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If we give a description of someone, we can do so from different perspectives. For example, we can look at someone as the father of a family. In addition, a description of the same person is also possible as a colleague or as a neighbor. In this way we see how four evangelists – under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – report on the life of the Lord Jesus during His stay on earth. In the four biographies we have in the Bible, Matthew tells in his Gospel about the Lord Jesus as King, Mark presents Him as Servant, Luke describes Him as true Man and John finally writes about Him as the eternal Son of God.
The purpose of this Gospel is to look at the Lord Jesus as Man. Hence the call: “Behold, the Man” (John 19:5) is chosen as the subtitle for this book. If we read this Gospel with the desire to see Him as Man, we will get to know Him as Someone in Whom God has come close to us men. He became equal to men, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
Ger de Koning
Middelburg, October 2009, new version 2020, translated 2020
Purpose of the Gospel According to Luke
Luke presents the Lord Jesus as the Son of Man, the Man of God for all men. In Him God reveals Himself in redeeming grace to lost men. He addresses himself in this Gospel to all mankind. Here, the dispensation of the law is not replaced by another dispensation (the kingdom) as in the Gospel According to Matthew, but here the law is substituted by saving heavenly grace. Grace is not just the solution to the problem of sin. Grace goes much further and that is what this Gospel presents. This Gospel is not so much about what God wanted to deliver us from, but what He wanted to make of us.
In this Gospel, men are presented as men with whom God is well pleased (Luke 2:14). God has predestined them to that purpose. Therefore, a heading for this Gospel could be “taken into favor in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6, Darby Translation). Favor or grace contains everything that God has prepared for us in His counsels. It is said of believers that they are made pleasant in the Beloved, for it is He, the beloved Son, in Whom God reveals Himself. God comes in Him in grace as Man to us. He is the Man from heaven, He is true Man, yet without sin.
The Writer Luke
God used Luke to record this Gospel. Luke is a co-worker of the apostle Paul and a physician by profession (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24). He is most probably a gentile of origin and he writes to a gentile. It shows that the grace of God is also for the gentiles.
As Paul’s companion he wrote about things on which Paul expands in his letters. There is a close connection between these two servants, who have spent a lot of time together. Luke shows us what Paul further elaborates on: the sonship of the believer. Luke speaks of sons of the Most High (Luke 6:35), a son of peace (Luke 10:6, literal translation), sons of light (Luke 16:8), sons of God (Luke 20:36), sons of the resurrection (Luke 20:36). Sonship is the highest position of the believer before God, for that is what the believer is before God Himself as a joy to His heart (Ephesians 1:5).
With his account on the life of the Lord Jesus on earth, Luke wants to make the converted gentile Theophilus better acquainted with Who He is. There were many accounts of the life of the Lord Jesus in circulation, but they were insufficient. That’s because the “many”, who had undertaken to compile this account of Him, were not inspired. Luke does not accuse them of false intentions or falsehood in what they have written, but their biography clearly fell short. In all cases it was nothing more than the work and effort of men to tell the things that are completely certain and believed among Christians.
Because their work failed, it was necessary to write a new and above all God-given account of Christ. When we read Luke’s considerations to record the Lord’s life, we notice that there is with him talk of a “motive” and of “inspiration”. Both come from God. God worked in Luke the desire to take on this task. Subsequently He has led him entirely and completely into everything he writes down.
We must carefully bear in mind that the difference between an inspired Scripture and another scripture is not that only the inspired is true and that everything else is untrue. A scripture other than an inspired Scripture need not be untrue. No, the big difference is that an inspired Scripture represents the truth as God sees it. This Gospel that Luke writes is not just a biography, as other historians have written. It is God’s story of Christ, which from beginning to end breathes the special meaning with which it pleases Him to permeate it.
This is distinctive for all inspired Scriptures, whatever their form or meaning may be. Inspiration excludes mistakes in the story and the text. And that’s not all. Inspiration also includes a Divine intention to teach the believer the revelation of the glory of God in Christ.
Besides the fact of inspiration, we also see a difference between Luke and the other, uninspired writers in the working method. The many uninspired writers have delivered what they themselves have seen of the Lord’s life. In it they were servants of the Word. This may mean that in their account they have testified of the Lord Jesus as the Word (John 1:1; John 1:14). Luke, like all those who have already produced an account, also wants to produce an account.
Those who have already written an account, have their own perception as a source. They started from what they have seen with their own eyes from the Lord’s deeds. This also determines that what they have written is no more than their human observation. They could only pass on their own observations, without being able to go into the depths of the truth that has come to man in Christ.
Luke has done an accurate, thorough study of the Lord’s life. He has personally “investigated everything carefully from the beginning”. He has not limited himself to what he has seen of the Lord. He has also studied the beginning of things concerning the Lord. It is also doubtful whether he knew the Lord Jesus on earth. This is not a problem when we realize that God has given him the special inspiration and revelation of the Spirit. This makes it clear that God has chosen Luke as His instrument, not only to add a new eyewitness testimony to the many that already existed, but to show His own pleasure in this Man to people.
Although Luke says “it seemed fitting for me as well “, just as it had seemed fitting for others well, he still distinguishes his own account from their account. He does not tell how he obtained his perfect knowledge of all the things he writes about, but he simply states the fact that he possesses that perfect knowledge. Accurate research has brought him to the account we have in this Gospel before us.
We know that God has shown Luke everything that is needed for this. But everything God shows a man, does not relieve that man of his own responsibility to study what he wants to describe. Only God is able to unite the responsibility of man with His own sovereign plan. He can do so in such a way that man’s responsibility remains fully valid, while that man acts precisely according to God’s plan and purpose.
This is aptly seen in what Luke presents as a result of his research in this Gospel. Not a word is mentioned about the wonderful combination of Luke’s thorough research and the inspiration and revelation by the Spirit. Yet every believer who reads this Gospel with prayer, will notice how much this Gospel also has come into existence under the mighty effect of God’s Spirit and is therefore completely different from any other account of the Lord’s life.
