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The Preface to the Gospel. Luke 1:1-4
v. 1. Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
v. 2. even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word,
v. 3. it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee, in order, most excellent Theophilus,
v. 4. that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.
Inasmuch as, since, seeing as is well known: the strong particle implies that the fact which the evangelist is about to state is well known, that it is important, and that it introduces the reason why Luke enters upon his great undertaking. Many persons had taken into their own hand to set forth in a connected narrative the great things that had been fulfilled, brought to their full consummation in their midst in the fullness of time. The Gospel-account had been transmitted in the form of episodes and individual stories, not in a long connected narrative. And there were many that wished a connected story concerning the events which now lay before the Christians as a complete whole. But many of these went ahead on their own initiative, and the word used by Luke implies a slight censure. They acted without authority of the great teachers of the Church, using their own judgment as to the authenticity of the stories that were circulating. Their efforts were on a par with those of the later apocryphal writers, a mixture of truth and falsehood. But the things that form the subject of Christian belief should not be left to scribes that wrote and edited without authority, without the certainty of full and divine truth. The disciples had been the witnesses of Christ's ministry, they had seen and heard the miracles and the sermons from the beginning, they had been ministers with Christ, assisting Him in His great work. They had been servants of the Word. The Gospel-story and its application engrossed their attention, that word summed up and characterized their labors. What they had taught had been the divine truth, since the Holy Spirit had led them into all truth. Their actual report of the Gospel-story and of the Gospel-preaching should be the only one to have validity among Christians. That is the notion which Luke had concerning the matter. Therefore he had made careful inquiries, he had very diligently followed up the matter from the very beginning, he had informed himself in all things with the aid of the responsible, authoritative teachers. He was therefore ready, on the basis of such investigations and studies, to write a continuous story, a connected narrative, of the entire Gospel-history, not only from the beginning of Christ's ministry, but from the beginning of His life. Luke then politely addresses the man for whom his summarized investigations were primarily intended, namely, one Theophilus, probably a Roman, whom he calls honorable, and who may therefore have occupied a high official position. This man had already received catechetical instruction (the first case in which such instruction is implied), but he had not made great advances in religious knowledge outside of the fundamentals, probably for lack of an authoritative textbook. but Luke wants him to know well, to understand exactly and fully, the certainty of the truth which he has learned up to the present time; he should be established in knowledge. It was for that reason that the writing or editing of a chronological and logical history of the life and ministry of Jesus was so desirable. Note: The explanation which Luke here gives does not in any way weaken verbal inspiration. "Though God gives His Holy Spirit to all them who ask Him, yet this gift was never designed to set aside the use of those faculties with which He has already endued the soul, and which are as truly His gifts as the Holy Spirit itself is. The nature of inspiration, in the case of St. Luke, we at once discover: he set himself, by impartial inquiry and diligent investigation, to find the whole truth, and to relate nothing but the truth; and the Spirit of God presided over and directed his inquiries, so that he discovered the whole truth, and was preserved from every particle of error. " Mark also: "This preface gives a lively picture of the intense, universal interest felt by the early Church in the story of the Lord Jesus: Apostles constantly telling what they had seen and heard; many of their hearers taking notes of what they said for the benefit of themselves and others; through these gospelets acquaintance with the evangelic history circulating among believers, creating a thirst for more and yet more; imposing on such a man as Luke the task of preparing a gospel as full, correct, and well-arranged as possible through the use of all available means previous writing or oral testimony of surviving eyewitnesses. " It may be remarked, finally, that this preface of Luke's gospel is not only a splendid example of Greek writing, but also breathes the spirit of true meekness, such as should characterize not only the minister of the Gospel, but every Christian.
The Announcement of John the Baptist's Birth.
The parents of John:
v. 5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia; and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
v. 6. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
v. 7. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
There was or lived in the days when Herod the Great was king of Judea. Luke is very careful and exact in all his references to secular history, and therefore his statements are so generally trustworthy, aside from the fact that they are inspired by God. It was then that a priest by the name of Zacharias (which Luther renders proclamation, remembrance of the Lord) was living in Judea, in one of the cities set aside for the use of the priests. He belonged to the order, class, or division of Abia. All the priests of the Jews, numbering about 20,000 at the time of Christ, were divided into certain sections, named according to their week's service. These classes or orders followed each other in due rotation for the Temple-service in Jerusalem. There were twenty-four classes, of which that of Abia was the eighth, 1 Chronicles 24:1-31. The wife of Zacharias was also of the descendants of Aaron, the daughter of a priest. Her name was Elisabeth, which Luther explains as God's rest, or ceasing from work, a rest given by God. John the Baptist was thus descended from priestly parents on both sides.
