"And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:17 AV)
1. For people to be prepared for the coming of the Lord, they must have an altered heartand an altered mind.
a. This means, on the face of it, that a person's values must be changed and that a person's way of thinking about the pursuit of his values must be changed.
b. In regard to the alteration of the heart, the text says that John, empowered by the Spirit of Elijah, would bring this alteration to pass.
1) Unless we stumble over the identity of the "Accomplishing Spirit" (mistakenly identify it as human -- the Spirit of Elijah was none other than the Spirit of God upon Elijah), it is clear that the alteration of the human heart is not something that humans can accomplish for anyone -- themselves or others!
a) There is no point to the fact that John was to be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb if the human spirit is competent to accomplish the task!
b) The fact that such a filling was to be established before birth and maintained through the length of his life proves that the human spirit is, at best, incompetent, and, at worst, inimically corrupt [those in the flesh are at enmity with God, according to Paul].
i. That it was to be life-long also indicates the problematical nature of the problem: if human hearts can be easily changed, there is no need for a life-long duration since easy changes can be accomplished by intermittent and temporary infusions of power that are occasional.
ii. This is confirmed by both the apparent necessity of imparting the Holy Spirit to each believer in the present age (why would God give His Spirit to everyone if everyone didn't need Him at some level of desperation?) and the apparent failure of every believer even in the face of the indwelling Spirit (what has the record of the Church been over the centuries in terms of godliness?). Even James, who was a Spirit-indwelt believer and who had a reputation for exceptional character by reason of that Spirit, wrote "we all stumble in many ways". This is a commentary on the corruption of humanity in that even the indwelling presence of the omnipotent Spirit does not keep even highly committed disciples of Truth from "stumbling in many ways".
2) There is another danger: the lack of understanding of how John would be the Spirit's instrument in bringing altered hearts into being.
a) The bottom line is that John was a messenger -- a voice crying in the wilderness -- an instrument of verbal communication of Truth from The Spirit, through John's mind to his tongue to the ears of his hearers, through their minds, to their hearts -- where the words were implanted as potent divine seeds so that they would yield their harvest in their season!
i. Even the adversary's effectiveness is attributable to his fiery darts (an imagery of flaming arrows being implanted in hearts to their destruction that is rooted in the reality of verbal communication).
ii. Everywhere in Scripture, communicated Truth is a potent agent of heart change when accompanied by The Spirit.
iii. That John had to be filled with The Spirit from the womb seems to indicate that there has to be a long exposure to The Spirit in order for human-uttered words to be accurate enough to be His instruments of profound change [there is a hint here of the reality of self-imposed limitations on the Holy Spirit in respect to how much change He will work through human instruments--great change requires long exposure; small change requires only brief exposure.] This probably explains why so little enduring change has come from what men see and describe as "great periods of revival" -- the preachers were too little with the Spirit for their message not to have great corruptions attending what Truth they declared.
b) The central reality is that only The Spirit, accompanying His Truth as it penetrates the mental faculties of human beings, has the capacity to wend His way past all of the obstructions of reprobate minds into obdurate hearts so that His Truth is able to be implanted in the essential core of the hearers of Truth.
c. In respect to the alteration of the mind:
1) The fundamental problem is captured in the term translated "disobedient". The word fundamentally means "unpersuaded".
a) There is a connection between what one believes and how one acts.
b) Disobedience flows out of the condition of being unpersuaded as naturally as water flows from melting ice.
c) But this highlights why the focus of Scripture is upon the issue of faith rather than works. It is not that God isn't interested in how we act; rather, it is that God does not practice medicine like so many of us do -- putting bandages over wounds that need to be addressed at the core. Faith is a core issue at the secondary level. Love is the primary level (what we value); Faith is the second step up (what we believe as the way we shall address what we value).
2) Then there is the reality of certain basic perceptions of the just.
a) Being "unpersuaded" means that there are certain Truth precepts that have not been embraced. These are called "the understanding of the just".
b) Identifying these precepts is absolutely crucial. What are they?
i. Luke does not tell us directly -- only that they are required for people to be ready for the coming Lord.
ii. However, in Luke's record of Zacharias' prophecy regarding his son, he quotes Zacharias as saying, "Yea and thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High: For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people in the remission of their sins because of the tender mercy of our God." (Luke 1:76-78 AV). This is as clear a statement of John's impact upon the "thinking of the just" as we shall find.
iii. Then, in Luke 3, we have the record of the initiation of the ministry of John and we find that he was "preaching the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah..." according to the imagery of the level highway in the wilderness with a backdrop of his refusal to baptize those who counted on being associated with Abraham through physical birth. The emphasis is upon bringing forth good fruit. The immediate reaction of his hearers was "What, then, must we do?" The implication here is very much that grace is to lead to proper behavior and, if proper behavior does not follow, grace has not come! People are not prepared for the coming Lord who do not behave themselves according to grace. Paul's words to Titus, "For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us that he might redeem us...and purify unto himself a people..." (2:11-14 ASV).
iv. Therefore, we might conclude that the principles of the just are those foundation truths which move men from being unrighteous to being righteous. And what are those truths?
i) First, the magnitude of man's potency in evil and impotency in good -- the reality of human bondage to the law of sin in the members.
ii) Second, the magnitude of God's grace in addressing both of these issues -- the reality of the two-pronged approach of forgiveness and regeneration so that the barrier is removed (forgiveness) and that the impotency is addressed (regeneration).
iii) Third, the magnitude of clarity regarding the divine methodology -- the reality that all flows out of grace through faith unto good works. Confusion at this point can unseat all the rest! [the just are just by faith according to Genesis 15:6 and the just by faith are to "live" in this world according to Habakkuk 2:4 as manifest demonstrations of the Truth as Daniel and company demonstrated in their application of Habakkuk 2:4 to their own circumstances, but these "just" have their roots in grace or the whole edifice of understanding becomes just another heresy as men attempt to make faith the starting point rather than grace -- just as Gabriel showed Zacharias [Zacharias was fairly clear on faith, but was extremely weak on grace as "you shall name him John" reveals]. The twists of men are three: first, they dismiss the reality of human bondage so that they may escape humiliation; second, they want to start with faith in denial of the prerequisite of grace so that they may maintain control of the process; and third, they often truncate faith so that it need not sponsor behavioral changes so that their lack of righteous behavior is not a witness against them that their process is skewed.