Alfred Place Baptist Church

1:11-17 God’s messenger speaks

Luke 1:11-17 “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’”

Zechariah was one of hundreds of priests who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and when it was that division’s set time to serve in the temple for an annual two week period it was his name that was chosen by lot. What happened on this occasion when Zechariah entered the holy place pouring incense out of his censer onto the golden altar before the veil of the temple is described for us in our text. As the incense was burning and the clouds of fragrance filled the air a messenger from God came and stood close by at the right side of the altar to speak to him.

GOD SPEAKS TO MEN THROUGH HIS MESSENGERS.

I can turn that event a number of ways, saying, for example, that though Luke is writing this gospel for Gentiles he makes no attempt to tone down the supernatural element of his narrative, quite the reverse. After ten verses we are introduced to an angel. Luke doesn’t judge that he had better emphasise the moral, social and philosophical dimensions to the events that took place at the coming of Christ, and so catch the sympathetic interest of Theophilus and other Greeks reading these words, first communicating with them at their own level. Luke never dreamt that he could gently introduce to them some time later the fact that the mighty Creator of the universe was involved in the birth of Jesus Christ. No, from the very beginning this narrative can only be understood in terms of God coming into contact with us. All the gospel writers began as uncompromisingly as Luke. John says, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” Mark starts with the words, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Matthew introduces us to Emmanuel, God with us and tells us of the virgin birth in his opening chapter. It is all defiantly supernatural, and in the eyes of Richards Dawkins, I suppose, totally superstitious, but for Luke God has intervened in a unique and extraordinary way in human history transforming the lives of ordinary men and women. The coming of Jesus Christ is one hundred per cent a supernatural event, and there was nothing in human philosophy that could prepare the Greeks for such an event.

Or I can turn it like this; this was not the first time that angels had appeared to a man in the temple in Jerusalem. At the beginning of the ministry of the prophet of Isaiah he was one day in the temple and suddenly he “saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two wings they covered their feet, and with two they were flying, and they were calling to one another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory’” (Is. 6:1-3). Those cherubim who once had guarded the way back to the Garden of Eden preventing our first rebel parents returning to that place were there worshipping the Lord, the train of whose robe filled the temple. They were exulting in his perfect holiness in his temple.

Or I can turn it like this, that that day when all the angels appeared before the Lord to receive their orders for the day Gabriel, who was standing in God’s presence, was given this commission. “Go to Jerusalem and enter my temple and say these words to a priest called Zechariah at the time of prayer, as all the people are outside praying silently, and as he is pouring incense on the altar. Go to that altar and give him this message,” and immediately Gabriel did God’s bidding conveying to Zechariah all that he’d been told, to the jot and tittle, omitting nothing, nor embellishing it at all. This is the scene before us.

GOD IS SOVEREIGN IN SPEAKING TO MEN.

God is utterly sovereign in making himself known to men and women. You think of Moses tending his father-in-law’s sheep at the back of the desert. He had been doing that work for forty years exiled from his people, a whole generation away from his fellow countrymen in Egypt. Then one day suddenly he sees a bush ablaze but unconsumed and he hears Jehovah speaking to him out of the flames. Or again you think of the boy Samuel lying in bed and suddenly without warning he hears the voice of God, “Samuel, Samuel!” You think of the reluctance with which men like Jeremiah and Amos and Jonah heard the voice of God and received commandments from him. They weren’t wrestling in prayer, agonizing and crying to God that he would speak to them. Far from it. God came uninvited crashing into their lives and revolutionizing their futures by his words. The God who is sovereign in creation is also sovereign in revelation. He sends his angel Gabriel to speak to Zechariah.

We are used to having our Bibles; we can pick them up at any time reading what God has to say to us. Let’s imagine what it would be like to be in a the church without the New Testament; it’s 2007 and we would be perplexed by the silence of heaven. We know God from his glory and godhood seen in creation, and from his voice in our consciences. We know God from his speaking to our fathers by the prophets, but imagine that for four centuries the supply of prophets had dried up. There’d been a silence from heaven in the land. No new prophets had been raised since the length of time between Malachi in the Old Testament and this Zechariah the priest. The time of Malachi was the last time God had spoken to his people; for us it would be like the year 1600, and then one long uninterrupted silence. That is how it was for the people of God at the time of Luke. 400 years had gone by since God had raised up a prophet and made his will known to the nation; four centuries of silence.

Then the silence ended. As Zechariah stood in the holy place for maybe the first and last time in his life, not wanting anything to go wrong, concentrating on pouring the incense from a golden censer onto the golden altar, he discovers he has been joined by an angel who speaks to him. Out of the blue God breaks his silence and is addressing him – of all people – by name, by the great angel Gabriel, “Do not be afraid Zechariah” (v.13). He proceeds to talk to him about a son soon to be born to him with a remarkable ministry he’ll have, immediately preceding the appearance of Jehovah himself; your son “will go on before the Lord” (v.17).

That is remarkable, but what was just as extraordinary about this event was this, that God picked up the words he had spoken four hundred years earlier and continued the dialogue with his people. Let’s put it in contemporary terms; it is as if God had said something very significant in the year 1600, and then he was silent throughout the rest of that century, and the century that followed it, and the century that followed that, and the century that followed that also. Four centuries in which the heavens were as brass. Then in 2007 God breaks the silence and when he speaks he picks up where he stopped all those years ago.

Do you remember the fad for snail stories of ten years ago? One illustrates my point perfectly. A snail enters a café and asks the proprietor for a cup of coffee. The proprietor picks it up and hurls it down to the far end of the street. Three months later the snail returns, comes into the cafe and says to the proprietor, “What did you do that for?” To the snail that humiliation was like ten minutes ago.

Check this out. Right at the end of the Old Testament is the prophecy of Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Covenant, and at the end of his prophecy he said these words, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Mal. 4:4&6). With these words the Old Testament ends, and now Luke is recounting this great moment four hundred years later with Zechariah in the temple at the altar standing before the veil and Gabriel comes to him sent by God. He does not array the attributes of God before Zechariah, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts.” No. He addresses him with a full and comprehensive prophecy such as has not been heard in the land for centuries. He says of the son to be born to him, “He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (v.17). God is breaking this long silence exactly at the point where he stopped speaking at the end of Malachi. He picks up these loose threads and he begins to weave the beautiful garment of divine revelation once again. He continues to speak to man at this very moment, in the temple, to the priest Zechariah about a new prophet to be born the following year. Perhaps in the mind of a snail a three month period could seem like ten minutes. We know that a thousand years in God’s sight are like a day, and four hundred years would be like a morning. “Now as I was saying to Malachi this morning . . .” God is saying. This is a new phase beginning in God’s dealing in grace and for salvation with sinners. The very themes of Malachi’s prophecy are going to be fulfilled in the birth of a son to Zechariah.

Luke begins his gospel narrative fascinated by this act of God’s grace in speaking to lowly Zechariah about the coming of the Lord, the Saviour whom he has promised. Luke says to Theophilus, “Let me begin by telling you about the preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ.” Then throughout these first chapters through the words which Gabriel speaks to Zechariah, and to Mary, and then to the angels, and their response in songs of praise, we are confronted with the imminent coming of the Son of God, Jehovah Jesus into the world. There is born to us in the city of David a Saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord.