Zacharias and Elisabeth are given the highest praise by the evangelist. Righteous they both were before God, their manner of living was of a nature to stand the scrutiny of God, they were models of civic righteousness. They walked in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord without reproach. From the standpoint of human judgment their piety and goodness was blameless. But in spite of all this there was one great sorrow that burdened their lives. No child had been given them to brighten their home, and childlessness, from the Jewish and Biblical point of view, was a calamity. And this was not a matter of their own choice or wish, but it happened so, inasmuch as Elisabeth was barren. The Lord had denied her the privilege of motherhood. And at this time they were both far advanced in age, beyond the days when, according to the course of nature, they might expect the blessing of children. They felt this childlessness as a deep reproach, as a heavy cross. "For the barren were considered cursed people. For Genesis 1:1-31, when God created them male and female, He said: 'Be fruitful and multiply!' These words the Jews diligently urged. He that had no issue was not blessed. Therefore a man or woman without children must be cursed and unblessed. Thus Elisabeth might also have complained that she was rejected and mocked by the world, since she was barren. Now people consider it a blessing when they have no children," more's the pity!
Zacharias in the Temple:
v. 8. And it came to pass that, while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
v. 9. according to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the Temple of the Lord.
v. 10. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
It so happened, or rather it came about by God's dispensation and government, that Zacharias was serving in his priestly office. In the course of time, as it happened twice a year in the Jewish calendar, his order or division was on duty in the Temple of the Lord. So he left his home and went to Jerusalem for the week's duties with the other priests of his course. It was the custom of the Jews to designate the various labors which the priests had to perform in the Temple by casting lots, some of them being selected to take care of the altar of burnt offerings, others to the appointments of the Holy Place, others to the vessels in the priests' court. In this way it fell to the lot of Zacharias on a certain day to perform the very special service of burning incense on the golden altar in the Holy Place. This was a memorable day in the life of any priest, since the chance might never come to him but once. This work was performed in the Temple proper, as Luke remarks for the sake of such as were not familiar with the Jewish form of worship and the various offerings in the services. The officiating priest, during this part of the ceremony, was in the Holy Place all alone, all the attendants and assistants having withdrawn. The congregation, during this ceremony, was assembled out in the courts, for this was the hour of prayer, about nine o'clock in the morning, and the offering of incense was a type and symbol of the prayers arising to the throne of God, Psalms 141:2.
The angel messenger:
v. 11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
v. 12. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
v. 13. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias; for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name John.
v. 14. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
v. 15. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
v. 16. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord, their God.
v. 17. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
While Zacharias was engaged in the work of his ministry, while the fumes of the incense in the censer were being wafted upward before the veil of the Most Holy Place,, there suddenly appeared to him an angel of the Lord. It was not a revelation in a dream or in an unconscious state, but an actual appearance, about whose definiteness there could be no doubt. On the right side, that is, on the south side of the altar of incense, the heavenly visitor stood. Zacharias was not in an ecstatic state, his mind was perfectly clear, he noted every detail. But he was deeply moved at the sight, greatly perturbed, as might be expected under the circumstances. And this perturbation took the form of fear, which fell upon him. Well might a sinful man be filled with fear in the presence of a sinless messenger from the holy God. But the angel made haste to reassure him, to tell him there was no need of fear and disturbance. It is a message of joy that he is bringing. It was not only on this day that the thoughts of Zacharias in his prayer had dwelt upon the cross that he was bearing, but it seems that this calamity was a cause of constant supplication to God. Note: When God gives His children a cross to bear, He tests their fortitude and patience, their faith and trust in Him. Even if all experience of man is against a Christian in his prayer, he trusts in the merciful Father for help and, in childlike faith, brings his petition before the throne of God again and again. God will hear at His time and in His way. Thus the angel here announced to Zacharias the fulfillment of his prayer. His wife Elisabeth would bear him a son, and he should call the name of this son John, which Luther renders: the Lord's favor or mercy. This happening, the angel says, will be the occasion for joy and exultation on the part of the father. But other people also would rejoice with the parents on account of this son. The angel does not merely mean the relatives, who, indeed, did not disappoint them at the time appointed, but there is here a hint also of the joy which the true Jews, the believers, would feel at this indication of the consummation of their hopes, for some surely would recognize in John the forerunner of the Lord, the Messiah. The cause for this joy in the highest degree will not merely be parenthood realized, but the fact that this son would be great before the Lord, in the sight of God. He shall be esteemed highly in the sight of God, but shall also receive such regard for service in the field of religion. One of his characteristics would be that of the Nazarites of old: he would drink neither wine nor strong drink, any intoxicating beverage made from fruit outside of grapes, Numbers 6:3. But his greatest distinction would be this, that he would be filled with the Holy Ghost, not only from the hour of his birth, but before he would have seen the light, from his earliest origin. And a great and wonderful work will be his: Many of the children of Israel will he turn, convert, to the Lord, their God. Repentance and conversion will be his great aim and watchword. Such a spiritual renewal or Revival was badly needed in Palestine at this time, since there was too much dead orthodoxy and not enough living faith among the people. In performing this work, John would be fulfilling the prophecy spoken of him, Malachi 4:5-6. The spirit and power of Elijah would be living in him, to turn the heart of the parents to the children, to make them realize the responsibility that rests upon them in the bringing up of the little ones in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, to make them realize that a supplying of the physical needs of the children is not sufficient to meet the demands of the Lord, to make them understand that their duty is not fulfilled when they go through the perfunctory, prescribed formula for teaching their children the outward observances of religion. And incidentally, John's work would consist in turning the disobedient, the faithless, in, or by means of, the sound common sense of the righteous. To wander away from the Lord and follow the bent and inclination of one's own evil heart, is, in the last analysis, the height of foolishness. The only true common sense is that found in those that live their life, with God's help, in accordance with the rules of God's holy Word. By such means, and in this way, John would prepare for the Lord a ready, instructed, adapted people. That is the order in the kingdom of Christ: by the preaching of repentance the way is prepared for Christ and for the Gospel of the mercy of God in Christ. Only where the hearts are previously influenced properly by such preaching, can sound Christian character grow out of the love of Christ.
