But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,  for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.  And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,  and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
(Luke 1:13-17, ESV)
“In the Spirit and power of Elijah.” That’s how Gabriel predicts John’s ministry. It’s quite a comparison, but what does it mean? We should start with taking it historically. This Spirit and power are how all the prophets predicted and anticipated the coming of God – His advent to us in Jesus Christ. It has all been prep work up to this point in Luke, getting things ready for this universe shaking event – the coming of a God into the physical world. Remember, this is fantastical non-fiction, historical events of miraculous proportion described in the lives of everyday men and women. It’s been a long set up period. You could say it’s been steadily in preparation since the first moment of creation when the stars were spun out by the incredible energies of the big bang. The eons of time and amazing creation of every animal that has ever walked, swam, or crawled across our planet – all prep for His coming. The laws, the histories of Israel, the prophets and their sermons, the poetry of the ancient temple worship are all preparation for Him. Culminating here, in John the Baptist, the last herald before the great King.
However, it’s more than prep. That reference to Elijah is a bit double-edged. It promises power and wisdom at the highest supernatural level, but it also predicts suffering. Elijah was on the wrong side of the power structures of his day. King Ahab, a twisted and evil little man, hated Elijah for confronting his worship of demons and child sacrifice. Ahab called Elijah the “troubler of Israel” for speaking truth, and Elijah found himself hunted and hated most of his life. John also found himself on the bad side of powerful politicians, but he didn’t escape them as Elijah did. Herod put him in prison and, out of peer pressure at a dinner party, cut his head off. The coming of our Father’s kingdom always has these two sides. One in triumph, and one in suffering.
It does come with joy and wonder to the people of God, and the men and women who have the Spirit and power of Elijah today are still excited about advent! We see our Savior’s coming now into people’s hearts, and we see it in their new birth. We see people turning to God similarly to how John turned so many to “make ready” God’s people. Baptisms are a part of His coming! They are the “advent” events today.
We are still the culmination of all the prep work of God, but we also have to struggle with the downside. There will be resistance, persecution, and rejection as well. We will find an unnatural response at times to the gospel that can be puzzling and surprising – sometimes from inside the church and sometimes from outside. But, we aren’t supposed to be surprised. In any case, we need that same Spirit and power now. With Him, we can be a part of God’s prep, and in Him, we can endure the rejection and hatred we fear. Praise Him. Seek Him. And, turn to Him today.