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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Luke 1:21

The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple.
New American Standard Version
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  1. Adam Clarke Commentary
  2. Bridgeway Bible Commentary
  3. Coffman Commentaries on the Bible
  4. Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible
  5. Jim Brown's Commentary on the New Testament
  6. Charles Box's Commentaries on Selected Books of the Bible
  7. E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes
  8. Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
  9. Brian Bell Commentary on the Bible
  10. The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide
  11. Chuck Smith Bible Commentary
  12. John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
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  14. Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
  15. Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
  16. Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
  17. Darby's Synopsis of the New Testament
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Bible Study Resources

Nave's Topical Bible - Barrenness;   Elisabeth (Elizabeth);   Joy;   Symbols and Similitudes;   Temple;   Vision;   Zacharias (Zechariah);   Scofield Reference Index - Inspiration;   Israel;   Thompson Chain Reference - Zacharias;  
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Elisabeth;   John;   Temple;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Zechariah;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Age, Old (the Aged);   Jerusalem;   John the Baptist;   Miracle;   Charles Buck Theological Dictionary - Angel;   Union Hypostatical;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Daniel, the Book of;   Incense;   Juttah;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Future Hope;   Jesus, Life and Ministry of;   John;   Luke, Gospel of;   Mother;   Zacharias;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - John the Baptist;   Vision;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Benediction;   Deaf and Dumb;   Redemption (2);   Temple (2);   Zacharias ;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Elisabeth ;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Gabriel;   Theophilus;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Elisabeth;   Gabriel;  
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - John, the Baptize;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Gabriel;   John the Baptist;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

The people waited - The time spent in burning the incense was probably about half an hour, during which there was a profound silence, as the people stood without engaged in mental prayer. To this there is an allusion in Revelation 8:1-5. Zacharias had spent not only the time necessary for burning the incense, but also that which the discourse between him and the angel took up.

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These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Bridgeway Bible Commentary

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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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Brideway Bible Commentary". 2005.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marvelled while he tarried in the temple.

Zacharias was possibly very much unsettled and shaken by the awesome experience he had encountered, occasioning some delay in the completion of his duties; and, also, from his affliction imposed upon him by the angel, there would have been a reluctance for him to go forth to the people. Perhaps he waited awhile before appearing.

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

The people waited - That is, beyond the usual time.

Marvelled - Wondered. The priest, it is said, was not accustomed to remain in the temple more than half an hour commonly. Having remained on this occasion a longer time, the people became apprehensive of his safety, and wondered what had happened to him.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

Jim Brown's Commentary on the New Testament

  1. John the Baptist
    1. Zacharias and Elisabeth
      Luk 1:5-10 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.  6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.  7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.  8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, 9 According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.  10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
      1. This is at the end of the dark days of Israel…the 400 year period of silence between the book of Malachi and here where Luke begins.  During this time the Jews had continued in the temple practices but the leadership of Israel had become increasing legalistic and hypocritical.
      2. We are told that Zacharias was a priest and Elisabeth was the daughter of a priest – in those days there were 24 courses or divisions of priests (with upwards of 1000 in each course), and each would serve in the temple for one week at a time on a rotating basis.  The priests would draw lots for what role they would take and being inside the temple was a great privilege that was usually only afforded once in a lifetime.
      3. It was Zacharias’ time to be there – isn’t interesting that God spoke to him while he was serving Him…God has a way of speaking to each one of us when we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice and serve Him with our whole heart.
      4. Here, Zacharias was burning incense in the temple of the Lord as the people prayed.  Rev 5:8 the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours (literally – incense), which are the prayers of saints. The incense was symbolic of the people’s prayers…interesting.
    2. The Spirit of Elijah
      Luke 1:11-17 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.
      1. An angel appeared to Zacharias…Heb 1:13-14 But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?  14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?
      2. The point here is that if God is involved, we should not fear rather, trust Him.  Pro 3:5-8 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.  7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.  8 It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.
      3. 1Jn 4:18 Tells us… perfect love casts out fear:
      4. But, look…it says their prayer was heard…God listens, He hears, He loves and He has a perfect plan for our lives!  Psa 34:15 The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.  And…Pro 15:29b He hears the prayer of the righteous.
      5. The answered prayer:  they’ll have a son and will name him “John”…which means, “Jehovah is a gracious giver”.
      6. And…he will be filled with the Holy Spirit and come in the spirit of Elijah.  Elijah was very bold and called sin, sin and he called the people to repentance!  Supernatural boldness comes from the Spirit -- 2Ti 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.  And, John would call the people similarly!
      7. Pause and realize that Zacharias means “Jehovah remembers…” / Elisabeth means “Oath of God”.  And the last that God spoke to Israel was in Malachi in:  Mal 4:5-6 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:  6 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.
      8. This is exactly what John would do… God is a gracious giver and keeps His promises!
        1. ​​​​​​​Isa 55:6-7 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:  7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
    3. God Keeps His Promises
      Luk 1:18-25 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.  19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.  20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.  21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.  22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.  23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.  24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
      1. Reading this…it appears we shouldn’t mess with Angels…if one is talking to you – you should believe him!
      2. But, God follows through – even though Zacharias and Elisabeth are old (Jews thought old was over 65, over 70 to be a hoary head, and well stricken was over 80)…and yet, God provided a spark of youth in them to allow Elisabeth to conceive.
      3. And…she says that God has taken away her reproach among men.  Culturally, it was disgraceful for a woman to not be able to bear children.  It was an allowable cause for divorce.  People would think there was sin in her life or a curse on the family. 
      4. In this case, God had a plan and simply held off her child bearing until it was in His timing!
      5. God always answers our prayers – sometimes it isn’t the answer we’re looking for!  He will always answer yes, no, or wait.  Our job is to be OK with that!
      6. Godliness with contentment is great gain – it’s better to put our trust in the Lord than our confidence in men!
  2. Conclusion
    1. ​​​​​​​What do we walk away with today? 
    2. God hears us and knows the desires of our hearts – and is willing to change our hearts if we ask and allow Him to…
    3. God keeps His promises and we can stand on them…
    4. God loves you and will honor your faithfulness and has a plan for your life whether you understand it or not…
    5. We simply need to seek the Lord with all of our heart and serve Him right where we are regardless of our circumstances!
Copyright Statement
Jim Brown's Commentary on the New Testament is reproduced by permission of author. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Brown, Jim. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Jim Brown's Commentary on the New Testament". 2017.

Charles Box's Commentaries on Selected Books of the Bible

The birth of John was announced -- : The birth of both John and Jesus took place while Herod was king of Judea. During this time there was a good man names named Zacharias. He was a priest of the course of Abia. His wife was a descendent of Aaron. Her name was Elisabeth. Both Zacharias and Elizabeth were loving toward God and obedient to Him. They were old and had not been able to have children. On an occasion when Zacharias was fulfilling his priestly duties of burning incense in the temple an angel appeared to him and told him that he and his wife would have a son. The angel also said "you must name him John." It was predicted that John would grow up to be a great servant of the Lord. The angel said, "He shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother"s womb." His work would be to go before the Lord in the power and spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for the Messiah. Zacharias asked Gabriel how he could know these things were true. He again said that he and Elizabeth were very old. The proof was that Zacharias would not be able to speak until John was born. When Zacharias exited the Temple the people knew that he had seen a vision. Shortly after this he went home and soon Elizabeth was expecting a baby. She hid herself five months. She felt that God had taken away her reproach among the people.

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition available at Public Domain.
Bibliographical Information
Box, Charles. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Charles Box's Commentaries on Selected books of the Bible". 2014.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

waited for = were looking for. The finite Verb and Participle denoting protracted waiting.

marvelled. Because such waiting was usually short.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

21.And the people were waiting Luke now relates that the people were witnesses of this vision. Zacharias had tarried in the temple longer than usual. This leads to the supposition that something uncommon has happened to him. When he comes out, he makes known, by looks and gestures, that he has been struck dumb. There is reason to believe, also, that there were traces of alarm in his countenance. Hence they conclude that God has appeared to him. True, there were few or no visions in that age, but the people remembered that formerly, in the time of their fathers, they were of frequent occurrence. It is not without reason, therefore, that they draw this conclusion from obvious symptoms: for it was not an ordinary occurrence, [it was not a common accident, but rather an astonishing work of God, (22) ] that he became suddenly dumb without disease, and after a more than ordinary delay came out of the temple in a state of amazement. The word temple, as we have already mentioned, is put for the sanctuary, where the altar of incense stood, (Exodus 30:1.) From this place the priests, after performing their sacred functions, were wont to go out into their own court, for the purpose of blessing the people.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

