A Man Filled with the Holy
Ghost from His MotherŐs Womb
ŇBut the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his motherŐs womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, 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.Ó (Luke 1:13-17)
John the Baptist was a remarkable man, a man separated and distinguished from other men by the hand of God even before he was born. In Luke 1:13-17 we are allowed to hear the message the angel Gabriel delivered to his father Zacharias in the temple before he was born, before he was even conceived in his motherŐs womb. It is a message full of spiritual instruction. May God the Holy Spirit seal it to our hearts.
That which stands out most prominently in these verses and the lessons they are intended to convey is the fact that GodŐs ways are not our ways. That fact should never surprise us. The Lord has shown us in his Word and by experience that Ňas the heavens are higher than the earth, so are his ways higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). As Cowper wrote,
ŇGod moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.Ó
Our Prayers and GodŐs Answers
The first lesson in this passage is a lesson about prayer. I hope we will all lay it to heart. GodŐs answers to our prayers are often delayed for a long, long time. Sometimes, perhaps most often, the Lord graciously and wisely delays answering our prayers for many, many years. That certainly was the case with Zacharias and Elizabeth. No doubt, they had often prayed for the Lord to give them a child. It looked as though they had prayed in vain. Now, they were old people. The thought of having children had completely vanished from their minds. They had ceased long ago mentioning this matter to the Lord. Yet, the very first words that fell from the lips of the angel to this old man were, ŇFear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John."
We must never attempt to prescribe to our God how or when to do anything. He knows and does what is best, in the best way, and at the best time. He knows the best time for his people to be born; and he knows the best time for them to be born again.
And we should never conclude that our prayers are not answered because they are not answered in the way or at the time we desire. Do not conclude that the Lord ignores your supplications because he does not immediately gratify your desires. Prayer has something to do with believing God; and the Lord often tries our faith in him by delaying our requests.
Prayer also has something to do with seeking and submitting to the will of God. Prayer is not simply bombarding God with our desires, be they ever so sincere. Prayer is seeking the will and glory of God, bowing our will to his will. It may be that the Lord sometimes delays our requests, not because he does not intend to answer them, but because he is determined to make us willing for him not to answer them.
The fact is none of us know what to pray for as we ought. The experience of the Apostle Paul recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 certainly teaches this. Because we do not know what is best, we do not know how to pray for anything as we ought. It is written, ŇWe know not what we should pray for as we oughtÓ (Romans 8:26).
Prayer is not for the gratification of our carnal lusts. It is not the means by which we obtain what we want from the Lord. Prayer, true prayer involves submission to the will of God. It is the cry of the believerŐs heart to his heavenly Father to do what is right and best. If I am GodŐs child, if truly I know him and trust him, I want what he has purposed. I bow to him, surrendering my will to his will, my desires to his purpose, my pleasure to his glory, knowing that his will is best. Therefore, when we pray (in our ignorance), the Holy Spirit cleans up our prayers and presents to the Father the true groanings of our hearts (Romans 8:26).
Paul tells us plainly that though the Lord graciously refused give him what he asked for, he graciously granted him what he really wanted and needed. John Gill wroteÉ
ŇThe Lord always hears and answers his people sooner or later, in one form or another, though not always in the way and manner they desire; but yet in such a way as is most for his glory and their good. The apostle had not his request granted, that Satan might immediately depart from him, only he is assured of a sufficiency of grace to support him under the exercise, so long as it should last.Ó
Our Lord Jesus taught us ever to surrender our will to the FatherŐs will. When the will of God appears to contradict that which might appear to be most pleasing to our flesh, we ought always to follow our MasterŐs example, saying, ŇNot my will, thy will be done.Ó (John 12:27-28). I repeat, we do not now what is best for us, best for the glory of God, best for his kingdom, or best for the accomplishment of his purpose. Let us, therefore, wisely bow to his will in all things (Romans 8:26).
Grace for Our Children
Look at verses 14 and 15, and learn a second thing. Here is a lesson all parents should always bear in mind. Grace must be the principle thing we seek for our sons and daughters.
ŇAnd thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his motherŐs womb.Ó
What a blessed word this is from God! Zacharias was assured, before his son was born, that his only son would be numbered among the sons of God!
