In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, (RSV)
Why would John the Baptist start preaching? How does God communicate His will to me? Let’s check out John’s history. In Luke 1:17 John’s mission was announced by an angel before his birth. He was to go before the Lord and turn the hearts of Israel to the Lord. John’s father, Zechariah, was unable to speak after the announcement because he doubted what he had heard and asked for a sign. I think there is an important lesson to be learned from Zechariah.
To understand the lesson I need to understand who Zechariah was and what was going on. First of all, he was a priest and second he was the one who was selected to enter the temple to burn incense. He was all alone, in God’s dwelling place. Then an angel appears. His first reaction is fear. This is a very normal reaction to a true angelic appearance. You can look in Daniel 8:15-18 and observe the physical effects of the visions he had when Gabriel appeared to him. Since Zechariah was a priest and he was performing his duty in the temple, there is no reason that he should have suspected that this person was anyone other than an angel. The angel told him his prayer to have a son had been answered; another clue he was sent by God. Furthermore, he told Zechariah exactly what John’s mission would be and how he should be raised. This is very similar to the instructions and prophesy that was given to Samson’s mother when an angel appeared to her. (Judges 13:2-5) This would have been very familiar to Zechariah.
Given Zechariah’s position as priest, his location in the temple, and his knowledge of Scripture, it was an affront to God that he asked for a sign to prove that what the angel said was true. You can compare this to Gideon (Judges 6:11 and following) who asked for a sign. Gideon was not a priest, he was not in the temple rather, he was threshing wheat in a winepress out of fear of the enemy. He was the opposite of Zechariah in most ways. When he asked for a sign, God accommodated him because he didn’t know better. He needed encouragement to trust the Lord.
Zachariah got his sign. He was struck with the inability to speak until his son was born. I think he learned his lesson. After John’s birth in Luke 1:77, Zechariah prophesied that John would give people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. After such a dramatic introduction to his son’s mission, Zechariah would not have neglected teaching John what he needed to do.
What did I learn from all this? When God speaks, I better do what He says.
Fortunately, we have God’s Word for general direction. A great passage is 1 Thess 5:16-22 Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. (NASB) I think following these commands will not only enable me to follow God’s will for my life in general, but also specifically.
If I’m joyful in all circumstances instead of complaining, God can use me anywhere. If I’m praying always, He can lead me and help me. If I’m thankful for everything, He will be pleased. If I don’t suppress the prompting of the Holy Spirit and pay attention to prophetic utterances, then He can speak to me directly or through others. If I examine everything carefully, then my own sinful nature and those who claim they are speaking for God won’t trick me. If I always try to do what is right using my abilities to further His kingdom and abstain from sin, I’ll probably be doing what God wants. I don’t think He will need to tell me to do something specific. However, if He does, I’ll be ready without asking for a specific sign.
If a non-Christian wants to know what God wants him to do, I can always use Jesus’ response to that question. John 6:29 Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (NIV)
However, I’ve heard people say they would believe in Jesus if God would give them a sign. Their sin is worse than Zechariah’s. Zechariah obeyed after receiving his sign. Jesus has already given everyone a sign; it is His resurrection. They don’t want to believe that sign just as Jesus said. Luke 16:31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" (NIV) Jesus said that anyone who rejects the Bible will not be convinced by His resurrection. They will still ask for signs. Matt 12:39-40 But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (RSV)
Rejecting Jesus and the sign God provided by resurrecting Him is the ultimate affront to God who allowed His son to be killed as a sacrifice for our sins. It will result in eternal death, not just a few months with the inability to speak. The good news is that it is never too late to change your mind and believe in Jesus.