The doubts of Zacharias:
v. 18. And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
v. 19. And the angel, answering, said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God, and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings.
v. 20. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
The announcement of the angel and the enthusiasm with which he delivered his message overwhelmed the aged priest. Hoping against hope, he had continued his importunate appeals for progeny even beyond the usual term of life. But now that his prayers were to be answered beyond his fondest expectations, the greatness of the miracle created doubt in his mind. It suddenly seemed too good to be true, the course of nature could not be set aside; and therefore he labored under a lack of faith. He asks: By what means shall I know this? He wanted some concrete evidence, some definite sign which would give him the immediate assurance of the realization of his hopes. For now that his faith had been shaken, he argues from the standpoint of human reason, that he himself was an old man and that his wife was far advanced in her days, that the predicted event could therefore not well take place. Zacharias received the sign he asked for more quickly than he had anticipated. With solemn impressiveness the angel explains to him the reason why his message should have been believed implicitly. For Gabriel was his name, which means the might of the strong God. Zacharias, being familiar with the books of the prophets, would understand the name and all it stood for, Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21. Gabriel belonged to the blessed angels that stand in the presence of God, that are confirmed in eternal bliss before the throne of God. He was present, not on his own initiative or in his own interest, but as the messenger of the strong God, who could accomplish every purpose and subdue all things to Himself. He had come to bring to Zacharias truly good, joyful tidings. Since, therefore, Zacharias, without considering this fact, had chosen to doubt the message, the sign that he required would be in the nature of a severe, though temporal and 'temporary punishment: total dumbness, until the time that all this would come to pass, for, as the angel once more emphasizes, the matter foretold would surely be fulfilled in its season, at the time appointed by God.
The anxiety of the people:
v. 21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he tarried so long in the Temple.
v. 22. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the Temple; for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
v. 23. And it came to pass that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
The offering of incense was the culmination of the morning service during which Zacharias was in the Holy Place all alone. The people were always apprehensive of some disaster that might befall the officiating priest, that God might slay him as unworthy and then visit His wrath upon the entire people; therefore they worried about him. The conversation with the angel had prolonged the priest's stay far beyond the usual hour of closing, and their uneasy wonder about the delay was increasing. When he finally emerged from the Holy Place and stepped into the open space of the priests' court, near the steps which led down to the other courts, he could not speak to the people, he could not pronounce the Aaronic blessing, which concluded the morning service. Zacharias had received proof positive that the credentials of Gabriel were beyond question; dumbness had at once fallen upon him. But by his gestures and signs the people sensed or perceived, understood that something unusual had occurred in the Temple, they inferred that he had seen a vision of some kind which had rendered him speechless. But though Zacharias had been deprived of the power of speech, he served the full course of his Temple ministry, he stayed for the full week, 2 Kings 11:17. There were other services that did not demand the use of the voice, and many ministrations in the Temple were given over to such as had minor physical defects. But at the end of the week he returned to his house, to the city of the priests where he had his home. The words of one commentator referring to the work of the pastors in this connection may well be extended to include all Christians, inasmuch as they all should be engaged in the work of the Master. He writes: "There is something very instructive in the conduct of this priest; had he not loved the service he was engaged in, he might have made the loss of his speech a pretext for immediately quitting it. But as he was not thereby disabled from fulfilling the sacerdotal function, so he saw he was bound to continue till his ministry was ended, or till God had 'given him a positive dismissal. Preachers who give up their labor in the vineyard because of some trifling bodily disorder by which they are afflicted, or through some inconvenience in outward circumstances which the follower of a cross-bearing, crucified Lord should not mention, show either that they never had a proper concern for the honor of their Master or for the salvation of men, or else that they have lost the spirit of their Master and the spirit of their work. Again, Zacharias did not hasten to his house to tell his wife the good news that he had received from heaven, in which she was certainly very much interested: the angel had promised that all his words should be fulfilled in their season, and for this season he patiently waited in the path of duty. He had engaged in the work of the Lord, and must pay no attention to anything that was likely to mar or interrupt his religious service. Preachers who profess to be called of God to labor in the Word and doctrine and who abandon their work for filthy lucre's sake are the most contemptible of mortals and traitors to their God."
