Worship: John the Baptizer

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Having been through the liturgy study this fall, we're going to look at how Christians have worshipped throughout history. We will cover the entirety of history from the Garden of Eden all the way through to the eternal worship service that will be Heaven.

Dr. Art Just, professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, wrote in his Luke commentary, "The worshiping church testifies to the world that God is present for salvation" (Luke 1:1-9:50, 51). Throughout history, God's people have faithfully worshipped God to show that salvation had come into the world. I was searching for a good theme statement for this study, and I was grateful that I found this one. It perfectly fits the idea I have for this study.

As we begin this survey, we should start with the most basic question: Why do we worship? To see this, we must start in the middle. We turn to the opening chapters of the Gospel of Luke. Our worship centers around the birth of Jesus. God the Savior born in human flesh.

To start today's survey, we must begin with Jesus' forerunner, John the Baptizer. Just as with Jesus, John's parents were told about his birth before it happened. And the message given to John's father Zechariah happened during worship.

Read Luke 1:5-25. Luke focuses upon the Temple and Zechariah's priestly office with John's infancy narrative. Gabriel appears to Zechariah in the Temple while Zechariah was tending to his priestly duties. The first announcement that the Kingdom of God was at hand came during a worship service.

What was John's purpose in ministry? John was born so that he might prepare the way of the Lord (Luke 3:4) and to "return many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God" (Luke 1:16). He baptized people in the Jordan River to fulfill that purpose. "Luke has nineteen references to the Holy Spirit … along with the fifty-seven occurrences in Acts, offers the possibility of tracing the intensified activity of the Holy Spirit as the shift takes place between the OT (John) and the NT (Jesus). … "John is doing the work of the Holy Spirit, who will descend in bodily form at Jesus' baptism (3:22) and be poured out abundantly on Pentecost (Acts 2). The Spirit's role in connection with John the Baptist makes evident his place in salvation history" (Just 55-56).

Zechariah finally comes out of the Temple, but he cannot finish the service with the Aaronic Benediction. This blessing was to be the final word in the service, but Zechariah cannot speak. It has been suggested that the Benediction is withheld from this first scene of the Gospel to be given at the end of the Gospel when Jesus ascends into Heaven (24:50-51).

When Zechariah's days of priestly service (leitourgia) were done, he went back home and Elizabeth conceived. The word for "priestly service" is where we get our word liturgy. It is most commonly what we see in the Divine Service. Worship is our "priestly service" toward God. Therefore, God sent His messenger to begin the infancy narrative during a time of worship.

Read Luke 1:67-80. Zechariah's hymn of praise comes when his tongue is loosened after his nine months of forced silence. The hymn can be broken up into two sections, verses 68-75 and 76-79. Verses 67 and 80 serve as an introduction and conclusion. The first section is one long complex sentence with all the verbs in the past tense. The second section is a complex sentence with all the verbs in the future tense.

The hymn lends itself easily to catechesis as it describes "God's mighty acts of salvation in the past and how John and Jesus will bring these mighty acts to fulfillment" (Just 95-96). The central focus comes in verses 72 and 73 where God has promised "to remember His holy covenant, the oath that he swore." The entire hymn revolves around this point.

"Some of the themes [of the Benedictus] that will be developed in John's ministry itself (3:3-18) and in the explanation of John's significance for God's plan of salvation (7:18-35) are joy at the breaking in of the new era of salvation, the work of John in turning Israel to the Lord in repentance, the presence of the Holy Spirit in John and his ministry, the anticipated rejection of John and Jesus by the Jewish leadership, and the reception of them by sinners and Gentiles" (Just 57).

Read Luke 3:1-22. John's ministry is marked by his asceticism (Matthew 3:4) and message of repentance. John's preaching and baptism are highly catechetical in nature. Both of these activities are means to teach the people so that the way may be prepared for the Lord.

Jesus Himself is baptized by John. Heaven is opened. The Holy Spirit descends on Him. All of this is a brief synopsis of heavenly worship before God. At Baptism, Heaven is opened to us, the Holy Spirit descends and indwells us, and God calls us His beloved son or daughter.