Womb to tomb.
Egocentric people can learn something significant from John the Baptist. He is an interesting, yet mysterious Bible character. Each of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles give mention to him. Dr. Luke informs us that John the Baptist was distantly related to Jesus because his mother Elizabeth and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were relatives (see Luke 1:36, ESV}. Most interesting to me is the biblical truth that John the Baptist understood his life purpose from womb to tomb. His unique calling and life mission had been announced to his father Zechariah, a temple priest. In his orderly account of the life and work of Jesus, Gentile Dr. Luke displayed a thorough knowledge of the Jewish prophecies of a forerunner to the Messiah, an Elijah figure to announce the coming of the Christ. His life and ministry help us mere humans realize the humble spirit that should characterize followers of Jesus. You see, John the Baptist could have been in love with himself. He was Christo-centric however. Womb to tomb.
Dr. Luke wrote about the angel Gabriel's appearance to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. He was numbered among the priests of Jerusalem. According to Dr. Luke---
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according
to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and
burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of
incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the
altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.
Luke 1: 8-12, ESV
That an angel of God appeared to Zechariah as he lit incense in the Holiest portion of the temple was certainly an awesome experience. Being in that very place was perhaps the most choice assignment any of the hundreds of priests could expect in their service. What Gabriel said to Zechariah was even more incredible---
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard,
and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will
have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the
Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit,
even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord
their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of
the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready
for the Lord a people prepared.”
Luke 1: 13-17, ESV
That the people would rejoice and celebrate John the Baptist, and that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb are startling announcements. In every respect we can imagine how John could have become central to the New Covenant. In fact. some thought he was the Christ.
But, John the Baptist always knew his place in the redemptive work of Jesus. His life was so focused on the coming Messiah that he never sought or acquired the place of favor in God's kingdom. Jesus was his life focus. Later, when his mother Elizabeth visited Mary, Luke noted that "...the baby leaped in her womb" (Luke 1: 41, ESV). Even later, as John pursued his mission of announcing the coming Messiah, the crowds were awed by his words and actions. He told them about one who was coming and that he was not even worthy to untie the strap of his sandals (Luke 3:16, ESV). Dr. Luke gives few details about the death of John the Baptist. In Mark and Matthew we know of his beheading. Dr. Luke only wrote, "Herod said, John I have beheaded, but who is this about I have heard such things?" (Luke 9:9, ESV). You see, Dr. Luke kept his narrative about the person of Christ.
And, that is a hallmark of Dr. Luke's Gospel. His orderly account of the Christ kept Jesus as the central character. And, that is a profound lesson to our self-absorbed culture. The details and sequencing of his narrative never parted from the singular purpose of identifying Jesus Christ and his redemptive mission. John the Baptist was certainly an essential fulfillment of Israel's prophetic preparation for receiving the Messiah. Luke apparently wasn't inspired, however, to provide too much data about John the Baptist. His Gospel, as precise and accurate as a medical record kept Theophilus on point. And, that point was always Jesus.
Many themes characterize our Christmas celebration. Today giving is an important element of that period from Thanksgiving to December 25. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, sales events, Christmas deals, lavish spending, and provisions for the less fortunate are elements of the season. Dr. Luke skimped on some of the details about John the Baptist and others so that the gift would be the headlines. Sure, giving is certainly a worthy aspect of the Christmas season. But, the gift is what must be celebrated first. Jesus truly is the reason for the season.
John the Baptist knew that more than 2,000 years ago. The gift---Jesus Christ the Lord--- was his focus, from womb to tomb.