“Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: ‘Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began, That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us, To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.’ So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.”
Zachariah and Elizabeth―Parents of John the Baptist
Today’s Scripture passage is about the prophecy on John, the son of Zachariah. Zachariah was married to Elizabeth but she couldn’t have a baby before she became old. Having a child was their heart’s desire, so they had been always praying to God for a child. In the meantime, Zachariah’s turn to give sacrifice to God came around. When he was burning incense in the Temple of the Lord, an angel appeared said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13). That is how Zachariah heard and saw an angel. In the past our Lord Himself and His angels used to appear in person before people and His servants. This was a common case in the Old Testament days before Jesus came to this earth as Savior.
Because Zachariah couldn’t believe what he heard from the angel, God made him a mute. The Lord kept His promise and Elizabeth became pregnant; when their baby was born nine months later, Zachariah could speak and named the baby John as God told him to. When he obeyed the Lord, his tongue became loose. As soon as his tongue became loose and his mouth was opened, he praised God. People around Zachariah congratulated John’s birth wondering what he was going to be. When they saw what had happened to Zachariah and Elizabeth and realized God was with them, they celebrated that joyful event with Zachariah and Elizabeth anticipating that their son was not going to be an ordinary child.
People thought that way because Elizabeth was a very elderly lady. An old woman who gave birth to a baby. Was this a commonplace affair? In addition, they saw their priest Zachariah become mute for 10 months when he came out of the Temple of the Lord after serving as priest before God in the order of his division. They also saw that his wife had a baby and he named their son John and that he could talk from that moment. When they heard the whole story, they couldn’t help but think that it was God’s work and God was going to do something significant through Zachariah’s family.
John’s father, Zachariah filled with the Holy Spirit, started to prophesy as soon as his mouth was opened after 10 month-long silence. In today’s passage Luke 1:68 through 71, he says, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began, That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us.” Today’s passage is all Zachariah’s prophecy. He prophesied that God would look upon His people and send the Messiah through the house of David to save His people from sins; and He would save them from their enemies and from the hand of all who hate them.
The purpose Jesus Christ came to this earth is to save the Israelites and the spiritual Israelites who believed in God from their sins. Zachariah prophesied the Lord would come to save us from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. This also means that the Lord would come to enable the spiritual descendent of Abraham to serve Him without fear just as the oath He swore to Abraham. That is why Luke 1:74 says, “To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear.” Jesus Christ came to this earth to save us from sins; those who believe in Him as their Savior find the favor to serve the Lord without fear but with holiness and righteousness. God came to those who believe Him as their Savior because He wanted His people to live a pure and sinless life and to serve Him without fear throughout their entire life. Jesus came to this earth through the house of David. The Savior was here to make believers of God sinless, righteous and holy as they serve God for life.
When you look verses 76 through 79, it says,
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
What does this mean? Who is ‘you’ in verse 76? It is John the Baptist who baptized Jesus. Who is going to be the person to do the things prophesied in this passage? John the Baptist is. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways” (Luke 1:76). “The prophet of the Highest” is talking about is John the Baptist. It is the same John the Baptist who administered the baptism to Jesus. He was going to be called a prophet of the Highest and he was going to go before the Lord to prepare the way for Him.
John the Baptist was born six months prior to Jesus Christ. Who is this John? What did he teach us? It was prophesied that he would teach God’s people how to receive the remission of sins. The ministry of John the Baptist was “to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:77). This means John the Baptist was going to witness to people about who Jesus was.
All our sins were taken over to Jesus by the baptism John the Baptist administered to Jesus in Jordan River. When Jesus was passing him the next day, he cried out, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) He meant, “He is the Son of God. He is carrying away the sin of the world. He is the Messiah and our Savior. He is the Christ!” John the Baptist witnessed to people as such that the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins was brought to believers in God. Therefore, the role he had in the salvation work was very crucial.
As we celebrate Christmas, we must celebrate and rejoice for the coming of our Lord. But we also need to remember that John the Baptist was born six months before Jesus, and we should commemorate what he did for our salvation. We should remember him as God-chosen representative of the human race and we should be ensured of our salvation. Today’s protestants do not give much attention on rituals, but the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates those specific days very grandiosely.
Do You Still Think John’s Role Wasn’t So Meaningful?
