Jesus pronounced that among those born of women there was no one greater than John, and today’s passage adds to the support of that. Once John was born, his father, inspired by the Holy Spirit, composed a poem/song about him which made it into Scripture. How many newborns can have that said about them? So what does this passage say about John, and what can we learn from it?
Zechariah’s song starts out with praise to the Lord, for now the man knew that God was initiating his plan to redeem his people. To be fair, there’s nothing explicit about the Lord’s agenda to ultimately redeem all the nations. But Zechariah knew that Israel needed to be redeemed, which literally means to “buy back” something. The Messiah was about to arrive, and everything would be made right at that point. God’s promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs were about to be fulfilled.
And again we see a recurring theme about John’s purpose: “to prepare the way for him.” How was he going to do this? By giving them a knowledge of sin, of promised forgiveness, and thus bring people back into a right relationship with the Lord. I love the beautiful imagery he used to describe the Messiah: “the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Even when revealing information about his boy, Zechariah still focused his attention on the Messiah. Everything revolved around him, even one so great as John the Baptist. We’ll develop that theme over the next few days.
So how can we apply this? Well, what was John’s appointed task? To prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. He’s come once, but he’s due to return anytime now. So what’s our appointed task? Much the same. We need to tell people--who are “living in darkness and in the shadow of death”--that there's a judgment to come, that forgiveness is available, and we can do our best to lead them “into the path of peace.” Where does the path of peace lead? Right to the foot of the cross.
Father God, there are people like this all around me. I cross their path for a reason, and you've appointed me to be your representative to them, to lead them out of darkness into your glorious light. Please show me how to do that, and give me the strength to do it.