These words of Gabriel were spoken to a religious but disappointed priest, brought by the casting of a lot into the temple on this occasion, a man indistinguishable from hundreds of other godly priests who were descendants of Aaron. But the message given to him was about another more glorious Priest soon to be born, who will live and die and rise again in this world. It is on another priestly theme that Luke ends his gospel thus, “When Jesus had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God” (Lk. 24:50-53). Luke’s gospel starts in the temple and ends in the temple. It starts with a priest and it ends with our great High Priest, Jesus, raising his hands and blessing his disciples. That is the function of a priest, to bless the people. Perhaps at the moment of ascension Jesus was repeating the actual Aaronic blessing as was fitting for a priest, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face towards you and give you peace” (Nums. 6:24-26). Our Saviour as he ascended lifted up his hands in blessing upon them. You see the contrast with Zechariah. When he and his four companions walked out of the temple to meet the praying worshippers assembled in the court around the great altar, Zechariah could not repeat the Aaronic blessing upon them because his power of speech had been taken from him because of his unbelief. Luke begins his gospel presenting to us a defiant and suspicious priest unable to convey God’s blessing to the people, but at the end of the gospel there is Jesus our great High Priest, who has done everything that God asked him to do, able and willing to pronounce covenant blessings upon all his people and effectually make those blessings stick to every one of us.

HOW TENDERLY GOD CAN SPEAK TO MEN.

i] When God gave instructions to Gabriel as to what he was to say to Zechariah the first thing he told the angel was this. “Make sure that straight away you say to him, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ I’m not sending you to put the fear of God into him. Put his fears to rest. Calm him down and tell him that I’ve been listening to all his prayers.” Wouldn’t that be of the greatest comfort to you? To know that the mighty Maker of the universe was concerned about your feelings, that he was touched by your being gripped with fear, and that his first concern was to make you feel at ease. Isn’t it true that some of you are feeling fearful about certain problems? You’ve prayed about them very earnestly and for a long time, perhaps it’s about a pregnancy or not being pregnant, or about finding a job, or about certain threats that have been made against you, or about the future of the church, about finding a life partner and marriage, about exams and so on. You are putting a brave front on it, and perhaps no one knows your fears. You have hidden them from your best friend, but God knows and you know what the Lord Jesus says, “Let not your heart be troubled. You trust in God, believe also in me. You can trust me; do not be afraid. Why are you afraid? I know everything, and I love you with an everlasting love. I am never going to leave you.” The God who spoke to Zechariah after four hundred years of silence said these words first of all to him, “Don’t be afraid.” That’s the kind of heavenly Father he is; the inner emotions of his people matter to him. A parent hugs and encourages his child; “Don’t be afraid. It’s going to be all right.”

ii] Then he assured Zechariah that all his worship of God, the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs he had sung to the Lord, all his vows and consecrations, his thoughts, prayers and longings had all been noted. “Your prayer has been heard” (v.13). Doesn’t the devil come and tell us that our religion is unreal, that it’s all a show? “It’s all words,” the devil says, “it’s vain repetition.” No! The one true and living God specifically told Zechariah that he’d heard his prayers, and has he not heard our prayers too? Our simple baby prayers long ago, when we thanked him for Mummy and Daddy, when we asked him that we could get a ticket for the football game, or that special doll at Christmas. Our later prayers when we asked him in the most general terms to bless the service that day and help the preacher, or to make us a true parent and loving spouse – all in the most general of terms, then God assures us here that our prayers didn’t ascend to the ceiling. Then there are our zealous earnest prayers that came from our hearts, prayers of confession, and intercession for the lost, and thanksgiving for his great salvation; “how wonderful Lord to be a real Christian,” – “Your prayer has been heard.” We are often exhorted from below, from a fellow praying man and from the pulpit, to pray. We often hear the testimony of a fellow Christian that God has heard his prayers, but this is a testimony from above, from heaven itself where the inspirer of prayer tells us that he hears our prayers.