Brian Bell Commentary on the Bible

  1. Intro:
    1. Q: How did you announce the birth of your baby?
      1. Yet, this really isn’t a Birth announcement, but a Conception announcement!
      2. At Hope Starr’s 5th B-day party a few weeks ago(Desi’s daughter) Hope stood before the family & friends & announced, “Thank you forcoming to my B-day party & my mommy has a baby in her tummy!”
    2. 1st of 4 important visits.
    1. Zacharias in the Temple! (5-10)
    2. (5-7) The days of Herod the Great were not the best of days for the Jewish people.
      1. But this priest & his wife prayed & served God in spite of the discouragements.
    3. They were both righteous in the best sense of the word.
    4. The worship of God, in private prayer, in family devotion, in public exercises, is a serious & imp. part of a good man’s experience. (Pulpit Commentary; pg.20 of Luke.)
      1. They walked in these things! – Divine truth is important; yet if we know these things, happy are we only if we do them! (Rev William Jay)
        1. ​​​​​​​Practice is nothing w/o Principle!
      2. Zacharias (Jehovah has remembered); Elizabeth (My God is an oath).​​​​​​​
      3. Their righteousness was in the sight of God & not just in appearance as in the case of some Pharisees. (New American Commentary; Robert Stein; Libronix.)
      4. “Both” for nothing could be more desirable & important than the godliness of both parties!
        1. How can 2 walk together unless they are agreed? (Amos 3:3)
    5. Blameless(6) yet barren(7)!
      1. Barren like: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, & Samson’s mother.
    6. (7) Both advanced in years – being past their childbearing age.
      1. Which points to the human impossibility of the coming events.
      2. (BBC News) The closest man has come so far was in Romania last December w/the 66 year old Adriana Iliescu. She holds the record of the oldest woman to birth a child. (She was artificially inseminated)
    7. (8-10) While he was serving – His disappointment at not having a son did not keep Zacharias from serving the Lord. (www)
      1. This is the blessedness of duty!
      2. We need to be faithful.
      3. We never know when God’s angel may arrive! J
      4. Interesting, that Luke’s opening & closing scene in his gospel takes place in the Temple. (See Lk.24:53)
      5. So there we find Zacharias clothed in his spotless robe, w/his head covered, shoes off. This holy man & elect priest disappears w/in the golden doors of the Holy Place.
        1. As he enters he sees only a few things in this room. The golden candlestick(menorah), the table of show bread, & the altar of incense.
        2. On the altar is the sacred flame. Taking a censor full of incense he pours it on the perpetual altar-fire & says, “Lord, let my prayer come before you as incense; & the lifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” (Ps.141:2)
        3. Smelled great! – Ex.30:34-38.
    8. (9) His lot fell to burn the incense – (he was chosen by lot)
      1. It was the providence of God That Zacharias was chosen to burn the incense, for this ministry came to a man once in a lifetime.
        1. Providence? Why?
      2. He was a priest. He belonged to the section/division of Abijah. Every direct descendant of Aaron was automatically a priest. They were divided into 24 sections. Only at Passover/Pentecost/Feast ofTab did all the priests serve.
        1. For the rest of the year each course served a week at a time, twice a year.
        2. Priests who loved their work looked forward to that week of service above all things; it was the highlight of their lives. (William Barclay)
      3. A priest could marry only a woman of absolutely pure Jewish lineage. It was especially meritorious to marry a woman who was also a descendant of Aaron. (i.e. Elizabeth)
      4. They guess some 24,000 priests at this time! [All the duties were allocated by lot]
      5. Before the morning sacrifice & after the evening sacrifice incense was burnt on the altar of incense so that, as it were, the sacrifices might go up to God wrapped in an envelope of sweet-smelling incense.
        1. Read Ex.30:7,8.
      6. It was quite possible that many priests would never have the privilege of burning incense all his life.
        1. If it did fall upon him it was the greatest day of his life, the day he dreamed of.
        2. I remember in 8th grade I was asked to be in charge of all the altar boys in my Catholic church. I was honored. And my mama was proud!
      7. Thus, it was the providence of God That Zacharias was chosen to burn the incense, for this ministry came to a man maybe once in a lifetime!
    9. (10) Note, Luke always highlights major events as always being associated with prayer!
    10. Birth Announcement! (11-17)
    11. An angel of the Lord appeared – Angels are mentioned 23 x’s in Luke.
      1. Only 2 are named in Scripture – Gabriel & Michael.
    12. On the right side of the altar – on the favored side. Between the altar & the Candelabra(Plummer/LKGNT).
      1. It’s quiet, private, no one else is allowed in there.
      2. Then he just appears, not saying anything. (Ahhhh!)
    13. (13) After 400 years of Prophetic laryngitis, known as the Intertestimental period…finally words from heaven!
      1. ​​​​​​​And how gracious a word it is - “Do not be afraid…” (or, fear not)
      2. This phrase is found many 7 x’s in Luke.
    14. They believed in & practiced prayer!
      1. “Your prayer is heard!”
      2. Ps.130:6 “My soul waits for the Lord More than those who watch for the morning - Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.”
      3. Matthew Henry – “Prayers are filed in heaven, & are not forgotten though the thing prayed for is not presently given us. The time as well as the thing is the answer; & God’s gift always transcends the measure of the promise.”
      4. This prayer will be answered but in a richer sense than Zacharias & Elizabeth ever dreamed!
    15. Call his name John – Jehovah has been gracious. “The Grace of God
    16. (14) Joy & gladness – Just as Jesus’ birth would bring joy, so did John’s.
      1. This joy was not just personal feeling, but the eschatological joy brought by the arrival of the Messianic age. (New American Commentary; Robert Stein; Libronix.)
      2. Joy/Rejoiced – 19 x’s in Luke.
    17. The Revelation:
      1. He will be called John(13,14)
      2. He will be come a Nazarite(15)
      3. He will serve as the Messiah’s forerunner(16,17)
        1. He would have the privilege to introduce the Messiah to the nation! “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”
      4. 1st his character than his conduct!
      5. John’s bio would read, “forerunner, reconciler, reformer, preacher!”
    18. (15) Shall drink neither wine nor drink – Denoted any intoxicating beverage prepared from either grain or fruit.
      1. In the original language – “nothing from Jack Daniels to Boones Farm”! 
    19. Nazarite vow? (maybe, other requirements not mentioned/cutting hair, etc.); Or, referring to living an ascetic life(7:33 he came neither eating or drinking);Or in reference to Lev.10:8-11… “Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying: “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.”
    20. (17) The importance of this announcement is evident by its coming from an authoritative messenger, by its allusions to Scripture, & by its later fulfillment.
      1. Note: Jesus is already called Lord here!
    21. Spirit & power of Elijah - Elijah is mentioned 30 x’s in the NT. [10 relate him to John the Baptist]
    22. Zacharias, Faithful to Faithless, to Speechless! (18-25)
    23. (18) Zacharias had the faith to keep on praying; but when the answer came he did not have the faith to accept it.
      1. He looked at his limitations rather than God’s great power.
      2. It was a situation & question similar to Abraham’s (Isaac/Gen.17:17), but he lacked Abraham’s faith!
      3. The angel’s prophecy must have seemed too good to be true.
        1. So he asked, “How can I be sure of this?”
    24. Q: What unbelief do you struggle with?
      1. Q: Do you have your limitations or Gods great power in yur sights?
      2. Q: Why should have Zacharias believed? Q: Why should we?
    25. (19) I stand in the presence of God – This statement gives additional weight & a sense of truthfulness to what Gabriel was saying.
    26. (19,20) Unbelief produces silence!
      1. 2 Cor.4:13 “It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”(from Ps.116:10) With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak,”
      2. As unbelief produces silence; faith opens your mouth in praise to God! (Warren Wiersbe; With The Word; pg.669.)
      3. Interesting, the father of him who would be the voice” of one crying in the wilderness!
      4. But what was it that he couldn’t proclaim? – Yes about the miracle of his wife’s pregnancy, they’re going to have a man child!
        1. But even worse, he couldn’t herald the good news he’s waited for his whole life(as all Jews had) the news that God was about to send the Messiah to the world!!!
        2. Look at the emphasis about his Prophecy in 1:67-79. 2 verses given for his boy.
      5. It was a “punitive miracle” but contained the promise “which will be fulfilled in their own time.”
    27. (20) My translation!(BBV – Brian Bell Version) – “You want a sign? I’ll give you a sign!”
      1. ​​​​​​​You didn’t believe what was spoken to you by the lord, & now you are unable to repeat it to others.
      2. “For the Lord will not employee unbelieving messengers.” (Spurgeon)
      3. Q: Is there any unbelief in your life that has sealed your mouth shut? (Is this why we don’t share the good news as often as we should?)
    28. Which will be fulfilled in there own time –
      1. Matthew Henry, “We can depend on God to fulfill His promise, even when all the roads leading to it are closed.”
    29. (21,22) Upon leaving the temple, Zechariah is unable to pronounce the priestly blessing for the waiting crowd.
      1. Often the priest would come to the railing, separating the court of the priest & the court of the Israelites, & pronounce a blessing upon the people after the evening sacrifice & after the incense had been burned.
      2. Luke 1:62 implies that he couldn’t hear either.
    30. (23-25) 5 months? – no custom speaks to this.
      1. Q: What was going on in Zach & Lizzy’s home during all this time?
        1. No altar to minister at, no neighbors to talk to, no tongue to even talk with! Wife with morning sickness? No words but what could be scribbled, glances of tears & smiles.
        2. Screaming quietness!
      2. The Grace of God”(John) Elizabeth’s holy secret!
      3. Some have suggested that she went into seclusion in order to avoid reproach from skeptical neighbors during the time when she “wasn’t showing!”
      4. Even Mary was ignorant of her pregnancy(1:36).
    31. The barren Elizabeth soon becomes pregnant.
      1. She already was experiencing, in anticipation, the joy & gladness of which Gabriel spoke.
    32. Praise is addressed to God for what He has done…“The Lord has done this for me”(NIV).
      1. Thus the emphasis on the Blessor rather than on the Blessing!
    33. What an honor for this elderly couple to be the parents of the last & greatest of the prophets.
      1. Lk.7:28 “For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist...”
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Text Courtesy of Calvary Chapel of Murrieta. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bell, Brian. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Brian Bell Commentary". 2017.

The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide


Third Edition







HE Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to S. Luke, that is, the Holy Evangelical History of the words and acts of Jesus, as described by S. Luke. The Arabic says, "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, one God, the Gospel of the Excellent Father, Luke the Evangelist, the laying open of the glorious Gospel." The Syraic, "In the name of the Lord and our God, we Jeschua Mescicho, sign the Gospel, the holy message of Luke the Evangelist, which he spoke and proclaimed in Greek, in Alexandria." From this diversity, it is clear that the above title or inscription was prefixed to the Gospel, not by S. Luke himself, but by the Church which, in like manner, inscribed one Gospel "According to S. Matthew," one "According to S. John," and another "According to S. Mark." Nay, as regards the faith of the future, this title would have been added to no purpose by S. Luke himself, unless the Church had declared his Gospel to be genuine and not supposititious, and had handed it down as such. This speaks for Tradition against the heretics, for why is the Gospel, bearing the name of S. Luke, to be received as truly his, whilst that with the title of "Matthew and Thomas" is not to be considered theirs? Or again, why is the Gospel of S. Luke more canonical than that of Apelles or Basilides? No other reason can be given but the proof, declaration, and tradition of the Church. For we accept it, not because it is written in the sacred books, but because it has been so handed down by the Church. For instance, we believe this to be the Gospel of S. Luke and canonical, not because he wrote it, but because the Church so delivers and teaches. For although its own authority pertains to this Gospel, as to the others, yet this authority would not be plain to us, but for the declaration of the Church. The same is, a pari, to be said of the sense of Scripture. For the true sense of Scripture is not what appears to you or me, for this would be uncertain and doubtful, for Calvin affirms one sense to be the true one, Luther another, and others another, but that which is taught and received by the Church, whose office it is to deliver as well what is the true Scripture as what is its true meaning. For Holy Scripture consists not in the bark (cortice) of letters or words, but in their genuine meaning. So the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent, and the Fathers everywhere, especially Tertullian (B. iv. cap5 against Marcion). See what I have said on S. Matthew i1.

Observe: I. S. Matthew was the first in order of the Evangelists. He wrote in Hebrew to the Jews in Juda. S. Mark was the second. He wrote in Greek and Latin to the Romans in Italy; then S. Luke wrote to the Greeks in Greek; and S. John last of all, also in Greek; but S. Luke wrote the more elegantly, because he was the more perfect master of Greek. Hear S. Jerome ( Ephesians 84to Paulinus): "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the quadriga of the Lord, and true Cherubim (which is interpreted, the "multitude of knowledge"), through their whole body they are "full of eyes," sparks shine from them, lightnings flash forth, their feet are "straight," and point upwards, their backs are winged, and they fly hither and thither. They hold themselves mutually one with another, and are "enfolded" with one another, and are rolled together, like a wheel, and they go wherever the influence of the Holy Spirit directs them." See Ezekiel i9, x12; Revelation iv6-8.

Moreover, among the faces or forms of the four Cherubim, the third, that of the ox, is ascribed to S. Luke, as well because he begins from the priesthood of Zachariah, whose chief sacrifice was an ox, as because he underwent the labours of an ox in the Gospel, and bore about continually in his own body the mortification of the Cross for the honour of the name of Christ, as the Church sings of him. See what has been said on Revelation iv7, and Ezekiel i10.

II. S. Luke wrote his Gospel against certain gaping, ignorant, perhaps even false Evangelists, who had written, in Syria or Greece, an imperfect, it may be a lying Gospel, as S. Luke himself signifies in the beginning of his work. So say Origen, S. Ambrose, Theophylact, and S. Epiphanius (Her. l. i), who, however, when he adds that S. Luke wrote against Cerinthus and Meritus, does not seem to speak correctly. For these two, and especially Basilides, were later than S. Luke, as is clear from Eusebius (Hist. B. iii. ch32). Theophylact and Bede think, with more truth, that S. Luke wrote against the Apocryphal Gospels of others, such as pass under the names of "Thomas, Matthew, and the Twelve Apostles."

