Today: [Luke 1] The Birth John and Jesus. In the first chapter of Luke, we are introduced to the author as a Gentile and physician who was also an insider to the company of those men who walked with Jesus in His earthly lifetime. Luke is writing to a nobleman named Theopholis regarding the origins of the Jesus narrative, beginning in our chapter with the birth of John and Jesus, just a few months apart.
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[Luk 1:1-38 KJV] 1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; 3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, 4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. 5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife [was] of the daughters of Aaron, and her name [was] Elisabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were [now] well stricken in years. 8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, 9 According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord 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 unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17 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. 18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. 20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. 23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. 24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on [me], to take away my reproach among men. 26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name [was] Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, [thou that art] highly favoured, the Lord [is] with thee: blessed [art] thou among women. 29 And when she saw [him], she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 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. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
The book of Luke opens with the author presuming the right to speak with authority regarding the life of Jesus, presenting himself as an insider with the right not only to present the facts concerning Jesus, but to exclude many of the circulating narratives and substandard at best, and false at worst. Who was Luke? He was known to be a companion of the apostle Paul, a Gentile by birth and a physician by occupation.
He is thought by some to originate from the city of Antioch from whence Paul’s ministry originated. The book is addressed to a certain Theophilus, a Roman official and also a believer in Christ. He was possibly a patron of Luke and may have been instrumental because of his position and wealth, to overseeing the duplication and distribution of early copies of Luke’s gospel. The timing of the writing of Luke is approximately 40 to 50 years after the resurrection of Christ, therefore during the Jewish revolt led by Simon Barcopa that was put down by the Romans at the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
Luke begins with the previously unknown details of the birth of John the Baptist. As it was true of the prophet Samuel in ancient times, John was born to aged parents who had believed to have children for a very long time. It is often found in the lives of great men and women of God that the circumstances of their births are visited upon by unique circumstances and divine intervention to bring them into the earth at particular times and specific seasons to coincide with the call upon their lives. John the Baptist is no exception to this. John’s father Zecheriah was an influential priest, who regularly took his turn serving before the Lord in the Holy Place or Inner Court of the temple, before the veil beyond which it was believed the ark of the covenant was found. We say it was believed that the ark was there, when in fact it has not been seen or reported of since the days of king Josiah.
John’s mother Elizabeth was of the priestly line as well and was cousin to young Mary who would give birth to Jesus. In verses 9-11 we find Zecheriah burning incense on the altar of incense when the angel of the Lord appears who we find to be Gabriel, to announce the birth and calling of John. There is specific mention of the angel appearing on the right side of the altar, therefore we ask what the significance of this is. In scripture, a left handed priest was disqualified, whereas the right side of anything is symbolic of power, honor and strength. In this position the angel would have been positioned between the altar of incense and the table of showbread, also known as the “bread of His presence”. We know that Jesus is the bread of life, therefore there is a connection here, in the narrative that was certainly passed on to Jesus later in His life, that caused Him to identify Himself as the “Bread from Heaven”.
When Zecheriah hears the promise of a child being born that would be called John, he questions how these things will be so (in v.18). Can you imagine and angel, Gabriel himself appears before you and you question what he says to you? The angel abruptly censures Zecheriah and strike him dumb and unable to speak for his presumption and unbelief. Angels are very attenuated to the words coming out of our mouths. Ecclesiastes tells us not to swear an oath and then say before the angel it was an error, “lest he become angry with thee and destroy the work of thy hands…” In Daniel the angel tells the prophet “I am come for your words….” Angels are a fact of life, and as being present in our lives we should guard our tongues regarding the words that we carelessly blurt out, as they may have profound implications for our lives if we do not.
In due time, indeed Elizabeth does become pregnant and the baby’s term comes to 6 months as which time the narrative shifts to Gabriel appearing once again, this time not to aged Elizabeth and Zecheriah, but to young Mary, believed to have been as young as 12 years old at this time. The angel appears, declaring that she is highly favored of God and that she will conceive seed, not by the normal manner after which all children are born, but rather she will give birth after that the Holy Ghost comes upon her and causes her to bring forth a child not conceived by a mortal man. What is the significance of this? Because Jesus would not be a child upon which original sin was passed from the father to the child. It has been said that blood type originates from the father. In this case we see the manner in which the sinless nature of Jesus was secured in the sovereignty of God to cause a virgin to be with child. This is one of the cardinal doctrines of the church, and is clearly indicated in the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, although there is a growing consensus even in some evangelical circles that Jesus if He existed at all, was not born of a any miraculous process, but after the manner of all men, by conception after sexual copulation. That may sound logical to some, but is contrary to the narrative that Luke, a believing physician puts forward.
[Luke 1:39-80 KJV]
39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; 40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed [art] thou among women, and blessed [is] the fruit of thy womb. 43 And whence [is] this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed [is] she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. 46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy [is] his name. 50 And his mercy [is] on them that fear him from generation to generation. 51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He hath put down the mighty from [their] seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of [his] mercy; 55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. 56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house. 57 Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58 And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. 59 And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. 60 And his mother answered and said, Not [so]; but he shall be called John. 61 And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62 And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. 63 And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. 64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue [loosed], and he spake, and praised God. 65 And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 66 And all they that heard [them] laid [them] up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him. 67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 68 Blessed [be] the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, 69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; 70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: 71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 72 To perform the mercy [promised] to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; 73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, 74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of 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 thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, 78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, 79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and [in] the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. 80 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.
When the angel tells Mary, she will be found with child, he also discloses that her cousin Elisabeth is with child as well. After some time passes, Mary visits Elisabeth, and already being with child herself, when she comes close to her, Elisabeth’s unborn baby leaps in the womb to come into proximity with the unborn Jesus. When Elisabeth extolls the baby in Mary’s womb, Mary responds with a prophetic utterance of her own that has come to be known as “The Magnificat” in which she declares the arm of the Lord to be revealed in Christ to establish the kingdom of God and fill the hearts of the spiritually hungry with the message of His mercy and clemency toward sinners. Mary stays with her cousin Mary until just before Elisabeth’s travail in birth, at which time she returns to Joseph and Elisabeth goes on to bear John the Baptist. Now all of this time Zecheriah has continued in a mute state, unable to speak a word. All of the family members come together and when the baby is born, there is expectation that the child will be named after the father. Zecheriah however motions for a tablet and writes out in confirmation to Elisabeth’s insistence as well that the child will be named John. When he writes this out, Zecheriah’s tongue is loose and being able to speak he gives praise to God. In the pronouncement of Zecheriah about John, he is declared to be a voice for the Highest who will be called the prophet of the Highest, anointed to prepare the way of the Lord and to give knowledge of salvation to the people not by political overthrow or a military campaign, but by the remission of sins by the savior. We see now what the Pharisees and scribes despised John even though they feared to criticize him. The circumstances of his birth were well known and held to be miraculous, and the message of John was not one of nationalism, or the raising up of an earthly kingdom thus the elders and scribes feared him while despising his message of a simple savior come not to exalt the nation but to humble the hearts of men at the feet of meek and mild savior.
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