Name him John

Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she had a son. Then her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her his great mercy, and they rejoiced with her.

When they came to circumcise the child on the eighth day, they were going to name him Zechariah, after his father. But his mother responded, No. He will be called John.”

Then they said to her, None of your relatives has that name.” So they motioned to his father to find out what he wanted him to be called. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, His name is John.” And they were all amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came on all those who lived around them, and all these things were being talked about throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard about him took it to heart, saying, What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the Lord’s hand was with him. (Luke 1:57-66)

John the Baptist was only eight-days-old before those who knew of him were mystified by him. What then will this child become? they asked (Lk 1:66). Knowing his future, I can tell you.

Within thirty years, massive crowds from in and around Jerusalem would flock to John. A casual observer might assume they only wanted to see the strange man wearing a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist, eating an unusual diet of locusts and wild honey (Mt 3:4). Even if that’s why they came in the first place, they stayed because of his preaching. He captivated his audience. In fact, multitudes were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins (Mt 3:5).

Eventually, the spectacle grew as John did not hesitate to confront even the most influential religious leaders of the day with God’s truth.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t presume to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-10)

Even political authority with the power to take his life could not intimidate John. The truth was always too precious to sacrifice for any reason. When the opportunity availed itself, he boldly accused Herod the tetrarch of committing adultery (Mt 14:1). He was right, of course, though it cost him his head (Mt 14:11).

That’s the man who confounded the crowds even as a baby. He would grow to become a fearless preacher with a singular message: Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I told you about (Jn 1:29, 30).

Returning to the present, John was circumcised on the eighth day of his life as God’s law dictated (Lk 1:59). Beyond its health benefits, circumcision served as a sign of the covenant between God and man (Ge 17:11). Tradition held that either the boy’s father—in this case, Zechariah—or perhaps some other appointed person should perform the bloody ritual. Tradition also insisted at least ten witnesses be present.

Though God never prescribed this particular custom, Jewish parents often named their sons on the occasion of their circumcisions. Abraham, Moses, and now, John the Baptist are three biblical examples of this practice. And the naming of John is where things get interesting.

If you remember, Zechariah is still mute after nine months, and the evidence suggests the people in attendance feel sorry for him. A child might be named after his grandfather, but one taking the name of his father was rare. Yet, they were going to sympathetically name John after his father, Zechariah (Lk 1:59). Perhaps Zechariah, Jr. has a certain charm, but his mother responded, No. He will be called John” (Lk 1:60). To be clear, that’s a no in the most emphatic sense.

The name John means God is gracious, and the Lord proves it here. Despite the crowd’s arguments against Elizabeth, Zechariah pushes back, writing on a tablet, His name is John—end of discussion (Lk 1:63). Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God (Lk 1:64). God brings an end to the punishment Zechariah bore for his disbelief.

Previously, God promised Zechariah, Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth (Lk 1:13, 14). God, of course, fulfilled his promise, and by fulfilling it, he displays the gracious purpose behind his promises, not to mention the power to accomplish them.

The people were mystified because, even at eight-days-old, the Lord’s hand was clearly with John (Lk 1:66).

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