Elisabeth - The Mother of John the Baptist

Bible Book: Luke  1 : 38-45
Subject: Obedience; Faith; Elisabeth; John the Baptist
Series: A Christmas Trilogy; The Three Wise Women

Elisabeth holds two distinctions that lend mortality to her name. She was the mother of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, and she was the first to greet her cousin, Mary, as the mother of the Messiah. Elisabeth also occasioned two of the greatest poems in the New Testament, Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56) and Zacharias' Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79).

As in the case of her husband Zacharias, Elisabeth was a godly person. She was not only the wife of a priest, but the daughter of a family of priests of the house of Aaron. She also bore the name of Aaron's wife, Elishaba (Exodus 6:23), which is the Hebrew for Elisabeth.

The town where Elisabeth lived was in the hill country of Judea in a desert tract west of the Dead Sea, possibly near Ain Karem, four miles north of Jerusalem. We might very well suppose that her house was within walking distance of Jerusalem's great temple where her husband officiated at particular times. As the wife of a priest, Elisabeth gave loving attention to her husband's priestly vestment and to her home where godly people came to talk over temple matters.

Elisabeth is introduced by Luke as a woman well-stricken in years and barren just as had been Isaac's mother, Sarah. Further, just as the messengers came to inform Abraham that Sarah would have a son, the angel Gabriel cam to Zacharias to foretell the birth of a son to Zacharias and Elisabeth. Luke 1:15 (read) tells us what kind of person this son would be.

This message from Gabriel had come first to Zacharias when he went into the holy place of the temple of the Lord to burn incense and to pray. Verse 8 teaches us that Zacharias was performing his priestly responsibility at the particular time that it was his to do. Verse 10 teaches that all of the people were standing outside the holy place of the temple where they were praying in the court.

Suddenly their appeared before him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the alter of incense. Fear overcame Zacharias but the angel calmed those fears, then mad a glorious proclamation: "Thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth" (verses 13-14).In verse 18 Zacharias' response is basically, "No Way! I am an old man and my wife is well stricken in years!" As a result of Zacharias' disbelief the angel said, "I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings.

"Imagine speaking directly with someone who stands in the very presence of God! Zacharias' experience is truly unique. Because of his disbelief the angel struck him dumb so that he was unable to speak and would remain in that state as the angel prophesied until all of these things would come to pass.

Now when Zacharias came out of temple all he could do was wave his arms and act as though her were speaking but he could not speak. The people were astounded. They assumed that he had see a vision in the temple.

Imagine the joy and wonder that filled the heart of Elisabeth as she learned of the good tidings that had come to her husband. We can be sure that she received the message in a spirit of humility and reverent responsibility. Elisabeth who believed strongly in miracles must have walked more prayerfully about her house. She anticipated with joy the days just ahead.

Though Elisabeth was old in years let us imagine that she was still vigorous and walked with a vibrant step. She was a woman, too, who thanked God for the wonders in the lives of His people. Even the stars that shone overhead represented God's goodness to all men. If He could make the stars to shine, He could bring forth a son for her who would glorify Him. How could she doubt. The human body itself was a miracle so wondrous that only God could create it and bring into being both human life and infinite mind. A child was the fruit of the womb and only God could bestow it as His gift to man and woman.

As we look at this wonderful story encircling the birth of the forerunner of Christ there are clear evidences of the beauty of the life of Elisabeth. She truly was a wise and obedient servant of the Lord.

I. Feared God

Elisabeth shared with her husband Zacharias the fear of the Lord. The Bible tells us that when the angel appeared to Zacharias that he was filled with fear. We remember that it was also true of the shepherds when the angel of the Lord appeared to them. They too were "filled with fear." This fear is the feeling of awe mingled with dread in the presence of the supernatural.

This emotion is evident even on the highest level of all where worship of God is at its purest. Paul said: "O the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his way!" (Romans 11:33).

The revelation of God in Christ, however, has made a profound difference in human emotion toward the final reality of the world. The Christian does indeed experience feelings of awe in the presence of the Lord and acutely aware of his own imperfection and finiteness, but instead of fear his basic feeling is utter trust. Paul writes: "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15).

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...No, in all of these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:35-37).

There is far too little fear , awe, and reverence among people today before the holiness and the wisdom and the power of God. We are more impressed with the power of a nuclear bomb than with the power that brought the universe into being in the first place. We fear the bomb but are complacent before the moral order in the world, which insures that we cannot do evil and get away with it. This lack of reverence for God and His laws is the basic reason we are in the mess that we are in right now. We would do well to remember Psalm 111:10: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."Elisabeth had this fear of the Lord and was a wise woman indeed.

II. Filled With The Holy Spirit

As we observe the characteristics of Elisabeth not only was she one who feared God but she was filled with the Holy Spirit for a unique revelation.

In the sixth month that Elisabeth was with child, her cousin Mary the virgin now in Nazareth receive word that she would bear a son and that his name would be called Jesus. Mary's faith was deepened when the angel explained to her, "And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also

conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren" (Luke 1:36). This gave the women a common bond. They knew that with God truly nothing was impossible.