III. S. Luke was not one of the seventy-two disciples of Christ, as Euthymius and S. Gregory in his preface on Job, chap. i. think, on the authority of Origen; for S. Luke never saw Christ in the flesh, but he wrote what he had heard of Him from the Apostles, as he says himself, i2. Hence the Fathers call S. Luke "the disciple of the Apostles," and S. Paul mentions him by name, as his "fellow-labourer." So S. Jerome, on the65th chapter of Isaiah, and preface to S. Matthew; where he says, "The third" (evangelist) is Luke the physician, by nation a Syrian, of Antioch, whose praise is in the Gospel (2Cor. viii18,22), who himself was a disciple of S. Paul. He wrote his Gospel in the neighbourhood of Achaia and Bœotia, relating some things from the beginning, as he says himself, and describing rather what he heard than what he saw. St. Irenæus says the same, i20; Theodoret, on the Lives of the holy Fathers; Baronius, and others. Tertullian, also (Book iv. against Marcion, chap5), thinks this Gospel not so much S. Luke"s as S. Paul"s, because S. Luke wrote from the dictation of S. Paul, as S. Mark from that of S. Peter. For he says, "what S. Mark wrote may be ascribed to S. Peter, whose interpreter S. Mark was. And so the Gospel of S. Luke is generally given to S. Paul, for the productions of the disciples began to be ascribed to the masters."

S. Jerome also states that "S. Luke, in the Gospel and Acts, performed the duties of a physician of souls, as he had before done of bodies" ( Ephesians 103to Paulinus); and again (in that to Philom). "Luke the physician left in his Gospel, and the book of the Acts of the Apostles to the Churches, how the Apostles from fishers of fish became fishers of men, and from the bodies of men became concerned with their souls, whose Gospel, as often as it is read in the churches, fails not of its medicine."

IV. Baronius thinks that S. Luke wrote in the companionship of S. Paul, anno58, because S. Jerome says that he wrote his Gospel that year in Achaia and Bœotia, where S. Paul was. Others, however, are of opinion that S. Luke wrote earlier, as we must certainly admit, if we agree with S. Jerome (Lib. de Scrip. Eccl. in Luc.), Tertullian (Book iv. against Marcion, c5), Primasius, Anselm, and others, on2Cor. viii18, that by, "the brother whose praise is in the Gospel" S. Paul meant S. Luke—as S. Ignatius, his fellow-citizen and contemporary, plainly asserts in his letter to the Ephesians: "As Luke bears witness, whose praise is in the Gospel." For the Second Epistle of S. Paul to the Corinthians was written in the year58, so that if the praise of S. Luke was in the Gospel at that time, we must necessarily say that it (the Gospel) had been published previously. Hence Euthymius, and Theophylact in his Preface to S. Luke, say that he wrote fifteen years after the ascension of Christ, that is, about the year49. But S. Luke had not then joined S. Paul, for he came to him in the Troad in the year51, as Baronius rightly concludes from Acts xvi10. It appears, therefore, that S. Luke wrote subsequently to the year51, but some years before58, for, as S. Paul says, in that year he was well known and celebrated.

V. S. Luke, after he had joined S. Paul, passed some time away from him, having been sent by him to other places (as I have shown on Acts xvi10), until S. Paul, when he had passed through other countries, came to Greece, thence to Syria, and so to Rome. Acts xx3, 4. For S. Paul, with other companions of his voyage, who are named in that verse, took S. Luke also, as S Luke himself states, verses5, 15. From that time S. Luke became the "diligent" companion of S. Paul, even up to the time of S. Paul"s first imprisonment, which was in the second year of Nero, when S. Luke finished the Acts of the Apostles, and, especially, those of S. Paul. Then, as S. Epiphanius says, S. Luke left S. Paul in prison, and went into Dalmatia, Gaul, Italy, and Macedonia, and preached the gospel everywhere till he came to Patara, a city of Achaia, where, in his eighty-fourth year, he was crowned with a glorious martyrdom in the year of Christ61, the fifth of Nero, and the seventeenth of the session of S. Peter at Rome. So Baronius says, from S. Gregory Nazianzen, Paulinus, Gaudentius, Glyca, Nicephorus and others.

Lastly, who S. Luke was—of what rank and ability, I have described at length in the Book of Acts, where I have said that he appears to be the same as Lucius, whom S. Paul calls his kinsman, Rom xvi21. But he seems different to Lucius of Cyrene, mentioned in Acts xiii3. For S. Luke was of Antioch, not Cyrene. Again, the Roman Martyrology, on April22, says that Lucius was among the first disciples of Christ, which cannot be said of S. Luke.

VI. The reason of S. Luke"s having written a Gospel after SS. Matthew and Mark, was twofold1. To confute the false gospels that were then being published in Syria and Greece, as I have said before2. To write at length those words and acts of Christ which had been passed over by the other Evangelists, and especially His Infancy and Childhood, the Annunciation of His forerunner John the Baptist, His Conception, Nativity, Presentation in the Temple, Presence among the Doctors, the Conversion of St. Mary Magdalene, Zacchus, the thief on the cross, the appearance to the two Disciples at Emmaus, the Parables of the Pharisee and Publican, the Good Samaritan, the Strayed Sheep, the Lost Piece of Money, the Prodigal Son, Lazarus and the Rich Glutton, and others; which show the mercy and pity of Christ to sinners and the miserable. See S. Irenus, iii4, who recounts each. S. Luke also relates, more fully than the others, the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension.

Lastly, S. Peter Damianus, in his Sermon on S. Matthew, says, "S. Luke observes the proper method and order when he describes the priestly stock of the Lord and His Person, and, with this object and intent, proceeds to describe at length every part of the Temple and the priests, to the end of the history. For, as the Mediator between God and man in His human nature, He pleased to be King and Priest in one, that through His kingly power He might rule, and, by His office of Priest, atone for us. These two "Person" of Christ are especially praised by the Fathers, for to Him principally and by singular prerogative God gave the seat of His Father David, that there might be no end of His Kingdom, and that He might be a Priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedek."

S. Anselm again, on Colos. iv., gives two reasons why S. Luke, more than the others, should speak of the mercy of Christ1. S. Luke was a physician of bodies; then, when he turned to Christ, he was made a physician of souls. Hence he speaks, more than the other Evangelists, of the mercies of the Redeemer, by which the weaknesses of sins are driven away2. In Christ, he describes the person of a Priest, making intercession for the sins of the whole world

Lastly, our own John de la Haye, in his Oparat. Evangel. chap68, recounts the twenty-five privileges granted to S. Luke, where, among other things, from S. Jerome, Bede, and Ado, he says that S. Luke never committed mortal sin, but passed a strict life of continual mortification; that he also preserved his virginity to the end, and was therefore beloved by the Blessed Virgin especially and before all others.

S. Ambrose and Titus of Bostra have commented especially on S. Luke. And Tertullian, in his whole work against Marcion (who had declared the Gospel of S. Luke, though adulterated, to be his own), treats of and explains many passages of this Gospel. Cardinal Toletus, also, wrote at length, and with exactness, on the first twelve chapters.






Ver1.—Forasmuch as many. Maldonatus is of opinion that the Evangelists Matthew and Mark are intended; but these were not many, but only two. S. Luke rather seems here to allude to the Apocryphal Gospels, which were circulated under the names of Matthias, Thomas, and other apostles.

Most surely believed. Completæ sunt, Vulgate. πεπληζοφζημένων, Greek. This word signifies—1. fully accomplished; 2. surely ascertained: as it is rendered by S. Ambrose, Theophylact, Euthymius.

Ver2.—Which from the beginning were eye-witnesses, &c. Ipsi viderunt, Vulgate. αυ̉τόπται καὶ ύπηζέται γενόμενοι το̃υ λόγου, Greek: that is who were eyewitnesses (oculares spectactores) and ministers of the word: which we may understands—1. of Christ, for He is the Word of the Eternal Father; the meaning then will be, "As the Apostles who saw Christ Himself and ministered to Him delivered them to us." 2. Of ordinary preaching; the meaning then will be, "As they delivered them who saw the deeds of Christ, and were sent by Him to preach the Gospel."

Ver3.—Having had perfect understanding. παζηκολουθηκότι, Greek: that is "carefully investigating," and therefore "having understood."

In order. καθεξη̃ς, Greek; that is—1. successively, 2. distinctly, in order so as to relate, first the conception of Christ, then His nativity, afterwards His life, and lastly His death and resurrection.

Theophilus. Theophilus was a noble and chief man of Antioch, who was converted by S. Peter and dedicated his house as a church in which S Peter held assemblies of Christians, and placed his chair as primate, as S. Clement relates Recog. lib10, cap. ult. Baronius conjectures that S. Luke, who was a physician and painter of Antioch, wrote to Theophilus as a citizen and as his own intimate friend; Theophylact adds that S. Luke was a catechumen of Theophilus, for S. Peter by himself was not able to instruct the multitude who came together to be taught the faith of Christ, and therefore he made use of the labours of many others for instructing the faithful. He is called most excellent, which was a title given to governors and magistrates; he seems therefore to have been a senator or governor of Antioch.

Ver4.—That thou mayest know the certainly. Veritatem, truth, Vulgate. άσφάλειαν, Greek, certainty, stability.

Ver5.—There was in the days of Herod. S. Luke begins by mentioning the name of Herod to point out the time when John the Baptist and Christ were born; and also to show that the sceptre had now departed from Judah, and had passed over to an alien, and therefore that the time for the advent of the Messiah was at hand according to the prophecy of Jacob, Genesis 49:10. This Herod was the first of that name, surnamed the Great, the father and grandfather of the others. He was a native of Ascalon, an Idumæan by nation, in character a tyrant. By the favour of Caesar he held the kingdom of Judæa; but Christ thrust him and his descendants out of this kingdom, and claimed for Himself the kingdom over Israel which by right was due to Him, though it must be understood as a spiritual kingdom.

Hence he is rightly called Herod, for Herod in Syriac is the same as "a fiery dragon." According to Pagninus, Herod signifies in Hebrew "the conception of threshing," for הדה is to conceive, and דוש to thresh, because he slew the infants in Bethlehem.

Zacharias. He was a priest and also a prophet, as will appear from verses64,67. Whence his name is enrolled among the saints in the Roman Martyrology for the5th of November: where Baronius, following Origen, Nyssen, Cyril, and Peter Alexander, is of opinion that this Zacharias was the martyr who was slain by Herod between the Temple and the Altar, and therefore that he was the one whom Christ mentions, S. Matthew 23:35. His head is preserved and shown at Rome in the Lateran Basilica, from which there is a tradition that formerly blood trickled during several days. I have seen it there and venerated it.

Of the course of Abia. Of that class of the priests of which in the time of David Abia was the head. For David, seeing that the priests, the sons of Aaron, had increased to a large number, so that all could not at once minister in the Temple, distributed them into twenty-four classes, so that each class might minister in the Temple during one week in succession. And that there might be no strife among them as to which course should be the first, second, or third, &c., these families cast lots, and obtained the first place or second, &c., according as the lot came out. In this drawing of lots the eighth place fell to Abia and his descendants. All this is clear from 1 Chronicles 24:1-6. Josephus (Antiq. vii. II) says of David, "He found twenty-four families of priests, and he appointed that each family should minister before God during eight days, from Sabbath to Sabbath," in order to avoid confusion and strife among the priests.

And his wife was the daughter of Aaron. Priests could marry a wife from another tribe because they had no inheritance in the land of Israel, which by the marriage of the wife (if she through the failure of male offspring were the heir of her father) passed over to her husband"s tribe, and so a confusion was caused of inheritances and tribes which was forbidden by the law. But Zacharias having more regard to religion, married a wife not only of the daughters of Levi but of Aaron. Wherefore S. Ambrose says, "Not only from his parents but from his ancestors the illustrious descent of S. John is derived, a descent not exalted by secular power, but venerable from its sanctity. She was called Elizabeth from the wife of the first high priest Aaron, Exodus 6:23. This Elizabeth was holy, and a prophetess: whence her memory is observed in the Roman Martyrology on the5th November. From her S. Elizabeth, daughter of Andrew, king of the Hungarians, surnamed the mother of the poor, and her niece S. Elizabeth, the queen of Portugal took, their name together with her sanctity.