The beginning of the fulfillment:
v. 24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,
v. 25. Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
In His season God remembered Elisabeth and her husband. The aged wife had evidence that her prayers at last seemed about to be heard. The result of this knowledge was that she hid herself entirely, she took no part in any social intercourse. God had taken care to remove her reproach from her. Since fruitfulness was one of the promises of God to His people, Genesis 17:6, and since children, on this account, were considered as a. particular blessing from heaven, Exodus 23:26; Leviticus 26:9; Psalms 127:3, barrenness was among the Jews considered a reproach, a token of the disapprobation of the Lord, 1 Samuel 1:6. This stigma was now about to be removed. Though the fact was not yet known, even to her intimate friends and relatives, she was aware of it, and she wanted to escape the pitying glances to which she had never become accustomed, until such a time as her hope would be beyond doubt, when no more reproach could strike her.
The Annunciation to Mary.
Gabriel's visit to Nazareth:
v. 26 And in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
v. 27. to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
In the sixth month after the Lord had remembered Elisabeth to carry out a part of His design and prophecy for the sake of fallen mankind, He made preparations for a still more wonderful event, by commissioning the same messenger as in the previous case, Gabriel, to serve as the bearer of another message. Luke is very careful to make all statements which are necessary to make the situation clear. Though Mary and Joseph were both of the house of David, they did not live in the city of their fathers, but in Nazareth of Galilee, a small town in the mountains southwest of the Sea of Galilee. To a virgin by the name of Mary the angel was sent, not to a young married woman, as the critics of the virgin birth will have it. Mary was still a virgin, as she protests to the angel, v. 34. But she was engaged, or espoused, according to Jewish custom, to a man by the name of Joseph, who was also of the royal blood. The betrothal among the Jews, according to the command of God, was as binding as the consummated marriage. It was attended with many ceremonies and took place about a year before the wedding. Simple words, but fraught with most momentous meaning! As one commentator expresses it: "At length the moment is come which is to give a Son to a virgin, a Savior to the world, a pattern to mankind, a sacrifice to sinners, a temple to the Divinity, and a new principle to the world."
The message of the angel:
v. 28 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.
v. 29. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
v. 30. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favor with God.
v. 31. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
v. 32. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David.
v. 33. And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.
The first message of the New Testament was given in the secrecy of the Holy Place in the Temple, the second in the seclusion of a virgin's home in Nazareth. The beautiful greeting of the angel on this occasion has been abused by the Catholic Church in being made a prayer of their idolatrous practice. It is known as the Angelus and begins with the words "Ave Maria. " But the words of the greeting and Mary's behavior at this time prove that the Catholic claim is untenable, that praying to Mary is a custom which she would least of all have tolerated had she known about it. For the angel calls her one that has been much graced, graciously accepted, highly favored, endued with grace. Not as a mother or dispenser of grace, but as a daughter and recipient of grace she is addressed. She is given the assurance that the Lord is with her. She is fully and altogether dependent upon Him, her God and her Savior. The effect of the sudden apparition and the strange greeting was naturally a startling one. Mary was much disturbed, but not with doubting fear, but because she felt that it meant something altogether unusual, the exact nature of which did not as yet appear. Her humility made her shrink back from the fullness of such grace, for that is the natural effect of the assurance of God's mercy upon poor, sinful mortals. She cast in her mind, she thought of possible reasons for such a manner of greeting. She was not in a state of hysterical excitement, but reasoned very calmly as to the "why" of the angel's words. The angel quickly proceeds to enlighten her by bidding her not to fear, since she had found grace in the sight of God. Although she was the chosen mother of the Savior, yet she was in need of grace. "Though the Virgin Mary is blessed above all women, that such grace and honor was never given to any other woman, yet the angel with these words draws her down to the level of all other saints, since he clearly says: Whatever she may be she is by grace, and not by merit. Now the difference between Him that gives grace and him that receives grace must always be maintained. With Him that gives grace we should seek grace, and not with him that himself has enjoyed grace. " And now the angel explains the extraordinary distinction which would be conferred upon her. She would, as a virgin, conceive and give birth to a son. To try to weaken this announcement by saying that Mary might have assumed, as an espoused wife, that the message had reference to a child to be born as the fruit of marriage with the man to whom she was betrothed is an effort of unbelief to eliminate miracles from the Bible. See Matthew 1:21.
A true son, a true human being, though born of a virgin, He should be whose name should be called Jesus, Savior, Redeemer. Though the name was by no means unknown among the Jews, it would here be applied in its full significance for the first time. Of this miracle-child the angel says that He will be great, with a greatness of a singular nature, because His human nature was to be united with the divine nature, because He would therefore, in the most peculiar and restricted sense, be called the Son of the Highest, because the fulfillment of all the prophecies promising everlasting empire to the Son of David would be found in Him, because He would be the everlasting Head and Sovereign of the house of Jacob, of the Church of the New Testament, because His government and kingdom would be eternal. The gates and powers of death and hell shall never be able to injure or destroy the kingdom of Christ. The sum and substance of the entire Gospel-message is contained in these words of the angel; it was an inspired and inspiring announcement. "The angel asserts with powerful words that this son is at the same time true man and true God. For that He is a true man he proves with the words when he says first: 'Thou shalt conceive,' but, 'in thy womb,' that no one may understand a spiritual conception... Secondly, because he says: 'Thou shalt bring forth a son,' since the conception which is done in the mind does not bear children out of the body But that He is true God is clear, first of all, from the words: 'He shall be called the Son of God. ' To none other is it said in particular, 'Thou art My Son,' but to this single One. Secondly, since to this person is given an eternal life. This cannot possibly be given to one that is a mere man, since it belongs to God only that He is a King without end. This King is immortal and eternal, therefore He has a different kingdom than that of this world."
