It’s in the temple that God announces his new relationship with the people, but from here on the relationship will take place in their transformed hearts.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth,15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
Change is a challenge. Change can be surprising. Change may be welcomed or it may be hard to accept. And whether we like it or not, it’s going to happen to us. It could be something small: your favourite coffee shop doesn’t sell blueberry muffins anymore. Or something huge: the beginning of a relationship, or a relationship changing.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe it and sometimes we need help to get used to it. But, after time and processing, you learn to look back and observe the good that’s come from it. Your blueberry muffin addiction has been stemmed and it looks like your New Year’s resolution might become a reality this year. Just hypothetically, of course. But good has come from something new, something different, something challenging.
Sometimes change is welcomed into hearts and lives with open arms. Change is vital for billions of lives to be saved, from poverty, oppression, hunger or disease. Change is vital for people’s eternities. It’s vital to share the love of Jesus. But it’s change.
Israel had been rooted in tradition for thousands of years before Jesus was born. They lived and breathed the old law. They expected that God lived in the temple, separate from them. The announcement of John’s imminent birth was the spark that lit change of people in Israel, and everywhere.
The change was announced to a priest, Zechariah, in the temple, where God’s presence was represented. But the announcement of his birth, and the birth of Jesus (who chased him into the world), were the beginning of a new era. John came to call people to change their hearts (v17), to get ready to meet Jesus there. He was filled with the Spirit, so that people could be ready to meet the Lord in spirit and in truth.
God was rewriting the way people had relationships with him. He was bridging the gap between him and the people. God was sending his only son, to live and breathe and die, so that we could be reunited with God.
And it was to be John who pointed people in Jesus’ direction – God’s new direction of close relationships, out of the temple and into transformed hearts.
It was change. And it was good.
Head: What do you think it would have been like to have a relationship with God that was focussed on the Law, the temple, and on sacrifices? How does it compare to the relationship you enjoy with God today, through Jesus?
Heart: Consider v17, where Luke tells us that God is using John to soften people’s hearts and start to bring them in line with God’s heart. Is that where your heart is at these days?
Hands: John’s job was to get people ready to receive Jesus. What is one way that you could help a friend or family member be in a better place to receive Jesus?
Prayer: Our Father, thank you for the way that you change our hearts so that we can have a close relationship with you. Thank you that Jesus made this possible, and that you used John to announce this new way of relating. Please help us not to take for granted our close relationship with you. Amen.
A song to listen to: Bring Us Back
Geoff Pryde and Maddie Pryde