THE LIFE OF CHRIST
Tonight in our series on the Life of Christ, we will be taking a close look at Luke 1 as it describes the background behind the beginning of John the Baptist and Jesus.
Luke 1:1 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us,† 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us,† 3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus,† 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
I am not going to spend much time on this section of Scripture because we already talked about it some in a previous lesson. The main thing I want to point out is that Luke is the writer and he was a Gentile physician. When you read through the gospel of Luke you will see him use medical terms. It is fascinating to me that a physician would be the one that gives us the most detail about the birth of Christ and the fact that Jesus was born of a virgin. Luke had to be fully convinced of this truth in order to defend it so well. Luke was not an eyewitness of these things, but he had perfect understanding because he had spoken with those who were eyewitnesses. Since he knew that what he was writing was spot on, he could tell Theophilus that he could know with certainty that when he read Lukeís account that is was the truth. I think it is important that we are understand this simple principle as Christians regarding the Bible as a whole. Not only is the truth from God, it can be tested and tried and proven to be true.
Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.† 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.† 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.
Historically, this man was known as Herod the Great and he acquired the provinces he ruled over by pay large sums of money to the Romans. His reign as King was 40 B.C. 4. B.C. This is important to know when it comes to dating the birth of our Lord, because as we will see this man is the one who tries to kill our Lord, which means that Jesus had to be born earlier than 4 B.C. Most like the date of 5 or 6 B.C. This can be somewhat confusing since most probably think that Jesus was born when the record of time went from B.C. to A.D. but there was a mistake made by the man who came up with the A.D. calendar. We still do not know the exact day or the exact year for sure, but we do know that Jesus had to be born before 4 B.C. because Herod died in that year.
Regarding Zacharias, the priest, I like what Curtis Cates writes about him and his circumstance:
As the population grew and especially as the number of priests multiplied during Davidís day (1 Chron. 24:7-18), since the priests were of the family of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi, who did not go to war and consequently were not depleted in numbers because of war, David divided the priest into twenty-four courses, or bodies, each of whom would serve one week. Each course would serve twice during the year, making forty-eight weeks. In addition, all the priests would serve during three weeks of the year. After the Babylonian captivity, the priests were again divided into courses; the practice persisted until the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans (A.D. 70).
Zachariasí course was Abijah, the eighth in the list (1 Chron. 24:10); thus he would serve eight weeks into the Jewish, which began in April (not counting the week of the Passover) and would serve six months later.
Note: one can calculate the general time of the Lordís birth by figuring 1. the week of Zachariasí service, 2. the week of Pentecost, in which he would also serve, 3. giving Zacharias time to get home (several days), the last of June (approximately), 4. adding six months until Maryís conception, the last of December (Luke 1:26), and 5. adding the nine months until Christís birth (the last of September, likely). Or, it could have been during the second round of services that [Zacharias] was serving during the year, making Christís birth six months later, or March. The evidence favors the early date.
So our best evidence shows that Jesus most likely born around 6 B.C. either in September or March, which rules out December 25 as even coming close to the day He was born.
Zachariasí wife's name is Elisabeth and is a cousin of Mary. This priest and his wife were faithful to God because they kept His commandments from the O.T. They were considered righteous and so is every other person is who lives for God and keeps His commandments no matter which covenant you are under. Like Abraham and Sarah, these two were childless.
Luke 1:8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division,† 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.† 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. †
Zacharias had the privilege of burning incense before the Lord. According to the Law of Moses this would be done before the morning sacrifice and after the evening sacrifice. He would burn the incense on the alter that stood before the veil that separated the Holy place from the Holy of Holies. The rising incense represented the prayers of the multitude rising toward God.
Luke 1:11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.† 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.† 13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.† 14 "And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. †
You cannot help but appreciate the great details that Luke records, which shows that he did indeed have a perfect understanding of things he wrote. The angel appeared to Zacharias on the right side of the incense, which is the space between the alter and showbread table. Imagine how you would feel when no one else is supposed to be there and all of sudden and angel is beside you. As you would expect, the angelís appearance troubled Zacharias, and he became fearful. It is not like people saw these heavenly messengers every day. Well, the angel manages to calm Zacharias down by telling him some great news that he never thought he would hear. He and his wife would have a child and he is to be named John. He would be a special child that would not only bring joy to this older couple, but to many. We learn just how special he will be in the next verses:
Luke 1:15 "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.† 16 "And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.† 17 "He will also 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 a people prepared for the Lord."
