The saints of the Christian church are great people to celebrate. Their lives, their faithfulness, their work gives us an example for our own Christian lives. The church celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist on June 24th every year.
You probably recognize the word, “Nativity,” from the Christmas season. You set up nativity scenes, and your churches may offer nativity plays or presentations. Nativity does not, however, mean, “Christmas.” It just means, “birth.” When we celebrate the nativity of John the Baptist, we celebrate his birth. This is unusual. This is the only birth we celebrate outside of Jesus’. Why the nativity of John the Baptist?
The first reason is practical. John the Baptist has a birth story. We only have a few birth stories through the Old and New Testaments. Moses is born when Egypt killed all the male Hebrew babies. Samuel was born to Hannah after she prayed for a child. All the rest, well, we don’t know they’re going to be famous until they become famous.
John the Baptist had almost as much story as Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. His father, Zechariah, was in the temple offering daily worship. The angel Gabriel appeared to him and predicted that his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son. Zechariah, famously, did not believe, and the angel made him mute until he named his son John.
The most important reason, however, is what John the Baptist symbolizes: the culmination of the Old Testament. You can see that in the song his father sings at his birth, Luke 1:68-79, called the Benedictus (the first word in the Latin translation).
The phrase “Visited and redeemed” comes straight from the Old Testament. God’s visitation was a part of his holy salvation for his people. In 1 Samuel 2:21, God gives barren Hannah more children beyond her firstborn, Samuel. “The LORD visited Hannah.” In Jeremiah 27:22 the prophet says for God, “They will be carried to Babylon and they will be there until the day I visit them.”
John would be the prophet that points to Jesus, the horn of salvation from the house of David and the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.
The promised salvation, Jesus, is a fulfillment of the oath that God swore to Abraham. Jesus is not a separate promise. He’s not a parallel track to Abraham. Jesus is the point, the goal, of God’s promise to Abraham.
This may be the perfect description of any prophet, preparing the way of the Lord. But it is especially apt for John. His work is the end of the Old Testament preparation for Christ. He becomes the ultimate prophet before Christ.
Jesus calls John, “Elijah.” Elijah was the most important prophet in the minds of Israel during the time. They expected another Elijah to come before the Christ. In Matthew 11, Jesus says, “if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” Even the Angel Gabriel follows suit. He says to Zechariah in Luke 1,
John was the culmination of the Old Testament order of prophets. He continues the great legacy of Elijah, who pointed the people to the covenant and reminded that a further savior would come.
John reminds us that the Old Testament promises are not separate from New Testament ones. While John represents the culmination of the prophetic ministry in the Old Testament, he points to one even greater than him, Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the fulfilment and the completion of God’s work in the Old Testament. The promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The promise to Moses. The covenant with Israel. The promises to David. And all the rest. They find their completion in Jesus Christ. John, then, personifies that. He is the representative of the Old Testament, and he points only to Jesus.
Christians are, then, the continuation of God’s promises in the Old Testament. We are the same people as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the rest. What God designed in the Garden of Eden, promised to Abraham, and showed through the Old Testament, we have seen what they hoped to see. We are one faith, one people with them in Christ.
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