There is still a peculiarity to mention about the way in which Luke passes on his findings. He says to do so “in consecutive order”. By this, however, he does not mean to say that he describes the life of the Lord in a regular chronological or historical order. The “consecutive order” that he means, has to do with the spiritual coherence of the events. He places events together, not because in time the one event is followed by the other, but because certain events belong together through an inner connection.
For example, he lets an event in which Mary sits at the Lord’s feet to hear His words to be followed by an event in which prayer is central (Luke 10:38-:; Luke 11:1-1 Chronicles :). In doing so, he emphasizes the inner connection that exists between the Word and prayer, without wondering whether these two events also follow one another in time. A considerable time may have elapsed between the two events. We will find more proofs of this approach to the Lord’s life in this Gospel. We will see how facts, conversations, questions, answers, and discourses of the Lord are presented by Luke according to their inner connection and not always as events have taken place successively.
Then we hear to whom Luke writes. He writes to the “most excellent Theophilus“. “Most excellent” refers to the official position of Theophilus and not to his character. Although Luke is mainly concerned with preaching the gospel to the poor (Luke 4:18; Luke 6:20Luke 7:22), his Gospel as a whole is directed to this man of high society who is now a disciple of the Lord.
Someone who holds a high position in the world is particularly exposed to the tricks and temptations of satan and to the worries of life. These are all reasons why the seed of the Word remains without fruit (Luke 8:12-2 Chronicles :). The fact that a whole part of the Bible is addressed to this one gentile, especially one having such a status in the world, is a special proof of God’s gracious care (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26). God knows what every human being needs and despises no one. He also wants to provide in the needs of this high-ranking man who is now humble and certainly feels his spiritual poverty despite his earthly status and wealth (James 1:10).
Luke wants to convince the converted, non-Jewish Theophilus of the reliability of the Christian truth he has accepted. With this, Luke provides aftercare to these converted gentile. The intention of the evangelist is to give him a better understanding of “the Way”. He is taught in the Christian truth, but he needs confirmation and foundation. This means that he needs the Scriptures, for certainty concerning faith is connected to the holy Scriptures, the Word of God. Without the Word we wouldn’t have certainty about anything. If we want to serve and fund people who have (recently) came to faith, this can only be done by teaching them God’s Word.
Zacharias and Elizabeth
Luke starts his account by pointing out that Herod is king of Judea. This means that the situation is completely different from what God intended. There is no king from the tribe of Judah and certainly not the King from the tribe of Judah. The people came under foreign domination because God had to surrender His people into the hands of enemies because of their sins. This means that when the Lord Jesus is born, there is someone on the throne who has wrongfully taken this place, no matter to what extend God has allowed this because His people have left Him.
These two circumstances, that the people have turned their backs on God and that a stranger reigns over them, characterize the time when the Lord Jesus comes on earth. Yet in that dark time, when the people massively forget God, there are people who are faithful to Him. In the first two chapters of this Gospel we meet several people who do have a heart for God. In them we learn to know the God-fearing remnant of Israel, from whom Christ, according to the flesh, came forth.
Luke writes his Gospel for all men, but in his description he acts according to the principle “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). In the first two chapters he shows that grace first comes to the faithful remnant. This remnant we see represented in seven persons or groups of persons: Zacharias and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna.
The first of this remnant are Zacharias, which means ‘Yahweh remembers’, and Elizabeth, which means ‘my God is oath swearing’. Both names speak of the faithfulness of God. Zacharias is a priest. He belongs to the division of Abijah, which is the eighth division (1 Chronicles 24:5; 1 Chronicles 24:10). It is no coincidence that it is the eighth division. The number eight speaks of a new beginning. His wife also comes from the lineage of priests. Zacharias has sought and found a wife who, like him, belongs to a lineage that is connected with God.
This is an important indication for those who are looking for a partner. Scripture is clear that a believer can only marry “in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39), that is with someone who also knows the Lord Jesus as Savior. Scripture also clearly forbids a believer to marry someone who does not know Christ (2 Corinthians 6:14-Job :). Moreover, should anyone who wants to serve the Lord himself, be willing to marry someone who does not want to?
In his research Luke found out what kind of people Zacharias and Elizabeth are. He can give a wonderful testimony of them. They are not perfect people. Yet he does not write about the wrong things they have done, but about the overall impression they give. They are people who live for God and they want to give Him what He is entitled to. To do so, they strictly observe “all the commandments and requirements of the Lord”, that is Yahweh. Their way of life must have been noticed amidst the strayed and sinful people.
Despite their impeccable life, they have no child. Yet God has promised that by faithfulness to His commandments He will bless the womb (Deuteronomy 28:1-Numbers :). Zacharias and his wife did not blame Him, they did not revolt because of not getting children. Their trust in God is rewarded with a blessing for which they have long prayed (Luke 1:13), but no longer count on.
God blesses in a way that reveals the weakness of the instrument, a weakness that, in human thought, takes away all hope. Elizabeth had an example in other God-fearing women who were also barren and where God also gave the blessing of conceiving a child when all hope was gone. The way God sometimes goes with faithful people is not always easy to reason by mind. Yet God is worth all praise, that He always has blessing for those who trust Him.
The Priestly Service of Zacharias
The priestly division to which Zacharias belongs is on duty. At that time, there were approximately 18,000 priests, divided into twenty-four divisions. Each division came in turn to Jerusalem to serve there. Every day the lot determined which priest who had not done so before, was allowed to burn incense. Given the large number of priests, each priest would have this privilege only once in his lifetime.
How many times Zacharias will have been in Jerusalem in the turn of his division? And every day the lot was cast. Every day, Zacharias will have prayed that he should now have the privilege to burn incense. Every time it had been cast and until now it had not fallen on him. So he waited for it, just as he waited for a son and always in vain. Then, finally, lot falls on the old man. He may burn incense.
This is a privilege and a beautiful and at the same time responsible task. He must represent the people and may approach God. Zacharias was probably one of the few priests who did this work with devotion to God and love for the people. The priesthood as a whole is in great decay. The attitude of the chief priests toward the Lord Jesus shows how much the priesthood is not focused on God but on themselves. It is not about whether God gets what is due to Him, but whether they themselves can benefit from it. Zacharias is an exception to this practice.
