What’s In a Name?

Text: Luke 1:57-80
Date: Nativity of St. John the Baptist + 6/24/18

Many if not most saints’ days on the liturgical calendar are scheduled on the supposed date of their martyrdom, death, or “heavenly birthday.” John the Baptist’s day is different however especially because of his close relationship with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It happens that John’s conception and birth was six months before that of Jesus. So we commemorate him six months before the celebration of Christmas, June 24 before December 24.

That however is not the most interesting timing issue between John and Jesus. Remember that it will still be thirty years before John administers baptism to Jesus in the Jordan River as the beginning of our Lord’s active earthly ministry. But taking just the very beginning, the conception and birth of John and Jesus another interesting and important prophesy is fulfilled.

St. Luke is highly aware of the significance of the Temple as the goal and true home of Jesus who in Himself completes or replaces the Temple as the location of God and His salvation. There is a very interesting prophesy in the Old Testament book of Daniel concerning seventy weeks which reads:

24 “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” (Dan 9:24-27)

       It speaks of putting an end to sin by atonement, of the coming of an anointed one which is the meaning of Messiah or Christ. It calls Him a prince who shall be cut off who nevertheless makes a strong covenant with many and puts an end to sacrifice and offering. Dr. Arthur Just observes “With some careful maneuvering, seventy weeks may be counted between the announcement of John’s birth to Jesus’ presentation in the temple. From the announcement to Zechariah to the announcement to Mary is one hundred eighty days; from the conception of Jesus to His birth, two hundred seventy days; from the birth of Jesus to His presentation [in the Temple], forty days.”[1] 490 days or seventy weeks from the Nativity of John to Jesus’ initial arrival in the temple. This observation takes us to the importance and purpose of today’s commemoration. It all points to God’s eternal plan of the coming of the Savior according to God’s own will and purpose. That purpose is the salvation of sinners through faith in God’s gift of the forgiveness of sins.

We heard of the miracle of Elizabeth and Zechariah bringing forth a son. At first Zechariah doubted the Lord and was stricken dumb so that he could not speak. When it came time to name the child Elizabeth said it would be “John,” a name so unusual in their family that they asked Zechariah who wrote on a tablet, “His name is John” which means “the Lord has been gracious.” Immediately his tongue was loosed, and we have one of the most beautiful canticles inspired by the Holy Spirit which the Church sings to this day in her morning prayer, The Benedictus, from the first words, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.”

The first part of the canticle recalls God’s past actions and promise of salvation. The second part however are words addressed to the newborn “prophet of the Most High” and His mission.

He sings, “You will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” This is the way of God, the way of salvation even as one of the first names given Christians was “followers of the way.” This way consists in “the knowledge of salvation…in the forgiveness of their sins.” That before and after all is what it’s all about. Sin is the cause of death and separation from God. The only hope is for God’s forgiveness which He provides not by changing His condemnation of sin but of the fulfilling of His law. This happens only through the shedding of Jesus’ blood, the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Forgiveness is the most important thing.

Since we still sin much and daily even as God’s redeemed people, all along the Way we are to hear and receive the gift of forgiveness by faith in Jesus, by hearing His word, by receiving His Spirit, His Body, His Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. He never runs out of His Spirit, Body and Blood nor of the forgiveness of your sins. Today we bring possibly a heavy load or maybe not so heavy of our sin of which we are reminded by the Ten Commandments and our own hurting consciences. We bring them here where our Lord lifts that load, forgives and takes away our sin even as He has before and promises to continue until we reach that heavenly goal.

As we are reminded that we all are dying and will die, we are aware of our continued need for God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. And this is the place to receive it. Zechariah says we receive it solely “because of the tender mercy of our God.”

So John came preaching the Gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus came preaching the same message, repentance for the forgiveness of sins. So we come back here to the place alone we are given the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of our sins. Go then as God’s forgiven people. Go in the light of God “to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

[1] Arthur A. Just Jr. Luke 1:1—9:50, ©1996 Concordia Publishing House 58.