Its Theme And Author -- Luke 1:1-4
“Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses, and ministers of the word; 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, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed”- Luke 1:1-4.
In taking up the study of any one of the Gospels it is always well to look at it in relation to the other three. We have four Gospels in the New Testament, and the questions are often asked, “Why are there four?” and “Why do they differ one from the others as they do?” and, “Would it not have been just as easy to have given us one continuous biography of Christ rather than four accounts, all written by different writers?” This was not God’s desire. By giving us four different records written by four different men, we have a stronger foundation for our faith in the stories of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are told in Matthew 18:16, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” God has given us this testimony not only from three, but four witnesses; each one written by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Another reason why He has given us the four Gospels is to present our Lord Jesus Christ in four different aspects. Matthew was chosen to present Him as the promised Messiah, the King” of Israel. Mark presents Him as Jehovah’s perfect, faithful Servant. Everywhere in Mark’s Gospel we see active service to God and man. John presents Christ as the manifestation of Deity, the Eternal Son of the Father, who became Man to bring us salvation. He deigned to become flesh: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
But when we turn to Luke, Jesus is presented as Man in all perfection, the “Son of Man.” That is Luke’s favorite expression. As we examine this book carefully, we shall see many evidences of this.
Luke dwells much on the prayer-life of Jesus Christ, and prayer, of course, is connected with His Manhood. Jesus never makes a move but He looks first to His Father in heaven. We see Him praying, praying, praying, as every important occasion arises.
In this Gospel we also see frequently the Lord Jesus Christ as a guest in the homes of various people. He sat with them and ate with them, and talked over their problems. No other Gospel presents Christ going out to dinner so often as Luke does. Jesus shares their joys and sorrows and partakes of the good things that are presented to Him. When you meet a man at the dinner-table you find out what he really is. I had read forty or fifty biographies of Martin Luther, but he always seemed to be a figure on a pedestal until I read “Luther’s Table Talks.” Then I felt that he and I were friends. I felt that I knew the man as I could not have known him otherwise. So these accounts of Christ at the dinner-table give us an understanding of His Manhood, which we would not get in any other way.
Luke was an educated man. He was a “beloved physician,” and yet a very humble man. He never mentions himself, either here or in the book of Acts. He and Paul met at Troas on the second apostolic journey. After that, Luke was almost a constant companion of the apostle, but as you read the book of Acts from the sixteenth chapter on, you will notice that whenever Luke was with the company, he says, we or us. When he remains behind as Paul and the rest move on, he changes to they and them. When Luke joins them again he reverts to we and us. He was with Paul to the end. In his last letter from Rome, Paul writes, “Only Luke is with me.” He was a widely traveled man, highly-educated, and was of a scientific mind and temperament. In all likelihood he was a Gentile. He may have been of Jewish descent, but his name is a Gentile name, and he writes for the information of Gentiles. His special object in writing this letter was to make clear to a Gentile the facts concerning the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His friend, who is mentioned here in the prologue in verse 3, as “most excellent Theophilus,” was possibly a governor of a Roman province. He uses the title given to a high Roman official. Theophilus was, we gather, a Gentile Christian who evidently held high position in the Roman empire, and Luke was an intimate friend of his. He wrote this Gospel to give Theophilus a clear understanding of what had taken place in Palestine.
Luke gives us a great deal of information that is not found in the other Gospels. It is he alone who relates the stories of the visits of the angel Gabriel to Zacharias and to Mary. No one else tells us of the song of Mary, and the prophecy of Zacharias. The birth of Christ in a stable is recorded only here, as also the angel’s announcement to the shepherds. The presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem, and the welcome given by Anna and Simeon, also are mentioned only here. The first meeting in Nazareth, as recorded in chapter four; the great draught of fishes; the interview with the woman of the city in the house of Simon the Pharisee, as found in chapter seven; the beautiful incident of Mary at the feet of Jesus; and the mission of the seventy (chap. 10) are found only here. Much of the material of chapters eleven to eighteen inclusive is told only by Luke, as also the story of Zaccheus. It is he alone who mentions the coming of the angel to our Saviour to strengthen Him in His Gethsemane agony. And had it not been for Luke, we would never have known of the penitent thief, nor of the visit of our risen Lord with the two disciples on the way to and in their home at Emmaus.
Then when we think of the parables, it is striking to note how many are only related in this Gospel. The story of the Good Samaritan, the rich fool, the barren fig-tree, the great supper (not to be confounded with the marriage of the king’s son as given in Matthew) the lost coin, the prodigal son, the unjust steward, the story of Dives and Lazarus, the unjust judge and the widow, the Pharisee and the publican, and the parable of the pounds, are all given by Luke. The last-mentioned, while similar to the parable of the talents, is, nevertheless, quite a different story.
How much then we would be bereaved of, if Luke had not been moved by the Spirit of God to search out so many things that no other inspired writer has recorded. There is nothing redundant here. All is of great importance and cannot be overestimated, so far as its value to the Church of God is concerned, and also its importance in presenting the gospel of the grace of God in its manifold aspects.
The book divides itself into three parts: The first four chapters deal with the birth, baptism, and temptation of the Lord Jesus Christ. The second division, chapters four to eighteen, gives the opening up of the way of salvation and approach to God. The nineteenth chapter to the end gives us the story of the crucifixion and resurrection.
In each Gospel the crucifixion is linked with a different offering, as found in Leviticus 1 to 5. Matthew presents it as the trespass-offering. Mark gives us Christ as the sin-offering. John takes up Christ as the burnt-offering. Luke brings Him before us as our great peace-offering-Christ making peace between God and man by shedding His blood on the cross. The trespass-offering sets forth the death of Christ because of the sins actually committed against God and man. The sin-offering speaks of Christ dying for what we are, not only for what we have done. The burnt-offering speaks of Christ dying to glorify God. The peace-offering speaks of peace made by the shed blood of the Lamb of God.