Because he is faithful, God can inform him about His plans. He wants to give Zacharias insight into this. Faithfully fulfilling the task we have been given is always, even today, one of the conditions for receiving and understanding communications from God. We will see later that faith is also needed.
The lot has determined that Zacharias may burn incense. There is still the question of the lot here. God then used that to make known His sovereign will. That fits in with an Old Testament situation. When the Lord Jesus has gone to heaven, the lot is used for the last time. That is in the case of choosing an apostle instead of Judas (Acts 1:26). That is even before the Holy Spirit is poured out and has come to earth to lead the believers. Once the Holy Spirit is there, fate is nowhere to be found. From His coming to earth the Holy Spirit leads the believers in making decisions.
Zacharias must enter the temple of the Lord, Yahweh, to “burn incense”. The incense offering symbolically represents the Lord Jesus in the loveliness He has for God. Thus the believer may now tell God how excellent He is and thus, as a priest in a spiritual sense, burn incense in a spiritual way. When the offering of incense is brought, the priest stands in its scent. In the same way the believer is pleasant in Who Christ is for God. Incense is a picture of the prayers of the saints (Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8) and it is a picture of the personal glory of the Lord Jesus (Revelation 8:3). Our prayers are only pleasing to God through Him (Hebrews 13:15).
Zacharias works in the temple on earth in accordance with the law. In the course of this Gospel we see the transition from law to grace, from earth to heaven. The Gospel ends with the good news for all nations and a Christ Who is taken up into heaven to perform His high priestly service there.
This Gospel begins with a scene in the temple and ends with a scene in the temple. In the first chapter we see a mute priest. In the last chapter we find people who are anything but mute. They praise and worship God as people destined to be priests in a new dispensation, that of the church. This Gospel begins with a believer who cannot speak, it ends with believers who cannot stop praising.
The fact that the whole multitude of the people is outside is the typical characteristic of the Old Testament. The mass is thus in prayer. Prayer is common in this Gospel. Eight times we find the Lord Jesus in prayer (Luke 3:21; Luke 5:16Luke 6:12; Luke 9:18Luke 9:29; Luke 11:1Luke 22:41; Luke 23:34). The people are in prayer, which does not mean that they have a real longing for God. Yet there will also be faithful believers present who are praying in real reverence. They realize that God can only deal with them on the basis of the incense offering. Prayer belongs of their religion. They may not approach God themselves. It has to be done via a mediator.
Wherever in Christianity someone occupies a position between man and God, it is a clinging to this Old Testament situation. It is the privilege of the believer that he may now approach God himself. Every believer is a priest and is called to bring spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5).
The Birth of John Announced
For many years, the daily incense offering was brought. Zacharias has never heard of anything unusual happening during the offering of the incense. Then, when it is his turn, it happens: Zacharias is visited by an angel from heaven. Such a visit with a message for people on earth was a long time ago. An angel “went down at certain seasons” for the healing of all kinds of diseases (John 5:4). That was certainly a gracious intervention by God, but now an angel is coming for a far more glorious purpose, for he announces the birth of the predecessor of the Messiah.
The angel takes place to the right of the altar of incense. This emphasizes the connection between his message and the altar of incense. The message he brings is connected to the power of the incense offering. Only because Christ is so pleasing to God, God can make this visit to the earth and communicate His plans. The fact that the angel stands to the right of the altar also has a meaning. The right side speaks of favor (Matthew 25:33-Nahum :) and power, the place where the Lord Jesus is, at God’s right hand. The message is about the favor of God that He grants to people and about the power He has to actually grant that favor.
Zacharias has prayed many times in his life and has become accustomed to the holiness of God through his priesthood. Yet he’s frightened and gets scared of this visit from heaven. We sometimes have the same experience. We can be faithful to the Lord, read His Word and speak with Him, and yet be frightened when He suddenly shows us something of Himself. How familiar are we really with Him?
The angel reassures him and encourages him that his petition has been heard. The pious priest often prayed for the blessing of a child, but so far the answer has not been given. Now an angel comes to tell him that his prayers, which have been sent up so long seemingly in vain, have been heard.
The angel does not speak of ‘your petitions, but of “your petition”. All the petitions of Zacharias formed one petition for God. We sometimes have to wait a long time before the answer to a petition that has been sent to God many times in sincerity comes. Sometimes it seems as if God does not hear. Here we see that He does not forget all these petitions, but waits in His wisdom with the answer until the time He has determined.
The child being announced must be named “John”, which means ‘Yahweh is gracious’. Thus, every answer to a petition is an expression of the Lord’s grace. The angel does not only announce the birth of a son with the name that this son should have. He also announces what the birth of this son will mean for Zacharias and many others. His son will be one who causes happiness and joy. When God answers prayers, the result is happiness.
Not only his parents and other people will rejoice over John. Especially God will rejoice over him. John will be a Nazirite, completely separated for God. It will be the joy of the Holy Spirit to lead this son throughout his ministry. The answer to each of our prayers is also a great joy for God. We may give Him what He gives us. We do this when we use what He gives us to His glory.
The effect of his separated life and his powerful message will be that many of the sons of God’s people who have departed as a whole will turn back to the Lord their God. John will be a special instrument for restoring the broken relationship between the people and God.
Not only will he restore the relationship between many of Israel and God, but also between people themselves. Therefore he will go out before the Lord Jesus, He is Yahweh, sent by Him as His ambassador. His Sender can be seen in him. He does not come up in his own strength and with an invented story. His performance will be reminiscent of Elijah (Malachi 4:5).
When we see Elijah on Carmel (1 Kings 18:20-1 Corinthians :), we see his spirit and power manifesting there in a special way. What an unshakeable and fervent zeal for the glory of the LORD, the God of Israel! And what a result! The broken relationship between Israel and the LORD is being restored when we hear the people shouting: “The LORD, He is God, the LORD, He is God!” (1 Kings 18:39). John’s call for repentance has such spiritual power that he is compared here with Elijah who led the people back to the LORD, Yahweh.
By forsaking God there is no unity in Israel, but division. Everything in Israel is broken. Sin always brings such disruptions . John is sent to “TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN”, that is, what he will be used for by God is to reunite them in love (Malachi 4:6). He will do this by telling them that their mindset of disobedience is not right. Instead, he will teach them “the attitude of the righteous”. Disobedience must be condemned and instead teaching must be given in what is pleasing to God.
