—JAN. 5.—Luke 1:5-17.—
Golden Text—"And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways."—Luke 1:76.
IN considering this familiar narrative we are reminded of the Lord's great care in preparing his chosen instruments for the various parts of his great work. Abraham's life was a long discipline of faith and patience; for he was to be the father of the faithful, a type of the fatherhood of God, and a worthy example to all his children, both those under the Law and those under the new covenant of grace.—Rom. 4:11-17.
Moses was specially prepared to be a leader, lawgiver and judge to Israel. Born under the humiliating conditions of bondage and the imperial sentence of death, he was providentially protected, preserved and adopted into the royal family, where he received a measure of that education necessary for his future service; and after that he had forty years more in the retirement of domestic life, which, under the operations of divine grace, hardened his virtues and mellowed the ardor of his temperament. Thus God gave to Israel a trained and experienced character as a leader. Similarly, suitable preparation for the positions they were to occupy or the work they were to do is very noticeable in other cases, both of Bible record and of subsequent history. Mark the case of Samuel, a child of prayer, devoted to the Lord from his infancy, and trained in the service of the Lord under the care of Eli; and of Paul, called from his infancy, instructed in the law, and zealous toward God even while ignorantly persecuting the saints, verily thinking he did God service.
John the Baptist was another illustration. The preparations in this, as in most of these cases, began before he was born, in the hearts of his parents,—"They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." (Verse 6) Consider also subsequent reformers known to all through the pages of history, and mark the providential leadings in their preparation for their work long before they could have any knowledge of the work that was before them. Consider also how the Lord has been preparing the Gospel Church for its Millennial work; and how he prepared the ancient worthies for their Millennial work in the earthly phase of the coming Kingdom; and so on through all the list of his "chosen vessels." The "chosen vessel" is always a prepared vessel for the service intended; and that the preparation is of God, and not of himself, is manifest from the fact that in every case it began long before the chosen one knew of the ends to be accomplished or the significance of the providential circumstances or the measures of discipline.
The principal preparation which God requires for every part of his honorable service is holiness of heart—devotedness to God and to his righteousness and truth, and abhorrence of all that is unholy, unclean. "Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord." There are, however, some parts of the Lord's service which reflect no honor upon those engaged in it, though they do reflect honor upon the wisdom and power of God who is able to make even the wrath of his enemies to praise him, by his power to out-general and overrule their evil for good to his cause. For instance, Satan, and every other evil worker, whose evil devices are, by divine power, overruled for good of God, unwittingly serve some of the purposes of God—sometimes [R1916 : page 10] for the discipline of the children of God and sometimes for the revolutionizing of affairs in the world.
The prenatal influences upon John the Baptist were such that, from his birth, his heart was inclined toward God and holiness (verse 15); and the training and discipline of his life were such that at maturity he was ready for the work of introducing to Israel the long-promised Messiah. Of him it was foretold, "He shall be great in the sight of the Lord." Yes, he was a great man, a great preacher and a great prophet. Jesus said he was the greatest of all the prophets. (Matt. 11:11.) But he was not great in the eyes of men. He was never a guest at the palace of Herod, but he was a prisoner in his prisons. He was not an esteemed orator in the Jewish synagogues, but he was "a voice crying in the wilderness." He was not arrayed in purple and fine linen, nor did he fare sumptuously every day, but his raiment was of camel's hair and a leathern girdle, and his meat was locusts and wild honey. And though, for a time, the multitudes were attracted by his preaching, he was soon abandoned by the people, imprisoned by the king, and finally beheaded in prison.
And yet John was truly a great man; for he was "great in the sight of the Lord." He was great in the sense that he that ruleth his own spirit according to the principles and precepts of the divine Word is greater than he that taketh a city. (Prov. 16:32.) All the natural aspirations and human ambitions were made subservient to his one mission of introducing his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, a man of humble birth and circumstances, as the Messiah, to whom he knew the gathering of the people would be after he had accomplished his mission of introducing him. (Gen. 49:10.) But John was pleased to have it so, and declared that in performing this service for his cousin according to the flesh, and thus accomplishing his part in the divine purpose and prophecy, his joy was fulfilled. (John 3:29.) And, by the eye of faith discerning in the humble Nazarene the Son of God, he said to the people, "One mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose." "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" "He must increase, but I must decrease."—Luke 3:16; John 1:29; 3:30.
It was this meekness, this complete self-abnegation and singleness of purpose to accomplish the righteous will of God, that constituted the moral greatness of John. And because he was in that attitude of heart where the Lord could use him he was privileged to be the greatest, the most highly honored, of all the prophets, in that he was chosen to introduce, to Israel and the world, the Anointed Son of God, the Redeemer and future King of the whole earth. Thus he became a great man, a great preacher of righteousness and truth, the greatest of all the prophets, and one of the heirs of the earthly phase of the Kingdom of God.
What a profitable lesson is in this for all who would seek true greatness—to be "great in the sight of the Lord." It calls to mind that wise admonition of the Apostle, "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God that he may exalt you in due time." (1 Pet. 5:6.) The way of the cross, the way of humiliation and self-abasement, is the way to the crown, to that true honor that cometh from God only. Where now is the honor of the great ones of earth who have passed away—the Caesars, the Herods, the Alexanders and Napoleons; the Jewish scribes and Pharisees [R1916 : page 11] and doctors of the law and Rabbis? and where all the reverend Popes and Cardinals and Bishops and Priests of the great Apostasy who proudly flourished in their day? They have all come to naught, and in the Millennial judgment they will come forth to shame and confusion of face, stripped of all their honors. But those truly great ones—"great in the sight of the Lord"—are reserved unto honor and glory and power at the appearing and Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Let the lesson come home to each of our hearts,—"He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve." Patiently submit to the humbling now, and hopefully and joyfully wait for the glory to be revealed by and by in all the faithful. This is not the time nor place for rewards, but for discipline and service, for the development of character, for making ready for the future exaltation, that we may appear without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, joint heirs of our Redeemer.