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Nave's Topical Bible - Agency; Angel (a Spirit); Barrenness; Elijah; Elisabeth (Elizabeth); Gabriel; John; Joy; Power; Prophecy; Quotations and Allusions; Regeneration; Temple; Vision; Wisdom; Zacharias (Zechariah); Zeal, Religious; Scofield Reference Index - Holy Spirit; Inspiration; Thompson Chain Reference - Forerunner; God's; Jews; John the Baptist; Messenger, Divine; People, God's; Preparation; Readiness-Unreadiness; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Prophecies Respecting Christ;
Verse Luke 1:17. He shall go before him — Jesus Christ, in the spirit and power of Elijah; he shall resemble Elijah in his retired and austere manner of life, and in his zeal for the truth, reproving even princes for their crimes; compare 1 Kings 21:17-24, with Matthew 14:4. It was on these accounts that the Prophet Malachi, Malachi 4:6, had likened John to this prophet. See also Isaiah 40:3; and Malachi 4:5-6.
To turn the hearts of the fathers — Gross ignorance had taken place in the hearts of the Jewish people; they needed a Divine instructer: John is announced as such; by this preaching and manner of life, all classes among the people should be taught the nature of their several places, and the duties respectively incumbent upon them, See Luke 3:10, c. In these things the greatness of John, mentioned Luke 1:15, is pointed out, Nothing is truly great but what is so in the sight of God. John's greatness arose:
1st. From the plenitude of God's Spirit which dwelt in him.
2. From his continual self-denial, and taking up his cross.
3. From his ardent zeal to make Christ known.
4. From his fidelity and courage in rebuking vice.
5. From the reformation which he was the instrument of effecting among the people reviving among them the spirit of the patriarchs, and preparing their hearts to receive the Lord Jesus.
To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. By a very expressive figure of speech, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the rest of the patriarchs, are represented here as having their hearts alienated from the Jews, their children, because of their unbelief and disobedience; but that the Baptist should so far succeed in converting them to the Lord their God, that these holy men should again look upon them with delight, and acknowledge them for their children. Some think that by the children, the Gentiles are meant, and by the fathers, the Jews.
The disobedient — Or unbelieving, απειθεις, the persons who would no longer credit the predictions of the prophets, relative to the manifestation of the Messiah. Unbelief and disobedience are so intimately connected, that the same word in the sacred writings often serves for both.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Luke 1:17". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/luke-1.html. 1832.
2. Birth of John the Baptist foretold (Luke 1:5-25)
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest. Because all male descendants of Aaron were priests, there were, even in Old Testament times, too many priests for the amount of work to be done. David therefore divided them into twenty-four divisions, and each division served for two weeks each year. Zechariah belonged to the division of Abijah (Luke 1:5; cf. 1 Chronicles 24:1-19). (All priests would be required for duty during the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, which together would account for the remaining four weeks of the year; cf. Exodus 23:14-17.)
Each morning and each evening one priest was chosen by lot to go into the temple and burn incense while the people outside prayed. Priests valued this duty as something they would probably do only once in a lifetime; but for Zechariah the joy of the occasion was mixed with personal disappointment, as his own prayers had not been answered. He and his wife Elizabeth had prayed for many years that God would give them a child, but they were still childless (Luke 1:6-10).
While Zechariah was carrying out his priestly duties, God showed him that his prayers would now be answered. Elizabeth would have a child, to be named John, who would become a special messenger from God to his people. He would be equipped by God’s Spirit for his ministry, and he would live under the restrictions of a person set apart for God (Luke 1:11-15; cf. Numbers 6:1-8). John’s task was to call the people of Israel to repentance. If they responded to his preaching, they would be united in spirit with their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and would be ready to welcome the Messiah (Luke 1:16-17; cf. Malachi 4:5-6).
Although Zechariah had the faith to pray, he did not have the faith to believe the answer to his prayer. As a chastisement for his lack of faith, he became dumb for a period (Luke 1:18-22). God did not, however, withdraw his promise. When Zechariah’s time of service at the temple was over, he returned to his home, and soon Elizabeth became pregnant (Luke 1:23-25).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Luke 1:17". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/luke-1.html. 2005.
And he shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.
And he shall go before his face ... This is obviously an error in the English Revised Version (1885), this being a clause in which the KJV, the NEB, and the RSV concur in the reading, "And he shall go before him ... etc." A good deal of importance attaches to this, because, as Summers noted, "The immediate antecedent of the pronoun `him' appears to be `God' in Luke 1:16." and this accounts for the rendition in Phillips translation which reads, "He will go out before God ... etc." Thus, an archangel delivered the word that John the Baptist would go before God as a herald; and thus, in the fullness of time, when John went before Jesus, which was the very thing the angel had in view here, it was the same as going before God, thus attesting the fact of Jesus' absolute identification with the Father. Therefore, one finds here on the first page of Luke's Gospel the same thought expressed more fully by John who said that "the Word was God" (John 1:1).
In the spirit and power of Elijah ... In these words, an angel of God explained what was meant by the promised coming of Elijah (Malachi 4:5,6). The express terminology of Malachi's prophecy was used here by the angel; and, therefore, there was no excuse for the refusal of the Pharisees and other leaders of Israel to recognize John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy. Not only was there this specific heavenly identification of the promised son as that "Elijah," but there was the additional fact of John's conformity to the pattern of clothing worn by the first Elijah. Jesus, of course, confirmed the word of the angel, citing John the Baptist as the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 17:9-13).
Turn the hearts of the fathers to the children ... etc. These are plainly the words of Malachi 4:5,6; but what do they mean? There seems to be a metaphor here in which the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. have turned away their hearts from the rebellious Israelites. Therefore, the preaching of the great herald will cause many to repent, leading to turning the fathers' hearts to the children.
And the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just ... This is the same as "turning the hearts of the children to the fathers," as it is stated in Malachi, meaning that they will repent and again honor the faith of their father Abraham. There is, of course, the obvious fact that much more than metaphor is intended here. Moses and Elijah who were also among "the fathers," appeared in conversation with Jesus in the transfiguration; and from this the deduction could be made that "the fathers" referred to by the angel in this passage were fully aware of Israel's apostasy, and that the reunification of children and fathers would be a reality, although spiritual, and not merely a figure of speech. Of course, the envisioned unity would be accomplished only in the persons who would repent and turn to God under John's preaching.
To make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him ... This was indeed achieved, even though on a smaller scale than would have been desirable. Some of the apostles were first disciples of John. (John 1:35ff).
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Luke 1:17". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/luke-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Shall go before him - Before the Messiah. The connection here leads us to suppose that the word “him” refers to the “Lord their God” in the previous verse. If so, then it will follow that the Messiah was the Lord God of Israel - a character abundantly given him in other parts of the New Testament.
In the spirit and power of Elias - See the notes at Matthew 11:14.
To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children - In the time of John the Jews were divided into a number of different sects. See the notes at Matthew 3:7. They were opposed violently to each other, and pursued their opposition with great animosity. It was impossible but that this opposition should find its way into families, and divide parents and children from each other. John came that he might allay these animosities and produce better feeling. By directing them all to “one Master,” the Messiah, he would divert their attention from the causes of their difference and bring them to union. He would restore peace to their families, and reconcile those parents and children who had chosen different sects, and who had suffered their attachment “to sect” to interrupt the harmony of their households. The effect of true religion on a family will always be to produce harmony. It attaches all the family to “one” great Master, and by attachment to him all minor causes of difference are forgotten.
And the disobedient to the wisdom of the just - The “disobedient” here are the unbelieving, and hence the impious, the wicked. These he would turn to the wisdom of the just, or to such wisdom as the “just” or pious manifest - that is, to true wisdom.
To make ready a people ... - To prepare them for his coming by announcing that the Messiah was about to appear, and by calling them to repentance. God has always required people to be pure in a special manner when he was about to appear among them. Thus, the Israelites were required to purify themselves for three days when he was about to come down on Mount Sinai, Exodus 19:14-15. And so, when God the Son was about to appear as the Redeemer, he required that people should “prepare” themselves for his coming. So in view of the future judgment - the second coming of the Son of man - he requires that people should repent, believe, and be pure, 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:11-12.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Luke 1:17". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/luke-1.html. 1870.
17. And he shall go before him By these words he points out what would be John’s office, and distinguishes him by this mark from the other prophets, who received a certain and peculiar commission, while John was sent for the sole object of going before Christ, as a herald before a king. Thus also the Lord speaks by Malachi,“
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me,” (Malachi 3:1.)
In short, the calling of John had no other design than to secure for Christ a willing ear, and to prepare for him disciples. As to the angel making no express mention of Christ in this passage, but declaring John to be the usher or standard-bearer of the eternal God, we learn from it the eternal divinity of Christ. With the spirit and power of Elijah By the words spirit and power, I understand the power or excellency of the Spirit, with which Elijah was endued; for we must not here indulge in a dream like that of Pythagoras, that the soul of the prophet passed into the body of John, but the same Spirit of God, who had acted efficaciously in Elijah, afterwards exerted a similar power and efficacy in the Baptist. The latter term, power, is added, by way of exposition, to denote the kind of grace which was the loftiest distinction of Elijah, that, furnished with heavenly power, he restored in a wonderful manner the decayed worship of God; for such a restoration was beyond human ability. What John undertook was not less astonishing; and, therefore, we ought not to wonder if it was necessary for him to enjoy the same gift.
That he may bring back the hearts of the fathers Here the angel points out the chief resemblance between John and Elijah. He declares that he was sent to collect the scattered people into the unity of faith: for to bring back the hearts of the fathers is to restore them from discord to reconciliation; from which it follows, that there had been some division which rent and tore asunder the people. We know how dreadful was the revolt of the people in the time of Elijah, how basely they had degenerated from the fathers, so as hardly to deserve to be reckoned the children of Abraham. Those who were thus disunited Elijah brought into holy harmony. Such was the reunion of parents with children, which was begun by John, and at length finished by Christ. Accordingly, when Malachi speaks of “turning the hearts of the fathers to the children,” (Malachi 4:5,) he intimates that the Church would be in a state of confusion when another Elijah should appear; and what was that state is plain enough from history, and will more fully appear in the proper place. The doctrine of Scripture had degenerated through countless inventions, the worship of God was corrupted by very gross superstition, religion was divided into various sects, priests were openly wicked and Epicureans, the people indulged in every kind of wickedness; in short, nothing remained sound. The expression, bring back the hearts of the fathers to the children, is not literally true; for it was rather the children who had broken the covenant and departed from the right faith of their fathers, that needed to be brought back But though the Evangelist does not so literally express that order of bringing back, the meaning is abundantly obvious, that, by the instrumentality of John, God would again unite in holy harmony those who had previously been disunited. Both clauses occur in the prophet Malachi, who meant nothing more than to express a mutual agreement.
But as men frequently enter into mutual conspiracies which drive them farther from God, the angel explains, at the same time, the nature of that bringing back which he predicts, the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. This deserves attention, that we may not foolishly allow ourselves to be classed with ungodly men under a false pretense of harmony. Peace is a sounding and imposing term, and, whenever the Papists meet with it in scripture, they eagerly seize upon it for the purpose of raising dislike against us, as if we, who are endeavoring to withdraw the world from its base revolt, and bring it back to Christ, were the authors of divisions. But this passage affords a fine exposure of their folly, when the angel explains the manner of a genuine and proper conversion; and declares its support and link to be the wisdom of the just Accursed then be the peace and unity by which men agree among themselves apart from God.
By the wisdom of the just is unquestionably meant Faith, as, on the contrary, by the disobedient are meant Unbelievers. And certainly this is a remarkable encomium on faith, by which we are instructed, that then only are we truly wise unto righteousness when we obey the word of the Lord. The world too has its wisdom, but a perverse and therefore destructive wisdom, which is ever pronounced to be vanity; though the angel indirectly asserts that the shadowy wisdom, in which the children of the world delight, is depraved and accursed before God. This is therefore a settled point, that, with the view of becoming reconciled to each other, men ought first to return to peace with God.
What immediately follows about making ready a people prepared for the Lord, agrees with that clause, that John, as the herald of Christ, would go before his face, (Malachi 3:1;) for the design of his preaching was to make the people attentive to hear the instruction of Christ. The Greek participle κατεσκευασμένον, it is true, does not so properly mean perfection as the form and adaptation by which things are fitted for their use. This meaning will not agree ill with the present passage. John was commissioned to fit or mould to Christ a people which, formerly ignorant and uneducated, had never shown a desire to learn.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Luke 1:17". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/luke-1.html. 1840-57.
