The Forerunner of Christ
In the Church Year calendar, June 24 is The Nativity of St. John the Baptist. John’s nativity followed the course of most Jewish births at the time. The age of his parents, however, indicated that his conception was miraculous. Not miraculous like Jesus who had no earthly father; but miraculous because both Elizabeth and Zechariah were “advanced in years” and Elizabeth was barren (Luke 1:7). Thus, friends and relatives, recognizing God’s hand in all of this, buzzed about John’s future. “What then will this child be?” (Luke 1:66) Zechariah knew. Through the power of the Holy Spirit he prophesied, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways” (Luke 1:76).
No, St. John the Baptist was not the Christ; only His Forerunner (Acts 13:25). He was called from the womb to bring Jacob back to God through his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Is 49:5), just as Christ was the true Servant of the Lord. Miraculously conceived by Zechariah the priest of barren Elizabeth, John was marked to be the greatest born of women (Matt. 11:11). The Church rejoices over the Lord’s mercy just as Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives did at John’s birth. But when Zechariah’s tongue was loosed, John was not the subject of his song. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who has visited and redeemed His people. John is the voice preparing the way of the Lord (Isa. 40:3); Jesus, the virgin-born Son of God, is that Lord. John is the prophet of the Most High. He is born to give knowledge of salvation to God’s people by the forgiveness of their sins, because Christ the Dayspring is visiting (Luke 1:76–79). Thus, what John preaches is the comfort of iniquity pardoned by Jesus, the promised Savior of Israel (Acts 13:23) and the nations, that His salvation may reach to the end of the earth (Isa. 49:6).
Jesus Receives Sinners
“This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). The Pharisees’ statement of judgment against Jesus is in fact a proclamation of Gospel truth. For our God is one who delights in mercy, who casts all our sins into the depths of the sea through the cross (Micah 7:18–20). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Those who refuse to be counted as sinners also refuse Jesus who came only for sinners. Those like the older son (Luke 15:11–32), who think they are righteous of themselves, will not join in the heavenly celebration over the sinner who repents and so remain outside of the Father’s house. Let us therefore be on guard against self–righteously trusting in our own merits. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6). Rejoice that Jesus receives sinners like us and that He still sits at table with us in the Holy Supper, bestowing His forgiveness and life.
The Gospel Call Goes Out to All
Wisdom has issued an invitation to the divine feast: “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight” (Prov. 9:5–6). This is the call of the Spirit of Christ to believe the Gospel and to receive His saving gifts in the Holy Supper. Many make excuses and reject this invitation, even as the Jews did in the days of Jesus, yet the Master’s house will be filled. The Gospel call therefore goes out to the lowly and despised, into the highways, even to all the Gentiles (Luke 14:15–24). For “you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13–22). In Christ, believing Jews and Gentiles are no longer strangers but fellow members of the household of God. The enmity of class and race is put to death through the cross. Having been reconciled in the one Body of Christ, we are enabled to love one another as we await the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which will have no end.
Faith Trusts in Christ for Life Eternal
When the beggar Lazarus died, he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. For he was truly Abraham’s seed. Like Abraham, he believed in the Lord, and the Lord “counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). The name Lazarus means “God is my help.” The unnamed rich man, on the other hand, did not love and trust in God. For he evidently cared little for the beggar at his gate. And “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). He who loved and trusted in possessions and prestige died and was in torments in Hades (Luke 16:19–31). Repentance and faith are worked only through Moses and the prophets—that is, the Word of God, for it points us to Christ. Only through His death and resurrection are we brought the comfort of life everlasting.