With new rejoicing in her heart Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country where Elisabeth lived. When she arrived at Elisabeth's home the latter received her visitor with a stirring greeting: "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" (Luke 1:42). Elisabeth was the first to greet her cousin Mary as the mother of the Messiah. What a unique and wonderful proclamation.

Then Elisabeth asked in a modes spirit and with a sense of wonder and awe, "And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1:43). On Mary's arrival she had received a special infilling of the Holy Spirit. Inspired by the Holy Spirit she was enabled to recognize in Mary the fulfillment of the promise of God Himself. It was the Holy Spirit filling the heart and life of  Elisabeth that gave her the inspiration to make this great declaration. Elisabeth unconsciously illustrated the meaning of her own name which in Hebrew means, "God is an oath.

"This filling of the Holy Spirit affected both Elisabeth and her baby, John the Baptist. At the very presence of Jesus in the womb of His mother. Elisabeth's heart was filled with joy and the babe within her, in her own words, "leaped in my womb for joy."Yes, by this time in his development John the Baptist was big enough to make movement in the womb of Elisabeth but do not be mistaken, this was no mere kick by the foot or elbow by the arm. This was a unique sensation that came by the power of the Holy Spirit within Elisabeth and John in response to the very presence of the unborn Jesus within the womb of the virgin Mary.

Now I don't intend to get into the whole issue of abortion this morning but I do believe that this Scripture also has something to say to us about when life begins and when the fetus within the womb of a mother has identity. The Holy Spirit moved to inspire Elisabeth and her unborn child in the very presence of the unborn Christ within Mary. A very powerful text!

For three months Elisabeth entertained Mary in her home. Though with child herself and filled with great dreams for him, Elisabeth humble, unselfish woman that she was granted the fact that Mary would bear a child greater than her own. Now what mother do you know who would do this?

Elisabeth was spiritually perceptive.

During these three months that Mary visited Elisabeth we can imagine that they unburdened their hearts to each other and that Elisabeth had many words of wisdom for Mary who was young enough to be Elisabeth's daughter. Yet in their common experience of approaching motherhood the age difference became insignificant as they joyfully planned for the birth of their sons who were to be so near to the same age.

It is good that during these special days together they could not look to the end of their sons' lives and see what was ahead. Mary's Son would be crucified on the cross. Elisabeth's son, John, would be beheaded by Herod, ruler of Galilee. As Elisabeth and Mary visited together we wonder if they had any perception of what was to come. Certainly they found much joy in each other because they loved and understood each other and had the same strong belief in the Lord.

They have been depicted together in Christian art all across the world. From the early Christian paintings on the walls of the catacombs in Rome to such splendid examples of Renaissance art as Raphael's "Visitation" in the Gallery in Madrid, Spain.

III. Faithful To God

Elisabeth was one who feared God, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and was faithful to God. In these facts we note that she truly was a wise woman. In these facts we note that she truly was a wise woman.

Shortly after Mary's return to her home Elisabeth gave birth to her son. Remember that Elisabeth was six-months along when the announcement came to Mary that she would bear a son named Jesus. It was in those days that Mary then went to stay with Elisabeth for a time of three months. So Elisabeth was about nine months into her pregnancy when Mary returned home.

Elisabeth gave birth to her son and all of her neighbors and friends came and rejoiced that the Lord had been merciful to her (verse 58). We can be assured that Elisabeth watched over her child with a feeling of tenderness and awe.

On the eighth day they came to that time when Jewish custom dictated that they would circumcise their son. A great gathering of neighbors and kinsmen came for the circumcising and the naming of Elisabeth's son. The people , who gathered, immediately called him "Zacharias" after his father, but Elisabeth, remembering what the angel had said, declared positively, "Not so; but he shall be called John" (Luke 1:60). Elisabeth was faithful to God's will as she had been throughout all her life. She was deeply devoted and obediently His servant.

The family members and friends protested: "There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name." So they turned to Zacharias in hopes that they would be able to make headway with him. Verse 62 says "and they made signs to his father, how he would have him called.""And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marveled all" (verse 63). After that affirmation, Zacharias' speech returned. Another miracle had come to pass in the home of Elisabeth. Her husband was now healed of his speechlessness and he spoke the famous Benedictus glorifying God as the divine deliverer (verses 68-79).

What a joyful moment for Elisabeth. Her husband could speak again, and in her arms was a promising son. The hand of the Lord was upon her. Like his father, John the Baptist, became a just and holy man and ministered among the people.


Elisabeth's story ends as her son's story begins to unfold. We can only hope that she lived to rejoice in his early ministry, while his preaching of the Good News reached many and turned many to repentance.

We are reminded of the beautiful spirit and wisdom of John's mother in the words of John the Baptist as he spoke about Jesus as one mightier than himself: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). We are reminded of the beautiful spirit of his godly and wise mother.

The most lasting memorial to Elisabeth and the great mother of John the Baptist is to be found in the words of Christ Who said, "Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:11).