Luke, the author of this third gospel, was called by Paul the apostle "the beloved physician." There is some speculation that his patron was a man by the name of Theophilus. In those days physicians were often slaves. And there are some who theorize that Luke was Theophilus' personal physician and servant. Whether or not that be so is only a matter of speculation, and thus, worthless to delve into.
Luke was a Greek. And he is the only Gentile to have the privilege of placing scripture in that holy canon of scripture, which we recognize as inspired of God. And there are two New Testament books that are ascribed to Luke. Of course, the gospel according to Luke and then the Acts of the apostles, which he begins again addressing himself to Theophilus saying, "The former treatise have I made onto thee, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach" ( Acts 1:1 ).
There are some who say that the word Theophilus is not actually a person at all, but just the word in Greek, Theophilao is "lover of God". And so that Luke is actually addressing his letter to the lovers of God. However, the people were usually named after hopes or aspirations or whatever of their parents, and there is no real reason to believe that Theophilus was not an actual person. In fact, being addressed as the most excellent Theophilus indicates that he was actually a ruler in the Roman Empire, as that is a title that is given to men who had a ruling position within the Roman Empire.
Luke introduces the gospel to Theophilus in the first four verses of chapter one.
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in an orderly fashion those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them onto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had a complete understanding of all of these things from the very first, to write unto thee an orderly progression, most excellent Theophilus. That you may know the certainty of those things, wherein you have been instructed ( Luke 1:1-4 ).
So Luke here declares that he has heard the message from those persons who were actually the eyewitnesses to these things. Now Luke, no doubt, interviewed personally Mary, in order that he might get a complete understanding concerning the circumstances that were surrounding the birth of Jesus. Luke, being a doctor, would be interested in various aspects that bordered on the medical profession. And it is obvious that he received the information of chapters one and two directly from Mary. And so from his interview with Mary and his questioning of Mary, he got the information for chapters one and two. And the information in these two chapters is not found in detail like this in the other gospels. He had heard Peter and John and those who had been with Jesus, those who were eyewitnesses, he heard their stories, as they told of their relationship with Jesus and of the work and the ministry that Jesus preformed. And then he, no doubt, questioned them more thoroughly to get a more complete understanding. And having what he feels to be a complete understanding of the story, he then proceeds to write to this man Theophilus, in order that he might realize the certainty of those things that he had heard.
Now Luke begins then the actual story of the gospel of Jesus by dealing with the birth, first of all, of John the Baptist, who was to be the forerunner of Jesus Christ.
And so 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 ( Luke 1:5 ).
So immediately we are introduced to the persons that will be involved in the first part of his narrative here.
Zacharias of the tribe of Levi, making him then one of the priests. He was of the family of Abirim. His wife was also of the tribe of Levi. She was a descendent from the family of Aaron. Now at this particular time in Israel, there were around 20,000 descendents from Levi, male descendents, involved in the priesthood. And in as much as it was, of course, impossible for all 20,000 to serve continually in the temple, each family had their turn to serve, and they served twice during the year for one-week periods. And when it was the turn of your family to serve, they would cast lots to determine what particular aspect of the service you would be engaged in. And maybe once in a lifetime the priest would have his lot to fall upon the offering of the incense before the altar of incense before the Lord. This was usually just a once in a lifetime; one day in your life you get this glorious privilege of going in with the incense before the altar of incense to offer it before the Lord for the people. And so this was surely a significant and a special day for Zacharias, who during the time that he was serving there, the lot fell on him for this particular task.
Now we are told concerning Zacharias and Elisabeth that:
They were both righteous before God, [they] walked in all of the commandments and the ordinances of the Lord blameless ( Luke 1:6 ).
Two beautiful, righteous people who are quite insignificant as far as the world is concerned. People who loved the Lord, people who walked with the Lord, people you would have never heard about, unless they had been so involved in the story of Jesus Christ. The people, because of their involvement, we are told of them.
Now we are also told that:
They had no child, because Elisabeth was barren; and they were both now well stricken in years ( Luke 1:7 ).
That is, the years had taken their toll; they were bent over. They had become feeble. And the idea of well stricken in years is that of feebleness as the result of age.
In that culture it was considered a curse for a woman not to bear a child. And it was legal grounds for divorce. Had Zacharias desire to put away Elisabeth because of her inability to bear children, no one would have questioned him. It would have been accepted by everybody. But, no doubt, there was a tremendous love that they shared together, and they shared this grief and this sorrow together that they were unable to have children.
Now it came to pass, that, while he was fulfilling the priest office before God in the order of his course ( Luke 1:8 ),
They had the priestly orders, and this was one of the weeks that he had to come in for his particular duty of service.
According as was the custom of the priest office, his lot fell that he might burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord ( Luke 1:9 ).
And you can imagine the excitement of this old man, probably the only day in his life. And he probably had given up by now ever having the opportunity of burning incense. When the lots were drawn, his was that lot to burn the incense before the Lord that day.
And the whole multitude of people were praying outside at the time of incense ( Luke 1:10 ).
Now they would go in before the altar of incense, and they would take this little golden bowl that had burning coals that had been taken from the altar where they had offered the sacrifice. The lamb was offered in the morning and in the evening. And they would take the coals from the altar, put it in this little golden bowl, and then they would put the incense on top. And they would go in swinging this little incense burner before the altar incense, and the smoke, the sweet smelling smoke, would ascend up, and it was a beautiful symbolism of how God receives the prayers of His people. Our prayers that we offer to God arise before God as a sweet smelling odor, pleasant, beautiful.
In the book of Revelation, chapter 5, when the lamb takes the scroll out of the right hand of Him who is sitting upon the throne, John said, "And the twenty-four elders came forth with their little golden bowls, full of odors, which are the prayers of the saints, and they offered them before the throne of God" ( Revelation 5:8 ).
Now you remember that when God gave to Moses the instructions for building the tabernacle, and all of these furnishings, and the methods of worship were established, the Lord told Moses over, and over, "Now be careful that you make it exactly according to plan." And the reason why he was to make it exactly according to the plan that was given to him was because this whole thing was a model of what is in heaven. If you want to know what the heavenly scene, the throne of God and all looks like, you can study the tabernacle. And it was a model of heavenly things. So, as the priest on earth would take this little golden bowls and fill them with incense and the incense would arise as the prayer, a sweet smelling savor before God, so in heaven. Chapter 5 of Revelation, we see it fulfilled in the heavenly scene, as the twenty-four elders offer their little golden bowls full of odors, which are the prayers of the saints.
So a beautiful symbolism there. And so in offering the incense before the altar of incense, which was in the inner court of the temple, in the holy place, not the holy of holies--only the high priest went in there once a year, but the holy place which was just outside of the holy of holies.
And while he was there, the multitude of people were waiting outside. Because it was then customary when he came out to place the blessing of God upon the people. It was a special occasion, and the people would wait for the priest to come out and give them this blessing.
And there appeared onto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said onto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard ( Luke 1:11-13 );
What prayer? For years he had been praying, "Lord, please give me a son." It really gives to us encouragement for persistence in prayer. He didn't give up. Even though he was now old. Well stricken with years. He was still praying, "Oh, Lord, I'd love to have a son."
thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name, Johanam ( Luke 1:13 ).
Which means the Lord is gracious. It is shortened to John, but the full name is actually Johanam.
And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many will rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the side of the Lord, and he shall drink neither wine, nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him [that is the Messiah] in the spirit and in the power of Elijah, 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 ( Luke 1:14-17 ).
Now the last word of God to man prior to this was in Malachi, the fourth chapter. And the last word of God to man was in Malachi 4:5 ,"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."
That was the last word of God to man in the old covenant period, prior to the angel meeting Zacharias there at the altar of the Lord. And it is interesting though the Lord has been silent for four hundred years, that very promise, which was the last promise of the old testament, is the first word of the Lord in the new testament, which is the fulfillment of that prophesy, which is about to take place, as this child that will be born, will go forth in the spirit and in the power of Elijah.
Now there is a lot of confusion as regards to John the Baptist, and the prophesy of the coming of Elijah. In John's gospel we are told that as John was baptizing at the Jordan River, the Pharisees came out and they demanded of him his authority, and who gave him the authority to do these things. They said, "Are you the Messiah?" He said, "No." They said, "Are you Elijah?" He said, "No." "Then who are you?" He said, "I am just the voice of one crying in the wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight His path" ( John 1:20-23 ).
And yet, here the angel of the Lord tells his father that he will be going forth in the Spirit and in the power of Elijah.
Now the confusion exists in the fact that there were two comings of the Messiah. The first coming that we find recorded here in the gospel. The second coming for which we presently wait. And even as Elijah will appear before Jesus comes again. So John the Baptist came in the Spirit and in the power of Elijah. And if a person is able to accept it, he was the fulfillment of that promise of Elijah coming before the Lord, to cause the hearts of the children to turn to their fathers, and their fathers to their children.
So the confusion lies in the fact that there are two comings of the Messiah, as well as the two comings of Elijah, both of them to prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.
He shall be great in the sight of the Lord. He was to be as a Nazarene. Not drinking wine or strong drink, but filled with the Holy Spirit, from his mother's womb.
In a little bit we will be studying where Mary, when she received word that she was to be the instrument through which the Messiah was to be born, went to this little village of Juda, the home of Elisabeth, who at that point was six months pregnant. And when Mary walked in and greeted Elisabeth, Elisabeth felt the baby leap in her womb, and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
So at that time, no doubt, John was also filled with the Holy Spirit, a prenatal experience, which is quite interesting indeed. Even from his mother's womb.
Now though Zacharias had been praying that he might have a son, the prayers had not really been prayers of faith anymore, just of a hardly even a glimmering hope. Because when this angel told him that he was to have a son, he didn't believe it. And he challenged the angel.
Zacharias said onto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife is well stricken in years. And the angel answering said onto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and I've been sent to speak to thee, and to show thee this glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season ( Luke 1:18-20 ).
It is interesting to me that we so often put such great emphasis upon our faith that God will do a certain thing. As though God is almost impotent apart from man's faith, to operate, or to work. But here with Zacharias, the angel said, "Alright, you want a sign? You're not going to be able to speak until the day the child is born, because you didn't believe."
The things that God is going to perform, whether you believe it or not, God is going to do it. Your unbelief will not stop the work of God. It will not hinder the purposes of God. And so many times they put heavy trips on us. You know, as though God's work is totally responsible upon my hanging in there and believing, and I feel so guilty because maybe I failed God, and thus, people are lost, or whatever, because I failed God. No, God's purposes shall stand, whether I believe it or not. You see, your believing or not believing doesn't really hinder the work of God. He is going to do what He is going to do, in spite of us. And that's sort of comforting, because I'd hate to think that God's work depended on me and my faithfulness.
You remember when the children of Israel were threatened with extinction because of Haman's getting the king to sign the degree that all the Jews were to be put to death on a certain day. And Mordecai sent a message to Esther that she should go in before the king and plead the cause of her people. And she responded, "You just don't do that, that's not the protocol of the court. Even as his wife I can't go in there anytime I want to see him. I can't go in there unless he calls me in. And if anyone would there to go in before the king, not being called, you're putting your own life in jeopardy. Because if he doesn't raise the scepter, they'll put you to death immediately. And so Mordecai sent an answer back, "Do you think that if this degree goes through that you're going to escape? How do you know, Esther, but what God didn't bring you to the kingdom for just this purpose?" And then he said, "If you altogether fail, then their deliverance will arise from another corner." God is going to deliver His people. His purposes are going to stand. God is going to deliver His people. But you will lose out completely.
Now God's work is going to be done. You may lose out on those rewards and blessings that you could have experienced, had you've been faithful. But your unfaithfulness is not going to stop that which God has purposed to do.
And so here is Zacharias, filled with unbelief. "How can I know this? I am old man, my wife is an old woman. What do you mean I am going to have a son?" " I am Gabriel."
The last appearance of Gabriel to our knowledge on the earth was about a little over five hundred years prior to this particular event, when Gabriel appeared to the prophet Daniel and gave to Daniel one of the clearest prophesies concerning the time of the coming of the Messiah. It was Gabriel who said unto Daniel that there are seventy sevens determined upon the nation of Israel, to finish the transgression, to make an end of iniquity. To bring in the everlasting righteousness. To anoint the most holy place. To complete the prophetic picture. And no one understand from the time the commandment goes forth to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, to the coming of the Messiah, the prince, will be seven sevens and sixty-two sevens. The walls should be built again in troublous times. And after the sixty-nine sevens will the Messiah be caught off, and receive nothing for Himself, and the people will be dispersed.
