?
What can God do with my fully devoted life?
What would happen if I made the choice to live every moment for Him?What if the pursuit of His Kingdom became my greatest goal?
What would it look like for me to make a decisions that I will live with an intentionality, so much so, that I will live with a passion to reveal Jesus IN every aspect of my lifestyle, IN every moment in my home, IN every dealing in my business practice?
How would I make that choice? Would I take a nazarite vow?
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be living and holy sacrifice —the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask?
Paul uses language that reframes the Nazarite idea for the Jews living in Roman culture. He moves it away from a time focused vow, and invites them into a lifestyle vow.
I plead with you…the word is, to urge, invite strongly. We would do well to hear this as an excited invitation from Paul. “Come on you guys…join me in this.”
Join me in what?
Volunteer to let your life be used to point others to God. That is what sacrifices do. They are offered to direct attention to God. How do I do that?
Paul uses a word, “holy.” The word carries a near identical definition to the Nazarite vow. It means to set something apart as special. Consider that invitation…determine in your mind that your life is going to be used for a special purpose…to honor what matters to heaven.
Living it out
I wonder if it is as simple as telling the Holy Spirit, “I want to be used to reveal Jesus with my everyday life, and I want you to call out anything you want to adjust.”
This intentionality is the beginning place of a devoted life.
What can God do with your fully devoted life?