And her name was Elizabeth. Zacharias in Hebrew is the same as "God remembered;" and Elizabeth, "the oath of God," or "the sceptre and dominion," or "rest," or "fulness of God." So that the meaning is that God, mindful of His oath, united these two in marriage, that He might raise up the sceptre of the house of David, and bestow rest and plenty and abundance on His own.

Ver6.—Righteous (just) before God. Many appear just before men, but few before God, because men look upon the countenance, but God on the heart and conscience. S. Francis says truly, "Each man is what he is before God, and no more."

Walking in all the commandments, &c. Commandments, i.e. the moral precepts of the Decalogue. Ordinances, i.e. the ceremonial precepts.

God gave to the Hebrews by Moses precepts of three kinds1. Moral precepts, which are contained in the two tables of the law2. Judgments which relate to justice and human polity, and chiefly concern princes3. Statutes, decrees ceremonial, pertaining to the sacrifices and rites observed in the worship of God. These are called here and elsewhere Justications, Vulgate: first, because those who observe them do what is most right and just, that is to say, perform the service and worship which is most rightfully due to God. Secondly, because by the observance of these men formerly under the old law were justified legally; for those who fulfilled them were considered just persons by the Synagogue, and that not only before man but before God, if they performed those things from the true love of God. For the doers of the law are justified, Romans 2:13.

Blameless. Sine querelâ, Vulgate; άμεμπτοι, Greek. Mark here that the faithful can, yea, ought to observe all the commandments of God; wherefore it is possible to keep them, and not impossible, as Calvin blasphemously asserts, who in this place makes a wonderful exhibition of himself, and all but says that Luke the Evangelist is a liar.

Further, blameless may be interpreted as "without mortal sin," for no just man in this life can avoid all venial sins.

Ver7.—Well stricken in years. He says this to show that John was born of them, not in the way of nature, but by the gift of God and by a miracle, like other eminent saints, as Isaac, Joseph, Samuel. S. Augustine (Serm. iii. on John the Baptist) says Elizabeth was barren in body but fruitful in virtues; her child-bearing was not taken away from her, but it was delayed, until the time of fleshly desire had passed away. . . . In short, when all that causes blame as regards the body was quenched, and they became altogether blameless, all that speaks of barrenness is gone; old age springs into new life, faith conceives, chastity brings forth, one greater than man, one equal to the angels is born, the trumpet of heaven, the herald of Christ, the mystery of the Father, the messenger of the Son, the standard-bearer of the heavenly King, the pardon of sinners, the correction of the Jews, the calling of the Gentiles, and, so to say, the uniting bond of the Law and Grace.

Ver9.—According to the custom of the priesthood his lot was. That is, according to Bede, in his own course, which was the eighth in order, according to the lot which had originally fallen to the family of Abia. But mention of this course has been made in verse8; and therefore the lot spoken of in verse9 is different from the course, and more particularly limits the course. The meaning, therefore, is that when Zacharias, in the order of his course, was ministering in the temple, among the various offices of the priests the office of burning incense fell to him by lot. For because there were many priests of the course of Abia, it was appointed to them by lot what office each of them should perform in the Temple. For there were four principal offices (see Exodus xxx.)—1. To sacrifice2. To light the lamps on the seven-branched candlestick3. On the sabbath-day to place twelve new loaves on the table of shewbread4. To burn incense on the altar of incense. This fourth office, therefore, had fallen by lot to Zacharias, while the three others had fallen to other priests of the same class of Abia. This is clear from the Greek έλαχε του̃ θυμια̃σαι, "he had obtained by lot to burn incense."

Some, as S. Ambrose, Bede, Theophylact, and S. Augustine think that Zacharias was the high priest, because he burnt incense on the altar of incense, for they think that this was in the Holy of holies, which no one except the high priest might enter. But I have shown (Exod. xl24), that this altar was not in the Holy of holies, but in the Holy place, which the common priests used to enter daily. The expression here used, it was his lot (sorte exiit. Vulgate) confirms this; for the high priest was superior to all lots, and, whenever he chose, used to minister in the temple. Besides, at this time, not Zacharias but Joazar was the high priest, as Josephus tells us (Antiq. xvii8).

Morally, we may learn that angels appear while we are engaged in sacred things, and that God either Himself or by an angel speaks with the soul when we are engaged in prayer or sacrifice, as the angel appeared to Zacharias when he was burning incense.

Ver10.—And the whole multitude were praying without. That is in the court outside the Holy place or Temple, which the priests alone, might enter. There were two courts; the inner one, of the priests, containing the altar of burnt-offering; and the outer one, of the people, who from it beheld the sacrifices offered by the priests: but the altar of incense which was in the Holy place they could not see.

At the time of incense. That is to say, when the priests burnt the incense; for according to the religious usage of all nations incense was burnt in the worship of God.

Ver11.—There appeared unto him an angel (Gabriel, as is clear from v19), standing on the right side of the altar1. Because he had come to announce good tidings. Euthymius2. Because he brought down the token of Divine mercy, for the Lord is on my right hand, therefore I shall not be moved. S. Ambrose. We may learn from this that angels stand by altars, priests and sacrifices, and co-operate with them in the worship and adoration of God. Of this there are many instances in the lives of the saints, some of which I have mentioned, Exodus 29:38; Leviticus 9:24.

Ver12.—Zacharias was troubled. Both because of the unusual sight, and because of the majesty in which he appeared, which human weakness could scarcely endure to behold: "for man is not strong enough to bear such a strange and unusual sight without alarm." Titus. So Daniel, when the same angel appeared to him, says, "There remained no strength in me, and my comeliness was turned into corruption." Hence it is the sign of a good angel if at first he causes fear and afterwards joy; but of a bad angel if he makes a man sorrowful after causing joy; whence S. Antony says, "If joy has succeeded to fear we may know that the vision is from God; for the peace of the soul is a sign of the Divine presence; but if the fear remains unshaken it is an enemy who is seen."

Ver13.—Thy prayer is heard. Not his prayer for offspring, S. Augustine says, of which he now so despaired that he did not believe the promise of the angel (verse20), but thy prayer as a priest for the sins of the people and for the coming of the Messiah. But God, who goes beyond the merits and the prayers of suppliants, promised him a son who should be the prophet and forerunner. So Bede, Theophylact, S. Augustine, S. Chrysostom.

Some, however, are of opinion that this prayer of Zacharias was for offspring, only that it had been offered not at this time, but formerly when he was younger.

Thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. Because John, according to Maldonatus, is the same in Hebrew as beloved: or, according to Pagninus, the gift of mercy of the Lord. This is not, however, the precise meaning; for then he would have rather been called Hananiah than John. Properly, therefore, the name John signifies, God hath had merey. And He did this first when He heard the prayer of Zacharias; and secondly by appointing John as the forerunner of the Messiah, and soon after by sending the Messiah Himself; for it was by Christ, and not by Moses and the law, that grace came. So the son of Anna was called Samuel, that is asked and obtained from God by the tears of his mother for the salvation of the whole people, 1 Samuel 1:20. Thirdly, God also showed mercy on John himself (Bede, Jansen, Maldonatus), by filling him with His manifold grace, by which He made him a Doctor in Israel, a Prophet, an Anchorite, a Martyr, a Virgin, and the Forerunner of Christ. John therefore was, as it were, the Son of Charities and Graces, in whom all the Graces of God seem to have blended together.

Mark here the threefold mystery of the three names: for Elizabeth, that is, the oath of God who promiseth, and Zacharias, God"s remembrance of His promise, are the parents of John, that is, the mercy and grace of God.

Ver14.—And thou shalt have joy and gladness. Thy son shall be to thee and to many others the cause of the greatest joy and exultation.

Ver15.—Great in the sight of the Lord: to Whom alone it belongs to determine what is great, what is ordinary, and what is small. Many, says S. Theophylact, are called great in the sight of men, who, being little, esteem little things as great; but John was great in the sight of the Lord, who, being great, weigheth things that are great.

He was great on account—1. of his sanctification in his mother"s womb; 2. the depth of his humility; 3. his extraordinary charity; 4. his exemplary penitence; 5. his seraphic zeal; 6. his whole life, which was as much human as angelic; 7. the sublimity of his prophesying; 8. his solitary life; 9. his office of forerunner of Christ; 10. his most noble martyrdom. See the twenty eight privileges ascribed to John, which Baradius enumerates here.

And he shall not drink wine nor strong drink. Strong drink (Sicera) is everything that intoxicates. To abstain from wine and strong, drink was peculiar to Nazarites; and from this place it appears that John was one during the whole of his life.

And he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother"s womb. This was when, on the entrance of the Blessed Virgin he leapt in his mother"s womb, and, as far as he could, fulfilled his office of forerunner. John, therefore, was born again of the Spirit before he was born of his mother.

Was John then truly cleansed from original sin in the womb and justified? S. Augustine ( Ephesians 57) and S. Jerome (in Jerem. i.) maintain that he was not; for they say that John and Jeremiah are both said to have been sanctified in the womb not really, but according to the predestination of God; for they were ordained to future sanctity so that the same is said here concerning John that the Apostle says of himself, Gal. i., "Who separated me from my mother"s womb." The reason that S. Augustine gives is, that to be born again presupposes being born; but John when in the womb was not yet born; therefore he could not have been born again in reality, but only according to the predestination of God.

But the common opinion of the Fathers is contrary to this (S. Athanasius, Cyprian, Ambrose, Gregory, and others) which I approve of—First, because the angel here most clearly promises "he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother"s womb." Secondly, because at the salutation of the Blessed Virgin he believed in Christ when in the womb. For at that time it was when he was visited and saluted by the Blessed Virgin, in the sixth month from his conception that this wonderful sanctification took place. To the argument of S. Augustine I answer, that a man in order that he may be born again may be considered as born when he has been conceived in the womb; for then as he is born in original sin so also he can by grace be born again and even baptized, as is clear from the practice of the Church in certain cases.

Ver17.—He shall go before Him. John went before Christ1. In his birth, for he was born six months before Christ2. In his baptism, for he baptized before Christ did; yea, he even baptized Christ3. In preaching, of repentance that he might prepare the way for Christ4. By pointing out Jesus as the Messiah and Lamb of God who should take away the sin of the world5. By suffering martyrdom before Christ6. In descending to the fathers in limbus, and announcing to them that Christ would soon come and set them free.

In the spirit and power of Elias. As Elias did excel and in the end of the world will excel in a spirit steadfast and powerful for contending against Antichrist, so that he will convert Jews and others from him to Christ; so in the same powerful spirit John will excel, and by his preaching and holy example move the hardened Jews to repentance, and so prepare them for the baptism of Christ.

The spirit of power in John was like that in Elias; 1. In the austerity of his life2. They both lived in solitude. And 3, in poverty and contempt of the world4. In zeal, and in fervour of preaching, by which both of them converted many Israelites to repentance, and Elias will again do so in the last days, according to the saying (Ecclesiasticus xlviii1), "Elias stood up like fire, and his word burned like a lamp." In the same way Christ says of John, "He was a burning and a shining light," S. John 5:35. 5. In fortitude and suffering: for as Elias contended against the priests of Baal, and their patrons Ahab and Jezebel, and again in the last days will contend against Antichrist and his followers and will suffer many things from them and at last be slain as a martyr; so John contended against Herod and Herodias, and being beheaded by them obtained the crown of martyrdom.

John here is rather compared to Elias in his future coming than in his past; because, as Elias will precede the second coming of Christ with great spirit and power, so likewise John with the same spirit, and power will precede the first coming of Christ. S. Ambrose says that he will go before Him "in the spirit and power of Elias, because Elias had great power and grace, so that he turned back the hearts of the people to faith, power of abstinence, and patience and the spirit of prophecy. Elias was in the wilderness; so also was John. . . . The one sought not the favour of Ahab; the other despised that of Herod. The one divided Jordan; the other brought men to the laver of salvation. The one was the forerunner of our Lord"s first advent, the other of His second," &c.

To turn the hearts of the fathers, &c. John did this when he urged them by word and example to imitate the faith and piety of their fathers; for thus the fathers acknowledged their children as the worshippers of the true God. These words are taken from Malachi, who speaks literally of Elias, typically of John.

And the disobedient, &c. Greek α̉πειθει̃ς, Vulgate, incredulos. That is, he will turn them to the faith and wisdom which the just had and have concerning Christ, which consists in the fear and love of God and of heavenly things, and not perishable, according to the teaching of Christ (Maldonatus). Or, John will cause the unbelieving Jews to consider the signs of the coming of the Messiah given by God to the fathers, and from them to know and believe that Christ has already come, and that this Jesus, whom John pointed out as such, is He.

A people prepared, &c. Perfectam, Vulgate; κατασκευασμενον, Greek; that is well and perfectly prepared and made ready for receiving the teaching and faith of Christ, and the perfection of grace, justice, and the Christian life brought by Christ from heaven.

Ver18.—And Zacharias said to the angel, &c. That is, give a sign or a miracle for a proof to me that the great things which you are promising will surely come to pass. This hesitation on the part of Zacharias seems to have proceeded from want of deliberation and reflection, and therefore was only a venial sin, for which he was punished by being deprived of the power of speech. For otherwise did Abraham, who, when the angel promised that Isaac should be born to him from Sarah who was barren, immediately believed, "for he was strong in faith, giving glory to God, being fully persuaded that what He had promised, He was able also to perform," Romans 4:20-21.

Ver19.—I am Gabriel, who stand. That is, "I am wont to stand, ready to minister to the will of God in all things; I am not indeed now standing before Him in heaven, for I have been sent thence to thee to the earth." Although on the earth angels may also stand before God, and behold His Face; for God is everywhere (S. Matt. xviii10). Hence we may gather that the same angels stand before God and minister to Him, although S. Dionysius the Areopagite and S. Gregory deny this; for Gabriel stands before God and ministers to Him, and is sent to Zacharias.

Moreover, the words "stand before" signify that Gabriel is one of the seven angels who are the chiefs of the heavenly court, as are also Michael and Raphael ( Tobit 12:15). Of these seven angels I have spoken at length on Apocal. i4. Wherefore although some, as Toletus, are of opinion that Gabriel belongs to the last order but one, which is that of archangels, because he is elsewhere called an archangel, yet he more truly seems to be one of the first order which is that of seraphim, and therefore is called by many an archangel; and there are not wanting some who think that he is the first of all among the seraphim. Cardinal Vignerius (in Decachordo Christ. Cord i2) proves this by eight reasons which I have enumerated on Daniel 9:21. All of which are reduced to this one. For the highest work it is fitting that the highest angel should be sent; but the Incarnation of the Word is the highest work of God, therefore Gabriel, who was sent to announce that, is the highest angel. But this reason is not conclusive, as I have there shown. For the common opinion of theologians is that Michael is the highest of all the angels, and the Antagonist of Lucifer. Apocal12:7.

Gabriel in Hebrew means God hath strengthened me, or the strength of God, or God is my strength. He is therefore fitly sent to announce the birth of John and to bestow upon him the spirit of power.

Ver20.—And behold thou shall be dumb, &c. Theophylact and S. Ambrose translated, "thou shalt be deaf," and so make a distinction from what follows, "and not able to speak." For although the Greek word σιωπω̃ν properly signifies one who is dumb, yet one who is deaf may be understood by the same word; for dumbness and deafness are naturally connected, for those who are born dumb are also deaf, and vice versa. Wherefore the Greeks alike call a dumb and a deaf man κω̃φν. Zacharias therefore was made deaf as well as dumb. Whence in verse22he is called κω̃φος. Hence at verse62his friends and neighbours do not speak to Zacharias as being deaf, but signify to him by signs that he should write the name by which he wished his son to be called. "He rightly," says Theophylact, "suffered these two things, the loss of hearing and the loss of speech; for because he had been disobedient, he incurs the punishment of deafness; and because he had objected, of silence."

Until the day that these things, &c. Zacharias not believing the promises of the angel, had asked for a sign to be given him of the birth of John; the angel therefore complying gives him a sign which at the same time shall be a punishment.

Ver23.—The days of his ministration, &c. λειτουζγίας, Greek. That is of his sacred ministration in the Temple. His house was situated in the mountains of Judæa, where his wife Elizabeth was.

Ver24.—After those days his wife conceived. Elizabeth conceived about the24th of September, on which day many Christian Churches celebrate the conception, of John. So that the incense was offered by Zacharias, and his vision and the promise of the angel concerning the birth of John seem to have taken place a little earlier, during the feast of Tabernacles. By this it was signified that John would be born, who was to be the herald of Christ, and through Him the cause of common joy to the whole world; for he would teach men that they were strangers upon the earth, and that they dwelt in it as in a temporary tabernacle, and that they were enrolled by God as citizens of heaven, where they would obtain an eternal and most blessed home. For the Feast of Tabernacles was a sign of all these things, during which the Hebrews with branches of palm trees used to celebrate dances joyfully, because they had been brought in by God into the promised land, after they had been dwelling in tents in the wilderness. Hence it seems that John was conceived about the time of the autumnal equinox, and born about the time of the summer solstice, after which the days decreased in length; while on the other hand, Christ was conceived at the vernal equinox, and born at the winter solstice, after which the days increase; because, as John said, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

She hid herself five months, &c. This hiding was a sign of shame and modesty; for she blushed at her child-bearing on account of her age, says S. Ambrose; but in the sixth month when she heard and saw that kinswoman the Blessed Virgin had conceived without losing her virginity (which was a much more strange and wonderful thing), then she laid aside her shame and went forth openly.

My reproach. Among the Jews in that age, barrenness was a great reproach, and was considered as a sign of the malediction of God.

Ver26.—ln the sixth month. That is the sixth month of the conception of John. Christ was therefore six months younger that John the Baptist. We ought to understand that this six month was not beginning but ending, or rather ended; for from the24th of September, when John was conceived, to the25th of March, when Christ was conceived, there are six whole months. The Annunciation therefore by Gabriel, and consequently the Incarnation of the Word, took place on the25th of March; on which day likewise, Christ, after completing the thirty-fourth year of His life, was crucified. Many are of opinion that the world was created on the same day; so that it was created by God on the same day on which it was afterwards recreated and restored by Christ in His Incarnation and Cross. Whence it is that from this day of March, the English, the Venetians, the Pisans, and several other nations reckon the years after Christ.

The Angel Gabriel. S. Jerome remarks on Daniel 8. that there are three angels, Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel, who are especially mentioned in Scripture; of whom Michael presides over the prayers and offerings of the faithful and is therefore called Michael (that is, who is like God); for it is the prerogative of God alone to hear the prayers of penitents: while Raphael presides over the healing of men"s bodies, and he therefore restored sight to Tobias when he was blind; whence he is called Raphael (that is the Healer or the Healing, of God); and thirdly Gabriel (or the strength of God) presides over the conflicts and wars of the faithful (as is clear from Daniel 12 &c.). Wherefore he is sent to announce the birth of Christ, who was to carry on a most severe war against Lucifer, and the rest of the demons and impious men. Again Gabriel in Hebrew means man of God; the meaning of which is that God will be incarnate, and will be a child as to nature and age; but yet He will also be a man, because from the first instant of His conception His soul will be full of all knowledge, grace, and strength, according to the saying of Jeremiah 31:22, a woman shall compass a man. Again, Toletus following Basil, Dionysius and others, is of opinion that Michael was one of the principalities, which S, Dionysius places as the first order of the third hierarchy of angels, but that Gabriel was of the order of archangels; but it is more probable that Michael was of the order of the seraphim, and that Gabriel was next to him.

Nazareth. Whence Christ was called a Nazarene, being, as it were, the country in which he was conceived. The Blessed Virgin therefore dwelt there with Joseph, to whom she was betrothed. The house or chamber in which she conceived Christ was consecrated by S. James and the other Apostles as a church. After three hundred years S. Helen built a temple there. Also S. Paula, S. Louis, and other travellers visited it. After a thousand years it was translated by angels from Nazareth to Dalmatia and thence to Italy, to Loretto, where it even now stands, and is visited by pilgrims from the whole world; so that Erasmus himself thus addresses the Virgin of Loretto, "Hail to thee, 0 noble offspring of kings, the beauty of priests, the glory of patriarchs, the triumph of the heavenly hosts, the terror of hell, the hope and solace of Christians; thou art next to the Divine nature; do not, we pray thee, be wanting to us; I prostrate myself at thy feet, preserve my poor soul, I beseech thee."

Ver27.—To a Virgin espoused to a man, &c. Espoused, not by betrothal only but by matrimony already contracted, although not actually consummated, see Matthew 1:18. S. Gregory Thaumasius (Serm3de Annun.) says, "Gabriel is sent to prepare a chamber worthy of the most pure Bridegroom; he is sent to contract espousals between the creature and the Creator." Also S. Bernard (Serm1de Assump.) well says, "There is no place in the world of greater dignity than the temple of the virginal womb in which Mary conceived the Son of God, nor in heaven is there any place of higher dignity than the royal throne on which her Son has exalted Mary." And in Serm4, "What angelic purity even may we venture to compare with that virginity, which was worthy of becoming the shrine of the Holy Spirit, and the abode of the Son of God."

Mary. In Hebrew Miriam, that is, Mar Yam, myrrh, or bitterness of the sea; for the Hebrews have a tradition that the sister of Moses was called Miriam, because when she was born the bitter tyranny of Pharaoh in drowning the Hebrew children began. But, by the Divine will, the name was afterwards changed to a different meaning, for after the Red Sea had been crossed and Pharaoh had been drowned, she was called Mariam (Mara Yam), that is mistress of the sea; for as Moses was the leader of the men, so Miriam was the leader of the women in the passage of the Red Sea. Moreover she was a type, says S. Ambrose, of the Blessed Virgin, who is called Mary, that is the Mistress and Lady of the sea of this world, that she may lead us through it in safety to the promised land, that is heaven. S. Isidore (vii. Etym. cap10) says, "Mary is by interpretation illuminator or star of the sea; for she brought forth the Light of the world. But in the Syrian language Mary is called Lady, because she brought forth the Lord."

For this reason Mary was full of grace, and a sea of graces; for as all rivers run into the sea, so all graces which angels, patriarchs, apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins possessed, came together in her, as S. Bonaventura says. S. Bridget also shows in her Revelations, i9, how delightful the name of Mary is to the angels, and how terrible to demons.

And the angel came in unto her, &c. He glided into the chamber of the Virgin as she was praying in secret for the advent of the Messiah and the salvation of men, either through the window or through the door. For angels, since they are most pure spirits, by means of their subtlety pass through all walls and bodies. Although Andrew, Bishop of Jerusalem, in a sermon on the Annunciation, thinks that the angel secretly opened the door and modestly saluted the Virgin.

Hail, Ave. It is very probable that the angel used the ordinary salutation of the Hebrews, שלום לך, Peace be to thee. Unless the opinion of Serarius is to be preferred, that ave is the Hebrew חוה chave or have, that is, "Live;" so that there is an allusion to the name of Eve, which is in Hebrew חוה chava, that is the mother of all living ( Genesis 3:20), so that the meaning will be, Eve was not the mother of life but of death, because by sin she delivered over all her children to death, but thou, 0 Mary, art truly called Eve, because thou art the mother of life, grace, and glory. Hence in Latin ave is Eva reversed, because Mary turned the maledictions of Eve into blessings.

