February 25, 2024 | Doug Sauder
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“Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.”—Luke 1:56–57 (NIV)
No journey through the life of Jesus would be complete without pausing to focus on the birth of another son . . . a child that was born a few months prior. This important infant now steps into the forefront of Luke’s Gospel as we’re told that Mary visited with her cousin Elizabeth for three months.
As miraculous as Mary’s pregnancy was, the circumstances surrounding her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy were also remarkable. How so? Well, Elizabeth had been barren for many, many years, unable to have a child with her husband Zechariah who “belonged to the priestly division of Abijah” (Luke 1:5 NIV). As we begin Luke 1, we learn that God had miraculously enabled her to conceive after many years, despite Zechariah being “an old man [with a wife] well along in years” (Luke 1:18 NIV). But as Elizabeth’s pregnancy comes to full term, Mary departs from her, and this “second son” is born.
As part of Jewish custom, the boy is brought to the leaders of the community to be circumcised and given his name on his eighth day. Traditionally, a firstborn son would often be named after his father, and the natural assumption is that this is exactly what Zechariah and Elizabeth were going to do. But Elizabeth threw everyone a curveball when she insisted that her son be named John instead. That was very unusual, and on the rare occasion that it did happen that a son was not named after his father, at the very least, they would be named after an ancestor. But as we’re told in verse 61, there was no relative in either of their family lineages that bore the name of John. This was such a departure from the established tradition that the leaders decided to double check with the father, Zechariah. And when they did, being mute at the time because he didn’t initially believe the angel Gabriel’s proclamation, Zechariah wrote on a tablet, “His name is John” (Luke 1:63 NIV).
This baby boy will prove to be one of the most important figures in human history as he will come to be known as John the Baptist. He enters into the world about six months prior to Jesus, which is so fitting because his life is really defined by the fact that he was to be Christ’s forerunner, “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” (Luke 1:17 NIV), “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’” (Luke 2:4 NIV).
John comes before Jesus chronologically, but not for himself. His whole purpose for existence will be to point to One greater, Mary’s son, the Lord. He truly is a “second son,” not in terms of chronology but in terms of priority. Jesus is first, John is second.
Is that not a powerful picture of what it essentially means to be a Christian? Being a follower of Jesus means we don’t exist for ourselves. We aren’t here to build up our own following or to attract attention and glory to ourselves. This part of the Christmas story reminds us that we’re here to point to the One who is greater than ourselves, to use whatever place or platform God gives us as a means of directing attention and glory to Jesus, to—by the power of the Holy Spirit in us—make straight the paths for people to come to Jesus.
Admittedly, that’s a radical notion in our society. We’re constantly conditioned to put ourselves first and to ensure that our stock is always on the upswing in the eyes of others. The pull to think and live like this is as real as it gets, which is why we need God’s help to see ourselves as second and to point people past ourselves and on to Jesus. He is the One, the only One, who deserves glory and honor. May we daily join John in this state of “blessed secondness.”
Pause: What’s significant about John being a “second son”?
Practice: Today, spend time in reflection and consider what ways your life needs to be brought deeper into this state of blessed secondness.
Pray: Lord, we confess we’re often instinctively driven to pursue our own praise and applause, to get people fixated and focused on us and our accomplishments. It’s in our very nature to do so. Please help us to discover our deepest joy in being second to You, and may we live to point people past ourselves and on to You. Amen.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.