“And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us.” (Luke 1:76-78)
Before opening gifts at Christmastime, many families have the tradition of reading the Christmas story as it is told in Matthew 1 or in Luke 2. But the first chapter of Luke is a very interesting introduction to Luke’s second chapter. In Luke 1, God records the story of how Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, was born. John was to come before Jesus (John was born six months before Jesus), and his purpose in life was to foretell (tell everyone ahead of time) that salvation was coming and that remission (forgiveness) of sins was coming – in the form of Jesus Christ Himself.
Zacharias, John’s father, was a priest. He knew very well that the sacrifical system that the Jews followed back then was supposed to be a picture of their faith in a coming Christ, a Messiah Who would come to bring them redemption, once and for all. John’s birth was a miracle, because both of his parents were very old – too old, humanly speaking, to have children. But Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit when John was born, and he prophesied what God had to say about John: “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us.” (Luke 1:76-78)
As John grew older, he began to preach the message he was born to preach. He told the people that God was sending His Messiah (the Christ, the Anointed One) to save repentant sinners. God used John to give the gift of the knowledge of salvation. He sent John ahead of Jesus to prepare the way for Jesus – to prepare the way of salvation.
People who listened to John and followed his teachings identified themselves with him by being baptized. Their baptism represented their belief that they needed to repent of their sins in preparation for the coming Christ, Who was going to bear those sins away (get rid of those sins) by His own righteousness. When Jesus came along and began His public ministry, the very first thing He did was to come to His cousin John and be baptized. Why did Jesus, Who lived a sinless life, want to be baptized with a baptism that showed His agreement that repentance of sins was necessary? Well, Jesus was going to take the sins of repentant sinners upon Himself. And He wanted His righteousness put on those sinners’ accounts. So He identified Himself with sinners by being baptized and agreeing publicly with John.
The people who listened to and followed John the Baptist still could not see the full picture of Who Christ was and why He came – but God used John to point the way. Here was the son of a priest who had been helping to sacrifice lambs in the temple for years. Here was John, preaching in the wilderness and pointing at Jesus Christ and saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world…. Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:29b and 36)
When Zacharias prophesied over his newborn son, he spoke of God’s tender mercy as the reason why God had sent the knowledge of salvation and remission of sins. God’s whole plan of redemption is an amazing gift, and He mercifully sent messengers and prepared the way for Christ’s arrival. Because of John’s message, we can know better how to respond to Jesus Christ, the only Savior of sins.
In tender mercy, God sent John to prepare the way for Christ and publish the message of what Christ would do for His people.
» Have I ever thought much about John the Baptist being a part of God’s plan for salvation?
» Have I repented of my sins and trusted in Christ as the One Who can bear them away?
» Am I truly grateful to God for His merciful provision for the remission of sins?