Thursday, June 29, 2017

Greatness of Soul: John the Baptist and the Godly Family

With the exception of Christ Himself, there is probably more material on John the Baptist in the Gospels than any other individual. What are the roots of such a man? What are some of the things that pushed into his life and caused him to go out into the world and proclaim the coming of Christ?

I believe that the greatness of a soul, the greatness of a man begins with a godly family. John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were heaven’s agents to touch an entire generation. They lived during the time of Herod—a cruel, sadistic king. There was oppression, injustice, death, and murder, yet Zechariah and Elizabeth were both in tune to the voice of God. They were the son and daughter of other priests down through the generations. They were righteous before God and lived lives marked by absolute religious integrity.

In Luke 1:8 an angel visits Zechariah and tells him that his son will be great before the Lord; that he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb. In many of our theologies the filling of the Holy Spirit comes prior to conversion or right after conversion. Here John was chosen and designated to be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born. Does this have any implications for those debating the abortion issue? Long before the fetus of John the Baptist enters the world—while he is still in his mother’s womb—God is preparing this young man for greatness of soul.

In Luke 1:16 Zechariah is told directly that his son will “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” What is also happening here is that Zechariah is being prepared. The angel is enlarging Zechariah’s provincial heart so that when his son is ready, Zechariah will know what to teach him. He will know how to shape and protect him and how to invigorate his spirit with visions and dreams that ultimately God will be able to employ.

In verse 18 we read Zechariah’s response: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” It was hard for Zechariah to believe, as it is for most of us sometimes.

Herbert Butterfield said, “Both in history and in life it is a phenomenon by no means rare to meet with comparatively unlettered people who seem to have struck profound spiritual depths while there are many highly educated people whom one feels are performing clever antics with their minds to cover a gaping hollowness that lies within.” Zechariah was not a high-powered theologian or a brilliant man. He was just a plain priest with integrity.

Once John is born, Zechariah’s integrity is magnificently displayed in his prophecy beginning in Luke 1:67. The theological insights that Zechariah displays here form the basis for the material that he will pump into his son’s heart during the early years of his development. Zechariah’s words are the epicenters of John’s faith. They are the spikes that are driven into the bedrock of his life. How critical it is that we tell our children stories during their early years.

In verse 76 Zechariah’s prophecy becomes very personal: “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him.” I have read that every sound heard by a human being from birth registers somewhere on the brain. Is it too far flung a fantasy to suggest that even in these earliest hours of John’s birth, the themes of his life are being set in concrete so that when his call eventually comes, he will already know the melody? He will already know to march out of the desert and “prepare the way of the Lord”?

In the day of Herod, when doubt moved in one direction, Zechariah and Elizabeth moved in another direction. They listened to God and became His instruments. They took their insights from heaven and began the process of raising a young man who would tell the world where the Christ could be found. When we need insight into the kinds of families we ought to be developing and the kinds of congregations we ought to be leading, I urge you to look at the example of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Their godliness was at the heart of John the Baptist’s greatness of soul.