And so this amazing prediction of the time of the coming of the Messiah was given by none other than our friend Gabriel. Sort of a timeless fellow, because now it's over five hundred years later, and he shows up on the scene again. Probably looking as young and fresh as ever. Announcing now to Zacharias that his wife Elisabeth was to bear the son, which was to be the forerunner of the Messiah, as he will go forth in the Spirit and in the power of Elijah to fulfill the prophesy of sending the messenger before the face of the Lord.
It would appear that as God has set in order the things of the universe, that He probably placed Gabriel as the overseer in charge of the details of getting His Son into the world. Preparing the people on the earth, preparing Mary, because it was Gabriel who appeared to Mary. Preparing here Zacharias. It would seem that he has a hard time keeping secrets. He appeared five hundred years earlier and spilled the beans to Daniel of a time that the Messiah would be coming. And so here he is again, some five hundred years later. It will be interesting to meet Gabriel, looking young and fresh as ever, as he is one of those special angels that God has committed great responsibilities to. And I for one am quite anxious to meet Gabriel. Now, I don't expect him to sit on my bed and pet my dog. And for you who have read that book, you know what I am talking about.
Now the people waited for Zacharias, [They were waiting outside for that blessing from the priest.] and they marveled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and so they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple; for he beckoned unto them, and he remained speechless. And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house ( Luke 1:21-23 ).
So, because they only served for a week at the time. In just a few days he left there, Jerusalem, and went to Judea, which is nearby Jerusalem, actually.
And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and she hid herself for five months, saying, Thus has the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach from among men ( Luke 1:24-25 ).
Her inability to bear children caused her to be a reproach. But the Lord, she says, has taken that away.
And in the sixth month [the same fellow] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth. To a virgin who was espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary ( Luke 1:26-27 ).
Three terms we need to deal with: engaged, espoused, and married. A person could become engaged when they were two years old, because for the most part, marriage was by arrangement. So parents would get together, they would be friends. You have a pretty little girl, your friends would have a nice little boy, and we're friends with each other, why don't we have your son marry my daughter? And we make the arrangements. And so here these little kids, they are four years old, walking around saying, "Well, we're engaged." Because the arrangements had been made by their parents that they would have each other as husband and wife. They felt that decisions as important as marriage should never be left to the capriciousness of youth. They felt that young people didn't have enough wisdom to choose their mates.
Now as they became older, and usually they were married by the age of fifteen or sixteen years old. And as they became older, one year before they had the marriage ceremony, they entered into a period known as espousal, where they were as though they were married, in that they were committed completely to each other, but there was never a consummation of the marriage during this period of time. However, once they entered into the period of espousal, they were considered married to the extent that if the fellow wanted to break it off, he had to actually get a divorce, even though the marriage at this point had never been consummated.
So Mary and Joseph were in this period of espousal. Where they were totally committed to each other and to the marriage of each other, and yet, the marriage was not to be consummated until the ceremony at a later time.
And so, "To the virgin who was espoused," she was in this period of the one year before the actual consummation of the marriage, "to a man whose name was Joseph of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary."
And the angel Gabriel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou art highly favored, the Lord is with you: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at what he was saying, and thought in her mind what kind of a greeting is this. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jehoshua ( Luke 1:28-31 ).
Which in Greek is Jesus, but in Hebrew Jehoshua, which means, Jehovah is salvation.
Now you remember in Matthew's gospel when Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, and he was really troubled by it, because they were espoused. He thought he might just give her a bill of divorcement, put her away privately, because if he would her expose her publicly she'd be stoned to death. And the angel of the Lord came to Joseph at night and said, "Fear not to take Mary as your wife. That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit, and thou shalt call His name Jehoshua" ( Matthew 1:20-21 ). So both Mary and Joseph were instructed by the angel of the Lord in the naming of Jesus. But when he told Joseph, "Call his name Jehoshua," he said, "For He shall save His people from their sins."
So the name is extremely significant because it expresses the mission of Jesus, and that is bringing God's salvation to men. Jehoshua, the Lord is become our salvation.
Then the angel Gabriel went on to say,
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 ( Luke 1:32 ):
And, of course, throughout the Old Testament prophesies, there was that promise that the Messiah would sit upon the throne of David, to order it, and to establish it in righteousness and in judgment, from henceforth, even forever.
And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end ( Luke 1:33 ).
In the book of Revelation, again, that glorious song that Handel has put to music, "King of Kings and Lord of Lords, forever and ever, hallelujah, hallelujah."
So the angel is telling about the eternal reign of Jesus Christ.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? ( Luke 1:34 )
Now there is a vast difference between the question of Zacharias and the question of Mary. Zacharias was questioning the word of the Lord. Mary was only asking information on the procedures. "How is this to be, seeing I know not a man?" Hers was not the question of doubt. Hers was only an inquiring question as to the manner by which it should be fulfilled. She believed. And that is pointed out a little later as Elisabeth said, "Blessed art thou who hast believed the words that the Lord spoke to thee."
She believed the word that the Lord spoke to her. However, she didn't know by what process it was to be fulfilled, and that really was her question. "How is this going to be, seeing I am a virgin, I know not a man?"
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy one which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month of her pregnancy, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her ( Luke 1:35-38 ).
There is sometimes within the Protestant circles, perhaps a backlash to that position that the Catholics have sought to place Mary in as the intercessor, and even some today, the co-redemptress, and there is that backlash among Protestants, oftentimes, to sort of put Mary down. However, as the angel said unto her that she was highly favored, that the Lord was with her and she was blessed among women. Surely when God chose an instrument by which to send His Son into the world, I am certain that He chose an instrument that He has thoroughly prepared. And I believe that Mary must have been one of the most beautiful of character of any woman who has ever lived. And I think that we can demonstrate this actually in the text. That she was a extremely unique individual.
Now remember it is possible that at this point she was only about sixteen years old. And yet, there is such a depth of character that is demonstrated in her. And it begins right here as when the angel tells her all of these remarkable, unusual things that are bound to create problems, as they did with Joseph her espoused husband, she said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word." With other words, she submitted herself to the purpose of God. "Here I am, let the Lord do as He pleases in my life." That kind of commitment. And I am just intrigued. And Mary is another one that I want to meet. What an unusually remarkable person. Surely the most blessed of any woman who has ever lived.
Now culturally it was the dream, the hope, the desire of every Jewish girl to be the instrument through which God would send the Messiah into the world. And thus, many young Jewish girls, when they had a boy born to them, would call his name Joshua. Hoping that maybe God would use that child to be the instrument of His salvation. And that was a reason, one of the reasons why being barren was considered such a curse. You have no opportunity to be the mother of the Messiah if you are barren. And that was the hope of every young Jewish girl to be the instrument that God would use, the dream, the hope. And with Elisabeth being barren, she had lost that hope. And, of course, everyone who was barren, they would lose the hope. "Oh, I can't be the instrument." And that was a very disappointing thing to them, to feel, "I can't be the instrument that God uses to accomplish His purpose."
Oh, that we would be concerned about being the instrument though which God accomplishes His purposes. Today, the Drews are very interesting people. They have an interesting religion that really they don't even know what it is. In the Drews religion, it's a break off from the Moslems, but only their priests know what they believe; the people don't know what they believe. And the priest does the whole religious bit for them. They know they are Drews, and they know that this is their religion and all, but only the priests know what it's all about. And they know what they believe, but the people don't. And many of the men, though, are priests. And as you go through the Drews' villages today, you will see these men wearing these pants with these large pouches in the front. For one of the things that the Drews do believe is that when the Messiah comes, He will be born of a man. And so going through their villages, and it's fascinating to go through the Drews' villages, and see these huge baggy pants in the front, these sacks that hang down in the front, and these man wear these in case they are the one that God chooses to send the Messiah through him.
In other words, they are they ones that get pregnant with the Messiah, and so they are prepared for it by wearing these pants with these large baggy things in the front. They are all set for their pregnancies. They already got their maternity clothes.
But such was the hope of every young girl in Israel. And the fulfillment of that hope came to one, a young girl from Nazareth. A beautiful young girl in character and spirit named Mary.
And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, to the city of Juda; and she entered into the house of Zacharias, and she greeted Elisabeth ( Luke 1:39-40 ).
That word saluted is an old English word, and it actually means greeted. In the marriage ceremony they used to say, "You may now salute your bride." But during World War II, too many of the guys were not really understanding the old English word salute, and so it's now something that you say, "You may now kiss your bride."
So she entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elisabeth.
And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the [greeting] salutations of Mary, that the baby leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as I heard the voice of your greeting sounding in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believes: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord ( Luke 1:41-45 ).
I suppose that this would be an appropriate place to talk about abortion.
There was John the Baptist six months along, and yet, there was some kind of a recognition, for when Mary spoke, he responded it to it in the womb.
We are told that as the child is in the womb, that it begins to understand and to recognize voices. That you pregnant mothers should talk to your child. For if you are talking to them while you are still pregnant, they will be comforted by your voice after they are born, because they have learned to recognize it. More and more are we discovering interesting facets of that fetal development. And here at six months with John there was that capacity to leap for joy in his mother's womb when he heard the voice of Mary.
Now remember she is speaking by the Holy Spirit. And thus, we have the word of the Holy Spirit that the child leaped for joy, at the word of Mary.
We talked a little bit this morning about what factors are considered in determining what is right and what is wrong in our present society. And the effect that the philosophy has had upon our entire culture. The idea that the morees determine in a society what is accepted and unacceptable behavior. What is good, what is bad, what is right, and what is wrong. And in this particular philosophical determination, if enough people within a society began to practice a certain thing, it becomes then socially acceptable, or it becomes good, or becomes right, because that is determined by the mores of the society itself. Accepting that God does not exist, because it has to come from a totally humanistic base. God does not exist. And therefore, there is no godly standard for right or wrong. And in as much as there is no goodly standard for right or wrong, right or wrong is determined strictly by the practices, the mores of a particular society. And the sociologists will show that there are societies where the father has nothing to do with the children. And so in that society it is perfectly alright as the uncle takes the father role within the home. There are societies where they have a plurality of wives, or a plurality of husbands. And because it's the accepted practice of the society, no one thinks wrong of it or thinks it's bad or evil, and because the mores determine what is right and what is wrong. So you get enough people doing something, and suddenly it becomes right. And so we get enough abortions, killing millions of innocent babies, but it's alright because it has become part of the mores. No one is supposed to say anything against it.
I have a hard time handling my emotions around a child. I become foolish. I try to come to their level a bit to communicate with them. I am so fascinated with children. I love children so much. I love little boys, and I love little girls. And to me there is nothing more enjoyable than communicating with children. Seeing their responses. I love to study their faces. I love to study their habits. I love to study just children. I can hold them and just look at them for hours on end, watching them, watching the changing expressions and all. I love to see them develop and grow. That is why I have such tremendous difficulty with child abuse. Where an adult would deliberately abuse a little child. Hurt it, damage it, beat it, destroy it. And unfortunately, it is a rising, increasing problem in our society.
In fact, in L. A. County this year there have been more murders of infants than any time in the history of L. A. It's at record heights. Babies that are beaten to death, they are drowned, or suffocated, abused. It's reached record proportions this year. And I have such difficulty with this. My body begins to recoil. I have to put it out of my mind, because I just can't think about to long, it just affects me too deeply. But I wonder if much of this isn't attributed to the fact that we've began to put a cheaper value on life by the legalizing of abortion. You see, it's alright to abuse the child, as long as it hasn't been born yet. But if it is alright to abuse that child because it really doesn't understand much, it hasn't been born yet, then I wonder if the next step, it, well, it doesn't really understand too much of what's going on, so what difference does it make if you abuse the child? Because it doesn't really know or understand much yet. Whether or not that has anything to do with it, all I know is that with cheapening of the value of life, it seems to be following through all the segments of our society. And I think that we have some extremely dangerous sociological implications that will arise, from some of these humanistic, liberal legislative decisions that are being made. And I only say that to warn you. I don't think we're going to have to deal with it too long. I don't think God will allow things to go on much longer; I would be very shocked if He does.
All I can say, if I was the Lord, I would have closed it down a long time ago.
Now Elisabeth said onto her,
Blessed is she that believed ( Luke 1:45 ):
for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. And Mary said ( Luke 1:45-46 ),
And here we now get an insight into the beautiful depth of this young girl, as she began to just worship the Lord.
My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. For his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. For he hath shown strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud and the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He's helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; And as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever [in a reference to the promise of God to Abraham, that through thy seed all nations of the earth will be blessed]. And Mary stayed with her for about three months ( Luke 1:46-56 ),
Probably until the time that John was born.
and then she returned to her own house ( Luke 1:56 ).
Probably stayed to help during this period of pregnancy.