What more could any parent desire? Nothing can give a believing father and mother greater joy than to see their sons and daughters experience, possess and walk in the grace of God. Just before promising this old man that his son would be filled with the Holy Ghost, the angel of the Lord said to Zacharias, not only are you going to have a son, you are going to have a son who is chosen of God, ŇAnd thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth!Ó
Above all things, seek grace for your children. Beauty, brilliance, wealth and honor, even health and happiness are utterly insignificant when compared to this. Our sons and daughters need Christ. They need the grace of God in Christ. Let us seek, earnestly seek, the grace of God in Christ for our children. Happy indeed is that father who is assured upon good grounds that his son or daughter is chosen of God, redeemed by Christ and born of the Spirit!
The third lesson is a lesson about true greatness. It is found in verse 15. True greatness is greatness in the sight of the Lord. — ŇFor he shall be great in the sight of the Lord.Ó
Men always measure greatness by a very short stick. That which men call greatness is nothing. Politicians and presidents, doctors and lawyers, philosophers and statesmen, artists and authors, athletes and movie stars — all who are called and admired as great by little fools are utterly insignificant to the angels of God. Those who are great before men, they count nothing. Those who are great in the sight of God, they count great. We will be wise to learn to measure greatness the way they measure it. The angels of God measure greatness by GodŐs measuring stick.
Let us seek for ourselves and our children this true greatness, greatness before God, greatness in the world to come, greatness forever. What is this greatness in the sight of God? It isÉ
á The Greatness of Grace.
á The Greatness of Divine Approval.
á The Greatness of Faith.
á The Greatness of All Who Believe.
á The Greatness of Christ.
Our Savior said, "Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matthew 11:11).
Look at verse 15 again, and learn something about the operations of God. God always acts in total sovereignty; and his sovereignty defies explanation. Here we are told that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his motherŐs womb. — "For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb."
Almost everyone presumes that to mean that John the Baptist was regenerated in his motherŐs womb. But that is not what the text says. Some use this as a basis for baptizing babies. Some use it as a proof text to show that God does not necessarily use the preaching of the gospel to save his elect.
LetŐs be honest with the Scriptures. DonŐt ever grab a verse or a statement, rip it out of its context, and make it mean whatever you want it to mean. We build our doctrine on the plain statements of Scripture, not on the whims of our wild imaginations.
To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, no more and no less (Ephesians 5:18). When the Scriptures tell us that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his motherŐs womb, it asserts that John, like Jeremiah, was sanctified, set apart, and ordained to be the prophet of the Highest, before he came out of his mother's womb (Jeremiah 1:5). The same thing was true of the apostle Paul (Galatians 1:15-16).
While still in his motherŐs womb, John, under such an influence of the Spirit of God, leaped for joy at the salutation of Mary to his mother Elizabeth (Luke 1:41,44). Like David, he was under the constant protection and care of GodŐs mercy, love, and grace, from his motherŐs womb (Psalm 22:9-10).
Even before he was born, God began preparing him for the work he had for him to do. God the Holy Spirit gave him special gifts and grace, qualifying him for the work for which he was chosen.
In verses 16-17 we are taught something about those men who are sent of God as his messengers to men. They are GodŐs blessings upon men. No man is a greater blessing to men than those men who are sent from God as his messengers.
"And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, 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."
That is an accurate, angelic, biblical description of the character, conduct, work, and usefulness of a gospel preacher. He, as an instrument in the hands of God, turns the hearts of men. He turns the hearts of Israel, GodŐs elect. He turns them from ignorance to knowledge, from darkness to light, from superstition to revelation, from unbelief to faith, and from sin to righteousness.
Obviously, the work of turning sinners to Christ is the work of God our Creator, not the work of a man; but the Spirit of God here describes it as the work of a man, because it is a work God performs by human instrumentality, by the instrumentality of gospel preaching (Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23-25; James 1:18).
The messenger of grace goes before the Lord, walks before God in the Spirit and power of Elijah, seeking GodŐs message, GodŐs grace and GodŐs will for his people, seeking GodŐs glory, and serving to build GodŐs kingdom. By the preaching of the gospel, he makes ready a people for the Lord, prepares chosen, redeemed sinners to meet the Lord at his appearing.
The gospel preacher is a man sent from God, filled with the Holy Ghost, proclaiming GodŐs salvation. — "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!"
These are the men we need. These are the men God uses. Blessed are those people to whom God sends such men! By them, God calls out his elect. By them, Christ is uplifted and glorified. By them, God leads his people.
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 Let all those who are blessed of God with the burden of caring for children with limited mental capacity, or who have lost children in infancy, be cheered with this fact. — God has granted you the rare privilege of being assured that you have a child who will be numbered among the redeemed in Glory.