Highly favoured. Gratia plena, Vulgate, full of grace. Greek, κεχαζιτωμένη, which Beza translates gratis dilecta, freely loved; for he thinks that the just have no inherent and intrinsic, but only an extrinsic righteousness, which consists in this, that, although they be sinners, God of his own good will holds and reckons them as just; which is heresy.

But κεχαζιτωμένη answers to the Hebrew נחנה, filled with grace or made acceptable; for χαζιτοω, signifies I make acceptable, I render beloved or dear, I fill with grace. For God judges nothing to be acceptable except what is truly in itself acceptable; wherefore when He makes any one just and acceptable to Himself, He bestows upon him the gift of justice and inherent grace. Wherefore κεχαζιτωμένη is the same as full of grace: as it is rendered in our version and the Syrian, &c.; also by S. Ambrose and others of the Fathers. This word therefore signifies—1. That the Blessed Virgin had a gift of grace bestowed upon her by God, and that, in a full measure of excellence beyond other just and holy persons, for this epithet is applied solely to the Blessed Virgin, to the end that she might be made worthy to become in time the Mother of God. 2. That she by means of this gift of grace was wonderfully well-pleasing in the sight of God and of all His angels, and in their eyes altogether lovely and beautiful, so that Christ chose her before all others for His mother.

You will say that Christ was more full of grace than the Blessed Virgin. Others also of the saints are said to have been full of the Holy Spirit, as Stephen.

I answer that they are said to have been full of grace, but in different ways. For, as Maldonatus rightly says, a fountain is full of water, so is a river, so are streams, although there is more water and purer in a fountain than in a river, and in a river than in streams. Christ is full of grace, like a fountain where grace gushes forth and is collected as in a reservoir, and from which it flows forth to all men, as from a head to the members. The mother of Christ is full like a river very near a fountain, which although it has less water than a fountain, yet flows with a full channel. Stephen is full like a stream.

S. Augustine (Serm xviii de Sanctus) says, "Mary is filled with grace, and Eve is made clear from guilt; the curse of Eve is changed into the blessing of Mary." Toletus (annotat67) shows that the Blessed Virgin was full of all grace, both in body and soul. For she was free from concupiscence (fomite concupiscenti), so that in her the flesh was subject to the reason and the spirit, as was the case with Adam in Paradise through original righteousness. Wherefore he adds that in her, nature conspired with grace and co-operated with it in every respect. See also what I have said concerning her in the Commentary on the Canticles, especially on those words (c. iv7), Thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee.

S. Jerome (Serm. de Assump. B.V.) says, "It is well said that she was full of grace, because on others grace is bestowed partially (per partes), but the fulness of grace in complete treasure was infused into Mary." And again, "The entire fulness of grace, which is in Christ, came upon Mary, although in a different way."

Suarez shows that the grace possessed by the Blessed Virgin in the first instant of her conception was greater than the grace which the highest angel possesses, who by one or two acts has perfected all his merits, and therefore she merited more than thousands of men merit through their whole life. Wherefore the Blessed Virgin in this first instant loved and praised God with such earnestness of intention that she exceeded the love, and consequently also the merit, of the highest angel. But in the second instant of her co-operation and love, by means of the increase of grace which in the first instant she had merited and had in reality received, she doubled the degrees of love and consequently also of merit; and in the third instant, by doubling the same she quadrupled both merit and grace; and so in every instant, by doubling continually the grace she had received, until her death in the seventy-second year of her age, she had increased the degrees of grace and merit to such an extent that she altogether excelled in them all men and angels taken together. Wherefore she by herself alone is more acceptable to God than all the rest; and God loves the Blessed Virgin alone more than the whole Church, that is, more than all men and angels taken together. See also the Revelations of S. Bridget i10.

The Lord is with thee. The angel gives the reason why she was full of grace, that is, because the Lord was with her in a singular manner, so that He wrought in her the singular work of the Incarnation of the Word. S. Bernard (Serm3) says, "What wonder is it that she was full of grace with whom the Lord was? But this rather is to be wondered at, how He who had sent the angel to the Virgin was found by the angel with the Virgin. Was God then swifter than the angel, so that He outstripped him and reached the earth before His swift messenger? Nor is it to be wondered at. For since the king was on His couch, the sweet ointment of the Virgin gave forth its odour, and the smoke of spices went up in the sight of His glory, and she found grace in the eyes of the Lord." And further on he shows that God is in all creatures by power, in rational beings by knowledge, in the good by love, and therefore He is with them by concord of the will, for it is by means of this that they unite themselves to God. Then he adds, "But since He is in this way with all the saints, yet He was in an especial manner with Mary, between whom and Himself there was such a consent that He joined not only her will, but her flesh to Himself, and of His own and the Virgin"s substance made one Christ; who although He is not wholely of God nor wholely of the Virgin, yet He is wholely God"s and wholely the Virgin"s, and not two sons, but the one son of both." Then he shows that the whole Trinity was with the Blessed Virgin. "Not only is the Lord the Son with thee whom thou art clothing with thy flesh, but also the Lord the Spirit by Whom thou art conceiving, and the Lord the Father who begat Him whom thou art conceiving."

S. Bridget (Revel. iii29), conversing with the Blessed Virgin, says, Thou art made like to the Temple of Solomon, in which the true Solomon moves, and He sits who has made peace between God and man. Blessed therefore art thou, 0 Blessed Virgin, in whom the great God became a little child, the eternal God and invisible Creator became a visible creature." The Blessed Virgin answers, "Why do you compare me with Solomon and his Temple, since I am the mother of Him Who has neither beginning nor end, for the Son of God, Who is my Son, is Priest and King of kings. In short, in my Temple He clothed Himself spiritually with the priestly garments in which He offered sacrifice for the world."

Further S. Thomas (Qust. xxx. art4) expounds the words the Lord is with thee of the Conception and Incarnation of the Word, which was presently to take place, but which had not already taken place; as I shall show at verse38.

Blessed art thou among women. The same was said of Jael and Judith, but it is said here of the Blessed Virgin in a far more excellent way, for she excelled Jael and Judith, and all virgins and matrons a thousand times in blessings, gifts, and graces.

S. Augustine (Serm18 de Sanctis) says, "Blessed art thou among women, for thou hast brought forth life both for men and women. The mother of our race brought punishment into the world; the Mother of our Lord brought salvation to the world. Eve was the originator of sin, Mary of merit." Peter Chrysologus (Serm145) says on these words, "She was truly blessed, for she was greater than the heaven, stronger than the earth, wider than the world; she by herself alone contained God, whom the world contains not; she bore Him Who bears the world; she brought forth Him by Whom she had been begotten, she gives nourishment to the Nourisher of all things living."

Among women. That he might signify that whatever is most excellent in the threefold condition of women is found in the Blessed Virgin. For women are either virgins or widows, or living in matrimony. In Virgins chastity is praised, but not barrenness; in widows liberty of mind is commanded, but not solitude, for it is written (Eccles. iv10) "Woe to him that is alone, for when he falleth he hath not one to lift him up." In matrimony the education of offspring in what is good is highly esteemed, but not the loss of Virginity. The Blessed Virgin alone among all women possessed virginity without barrenness; liberty of mind without loss of companionship, since she was really espoused to Joseph; and what is a greater thing than these, fruitfulness in offspring without the violation of virgin chastity. And so she appropriated whatever is good in the threefold state of women, and whatever is evil she rejected. Whereupon deservedly the angel proclaims her Blessed above all women.

Ver29.—She was troubled. First, at the unwonted appearance, brightness, and majesty of the angel. Secondly, at his unwonted salutation. S. Jerome (Epist7) says, "Let a woman imitate Mary, whom Gabriel found alone in her chamber, and therefore, perhaps, she was alarmed at beholding a man whom she was not accustomed to see" Again S. Bernard (Serm. iii. on Missus Est) says, "She was troubled, but not alarmed; her being troubled was a mark of modesty; her not being alarmed of courage; while her keeping silence and meditating was a mark of prudence."

What manner of salutation. That is, how noble and august, and exceeding the strength and merits of all men, and therefore even her own. For she, in the greatness of her humility, thought far different, yea, even contrary things of herself. For she thought within herself; I seem to myself to be in need of all grace, how then does the angel call me fill of grace, I in my poverty live and associate with poor virgins, how then does the angel proclaim to me that the Lord is wish me. I esteem myself the least and lowest of all women, how then does the angel say to me, Blessed art Thou among women.

Again, the Blessed Virgin was meditating to what end she was so honourably saluted by the angel; for the salutation of the angel had reference to the mystery of the Incarnation which was to be accomplished in her. But since she knew not of this end, she meditated and wondered why she was so honourably saluted by the angel. However, she made no answer, because, as S. Ambrose says, "she did not return the salutation through modesty, nor did she make any answer;" because modesty and astonishment fully occupied her mind, and restrained her tongue.

Listen again to S.

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Bibliographical Information
Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. 1890.

Chuck Smith Bible Commentary

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 around20,000 descendents from Levi, male descendents, involved in the priesthood. And in as much as it was, of course, impossible for all20,000 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, chapter5, 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. Chapter5 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 ):

Mary believed.

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 Statement
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Chuck Smith Bible Commentary". 2014.

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Birth of John. The Annunciation

1-4. Preface. To write a preface to a history is not a Jewish, but a classical custom, and by following it St. Luke shows himself a true Gentile, trained in Greek culture and imitating classical models. Here he affects classical elegance and correctness of expression, but in the course of his Gospel he generally imitates the simpler synoptic style.

This Preface contains all that is really known as distinguished from what is guessed about the sources of the Synoptic Gospels. Its main statements are, (1) that already, when St. Luke was compiling his Gospel (56-58 a.d.), many earlier Gospels existed; (2) that these Gospels were based upon the evidence of the eyewitnesses; (3) that these eyewitnesses were the apostles and official Christian teachers; (4) that the eyewitnesses 'delivered' their testimony in the form of a more or less definitely fixed tradition, which may have been either oral or written; (5) that Christians were definitely instructed and catechised in the contents of this tradition.

St. Luke claims for his Gospel, (1) diligence in collecting all available materials, (2) fulness, (3) careful investigation especially of the earliest period (our Lord's birth and infancy), (4) orderly arrangement, (5) accuracy.

1. Surely believed] RV 'fulfilled.'

2. Even as] i.e. these narratives were in exact accordance with the evidence of the eyewitnesses. Eyewitnesses] i.e. mainly the Apostles themselves, perhaps also the seventy disciples.

3. In order] may refer either to chronological order, or to orderly arrangement according to subjects.

Most excellent Theophilus] Some think that Theophilus is not a real person, but an ideal name for a Christian reader ('beloved of God'). More probably Theophilus was a distinguished Roman citizen resident in Rome. The epithet 'most excellent' was under the empire peculiarly appropriated to Romans of high rank, and became in the 2nd cent, a technical title indicating equestrian rank. This is probably its sense here. Both Felix and Festus, addressed by this title in Acts 23:26; Acts 24:3; Acts 26:25, were 'knights' (equites). Acts is also dedicated to Theophilus.

4. Instructed] lit. 'catechised,' i.e. taught by means of question and answer. At a very early period, probably in the apostolic age, candidates for baptism ('catechumens') were required to go through a preliminary course of training in Christian doctrine and morality, of which catechising formed a prominent part. Theophilus was probably one of St. Luke's own converts, who had with other catechumens attended regular catechising on the life of our Lord.

5-25. Conception of John the Baptist. The rise of Christianity was preceded by a long period of four hundred years, during which prophecy was silent, and the religious guidance of the nation passed to the rabbis and the scribes, who made void the Law of God by their traditions. The advent of Christ was heralded by a great revival of prophecy, and by the restoration of direct communications from God to man through supernatural agency, as in the cases of Zacharias, Joseph, Mary, Elisabeth, Simeon, Anna, the shepherds, the Magi, and, in particular, John the Baptist, who, though he left no written prophecies, and worked no miracle, was declared by our Lord to be the greatest of the prophets, yea, and more than a prophet.

5. The classical style of the preface now changes abruptly to one which is deeply tinged with Hebraisms. This Hebraic style continues to the end of Luke 2. Some scholars explain it by supposing that St. Luke is here using a Hebrew document. Herod] see Matthew 2:1.

The course of Abia (Abijah)] David divided the priests into twenty-four 'courses' or groups, each of which in rotation was responsible for the Temple services for a week. Each course, therefore, officiated twice a year, at an interval of six months. The course of Abijah was the eighth. After the Captivity only four courses returned, but these were subdivided into twenty-four courses under the old names. The course of Abijah is said to have officiated in April and October: see 1 Chronicles 24:3; Nehemiah 1:1.

6. Righteous] i.e. according to the OT. standard. They were good, pious Jews, strict and careful observers of the Mosaic Law, but not, of course, sinless.

9. Lot] To avoid disputes the various functions were decided by lot. To burn incense] This was done daily, morning and evening (Exodus 30:6-8). The daily sacrifice of the lamb was offered on the great altar of burnt offering outside the Temple proper, in front of the porch. The incense was offered inside the Temple on the golden altar of incense which stood before the veil of the Holy of Holies. The officiating priest was alone within the Temple while offering the incense, and the other priests and the people were outside worshipping in the various Temple courts. Only once in a. lifetime could a man enjoy this privilege, and he was ever afterwards called 'rich.' It was the 'highest, mediatorial act,' 'the most solemn part of the day's service, symbolising Israel's accepted prayers.'

11. An angel] It was said of the high priest Simon the Just (died 320 b.c.) that 'for those forty years wherein he had served as high priest, he had seen an angel clothed in white coming into the Holy Place on the Day of Atonement and going out again.' St. Luke gives special prominence to the ministry of angels, and the appearances which he records are particularly difficult to account for as subjective phenomena: see Luke 1:26; Luke 2:9, Luke 2:13, Luke 2:21; Luke 12:8; Luke 15:10; Luke 16:22; Luke 22:43; Luke 24:4, Luke 24:23, and often in Acts.

12. Was troubled] cp. Luke 2:9; Judges 6:22; Judges 13:22, etc.

13. My prayer] Probably not for offspring, but for the coming of the kingdom of God, and of the Messianic salvation, the only suitable prayer for so solemn an occasion. It was a maxim of the rabbis that 'a prayer in which there is no mention of the kingdom of God is no prayer at all.' John] lit. 'Jehovah is gracious.'

15. John was a Nazirite, i.e. one of a class of men in Israel who consecrated themselves to God by abstaining from all intoxicants, by avoiding with scrupulous care all ceremonial defilement, and by wearing the hair long, Numbers 6:1-21. Usually men made the Nazirite vow for a definite time, not less than thirty days, but John, like Samson, Samuel, and the Rechabites in the OT., was a Nazirite for life. There are some examples of the Nazirite vow even among Christians (Acts 18:18; Acts 21:26). James the Lord's brother is said by Hegesippus to have been a life-long Nazirite.

John, the Nazirite and dweller in the wilderness (probably also a celibate), represents the austere and ascetic type of piety which few can imitate. Jesus, purposing in His life to offer an example to all mankind, came eating and drinking, and sharing the joys and sorrows and even the recreations of ordinary society. Both these types of piety, the ascetic and the social, have their place in the Kingdom of God.

Filled with the Holy Ghost] As Jesus was conceived without sin, so his forerunner was sanctified in the womb, though the reference is less to personal sanctification than to consecration to the prophetic office: see Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:5.

17. Go before him] RV 'go before his face,' i.e. before the face of Jehovah. Elias] RV 'Elijah': see Malachi 4:5-6 and on Matthew 17:10. To turn the hearts, etc.] Malachi's exact words are, 'He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.' 'The fathers' are the patriarchs and prophets of Israel, 'the children' are their degenerate descendants who have alienated the heart of 'their fathers' by their disobedience to their godly precepts. The preaching of John will turn the heart of the children to imitate their just (i.e. pious) ancestors, and thus the heart of their ancestors, now alienated, will be turned to them in love and approbation.

18. With the unbelief of Zacharias compare the laughter of Abraham, Genesis 17:17, and of Sarah, Genesis 1:12. To ask for a sign was not in itself wrong. Abraham, Gideon, and Hezekiah had done so without rebuke. But the appearance of the angel ought itself to have been a sufficient sign to Zacharias.

19. I am Gabriel, etc.] cp. Tobit 1:15, 'I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels which present the prayers of the saints, and go in before the glory of the Holy One.' Two angels only are named in the canonical Scriptures, Gabriel (lit. 'the mighty man of God'), Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21 and Michael (lit. 'Who is like God?'), Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1; Judges 1:9; Revelation 12:7; In the Apocrypha, Raphael and Uriel are also named. The rabbis say that the Jews learnt the names of the angels in Babylon.

The apparent sanction given here to current Jewish angelology is a good instance of the accommodation to human ideas which is so common in both Testaments. God's messenger reveals himself by the name of Gabriel, because that was the name by which he was commonly known among the Jews. The Jews themselves did not suppose that they knew the real names of the angels. According to the rabbis the names of the angels represented their mission, and were changed as their mission was changed.

21. Marvelled that he tarried] RV 'Marvelled while he tarried.' The people were afraid that the officiating priest might be struck dead for omitting some formality (Leviticus 1:13), hence the custom was for the priest to finish his ministry as quickly as possible. Once when Simon the Just delayed too long, the people became so anxious that they almost broke into the Holy Place. Afterwards they reproached him for his want of consideration for them.

22. Came out] His duty was now to pronounce the priestly benediction (Numbers 6:24), but this he was unable to do.

23. The days] i.e. the week of the course of Abijah.

24. Hid herself five months] She desired to devote herself entirely to prayer and thanksgiving for so signal a mercy. The reproach of childlessness was deeply felt: see Genesis 30:23; 1 Samuel 1:6, etc.

26-38. The Annunciation (see on Matthew 1). Wonder and awe and adoring praise are the emotions with which Christians have ever regarded the unspeakable condescension of Him who, 'when He took upon Him human nature to deliver it, did not abhor the Virgin's womb.' That Mary fully understood who her child was to be, cannot be supposed. The thought of such a condescension of the Author of nature as is implied in the words of the Creed 'conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,' is overwhelming even to us; to Mary it would have been so appalling that she could not possibly have performed the duties of a mother. Hence the angel was only permitted to reveal to her, that her son would be the Messiah, and the 'Son of God' in some specially exalted yet human sense. The whole narrative moves within the circle of Jewish OT. ideas, and this is a proof of its truth, for an invented story would certainly show marks of a Christian origin. The grace, modest reticence, and inimitable simplicity of the narrative, are in marked contrast to the vulgar details of the Apocryphal Gospels. The festival of the Annunciation (the day on which our Lord became man) is kept on March 25th.

26. The sixth month] i.e. from the conception of John, Luke 1:24. Nazareth] see on Matthew 2:23

28. Came in] Local tradition states that Gabriel appeared to her as she was drawing water at the fountain of the Virgin outside Nazareth, where the Church of the Annunciation now stands. But, as the angel 'came in' to her, she must have been in the house, perhaps engaged in prayer, as painters are fond of representing her. Two well-known devotions have been founded on this incident: (1) the 'Ave Maria' ('Hail, Mary!'); (2) the 'Angelus.'

Highly favoured] or, rather, 'endued with grace' (RM), not, as the Vulgate has it, 'full of grace.' She is addressed not as the mother of grace, but as the daughter of it (Bengel). The angel recognised in Mary a holiness of an entirely special kind, which God had given her to fit her to be the mother of the Holy One. Sinless in the absolute sense she probably was not (see on John 2:4), yet we may reverently believe that no one approached the perfection of holiness and purity so nearly as she. Blessed art thou among women] These words are omitted by many good authorities: see on Luke 1:42.

32. His father David] This seems to imply the Davidic descent of Mary: cp. Luke 1:27, which is ambiguous, and Luke 1:69.

34. How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?] The traditional view of this passage, which sees in it a proof of the perpetual virginity of our Lord's mother, is perhaps correct. Unless Mary had resolved to remain a virgin after her marriage with Joseph, and had obtained her husband's consent to do so, she would not, as a betrothed woman, regard it as impossible that she should have a child: see on Matthew 1:25; Matthew 12:50.

35. The Holy Ghost, etc.] Mary would doubtless understand 'the Holy Ghost' impersonally, as the creative power of God, but St. Luke's readers would understand it personally, as frequently in the Acts. The Holy Ghost, (1) miraculously forms and hallows our Lord's human body and soul at His conception; (2) descends upon Him with an abiding unction at His baptism, consecrating Him to the Messianic office and preparing Him for His ministry; (3) brings about the mystical union of the ascended Christ with His people.

Overshadow] like the Shekinah in the Temple, or the cloud of glory at the Transfiguration, which symbolised the divine presence. We have here 'a new, immediate and divine act of creation, and thus the transmission of sinfulness from the sinful race to him is excluded.' That holy thing, etc.] RV 'that which is to be born shall be called holy, the Son of God.' Mary would probably understand from this that her Child was to be sinless, but not that He would be divine, because the Son of God was an accepted title of the Messiah.

36. Unasked, the angel gives Mary a sign. He who has caused Elisabeth to conceive contrary to nature can make good His word to Mary also. Thy cousin] RV 'thy kinswoman.' It does not follow from this that Mary belonged, like Elisabeth, to the tribe of Levi. Male descent alone determined the tribe, and Mary may have been related to Elisabeth on her mother's side.

38. Behold the handmaid (lit. 'the slave') of the Lord] In these words of humble submission Mary accepts her great destiny. She does so freely, with full understanding of the difficulty of her position. The future she leaves in God's hand. Be it unto me according to thy word] This sacred moment, which marks the beginning of our Lord's incarnate life, should be contrasted with Genesis 3:6. There the disobedience of a woman brought sin and death into the world. Here the obedience of a woman brought salvation, reversing the effect of the Fall.

39-56. Mary's visit to Elisabeth. The Magnificat. This beautiful narrative must be derived from Mary herself, probably directly. It is told as vividly and minutely after a lapse of half-a-century as if it were an event of yesterday. Clearly it was one of those things which the Virgin mother kept and pondered in her heart.

39. Into a city of Judah] or, 'into a city called Judah' (i.e. possibly Juttah, a priestly city near Hebron).

41. The babe leaped] The Jews believed that children were intelligent before birth: cp. Genesis 25:22.

42. Blessed art thou among women] A Hebraism for 'Thou art the most blessed of all women': see on Luke 1:48.

43. The mother of my Lord] The aged Elisabeth acknowledges that the young maiden is greater and more highly favoured than she, because she is 'the mother of my Lord,' i.e. of the Messiah.