Most Christians today regard John the Baptist as just an ordinary servant of God who passed by Jesus. They only think he was God’s servant who lived a very frugal life just as they are now. It is true that he was God’s servant, but he wasn’t just an ordinary worker. We need to remember what John the Baptist witnessed: How Jesus Christ took away our sins; how he handed the sins of the world over to Jesus Christ. We should know and believe his testimony about how Jesus became our Savior. If we can’t believe the testimony of John the Baptist, we cannot trust in Jesus from within our heart. John’s Gospel chapter 1 says we receive the remission of sins through what John the Baptist witnessed.
John 1: 6-12 says, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”
Brothers and sisters, John the Baptist was sent by God. Some may say, “Where in these verses say it was John the Baptist? All it says is John.” As you all know, the author of the John’s Gospel is John. He, one of the 12 disciples, is not writing about himself, but he is writing about John the Baptist who baptized Jesus. People scarcely believe unless they were told such things. They want the details. Nevertheless there are people who would not believe anything even when the details are provided. To make it short, John was sent by God to witness to Jesus, who is the true light. It is written, “He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light” (John 1:8). John the Baptist was a man who came to bear witness to Jesus. He passed the sins of the world onto Jesus by baptizing Him and bore witness to the ministry of Jesus by saying, “Behold! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Through John’s testimony, people came to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and believe that His baptism took care of their sins. John the Baptist testified, “That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:9-12).
Jesus shined His light upon us, which means He gave us the Word of Truth, the knowledge of Truth and faith by being baptized and killed on the Cross. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him” (John 1:10). Jesus Christ, the true God, created this world. “Let there be light; let there be stars; let there be greater lights and lesser lights; let the land produce living creatures; let birds fly above the earth”; with His Word, Jesus created everything.
Do not limit Jesus Christ just to our Savior and the Son of God. Jesus is not only the Son of God, but also the owner of the universe, who was in charge of creation. He made us. He is God who made the whole universe as it is written, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him” (John 1:10). Jesus Christ is God who made you and me, and the very Person who breathed into our nostrils the breath of life, and said, “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Since our souls do not die, but live forever, He washed our sins away and saved our souls from the sins of our souls, slavery from Satan and the horrifying condemnation of God. Jesus, who is the very God, incarnated as a human being through a virgin to save His people. He saved us with the water and the blood. He saved us by spiritual circumcision.
Nevertheless people did not recognize Him or welcome Him. “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). “His own” here refers to all His possessions. It doesn’t mean just the land of Israel, but it includes all things He created. This universe and everything in it belong to Jesus. “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). This means that even the Israelites did not accept Jesus into their hearts or acknowledge Him as the Son of God or as the Savior. Nobody among the Israelites of those days would believe that sinless and innocent Jesus let John the Baptist pass the sin of the world onto Him and that He was baptized and crucified. This was the most sensational news at that time, but only a few Israelites accepted Jesus Christ; the rest of them were dubious and indifferent to the news
However, the Bible says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). The world was created through Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The universe and everything in it came into being when God spoke, and the Word itself was God. His Word itself had the powers to create the universe. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:3-4). This passage says there was life and light in Him. He created us, gave us life, and saved us from sins, downfalls, oppressions and curses; and He shined His light of salvation on us who were subject to Satan’s schemes and destined to fall prey to sins and perish.
He asks every one of us to receive Him. We should receive Jesus Christ. To do so, we need to know the role of John the Baptist and what he said about Jesus in the Bible. In Mathew’s Gospel 3:13-17, Jesus says to John, “Permit it to be so now. Don’t you have mission to baptize Me? So it is fitting for you to baptize Me and for Me to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness.” The Chinese character for righteousness is ‘yi’ (義); when you look at this character closely, you can see the letter is composed with two separate letters, that is, ‘yang’ (羊) which means a lamb and ‘wo’ (我) which means ‘I.’ This implies that Jesus made us righteous by taking over the sins of the world through His baptism administered by John the Baptist, by dying and shedding His blood on the Cross, and by rising again from the dead. When Jesus was to be baptized, He told John the Baptist, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Receiving Jesus means to accept and believe these facts. In other words, it is to believe in Jesus as our Savior.
We Must Receive Jesus As Our Savior
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Misunderstanding this passage, Christians think that saying, “I believe in Jesus, Amen,” is all it takes to become children of God. But it is not true. Then, what does it really mean to receive Jesus?
The name ‘Jesus’ means ‘Savior,’ and ‘Christ’ means the ‘anointed One.’ Jesus Christ, the King of all kings incarnated on earth through a virgin’s body, received baptism from John the Baptist to take over the sin of the world, gave His body on the Cross as a sacrifice before God to save us from all sins. We do not become children of God until we understand the meaning of His name and believe in the Truth. To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become God’s children. Have you received Him yet?
In receiving Jesus, John the Baptist plays a very important role. If there had not been his testimony, or if you do not believe in his testimony, you cannot receive the Lord. Without knowing what John the Baptist did, there is no way for us to know and believe that Jesus came to save us from sins. The Truth is that Jesus took over our sins, died on the Cross, and rose again from death to make our conscious pure and holy. If he had not baptized Jesus, we would not be able to receive Him. John’s father, Zachariah also prophesied,
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77).
John the Baptist gave the blessed knowledge to people as the last prophet and High Priest of the Old Testament. Prophets inform people of everything that is from God. They foresee what is coming and warn people. The Bible says he prepared the way for the Lord, and what he did to prepare the way was to give baptism of repentance to people when he turned thirty years old. He cried out in the wilderness, “Repent, you brood of vipers.” Whoever came to be baptized by John the Baptist was rebuked for their sins whether they were common people or privileged people such as kings and the chief priests. He shouted, “Repent, brood of vipers. Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore, whoever refuses to repent and come back to God will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
He was a genuine prophet to come. He always spoke for God straightforwardly no matter to whom he was speaking. People repented when he cried out loud. The Israelites came back to the Lord, realizing that they had gone astray from God for several hundred years. The Israelites, who once in the past used to serve God faithfully and give proper sacrifices to God, had abandoned God, had abolished the sacrificial system, had ignored the priests and had been living a life without God for over four hundred years. John the Baptist was born in the Roman colonial period when the Israelites were suffering as slaves. When he turned thirty years old, he started to shout in the wilderness. When people heard his testimony, they acknowledged him as the servant of God and realized that serving gentile idol gods was an abominable sin before God. That is how they repented and turned back to God. What did they do when they repented? They were baptized by John the Baptist to confess their repentance before God and to profess that their sins were washed away.
Jesus came to John while he was baptizing people with water, saying, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mathew 3:15). This means it was fitting for John the Baptist to pass the sin of the world onto Jesus and for Jesus to take over the sins and become the scapegoat for the entire human race.
As I mentioned earlier, in the name of Jesus Christ, ‘Christ’ means ‘the anointed one.’ In the age of the Old Testament, men in three kinds of duties were anointed: The High Priest, prophets, and kings. Jesus is the High Priest of Heaven who offered Himself as the propitiation of the entire human race. The Lord is the King of Heaven and Earth. He is the King of all creation. The Lord is not only the King but also the very Prophet, who knows everything. He knows what happened to you in the past, what is going on with you right now and what will happen to you in the future. By bearing the sin of the world and giving Himself as a sacrifice to God, He as the perfect prophet and the Heavenly High Priest, made the way for His followers to enter Heaven. And John the Baptist was the person who prepared the way for the Lord. John the Baptist did his job for the people who would come to believe in Jesus Christ and receive salvation.
John the Baptist was always filled with the Holy Spirit, and never swayed by the worldly standards. He was also conceived by the Holy Spirit. Zachariah’s wife, Elizabeth was in her old age. We do not know how old she was, but imagine a 70 year-old lady having a baby. Then, how weird that is! This implies that the birth of John the Baptist was a special work of God. The Bible says that John the Baptist was already filled with the Holy Spirit even when he was still in the womb. He walked with God.
So those Christians who do not know the ministry of John the Baptist and his role do not have genuine faith. Their faith is just a blind religious faith, and not a genuine faith in real Truth. The role of John the Baptist was indispensable and absolutely necessary to our salvation. He was an essential person for our salvation. In other words, John the Baptist is the indispensable person for us to be saved by believing in Jesus Christ. If and only if John the Baptist had passed onto Jesus the sin of the world by baptizing Him and Jesus had taken over all our sins, died on the Cross and risen from the dead, Jesus can become our Savior. We must take this as the Truth. The Bible tells us so, and we should believe so.
Some believers tell others that it is okay not to have this knowledge insisting that whoever calls on the name of the Lord can be saved and that believing in Jesus and calling Him as the Lord will surely enable one to receive salvation. However, they are wrong. If what they say is true, who wouldn’t be saved? Even the Buddhists have been to church services at least once or twice, and they are most likely to have uttered the name of the Lord. This is nonsense.
The Lord revealed the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins through John the Baptist. He gave the knowledge through John the Baptist. Brothers and sisters, what knowledge did you gain while you were listening to the sermon about John the Baptist? Did he bear our sins? No, he didn’t. Did he save us? No. Through John the Baptist, we received the knowledge of salvation that Jesus bore the sin of the world, died on the Cross and rose again from the dead to save us. We get to receive the remission of sins by knowing what John the Baptist did and believing in Jesus Christ. We get to know about the salvation precisely and gain the knowledge of salvation through John the Baptist. He gives us the very knowledge. This doesn’t mean that John the Baptist doesn’t affect our salvation but knowing his role helps us to understand how Jesus Christ became our Savior. Is that right? If you do not know what role John the Baptist played, you will not know Jesus correctly.
When you do not know what John the Baptist did, you might simply think that Jesus went straight ahead to the Cross. If we say that Jesus Christ came to save us, at the age of thirty-three died on the Cross saying. “It is finished,” rose again from the dead, ascended to Heaven and come back later, what sense does this make? He can be a great person and the founder of Christianity, but not our real Savior. Does He have something to do with the sins of our hearts if we blindly believe in Jesus without knowing the role of John the Baptist while we carry sins everyday? You can believe in Jesus but you will not receive the remission of sins in that way.
It is up to you to believe in Him blindly or not, but what matters the most is we get our sins taken away when we believe in Jesus. Do our sins go away when we offer the prayers of repentance everyday? Brothers and sisters, even if you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are like these people when you blindly believe in Him without proper knowledge of what John the Baptist did.
John the Baptist was a man sent by God. God sent him before He sent His one and only Son. When they were both thirty years old, Jesus met John the Baptist in the Jordan River. There John baptized Jesus and passed the sin of the world to Jesus; Jesus became our Savior by bearing our sins, dying on the Cross and rising again from the dead. When we know about the ministries of both of them, we come to have the knowledge to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior; when we have the genuine knowledge, we get to have the firm faith that our Lord has removed all our sins. Genuine faith accompanies proper knowledge. Faith without knowledge is not a genuine faith. Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Without knowing the Truth, there is no way to have complete faith. It can be compared to a fast train without a track; no matter how good the train is, it cannot run without the train track. We become equipped with the proper faith when we know that Jesus Christ and John the Baptist worked together for the good just as a train cannot function without train tracks.
Knowledge is this important for our faith. “To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:77). Who gives knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins? John the Baptist does.
“Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). The bright light of salvation brought by Jesus Christ shined on us who were sitting in the shadow of death, remitted all our sins, and guided us into the path of peace.
As we celebrate Christmas, we should not forget the role John the Baptist played in our believing in Jesus. What happens if you leave out the role of John the Baptist in the whole picture and just believe in Jesus? You are free to do so, but the sins of your hearts will never be removed.
When people hear and read my sermon on this topic, they think I lift up John the Baptist unnecessarily. But they do not have any solid ground to back up their views. We get a lot of e-mails from the readers of my books all over the world, and most of them admit that it is hard not to agree with me since my sermons are all Bible-based. Proper sermons are supposed to be based on the Bible and the preacher’s own faith in the Word of God. That is the right kind of sermon. Whether the manner of speech is excellent or not is not important. Any gabber can make sleek speeches. People may say such a preacher is so eloquent, but they will remember nothing from those kinds of sermons.
Whenever we celebrate Christmas, I always mention the role of John the Baptist. He means so much to us believers; he was a human being just like us, but he was the last prophet and the last High Priest before Christ. As the last High Priest of the Old Testament, he passed the sin of the human race onto the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who is the true light in the New Testament. John did such an important job in passing all our sins to Jesus.
Then he witnessed to people, shouting, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the Messiah, Savior and Christ.” He continued to rebuke people for their sins until he was beheaded. Before he went to Heaven, he completed his mission by baptizing Jesus and witnessing to people that Jesus is our Savior. He lived only for thirty years, but he did all of his work. Brothers and sisters, make sure you have the knowledge of what John the Baptist did if you are trying to receive Christ and believe in Him as your Savior.
John the Baptist witnessed the true light, Jesus. We can have complete faith by knowing the role of John the Baptist. Anybody can be a blessed child of God only by believing in Jesus on the solid ground that John the Baptist built. That is how you and I received salvation once and for all by believing in Jesus Christ as our Savior. We were spiritually circumcised when we believed that Jesus bore all our sins through His baptism, death on the Cross, and resurrection.
Thank God for sending us John the Baptist and Jesus Christ to save us from all sins.