In the book of Ezekiel we have the four faces of the cherubim-the lion, ox, eagle, and man. These answer to the four Gospels. In Matthew we have the majesty of the lion; in Mark the patient service of the ox; in John the penetrating eye of the eagle -the heavenly One; Luke shows us the face of the Man.
Luke was a careful and conscientious investigator. He sought out those who had known the Lord Jesus personally and learned the facts from their own lips. He was, of course, inspired by God, but the Spirit of God led him to make use of all reliable sources of information. Notice how he begins his book: “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word: it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first.”
Let us stop there for the moment. Luke was sure of his ground. He knew the certainty of the things of which he wrote. There were doubtless many uninspired records, now lost, setting forth much that was commonly reported concerning our Lord’s life and ministry. These, however, were not authoritative; God would not leave us dependent upon untrustworthy records. Early in the next century, many such apocryphal Gospels appeared, none of which have the dignity, the transparency, the sanctity of the inspired Gospels. People talk of the “lost books” of the Bible, but this is all wrong. We have all the Bible God ever meant us to have, in the Old and New Testaments. The so-called “lost books” are unreliable and legendary.
Whether Mark and Matthew had written earlier than Luke we cannot say. If so, he did not copy from them. He wrote as divinely-directed, just as they did. John, we know, was not written until many years afterwards. It is the last of the Gospels in point of time. Luke was not seeking to cast doubt on any other apostolic record, but he wished Theophilus to have an altogether accurate account of “all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up” (Acts 1:1), so he wrote as an independent investigator.
He speaks of those who were “ministers of the word.” The last term may be either the word of the gospel, or perhaps we should capitalize it and read “the Word,” thus referring to Him who, though the Eternal Word, became flesh for our redemption. Whether we think of Christ’s servants as ministers of the written word or of the living Word, it comes to one and the same thing, for Christ is the theme of all Scripture. He is the gospel personified.
We may think of Luke as going to Palestine, seeking out the still-living friends of Jesus, interviewing them and so learning firsthand many facts concerning the Lord’s words and ways that others were not led to put on record.
This is the only one of the four Gospels that gives us the wonderful account of the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, though it is corroborated by Matthew. Luke was a physician, and the facts brought out here are facts which could only be expected of a physician. He had exact knowledge of everything he wrote. He probably knew the virgin mother intimately and learned from her own lips the great mystery of the incarnation. In the same way he would learn of other facts. And so he wrote in order that Theophilus might “know the certainty of the things wherein he had been instructed.”
May I say to the young people who are troubled with doubts as to these things: If one has an open mind and an honest heart, the Holy Spirit will reveal to him the truth of God’s Word. Let me ask that you give special attention to the details Luke sets forth, and pray that the Holy Spirit of God will open the Word to you, as He did to this beloved physician, and to many millions since his day.
Let us notice carefully each verse of this section. To begin with, Luke tells us that many had taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which were most surely believed among the early Christians. Luke 1:1 says that already there had appeared numerous records purporting to give the life-story of Jesus, which have been lost to us. Perhaps both Matthew and Mark had already appeared, and as these were divinely given, they too have been preserved, with Luke, and John, which came later, to give us a fourfold view of our Lord’s life on earth. In these records an orderly account had been given of those great facts upon which our Christian faith rests.
These things had been made known to him by those who were personally acquainted with the Lord, who had known Him from the beginning, for Luke 1:2 states that, as in John’s writings (1 John 1:1, etc.), from the origin of the Christian testimony, God has given us, through reputable “eyewitnesses, and ministers of the Word,” a faithful account of those important events which mean so much for our heart’s rest and confidence.
Luke insists that he had perfect understanding of all things from the very first. From Luke 1:3 it is clear that he had made a very careful, independent investigation, as became a scientific man, questioning eyewitnesses and visiting the localities where Jesus had lived and wrought His works of power. The facts thus gleaned he desired to lay before his friend, the “most excellent Theophilus,” as a result of which we have this precious portion of the Word of God. For the Holy Spirit used the pen of Luke to give what would be of permanent value not only to Theophilus, but to all people to the end of time.
Note the expression in verse Luke 1:4, “The certainty of those things.” The gospel rests upon these divinely-accredited certainties. It is not an imaginary system based upon weird and unproved legends, but a substantial and logical message resting upon an assured foundation of facts. The Gospels are true histories. Therefore the incidents they record actually occurred.
We need not fear to rest our faith upon this definite testimony which God has preserved for our instruction.
The Coming Forerunner -- Luke 1:5-25
“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. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, and they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 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. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 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. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 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.
“And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 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 show thee these glad tidings. 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.
“And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 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. And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men”- Luke 1:5-25.
There is an interval, as you know, of about four hundred years between the book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, and the Gospels of the New Testament. We speak of these sometimes as “the four hundred silent years” because in those years we have no record, so far as inspired history is concerned, of God’s speaking audibly to man, either directly Himself or through angelic ministration. Of course, in the books sometimes called “Apocrypha” we do read of angels visiting men and prophets being raised up, but in the inspired Scriptures we have no record of anything of the kind during those four hundred years. They were years of waiting. The people of Israel had returned from captivity in Babylon about B.C. 536 to 445. God had spoken to His prophet Daniel, saying that at the end of a certain limited period-483 years to be exact, 69 periods of seven years each-the Messiah was to come, and the people were waiting for His coming. They knew that the time had almost expired, and one can understand the expectancy with which the Jews would go up to Jerusalem year after year to keep the feasts of the Lord, hoping that the promise would be fulfilled.