Now she speaks here, beginning with verse Luke 1:51 , of the revolution that God creates. First of all, "He has scattered the proud and the imagination of their hearts." And so the first revolution is really an individual revolution of God scattering the proud. The second, "He put down the might from their thrones, and exalted them of low degree." And then thirdly, "Filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty," an economic revolution.
Now Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. And her neighbors and her cousins heard how the Lord had shown great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. And it came to pass, that on the eight day they came to circumcise the child; they called him Zacharias, after his father. But his mother answered and said, Not so; he shall be called Johanan [God is gracious]. And they said unto her, There is none of your family that is called by that name. And they made signs to his father, how he would have him to be named. He asked for a writing tablet, and he wrote, saying, His name is John [or Johanan]. And all of them marveled ( Luke 1:57-63 ).
Now when a woman was in labor, the neighbors would begin to gather, they would bring their musical instruments, and they would bring food and they prepare for a great party when the child was born. And when the child was born, and they would say, "It's a boy," the musicians would start playing, and they all dance, and they would have a big party. If when the child was born, and they said, "It's a girl," they take their musical instruments, fold them up, and go home.
In those days it was considered a great blessing to have a boy born in the home. But girls were sort of disregarded. It took really the teachings of Jesus Christ to elevate women to their proper level. Placing upon them that glory, honor that they deserve.
You women should be extremely thankful for Jesus Christ. All you have to do is go into a culture where the gospel of Christ has not had a strong influence, and look at the role of the woman, and you will appreciate more and more what Jesus Christ has done for you.
Look at the Bedouin society, look at the Indian culture, look at the culture of those people in New Guinea. Read the book, Lords of the Earth, it's a tremendous sociological insight into the culture of the New Guineans before the coming of Christianity. You'll really appreciate what Jesus Christ has done, in His elevation of womanhood, to its beautiful, proper place.
Now as soon as he had written on the tablet, his name is John,
His mouth was opened, and his tongue was loosed, and he spoke, and praised God. And fear came on all those that dwelled about them: and all of these sayings were noised abroad throughout all of the hill country of Judea. And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What kind of a kid is this going to be? For the hand of the Lord was with him. And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit ( Luke 1:64-67 ),
Now Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary greeted her. Now Zacharias is filled with the Holy Spirit,
and he prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he has visited and redeemed his people ( Luke 1:67-68 ),
Blessing God for, first of all, the fact that God has visited His people. Jesus Christ is God, manifested in the flesh. And through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as he is prophesying, the first declaration is that God, the Lord God of Israel, has visited His people. "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God. The same was in the beginning with God, and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" ( John 1:1-2 , John 1:14 ).
He visited His people. But the purpose of His visit was redemption. He was visited and redeemed His people. Jesus, in announcing His purpose, declared, "For the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" ( Luke 19:10 ). Redemption, the purpose of the coming of Christ. The Lord has raised up a power of salvation. The horn was always symbolic of power. And so He's raised up the power to salvation in the house of His servant David.
Paul said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ: it is the power of God unto salvation to those that believe" ( Romans 1:16 ).
The preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness, but unto us who are saved, thereby it is the power of God.
Oh, blessed be God. He has visited His people. God has come to bring redemption, to give power for salvation through the house of His servant David.
As he spoke by the mouth of the holy prophets, which have been since the world began ( Luke 1:70 ):
Recognizing that the prophesies concerning the Savior, concerning the Messiah, have been in existence from the beginning of men's existence from the beginning of the fall, actually from the time of the fall, when God said to the woman, "Cursed be the serpent. Crawl upon the earth." But then He said that the seed of the woman will bruise his head. That sin would be destroyed by the seed of the woman. Blessed be God, He has brought now the power of salvation. He has redeemed through the seed of the woman, through the virgin-born child.
For God is performing the mercies that he has promised to our fathers, and he is remembering his holy covenant; the oath which he swore to our father Abraham ( Luke 1:72-73 ),
"Through thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed."
That he would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear ( Luke 1:74 ),
Salvation is more than being saved from. Yes, God has delivered us from the hand of our enemy, but He has saved us for the purpose that we might serve Him, without fear.
In holiness and in righteousness ( Luke 1:75 )
Now both holiness and righteousness have as their root idea that of being right. But holiness is a rightness of character, whereas righteousness is a rightness in conduct. But the one springs out of the other. Holiness is the root. Righteousness is the fruit that springs forth from the root. The difficulty that so many people have today is their endeavor to be right without holiness. But ultimately, any endeavor to be right will break down, for there is no motive strong enough to maintain righteousness, other than holiness. You've got to be pure at the core. You've got to have the holiness, the right attitude, if you are to have the right actions or activities.
And so it is God's purpose, first of all, that we walk before Him, or serve Him in holiness. That God does that work within our heart, changing our character, our life, in order that we might also serve Him in righteousness.
The Pharisees had a system of righteousness apart from holiness, and it was total failure. And Jesus remarked on the failure. He said, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you're not going to enter the kingdom of heaven" ( Matthew 5:20 ). So to the disciples that must have been one of the most shocking statements that Jesus had ever made. Because who was more right, who did the things more right than did the Pharisees? And yet, unless your righteousness exceeds those, you're not going to make it, Jesus said. Why? Because theirs was a righteousness without holiness. It wasn't from the heart. Their attitudes were stinking according to Jesus.
"The outside you're like a whitened sepulchre, but inside dead man's smelly bones. The outside of the platter is all clean, but the inside of the cup is filled with vermon. You may clean the outside, but the inside you have a righteousness without holiness, totally unaccepted. And unless your righteousness exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees, you are not going to make into the kingdom of heaven." Because you have to have a righteousness that springs from holiness. The holiness of character. And God's purpose that we serve Him in holiness and in righteousness,
all the days of our life ( Luke 1:75 ).
And now addressing the child. This is a prophecy concerning the one that the child is to go before, but concerning the child himself, little John lying there.
And thou, child, shall be called the prophet of the Highest ( Luke 1:76 ):
Jesus said, of all the prophets born of woman, there hasn't been a greater one than arise than John. "Thou shalt be called the prophet of the Highest."
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation onto his people, by the remission of their sins. Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the sunrising from on high hath visited us [Or the dayspring, or the sunrising, or the rising of the sun], to give light to those that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace [again referring to Christ] ( Luke 1:76-79 ).
God, by His tender mercy, has sent the sunrise from on high to visit us, that He might give us light, for those who are sitting in darkness, and in the shadows. That He might guide our feet in the way of peace. Peace with God.
And so the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the desert until the day of his showing onto Israel ( Luke 1:80 ). "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Luke 1:17". "Chuck Smith Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/luke-1.html. 2014.
A. The announcement of John the Baptist’s birth 1:5-25
There are striking parallels to this account in the Old Testament. Zechariah and Elizabeth were similar to Abraham and Sarah, to Jacob and Rachel, to Elkanah and Hannah, and to Samson’s parents. In each case there was a divine announcement of the birth of an unusual child.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 1:17". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/luke-1.html. 2012.
2. The angel’s announcement to Zechariah 1:8-23
"It seems indeed most fitting that the Evangelic story should have taken its beginning within the Sanctuary, and at the time of sacrifice." [Note: Ibid., 1:144.]
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 1:17". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/luke-1.html. 2012.
John would turn the hearts of many Israelites back to God, as the prophets had done in Old Testament times. None of them was more successful or important than Elijah had been. He led the people back to Yahweh after Ahab and Jezebel had pushed Israel’s apostasy farther than it had ever gone by instituting Baal worship as Israel’s official religion. John would possess the same spirit and power that Elijah had. Moreover John would be the predicted predecessor of Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6; cf. Malachi 3:1). Jesus later explained that John fulfilled the prophecy of Messiah’s forerunner (Malachi 3:1). He would have completely fulfilled the prophecy of Elijah’s return if the Jews had accepted Jesus (Malachi 4:5-6; Matthew 11:10; Matthew 11:14).
". . . according to Jewish notions, he [Elijah] was to appear personally, and not merely ’in spirit and power.’" [Note: Edersheim, 1:142.]
The term "turn back" (Gr. epistrepho) became a technical term for Christian conversion (cf. Acts 9:35; 2 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Peter 2:25). Essentially it means turning from idols to the true God. Turning people to God was the responsibility of every true priest (Malachi 2:6). The meaning of the Malachi quotation is probably that when restoration comes there will be human reconciliation and love rather than estrangement and selfishness. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 60.] People would clean up their interpersonal relationships in preparation for Messiah’s appearing.
Luke spoke often of the people (Gr. laos) that God was preparing for Himself. These people prepared for the Lord included Jewish hearers but also those who formerly were not "a people" (1 Peter 2:10), namely, the Gentiles. They are the elect who would compose the church. With this word Luke constantly reminded his original Greek readers that God’s plan included Gentiles who responded to the gospel as well as Jews.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 1:17". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/luke-1.html. 2012.
And he shall go before him,.... The Lord his God, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose forerunner he was; the messenger of him, that according to the prophecies in Isaiah 40:3 was to go before him, and prepare his ways; as he did by his wonderful conception and birth, which made way for the more easy belief of the conception and birth of the Messiah, by a virgin; and by his preaching the doctrine of repentance, and administering the ordinance of baptism; which, were done to awaken the people's expectation of the Messiah, and that he might be made manifest in Israel, and by pointing him out to them in his preaching:
in the spirit and power of Elias: or Elijah, the Syriac and Persic versions add, "the prophet"; John the Baptist, and Elijah, were men much of the same spirit and disposition, and of like power, life, and zeal in religion; and therefore the one goes by the name of the other: they both much conversed in the wilderness; agreed in the austerity of their lives; their habit and dress were much alike; they were both restorers of religion, when very low, and much decayed; were famous for their faithfulness in reproving the vices of kings, and for their warm zeal for true religion, and for the persecution they endured for the sake of it:
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children in Malachi 4:6 which is the prophecy referred to, it is added,
and the heart of the children to their fathers; which some understand, of his turning the degenerate offspring of the Jews, to the sentiments of their forefathers, and causing them to agree with them in their notions of the Messiah: others, of the turning of the Jews to Christ, and his apostles; and others, of his being a means, through his ministry and baptism, of reconciling Jews and Gentiles together, which is the great business of the Gospel dispensation, ushered in by John; and who preached that all men should believe in Christ, and baptized publicans and Roman soldiers, as well as Jews; and which sense pretty much agrees with the interpretation the Jews put upon the prophecy, as referring to Elijah the Tishbite, whom they expect in person, before the coming of the Messiah: say u they,
"Elijah comes to defile and to cleanse (i.e. to pronounce what things are clean or unclean), and to remove afar off, and to bring near (i.e. to determine what families are legitimate or illegitimate). R. Simeon says, "to compose differences"; and the wise men say, neither to remove, nor to bring near, but לעשות שלום, "to make peace" in the world; as it is said, "behold, I send unto you Elijah the prophet", c. "and he shall turn the heart of the fathers", c.''
But the true meaning is, that John the Baptist, who is meant by Elias, should be an instrument of turning fathers with their children, and children with their fathers, to the Lord that he should be a means of converting both fathers and children, one as well as another and to gather persons of every age and station; for the particle על which we render "to", is the same as עם, "with", as Kimchi on the text observes: "and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just". By the "disobedient" are meant, either Jews or Gentiles; some understand it of the Gentiles, who were children of disobedience, before the light of the Gospel came among them: but rather the former are meant, who were a disobedient, rebellious, and gainsaying people; who were gone off from the wisdom, knowledge, and religion, of the just, or righteous ones, their forefathers; who prophesied of Christ, rejoiced to see his day, longed for him, and believed in him: now John was to be an instrument of turning some of the unbelieving Jews, to the true knowledge of salvation by Christ; which their righteous progenitors waited for, had a right knowledge of, and an interest in: and of leading them either into the Gospel of Christ, that wisdom of God is a mystery; the manifold wisdom of God, in which he has abounded in all wisdom and prudence: and which the righteous men among the Jews, searched diligently into, attained some knowledge of, and which even the holy angels desire to look into; so the patriarchs were called just, or righteous; as righteous Abel, just Noah, c. and so the Jewish fathers: hence in the Targum on Jeremiah 12:5 mention is made of thy fathers, צדיקיא "the just", who were of old: or to Christ himself, who is the wisdom of God, and in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, to know him, and believe in him who in the same Targum on Jeremiah 23:5 is called משיח דצדיקיא, "the Messiah of the just".