The explanation of the miracle:
v. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
v. 35. And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
v. 36. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
v. 37. For with God nothing shall be impossible.
v. 38. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
Mary had received wonderful, overwhelming news, such as she could hardly be expected to grasp and comprehend, that she, the unknown, poor maiden, should be the mother of the Messiah; for the words of the angel permitted no other interpretation. She was ready, in humble trust, to accept the message. But she feels constrained to ask for an explanation, not a sign. She knew only of the ordinary course of nature by which children are born into the world, and which presupposes two parents. She knew herself to be a pure virgin, no man having known her. The angel accepts the question, and, in answering, rises to an exulting chant. God would here make a wonderful exception, He would set aside the usual course of nature. The Holy Spirit, the Power of the Highest, the miraculous life-producing Power, would here exert an influence which would produce a child without fleshly defilement, out of the flesh and blood of the virgin only. No human father would be present, nor would there be any intercourse according to the blessing given to men at the creation. The creative power of God would come upon her, overshadow her, and so the child which would be born would be called holy, the Son of God. The faith of Mary under these trying circumstances is certainly remarkable. "That is a high, excellent faith 'to become a mother and yet remain a simple virgin; this truly transcends sense, thoughts, also all human reason and experience. Mary here has no example in all creatures on earth to which she could hold and thus strengthen herself; yea, they all are against faith; for she is there all alone, who contrary to all reason, sense, and thoughts of men, without the agency of man, should bear and become a mother. Therefore she was obliged to abandon everything, even herself, and cling to the Word alone which the angel proclaimed to her from God. As it happened to Mary with her faith, so it happens to all of us, that we must believe what is opposed to our understanding, thoughts, experience, and example. For that is the property and nature of faith, that it will not permit anything to stand outside of itself, on which a person might rely and rest but only the mere Word of God and the divine promise."
But the angel, as if filled with compassion for Mary's difficult position, gives her some more information which would tend to set her mind at ease and reassure her. He tells Mary that her kinswoman, Elisabeth, who was of an age in which the normal course of nature no longer permitted the procreation of children, and who for that reason had been commonly considered barren, had been relieved of her reproach by God, this being the sixth month since the Lord had remembered her to give her a son. For and very impressively the angel brings out the fact with God there is impossible not one thing; every word of promise which He has made He will carry into execution at His time. Upon this word she might rely without doubt; this would be a powerful support to her faith. And in this way Mary accepted the message in its entirety. There were still doubtless many points concerning which she knew no explanation, which were beyond her power of comprehension. But she simply believed. She put herself entirely into the Lord's service, as His servant. His work might be carried out in her. Hers was not only obedient submission, but also patient, longing expectation. She was ready to be the mother of the God-man, just as the angel had said. She herself had been conceived and born in sin, after the manner of all ordinary human beings, and the doctrine of Mary's immaculate conception is a piece of Catholic fiction, but her Son, born of a woman, yet without carnal intercourse, by which He would have been conceived in sin, is the holy Son of God, the Redeemer of the world.
Mary's Visit to Elisabeth.
The salutation of Mary and Elisabeth's answer:
v. 39 And Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda,
v. 40. and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
v. 41. And it came to pass that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost;
v. 42. and she spake out with a loud voice and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
v. 43. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
v. 44. For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
v. 45. And blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a performance of those thing's which were told her from the Lord.
In those same days Mary got ready for a visit to her kinswoman, for the news of the angel had filled her with joy. She lost no time in journeying up into the mountainous country of Judea, where the city of priests was situated in which Zacharias lived with his wife Elisabeth. Note the expression "with haste. " "Quickly; as a chaste, fine, pure maid that did not let her foot rest. Such a maid or woman is one that takes hold of a thing and brings it about. Then again there are lazy, slothful women, busybodies, that neglect everything at home, sleep, and permit damage to be done, only think of eating, only do harm. But of Mary the evangelist says that she was vigorous and did not seek meddlesomeness to babble about this or that, as young and old women now commonly do: when they come together, they govern and reform with their talk the entire city, slander the people, want to run every house. If therefore a young or old woman nowadays is energetic, she is worthy of all honor. But she is seldom found and is a rare bird. " When Mary thus, with characteristic energy and haste, had completed her journey and came to the house of Zacharias, she saluted Elisabeth, gave her the greeting of a dear relative and friend. But then a miracle happened. The mother's joy and the urging of the Holy Ghost produced in the unborn son of Elisabeth a supernatural, joyful movement, for John, even at this time, was filled with the Holy Spirit. And upon Elisabeth the Spirit acted in a miraculous way, filling her with the gift of divination and prophecy. Her words, therefore, were an unrestrained utterance under the influence of irrepressible feeling. Her statement is a fine bit of exalted poetry. She calls Mary, the mother, blessed among all women, on account of the high distinction conferred upon her, and she calls the babe that was to be born of her blessed. The most wonderful mother of the most wonderful Son! The prophetic Spirit urges her to unfold the future. She considers herself unworthy of receiving, in her modest home, the mother of her Lord. She knew that Mary was to be the mother of the Messiah; she knew that her Lord would be born a true human being, and that her trust in Him would bring her salvation. She was one of the few in Israel that understood the prophecies concerning the Seed of the woman, the Child of the virgin, in their right sense. She tells Mary about the miraculous movements which she experienced when she heard the voice of her greeting. She declares her to be happy, to be in a state of the highest felicity, because Mary had believed the angel's message, because the things she hopes for will surely come to pass. It was an outpouring of sublime enthusiasm which Elisabeth here gave utterance to, and it must have done much to strengthen still more the faith of Mary in the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning her Son.
The hymn of Mary:
v. 46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
v. 47. and ray spirit hath rejoiced in God, my Savior.
v. 48. For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden; for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
v. 49. For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name.
v. 50. And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation.
The salutation of Elisabeth had filled Mary with the highest joy, with the happiness of faith, it stimulated her to a song which breathes the spirit of humble faith, giving all glory to God alone. Note: So thoroughly familiar was Mary with the writings of the Old Testament that her hymn is cast, almost involuntarily, in the words of the Old Testament poets. All the psalms that had been sung in honor of the Messiah served to give her the thoughts and phrases for her great hymn of the New Testament. Elisabeth had praised her faith, but she gives all glory and honor to God alone. Her soul magnifies, makes great, exalts, praises the Lord; He is the theme of her song; and her spirit rejoices, is exceedingly happy in God, her Savior. She did not deem herself sinless or beyond the need of redemption. She knew that the Savior, though her own son, would have to earn her salvation as well as that of all the other people in the world. For He, God the Savior, has looked down, in mercy and kindness, upon the humble station of His servant, as she humbly calls herself. His purpose was to change the condition of this lowly maiden. Note that she says low estate, and not humility, to avoid the semblance of self-righteous assertion. For this act of God shown to her all generations would declare her to be happy; poetical for: all men that would learn of it. They would praise the Lord of heaven that He had revealed and magnified His grace upon this lowly maid, to make her the mother of His Son. For to me has done great things the Mighty One; and holy is His name. His power is unlimited to do His will. The adjectives mighty and holy express the essence of the majesty of God. But the other side of His nature is revealed still more wonderfully in the work of redemption. His mercy is new from generation to generation upon them that fear Him. God delights in the salvation and happiness of all His creatures, because His name is mercy, and His nature is love.
The conclusion of the hymn:
v. 51 He hath showed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
v. 52. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
v. 53. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.
v. 54. He hath holpen His servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy;
v. 55. as He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.
v. 56. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
Mary praises the strength of God's arm, which He has made manifest. He has scattered into all the winds those that were proud and arrogant in the imagination of their own hearts. Those that rise up in haughty dependence upon their own ability in any field whatsoever, physical, mental, or moral, will find themselves without a hold. And God the Savior is especially impatient of those that depend upon their own righteousness and look down with contempt upon others whose lives may be marred with some transgression that is stigmatized before men. He deposes the mighty ones from their thrones, and elevates the meek and lowly. His rule over the world is unquestioned, absolute; when He comes forward in the majesty of His omnipotence, no one can withstand Him. The hungry He has filled with good things, giving them not only the necessities, but more than they need. Those that hunger and thirst after the gift of righteousness, because they realize the manifold shortcomings in their own life, these He fills with the wonderful gifts of His rich, store. But the rich, those that deem themselves above every want, that are fully satisfied in self-sufficiency, that do not feel the need of a Savior, they are sent away in shame and disgrace, and with empty hands. They go back into their houses without the assurance of complete satisfaction made before God by the redemption of Christ Jesus. For God has at all times come to the aid of His child and servant Israel, of those that believe in Him; and the moral assistance of the Lord is worth more than all the actual attempts to help of the whole world. For God remembers His mercy, the covenant of grace which He made with Abraham and renewed with the patriarchs, according to the promise that in Abraham and his seed all nations of the earth should be called blessed. The Messiah was born from the descendants of Abraham and David, and thus all the people of the world have everlasting joy and blessing in this Son of Abraham and David. Thus Mary, in lofty and picturesque language, portrayed the condition which would obtain in the kingdom of her great Son, the Messiah, whose birth was so near at hand. The majesty of the strong God of Sabaoth would be made manifest in justice and righteousness upon those that exalt themselves in proud haughtiness. But the mercy and grace of the Lord would be revealed and appropriated to the poor, needy, and' lowly, upon those that have cast aside all self-righteousness and place their hope and trust in the Messiah of prophecy. These are the true Israel, the true seed of Abraham, who will therefore also inherit all the blessings which should come upon all the people of the world by that one seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ.