One thing that blows the mind of man is the fact that God knows us before we are born, and He even knows what we will become. While it is true that God knows these things about us, He does not force us to be any particular way, but he knows what choices we are going to make, which is why he could say that John would be great in the sight of the Lord. This whole thought reminds me of what God tells Jeremiah:
Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations."
The angel gives specific instructions about John not being allowed to drink wine or strong drink. Some believe this may have made John a Nazarite for life as Numbers 6 talks about, but not all those things in Numbers are mentioned, so we do not for sure if this is what is meant. We also learn that he would be full of the Holy Spirit in the womb. However, John never did any miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit that read about in Scripture.
John was not Elijah reincarnated. No, he simply would have the spirit of Elijah in his work and his life. This is what was meant about John as prophesied by Malachi in:
Malachi 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.† 6 And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse."
Later, Jesus would confirm that John the Baptist was who Malachi spoke of (Mt. 17-9-13). In future lessons, we will see how John did exactly what was said about him because he preached about the kingdom to come and about the Messiah. His message turned many hearts toward God and to Jesus (Lk. 3:10-18, Jn. 1:11-12).
Luke 1:18 And Zacharias said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years."† 19 And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.† 20 "But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time."
Throughout the Bible, doubt is dealt with in many ways. For Zachariasí doubt, he would be unable to speak until his son was born. If you jump ahead to verse 62 of our text, it indicates that he might have lost his hearing as well. One thing we should learn from this man is that we should doubt the word of God. Obviously, we will never be under this same circumstance as he was, and we are not going to lose our voices or our hearing over it, but bad things can happen as a result for doubting Godís Word because He means what He says. We learn that this angel is Gabriel.
Luke 1:21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple.† 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. †23 And so it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house.
The people waiting in the court would normally wait for the priest to come out and dismiss them. Well, Zacharias had stayed in the temple longer than normal, so the people began to wonder what was taking so long. I know if I were is his place, I would have lingered as I was kicking myself for doubting the word of the angel as I tried to see if I could speak. At the same time, I would be excited because my condition would mean that the word from the Lord was true.
Zacharias finally makes his way out of the temple and he tries to speak to the people by using signs with his hands. Based on his behavior the people concluded that he must have had a vision. One thing I like in verse 23 is that it shows that he continued to do his work despite the fact he could not speak and probably could not hear. He did not allow his new handicap to keep him from serving the Lord and neither should we. When his days of service were over he went home.
Luke 1:24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying,† 25 "Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people."
Just as the angel said, Elizabeth conceived. We are not told the reason why she hid herself for 5 months. Some speculate she did this to make sure the pregnancy was a sure thing. No doubt she felt blessed because the women back then felt like they were cursed by God if they were unable to have a child, which is why I believe she considered this child in her womb as a way take away her reproach among her people. As amazing as it was that this older woman was having a child, nothing can compare to what happens next.
Luke 1:26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,† 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
John is now six months along in his development in the womb when the angel is sent to Mary. She was a virgin betrothed to Joseph. The betrothal usually took a year and the couple is essentially considered to be married, but they do not live with one another nor are they to have sexual relations until they are officially married. Under the Old Law, betrothal was so serious that if the woman lies with another man during that time, she and that man would be put to death:
Deuteronomy 22:23 " If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her,† 24 "then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor's wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you.
Luke 1:28 And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!"† 29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.† 30 Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.† 31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.
Though Gabriel comes to Mary with a great introduction by calling her a highly favored one and tell her that the Lord was with her, it still made her afraid as she had no idea why an angel would be coming to her. Gabriel tells her not to be afraid, but then makes the huge announcement about how she has been chosen to bring forth a son, and she is to call Him Jesus. All I can say is, wow! Could any of you women image being told such a thing while still being a virgin? Then the angel continues:
Luke 1:32 "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.† 33 "And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."