To make ready a people prepared for the Lord. The Vulgate Latin and Syriac versions read, "a perfect people"; and the Persic version, "all the people": not all the people of the Jews, but God's elect among them who from all eternity were "prepared", as a people in a covenant relation, as the portion of Christ, and as his spouse and bride, and as such, given to him; they were in electing grace, vessels of mercy, afore prepared for glory; and heaven, as a kingdom, was prepared for them from the foundation of the world: they were provided with all spiritual blessings, which were prepared for them, and bestowed on them in heavenly places, in Christ, before the foundation of the world; even all their grace, and all their glory; yea, even their good works are such, which God has foreordained, or foreprepared that they should walk in. Now, the work of John the Baptist, was "to make ready" this people, by pointing out to them, in a ministerial way, wherein their readiness lay, to meet the Lord, and be for ever with him in heaven; not in a civil, moral, or legal righteousness; or in outward humiliation for, and abstinence from sin; nor in a submission to Gospel ordinances, and in a mere profession of religion, and in an observance of a round of duties; but in justification by the righteousness of Christ, and in regeneration and sanctification, by his Spirit and grace; the one giving a right to, the other a meetness for the heavenly inheritance: and John; and so any other Gospel minister, may be said to make ready a people, in this sense; when they are the instruments of the regeneration and conversion of sinners, and of leading them to the righteousness of Christ, for their justification before God, and acceptance with him.
u Misn. Ediot, c. 8. sect. 7.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Luke 1:17". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/luke-1.html. 1999.
|The Appearance of an Angel to Zacharias; The Birth of John Foretold; The Unbelief of Zacharias.|
5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judæa, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. 8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, 9 According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings. 20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. 23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. 24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
The two preceding evangelists had agreed to begin the gospel with the baptism of John and his ministry, which commenced about six months before our Saviour's public ministry (and now, things being near a crisis, six months was a deal of time, which before was but a little), and therefore this evangelist, designing to give a more particular account than had been given of our Saviour's conception and birth, determines to do so of John Baptist, who in both was his harbinger and forerunner, the morning-star to the Sun of righteousness. The evangelist determines thus, not only because it is commonly reckoned a satisfaction and entertainment to know something of the original extraction and early days of those who afterwards prove great men, but because in the beginning of these there were many things miraculous, and presages of what they afterwards proved. In these verses our inspired historian begins as early as the conception of John Baptist. Now observe here,
I. The account given of his parents (Luke 1:5; Luke 1:5): They lived in the days of Herod the king, who was a foreigner, and a deputy for the Romans, who had lately made Judea a province of the empire. This is taken notice of to show that the sceptre was quite departed from Judah, and therefore that now was the time for Shiloh to come, according to Jacob's prophecy, Genesis 49:10. The family of David was now sunk, when it was to rise, and flourish again, in the Messiah. Note, None ought to despair of the reviving and flourishing of religion, even when civil liberties are lost. Israel enslaved, yet then comes the glory of Israel.
Now the father of John Baptist was a priest, a son of Aaron; his name Zacharias. No families in the world were ever so honoured of God as those of Aaron and David; with one was made the covenant of priesthood, with the other that of royalty; they had both forfeited their honour, yet the gospel again puts honour upon both in their latter days, on that of Aaron in John Baptist, on that of David in Christ, and then they were both extinguished and lost. Christ was of David's house, his forerunner of Aaron's; for his priestly agency and influence opened the way to his kingly authority and dignity. This Zacharias was of the course of Abia. When in David's time the family of Aaron was multiplied, he divided them into twenty-four courses, for the more regular performances of their office, that it might never be either neglected for want of hands or engrossed by a few. The eighth of those was that of Abia (1 Chronicles 24:10), who was descended from Eleazar, Aaron's eldest son; but Dr. Lightfoot suggests that many of the families of the priests were lost in the captivity, so that after their return they took in those of other families, retaining the names of the heads of the respective courses. The wife of this Zacharias was of the daughters of Aaron too, and her name was Elisabeth, the very same name with Elisheba the wife of Aaron, Exodus 6:23. The priests (Josephus saith) was very careful to marry within their own family, that they might maintain the dignity of the priesthood and keep it without mixture.
Now that which is observed concerning Zacharias and Elisabeth is,
1. That they were a very religious couple (Luke 1:6; Luke 1:6): They were both righteous before God; they were so in his sight whose judgment, we are sure, is according to truth; they were sincerely and really so. They are righteous indeed that are so before God, as Noah in his generation, Genesis 7:1. They approved themselves to him, and he was graciously pleased to accept them. It is a happy thing when those who are joined to each other in marriage are both joined to the Lord; and it is especially requisite that the priests, the Lord's ministers, should with their yoke-fellows be righteous before God, that they may be examples to the flock, and rejoice their hearts. They walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless. (1.) Their being righteous before God was evidenced by the course and tenour of their conversations; they showed it, not by their talk, but by their works; by the way they walked in and the rule they walked by. (2.) They were of a piece with themselves; for their devotions and their conversations agreed. They walked not only in the ordinances of the Lord, which related to divine worship, but in the commandments of the Lord, which have reference to all the instances of a good conversation, and must be regarded. (3.) They were universal in their obedience; not that they never did in any thing come short of their duty, but it was their constant care and endeavor to come up to it. (4.) Herein, though they were not sinless, yet they were blameless; nobody could charge them with any open scandalous sin; they lived honestly and inoffensively, as ministers and their families are in a special manner concerned to do, that the ministry be not blamed in their blame.
2. That they had been long childless,Luke 1:7; Luke 1:7. Children are a heritage of the Lord. But there are many of his heirs in a married state, that yet are denied this heritage; they are valuable desirable blessings; yet many there are, who are righteous before God, and, if they had children, would bring them up in his fear, who yet are not thus blessed, while the men of this world are full of children (Psalms 17:14), and send forth their little ones like a flock,Job 21:11. Elisabeth was barren, and they began to despair of ever having children, for they were both now well stricken in years, when the women that have been most fruitful leave off bearing. Many eminent persons were born of mothers that had been long childless, as Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samson, Samuel, and so here John Baptist, to make their birth the more remarkable and the blessing of it the more valuable to their parents, and to show that when God keeps his people long waiting for mercy he sometimes is pleased to recompense them for their patience by doubling the worth of it when it comes.
II. The appearing of an angel to his father Zacharias, as he was ministering in the temple, Luke 1:8-11; Luke 1:8-11. Zechariah the prophet was the last of the Old Testament that was conversant with angels, and Zacharias the priest the first in the New Testament. Observe,
1. How Zacharias was employed in the service of God (Luke 1:8; Luke 1:8): He executed the priest's office, before God, in the order of his course; it was his week of waiting, and he was upon duty. Though his family was not built up, or made to grow, yet he made conscience of doing the work of his own place and day. Though we have not desired mercies, yet we must keep close to enjoined services; and, in our diligent and constant attendance on them, we may hope that mercy and comfort will come at last. Now it fell to Zacharias's lot to burn incense morning and evening for that week of his waiting, as other services fell to other priests by lot likewise. The services were directed by lot, that some might not decline them and others engross them, and that, the disposal of the lot being from the Lord, they might have the satisfaction of a divine call to the work. This was not the high priest burning incense on the day of atonement, as some have fondly imagined, who have thought by that to find out the time of our Saviour's birth; but it is plain that it was the burning of the daily incense at the altar of incense (Luke 1:11; Luke 1:11), which was in the temple (Luke 1:9; Luke 1:9), not in the most holy place, into which the high priest entered. The Jews say that one and the same priest burned not incense twice in all his days (there were such a multitude of them), at least never more than one week. It is very probable that this was upon the sabbath day, because there was a multitude of people attending (Luke 1:10; Luke 1:10), which ordinarily was not on a week day; and thus God usually puts honour upon his own day. And then if Dr. Lightfoot reckon, with the help of the Jewish calendars, that this course of Abia fell on the seventeenth day of the third month, the month Sivan, answering to part of May and part of June, it is worth observing that the portions of the law and the prophets which were read this day in synagogues were very agreeable to that which was doing in the temple; namely, the law of the Nazarites (Numbers 6:1-27), and the conception of Samson, Judges 13:1-25
While Zacharias was burning incense in the temple, the whole multitude of the people were praying without,Luke 1:10; Luke 1:10. Dr. Lightfoot says that there were constantly in the temple, at the hour of prayer, the priests of the course that then served, and, if it were the sabbath day, those of that course also that had been in waiting the week before, and the Levites that served under the priests, and the men of the station, as the Rabbin call them, who were the representatives of the people, in putting their hands upon the head of the sacrifices, and many besides, who, moved by devotion, left their employments, for that time, to be present at the service of God; and those would make up a great multitude, especially on sabbaths and feast-days: now these all addressed themselves to their devotions (in mental prayer, for their voice was not heard), when by the tinkling of a bell they had notice that the priest was gone in to burn incense. Now observe here, (1.) That the true Israel of God always were a praying people; and prayer is the great and principal piece of service by which we give honour to God, fetch in favours from him, and keep up our communion with him. (2.) That then, when ritual and ceremonial appointments were in full force, as this of burning incense, yet moral and spiritual duties were required to go along with them, and were principally looked at. David knew that when he was at a distance from the altar his prayer might be heard without incense, for it might be directed before God as incense,Psalms 141:2. But, when he was compassing the altar, the incense could not be accepted without prayer, any more than the shell without the kernel. (3.) That is not enough for us to be where God is worshipped, if our hearts do not join in the worship, and go along with the minister, in all the parts of it. If he burn the incense ever so well, in the most pertinent, judicious, lively prayer, if we be not at the same time praying in concurrence with him, what will it avail us? (4.) All the prayers we offer up to God here in his courts are acceptable and successful only in virtue of the incense of Christ's intercession in the temple of God above. To this usage in the temple-service there seems to be an allusion (Revelation 8:1; Revelation 8:3; Revelation 8:4), where we find that there was silence in heaven, as there was in the temple, for half an hour, while the people were silently lifting up their hearts to God in prayer; and that there was an angel, the angel of the covenant, who offered up much incense with the prayers of all saints before the throne. We cannot expect an interest in Christ's intercession if we do not pray, and pray with our spirits, and continue instant in prayer. Nor can we expect that the best of our prayers should gain acceptance, and bring in an answer of peace, but through the mediation of Christ, who ever lives, making intercession.
2. How, when he was thus employed, he was honoured with a messenger, a special messenger sent from heaven to him (Luke 1:11; Luke 1:11): There appeared unto him an angel of the Lord. Some observe, that we never read of an angel appearing in the temple, with a message from God, but only this one to Zacharias, because there God had other ways of making known his mind, as the Urim and Thummim, and by a still small voice from between the cherubim; but the ark and the oracle were wanting in the second temple, and therefore, when an express was to be sent to a priest in the temple, an angel was to be employed in it, and thereby the gospel was to be introduced, for that, as the law, was given at first very much by the ministry of angels, the appearance of which we often read of in the Gospels and the Acts, though the design both of the law and of the gospel, when brought to perfection, was to settle another way of correspondence, more spiritual, between God and man. This angel stood on the right side of the altar of incense, the north side of it, saith Dr. Lightfoot, on Zacharias's right hand; compare this with Zechariah 3:1, where Satan stands at the right hand of Joshua the priest, to resist him; but Zacharias had a good angel standing at his right hand, to encourage him. Some think that this angel appeared coming out of the most holy place, which led him to stand at the right side of the altar.
3. What impression this made upon Zacharias (Luke 1:12; Luke 1:12): When Zacharias saw him, it was a surprise upon him, even to a degree of terror, for he was troubled, and fear fell upon him,Luke 1:12; Luke 1:12. Though he was righteous before God, and blameless in his conversation, yet he could not be without some apprehensions at the sight of one whose visage and surrounding lustre bespoke him more than human. Ever since man sinned, his mind has been unable to bear the glory of such revelations and his conscience afraid of evil tidings brought by them; even Daniel himself could not bear it, Daniel 10:8. And for this reason God chooses to speak to us by men like ourselves, whose terror shall not make us afraid.
III. The message which the angel had to deliver to him, Luke 1:13; Luke 1:13. He began his message, as angels generally did, with, Fear not. Perhaps it had never been Zacharias's lot to burn incense before; and, being a very serious conscientious man, we may suppose him full of care to do it well, and perhaps when he saw the angel he was afraid lest he came to rebuke him for some mistake or miscarriage; "No," saith the angel, "fear not; I have no ill tidings to bring thee from heaven. Fear not, but compose thyself, that thou mayest with a sedate and even spirit receive the message I have to deliver thee." Let us see what that is.