Mary's hymn recalls, not only the song of Hannah, but also many passages in the Psalms, as well as in the songs of Miriam and Deborah. We might compare Psalms 113:1-9; Psalms 126:1-6, also Psalms 31:8; Psalms 34:2-3; Psalms 138:6; Psalms 71:19; Psalms 111:9; Psalms 33:10; Psalms 34:10, and others. The grace of God, His holiness, His justice, and especially His faithfulness are celebrated. The whole forms an animated doxology of singular beauty and power, a fitting hymn for the Church of the New Testament to sing the praises of the God of its salvation.
Mary remained with Elisabeth for about three months, showing her kinswoman all sympathy and kindness. After that time, tact and' the regard for her own condition made her return home imperative.
The Birth of John the Baptist.
The birth and circumcision of John:
v. 57 Now Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth, a son.
v. 58. And her neighbors and her cousins heard how the Lord had showed, great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.
v. 59. And it came to pass that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.
v. 60. And his mother answered and said, Nat so; but he shall be called John.
v. 61. And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.
v. 62. And they made signs to his father how he would have him called.
v. 63. And he asked for a writing-table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marveled all.
For Elisabeth the time was now fulfilled, according to the promise of God and the course of nature. A son was born to the aged parents, as God had promised through the angel. Now Elisabeth no longer hid herself and shut herself away from the interest of friends and neighbors. Those that were living near as well as the relatives at a distance heard the news very soon. Note: The text expressly states that the Lord had made great His mercy upon Elisabeth; it was His favor and grace that was here made evident. And everywhere there was rejoicing with the happy parents. On the eighth day, those that were concerned in the festival came together, chiefly the relatives, for this was the day of circumcision according to. God's command, at which time the name was usually given to the child. Their unanimous opinion was that the name of the boy should be Zacharias (conative imperfect or imperfect of repeated action), not that this had been a binding custom among the Jews, but because the only boy would fitly bear the name of the father. But here Elisabeth objected. Zacharias had, in the meantime, communicated to her the story of the wonderful appearance in the Temple, and she knew the name which the Lord had selected. This name, John, she now mentioned. To this they promptly voiced the objection that such a name, prevalent as it was among the Jews, was not found in her family. So they turned to Zacharias, who had heard the whole altercation and was quick to grasp their meaning as they looked expectantly at him. He therefore intimated that he wanted a writing-table, probably a small wax tablet, such as were in general use at that time, upon which the writing was done with a stylus. And then he wrote, he said in writing and probably spoke at the same time: John is his name. His form of putting it left no alternative, the matter was fully and completely settled at this time. God's command was carried out to the letter. The punishment for his lack of faith was now removed, and speech returned to him. Thus God has pity on His children when they have faltered or fallen, He helps them to conquer the evil with good and unbelief with belief. And thus faith is enabled to grow all the stronger, since all doubts have been conquered by the Word of God. But the assembled company wondered at this strange agreement of the parents in giving a name which was unusual in their family. It was their first intimation that this child was truly exceptional.
v. 64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.
v. 65. And fear came on all that dwelt round about them; and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judea.
v. 66. And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.
Two strange things connected with the story of John have been noted: The fact that the child was the son of parents past the age of bearing children, and the giving of a name which had not been in use in the family of Zacharias. Here is added the recovery of speech on the part of the father. For the greater part of a year the neighbors had known him to be dumb, and now, with the same suddenness as the calamity had overtaken him, the ban is removed from his tongue, for which he at once gives praise to the Lord. The effect upon the assembled company and upon all the inhabitants of the hill country of Judea was a very deep one. Not superstitious fear, but Revelation rent awe took hold upon them. wherever the story of these events was told, the people were similarly impressed. They felt that such singular and peculiar circumstances surrounded the birth of this child that God Himself must be concerned in his welfare, that all things pointed to an uncommon future for the boy. The usual comment was: What, then, will this child come to? And the people made a mental note of the circumstances with a view of watching further developments. If they had only continued their watchful attitude until John began his ministry on the banks of the Jordan! And the comment of the evangelist justifies the questioning of the people in the hill country; For the hand of the Lord was with him. This sentence sums up the whole history of John's childhood and anticipates some of the later developments.
A hymn of praise:
v. 67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost and prophesied, saying,
v. 68. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people
v. 69. and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David;
v. 70. as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
v. 71. that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
v. 72. to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant;
v. 73. the oath which He sware to our father Abraham
v. 74. that He would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear,
v. 75. in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.
We have here another wonderful hymn of praise and prophecy couched, for the most part, in terms of the Old Testament songs of praise. The Holy Ghost Himself, speaking through the mouth of Zacharias, was its author. Luther has written comments on many sections of it in various parts of his books. From the start, all praise, honor, and glory is given to God. The entire plan and work of salvation is a monument of His grace, to the praise of His glory. He is the God of Israel, originally of the Israel of the flesh; but since these children have rejected Him, the term now applies to spiritual Israel only, to His Church. Upon these He has looked with a view of helping them, of giving them the assistance which they needed above all, the redemption from sins. For this His people He has prepared a salvation, brought it about in the Messiah, the Redeemer. It was the redemption from a burden whose heaviness and damnableness they had not realized. "To visit is nothing else than to come to us, to lay before us and proclaim to us the wholesome Word, whereby we are saved. " In order to prepare this salvation for us, the Lord has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David, His servant. As in Psalms 18:2, the word horn signifies a strong, firm, unwavering help. Our Lord is a strong, powerful Defender, the Redeemer out of the race of David that brought us full salvation. " 'Horn' in the Hebrew language means power, defiance, rule, whereon one may rely... But He adds: A horn of saving or salvation. Other kingdoms have their names and goods from which they are called. Some kingdoms are large, have much goods, many people, great honor, but only temporal goods; but this Kingdom is called a kingdom of salvation, a kingdom of grace, a kingdom of life, a kingdom of righteousness, a kingdom of truth, and whatever serves unto salvation... God has here established a principality and kingdom, in which there is nothing but welfare and salvation. " These great blessings are the result of the promises which the Lord made through the mouths of His holy prophets, from the beginning of the world. The culmination of all the prophecies is always the same theme, salvation through the Messiah, liberation from the enemies and from the hands of all those that are filled with hatred toward us, the believers in Him. The spiritual enemies have been unceasing in their plans and attacks against the children of God, but God has carried out the plans of His mercy toward us, as to the fathers of old that trusted in Him. For He remembered His holy covenant and the oath which He swore to Abraham, that in him and his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. As a result of these promises God has given to the believers to serve Him without fear, since they are torn out of the hands of all their enemies. Such service may now be performed in holiness, in personal cleanness and sinlessness, and in righteousness, in the right relationship toward God, a perfect description of a New Testament Christian, Ephesians 1:23. "That he says He would deliver us from all our enemies must again be understood that this Kingdom is in battle and in the midst of the enemies; but they shall not win, but lose; and this deliverance and salvation shall serve that we serve Him eternally without fear. The word 'without fear' includes that we are sure of the goods of this life and of that yonder. For a Christian is sure and certain that his sins are forgiven, though he still feels them; he is also sure that death cannot harm him, the devil cannot vanquish him, the world cannot prevail against him."
A hymn of prophecy:
v. 76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways;
v. 77. to give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins,
v. 78. through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us,
v. 79. to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
v. 80. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel.
From a contemplation of the wonderful gifts of the redemption Zacharias turns to a prophecy concerning the future of the son that had been born to him according to the promise of the Lord. John would be a prophet in the highest and fullest sense of the word, Matthew 11:9. His life's work would consist in going before the face of the Lord as a true herald to prepare His ways before Him, as the prophets had said, Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1. And when the proclamation of the Law would have prepared the hearts in removing all self-righteousness and supposed piety, then John would be able to dispense the knowledge of salvation which consists in forgiveness of sins; redemption is transmitted through the remission of sins. "John is to come and give the people of God a knowledge, which is not to be a knowledge of sin, of wrath, of death, but a knowledge of salvation, that is, such preaching from which one learns how to be saved and delivered from death and sin. That is an art of which the world knows not one word. " And this preaching is made possible through the bowels, the heart of mercy, of our God. His whole heart yearns toward us with inexpressible love and tender mercy, and for the sake of that the Daystar from on high has visited us, the light, star, or sun is risen upon us in Jesus the Savior. This true morning star with the rays of God's divine love illumined the darkness which had been caused by sin and enmity toward Him. And the result is that those that sat in such darkness and shadow of death have felt the light and the warmth of His glow, Isaiah 60:1-2. Those unable to find their way in the darkness of spiritual death, He will awaken to true life, illumine them with the light of the Gospel, and guide them to the way of peace, Romans 5:1. It is a beautiful and effective, as well as complete description of the work which God performs in us through the Gospel. "This certainly means, as I think, cutting off all merit and good works from the forgiveness of sins, in order that no one may say: I have earned it. Remission of sins has only one reason, namely, because God is merciful, and out of such mercy has sent and given us His Son that He might pay for us and we should be saved through Him. Therefore it reads thus: Forgiveness of sins is not the result of our merit, nor of our good works, but of the sincere mercy of God, that He has loved us of His own free will. We had with our sins earned the fire of hell, but God looked upon His boundless mercy. That is the reason why He sent His Son and for the sake of His Son forgives us our sins. " Of the entire hymn, Augustine writes: "O blessed hymn of joy and praise! Divinely inspired by the Holy Ghost, and divinely pronounced by the venerable priest, and daily sung in the Church of God! Oh, may thy words be often in my mouth, and the sweetness of them always in my heart! The expressions thou usest are the comfort of my life; and the subject thou treatest of the hope of all the world!"
The evangelist concludes with a note concerning the youth of John the Baptist, saying that lie grew in body and mind and spent his time out in the deserts until the Lord gave him ail indication that the period of seclusion must be followed by that of public ministry.
Summary. After a short preface, Luke relates the stories of the announcement of John the Baptist's birth, of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus, of the visit of Mary to Elisabeth, with the hymn of Mary, and of the birth, childhood, and youth of the Baptist, with the hymn of his father Zacharias.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Luke 1". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany