Announcing John's Birth (Part 1)
"There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinaces of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years" (Luke 1:5-7). This was Herod the Great (son of Antipater) who ruled from 37 to 4 B.C. Zacharias was a priest of the 8th division (cf. I Chr. 24:3-19), from the hill country (cf. Luke 1:39,40), His wife, Elizabeth, was also a descendant of Aaron. They are both described as "righteous." They were not sinless, but they were "blameless" which means they had done what God required in order to have their sins forgiven. They had no children since Elizabeth was barren. This was considered to be a disgrace for a Hebrew woman. Evidently they had prayed in the past for a child (cf. Luke 1:13).

The text goes on to explain that during Zacharias' time of service as priest, the lot fell upon him to burn incense in the temple. This was a special privilege. Since there was a multitude praying in the temple courts, it was likely around 9 A.M. or 3 P.M. (cf. Acts 3:1; Exo. 30:7,8).

"Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him" (Luke 1:11,12). The angel appeared to Zacharias while he was alone in the Holy Place (while standing between the altar of incense and the table of showbread). The priest was understandably "troubled" at this sight; such was a common response to seeing divine messengers (cf. Dan. 10:7-17; Luke 1:30; 2:10; Rev. 1:17).

The angel announced to Zacharias that there was no need to be afraid, his prayer had been answered. Elizabeth would bear him a son! His name would be "John," meaning the Lord is gracious. John's ministry would be a demonstration of the grace and mercy of Jehovah.

The angel continued:

"And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also 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 a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:14-17; cf. Mal. 4:5,6).

"Many" would rejoice at John's birth, but not all (cf. Luke 6:26). To be "great in the sight of the Lord" does not necessarily mean one will be great in the sight of men (cf. Matt. 11:11). John's greatness consisted in his privilege of announcing the immediate coming of the Messiah, and the excellent zeal and eloquence with which he did it. John was not to partake of anything from the vine (cf. Num. 6) and he, from the womb (e.g., Luke 1:41), would be "filled with the Holy Spirit" even though he performed no signs during his ministry (cf. John 10:41). The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not disproved by the absence of miracles (cf. Eph. 5:18).

John would prepare the way for the Messiah (cf. Mal. 3:1). He would turn many to the Lord with his message of repentance. John was the "Elijah" who Malachi prophesied would come (cf. Matt. 17:10-13) in two major ways: (1) Ascetic dress (cf. II Kin. 1:8; Matt. 3:4) and (2) Message of repentance (cf. I Kin. 18:21-40; Matt. 3:1,2). We will continue this study in our next lesson.