1. The prayers he has often made shall now receive an answer of peace: Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard. (1.) If he means his particular prayer for a son to build up his family, it must be the prayers he had formerly made for that mercy, when he was likely to have children; but we may suppose, now that he and his wife were both well stricken in years, as they had done expecting it, so they had done praying for it: like Moses, it sufficeth them, and they speak no more to God of that matter,Deuteronomy 3:26. But God will now, in giving this mercy, look a great way back to the prayers that he had made long since for and with his wife, as Isaac for and with his, Genesis 25:21. Note, Prayers of faith are filed in heaven, and are not forgotten, though the thing prayed for is not presently given in. Prayers made when we were young and coming into the world may be answered when we are old and going out of the world. But, (2.) If he means the prayers he was now making, and offering up with his incense, we may suppose that those were according to the duty of his place, for the Israel of God and their welfare, and the performance of the promises made to them concerning the Messiah and the coming of his kingdom: "This prayer of thine is now heard: for thy wife shall shortly conceive him that is to be the Messiah's forerunner." Some of the Jewish writers themselves say that the priest, when he burnt incense, prayed for the salvation of the whole world; and now that prayer shall be heard. Or, (3.) In general, "The prayers thou now makest, and all thy prayers, are accepted of God, and come up for a memorial before him" (as the angel said to Cornelius, when he visited him at prayer, Acts 10:30; Acts 10:31); "and this shall be the sign that thou are accepted of God, Elisabeth shall bear thee a son." Note, it is very comfortable to praying people to know that their prayers are heard; and those mercies are doubly sweet that are given in answer to prayer.
2. He shall have a son in his old age, by Elisabeth his wife, who had been long barren, that by his birth, which was next to miraculous, people might be prepared to receive and believe a virgin's bringing forth of a son, which was perfectly miraculous. He is directed what name to give his son: Call him John, in Hebrew Johanan, a name we often meet in the Old Testament: it signifies gracious. The priests must beseech God that he will be gracious (Malachi 1:9), and must so bless the people,Numbers 6:25. Zacharias was now praying thus, and the angel tells him that his prayer is heard, and he shall have a son, whom, in token of an answer to his prayer, he shall call Gracious, or, The Lord will be gracious,Isaiah 30:18; Isaiah 30:19.
3. This son shall be the joy of his family and of all his relations, Luke 1:14; Luke 1:14. He shall be another Isaac, thy laughter; and some think that is partly intended in his name, John. He shall be a welcome child. Thou for thy part shall have joy and gladness. Note, Mercies that have been long waited for, when they come at last, are the more acceptable. "He shall be such a son as thou shalt have reason to rejoice in; many parents, if they could foresee what their children will prove, instead of rejoicing at their birth, would wish they had never been; but I will tell thee what thy son will be, and then thou wilt not need to rejoice with trembling at his birth, as the best must do, but mayest rejoice with triumph at it." Nay, and many shall rejoice at his birth; all the relations of the family will rejoice in it, and all its well-wishers, because it is for the honour and comfort of the family, Luke 1:58; Luke 1:58. All good people will rejoice that such a religious couple as Zacharias and Elisabeth have a son, because they will give him a good education, such as, it may be hoped, will make him a public blessing to his generation. Yea, and perhaps many shall rejoice by an unaccountable instinct, as a presage of the joyous days the gospel will introduce.
4. This son shall be a distinguished favourite of Heaven, and a distinguished blessing to the earth. The honour of having a son is nothing to the honour of having such a son.
(1.) He shall be great in the sight of the Lord; those are great indeed that are so in God's sight, not those that are so in the eye of a vain and carnal world. God will set him before his face continually, will employ him in his work and send him on his errands; and that shall make him truly great and honourable. He shall be a prophet, yea more than a prophet, and upon that account as great as any that every were born of women,Matthew 11:11. He shall live very much retired from the world, out of men's sight, and, when he makes a public appearance, it will be very mean; but he shall be much, he shall be great, in the sight of the Lord.
(2.) He shall be a Nazarite, set apart to God from every thing that is polluting; in token of this, according to the law of Nazariteship, he shall drink neither wine nor strong drink,--or, rather, neither old wine nor new; for most think that the word here translated strong drink signifies some sort of wine, perhaps those that we call made wines, or any thing that is intoxicating. He shall be, as Samson was by the divine precept (Judges 13:7), and Samuel by his mother's vow (1 Samuel 1:11), a Nazarite for life. It is spoken of as a great instance of God's favour to his people that he raised up of their sons for prophets, and their young men for Nazarites (Amos 2:11), as if those that were designed for prophets were trained up under the discipline of the Nazarites; Samuel and John Baptist were; which intimates that those that would be eminent servants of God, and employed in eminent services, must learn to live a life of self-denial and mortification, must be dead to the pleasures of sense, and keep their minds from every thing that is darkening and disturbing to them.
(3.) He shall be abundantly fitted and qualified for those great and eminent services to which in due time he shall be called: He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb, and as soon as it is possible he shall appear to have been so. Observe, [1.] Those that would be filled with the Holy Ghost must be sober and temperate, and very moderate in the use of wine and strong drink; for that is it that fits him for this. Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit, with which that is not consistent, Ephesians 5:18. [2.] It is possible that infants may be wrought upon by the Holy Ghost, even from their mother's womb; for John Baptist even then was filled with the Holy Ghost, who took possession of his heart betimes; and an early specimen was given of it, when he leaped in his mother's womb for joy, at the approach of the Saviour; and afterwards it appeared very early that he was sanctified. God had promised to pour out his Spirit upon the seed of believers (Isaiah 44:3), and their first springing up in a dedication of themselves betimes to God is the fruit of it, Luke 1:4; Luke 1:5. Who then can forbid water, that they should not be baptized who for aught we know (and we can say no more of the adult, witness Simon Magus) have received the Holy Ghost as well as we, and have the seeds of grace sown in their hearts? Acts 10:47.
(4.) He shall be instrumental for the conversion of many souls to God, and the preparing of them to receive and entertain the gospel of Christ, Luke 1:16; Luke 1:17.
[1.] He shall be sent to the children of Israel, to the nation of the Jews, to whom the Messiah also was first sent, and not to the Gentiles; to the whole nation, and not the family of the priests only, with which, though he was himself of that family, we do not find he had any particular intimacy or influence.
[2.] He shall go before the Lord their God, that is, before the Messiah, whom they must expect to be, not their king, in the sense wherein they commonly take it, a temporal prince to their nation, but their Lord and their God, to rule and defend, and serve them in a spiritual way by his influence on their hearts. Thomas knew this, when he said to Christ, My Lord and my God, better than Nathanael did, when he said, Rabbi, thou are the king of Israel. John shall go before him, a little before him, to give notice of his approach, and to prepare people to receive him.
[3.] He shall go in the spirit and power of Elias. That is, First, He shall be such a man as Elias was, and do such work as Elias did,--shall, like him, preach the necessity of repentance and reformation to a very corrupt and degenerate age,--shall, like him, be bold and zealous in reproving sin and witnessing against it even in the greatest, and be hated and persecuted for it by a Herod and his Herodias, as Elijah was by an Ahab and his Jezebel. He shall be carried on in his work, as Elijah was, by a divine spirit and power, which shall crown his ministry with wonderful success. As Elias went before the writing prophets of the Old Testament, and did as it were usher in that signal period of the Old-Testament dispensation by a little writing of his own (2 Chronicles 21:12), so John Baptist went before Christ and his apostles, and introduced the gospel dispensation by preaching the substance of the gospel doctrine and duty, Repent, with an eye to the kingdom of heaven. Secondly, He shall be that very person who was prophesied of by Malachi under the name of Elijah (Malachi 4:5), who should be sent before the coming of the day of the Lord. Behold, I send you a prophet, even Elias, not Elias the Tishbite (as the LXX. has corruptly read it, to favour the Jews' traditions), but a prophet in the spirit and power of Elias, as the angel here expounds it.
[4.] He shall turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, shall incline their hearts to receive the Messiah, and bid him welcome, by awakening them to a sense of sin and a desire of righteousness. Whatever has a tendency to turn us from iniquity, as John's preaching and baptism had, will turn us to Christ as our Lord and our God; for those who through grace are wrought upon to shake off the yoke of sin, that is, the dominion of the world and the flesh, will soon be persuaded to take upon them the yoke of the Lord Jesus.
[5.] Hereby he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, that is, of the Jews to the Gentiles; shall help to conquer the rooted prejudices which the Jews have against the Gentiles, which was done by the gospel, as far as it prevailed, and was begun to be done by John Baptist, who came for a witness, that all through him might believe, who baptized and taught Roman soldiers as well as Jewish Pharisees, and who cured the pride and confidence of those Jews who gloried in their having Abraham to their father, and told them that God would out of stones raise up children unto Abraham (Matthew 3:9), which would tend to cure their enmity to the Gentiles. Dr. Lightfoot observes, It is the constant usage of the prophets to speak of the church of the Gentiles as children to the Jewish church, Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 54:6; Isaiah 54:13; Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 60:9; Isaiah 62:5; Isaiah 66:12. When the Jews that embraced the faith of Christ were brought to join in communion with the Gentiles that did so too, then the heart of the fathers was turned to the children. And he shall turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that is, he shall introduce the gospel, by which the Gentiles, who are now disobedient, shall be turned, no so much to their fathers the Jews, but to the faith of Christ, here called the wisdom of the just, in communion with the believing Jews; or thus, He shall turn the hearts of the fathers with the children, that is, the hearts of old and young, shall be instrumental to bring some of every age to be religious, to work a great reformation in the Jewish nation, to bring them off from a ritual traditional religion which that had rested in, and to bring them up to substantial serious godliness: and the effect of this will be, that enmities will be slain and discord made to cease; and they are at variance, being united in his baptism, will be better reconciled one to another. This agrees with the account Josephus gives of John Baptist, Antiq. 18. 117-118. "That he was a good man, and taught the Jews the exercise of virtue, in piety towards God, and righteous towards one another, and that they should convene and knit together in baptism." And he saith, "The people flocked after him, and were exceedingly delighted in his doctrine." Thus he turned the hearts of fathers and children to God and to one another, by turning the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. Observe, First, True religion is the wisdom of just men, in distinction from the wisdom of the world. It is both our wisdom and our duty to be religious; there is both equity and prudence in it. Secondly, It is not possible but that those who have been unbelieving and disobedient may be turned to the wisdom of the just; divine grace can conquer the greatest ignorance and prejudice. Thirdly, The great design of the gospel is to bring people home to God, and to bring them nearer to one another; and on this errand John Baptist is sent. In the mention that is twice made of his turning people, there seems to be an allusion to the name of the Tishbite, which is given to Elijah, which, some think, does not denote the country or city he was of, but has an appellative signification, and therefore the render it Elijah the converter, one that was much employed, and very successful, in conversion-work. The Elias of the New Testament is therefore said to turn or convert many to the Lord their God.
[6.] Hereby he shall make ready a people prepared for the Lord, shall dispose the minds of people to receive the doctrine of Christ, that thereby they may be prepared for the comforts of his coming. Note, First, All that are to be devoted to the Lord, and made happy in him, must first be prepared and made ready for him. We must be prepared by grace in this world for the glory in the other, by the terrors of the law for the comforts of the gospel, by the spirit of bondage for the Spirit of adoption. Secondly, Nothing has a more direct tendency to prepare people for Christ than the doctrine of repentance received and submitted to. When sin is thereby made grievous, Christ will become very precious.
IV. Zacharias's unbelief of the angel's prediction, and the rebuke he was laid under for that unbelief. He heard all that the angel had to say, and should have bowed his head, and worshipped the Lord, saying, Be it unto thy servant according to the word which thou hast spoken; but it was not so. We are here told,
1. What his unbelief spoke, Luke 1:18; Luke 1:18. He said to the angel, Whereby shall I know this? This was not a humble petition for the confirming of his faith, but a peevish objection against what was said to him as altogether incredible; as if he should say, "I can never be made to believe this." He could not but perceive that it was an angel that spoke to him; the message delivered, having reference to the Old-Testament prophecies, carried much of its own evidence along with it. There are many instances in the Old Testament of those that had children when they were old, yet he cannot believe that he shall have this child of promise: "For I am an old man, and my wife hath not only been all her days barren, but is now well stricken in years, and not likely ever to have children." Therefore he must have a sign given him, or he will not believe. Though the appearance of an angel, which had long been disused in the church, was sign enough,--though he had this notice given him in the temple, the place of God's oracles, where he had reason to think no evil angel would be permitted to come,--though it was given him when he was praying, and burning incense,--and though a firm belief of that great principle of religion that God has an almighty power, and with him nothing is impossible, which we ought not only to know, but to teach others, was enough to silence all objections,--yet, considering his own body and his wife's too much, unlike a son of Abraham, he staggered at the promise,Romans 4:19; Romans 4:20.
