Every Thought Captive

Signs and Wonders: Waiting and Wondering

Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, Greek Zacharias of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

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. 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.

And Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." And the angel answered him, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time." And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, "Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people."

Luke 1:5-25

From his conception, to his prophetic ministry, to his death, God used John the Baptist for one great and lasting purpose: to point people to Jesus Christ.

In his gospel, Luke goes to great lengths to show us how John’s conception was used to point people to Jesus Christ. The story of John’s conception paralleled Jesus’ own conception in many ways: it was foretold by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:19 and 1:26-27), his name was given by God (Luke 1:13 and Luke 1:31), and most notably, it was absolutely miraculous since Elizabeth was old (Luke 1:18) and Mary was a virgin (Luke 1:27; 34). In addition, John and Jesus are relatives (Luke 1:36), and the relational bonds between Elizabeth and Mary run deep (Luke 1:39-40; 56), so one could hardly know John, whom Zechariah called the prophet of the Most High (Luke 1:76), without knowing Jesus Christ, whom Gabriel called the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32).

John did not only point people to Jesus Christ in his conception, but also in his prophetic ministry and death. As the last great prophet before Jesus, John zealously and faithfully fulfilled all of God’s about him. He cried in the wilderness and prepared the way for the Lord, as Isaiah said (Luke 3:4; Isaiah 40:3). He turned many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, just as Gabriel said (Luke 1:16). He gave knowledge of salvation to God’s people through the forgiveness of their sins, as Zechariah said (Luke 1:77). And as John himself declared when he saw Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)!” John continued to be known and feared as a prophet until his death (Mark 6:20). For all of this, Jesus praised John as being more than a prophet, and that none born among women was ever greater (Luke 7:26-28).

When we read detailed and exalted accounts of a life such as John the Baptist’s, it is possible to begin thinking of him as existing in some almost mythological mode, as if untouched by the trials and temptations of ordinary human living. But while his conception was miraculous and his ministry unique, John was an ordinary man, just like us. He was tempted to sin and did sin. He was caught up in the ordinary stuff of human relationships, illness, and political corruption. At so many points, John could have softened or made selfish his prophetic voice. But a consistent, determined trust in his Savior caused him to “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also,” for Christ’s Kingdom is forever.

Charles Studd (1860-1931) had a very different backstory than John the Baptist’s. He was a wealthy “trust fund kid,” a graduate of Cambridge University, and a world-famous cricket player from England. But after coming to faith in Jesus Christ through the ministry of the American evangelist Dwight Moody, he dedicated his life to global missions. He said, “I knew that cricket would not last, and honor would not last, and nothing in this world would last, but it was worthwhile living for the world to come.” So along with his wife and four daughters, Charles left his privileged life in England and served as an evangelist, church planter, and Bible translator for 10 years in China (with Hudson Taylor), for seven years in India, and for 20 years in Africa. He wrote over 200 poems and hymns, but his most famous is, “Only One Life,” which you can read below. His life began in a very different way than John the Baptist’s life, but the enduring worth of the Lamb of God compelled both of these men to preach Christ to many, and to many unwilling to hear it.

As you celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ this Christmas, may the good news and great joy of the Gospel grip your heart. And like John the Baptist and like Charles Studd, may the enduring worth of the Lamb of God shape your life into one that, in Christ, will last.

Two little lines I heard one day, 
Traveling along life’s busy way; 
Bringing conviction to my heart, 
And from my mind would not depart; 
Only one life, twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

Only one life, yes only one, 
Soon will its fleeting hours be done; 
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, 
And stand before His judgement seat; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

Only one life, the still small voice, 
Gently pleads for a better choice; 
Bidding me selfish aims to leave, 
And to God’s holy will to cleave; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

Only one life, a few brief years, 
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears; 
Each with its days I must fulfill, 
living for self or in His will; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

When this bright world would tempt me sore, 
When Satan would a victory score; 
When self would seek to have its way, 
Then help me Lord with joy to say; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

Give me Father, a purpose deep, 
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep; 
Faithful and true what e’er the strife, 
Pleasing Thee in my daily life; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

Oh, let my love with fervor burn, 
And from the world now let me turn; 
Living for Thee, and Thee alone, 
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne; 
Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

Only one life, yes only one, 
Now let me say, “Thy will be done;” 
And when at last I’ll hear the call, 
I know I’ll say, “Twas worth it all;” 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

About the Author

Photograph of Matt Fray

Matt Fray

Assistant Pastor of Spiritual Formation

Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Matt grew up in South Florida and first sensed a call to pastoral ministry while a high school student at Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCPC) in Dallas. After graduating from St. Mark’s, Covenant College, and Westminster Seminary in California, he spent four years serving as the assistant pastor of a PCA church in Savannah, GA. In 2014, he returned to serve at PCPC as the Assistant Pastor of Spiritual Formation.

Matt and his wife Erin have three children: Lydia, Hudson, and Samuel.