What Then is This Child Going to Be?

By Conrad Gempf

Zechariah and Elizabeth are excited about their child. And for good reason: the events surrounding John’s birth amazed everyone who heard about it!

All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

Luke 1:65-66 (NIV)

“What then is this child going to be?” That question needs some unpacking.

Friends and neighbors obviously know the child is a boy… So are they asking, “What is he going to be?” because they don’t know what vocation or trade John will follow?

No; it’s just as obvious what his job will be. Since Zechariah is a priest, and John is his first-born son, everyone knows that John, when he grows up, will also be a priest. (Hmm… they’d be wrong about John’s vocation, though… We’ll have to come back to that.)

The question “What is he going to be?” is one of astonishment—the supernatural signs surrounding John’s birth will probably be causing people to think that he will not be an ordinary priest, like his father, but a priest who is supernaturally blessed—someone who does more than your average priest.

John’s father, Zechariah, comes to affirm this thought when the Holy Spirit inspires his ‘song.’

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High…”

Luke 1:76 (NIV)

And John does become a prophet; but as far as we know, he never actually became a working priest (like all his friends and family expected).

I often wonder whether this career path was a cause of concern for his parents. They were so excited at his birth, so sure that great things were in store for him.

But there were days, before John’s began his ministry, when it will have looked to those around him as if he were throwing his life away. Instead of serving in the Temple, John chose to go out into the desert, to wear animal skins and eat bugs.

Did Elizabeth and Zechariah wonder, “Where did we go wrong? We thought he would become a great priest, spearheading the spiritual restoration of the nation (Luke 1:76-79), and instead he’s rejected all civilization!” Did they scold John? “Why can’t you be more like your cousin, Jesus? He doesn’t get into any trouble!” After all those years of praying for a child, did they question how God chose to answer? “I mean, thank you God, for a miracle child; but couldn’t he just be a priest, like his dad?”

When God goes into action answering your prayers, you won’t always recognize it at first. When God answers prayer, you might even wonder where you went wrong, or why God answered in such a strange way. After all, God’s ways are not our ways.

That sentiment, expressed most clearly in Isaiah 55:8 (“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.), is actually supposed to be Good News.

When God does something that goes against what everyone just knows God is going to do, it can be kind of disorienting. But God often doesn’t work in the way we expect; because God is working in ways far better than we could imagine.

Featured image: Sano di Pietro (1405-1481), The Birth and Naming of Saint John the Baptist, available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

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