Doesn’t that encourage you to pray, and pray, and pray that you might become a true Christian, saved from sin, and brought into the family of God? Pray that prayer until you know God has answered you, and then pray to him in thanksgiving that he has answered you. Have you really prayed like that? Let me remind you of the crucial part that prayer played in the conversion of a 44 year-old nobleman named Brownlow North, the man who later became a mighty evangelist used in great revivals particularly in Northern Ireland? His conversion was without human intrusion. It was all a transaction between him and God. He was once speaking to a group of students at Edinburgh University and he told them, “It pleased God one night when I was sitting playing cards, to give me a concern about my soul. I suddenly felt ill and that led me to think that I was going to die. I said to my son, ‘I am a dead man; take me upstairs.’ As soon as this was done, I threw myself down on the bed. My first thought then was, ‘Now, what will my forty-four years of following the devices of my own heart profit me? In a few minutes I shall be in hell, and what good will all these things do me, for which I have sold my soul?’ At that moment I felt constrained to pray, but it was merely the prayer of a coward, a cry for mercy. I was not at all sorry for what I’d done, but I was afraid of the punishment of my sin. And yet still there was one particular thing preventing me getting down on my knees to cry to God for mercy, and that was the presence of a servant girl in the room lighting the fire. I believed at that time that I had but ten minutes to live, and I knew that there was no possible hope for me but in the mercy of God, and that if I did not seek that mercy I couldn’t expect to have it. Yet such was the nature of my heart, and of my spirit within me, that whether to ask God to save me or not hung in the balances. Should I wait till that woman left the room – with ten minutes to live? Or should I fall on my knees there and then and cry for mercy with her overhearing? By the grace of God I got down on my knees with the girl making the fire in the room.

“I believe that that was the turning-point of my life. I believe that if I had at that time resisted the Holy Ghost it would have been one resistance too many. Of course, I cannot say that definitely, for who can limit the Holy Ghost? But my belief still today is that that would have been one resistance of God too often. I prayed; by God’s grace I was not stopped from praying. I did pray, and though I’m not what I should be, yet I am this day what I am – which at least is not what I once was. I mention this because I believe that every man has in his life his turning-point. I believe that the sin against the Holy Ghost is grieving the Spirit once too often.” That is Brownlow North’s testimony to the place personal prayer to God had in his conversion. The devil would have had him put off praying by the presence of that girl in the room but North had come to this Rubicon in his life. He dare not cease crying to God. He humbled himself before a teenage maid and prayed aloud. When did you stop praying? What feeble excuse has made you cease crying to God for mercy? I’m not saying you don’t say a little prayer before you close your eyes. I am not talking about those vain repetitions. I am talking about you having soul dealing with the God who answers prayer. I am talking about judgment day honesty in the presence of God – you and him. When did you start listening to the voice of the devil telling you that to pray was just words, only words, going no higher than the ceiling? Here in Luke’s gospel is God speaking and he says to Zechariah that he is not to be afraid and that he’s heard his prayers.

iii] Then God tells him that his wife is going to have a baby boy and his name is going to John. Now that could have happened so privately couldn’t it? Elizabeth starting to feel tired and awkward, steadily coming to the awesome realization that she was pregnant! She wouldn’t have been the first woman to think that she was long past the age of child-bearing to have subsequently discovered that she was with child. But it was not something private like that. The angels in heaven knew before either parent. Before the actual conception this announcement is made. Here is a declaration by an angel standing next to Zechariah. Here is an announcement from God himself telling Zechariah that his wife was going to have a son and that ‘John’ was to be his name. The whole birth announcement was so full of significance. This boy was to be no ordinary boy was he? How was he different?

4. HOW EXTRAORDINARY WAS GOD’S GIFT OF JOHN

We see this in a number of ways;

i] John would great as the source of immense joy. “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth” (v.14). They were godly parents, both of them upright in the eyes of the Lord. So this rejoicing is the joy of the upright. Wouldn’t they be thrilled as they saw their son’s singlemindedness to love the Lord with all his heart and soul and mind and strength? Perhaps they never lived for the full span of John’s life, thirty-three more years or so. Perhaps God spared them from hearing of his terrible death; we don’t know, but what a delight it would have been for them to hear their only son preach the gospel with the Holy Spirit send down from heaven. What joy in hearing men like Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones coming to Aberystwyth and preaching the word of God to us! Was there any joy that could compare to that – to know God was near and that he was here to bless us? Many heard John the Baptist preach and they blessed God for his birth. Let me urge you young men whose lives are in the crucible to seriously consider the call of God to become preachers of the gospel, that you owe to your fellow believers such an inquiry at the throne of grace. Every single one of you should be asking God whether your life should bring joy and delight to many Christians by your becoming ministers of the new covenant. Imagine what our lives would be if every week there was no one to preach the gospel to us, and we read a few pages and said some prayers and were never aroused by a man of God and challenged and humbled and taught and rebuked and corrected and instructed in righteousness. Imagine we never heard a preacher exalting the name of Jesus Christ. What joyless lives they would be to us who love his name!