The purpose of his performance is to prepare for the Lord, Yahweh, that is the Lord Jesus, people ready to receive Him. In this respect God wants to equip every believer to do a service like that of John. Like John, we too live in a time of transition. It is an end time and at the same time a time that announces a new beginning. Judgment is about to arrive in the coming of Jesus Christ. We must point out to people that He comes and that only through repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ one can endure the day of His coming and be saved from judgment.
The Unbelief of Zacharias
Zacharias does not believe the angel at his word. He shows himself to be an ‘unbelieving believer’. He ignores everything the angel says about the announced son and asks for a sign (1 Corinthians 1:22) to confirm that God has indeed answered his prayers. What do his prayers mean then? Did he pray in faith that God is able to do what he has asked? Do we trust God when we pray? How is our relationship with Him and how do we know God?
It is significant that a man who has lived with God for so long and has been in His presence so many times, doubts a message from heaven. He doubts that God is able to change the course of nature where necessary. The Scriptures, that Zacharias knows, bear witness to this in the examples of Sarah, Rebekah, and Hannah. What about our faith in Scripture?
The angel’s response sounds almost indignant. Does Zacharias know who he is dealing with? The angel is not personally offended, but the reaction of Zacharias is an insult to God. Gabriel points this out when he declares that he stands in the presence of God (present tense), not that he stood in the presence of God (past tense). He is aware of God’s presence and that he is the spokesman of God. Doubting his words is doubting what God says. He has said nothing but what God has told him. Therefore, Zacharia’s doubt is proof of his unbelief.
We also don’t like it when someone does not believe our words, how much more an angel who speaks on behalf of God and how much more God Himself when He speaks. Often we do not read Scripture with sufficient intimacy in our hearts. We read the Scriptures as if we wanted to become familiar with words and phrases. But if, by reading the Scriptures, I do not enter into the presence of God with my heart and conscience, I have not learned the lesson that the Scriptures would like to teach me. Zacharias is not in the presence of God with his heart and conscience, so he cannot believe that what is said comes from God.
Zacharias receives the requested sign, but it is a sign of judgment. The sign he receives fits his unbelief, just as speaking fits faith (2 Corinthians 4:13). The priestly service is silenced by unbelief. However, it is a temporary judgment. The words of God will be fulfilled in their time, despite his unbelief. The punishment will be removed by mercy at the right time.
While the conversation takes place in the temple house, the people outside are waiting for Zacharias. The people are not only literally outside the temple house, they are also outside the announcements made in the temple. They are not used to a priest staying in the temple house that long. Something must have happened.
When the priest appears, he cannot give them the usual blessing. Between the masses on the temple square there will have been several faithful, people who all expect the salvation of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). The muteness of Zacharias is also a sign for the people, that all may reflect on it. Zacharias makes the gesture that they can go. He himself remains mute. He keeps on fulfilling his service the prescribed time. When the service of his division is ended, he goes home.
Elizabeth Becomes Pregnant
The Lord fulfills His Word and Elizabeth becomes pregnant. When she notices she is pregnant, she keeps herself in seclusion for five months. This is not because she is ashamed, but because she wants to honor the Lord for five months for His miraculous deeds. She is conscious of His looking with favor upon her. After all, she was barren. She suffered from the defamation she had among the people because of her childlessness. Now the Lord has taken it away from her. For this she wants to honor Him.
Gabriel Is Sent to Mary
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Gabriel is sent back to earth. God determines the right time of and for everything. The time is His. He never rushes. There must be a space of six months between the birth of the Lord Jesus and that of His predecessor. When heaven opens again to send a messenger to earth, the goal this time is not the temple in Jerusalem, but Nazareth. This place would have been the last place man had chosen for the fulfillment of God’s plan, a place of which the name alone is sufficient to condemn those who come from it (John 1:45-1 Corinthians :).
The angel must go to a virgin with a message, a special message. That he is sent to a virgin is in the forefront. Further on the name of the virgin is mentioned. She’s not someone the people of the world talk about. She is unknown to the world, but God knows her. He has chosen her to become the mother of His Son.
Therefore it is important that she is a virgin and that her husband comes from the house of David. Thus will be fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah who spoke of a virgin who will become pregnant (Isaiah 7:14). Also, all prophecies shall be fulfilled that speak that Someone from the house of David, namely the Son of David, shall reign on the throne of the LORD, Yahweh, in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 29:23; 2 Samuel 7:12-Nehemiah :; Psalms 89:3-Numbers :).
That no one knows Joseph and Mary is proof of how decayed the house of David is. Joseph is not a prince, he is just a simple carpenter. Here God finds the atmosphere in which His promises can be fulfilled.
The angel visits Mary at home. He comes with his message to her in her private life and not in the temple, as with Zacharias. It shows how close God comes to people with His announcements. The angel greets her. He assures her that the Lord, Yahweh, is with her. He also calls her “favored one”. It makes Mary special among all women of the whole world that she has been chosen by God to become the mother of the Lord Jesus.
This can only be the result of the grace of God. In herself she is no more than any other woman. Yet God chooses her because she is someone who is aware of the grace of God. From this greeting the roman-catholic church produced the idolatrous idea that Mary would be full of grace and could act as mediator. However, in herself she is a sinful woman who also needs her Son as Savior for her sins. To become as such the mother of the Messiah is nothing but God’s grace.
We do not read that she is frightened by the appearance of the angel, like Zacharias (Luke 1:12), but that she is perplexed by his words. The angel’s greeting leads her to think about it. She can’t grasp this, but she doesn’t reject it in unbelief. This marks her God-fearing mind.
The angel reassures her. He assures her of the favor she has found with God. That is, she has searched for it, like once Noah (Genesis 6:8). The favor given to her to become the mother of the Messiah goes far beyond the grace she found with God as a sinner. It will have been her wish to become the mother of the Lord Jesus, as it will have been of every God-fearing virgin in Israel who is of the descendants of David (Daniel 11:37).