I could just image Mary trying to take all this in. Not only is she to give birth to a son, but He will be the Son of God. She would play her part in the fulfillment of the coming Messiah who would set up His everlasting kingdom as Nathan told David in 2 Sam. 7:11-16. Notice Maryís response:
Luke 1:34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?"† 35 And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.† 36 "Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.† 37 "For with God nothing will be impossible."† 38 Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
In my opinion, I do not see Mary doubting the message from the angel like Zacharias had, but she was simply trying to understand how she could give birth when she is a virgin. The angel explains that God will give her the child, so He would not have an earthly Father, but would be the Son of God. It seems to me that the angel offers proof that God is capable of doing such a miraculous thing as he points out that God was able to make her cousin Elisabeth have a child in her old age even though she was considered barren. Apparently, Mary did not know that her cousin was with child. I love it when the angel tells her, ďFor with God nothing will be impossible.Ē
Once Mary heard this it was all she needed to hear. She basically, says I am yours Lord, let your will be done. This is the same attitude we should have when it comes to listening to Godís Word. Yes, parts of it are hard for us to understand at times why God wants us to do certain things certain ways, but let us all have the spirit of Mary and turn ourselves over to Lord and completely trust in Him and His Word.
Luke 1:39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah,† 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.† 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.† 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!† 43 "But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?† 44 "For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.† 45 "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord."
Mary had to travel a great distance to go see her cousin. While we are not told the specific city, we do know that was in Judah. You could imagine the anticipation that Mary had to go see Elizabeth after learning that she was also blessed by God. In my mind, I could also see her being very anxious to tell her all about her visit from the angel and what he said. However, when Mary came before Elizabeth, John leaped in the womb and she became filled with the Holy Spirit.
She then proceeds to proclaim that Mary has been blessed by God and is with child, which we know was the Son of God. She also proclaimed that everything the Lord told her would be fulfilled. There is only one way the Elizabeth could have proclaimed such a message. It came from the Holy Spirit. In one sense, Mary might have been a little let down that she did not get to tell her the news, but she was probably overwhelmed by the working of God and further confirmation of what had happened to her. So, being the one to tell Elizabeth the news herself did not really matter. No wonder we see Mary break out in praise to God. As we read:
Luke 1:46 And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord,† 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.† 48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
Mary understood the wonderful privilege she was given. Every ounce of her being would magnify the Lord, and everyone would consider her as being blessed because she alone was chosen to give birth to our Messiah. She continues her praise in:
Luke 1:49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name.† 50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.† 51 He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.† 52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly.† 53 He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty.† 54 He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy,† 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever."† 56 And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.
Mary is praising God for all the wonderful things He has done and how He upholds His people. You can almost hear her excitement as she says all these wonderful things about God. After this, all we know is that Mary stayed with her about 3 months then went back home.
Luke 1:57 Now Elizabeth's full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son.† 58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.† 59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias.† 60 His mother answered and said, "No; he shall be called John."† 61 But they said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name."† 62 So they made signs to his father -- what he would have him called.† 63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, "His name is John." So they all marveled.† 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.† 65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea.† 66 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, "What kind of child will this be?" And the hand of the Lord was with him.
Mary is gone, and now Elizabeth has given birth. According to the Law of Moses the male child was to be circumcised on the 8th day even if the 8th day fell on the Sabbath. As part of the Jewish custom the baby would be named on that day as well. The neighbors assumed the baby would be named after his father, but they found out differently because he was to be called John. After Zacharias writes Johnís name down his tongue was loosed, which amazed the people and caused them to wonder what kind of child this was. Saying the hand of the Lord was with Him is just a metaphor to say that God was with him and would continue to be with him.
The remainder of our chapter contains the prophecy uttered by Zacharias by means of the Holy Spirit:
Luke 1:67 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:† 68 "Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people,† 69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David,† 70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began,† 71 That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us,† 72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And to remember His holy covenant,† 73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:† 74 To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear,† 75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.† 76 "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,† 77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins,† 78 Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;† 79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace."† 80 So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.
Much could be said about this prophecy, but in a nutshell, Zacharias was praising God and talking about how God would redeem His people and it is going to begin with his son being the proclaimer for Christ. When John grew and became strong in spirit, he began the great mission that was set out for him in prophecy long before he was born.
As we have seen, Luke gives a lot of information about the background behind Johnís and Jesusí beginning. We will learn more about Jesusí birth and the circumstances around it next week when we look at Luke 2. We serve an amazing God who has given us so much through His Son, and we are so fortunate to be able to read all about it and learn about how our wonderful Savior came to this earth to save us all. Let us never cease learning about God and His wonderful grace, and may we never cease having the spirit of Mary by praising God for all that He does.