ii] John would be great in the eyes of the only one that matters – in God’s sight (v.15). In the Bible we do not find a God who sees everyone as equally great, the drug-dealer, the liar, the idolater, the unscrupulous businessman, the suicide bomber, the mugger and the rapist, no, not the God of heaven. He discriminates. Whom does he see as great? Those who serve him with all their ransomed powers. Those who forgive the ones who are cruelly murdering them – like our three friends in Turkey last month. Like their wives who say they are offering those torturers their forgiveness. Great in God’s sight are such people. You may be great in your school, and great in your business, and great in your bank-manager’s eyes and great in your family’s eyes, but how are you in the sight of God? What does God think of you? When you stand before him will it be with the sheep on his right hand or with the goats on his left destined for hell?

There are many people esteemed by the multitudes as ‘great.’ King Herod was called ‘Herod the Great’, and so was his son. The second Herod had John the Baptist murdered by having his head cut off, but today men don’t even call their dogs ‘Herod’ but they call their sons ‘John.’ Who is the truly great one? John was great.

iii] John would be great because of his entire consecration to God. Listen! “He is never to take wine or other fermented drink” (v.15). Some of you could not get through a single week without alcohol. Many of your fellow students are destined to end their lives as alcoholics. How do they celebrate? They drink. How do they have a great week-end? They drink. How do they have fun? They drink. What do they do on Wednesday nights? They drink. What do they do on Friday and Saturday nights? They drink. What do they do at any opportunity? They drink, and they drink, and they drink, because they think that that is the great life. But 2000 years after John lived in this world we are still talking about him. Who is going to talk about you and your drinking in 200 years’ time?

Now let me explain the significance of this reference. In Israel 2000 years ago everyone drank wine. The water was often impure and there is no prohibition in the Bible against drinking wine – unlike the later Koran. But God did forbid priests while they were on duty from drinking wine, and when a religious person called a Nazirite was under a vow of serving God he did not drink wine during that time. What is significant about John is that he never drank wine or fermented drink, in other words he was always on duty to serve God. He was always under a vow to serve the Lord. He was conscious that his whole life was utterly and totally dedicated to God and that was symbolized outwardly in his abstinence from alcohol.

I am not sure what the lesson for us would be other than that as every Christian is a prophet unto God that we all be very committed about being consistent 24/7 Christians, following the Lord Jesus through thick and thin, allowing nothing to compromise the way we love and serve the Lord.

iv] John would be great because he was filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth (v.15). Now that means that he was conscious that he had the charisma, the spiritual gift and calling of being a prophet from the very beginning of his life. As his self-consciousness grew as he became a small boy, and then a teenager, and then a young man, at every stage John knew with increasing discernment what were the implications of being a prophet when he grew up, and all John wanted to be was Jehovah’s prophet. At the same time John was a sinner and he needed conversion and regeneration – even as the kings of Israel did. King Saul, on whom came the Spirit of God in the gift of leadership, yet was a lost man. He had a charisma by the Spirit and yet still needing to be regenerated by the Spirit. Paul tells us that a man may “have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge” (I Cor. 13:2) and yet be as empty of saving grace as a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Many in the last day will protest to the Lord that they had prophesied in his name, and Jesus will not argue with them. They were indeed prophets with a charisma of prophecy, always wanting to be prophets, telling their chums in school that when they grew up they were going to be prophets, but they lacked regeneration by the Spirit of God. They had never been born from above. John was very different from the prophet Amos who could protest, “I wasn’t a prophet or the son of a prophet,” Amos was a date farmer in Tekoa who became a reluctant prophet later on. Moses pleaded he couldn’t be a prophet and speak for the Lord. Jeremiah pleaded that he was only a child. John the Baptist was different from them all, filled with the Holy Spirit of prophecy from his birth. He had one single avowed intention throughout his entire life, to be a prophet. He had no other conscious ambition but to speak out for his Lord from the earliest age when the time was right, and until that time he prepared himself away from the world and in the presence of God.

