An Advent sermon based on Luke 1: 68-79
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
December 5, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our
Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
And you, O child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare
his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. Luke 1:76-77
This morning we begin with an observation about the Advent/ Christmas season that, I’ll admit,
is a bit off the beaten path. It’s a kind of different angle to the Christmas story that really just occurred
to me only this week. I dunno… Maybe some of these thoughts would make for an interesting
conversation starter this holiday season. You know—as you are standing around the Christmas tree
sipping eggnog with your friends and family, looking for something to talk about, this might be4 of some
What we know of the Christmas story—angels, shepherds, wise men from the East, the Virgin
Birth, the star overhead, no room at the inn, “Mary, Joseph and the Babe lying in a manger”—are found
in only two of the four gospels in the New Testament. Here’s a question for you Bible scholars out there:
From which two of the four gospels do we get what we know of the Christmas story? (Answer: Matthew
Isn’t that interesting? Only Matthew and Luke give us any information about the birth of
Jesus. But here is something interesting thing that I want to focus our attention on this morning: Even
though only two of the gospels tell us of Jesus’ birth, all four of the gospels go into some detail
concerning the story of John the Baptist in relation to Jesus’ origins. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit
strange? What do you make of it?
In fact, the gospel of Mark actually starts out by talking about John the Baptist. The opening
verse of the gospel of Mark reads, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Now, after those opening words, that would lead you to believe that Mark would begin talking about
the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth, right? But he doesn’t. Not at all. Instead, in the very next
verse, the attention immediately shifts to John the Baptist. Mark 1:2-4 reads, “It is written in Isaiah the
prophet, ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way—a voice of one calling in
the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ And so John came, baptizing in
the desert region…”
Not much about Jesus in those verses, is there? But in those verses, and the ones to follow, we
are told a lot about John the Baptist. It is as if Mark wants us to know that, if we want to correctly learn
and understand the meaning of Jesus’ life, then we need to start with John the Baptist…
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In a similar vein, the gospel of John also says nothing about the birth of Jesus. As you may
remember, the gospel of John begins with those well-known words describing what theologians call the
doctrine of “the pre-existent Christ.” John starts off with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God…” And then, without any mention of the birth of Jesus in
Bethlehem, verse 13 shifts to telling us about the ministry of John the Baptist. Verse 13 says, “John [the
Baptist] testifies concerning him…crying out, ‘This was he of who I said, He who comes after me has
surpassed me because he was before me…’” We do not actually meet Jesus in the gospel of John until
verse 29. And in that verse, Jesus is already about thirty years old as he appears by the banks of the
Jordan River where John was baptizing.
Doesn’t all that strike you as kind of odd? I mean, if I were to set out to write the story of Jesus’
life and ministry, I would begin by talking about his miraculous birth. That would make the most sense to
me. Wouldn’t you do the same thing? I think it begs the question: Why is it that, at the beginning of all
four gospels, so much attention is paid to the John the Baptist…sometimes to the exclusion of details
surrounding the birth of Jesus himself? If the gospels are supposed to be about Jesus, then why did they
do that? What does it mean?
Perhaps there are many reasons why John the Baptist is so prominent in the early chapters of all
four gospels. We’ll explore a few of them…
The Old Testament prophets foretold that there would be a messenger sent from God that
would precede the coming of the Messiah. This forerunner would call the people to repentance and
announce that the kingdom of God was at hand—and in fact that this deliverance was very near. This
herald bringing the good news of the Messiah would turn the hearts of the people back to God as a way
of preparing the people to receive the Savior.
One of the most well-known of these prophecies in the Old Testament was found in Isaiah 40.
Consequently it is no accident that three of the four gospels quote Isaiah 40 in their description of the
ministry of John. (That includes the passage from Luke 3 that was read earlier in the service.1
messenger is depicted as “The voice of one calling in the wilderness.” John was not only calling out to
the people in a literal wilderness by the Jordan River. But he was also calling out to the people, as they
were wandering a spiritual wilderness of their own making. This spiritual desert was the result of
centuries of their lifeless religion, their indifference to others, and their disobedience to God. By
pointing to John as the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies, it would help to prove that Jesus was
indeed the long-awaited Promised One.
In addition to seeing John as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, John had an impeccable
reputation of being a Godly man and a prophet of no small influence. Over and over again in the
gospels, we are reminded that the people—and even some of Israel’s religious leaders—considered
The others are Matthew 3:3 and Mark 1:3.
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John to be a prophet sent from God. Many examples could be cited, but for sake of time, I’ll mention
In Mark 11, Jesus is being questioned by the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders
of the Temple in Jerusalem. In response to a question about his authority to do the things he did, Jesus
asked them a question as well. His question was, “John’s baptism—was it from heaven or from men?”