2. How his unbelief was silenced, and he silenced for it.
(1.) The angel stops his mouth, by asserting his authority. Doth he ask, Whereby shall I know this? Let him know it by this, I am Gabriel,Luke 1:19; Luke 1:19. He puts his name to his prophecy, doth as it were sign it with his own hand, teste meipso--take my word for it. Angels have sometimes refused to tell their names, as to Manoah and his wife; but his angel readily saith, I am Gabriel, which signifies the power of God, or the mighty one of God, intimating that the God who bade him say this was able to make it good. He also makes himself known by this name to put him in mind of the notices of the Messiah's coming sent to Daniel by the man Gabriel,Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21. "I am the same that was sent then, and am sent now in pursuance of the same intention." He is Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, an immediate attendant upon the throne of God. The prime ministers of state in the Persian court are described by this, that they saw the king's face,Esther 1:14. "Though I am now talking with thee here, yet I stand in the presence of God. I know his eye is upon me, and I dare not say any more than I have warrant to say. But I declare I am sent to speak to thee, sent on purpose to show thee these glad tidings, which, being so well worthy of all acceptation, thou oughtest to have received cheerfully."
(2.) The angel stops his mouth indeed, by exerting his power: "That thou mayest object no more, behold thou shalt be dumb,Luke 1:20; Luke 1:20. If thou wilt have a sign for the support of thy faith, it shall be such a one as shall be also the punishment of thine unbelief; thou shalt not be able to speak till the day that these things shall be performed," Luke 1:20; Luke 1:20. Thou shalt be both dumb and deaf; the same word signifies both, and it is plain that he lost his hearing as well as his speech, for his friends made signs to him (Luke 1:62; Luke 1:62), as well as he to them, Luke 1:22; Luke 1:22. Now, in striking him dumb, [1.] God dealt justly with him, because he had objected against God's word. Hence we may take occasion to admire the patience of God and his forbearance toward us, that we, who have often spoken to his dishonour, have not been struck dumb, as Zacharias was, and as we had been if God had dealt with us according to our sins. [2.] God dealt kindly with him, and very tenderly and graciously. For, First, Thus he prevented his speaking any more such distrustful unbelieving words. If he has thought evil, and will not himself lay his hands upon his mouth, nor keep it as with a bridle, God will. It is better not to speak at all than to speak wickedly. Secondly, Thus he confirmed his faith; and, by his being disabled to speak, he is enabled to think the better. If by the rebukes we are under for our sin we be brought to give more credit to the word of God, we have no reason to complain of them. Thirdly, Thus he was kept from divulging the vision, and boasting of it, which otherwise he would have been apt to do, whereas it was designed for the present to be lodged as a secret with him. Fourthly, It was a great mercy that God's words should be fulfilled in their season, notwithstanding his sinful distrust. The unbelief of man shall not make the promises of God of no effect, they shall be fulfilled in their season, and he shall not be for ever dumb, but only till the day that these things shall be performed, and then thy lips shall be opened, that thy mouth may show forth God's praise. Thus, though God chastens the iniquity of his people with the rod, yet his loving kindness he will not take away.
V. The return of Zacharias to the people, and at length to his family, and the conception of this child of promise, the son of his old age.
1. The people staid, expecting Zacharias to come out of the temple, because he was to pronounce the blessing upon them in the name of the Lord; and, though he staid beyond the usual time, yet they did not, as is too common in Christian congregations, hurry away without the blessing, but waited for him, marvelling that he tarried so long in the temple, and afraid let something was amiss, Luke 1:21; Luke 1:21.
2. When he came out, he was speechless,Luke 1:22; Luke 1:22. He was now to have dismissed the congregation with a blessing, but was dumb and not able to do it, that the people may be minded to expect the Messiah, who can command the blessing, who blesseth indeed, and in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed. Aaron's priesthood is now shortly to be silenced and set aside, to make way for the bringing in of a better hope.
3. He made a shift to give them to understand that he had seen a vision, by some awful signs he made, for he beckoned to them, and remained speechless,Luke 1:22; Luke 1:22. This represents to us the weakness and deficiency of the Levitical priesthood, in comparison with Christ's priesthood and the dispensation of the gospel. The Old Testament speaks by signs, gives us some intimations of divine and heavenly things, but imperfect and uncertain; it beckons to us, but remains speechless. It is the gospel that speaks to us articulately, and gives us a clear view of that which the Old Testament was seen through a glass darkly.
4. He staid out the days of his ministration; for, his lot being to burn incense, he could do that, though he was dumb and deaf. When we cannot perform the service of God so well as we would, yet, if we perform it as well as we can, God will accept of us in it.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Luke 1:17". "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/luke-1.html. 1706.
A People Prepared for the Lord
March 13th, 1887 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"To make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Luke 1:17; Luke 1:17 .
John was the herald of Christ; he was to prepare the way for the coming King, but from this text it appears that he was to do more than that. He was not only to make the road ready for the Lord, but he was also "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." That was a great work, a task in which he would require strength and wisdom greater than his own. He would need that the Spirit of God, who was to be given without measure to the coming One, should also be in a measure within himself, if he should really "make ready a people prepared for the Lord." This is not at all a usual expression; at first sight, it hardly looks to us like a gospel expression. We sang just now,
"Just as I am and waiting not To rid my soul of one dark blot, To thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come."
We sang over and over again those words, "Just as I am," "Just as I am," and we are prone to protest against the idea of being prepared for Christ; we preach constantly that no preparation is needed, but that men are to come to Jesus just as they are. Yet here is John the Baptist set apart "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." The fact is, dear friends, that to get men to come to Jesus just as they are, is not an easy thing. To get them to give up the idea of preparing, to get them prepared to come without preparing, to get them ready to come just as they are, this is the hardest part of our work, this is our greatest difficulty. If we came and preached to men the necessity of preparation through so many weeks of fasting during a long Lent, or through so many days of scourging and penitence, they would attend to us at once, for they would be willing enough to make any preparation of that kind; but, when we say to them, "Come just as you are now, with nothing in your hand to buy the mercy of God, with nothing wherewith to demand or to deserve it," men want a great deal of preparing before they will come to that point. Only the grace of God, working mightily through the Word, by the Spirit, will prepare men to come to Christ thus, prepared by being unprepared so far as any fitness of their own is concerned. The only fit state in which they can come is that of sinking themselves, abandoning all idea of helping Christ, and coming in all their natural impotence and guilt, and taking Christ to be their all in all. Beloved friends, this is the true preparedness of heart for coming to Christ, the preparedness of coming to him just as you are; and it was John's business thus "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." That is also my business at this time. May the good Spirit, who dwelt in John the Baptist, work through us also, that some here may be made ready for Christ, "a people prepared for the Lord"! Let us see how John carried out his commission; we shall then be able better to understand the text. I. First, John made ready "a people prepared for the Lord" BY AROUSING THEIR ATTENTION. The people were asleep; they had fallen into a condition of religious lethargy, when suddenly there stood in their midst a man clothed with camel's hair, and with a leathern girdle about his loins, a prophet, manifestly, by the boldness and truthfulness of his utterances. He spoke in such a way that the people in general heard of his speaking, and they advertised him by saying the one to the other, "That is a strange man who has begun to preach by the River Jordan, and whose meat is locusts and wild honey." The whole style of the man set the people wondering and talking; and when they came to listen to him, he did not flatter them, he did not utter mere commonplace truths to them, but with burning earnestness he drove straight at their hearts, and spoke like Elijah, the great prophet of fire, had done in the ages gone by. So he set them thinking. That is a great preparation for coming to Christ just as you are, to be set a-thinking. We have always hope of men when they once begin to think about religion and the things of God. See how the bulk of them hurry on with their eyes tightly shut, rushing fast and yet faster still down to destruction. You cannot make them stop and think. There are thousands of men who would almost sooner be whipped than be made to think. The last thing to which they will ever come of themselves is thoughtfulness. Let me appeal to some here who are still unconverted. Did you ever give the affairs of your soul the benefit of an hour's serious consideration? You have your regular time for stock-taking, those of you who are in business; do you ever take stock of your spiritual estate? I know that you are not such fools as to neglect your ledgers, you cast up your accounts to see whereabouts you are financially; but do you cast up the account between God and your own soul, and look the matter fairly, and squarely in the face? Oh, if we could but bring you to do this, we should feel that you were being prepared for coming to Christ just as you are, for no man will come to Christ while he is utterly careless and thoughtless! Faith is a matter of thought; it requires a mind aroused from slumber, a mind that has taken wing; and John the Baptist did good service for his Master when he startled men into that condition, and so made them consider their ways. He did more than that, for, having first made them think, he preached to them a Savior. He told them that One was coming with power to baptize them after a higher sort than his baptism. He cried, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," and this message infused into the people a measure of hope. The poor people said, "What shall we do?" for they had a hope that there was something to be gained. Even the tax-gatherers, despised as they were, began to look up, and think that there might be something even for them, so they said to John, "Master, what shall we do?" And the rough Roman soldiers thought, "There may be something for us," so they also asked, "And what shall we do?" John inspired the multitudes with hope. It is a very blessed state of mind for a man to get in when he begins to hope that he may be saved. Then he will be prepared to come to Jesus, just as he is, when he feels that he is not shut up to despair. "Oh!" says the poor man, "I need not, after all, be lost; I need not abide for ever under the wrath of God. There is an open door set before me, there is a way of mercy even for me." I wish it were possible that everybody whom I am now addressing had that feeling; it would be part of the making ready of "a people prepared for the Lord" when thought had blossomed into hope. But John led his hearers on further than that, for they began to expect something as well as to hope for it . They expected that the Christ would speedily come, and they expected some great blessings through the coming of the Messiah. And oh! when men, after hearing the gospel, have great expectations concerning God and his salvation, surely their expectations will not be long disappointed. I remember a man coming one day to see me, and he said that he wished to take a sitting in the Tabernacle. He had been hearing me for some time, and he wanted to take a seat; but he desired to be very honest with me, and not to take a seat except upon a right understanding. I asked, "What is the difficulty, my friend?" "Well," he replied, "the person who sat next to me on Sunday told me that, if I became a regular hearer here, you would expect me to be converted." "Well," I answered, "that is true, I shall expect it." "But," said he, "you do not mean that you will require it of me." "Oh, dear no! "I replied, "nothing of the sort; I do not expect you to convert yourself; but I hope and trust that you will be converted, that is what I mean. I shall expect that God, in his grace, will meet with you and save you." " Oh!" he said, "I hope that, too; only I mean that I could not guarantee it." "Ah!" I said, "I see that you have taken the word 'expect' in the wrong sense; but I think, dear friend, that if you come expecting to be converted, and I preach expecting that you will be converted, it is highly probable that it will soon take place." "Oh!" he exclaimed, "God grant it!" The good brother has long since gone to heaven. A very few weeks after our conversation, he came and told me that the expectation in which we had united had been fulfilled, and he trusted that he had found the Saviour. When people come really expecting a blessing, they will be sure to get it. I do believe that some folk go to hear ministers with the idea that there will be something to find fault with, and, of course, they find that it is so; and when people come to hear another preacher, with the hope and expectation that God will bless them, of course God does bless them. Their expectation is divinely fulfilled. I have always a bright hope that a man will lay hold on Christ when he begins to expect to be saved, for he feels then that the time has come for him to find eternal life. John made ready "a people prepared for the Lord" because, first, he led them to thought; next, he led them to hope; and then he led them to expectation, and this is a high measure of preparation. John did more than this, for he cried, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," that is to say, he put a pressure of presentness upon the people . A brother, who is an eminent preacher, but who uses rather long words, was explaining to me the benefit of the preaching of Mr. Fullerton and Mr. Smith in his place of worship. He said, "I do not know exactly why these brethren were the means of the conversion of many in my place whom I had never reached, but I perceived that they had the power to precipitate decision." It sounded rather strange, but when I thought it over a little while, I rather liked the expression, "the power to precipitate decision." That is the power that leads men to make up their minds, and say "Yes," or "No," to feel that the decision has to be made at once, and that the putting of it off is impossible because it would be a kind of insanity. Now that is the meaning of what John said, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand! Repent ye! He is coming who wields the axe of divine Justice; bear fruit, or else be cut down. He is coming who uses the great winnowing fan; be the true wheat, or else be blown away." He put the truth so pointedly, and so earnestly, that he did by that means make ready "a people prepared for the Lord." II. Now, secondly, John made the people ready for Christ BY AWAKENING THEIR CONSCIENCES. His very first utterance, as I have reminded you, was, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." "Repent! Repent ! Repent!" was John's continual cry. This awakened the consciences of his hearers concerning their sin . Preaching repentance meant, "You have sinned; change your mind in reference to that sin. You have sinned; quit the sin, mourn over it, ask forgiveness for it. Repent ye!" Whenever