The Birth of Christ Announced
Luke 1:31 makes it abundantly clear that the Lord Jesus is true Man, for it is announced here that He will be born of a woman (Galatians 4:4). He is her Son. The name she must give Him shows that He is Yahweh. It has been told to Zacharias that Elizabeth will become pregnant and give birth to a son as the answer to their prayers. That makes it clear that God is faithful and proves His goodness to His people who are waiting for Him. What is said to Mary is an act of sovereign favor. She has found favor with God. She will become pregnant despite the fact that she is not married. She will give birth to a Son through a sovereign act of God.
Just like the angel told Zacharias how to call his son, the angel tells Mary how to call her Son. His name will be “Jesus”, which means “Yahweh is salvation”, or “Yahweh is Savior”. The name ‘Jesus’ occurred more often in Israel, but Mary knows that her Son will fully live up to that Name.
The angel continues to tell her more about this wonderful Son by explaining His Name. This shows that He is more than just true Man. In the first place He is really “great” like no other person is. He is great in Himself. This is different from John who is said to be great “in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15). No person can be compared to Him. We will see in this Gospel that He lives perfectly to God’s glory in everything He does and says. That makes a person really great.
In His Person He is the “Son of the Most High”. This makes us aware of the fact that His position is also exalted above every conceivable power on earth. In that position the believers are also connected with Him, for in this very Gospel they are also called “sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35). In that position He will also sit on the throne of His father David that God will give Him. That will be His own throne. The Lord Jesus doesn’t yet sit on His throne, but on the throne of His Father (Revelation 3:21).
If he sits on His own throne, he will reign over the house of Jacob, that is all Israel, the twelve tribes, and not only the house of Judah. The fact that Luke speaks of “Jacob” and not of “Israel” is reminiscent of the troubles God had with this people. Jacob is the name for the people in their weakness and often self-willed actions.
The Lord Jesus will not reign in weakness and temporary with the passing power of a perishable life, as has been the case for every earthly ruler before Him. He will be King “forever”. He has no successor. His kingship, His reign, will have no end (Daniel 7:14) and will therefore never be taken over by another.
Mary does not ask, as Zacharias did, for a sign, but for an explanation. Her question does not come from unbelief, but is according to the thoughts of God. That is why she gets an answer. In the case of Zacharias it was only about the exercise of the extraordinary power of God in the ordinary, natural course of events. Mary, however, does not ask if it will happen, but she asks with holy confidence how it will happen, because it must happen outside the ordinary, natural course of events. She is not in doubt about the fulfillment itself. By the way, this also shows the obviousness that there is no sexual intercourse before marriage. She can’t imagine how she will get pregnant anyway.
In the answer she receives, we hear the revelation of God regarding the miracle of the conception of the Lord Jesus. We hear about the reality of the virginal birth and the completely supernatural character of the becoming Man of Christ. He will not be begotten by a man, but by God. The Man Christ Jesus shall be the Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), not of a man. Mary will become pregnant through the working of God the Holy Spirit Who will come over her like a shadow. This overshadowing means that the glory of God will come over her in a way which we see later on the mountain of glorification, when a cloud overshadows Peter, John, and James (Luke 9:34; cf. Exodus 40:35).
Thereby God is the Father of the Lord Jesus as Man and is He also called the Son of God as Man. He was not begotten by a sinful man as Joseph is, but by God. That is why He has a body that is as limited and weak as that of any other person, but without a sinful nature which makes it impossible for Him to sin. He Who is born is therefore “the holy Child”, Who is completely separated for God. He takes His place among men, but at the same time He is the totally other One. He is the sinless One, the righteous One.
Encouragement for Mary
As an extra encouragement the angel says that Elizabeth is also conceived a son, although she is old and has always been barren. Gabriel tells Mary that Elizabeth is pregnant, and he does so to strengthen Mary in her faith in view of what he said to her. For Mary this is proof that God is at work. He is busy to perform great things. She is allowed to hear about it and God even uses her for it, as He uses Elizabeth.
God uses weak instruments to do great things, so that it turns out that it is His work and not that of people. The angel also speaks of Elizabeth because the Son of Mary and the son of Elizabeth, however completely different they may be, are also closely related. Elizabeth’s son is the predecessor of the Son of Mary.
Elizabeth’s pregnancy despite her advanced age and continued barrenness is proof that nothing is impossible with Him. He is able to give life where it is not humanly possible. He is the God Who is busy to bring a turn in the fate of His people in a way that goes beyond human thought.
Mary believes and submits herself to the Lord. God’s miraculous intervention did not lead her to self-exaltation, but to humility. She calls herself “the bondslave of the Lord”. Whenever there is an awareness of the grace that God grants, the result is the readiness to be fully available to serve. The greatness of this miracle brings God so close to her that she forgets herself.
The angel has brought his message and departs.
Mary With Elizabeth
Mary is full of everything she has heard. She must speak about it. With whom can she do this better than with her who has also been so visited by God? The angel has told her about Elizabeth. That arouses the desire to go to her. Experiences with the Lord, discoveries from His Word, ask for fellowship, ask to be shared with those who recognize it, and rejoice about it. Mary goes in a hurry to the hill country. This symbolically suggests that fellowship about the things of the Lord is related to heaven, exalted from the earth. What happens between Mary and Elizabeth is a wonderful example of fellowship in the Holy Spirit.
Her goal is to share her experiences and what she has heard with Elizabeth. For this she has to go to the house of Zacharias, because there is Elizabeth. This couple did not live separated from each other. Maybe she has been with Elizabeth more often before and a greeting has taken place. The greeting with which Mary greets Elizabeth this time, however, is different from all other times. It is not the greeting that takes place when two family members meet after a long time. The reason for both of them is a visit from heaven and Divine announcements made to both of them. So this time there is no need exchanging all kinds of courtesies. Immediately there is fellowship.
Through God’s work in both women there is an extraordinary inner bond between them. John reacts in Elizabeth’s womb to the greeting of Mary, and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. This is a scene of the most intimate fellowship in response to the things God is doing in view of the coming of His Son into the world. If hearts are full of His work in His Son, it is the result of the work of the Spirit Who at the same time receives all the space to fill hearts. Then we experience fellowship in the way God finds joy in it.