But nothing happened until a never-to-be-forgotten day when a priest named Zacharias was ministering in the holy place in the temple at Jerusalem. We read in verse Luke 1:5 : “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judsea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.” You will remember that, as recorded in 1 Chronicles, chapter 24, King David divided the priesthood of Israel into twenty-four courses, each course to serve two weeks at a time annually in the temple, and then give place to the next course. The course of Abia was the eighth. (In the Old Testament it is called Abijah, but it would be pronounced as it is spelled here in Luke.) Zacharias, then, belonged to this particular course, and he may or may not have served in the temple on previous occasions, but this day he was burning incense at the sacred altar, the golden altar in the holy place. We read of him and of his wife that, “They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (verse Luke 1:6). That is not to say that they were sinless, “for there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not,” we are told; but blameless refers to motives. Their motives were right. They were seeking to obey God, to walk with God, and they had, in a sense, His approval except for one thing. It was a great reproach in Israel if a married woman did not give birth to a child; therefore, people must have wondered whether God was displeased with this couple, whether, after all, He did not look upon them with disfavor. But sometimes, you know, God does not do immediately that for which our hearts crave, and yet He has it in His own purpose to reward in due time.
The years went by and this couple were still childless, until now they were quite elderly, and had given up all thought that they might become the parents of a child. But we are told here that while Zacharias on that particular day “executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord” (Luke 1:9-10). As he stood at the altar and sprinkled the incense upon the fire that was ever burning there, the multitude of the people gathered outside were bowed in prayer before God. It was a lovely picture of the fellowship of prayer, Zacharias here might really speak of our blessed Lord, who has entered into the Holiest above, ever living to make intercession for us, while we His people join in prayer down here.
As Zacharias was praying and the people were lifting up their hearts to God, suddenly the silence of four centuries was broken. We read: “There appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense” (Luke 1:11). It must have been a startling thing. No living Israelite had ever seen an angel. They had read of angelic appearances in years gone by, but they must have thought that perhaps all that was over forever and that none of them was ever likely to be so-visited. As Zacharias looked upon this glorious being, we are told, “He was troubled, and fear fell upon him” (Luke 1:12).
It was a customary thought among the Jews that it meant death to look either upon God or upon any heavenly representative. You remember in the Old Testament how when angels appeared to various ones they were filled with dread, and thought that it meant they were about to die. But the angel immediately quieted his mind. “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” (Luke 1:13). “Fear not!” This seems to have been a favorite expression on the lips of Gabriel, for farther down in the chapter the same angel is said to have appeared to the blessed virgin Mary, and we read in Luke 1:30 : “And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God.” Then in the second chapter and the tenth verse, where the angel host appeared in glory unto the shepherds tending their flocks on the hillside, we read: “The angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.” The gospel message is intended to take away all fear and to fill the heart with assurance, the knowledge of God’s deep and abiding interest in His people.
So the angel quieted Zacharias’ fears and gave him the promise, “Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son.” And the angel named the son: “Thou shalt call his name John” (Luke 1:13). What a wonderful thing for a heavenly messenger to give the name for a child! We have several instances like that in Scripture. God told Abraham that he was to call his son “Isaac.” Here the angel named the child that he said would be born, “John.” It simply means, “The grace of Jehovah.”
This son who was to be born was to be the means of bringing joy and gladness to many people, and first of all to his own parents. “Thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:14-15). You remember what the Lord Jesus Himself said of him later on; that “of those who were born of women there was none greater than John the Baptist. And yet he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” This man was great, destined to be great, because he was to prepare the way for the coming of the King. He was to baptize the King and to present Him to Israel, but he himself was to go home to be with God, as a result of Herod’s bitter cruelty, before he saw the new order fully established here in the earth. Therefore, the very least who now receives Christ and enters into the kingdom of God occupies a greater position than John the Baptist himself. He said, “The King is coming.” We can say, “Thank God, He has come, and we are definitely linked up with Him.”
John was to be a Nazarite. Long years before, when God gave the Law, He said that if any in Israel were especially devoted to the Lord, they were to keep away from anything that came from the vinetree. They were not even to touch dried raisins or any other product of the vine, because the vine itself was the symbol of joy, and these men gave up the joys of earth in order that they might be more wholly devoted to God Himself. Then there were other regulations laid upon them. They were not to become defiled by coming near any dead body. They were to grow long hair, indicating the place of dependence, until the days of their Nazariteship were fulfilled. Samson was to be a Nazarite from his birth, and he became weak when he allowed his long hair to be cut. John the Baptist also was to be a Nazarite from his birth. He was to be wholly devoted to the service of the Lord from the very beginning. But more than that, he was to be especially, singularly marked out and empowered by the Holy Spirit even from the moment he came into the world. We read: “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. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God” (Luke 1:15-16).
God prepared him from his earliest days for the great mission that he was to fulfil. I think you will often find that when the Lord selects a man for some special work, He puts His hand upon him very early in life and impresses upon him the possibility and the joyful privilege of becoming His messenger to a lost and needy world. How many of God’s servants who have had a great ministry throughout the years were called as little children, children of godly parents, and from their earliest days were made acquainted with the things of the Lord, exercised in regard to their responsibility to God, and then when there came the full, clear consciousness of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, it seemed as though nothing could hold them back. Young as they were, they began proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ.
John, then, was called from his very babyhood to be Christ’s servant, and the assurance was given: “Many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God” (Luke 1:16). His coming had been foretold back in the book of Isaiah. The Holy Spirit definitely spoke of the coming of this one into the world. In the fortieth chapter, beginning with Luke 1:3, we read: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Luke 1:3-5). This was a prophecy uttered seven hundred years before John’s birth concerning the coming into the world of him who was to be the preparer of the Saviour’s way.
And then Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet, speaks of him twice. In chapter 3, verse Malachi 3:1, God says through Malachi: “Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” John the Baptist was that messenger, sent to prepare the way of the Lord. I might add that here you have clear, definite proof as to the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, because it was Jehovah whose way was to be thus prepared, and John came to prepare the way of Jesus. The Jesus of the New Testament is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Then in the last chapter of Malachi, verse Malachi 4:5, we read: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).
This was prophetic of the ministry of John the Baptist. It was not exactly that Elijah himself was coming back from heaven to earth, but John was to come in his energy. Referring again to the first chapter of Luke, verses Luke 1:16-17, we find that they emphasize the fact that John was the messenger of Jehovah. “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 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.” The reference is definitely to the prophecy given in Malachi.
You remember how later on, the apostles came to the Lord Jesus as He spoke of His second coming, and asked, “Why say the scribes that Elias must first come?” Jesus answered them, “Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsover they listed”; and then He explained that John came in the spirit and power of Elijah. We have no other scripture intimating that Elijah is yet to come. He has already come in the person of John the Baptist. You may say, “Well, he is to come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Yes, and so he did! The great and dreadful day of the Lord is still in the future, and we have this dispensation of grace in between; but that is in accordance with all Old Testament prophecy. This present age is all hidden. It is the great parenthesis in God’s plan. “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”; that is, to call the people of Israel back to the testimony of the Word of God and to that law which had already been committed to their fathers.
When this announcement was made to Zacharias he was filled with amazement. See how human he is! He and his devoted wife had prayed for years, “O God, that it would please Thee to give us a son;” and they thought they prayed in faith, but the years had gone and no son had come into their home to brighten their lives. And now, when the angel appears and says, “You shall soon embrace a son, and you will call his name ‘John’” Zacharias looked at the angel doubtfully. He forgot how he had prayed all these years. He forgot that God can be depended on to hear the prayer of faith, and he asked the angel: “Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years” (ver. Luke 1:18). In other words, he is practically saying, “Well, what sign will you give me that this promise will be fulfilled? It is almost too much for me to believe. I can scarcely think that my prayer is really going to be heard. What sign will there be that God is going to do this for me?” The angel-may I say it reverently?-seemed to be just a little bit nettled over Zacharias’ lack of faith.
I wonder if our God is not often grieved in the same way over our lack of faith! He gives us such great and precious promises, and we come to Him in prayer, and we spread out our needs before Him and He gives us His Word, and we find ourselves asking, “Whereby shall I know this?” Hath He spoken, and shall He not do it? That is all that is necessary for faith-the word of the living God. We do not need some other sign in order to make God’s word more certain of fulfilment.
So the angel answered Zacharias and 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” (ver. Luke 1:19). In other words, he is practically saying, “Zacharias, have you not failed to recognize who it is that has brought this message to you? I am the angel that stands in God’s own presence-Gabriel, Gabriel who appeared to Daniel, Gabriel who unfolded the prophecy of the seventy weeks, who told of the glorious things yet to come.” Now he says, “I am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings.” That ought to have been enough. “I have come direct from the throne as Jehovah’s messenger. You ought to be ready to accept my word for it, but now you want a sign. I will give you a sign, a sign perhaps which you will not enjoy, but I will give you a sign since you are not willing to rest upon the naked Word of God.” “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” (ver. Luke 1:20).
Unbelief shut Zacharias’ mouth. The last words that came from his lips before the promise was fulfilled were these: “Whereby shall I know?” The first words that came from his mouth after the promise was fulfilled were words of praise and thanksgiving. Unbelief made him dumb: faith opened his lips again.
“The people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple” (ver. Luke 1:21). He was there, you see, at the altar of incense much longer than a priest ordinarily would be. He should have come out, according to the regular course of affairs, to bless the people; but he had remained there in the presence of God, although they did not understand it. So they marvelled that he tarried so long. “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’’ (ver. Luke 1:22). He stood there and just made a sign, unable to speak. “He beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.” Instinctively they realized that something amazing had happened, that he had seen a vision. Then we are told: “It came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own home” (ver. Luke 1:23).
He had to remain but the two weeks there in Jerusalem, and then he went back to his home and in due time God began to fulfil His promise. “And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men” (vers. Luke 1:24-25).
One can imagine how full her heart must have been as she realized that after all these years God was truly answering prayer, and she was to be the mother of this child who was destined to welcome the Messiah Himself when He came to Israel. Oh, that you and I might learn the lesson of faith, trust, confidence in God, a God whose hand is still stretched out, and who challenges us with the question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
The Annunciation -- Luke 1:26-38
“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name JESUS. 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: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 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. 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. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her”- Luke 1:26-38.
Where in all literature would you find anything more beautiful than this story? a story which is all the more delightful because it is true. The world had been waiting for a number of millenniums for the fulfilment of the primeval prophecy that “the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head.” The expression there used is itself remarkable. Every other child born into the world, save our Lord Jesus Christ, has been distinctly the seed of the man. He alone was the Seed of the woman. Although truly the Seed of Abraham, through whom all nations of the world were to be blessed, and the Son of David, destined to rule in Zion and bring blessing to Israel and the nations, Isaiah predicted that He would be born of the virgin mother. Thus He was the Seed of the woman in an absolutely exclusive human sense. He had no human father.
Luke, who is always very particular about dates, tells us that it was in the sixth month that the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to reveal to a virgin of the house of David, espoused to a man named Joseph, who was also of David’s line, that she was to be the destined mother of the Messiah. It was, of course, the sixth month after the announcement of the forthcoming birth of John the Baptist, which had been made to Zacharias in the temple.
In connection with this annunciation, let us notice four things, in particular: First of all, the angelic messenger himself. There are only two elect angels mentioned by name in Holy Scripture, Gabriel and Michael. Michael is the archangel. Men talk of archangels. Scripture never uses the plural in this case, but tells us of only one archangel, Michael, the great prince, who stands for the children of Israel; that is, he seems to be their protecting guide in large measure. Gabriel appears to be the messenger of the throne. It was he who revealed the counsels of God, in regard to the coming of Messiah, to Daniel. He told Zacharias that he was to be the father of John the Baptist. And here we see him appearing to Mary making known to her the glad message that she was chosen of God to be the mother of the Saviour. I might say that in the books known as the Apocrypha-which should never be included in the canon of Scripture- we do have names given to other angels, as for instance, Raphael and Uriel, but only the two I have mentioned are spoken of by name in the inspired writings.
Then, in the second place, notice who it was whom God chose to be the mother of the humanity of His blessed Son. She was a pure virgin of the house of David. Thus the One born of her would be in very truth great David’s greater Son. It is very evident that Mary was chosen, not simply because she was a virgin, but because of her deep spirituality and her subjection to the will of God. When He chose a young woman for the high honor of becoming the mother of the Saviour, He did not take some frivolous worldly girl, living in carelessness and enjoying a butterfly existence. He chose a pious, lovely, young woman, who delighted in doing the will of God and ever sought to be subject to His Word.
Then note what is written concerning him who was to head up the little household in Nazareth. This virgin was espoused to a man evidently much older than she, whose name was Joseph, and he came also of David’s lineage. In fact, according to Matthew’s Gospel, it is evident that the throne rights were his, and yet he was living in obscurity, earning his way as a carpenter. Everything was out of order because Israel had drifted away from God. They were in subjection to the Roman authority, and the son of David moved about among them unknown and ignored. He was not himself to become the actual father of Jesus; but he was to be recognized legally as His father, because he married the virgin before her wonderful child was born, thus giving her the protection of his name.
In the fourth place, we note the colloquy between Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. Appearing suddenly before her, evidently in her own home-of which, however, we know absolutely nothing so far as the Scriptures are concerned, although tradition has invented a great many stories about that home which are absolutely unproven and therefore unreliable-the angel greeted her with these striking words: “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” We, of course, have our conventional ideas of what an angel looks like. Scripture does not give us any very definite description of one of these heavenly messengers. In fact, their general appearance, according to the Old Testament, was that of men of noble and superior character. Though they do not actually possess material bodies, they can evidently assume them at will. We need not suppose that Gabriel appeared to Mary glorious, winged creature. That is largely artists’ imagination. But whatever form he took, his declaration must have been an astonishment to the Virgin. We are told that “when she saw him she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.” Apparently stricken dumb for a moment by her amazement, she waited for further word from her heavenly visitor. Then, we are told, the angel said unto her: “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God.” “Favor” is “grace.” Let us never forget that Mary, beautiful and lovely as she must have been, was nevertheless born of a sinful race and needed a Saviour. She acknowledged this in the Magnificat which she uttered later on, when she said, “My soul doth rejoice in God my Saviour.” She had found grace with God. In other words, she was saved by His grace, sustained by His grace, and preserved by that grace to be the suitable mother for the Son of God in His humanity.
The angel Gabriel continued speaking: “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus. 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: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” This was a full Messianic declaration in keeping with the many wonderful prophecies that had been uttered concerning the coming Redeemer centuries before.
It is important to understand that the Lord Jesus actually partook of the substance of the Virgin. Some have supposed that this could not be without His participating in sinful human nature. But the Spirit of God took care of that, as we shall see further on. The important thing to notice here is that there was an actual conception, and that involved an absolute impregnation. Jesus, whose name means Jehovah, the Saviour, was to be actually of the Virgin’s substance as to His humanity, with which His true Deity was to be united in such a way as to make one Person with two natures-the human and the divine. He was to be called the Son of the Highest. The Lord Jesus is the Son in several different senses. As to His Deity He is God the Son, one Person of the Trinity, co-equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, from eternity. Having linked His Deity with our humanity in incarnation, He became as man on earth the Son of God or Son of the Highest, having no human father. Then again, in resurrection He is saluted as the Son of God, the firstborn from the dead. To Him the Lord God, the Eternal Father, will give the throne of His father David; that is, David was in this sense the father of Christ’s humanity, which would not be true if Jesus had not been an actual partaker of the human nature of the Virgin, who came of David’s line. As such He is destined to reign over the house of Jacob forever, and to establish that everlasting kingdom to which all the prophets give witness.
One can well imagine the perplexity and wonder of the blessed Virgin when this announcement was made. In her beautiful simplicity she asks, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” It was not lack of faith that led to such a question. She does not here take her place with Zacharias, who inquired, “Whereby shall I know this, for I am an old man and my wife well stricken in years?” On his part it was unbelief that prompted the question. On the part of Mary it was the desire for enlightenment. The angel made all clear in his answer when he said, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. Therefore also that Holy Thing (or One) which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Unbelievers have said it is impossible to accept the Bible teaching of the virgin birth because it involves a biological miracle. What it really involves is the omnipotent power of God, and the reverent believer can accept this without hesitation.
Some opponents of the truth of the incarnation have even gone so far as to declare that the story of the virgin birth is not peculiar to Christianity, but that in the myths of the heathen gods we have many instances of virgin births. This, one can unhesitatingly deny. There is no comparison between the sweet, pure, lovely story that we have here, and the vile, lewd stories of the heathen mythologies. What some have presumed to call virgin births are the very opposite. In these stories certain gods are represented as lustful, licentious beings. They are pictured as falling in love with some earth-born maiden, assuming a human form in order to seduce her, as a result of which she becomes the mother of a demigod. Surely there is nothing in these corrupt tales that can be linked in any proper sense with the story of the virgin birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here we simply have the Holy Spirit of God producing, by divine power and creative energy, the body of the Lord Jesus Christ in the womb of the Virgin. When He came into the world He was to be known, therefore, as the Son of God. He who had been from eternity God the Son, became in grace as Man, the Son of God, that He might be our Kinsman-Redeemer.
In order to confirm the faith of Mary, Gabriel then gave her the surprising information that her aged cousin Elisabeth had also conceived a son in her old age-though this was according to the natural order-and that it was now the sixth month with her, who was called barren. The explanation of all this is given in verse Luke 1:37, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
In charming simplicity and in marvelous devotion to the will of God, Mary answered, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” How much she, as a young virgin, understood of the shame to which she would be subjected by an unbelieving world, because of the peculiar circumstances in which she was soon to be found, we do not know, but she accepted all as from God and bowed in submission to His will. Remember, she was already engaged to be married. She must have wondered how she could ever explain what was soon to transpire, to Joseph. We know from Matthew’s Gospel something of the grief and perplexity that Joseph himself actually went through when he learned that his affianced bride was already pregnant. Her condition apparently suggested a sad deviation from chastity, for which, according to the law, she could have been stoned to death. But Joseph loved her and was studying how he might hide her away privately until her child was born, in order that she might not be put to public shame or exposed to danger of death. But the angel messenger appeared to him in a dream, clearing up the mystery, and he accepted his responsibility in a wonderful way.
Mary must have foreseen some of these things, but doubtless did not enter fully into what she would be called upon to pass through. But since God had revealed His mind, she was ready to accept His will without rebellion or hesitation. In this she became an example to us all. The only truly happy life is a life lived in subjection to the will of God. To be able to say from the heart, “Be it unto me according to Thy word,” means lasting blessing and abiding communion with God.
Having made known his mission, the angel, we are told, departed from Mary and left her to await the fulfilment of his words.
The Magnificat -- Luke 1:39-56
“And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 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: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name. And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation. He hath showed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away. He hath holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy; as He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house”- Luke 1:39-56.
We can well understand the emotions that would fill the heart of the blessed Virgin Mary after this interview with the angel. When she knew within herself that the angel’s words were in course of fulfilment, she must have been greatly moved as she meditated on the marvelous mystery which had been revealed to her. She-an unmarried young woman who had lived a life of perfect physical purity-to become the mother of a child! How would she ever be able to explain things to those of her acquaintance who would naturally question the story she had to tell of the angel’s visit and the message he brought. Perhaps it was such thoughts as these that led Mary to go up into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda, and there visit her cousin Elisabeth; for although Elisabeth’s circumstances were altogether different from those of Mary, still the supernatural entered into her condition too; and we can well believe that the elder woman would have much to say to the younger woman that would be a comfort and help to her. In fact, Elisabeth’s first words of greeting must have thrilled the soul of Mary and confirmed the angel’s words, as Elisabeth exclaimed, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Here was absolute faith, not only in the purity of Mary but also in the words of Gabriel, that the mysterious child to be born would be none other than God manifested in the flesh. Just imagine how cheered Mary must have been by such a greeting. Then as Elisabeth went on to express her further approval and to pronounce a blessing upon her young cousin because she had believed the word of the Lord, there must have been double assurance, for, apparently, she had not said one word to Elisabeth concerning her condition before the elder woman exclaimed there should be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
When at last Mary opened her mouth, it was to praise the Lord in a beautiful psalm which compares favorably with any of those written by divine inspiration by David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel. Unquestionably, Mary herself was inspired to utter these words. They are of great value to us, not only because of their poetic beauty and their high devotional character, but also because they give us to know on what Mary, herself, rested for her own salvation. Romanists may declare that she was born without inbred sin and therefore did not need a Redeemer, but she herself says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Notice those last three words, God my Saviour!
Mary, then, lovely as she was; beautiful in character, perhaps beyond any other young woman of her day, yet realized that in herself she was a sinner who needed a Saviour, and she found that Saviour in God Himself. She took no credit to herself for any extraordinary righteousness that lifted her above other people, but she went on to acknowledge, “He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.” Realizing that everything was of grace, she could rejoice in the loving-kindness shown her.
It is well that we Protestant Christians should note carefully her next words: “Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” Because, in the Roman Church, Mary is given a place far beyond any that is accorded to her in the Word of God, we are inclined to fear that we might honor her too much if we speak of her as the “Blessed Virgin.” We have warrant for calling her blessed in her own words as here given. She was indeed marvelously blessed above all’ other women and we need not fear to acknowledge it. Since our Lord Himself chose Mary to be the means whereby He came into the world as a little Babe, why should we hesitate for a moment to speak of her as the Blessed Virgin?
She attributes everything to the goodness of God as she exclaims, “For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name.” She shows an understanding of God Himself far beyond her years or her station in life. It is evident that she had been divinely taught, and that to a very remarkable degree. Her last words indicate that she had often meditated on the lowly condition of her people and the oppression that they were enduring, and she recognized in her unborn child the promised Messiah who was to deliver Israel from their afflictions and visit with judgment their Gentile oppressors. Note her words: “He hath showed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.” Had things been normal in Israel, her home would have been a palace instead of a peasant’s cottage; Joseph, her betrothed, would have been recognized as a prince of David’s royal house, and would not have had to earn his living as a carpenter; but how wonderfully God has exalted the lowly in bringing them into this blessed and remarkable relationship with Himself.
A divine principle is expressed in Luke 1:53, that runs throughout all Scripture and characterizes God’s dealings with men in all dispensations, “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away.” The trouble with men generally is that they do not realize their need; they are not aware of their lost condition, and so, they do not turn to God for deliverance. They attempt to feed their souls with the husks of this world, and have not yet learned how futile is such an effort, and how impossible it is to satisfy a soul made for eternity with temporal things; and, because of their fancied wealth, they turn away from eternal riches and continue in their sins. Just as men recognize their need; as soon as they begin to hunger and thirst after righteousness; as soon as they recognize their spiritual poverty-as soon as they realize all this, they find in God One who meets every need. May we not well cherish in our hearts the blessing that belongs to the poor in spirit: that is, to those who have no spiritual assets in which to trust, but who come to God as poverty-stricken sinners to receive of the bounty which He delights to bestow. Scripture speaks of His riches in four different ways: we read of the riches of His mercy, the riches of His grace, the riches of His love, and the riches of His glory. All these are for those who come to Him acknowledging their poverty and need, and who are ready to receive at His hand the bounty which He delights to bestow.
The spirit of prophecy enables one to speak of the things which are not as though they are; and in the closing verses of the Magnificat, Mary does this very thing. She already sees by faith the fulfilment of all God’s promises in connection with the restoration of Israel, and their further blessing in the kingdom promised by the prophets. She exclaims, “He hath holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy. And He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.” There is something beautiful and sublime about the way in which this lovely young woman lays hold of the promises of God and counts on Him to fulfil them to the letter. May the same faith and comfort be ours!
We are told that for three months Mary abode with her cousin Elisabeth, and then returned to her own home in Nazareth. This was before the birth of John the Baptist, so she was not with Elisabeth when that event took place. Nazareth was in the northern part of the land of Palestine, and the prophet Micah had declared that Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem. It might seem as though there were little likelihood that this prophecy would be fulfilled, but we shall see later how God wrought in order to bring it about.
The Promise Fulfilled -- Luke 1:57-80
“Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. And her neighbors and her cousins heard how the Lord had showed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. 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. And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 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 marvelled all. And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 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. And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David; as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant: the oath which He sware to our father Abraham, that He would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life. And thou, child, shall be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways: to give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel” - Luke 1:57-80.
First of all, our attention is directed to the fulfilment of the promise regarding the birth of John the Baptist. Nine full months before, the angel Gabriel had appeared to Zacharias when he was ministering in the temple in Jerusalem, and notified him that he and his aged wife Elisabeth were to be the parents of a child who was to prepare the way for the promised Messiah. It seemed almost unbelievable, and Zacharias asked the question, “How can these things be?” The angel said, “You will be dumb until they are performed.” Zacharias left the temple that day unable to speak, and during all these waiting months he had been dumb until God fulfilled the promise. Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered. She brought forth a son. Her neighbors, her cousins and others, heard how the Lord had showed great mercy toward her, and they came together to rejoice with her. God, in a wonderful way, had visited this family. Now a name was to be chosen for the new-born babe. Some of you parents remember how you thumbed through the list of names in the back of the dictionary trying to find one that would be outstanding! With others, it was already settled for you. You had long ago declared the little one must bear the name of grandma or grandpa, or some other relative. But often children are born and live for months before they get a name that is thought suitable. In this case, they came together to give the name to the child. He was presented for circumcision and given the name that they thought he would bear, that of his own father, Zacharias. But the mother said, “He shall be called John.” It happened that there was no John in that family. They said to her, “There is none of thy kindred called by that name.” But the angel had told Zacharias before the child was born that he was to be called John. John means “the grace of the Lord,” and his birth was a definite evidence of the grace of the Lord to his family. They turned to the father and they made signs to him, asking him how they should call the child. He, unable to speak, called for a tablet, and wrote upon it, “His name is John.” Notice that-not, “He shall be called John,” but “His name is John.” He had been named already! He was named by the angel long before, and Zacharias simply kept that in mind. They were amazed. They could not understand it. The moment that Zacharias thus ratified the word of the angel his mouth was opened, and his tongue loosed, and he spake and glorified God. Unbelief had closed his lips; faith opened them. Unbelief made him dumb; faith enabled him to speak and to praise God. And we are told that fear came on all that dwelt round about. People felt there was something strange, something mysterious about all this. Undoubtedly, this was a child who was to have some very remarkable destiny. All these sayings were noised abroad, throughout all the hill-country of Judaea, and they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, and they asked, “What manner of child shall this be?” They could see that the hand of the Lord was upon him, thus far, in connection with the fulfilment of the promise in the birth of the child and the name that he was to bear.
Now the rest of our passage has to do with the prophecy of Zacharias. Many years had gone by since God had spoken through the prophets. But now, in a special way He opened the lips of Zacharias, the father of this remarkable child, and enabled him to speak prophetically. Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost. To prophesy is not only to be able to foretell coming events, but to give the mind of God in relation to the present or future. We see both here. Zacharias did see things to come, and he realized something of the remarkable place this child of his was to have. Then, he also spoke of the spiritual benefits to result from his ministry. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” he exclaims, “for He has visited and redeemed His people.” It is remarkable how faith enables one to speak of the things which are not, as thought they are. Zacharias said, “God has visited and redeemed His people.” They were not yet redeemed; that is, not actually, but he could speak in faith. He was certain that since the promise had been fulfilled in regard to the birth of this child that the promise of redemption for Israel, through the coming Saviour, was just as certain of fulfilment.
What is redemption? It is deliverance from bondage. It is to buy back that which has been forfeited. Not only Israel, but the nations of the Gentiles were in bondage to sin and they needed to be redeemed. They had forfeited all title to blessing, and they needed to be redeemed, and our blessed Lord Jesus, was coming to redeem them. He said, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Do you know the redeeming power of the Lord Jesus Christ? He redeems not only from the judgment due to sin, but He also redeems from the power of sin itself. He sets free from sin’s bondage those who put their trust in Him. Zacharias looked on in faith to the time when all this would be true for Israel and the nations. “He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.” God had promised long before that the Messiah was to come through David’s line, and Mary was a daughter of the house of David. Through her the child was to be born who was to bring salvation, and Zacharias could speak of this as though it were already accomplished, because his unbelief was gone and he had absolute confidence in the word of God. All this, he says, is, “As He spake by the mouth of the holy prophets, which have been since the ages began.” The word “world” here is not simply the cosmos-the ordered world-but the ages of time. From the very beginning God had been speaking of this coming One. From the Garden of Eden right on, He had been telling of the coming Saviour, and now He was soon to appear. His forerunner had already arrived. God had given His word and He sealed His word with an oath; and so He was about to perform the mercy promised to the fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, “the oath which He sware to our father Abraham.” We are told in Genesis that when God made the covenant with Abraham, He said, “In thy Seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed,” and He confirmed it with an oath, and because He could sware by no greater He sware by Himself. He is the only one who has a right thus to sware. This was in connection with the Old Testament, and now the precious blood of Christ has sealed the New Covenant. We know that the Almighty will never go back on His covenant; so our Lord Jesus Christ came as the promised Seed of Abraham, and through Him already blessing untold has gone out to Jew and Gentile, but the promises are by no means fulfilled in their entirety. When they are, all Israel, as a nation, shall be saved, and shall turn to the Lord for redemption; and all the Gentiles shall own His authority, and righteousness will cover the earth as the waters cover the great deep. Then the entire universe shall be subjected to the Lord Jesus Christ.
It was to this that Zacharias looked on - “that He would grant unto us, that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, all the days of our life.” As far as Zacharias was concerned, he expected the fulfilment of all this. Yet nineteen hundred years have gone by, and we see the people of Israel today suffering more from their enemies than perhaps they have ever suffered down throughout the centuries. One might have a tendency to feel that God’s Word has failed; that its prophetic declarations have not been fulfilled, and that there is something wrong. There is nothing wrong with the Word of God. The wrong is here. God sent the Saviour. He came unto His own and they received Him not. Jew and Gentile are both guilty and united in rejecting the Saviour that God had promised. The Lord Jesus said, “Think not that I have come to send peace upon earth. I tell you nay, but rather a sword.” He predicted, “Nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom,” and there will be warfare and destruction through the world until the day of His return. When He comes back the second time, then these prophecies are going to be fulfilled. They might have been fulfilled before if men had received him. But they would not open their hearts to Him. Now He does speak peace to all those that trust Him; and in the midst of a war-torn world those who have received him in faith know the meaning of the words, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.” There is no peace for the world because it has rejected Christ. But there is lasting for those who trust Him, even in the midst of the most dreadful circumstances. What He promises in regard to Israel will some day be fulfilled, “That He would grant unto us that we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” Neither Jew nor Gentile can expect God’s deliverance unless there is a real heart-turning to Him. That is the trouble with the world today. Men would like God to intervene for them. They would like Him to come in and show mercy, but they are not willing to honor Him by bowing before Him in repentance and seeking to live for His glory. When God shall deliver Israel, it will not only mean that they will be set free from their enemies and be restored to their own land, but that they may serve Him without fear and walk before Him in holiness and righteousness all the days of their lives. Oh, that there might be a great turning to God today! Oh, that throughout this nation and the other nations of the world there might be a recognition of the sinfulness of our departure from God, that we might return to Him, confessing our failure, owning our guilt, and trusting the Saviour He has provided, and then seeking to walk before Him in holiness and righteousness. Then we might expect God to come in and give marvelous deliverance. There will be no lasting peace for the world unless the nations bow in repentance before God and get right with Him; and so far as we understand the prophetic Word, that will never be until our Lord Jesus, the rejected Prince of Peace, returns again in person to this scene.
And now, in the last part of his prophecy, Zacharias turns to the little unconscious babe lying there, either in his crib or in his mother’s arms, and he says, “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest.” What a privilege this was to be! The Lord Jesus said afterward of those that were born of women there was not a greater than John the Baptist. And so Zacharias recognized that he was to have the high honor of being the prophet of the Highest. “Thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way.” He was really quoting here from the Old Testament. There we read that John was to go before the face of Jehovah to prepare the way. He went before the face of Jesus to prepare the way. The Jesus of the New Testament is the incarnate Jehovah of the Old Testament. John was to go before the face of Jehovah to prepare His way, to give knowledge of salvation unto His own people. It seems to me we sometimes underrate the work of John the Baptist. We think of him simply as the one who came to prepare the way of the Lord, and we forget that he also presented a message of grace, a definite proclamation of the gospel. It was he who said, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” Could you get a clearer gospel message than that anywhere? That is the gospel of the grace of God in all its simplicity. It was given to John to point the Saviour out, not merely as the King of Israel, not merely as the One who was to fulfil the promises and reign in righteousness over all the world, but as the One who was to provide salvation for sinful men. It is only through Him salvation comes “to give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins.” When John baptized it was for remission of sins. His baptism was the recognition on the part of the people that they were sinners and deserved to die. As they went down into the waters of baptism they were saying as it were, “We ought to die for our sins.” But John told of One who was coming to pay the penalty for those sins, and the people believed the message, and so rejoiced in the knowledge of forgiveness. “To give knowledge of salvation unto His people for the remission of their sins through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us.” How beautiful the language Zacharias uses! He speaks of the grace of God thus being manifested to sinful men like the rising of the morning sun after the darkness of the night, “to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” That was the condition of the world all about him when Zacharias spoke these words; and that is the condition of a large part of the world today, and that is why we are entrusted to send the gospel out to the very ends of the earth, that men and women everywhere may hear it-that it may give light to those in darkness, in the very shadow of death. We read, in regard to those that turn away from God, who live for self and sin, “The way of peace have they not known;” but John the Baptist was to go before the face of the Lord to proclaim the testimony God had given, in order to guide the feet of the people into the way of peace. The servant of God who points men and women to Christ is showing them the way to peace, for, “Being justified by faith we have peace with God.”
Our minds are naturally curious and there are a great many things of which we have no record in the Gospels concerning which we would like information. We would like to know something of the training of this child. We would like to be permitted to look behind the scenes and see something of the home-life of John the Baptist as a little child and as a youth growing up. We would like to know what led him, eventually, into the wilderness, and how God spoke to him. But the Lord has not been pleased to gratify our curiosity in regard to these things. He tells us all that is important for us to know, and the rest He leaves. We shall find them out by-and-by when we get home to heaven.
But the story of John the Baptist’s early life-the whole story-is given in one verse (Luke 1:80): “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing-unto Israel.” Only a little less than four lines in my Bible, but they cover, perhaps, some twenty-five or twenty-eight years of life, and they picture for us very graphically a child growing up before the Lord devoted to Him, strong in spirit, spurning the evil, choosing the good; and then, when the divine call came, going apart from the rest of the world, alone out there in the desert where he might commune with God, where he could better hear His voice and be instructed by Him, in order that when the appointed time came he might appear before the people of Israel as the messenger of Jehovah, who had come to prepare the way of the Lord.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Luke 1". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter