“Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear a son, and you will name him John.” These words spoken by the Angel Gabriel at the altar in the Temple, over two thousand years ago, startled and amazed Zechariah, who was taking his turn offering up incense to God. This astounding event underscores the importance of John the Baptist.
The Angel also told Zechariah that John would never take strong drink, but be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. Gabriel, messenger of and from God, spoke with unquestionable authority. However, because of his unbelief, Zechariah, even though a righteous man, was rendered mute until John’s birth.
Then three months later, Mary visited her kinswoman Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea. The visit was an unusual and greatly blessed event – the baby John leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, and Elizabeth spontaneously greeted Mary as the future mother of the Lord. At least one famous painting depicts Jesus and John playing together as little boys, an altogether possible event. They were kinsmen, and they were children of the same age.
John was a descendant of Aaron and grew up faithful to his call as a Nazirite, striving always to live in harmony with God’s law. He brought many in Israel back to the Lord their God, fulfilling Gabriel’s declaration at the Temple altar. Eschewing strong drink, dressed in a rough camel hair tunic, and eating locusts and wild honey, John faithfully preached repentance and baptized many in the Jordan River. He also proclaimed that there is “One coming after me who is more powerful than I; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Realizing he was only a forerunner, John knew himself and his limits and said he was not worthy even to untie the thong of Jesus’s sandals. His humility was apparent when Jesus asked John to baptize him, and John hesitated. When John finally agreed, and Jesus emerged from the water, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon Jesus. God spoke from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
John, who was likened to Elijah by Jesus, was a speaker of the truth. Elijah confronted King Ahab, and later, John confronted Herod for divorcing his wife and unlawfully marrying his sister-in-law. Even though the great Herod knew this was true, he was not pleased. It was Herod’s order that John the Baptist, an outstanding servant of God, was beheaded. Nevertheless, as the Angel Gabriel foretold, Saint John the Baptist obediently fulfilled God’s call on his life and was greatly beloved by His Lord.
*Biblical narrative is from John, Chapter 1 and Matthew Chapter 3 and includes direct quotes.