As you may remember, those religious professionals discussed it among themselves and decided
not to answer our Lord’s question. That was because they really did not have an answer. Anything they
said at that point would make them look bad in the eyes of the people. They were not about to
disparage John publically because, as Mark notes, “They feared the people, for everyone held that John
was a prophet.”2
If it was widely believed that John was a prophet sent from God and that John was
pointing to Jesus as the Messiah, then that would be a second proof that Jesus really was the Son of
God. The testimony of John declaring him to be the Son of God would carry a lot of weight with the
people…and that is exactly what John did. He proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God.3
And yet, for all that, John the Baptist and Jesus were as different as night and day in many
respects. John was an ascetic. The scriptures tell us that he led a very austere lifestyle. We are told that
his clothes were made of camel’s hair and that he had a leather belt around his waist. (I cannot imagine
that those clothes could have been very comfortable, particularly in the Middle Eastern heat…!) And we
are told that his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. (I guess that the locusts would provide protein
and fiber, and the honey would provide the carbs. As a bonus, there are no genetically modified
ingredients and it is completely gluten free…What’s there not to like, right?!…)
John lived out in the desert and practiced his ministry on the far side of the Jordan River. It was
a lonely desolate area. Mostly just desert and rocks. And yet, because of the power of the message that
God had given him, crowds from all over Judea flocked to John—even though he was preaching out in
the middle of nowhere.
By contrast, Jesus was not very much like that at all. We do not know what kind of clothes that
Jesus might have worn, but the very fact that there is no mention of them would suggest that he
probably dressed normally like everyone else. And it is true that Jesus did some preaching and teaching
out in the countryside of Galilee, but I am not aware that he did much ministry out in the desert regions.
It seems that he spent most of his ministry in populated areas—in towns and cities and villages
throughout the region and even into Gentile areas like Tyre and Sidon.
We are told that Jesus was a frequent dinner guest in the homes of religious leaders and others.
One commentator has gone as far as to suggest that, in the gospel of Luke especially, “Jesus is
2 Mark 11:30-32. Emphasis mine.
See John 1:29-34.
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constantly either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. Place Jesus at a dining room table
filled with all kinds of folk…and you will see Luke’s portrait of Jesus clear and undiluted.”4
From that, we could conclude that Jesus must have been a popular dinner guest. He must have
been a sparkling conversationalist and a congenial guest. And he must have been one who knew how to
enjoy a good meal. I say that because, on at least one occasion, his critics accused him of being a
drunkard and a glutton.5 No one would have ever accused John the Baptist of being a drunkard or a
glutton. And I highly doubt that John would have received many invitations to dinner parties either. I
cannot imagine that he would have been a congenial dinner guest. He surely would have been a fish out
of water in such a setting…
Even though Jesus and John were very different in their lifestyles, they were both part of God’s
marvelous plan to bring salvation to the earth. Jesus later said of John, “You have sent to John and he
has testified to the truth…John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy
John shined his light on Jesus and introduced the Light of the World to a people who had
been dwelling in spiritual darkness.
Maybe that’s why John is so prominent in the Advent/Christmas season. He is there to catch our
attention, just as he caught the attention of the people of 1st Century Palestine some two thousand
years ago. It is John who reminds us of the importance of repentance—of turning away from our sins—
in the process of becoming right with God. John also points us to Jesus as the one who is bringing
salvation…the one who is reconciling the world to his Father…the one who loves and cares for us in the
midst of our troubles and adversities…the one through whom we can find peace for our souls…and
peace with God…
Today’s sermon text is a song that is sung about John the Baptist. It is composed and sung by his
father Zechariah. In that song, Zechariah begins by praising God for who God is and what God has done
in bringing salvation to the people. Later in the song, he speaks of the part that his son John has in
proclaiming the coming kingdom of God. Zechariah sings, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of
the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his
people by the forgiveness of their sins.” That’s a fair description of what John the Baptist did in
preparation for the ministry of our Lord Jesus…paving the way ahead of Jesus, proclaiming the
knowledge of salvation through God’s forgiveness of our sins.
Our final hymn this morning is “Blessed Be the God of Israel.” You will find it on an insert that
you received with your bulletin. This hymn is a very close paraphrase of Zechariah’s song. As we sing it
together, it is my prayer that the words of “Zechariah’s Song” will resonate within you during this
Advent season. The song is all about the promises of God—the promise of salvation from enemies, the
Linda McKinnish Bridges, The Church’s Portraits of Jesus (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 1997), 68.
John 5:33, 35.
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promise of redemption from danger, the promise to love and serve God in holiness and righteousness,
the promise of the coming Christ—the new light of God—who is surely on his way…And it is my prayer
that these promises and these blessings of God will become realities in our lives during this Advent
season…as we await the coming of the Christ with desire and expectation…
To God alone be the glory! Amen