11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John… 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also 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 a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:11-13, 16-17 NKJV
The prophet Elijah was sent to turn the hearts of Israel back to their God. Led by a series of idolatrous kings, the people were following after false gods like Baal, and many true prophets of the Lord were killed by Queen Jezebel.
Many years before, the people had been put in the land of Israel, a land flowing with milk and honey, by their God. After hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt, He wanted to put them in this good land soon after bringing them out in the Exodus. But they did not have enough faith in their hearts to follow Him there, and also clung to false gods of Egypt, such as the golden calf. So, the Lord let this generation die off as they wandered around in futility in the desert and later brought their children into the Promised Land.
Elijah had succeeded in directing many of their hearts back to God. First, the Lord prepared them with the hardship of a three and a half year drought, then He used Elijah to call down a miraculous fire from heaven in a face-off against hundreds of Jezebel’s prophets of Baal. God also used Elijah to preserve himself, a widow, and her son through a miraculous daily multiplication of her flour and oil supply, and even raised the widow’s son from the dead after an illness. These miracles foreshadowed miracles done by Jesus – feeding multitudes from a small supply of loaves and fish, and raising both a widow’s son and Lazarus from the dead.
Hundreds of years after Elijah was taken into heaven by a chariot and horses of fire, the prophet Malachi spoke of his return. The concept of Elijah coming and returning later is also a foreshadowing of Jesus doing the same.
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 6 And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:5-6 NKJV
John the Baptist was born four hundred years after Malachi’s prophesy. His arrival was a miracle. His parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth, were both well past child-bearing age. They had always followed closely after the Lord and walked in all of His ways. But their prayers for a child of their own were denied, or so they had thought. While serving in the Holy Temple, a rare opportunity for a Levitical priest, Zacharias was visited by the angel Gabriel. He was told of the coming birth of a son, to be named John, and that he would be a special child in the Lord’s eyes. Even the faithful Zacharias did not believe God for this good news, so he was given a lengthy period of time when he could not speak, a testimony of God’s power and faithfulness, which lasted until the child John was born.
While Elijah had been sent to turn the hearts of the people from Baal to God, John the Baptist was sent in the power and spirit of Elijah to prepare the hearts of the people to receive their coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. Part of this preparation was in restoring families – turning the hearts of the children back to their parents and parents to their children – as well as in turning disobedient hearts towards God and a wisdom of the just.
John’s miracles were different from Elijah’s. He did not call down any fire, raise the dead or multiply food from a limited supply. Instead, people simply flocked to him. And many listened as he told them how to get ready for the coming of the Lord, their promised Messiah.
10 So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” Luke 3:10 NKJV
Some of the things John told them to do to prepare for Jesus’ coming were:
- Share your food and clothing with those who have none.
- Do not get greedy – collect what is coming to you and no more.
- Do not intimidate or bully people to get what you want from them.
- Do not make false accusations about anyone.
- Be content with what you have.
People who wanted to get ready for the Messiah were baptized by John in the Jordan River. The Spirit of God spoke to their hearts through John, and many in the land were made ready to focus on the arrival of the Divine in their lives and their nation.
But many others, particularly the religious leaders of the day, scoffed at what John had to say. Jesus would also have his confrontations with these powerful leaders, and they would eventually deliver Him over to the Romans to be crucified.
Who has God sent into your life to prepare your heart for His arrival?
Lord, thank You for loving me and caring about what happens to me today. Help me to get ready for You in my heart. Show me what I must do to make room for You. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.