Sunday, August 14, 2016

LUKE 1 - INTRODUCTION & FORETELLING THE BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST

Introduction
Luke 1:1-4

Luke addressed his book to “most excellent Theophilus”. Theophilus must have been an important man to have the title “most excellent”. This is the same title given to the Roman governor Felix in Acts 23:26. He was likely a political figure and government leader.

Luke also set out the purpose of his writing. He wanted to write an orderly account of things “accomplished  among us”. Since it is the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we know Luke intended to write a record of this based on his knowledge and research. He also had many other writings to consult as he said in verse 1. And he was inspired by the Holy Spirit. He wanted to write so that Theophilus might have certainty concerning the things he had been taught.

Theophilus either had questions or doubts about the story of Jesus. Luke researched and wrote to answer those questions and remove those doubts. His version of the gospel can do the same for us. Even if we have no doubts, the story will remind us of the wonders of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Who was Luke? He was a Gentile, not a Jew. His name is Greek. He was a companion of Paul for some of his travels. In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul indicated that only Luke was with him. Paul was in prison in Rome after his fourth missionary journey.

He was a physician. In Colossians 4:14, Paul wrote “Luke the beloved physician greets you”. As a physician, he would have been educated, literate and thorough. That is why his account is full of detail not in the other gospels. It is the longest of the gospels.

Luke makes it clear he was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. But he had knowledge learned from eyewitnesses, probably had the gospels of Mark and Matthew, and may have also interviewed witnesses. Only he records the details of the births of John and Jesus, suggesting he interviewed their mothers, Elizabeth and Mary.

Putting all of these things together, Luke wanted to write an account for Theophilus to give him certainty of the things he had been taught. We will also learn things about Jesus from Luke’s account and have our faith strengthened. Those who have not committed their lives to Christ will come to understand his mission to bring salvation to men and women.

Foretelling the Birth of John The Baptist
1:5-25

John was an important figure because he was sent by God to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. So Luke begins his gospel with the message of his impending birth.

This story serves two purposes. First, it ties the story of the life of Jesus to the Old Testament prophecies. Second, it sets up a comparison between the way Zechariah received news from God about the special role of his son in redemptive history and how Mary received news from God about the role of her son as the redeemer.

The time was during the reign of King Herod in Judea. He was king from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C. John’s father, Zechariah, served as a priest during this time. That means that John also could have become a priest. Interestingly, Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, was also of the priestly line. She was “from the daughters of Aaron”. Aaron was the first high priest and brother of Moses. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth kept the law.

The priests were organized into divisions. King David set this up.  Zechariah was of the division of Abijah. You can read about that in 1 Chronicles 24. He likely ministered in the temple twice per year.

On this occasion, Zechariah was chosen to burn incense in the temple. This was done twice per day. The priests were chosen by drawing lots to do this. It was considered great privilege. And once you did it, you were ineligible to draw lots again. It was really a once in a life time privilege.

He did this at the altar of incense in the Holy Place. The altar was just outside the curtain that closed of the Most Holy Place.As he faced the altar, the golden lamp stand of life was on his left, providing the only light in the room. The table of the show bread was on is right. The altar was in front of him.

The burning of incense was a symbol of prayer, so people would gather outside the temple and pray during the time of burning so that their prayers would go up to God with the incense.





While Zechariah offered incense, he prayed for Israel. Since Israel considered itself still in partial exile, being under Roman rule, he likely prayed for the redemption of Israel and the coming of the Kingdom. He evidently prayed also for a son of his own, since he and his wife, Elizabeth, had no children.

So, while Zechariah was burning the incense, and praying, an angel appeared on the right side of the altar of incense. Zechariah was afraid, a common reaction to the appearance of angels. But the angel told him not to be afraid and had a message for him. The message was that his prayer had been heard and answered.

Before the Lord would come to Israel, there would be a herald, one who would prepare the way. Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son who would be that herald. He was to be called John. HIs name means “God has been gracious”. It was fitting since God was gracious to give this old couple a son. And this son would bring God’s grace to Israel and then to the world.

The angel also told Zechariah several things about his future son:
many would rejoice at his birth;
he will be great before the Lord;
he would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth;
he would not drink alcohol to show he was set apart like the Old Testament Nazarites (Numbers 6)
he would bring repentance to many, turning their hearts to the Lord;
he would go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah;
would prepare a people to receive the Lord.

These characteristics are not accidental. They were prophesied by Malachi. He was the last prophet of the Old Testament until John the Baptist.

Malachi’s prophecies are based in the covenant. He preached against Israel’s violations of the covenant. He declared God’s covenant love. He also spoke of a messenger of the covenant, and a messenger who would prepare the way of the Lord.

Malachi 3:1 records the word of the Lord, who said  “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me.”

Then, in Malachi 4:5-6, God said “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their father lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction”. This is a word of promise and a word of judgment.

The angel was telling Zechariah that his son, John, would be that messenger, prophet like Elijah, who would prepare the way of the Lord. Jesus later stated this plainly as Matthew recorded in Matthew 11:7-15. Zechariah, as a priest and devout Jew, would know the scripture and understand the references.

That is exciting news, is it not? Not only is Zechariah having a son, but his son will be a prophet who will bring repentance to many in Israel and prepare the way for the Messiah. Zechariah should have jumped for joy.

Instead, Zechariah doubted and questioned the angel. He said “how can I know this, my wife and I are both old”. He is a priest, he is offering prayers in the temple and an angel appears with an answer to his prayer, but Zechariah did not believe. He was looking at the physical signs: his age and Elizabeth’s inability to conceive. It was the human point of view, not the supernatural view He did not believe in God’s supernatural power. In effect, he asked the angel to give him a sign that this message was true.

The angel, who identified himself as Gabriel, said he stands in the very presence of God and was sent by God to bring this good news. (19) This was good news for Zechariah and Elizabeth, for they would have a child. It was good news for Israel because the Messiah was soon to come.

In other words, Gabriel was saying you prayed, God answered, and sent the answer by way of an important angel; how could you not believe.

So, the Lord gave a sign, but also disciplined Zechariah for his unbelief. He was made silent until the day of John’s birth.(20) Since Zechariah could not speak in faith and thankfulness, he would not be able to speak at all, even though he would have had a great message to tell.

It is a bit humorous to see that Zechariah tried to explain his delay in coming out of the temple by using hand signs to tell people an angel had appeared to him with a great message.

What Gabriel said came true of course. Elizabeth became pregnant. She interpreted this as a favor the Lord did for her. He looked upon her and removed her reproach. (25) It was considered a sign of the Lord’s disfavor to be barren.

It is interesting that God has several times used a woman who could not have children to do something big. Sarah had no children in old age, then God gave her Isaac, the child of promise. The wife of Manoah had no children until God have her Gideon. (Judges 13) Hannah had no children until God gave her Samuel, who became a prophet and the last judge in Israel.

And now, in this story, we see how Elizabeth goes from barren to having a child who will prepare the way for the Messiah. God made these women unable to have children to bring glory to himself by giving them special children who would be great for the kingdom of God.

Little did Elizabeth know the Lord did so much more than remove her reproach for not having children. He started the process to remove her sin and the sin of all who believed in Jesus.

So, we see in this story, that what God says he will do, he will do. He wants us to accept his word in faith no matter what the circumstances are.

We also see that God cares about those who are broken. Women had a secondary status in that day and age. A woman with no children had even less status. But God cared about her and answered Zechariah’s prayers for her, giving her a child.

And, finally, we see God continuing to complete his plan to bring salvation through Jesus, preparing the way for his arrival.

You can put your faith in this God who has supernatural power. You can trust this God who cares about those who have problems, no matter their social status. He is faithful and his is compassionate.

Believe in him and trust him. 
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