DAY 12: THE GLORY OF THE LORD ACCORDING TO JOHN THE BAPTIST
Ang Kadakilaan ng Diyos Ayon Kay Juan Bautista
Filipino | Luke 1:13–19, 44, 57–79
He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.”
– Luke 1:63
Names can say a lot. The Spanish influence on the Philippines is noticeable in names: Juan dela Cruz is the representation of a common Filipino. However, John, which is the English counterpart of Juan, is also popular, revealing the presence of Americans in the Philippines and the American impact on the Filipino way of life. For Filipinos, names are used not only for identity but also for fad and fashion. The naming of John the Baptist, though, has deep implications tied not to fad and fashion but to his story and his kingdom role.
The Name of John, His Father’s Doubt, and God’s Grace
When Zechariah doubted the words of the angel of the Lord about his wife’s conception at her old age, he was chastised and could not speak until the fulfillment of the angel’s message (Luke 1:18–22, 64). On the eighth day after Elizabeth gave birth, Zechariah wrote the name of his baby after the angel’s instruction: “His name is John.” This surprised those around because Zechariah and Elizabeth didn’t have any relative with that name (Luke 1:57–63). True, John’s name didn’t conform to tradition, but it had more important communicative work to do.
“John” (Greek: Ioannes) is an adaptation of the Hebrew Yôhānān, meaning “Yahweh is gracious/merciful.” John’s mother testified about such grace when she got pregnant even though old and barren: The Lord “has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace” (Luke 1:25). Her neighbours and relatives shared her joy upon hearing “that the Lord had shown her great mercy” (Luke 1:58). Zechariah also declared that God raised up a “horn of salvation … to show mercy to our forefathers” and that his son would prepare the coming of the Lord “to give his people the knowledge of salvation … because of the tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:69–78). John’s name displays the glory of the Lord in terms of his grace and mercy for John’s family and nation—grace and mercy we all need, John included.
From Conviction to Question or Doubt
As John grew up, his parents would have talked about his extraordinary birth and the prophecy that he would be great in God’s sight, “filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth,” and would prepare the way of the Lord in the “power of Elijah … to make a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:15–17). Also, the neighbours’ and relatives’ expectations for an extraordinary career might not have mellowed down (Luke
1:66). When John felt God’s call, he decided to get proper training with the Qumran Community (cf. Luke 1:80). That community would have introduced John to a more intense study of Old Testament scripture.
After his desert training, John came out preaching with courage and conviction. He was not only preaching the message of repentance and forgiveness (Luke 3:3) but also a message of judgment: “You brood of vipers …” (Luke 3:7–9). He knew his vocation and his message. But later on, when imprisoned, he questioned the messiahship of Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:18–20). While in prison, John would have been expecting the judgment of the wicked because that was the theology he learned from his training in the desert (cf. Luke 3:17). Instead, he was left wondering: “If He is really the one, why is He not doing something to free me?”
John’s story is relatable. How many Christians are there, faithful and zealous servants of God, who become discouraged and frustrated by life’s circumstances? There are many confused Juan dela Cruzes in the Philippines reeling from the results of the recent election, the rising social ills of the society, and the lingering effects of COVID–19.
No Other Way, But to Jesus
Though confused, there was no other way for John to go but to Jesus, and, in response to his question, John was reminded of the meaning of his name (Luke 7:21–23). Jesus didn’t scold John. Rather, He demonstrated His power to bring grace and mercy to lives in need of them and sent back testimony to bolster John’s faith.
Such is the glory of God’s grace and mercy upon John and the witness to His glory through the one named “Yahweh is gracious.” This Advent season, may hope in the Lord be bolstered by John’s witness to the Lord’s glory.
REV. DR LAURENCE GATAWA
Dasmariñas, Cavite, Philippines
The Reverend Dr Laurence Gatawa is a Langham scholar and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church of the Philippines who currently serves as the President of PTS College & Advanced Studies in Dasmariñas City, Philippines, and as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Asia Graduate School of Theology in Quezon City, Philippines