a man brings to the minds of others their sins, when he so does it that they begin to feel that they have sinned, then they are being prepared for the Lord, for no man will come to the Saviour unless he knows that he needs a Saviour; and no man will feel that he needs a Saviour until he feels that he is a sinner. Hence it is a real preparation of men for Christ to convince them of sin. This John did; he brought their sin before them, and then he showed them their need of cleansing, for he stood by the River Jordan, not with a scallop shell, as some depict him, but he stood by the flowing stream, ready to immerse all those who repented. This was practically saying to them, "You need to be washed, you need to be cleansed; and I show you this truth as I baptize you with water unto repentance. Be this a token to you that there is no entering heaven in your filthiness, but you must first be washed. As your bodies are washed with pure water, so must your souls be washed and made clean ere you can enter heaven." This was John's plain teaching by his action as well as by his words. Then he went very straight to his point of arousing their consciences by telling them of their need of a change of life . He said that it was no use for them to pretend to grieve over the past, and then continue to sin in the same fashion. "Bring forth fruits," said he, "meet for repentance," or, "answerable to amendment of life," as the margin has it. And he took pains to point out what the fruits must be. If they were men of greed, they must become generous, and give to their needy neighbours. If they had been unrighteous and exacting, they must become honest. If they had been domineering, and brutal, and murmuring, they must become contented, and quiet, and gentle. He not only preached to the multitudes about repentance of sin in general, but he pointed out the precise sin of each class of persons that came to him, and urged them to perform the special duties which they had neglected. Now, brethren, I believe, as I have often said, that there is no sewing with silk thread alone; you must have a needle as well. You need a sharp needle to go first to draw the thread through the material; so you must preach the law, you must denounce sin, and you must individualize, and condemn special sins; and you must be personal, and pointed, or else men will not feel in their consciences what you say to them. Conscience is very apt to get seared as with a hot iron, to lose sensitiveness, so as to be no use at all as a conscience. Some say that conscience is a spark of deity, a divine monitor; it is nothing of the sort, in many a man it is almost extinct, for it does not act at all. The preacher who would "make ready a people prepared for the Lord" must come out with his axe, and lay it to the root of the trees; he must be definite and distinct in indicating this sin and that sin, and crying to all men, "Repent of these sins. Give them up. Get clear from them. Be washed from them; or else, as God lives, when the Christ himself comes, it will not be to save you, but to blow you away with his winnowing fan as the chaff is blown into the fire." This is "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" by their being convinced of sin and led to repentance. That, I think, is a second meaning clearly illustrated in the ministry of John the Baptist. III. But thirdly, John had "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" BY POINTING OUT THE NATURE OF TRUE RELIGION. He showed that it did not depend upon external privileges . As soon as ever John began to preach, the men of Jewish race, proud of their pedigree, pressed near; and John, with all the courage that a servant of the Lord could have, said, "Begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." You see the drift of his preaching, do you not? He says, practically, "Men and women, there is no virtue in your boasted privileges, there is no merit in your religious descent. As for supposing yourselves to be the peculiar people of God, you are not to be saved that way. Say not, We have Abraham to our father." Oh, how many hug that idea, "My father was a Christian." Others say, "Well, I live in a Christian country." They suppose that there is something in the very race from which they have sprung. Away with all such notions, for whatever external privileges you may have had, they are not sufficient to secure salvation for you. Then came the Pharisees and the Sadducees; they were the religious people of the time, the great observers of all outward propriety, but John taught them that true religion is not the same as official pretension. He called them a "generation of vipers." This was very disrespectful, and very shocking indeed on his part; all the newspapers of the period, if there had been any, would have cried him down for his want of charity, but he wanted those who came to him to understand that true religion was not the same as professing to be religious. It was not making broad the borders of their garments, it was not wearing a text of Scripture as a phylactery between their eyes, it was not making long prayers at the corners of the streets, that would save them; there must be a thorough change of heart. So John spoke right straight out; and this, I believe, is a great way of preparing men for coming to Christ, when you tell them, "It is not your early training, it is not your going to church or chapel, it is not your infant sprinkling and your confirmation, it is not even your adult baptism, nor your saying prayers and reading the Bible, that will save you; but 'ye must be born again.' There must be an inward spiritual change, wrought by the Holy Spirit. You must believe in Jesus Christ, whom God has sent, and you must so believe in him as to be made new creatures in him, or else you cannot be saved." Now, when men realize that all this is true, it startles them out of their false refuges, and makes them ready to flee to the only true refuge, so that it is really the way of making ready "a people prepared for the Lord." While John set forth this matter negatively, putting down all the wrong hopes of his hearers, he was exceedingly plain in telling them that the way of salvation would involve them in the necessity of being right before God . "There," said he, "the proof of a tree's life is its fruit, and the evidence of your new life will be your good works. 'Now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.'" Unless our religion makes us holy, it has not done anything for us that is really worth doing. Unless we hate sin, and love righteousness, our religion is a sham and a lie. John stated that truth very plainly; and that is the way to drive men to Christ. He told them also that the trial of a life would be by its weight as well as by its fruit. "Look," said he, "at the heap that lies on the threshing-floor. He that hath the fan in his hand begins to winnow it; that which is light and chaffy is blown away, that which has wheat in it remains on the floor. So," said he, "there must be weight about your religion stability, reality, sincerity. There must be heart-work in it, it must be no pretence; it must be true from beginning to end, or else it shall no more avail you than a heap of chaff would avail the husbandman when it is blown into the fire." Then John taught his hearers that Christ himself would be the great Trier of human hearts; not ministers or fellow-professors, but, Christ himself. When men feel this to be true, then they begin to say to themselves, "There is more required than we at present possess. There is more demanded than we can ever manufacture of ourselves. Let us go to him that hath it, and ask him for it. Let us go to Christ, who hath grace to bestow upon the poor and needy." This, then, is the way to make ready "a people prepared for the Lord," by pointing out to them the nature of true religion; that is what I have tried to do, dear hearer. When you know that you cannot save yourself, you sing
"Not the labours of my hands Can fulfil thy law's demands: Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears for ever flow, All for sin could not atone:"
and then you are ready to finish the verse by singing
"Thou must save, and thou alone."
IV. Now I shall close my discourse by noticing a fourth way in which John made ready "a people prepared for the Lord." He did it BY DECLARING THE GRACE AND POWER OF JESUS CHRIST. My brethren, if I were to preach to you merely to arouse your attention, to awaken your consciences to a sense of sin, or simply to show you the nature of true religion, yet you would not be prepared for Christ unless also you knew something about him, something about his suitableness and his power to save you. So, John preached Jesus Christ as a mighty and glorious Saviour on whom the Spirit rested. He says that, when he baptized our Lord, as Jesus came up out of the water, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." John boldly preached, and told the people that the Spirit of God rested upon Jesus Christ, yea, abode upon him. Now, this would lead them to him, and this should lead you to him. Whatever there is, poor souls, that you need to make you holy and perfect, Christ has it, for the Spirit of God rests on him, and abides in him without measure. It you want the grace of penitence, Christ has it to give you. If you want the grace of supplication, he has it to give you. If you want the grace of faith, he has it. If you want the grace of holiness, he has it. "It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell," "and of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace." John taught this to his hearers, and I teach it to you. There is nothing wanted between hell-gate and heaven-gate but what is in Christ, nothing wanted for the biggest sinner out of hell to make him the biggest saint in heaven but what Christ has, nothing wanted in any hour of temptation, in any time of depression, nothing wanted in any moment of sickness, or in the article of death itself, but what it is in Christ, and there for you if you trust him. If you are willing to have it, it is freely presented to you. He who makes you willing to receive is certainly willing to give. If he has emptied you, and prepared you to receive of his fulness, do not think that he will refuse you when you come to him for it. He hath said, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Last Sunday morning, I blew the great trumpet in the hope of startling some to Christ; on this occasion, I would ring the little silver bell with a gentle noise in the hope that some may, by that means, be made willing to come to Christ. My hearer, thou canst want nothing which Christ does not possess; all thy requirements are fully met in him. The Spirit of God dwells in him as a fulness, and as an abiding fulness; therefore, do but believe in him, and even that faith he will give thee, do but trust him, and thou art saved, and fully supplied in him who can meet all the necessities of thy case. Now, brethren, John taught the people this, that they might be ready for Christ, "a people prepared for the Lord," for, when men begin to see what a Christ Christ is, what a Saviour the Saviour is, then they are ready to come to him; and I pray that many of you may so come to him even now. John also told his hearers that the Christ whom he preached was able to baptise them with the Holy Ghost. "See," says he, "I only plunge you in the flowing stream, I can do nothing more for you than dip you in this River Jordan, on profession of your repentance of sin; but this Saviour, this Christ of God, can immerse you into the Spirit of God. He can give you of his power to fill you; you can be baptized into the Holy Ghost by him:" Dost thou hear this, sinner? Jesus Christ can come and give thee the Holy Spirit in such measure that thou shalt be baptized into him
"Plunged in the Godhead's deepest sea, And lost in his immensity."
This will make thee to be really his, and make thee truly to live unto him. The very fulness of grace, then, is with Christ, and he is prepared to give it; and this should make men prepared to receive it. Did not the poor prodigal son say of the provision in his father's house, "There is bread enough and to spare"? It was partly that which made him go to his father's house; and we may say of the Spirit who is in Christ, "There is enough and to spare for every poor sinner who comes to him;" therefore, come along with thee, be prepared at once to come and receive the Saviour. Lastly, John said in his preaching, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." He pointed out Christ as the Sin-bearer, bearing human guilt in his own person. That is the master-key which lets men into the kingdom of heaven. Oh! how I do delight to preach Christ as the Substitute, Christ as the atoning sacrifice; and when you have heard Christ preached in that way, it makes you ready, "a people prepared for the Lord." How can men come to Christ if they do not know what Christ has done for them? If you do not understand that he suffered in your stead, the Just for the unjust, to bring you to God, how can you come to Christ? But when you have learned that holy and blessed doctrine of Christ's propitiation for human sin, why, then, methinks, you will leap at the very sound of it, and say, "Yes, I will take this propitiation to be a sacrifice for me. Blessed Lamb of God,
"'My faith would lay her hand On that dear head of thine, While like a penitent I stand And there confess my sin.'"
John's preaching Christ was the best way of making ready "a people prepared for the Lord," and there is no better way of preparing you to come to Jesus. Oh, that God would grant to some of you that "precipitation of decision" of which my learned friend spoke! Oh, that in some lives the turning-point might be reached to-night, the happy moment when they should decide for Christ! Lord, decide them! My friend, you have come to the cross-roads; peradventure, to-night, if you reject the Saviour, it will be your last rejection of him, and it will finally seal your doom; and I am sure, with no peradventure whatever, that if this night you look to Jesus, and trust to his finished work, you shall be saved, and saved for ever. Here is a text for you: "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Is not that a wonderful "whosoever"? "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord" in believing prayer, asking mercy, trusting Christ for mercy, "shall be saved." "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." Most of you know these texts by heart; grip them as with hooks of steel. If you say that you are hungry, and I put a loaf of bread in front of you, will you sit and look at it all night? If I meet you in a week's time, will you still complain that you are hungry, while there is the bread in front of you still untouched? You deserve to be hungry if that is the case, you deserve to be famished to death if, the bread being there, you will not have it. Take it, and eat it. "May I have it?" asks one. Thou art commanded to have it; this is not a matter that is left to thy option. "The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent." Our Lord himself said, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel." It is, therefore, a gospel command that thou shouldest repent and believe, and truly thou mayest obey a command given by the Lord himself. There is no question about thy permission to obey it; then, obey it at once, and take Christ to thyself. "You do not know me," says a sorrowing one away there in the corner, "you do not know me, sir; else you would not talk so." I do not need to know you; but if you were the devil's own, if you would but come to Christ, you should be at once and for ever Christ's own. Though thou wert sunk almost into hell by a life of horrible crime, yet if thou wilt now come and repent of thy sin, and lay hold on Christ, thou shalt be saved. I do not know how to use language that shall be stronger than that; but do not think that I will withdraw it, or qualify it. If I did know how to speak in broader terms even than those I have used, I would so speak. Ye guiltiest of the guilty, you most condemned of all the condemned, for whom the hottest hell would be your due place, yet come away, and look to Christ, and you shall live, for none are too vile for him to cleanse, none are too guilty for him to pardon. Oh, that you would believe in Jesus while yet the gospel bell rings out, "mercy, mercy, mercy!"! God help you to do so, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake! Amen.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Luke 1:17". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/spe/luke-1.html. 2011.
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25