Elizabeth does not think of the great miracle of her own pregnancy and the special son she will give birth to, but she is full of the favor Mary has received and the fruit of Mary’s womb. This is truly the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Then all attention is focused on the Lord Jesus and what He does and has done. He is the subject of the conversation. This is the true fellowship of the saints.
Mary is blessed by God because among all women for it has been given to her to become the mother of the Messiah. Also the fruit of her womb is blessed, but in a very different way. That fruit receives no blessing as a subject of favor, but is the object of blessing and praise. Mary does not deserve praise, the fruit of her womb does. The fruit of her womb is Christ. He, of whom Solomon says that the heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Him (1 Kings 8:27), dwells in the womb of the virgin of Nazareth.
Later He will be three days and three nights in the womb of the earth. Just as He comes out of the mother womb immaculately, He comes out of the grave immaculately. He is completely unique among people. He is Man and God in one Person. He is God revealed in the flesh. Therefore He is the object of the praise of men.
Elizabeth is also impressed that the mother “of my Lord” comes to her. She accepts in faith that the Child carried by Mary is her personal Lord. It is not about Mary, but about her Child, although there is a close connection between Mary and the Child. We hear this personal “my Lord” (cf. Joshua 5:14; Psalms 110:1) said by three other persons in the New Testament. We hear it from the mouth of Mary Magdalene (John 20:13), Thomas (John 20:28) and Paul (Philippians 3:8). It is said by two woman and two men.
Elizabeth tells how the words of greeting spoken by Mary caused a reaction with the child in her womb. She even noticed that the child leaped in her womb “for joy”. The greeting caused joy in this unborn child. This is at the same time a destructive judgment on those who believe they can abort an unborn child because it is would not be a person.
Finally, Elizabeth expresses her full faith in what the Lord has said to Mary. She praises Mary blessed, not for who Mary is in herself, but because Mary has believed. This faith in what God has said may also characterize us. After all, we have what God has said to us in His Word. If we believe that, we too will be blessed.
The Song of Praise of Mary
After the song of praise of Elizabeth comes the song of praise of Mary. Her song of praise has much in common with the song of thanksgiving of Hannah on the occasion of the birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-2 Samuel :). After the song of praise of Mary, Luke mentions five more in the first two chapters, so that we find a total of seven songs of praise. We hear about the song of praise of Zacharias (Luke 1:67-1 Esdras :), of the angels (Luke 2:14), of the shepherds (Luke 2:20), of Simeon (Luke 2:29-Jonah :) and of Anna (Luke 2:38). These are all expressions of the personal faith overwhelmed by the goodness of the Lord. If that is the case, a song of praise is inevitably.
Of Mary is not mentioned that she is filled with the Holy Spirit as we read of Elizabeth (Luke 1:41). This does not mean that she is not filled with the Holy Spirit, but that her expressions reflect even more than Elizabeth’s her personal experience of the things that has been told to her. She speaks about the feelings of her soul and her mind.
With her soul she exalts the Lord. The Lord cannot become greater through our praise, but He can become great for our souls. This exaltation has nothing to do with something small that is placed under a microscope and then made great. It is much more something here like, for example, a huge star that is so far away that it seems small. Looking at it through a telescope does not make the star greater, but brings its greatness closer, it is easier to see how great the star is. Thus can our soul exalt the Lord. We can sing of everything in which He is great, such as His grace and mercy. Thus we express something of His greatness in our world in which He seems so small and insignificant.
When we think of all the favors that He has done to us, a song of praise arises in our souls. His lovingkindness sets our soul in motion, feelings of gratitude are inevitable. We exalt Him, while we are still fall far short of His true greatness. Paul longed that Christ would be exalted in his body (Philippians 1:20). There it is about making visible Who Christ is through him, that through his physical actions others will see Christ, that He is brought closer to people. Here it is about the expressions of the soul, the need to tell God and others Who He is for me personally. How little do we do so, because we are so little impressed by all the goodness and grace of God that He has proven in the gift of His Son. Let Mary be an incentive for us to exalt the Lord more.
Not only her soul is involved in her song of praise, also her mind is. A song of praise is not just an emotional expression, but there are spiritual considerations. Her expression of joy lies in the fact that she has a Savior in God. She says that although she is the mother of the Lord Jesus, she also needs Him as Savior.
In the expression of her feelings she is also a picture of the faithful remnant that will react in the same way when Christ comes to His people for the second time. The character of the thoughts that fill the heart of Mary and the application thereof, are entirely Jewish. It’s the only way to do it. It is with it as with many psalms and also as with the song of thanksgiving of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-2 Samuel :). At the same time, these expressions of gratitude give us so much for our own souls, for us who, by grace, may know the great truths of Christendom. We may also know God as Savior. Thus He is mentioned several times in the New Testament (1 Timothy 2:3; Titus 1:3; Titus 3:4).
However, we are not in a relationship with Him as Yahweh, the LORD, the God of the covenant with Israel, but we may know Him as our Father and call Him “Abba, Father” by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). This is the result of the coming of the Lord Jesus, in Whom God has revealed Himself as the triune God: as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Does that bring our soul to a constant song of praise?
Cause of the Song of Praise
Mary is aware of her own humble state and that God has regarded her precisely for that reason. She is deeply impressed by His actions towards her personally. When she says that all generations will count her blessed, it is not to exalt herself, but it has its reason in what God has done to her, what He has made of her. She is someone by whom God is honored and not the object of worship that the roman-catholic church has made of her.
She sings of God as “the Mighty One”. The awareness of our own humble state and the awareness of what God has done to us will make us sing of Him as “the Mighty. One”. Only He was able to do this to us in His omnipotence. This is what the remnant of Israel will experience when He brings it from tribulation into the blessing of the kingdom of peace.
But not only is He powerful, he is also “holy”. All His actions to us are based on His holiness. He can never give any blessing to any person if that person does not answer to His holiness. This guarantees at the same time the immutability and security of the blessing. His Name is holy, He blesses where He has dealt with sin. He did so in the Son Whom He promised to give.
The blessing He gives is not only bound to His holy name, but also to His “mercy”. God, in His mercy, looks after miserable people who cannot survive without Him, and are aware of this. He doesn’t withheld His mercy from those who fear Him. As long as there are men on the earth who cry to Him in their need, He will show His mercy. This applies to the remnant that is in distress, this applies to the sinner who is in distress, this applies to the believer who is in distress. He never ceases to be the Merciful.
The Future as Fulfilled
What Mary sings of in these verses only becomes reality in the realm of peace, but faith already sees this situation ahead. Mary sings of the mighty deeds done with His arm. He’s going to concern Himself with His people to carry out His plans. What He is going to do goes against the pride of man. The proud think they have the matter under control, but when God goes to work, He will scatter those who are proud. None of it will remain. This applies to His people Israel, who are going their way in unbelief, and it applies to the people of the world, who believe that they can control everything. In both cases, the folly of their heart’s deliberations are revealed.
Despite all the intellectual and financial efforts, the chaos in the world is getting worse in all areas. Yet, in his pride, man thinks that he can get the matter under control. However, God will intervene in the world affairs in His time, as He has done so often in small, in secret, only visible to faith.
Faith sees that through Him the kings reign (Proverbs 8:15-Nehemiah :; Romans 13:1). He appoints them and deposes them (Hosea 13:11). He has brought down from the throne powerful people like Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar and raised a shepherd boy like David. Thus will He overthrow the throne of satan and raise His Servant Jesus before all eyes. This is the language of faith, while the world thinks it can decide for itself who rules it.
It gives rest to the believer when he remembers that the rulers would not have any power if God had not given them. The Lord Jesus bears witness to this (John 19:11). This thought will support the remnant when the antichrist comes to power and he fiercely persecutes the faithful. All believers who sigh under a God-hostile reign may know this.
Not only the rulers are under His authority, also the circumstances in which the believers find themselves are under His authority. He will put an end to all the social misery resulting from persecution. He will reverse the roles. Those who suffer need will be satisfied, and those who enrich themselves at the expense of others will lose everything.
God Fulfills His Promises
What God is about to do is proof that He has not forgotten His servant Israel. It looked like that because the people had been in misery for so long. But He is concerned with His people. He has always been full of mercy for them, but now is the time, the fullness of time, to remember His mercy, to express it. Faith continues to look forward to this.
Mary, faith, the faithful remnant, knows that the basis of God’s actions is His Word. What He has promised, He will do. His promised blessing will come. Even if it turns out that the coming of His Son to bring that blessing fills the measure of the wickedness of the people, the promises remain. He will fulfill them.
Mary Returns Home
By the time John is born, Mary returns home. She has spent three months with Elizabeth. These have been months of fellowship, of sharing the good things God is going to give. What a grace that God gives such periods in the lives of His children on earth.
The Birth of John the Baptist
The miracle of Elizabeth’s pregnancy takes place naturally. In a natural way, John’s life also develops in the womb of his mother. When she has completed the time of her pregnancy, she gives birth to her child. It was known that it would be a son. Her joy at the birth of this son is great. Her neighbors and family members share in this joy. All recognize that the birth of this son is due to the mercy of the Lord.
They do not see it as just an act of mercy, but as an act that in a special way expresses the mercy of the Lord. The Lord has shown His mercy to Elizabeth in a great way through the birth of John. This great mercy is the cause of joy. His mercy returns again and again in this section (Luke 1:50; Luke 1:54Luke 1:58; Luke 1:72). His great mercy should always bring us to great joy, whether it be shown to ourselves or to others.
John is circumcised according to the law on the eighth day (Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3). On that occasion, those who circumcise him also give him his name. They call him Zacharias. That’s his father’s name and that’s why he should get that name. But they do not know the special calling of this son. If we are not taught by God, we proceed according to our habits. Elizabeth was taught by God and gives her son the name that the angel told them. When she pronounces the name “John”, she speaks about the grace of God, because John means ‘Yahweh is gracious’.
The others are not convinced. They hear about the grace of God, but they do not grasp it. They do not acknowledge that that name is more than a name to maintain habits. By clinging to their habits, the special meaning of his name escapes them. Then they go and fetch his father. He must say what his son will be called. Zacharias still can’t speak. That’s why he asks for a tablet to write on. Then he writes the name of his son. That is John and not his name, Zacharias. This proves his faith.
He knows this will be his only son and yet he does not give him his own name. By doing so, he renounces his right to his child and acknowledges God’s right to him. By giving a name that has no relationship with himself or his family, Zacharias acknowledges that this child originates from God and that he himself has no right to him. He dedicates him to God.
The others are all amazed. They do not share in the faith of the meaning of that name. However, they do acknowledge that something special is going on. Many people can be impressed of a certain act of God in that way, but without bowing before that God and acknowledging that He is at work.
The moment when Zacharias, in obedience and faith, writes down the name ‘John’, is the moment of the end of the discipline of his muteness. Unbelief has made him mute; faith opens his mouth. He recognizes the grace of God. As soon as he can open his mouth again and use his tongue, the first thing he does is: praising God. The remnant will also do so when the discipline of God in the great tribulation is over and they acknowledge the grace of God.
All who hear of these things fear. They notice things that go beyond their understanding, things they can neither explain nor deny. If a person has to deal with such things, and he cannot see the Lord’s hand in them because of a lack of faith, fear strikes him. It is not anxiety, but awe. In any case, it provides a lot of material for conversation.
The events surrounding the birth of John make a deep impression. All believe that this child is something special. They perceive that the hand of the Lord is with this boy. John is one of whom you notice that the Lord is with him. Do the people know us like that?
God Remembers His Covenant
After his wife Elizabeth (Luke 1:41), Zacharias is now filled with the Holy Spirit through Whom he is going to prophesy. It will not have been difficult for the Holy Spirit to make Zacharias speak. Zacharias has been able to think for more than nine months.
The birth of his son is the reason for his prophecy, but its content is not his son. Although he also devotes a few words to him, the content of his prophecy is the unborn Christ of God. This is always the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit, Who always glorifies Christ.
Zacharias praises Yahweh, the God of Israel, because He stood up for His people. He speaks of the coming of Christ as if it had already taken place. This is a general characteristic of prophecy: it speaks of events as already fulfilled, while historically they are still in the future. All the events he mentions in the first part of his song of praise (Luke 1:68-Susanna :) will only be fully fulfilled at the second coming of Christ.
He says that God has visited His people. After all God had to leave His people because of their unfaithfulness (Ezekiel 10:18-Psalms :; Ezekiel 11:23), but He is now returning to them again in the Person of His Son. He also speaks about the fact that God has accomplished redemption for His people. That will first of all be the redemption from their sins through His work on the cross at His first coming. It will then also be salvation from their enemies by defeating them at His second coming.
His victorious performance is related to the re-establishment of the decayed house of David. The “horn” speaks of power. The power of salvation that He will show is the result of His covenant with “the house of David His servant”. All His actions that will result in Him saving and blessing His people are a fulfillment of all that He has said long before by the mouth of His holy prophets.
In his prophecy Zacharias looks forward to events that will save the people of God by liberating them from their enemies and all who hate them. God’s people have so many enemies and people who hate them. The tribulation and persecution are tremendously great and the desire for liberation is equally great. Christ will save them by judging their enemies. That is what the God-fearing Jew looks forward to. We also have enemies. However, we do not look forward to Christ saving us from them by killing them, but by taking us up to Himself. Zacharias acknowledges that the salvation from the power of their enemies is an act of mercy.
This action of God is the result of His remembrance of “His holy covenant”. He has committed Himself through a covenant to bless His people. In this remembrance of His holy covenant, the meaning of the name ‘Zacharias’ is fulfilled. Zacharias means ‘Yahweh has remembered’. The Holy Spirit inspires him to trust in the unconditional promise to Abraham, as Mary did (Luke 1:55). In the swearing of God the meaning of the name ‘Elizabeth’ is fulfilled. Elizabeth means ‘God has sworn’. That God has sworn is the extra guarantee He gives that He fulfills His promises (Hebrews 6:13-Job :).
God’s Purpose With Salvation
God has a purpose with the salvation of His people from the hand of their enemies. He wants His people, and us, to serve Him without fear. God grants this, He is a Giver. If He has saved us from the power of our enemies, it means that we no longer need to fear them. We don’t have to be afraid of Him either. Serving Him without fear is connected with love (1 John 4:18). Fear and love are incompatible, they exclude each other. He who is afraid of God, shows that he does not truly know His love.
When His people are rescued by Him, so that they may serve Him without fear, He places them before Him. To be there, He makes sure that the people meet to His holiness and righteousness. And not for a while, but for all their days. God’s love goes much further than just serving Him without fear, however great that may be. They may be before Him, that is in His direct presence. That is the blessing of the kingdom of peace.
For us Christians, these concepts go much further. We may know that we already now are in the world “as He is” (1 John 4:17). That is, the believers have the same place as Christ. If I have righteousness, I have it in Him; if I have holiness, I have it in Him; if I have life, I have it in Him; so it is with the glory, the inheritance, the love. God blesses us not only through Christ, but also with Him and not in relation to the earth during the kingdom of peace, but already spiritually now and soon in heaven and forever.
In spiritual terms, we have “put on the new man, which according to God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24). “Holiness” means separated to God, while we are surrounded by evil. “Righteousness” means that we give each one what is due to him, both to God and to men.
Prophecy About John
In these verses Zacharias addresses the child John. While the old man has the boy in his arms and looks him in the face, he speaks these words to him. These are the first words we have from Zacharias to him in Scripture. He speaks to John about the great privilege of being a prophet of the Most High. John may prepare the ways of the Lord Who will be born (Isaiah 40:3). This “Most High”, that is the LORD, Yahweh, is the Lord Jesus. The “Most High” is the Name of God in the realm of peace, where He is above all and everything is subjected to Him.
Zacharias tells his son how he will be forerunner of the Messiah. He will be so by preparing the way in the hearts of people. He knows that the only way to help “His people”, that is the people of the Most High, will be to teach them how to receive forgiveness of their sins and thereby become partaker of the salvation offered by God. For this he will preach the baptism of repentance. His preaching is based on “the tender mercy” of God, that is the “mercy of God’s intestines”, as it literally says, which becomes so very tangible in the coming of Christ.
“The Sunrise from on high” is a special description for Christ. His coming is truly the morning light of a new day. Every earthly sunrise happens before the human eye from downward to upward, but the rise of Christ is from upward to downward. Zacharias describes the coming of the Sunrise as the shining of light in the darkness and the shadow of death (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16). The people are in darkness, without light, and the only view they have is death. That is the misery of the people. The coming of the Lord Jesus offers light and sight in that state.
Where light comes, a way becomes clear. That way is the way of peace, of peace with God and with one another. First they did not know the way of peace (Romans 3:17). Through Christ and through the blood of the cross they can get peace with God and then put their feet on the way of peace. It is the way of life, where the shadow of death is gone. On that way their feet can be ‘guided’, that is, God determines the direction of their lives.
Anyone who is at peace with God can go that way, while the feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). This peace is heavenly, it is the peace of God (Philippians 4:7). If we have this peace, it will be visible in our walk that we live from this peace. Then we bring all that is in our hearts to God. Then we can rest in every circumstance in which He brings us. In this, the Lord Jesus is our example (Matthew 11:25-Amos :).
The peace of God is characterized by the rest of God on His throne, unaffected by all the turmoil on earth. The devil will do everything to try to take away our peace. Just as with Job, he will use all kinds of (unpleasant) circumstances for this. In heaven there is nothing that makes us restless and lose our peace. The testimony of the heavenly reality will be seen on earth especially in the peace that we radiate amidst all the turmoil.
Preparatory Years of John
In this verse we have the summary of the life of John until the beginning of his service. God occupies Himself with him in the silence of the desert to prepare him for his serious preaching of repentance, which he will have to preach in the coming days. It is a spiritual preparation for an action against a people who have deviated far from God.
He is not given the task to form a political party and thus to make known God’s thoughts to God’s people. God does not teach him all kinds of fighting methods and then form an army to chase away the enemy. The real enemy is in the heart. Therefore, the heart must be reached. For this, John must learn to trust only in God.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Luke 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany