daily biblical sermons

Zechariah’s son (John the Baptist) will be great before the Lord to make ready for the Lord a people prepared
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, ,, December 19, 2022
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25, Psalm 70 (71), Luke 1:5-25

Scripture quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:5-17).



Today we see the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, whom St. Luke tells us “were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). This elderly couple is presented to us in the Scriptures as a model of righteousness, living blamelessly before the Lord, following all his commandments, both moral and ceremonial.



This is the kind of model that we all need, and it should be our goal to be like them in our own day and place and be examples to those around us, not only by our words, but also by our lives.



We have been blessed as Christians by the salvation that God has given the world through his Son who died for our sins; that is, he died vicariously as though he himself had sinned, although he was without sin. His death was rather for us who have sinned and deserve to die in punishment for our sins. Jesus died a death that he did not deserve in punishment for sin – our sins – so that we who deserve to die for our sins need not die if we put our faith in him and sincerely repent of our sins with a firm purpose of amending our life.



This is what makes us righteous. Then we are to grow in holiness, for God not only reckons to us his own righteousness in declaring us ungodly sinners righteous, because of the vicarious death of his Son on the cross for our sins, but he also now expects us to live a new and holy life – to be like Zechariah and Elizabeth, blameless before the Lord, walking faithfully in all his commandments.



This is the ideal that God places before us today. We all know how much we need a Redeemer who will save us from our sins. We rejoice during this time of preparation for Christmas, because we are looking forward to a deeper coming of Jesus Christ into our lives to heal our wounds of sin and guilt and to straighten our crooked paths and rough ways, to fill in our valleys and lower our hills, to prepare a way for the Lord in our life and in our world.



We rejoice during this time, because these issues touch us deeply. We know they are true and that we need this salvation. Furthermore we know that we receive this salvation in Christ and need to grow in it more fully.



This pious couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, are going to have a son, even though they are elderly and Elizabeth is barren. Although they are pious, blameless people, their lives are not free from affliction, the trial of being childless, which at that time was a cause of shame for Elizabeth, that somehow her life was not fulfilled by being a mother. But now, by the intervention of an angel, they will have a child. Their affliction of being childless did not harm them before God. In fact, it surely helped them to become a holier couple in the way that God had arranged for them.



We also have afflictions in our life, but in God’s plan for us these afflictions are meant to drive us closer to him and to prayer and meditation.



Zechariah was serving in the temple, when suddenly an angel appeared to him. “And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him” (Luke 1:12). He feared because he saw a supernatural being, but probably even more deeply he feared because although he was a righteous and holy man, blameless before the Lord, keeping all his commandments, nonetheless in the sight of this angel, he knew his own imperfection and sinfulness compared to this perfect heavenly being.



When we think of God’s perfection, we also can be filled with fear and guilt, knowing our unworthiness to stand before him. But if we put our faith in Christ, despite the fact of our sinfulness, we can look forward to his glorious return on the clouds of heaven in great light, because he is our mediator between God and ourselves. He is the one who justifies us when we put our faith in him and sincerely repent and seek to live a new life of obedience to God’s moral law.



Thus we can overcome this fear, and instead of thinking of the return of Christ with a fearful heart, we can do so with joy, realizing that he makes us worthy, even though of ourselves we are not worthy. He fills us with the righteousness of God himself as he reckons to us his own righteousness and thus enables us to grow in holiness.



The angel tells Zechariah that his son “will be great before the Lord … And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God … to turn … the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:15, 16, 17b).



This will be the vocation of the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. He will not be great according to the criteria of the world. He will not be an Emperor or a great king. Rather he will be great by doing God’s will and by doing the works of God in the world.



John the Baptist is a great model for us, especially for ministers of the gospel, for he will prepare a people for the Lord, turning them from sin to holiness, from the world to the Lord, from disobedience to obedience to God.



This would be his entire life. First of all he prepared himself by living a solitary life in the wilderness. Then he began his mission of preaching repentance and giving a baptism of repentance for sins.



In this John is a model for us whose vocation is to preach the word of God, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Like him we are to prepare a people fit for the Lord that they might live new and holy lives, blameless before the Lord. We are to prepare a people who will themselves be examples to others. We are to give people a word of life that will direct them to live a life of righteousness and holiness, ready to meet the Lord when he comes again on the clouds of heaven on the last day.


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