Zechariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. (Luke 1:63)
The birth of John the Baptist is the start of something bigger in Luke’s gospel. And one clue to how this is going to turn out happens before Jesus is on the scene. Luke tells us that this baby is going to be a great prophet and that he is born into a family that has the power of Temple priesthood. Zechariah, his father, is one of the prominent leaders of the Jewish people. His son would be a successor and grow up to take his place in the Temple leadership as well.
Except that isn’t what happens at all. Zechariah is dumbfounded (literally) by the whole sequence of events. Instructed to name this son John, he resists for the same reason the crowds are surprised by the name the boy is given. “John” is not a family name. There is no logical reason for it to be the name this child gets. But that is the name Elizabeth is instructed to give him and eventually the name sticks. Everyone is confused by it. But in being obedient to the command, Zechariah, whose voice was lost during his time of resistance, gets his voice back. And Zechariah’s song is a foreshadowing of the work of John the Baptist. He will be the prophet of the most high, the herald of the coming Messiah.
This is a sign of how Luke sees the gospel unfolding. It will be surprising. It will be the reverse of what we expect. Zechariah, whose voice is the voice oft the Temple is silenced. Elizabeth, his wife, speaks a surprising word and it is not only heard but gets the last word. This is a foreshadowing of the power Luke sees unleashed in the coming of Jesus and it is already starting in the arrival of John the Baptist. The lowly will be raised up. The powerful will be humbled.
The last line of Zechariah’s Song is the bottom line for Luke:
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon[b] us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
We live in a time where we long for this peace. There is plenty of darkness and more than a few people willing to capitalize on it to advance their own agendas. But Luke clings to the hope that God in Christ is doing something else in a new way. The light is coming into the world. The darkness is being pressed back. Peace is coming and Jesus is bringing it. Come Lord Jesus!