“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS;
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
(Luke 1:76-79 NASB)
The people wondered what this child, surrounded by the clear work of God, would be (see verse 66). Zachariah essentially told them. The child he fathered would be called the prophet of the Most High. And he would prepare the way for God Who was coming. He would prepare them with knowledge of salvation through forgiveness because of God’s mercy. He would be the forerunner of God Himself.
How to Communicate the Arrival of the Impossible
There was always this odd problem Jesus faced in His ministry, how to convey His deity in a way that made any sort of sense. Nicodemus didn’t get it. The woman at the well sort of got it, but still hit a lower mark than deity. Peter gets it, then fumbles and crashes at the goal line in Caesaria Philippi. Even after seeing Jesus transfigured, Peter, James, and John still struggle with the concept of the person before them being God.
And yet, in the midst of this prophecy over this 8-day old infant, this elderly priest declares that God Himself is coming. Even so, I doubt even he imagined God as an infant in a feeding trough. I doubt anyone hearing or reading Zachariah’s words imagined them being fulfilled in the form of a man. Sure God is coming, He always comes. But not in flesh. He comes in storms, or acts of power, earthquakes, and hail storms. He fills prophets and warriors with His Spirit to act. It’s never He Himself. How could that even be?
How to Communicate the Accomplishment of the Impossible
So what will John be ‘forerunning’? Will he declare salvation through forgiveness so God’s salvation through some human intermediary or hero can come save the day? Will he declare the coming of a priest? Another prophet? A military hero? Who? What form will this salvation of God take? I don’t see anywhere a form described as God Himself suffering a torturous death. Zachariah speaks of Israel being saved from her enemies and all who hate them. How did Jesus’ dying on the cross accomplish that?
Clearly there is some sort of battle imagined that has more than Rome in view as an enemy. In fact Israel’s political and cultural problems do not seem to align with this sort of solution or salvation. It certainly doesn’t happen that way. Once again, while people had their view of what God would be doing, He seems to have another. God has another enemy in view, another problem to solve, and a different solution in mind. John comes as the forerunner of God Himself, speaking of salvation through forgiveness of sins; not political salvation, not the reestablishment of Israel as a sovereign nation.
What’s So Impossible We Can’t Understand?
Zachariah is correct, the prophecy is true, just not in the way he imagines. The child will be the forerunner, and he will gradually understand Who is to come. But even he will see God do something different. Even John will be surprised by what the salvation of humanity looks like. Why is that? Why would God not give a more full picture? I don’t know, He hasn’t given me a fuller picture either.
I suspect that Jesus is, in a sense, a ‘Trojan Horse’ for hell. The prophecies by Mary and by Zachariah point to the salvation of God’s people, but are understood in nationalistic terms. Then, at the end, when all seems lost, God fulfills them, but on a global scale. The enemy protects his hold on God’s chosen people while God sneaks in and saves all of humanity instead. Caught guarding the small cache, the enemy loses everything.
So, wait, did it work because God played His cards so close to His chest? Was it the diversionary tactics that enabled Him to succeed? No. I don’t think so anyway. Jesus kept telling people, but they misunderstood. I doubt very much whether the enemy misunderstood. The enemy seems to have known who Jesus was in any case. I doubt he missed the whole part about Jesus dying and rising again; Jesus said it enough times to make His point clear. I just don’t think this enemy knew what that would mean, for all of humanity. God’s plan worked because…well, because it was God’s plan; from the beginning.
John was a part of something greater even than he ever understood. He was an important part, a prophesied part, an integral part of the beginning of the end. He was a part that couldn’t be skipped. He formed the linkage between Hebrew Scriptures and the establishment of a New Covenant; the human bridge between two ages. We see that looking back, but Zachariah could only glimpse it looking forward.
The forerunner has come, God arrived and finished His work, the redemption of His human creatures is complete. Now, what will you do? If you haven’t accepted that expensive offer from your Creator, do it. If you already have, get busy; others need to know about it.
What’s your view through the knothole?