v] John would be great because he was to have a saving ministry. “Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God” (v.16). They belonged to the one race in the world who confessed Jehovah was their God. He acknowledged that they were his people, though often in a terrible backsliding state. They had the Scriptures, the covenants and promises. They had been circumcised. They had much knowledge, and many were outwardly blameless as was Saul of Tarsus, but they had wandered far from God. They had become lovers of the world and the things of the world. They had an outer show of religion. They kept the Sabbath and they went to the synagogue but they had no saving repentance and saving trust in the mercy of the Lord God. John needed to go and preach gospel repentance to them, to urge them turn from the sin and unbelief for the kingdom of God was at hand, and his ministry was vitally successful. The Spirit of God was upon him in his ministry. Many of the people of Israel were brought back to a living relationship with God through John’s sermons.

vi] John would be great because he went on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah (v.17). So this boy was not the Messiah. Listening to the angel we’d think that at last the Seed of the woman had appeared. Look at all this – Gabriel sent by God and appearing to Zechariah to announce his coming; he will be great in the eyes of the Lord; his birth is supernatural, born to parents in old age; he is filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth. This must be the incarnate Lord! No! He will go before the Lord. He is preparing the way for the Lord to make his appearance, the Messiah’s herald and forerunner. He is the one who goes in the spirit and power of Elijah – as Malachi prophesied. He was not, of course, literally Elijah, that is he was not a reincarnation of Elijah. When John the Baptist was asked in John chapter one and verse twenty-one, “Are you Elijah?” he could truthfully say, “I am not.” He was John, but figuratively this was Elijah redivivus! You can see the parallels; the courage of them both in facing monarchs, standing alone taking on a decadent nation, what uncertainty each one shared at the end – John equals Elijah! Jesus says it very plainly, “Elijah has come.” If John is so great, but ultimately is only a herald, how much greater must be the King of whom John says, “I am unworthy to loosen his sandal straps. He must increase, and I must decrease”?

vii] John would be great because he would “ turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous” (v.17). How cruel many fathers were in the ancient world, excessive in their discipline, abusing their children. The picture as we see it was utterly gruesome, but John’s ministry would touch fathers; mature men would be repentant and turn in love to their children. Disobedient sons of their disobedient father Adam would be turned by John to wise righteous living. You can see what are the fruits of a true awakening – and John’s ministry was a real revival of faith – that it affects family living, and it achieves reconciliation in the home, and it makes foolish people wise, and disobedient people righteous. Imagine a nation profoundly affected by the word preached in the power of the Spirit so that countless thousands of men and their families were affected for good. No wonder John was great.

viii] Finally, John would be great because his life and preaching was so effective that he made “ready a people prepared for the Lord” (v.17). After hearing John they were ready and eager for the appearing of the Christ. John told them, “after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt. 3:11). We are again told, “Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Christ.’ They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the desert, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’” (Jn.1:19-23). That was his whole ministry to prepare a people for the Lord. We are famously told, “The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that he might be revealed to Israel’” (Jn.1:29-31). How great John the forerunner is in preparing the people for the coming of the Lord, and I often think that God has given me this same ministry, as a forerunner, preparing you for the glorious coming in blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I hope I shall yet have six months of revived preaching as John had.

13th May 2007 GEOFF THOMAS