44. See on Luke 1:41.

45. For there shall be a performance] RM 'that there shall be,' etc.

46-55. The Magnificat. This glorious song of praise, which has been used in the services of the Church from early times, tells us more than anything else in the NT. of the character of our Lord's mother, and of her spiritual fitness for her exalted destiny. She was one who diligently searched the Scriptures, and was able in spite of her youth to enter into their deepest spiritual meaning. Not that she had risen as yet beyond the standpoint of Judaism. She still regarded the coming of the Kingdom as an overthrow of Herod's dynasty and a restoration of Jewish nationalism (Luke 1:52, Luke 1:54). But her thoughts were fixed on its ethical character. It meant to her the setting up of the ideal of humility, gentleness, and charity, in place of the pride of temporal greatness, a thought which her Son carried further when He said, 'Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.' In the Magnificat Mary appears as a prophetess, like Hannah, whom she closely imitates, but greatly excels in spiritual elevation: see 1 Samuel 2:1. The genuineness of the Magnificat is manifest from its thoroughly Jewish character. It contains no trace of definitely Christian ideas. These may be read into it, and were intended by the Holy Spirit to be ultimately read into it, but they are not there in such a form as to be apprehended by those who are not already Christians. The Magnificat is conveniently divided into two parts: (1) Luke 1:46-49, (2) Luke 1:50-55. The first part is personal in character, expressing the exultant praise of the holy mother for the signal favour which God has shown her, and foretelling that all future generations will call her blessed. The second part sets forth the character of the Kingdom as a moral revolution, and a reversal of all existing standards of goodness and greatness.

46. In the Gospels (not in the Pauline Epistles) 'soul' and 'spirit' are synonymous.

47. In God my Saviour] In Mary's idea of 'salvation' was doubtless included deliverance from foreign power as well as spiritual deliverance. 'God my Saviour' is, of course, in accordance with OT. ideas, God the Father. Not till much later did she come to regard her Son in this aspect.

48. The low estate] cp. 1 Samuel 1:11. Mary, though descended from David, was in humble circumstances.

All generations shall call me blessed] Prophetically spoken. She has become the pattern of womanhood and motherhood to the whole Christian world, and her song has been enshrined in the Liturgy of every Christian Church. Reverence for our Lord's mother, even in its abuses, has not been without its elevating effect on humanity. 'It is remarkable,' says a judicious writer, 'that one of whom we know nothing except her gentleness and her sorrow, should have exercised a magnetic power upon the world incomparably greater than was exercised by the most majestic female patriots of Paganism. Whatever may be thought of its theological propriety, there can be little doubt that the Catholic reverence for the Virgin has done much to elevate and purify the ideal of woman, and to soften the manners of men. It supplied in a great measure the redeeming and ennobling element in that strange amalgam of religious, licentious, and military feeling which was formed round women in the age of chivalry, and which no succeeding change of habit or belief has wholly destroyed' (Lecky).

49. Cp. Psalms 111:9.

50. Cp. Psalms 103:17; Psalms 51. Cp. Psalms 89:10. With prophetic certainty Mary regards the putting down of pride, and the establishment of meekness as already achieved.

52. Cp. Job 5:11; Job 12:19; 1 Samuel 2:7. The mighty] RV 'princes,' include Herod and his dynasty, but the main idea is that a kingdom based on humility and love has entered into the world, more powerful than all earthly kingdoms, and destined to revolutionise them.

53. Cp. Psalms 107:9; Psalms 34:10; 1 Samuel 2:5. In true OT. style spiritual and temporal blessings are conceived of as united in the Messianic age. The temporal needs of the poor and lowly are to be cared for and their wrongs redressed. All things needful both for their souls and bodies will be bountifully supplied.

54. Cp. Psalms 98:3.

55. Cp. Micah 7:20. The national feeling is pronounced. The Gentiles are not mentioned, except indirectly in the allusion to the promise to Abraham. The true translation of Luke 1:54-55 is (see RV) 'He hath helped Israel his servant, that he might remember mercy towards Abraham and his seed for ever, as he spake to our fathers.

56. Joseph's discovery of Mary's condition (Matthew 1:18) must have been subsequent to her return to Nazareth.

57-80. Birth and childhood of the Baptist. The Benedictus.

59. The eighth day] Circumcision took place on the eighth day, even though it was the sabbath: see John 7:22. At the circumcision of a child the circumciser said, 'Blessed be the Lord our God, who hath sanctified us by his precepts and hath given us the law of circumcision.' The father replied, 'Who hath sanctified us by his precepts and hath commanded us to enter the child into the covenant of Abraham our father.'

63. Writing table] i.e. a tablet covered with wax for writing upon.

68-79. The Benedictus. 'This song, which was composed in the priest's mind during the time of his silence, broke solemnly from his lips the moment speech was restored to him, as the metal flows from the crucible in which it has been melted the moment that an outlet is made for it' (Godet). It consists of five strophes, each of three vv., but is most conveniently divided into two portions: (1) Luke 1:68-75, (2) Luke 1:76-79. In the first portion Zacharias praises God for having now fulfilled His promises to Israel by raising up the Messiah in David's house, to save Israel from foreign oppression, and to establish peace, true religion, and righteousness. In the second portion Zacharias directly addresses his son as the destined forerunner of the Messiah, and the preacher of repentance to Israel. The song closes with a beautiful description of the salvation which the Messiah will bring to His people.

This song, like the Magnificat, is purely Jewish in tone. It does not even mention the Gentiles, and it is only in the light of subsequent events that a Christian sense can be read into it.

68. Hath visited] The past tense may express Zacharias' certainty that the Messiah will come, but more probably it implies prophetic knowledge that the conception of Jesus has already taken place. Redeemed] To Zacharias this would mean political redemption from foreign rule as well as spiritual redemption.

69. An horn of salvation] The power of the Messianic King is likened to the strength of a bull, or wild-ox (AV 'unicorn'), which is represented by his horns: cp. 1 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 22:3; Psalms 75:10, etc. David] The expression implies that Mary was descended from David.

70. Since the world began] may be taken literally, Adam being regarded as the first prophet. More probably it is used vaguely for 'in olden times.'

71. Enemies] i.e. Herod and the Romans, but when Christians sing this hymn, they mean Satan and all the enemies of Christ.

72. To perform the mercy promised to our fathers] RV 'To shew mercy towards our fathers.' The RV implies that the patriarchs, though dead, still exist, and take an interest in the fortunes of their posterity, a doctrine affirmed with authority by Christ (Matthew 22:32).

Covenant] The 'covenant' and 'the oath' (Luke 1:73) are identical, though the irregular grammatical construction conceals this: see Genesis 22:16-18.

76. Of the Lord] Zacharias understood it of Jehovah; Christians understand it of Christ. 77. This v. well describes the character of John's ministry, which joined the announcement of the Kingdom with the preaching of repentance. Translate, 'To give unto his people knowledge of salvation—salvation which consists in the remission of sins.'

78. The dayspring] The Gk. word here (anatole) is ambiguous. It may either mean the rising of a heavenly body, and hence the heavenly body itself, so that the Messiah is virtually called 'the Sun' or 'Star of Israel,' or it may mean 'the Branch,' a title applied to the Messiah (Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12).

79. Peace] not successful war is Zacharias' ideal for the Messianic period, and not only earthly peace, but 'peace with God.'

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

A. The announcement of John the Baptist"s birth1:5-25

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.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable


This section contains material unique in Luke. The only repeated statement occurs in Luke 2:39 and Matthew 2:23. Other unique features are the way Luke alternated the reader"s attention between John and Jesus, and the joy that several individuals expressed ( Luke 1:46-55; Luke 1:68-79; Luke 2:14; Luke 2:29-32). [Note: For studies of the structure of this passage, see Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke -, Acts, 1:15-20; R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke, pp248-53, 292-98, 408-10; J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke I-IX, pp313-15; and David E. Malick, "A Literary Approach to the Birth Narratives in Luke 1-2," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, pp93-107.]

This section has a decidedly Semitic style that suits the connections that it has with the Old Testament. Matthew used fulfillment formulas to show that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but Luke was less direct. He showed that Old Testament predictions lay behind these events by describing them in the style and vocabulary of the Old Testament. He also featured Jerusalem and the temple, which provide added connections to the Old Testament.

The alternation between John and Jesus compares and contrasts them (cf1Samuel1-3). [Note: See G. N. Stanton, Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching, pp55-56.] Luke presented them both as prophets in the Old Testament mold, but Jesus was infinitely superior to John. Note the uses of the title "Most High" ( Luke 1:32; Luke 1:35; Luke 1:76). [Note: See H. H. Oliver, "The Lucan Birth Stories and the Purpose of Luke -, Acts," New Testaments Studies10 (1963-64):215-26.] First, Luke recorded the announcements of John"s and then Jesus" birth ( Luke 1:5-38). This is a section of comparison primarily. Then he told of Elizabeth blessing Mary and Mary blessing God, a section of predominant contrast ( Luke 1:39-56). Finally we have the births of John and Jesus, a section of both comparison and contrast ( Luke 1:57 to Luke 2:52).

Luke recorded the appearance of angels in this section. Apparently he did so to strengthen the point that Jesus was God"s provision for humankind"s need. Angels bridge the gap between God and Prayer of Manasseh, and here they rejoiced in God"s provision of a Savior for humankind. Frequent references to the Holy Spirit validating and empowering Jesus" ministry increase this emphasis ( Luke 1:15; Luke 1:35; Luke 1:41; Luke 1:67; Luke 1:80; Luke 2:25-27).

The theme of joy is present explicitly in the songs and words of praise and thanksgiving as well as implicitly in the mood of the whole section. Yet there is a warning of coming pain as well as deliverance ( Luke 2:35).

Note the similarity of structure that facilitates comparison of John and Jesus.



Introduction of the parents

Luke 1:5-7

Luke 1:26-27

Appearance of an angel

Luke 1:8-23

Luke 1:28-30

Giving of a sign

Luke 1:18-20

Luke 1:34-38

Pregnancy of a childless woman

Luke 1:24-25

Luke 1:42

This section ( Luke 1:5-56) deals with promise while the rest of the birth and childhood narrative concerns fulfillment ( Luke 1:57 to Luke 2:52).

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Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

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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Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Zechariah"s delay in the temple and then his inability to speak impressed the worshippers that something supernatural had occurred. Normally he would have pronounced the Aaronic blessing over them ( Numbers 6:24-26). [Note: Mishnah Yoma5:1; ibid. Tamid7:2.] The people assumed incorrectly that he had seen a vision. Zechariah was unable to communicate to them what had really happened. Luke recorded their reaction to impress his readers with the importance of this event.

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Darby's Synopsis of the New Testament

Luke Chapter 1

The Gospel of Luke sets the Lord before us in the character of Son of man, revealing God in delivering grace among men. Hence the present operation of grace and its effect are more referred to, and even the present time prophetically, not the substitution of other dispensations as in Matthew, but of saving heavenly grace. At first, no doubt (and just because He is to be revealed as man, and in grace to men), we find Him, in a prefatory part in which we have the most exquisite picture of the godly remnant, presented to Israel, to whom He had been promised, and in relationship with whom He came into this world; but afterwards this Gospel presents moral principles which apply to man, whosoever he may be, whilst yet manifesting Christ for the moment in the midst of that people. This power of God in grace is displayed in various ways in its application to the wants of men. After the transfiguration, which is recounted earlier in the narration by Luke (1) than in the other Gospels, we find the judgment of those who rejected the Lord, and the heavenly character of the grace which, because it is grace, addresses itself to the nations, to sinners, without any particular reference to the Jews, overturning the legal principles according to which the latter pretended to be, and as to their external standing were originally called at Sinai to be, in connection with God. Unconditional promises to Abraham, etc., and prophetic confirmation of them, are another thing. They will be accomplished in grace, and were to be laid hold of by faith. After this, we find that which should happen to the Jews according to the righteous government of God; and, at the end, the account of the death and resurrection of the Lord, accomplishing the work of redemption. We must observe that Luke (who morally sets aside the Jewish system, and who introduces the Son of man as the man before God, presenting Him as the One who is filled with all the fulness of God dwelling in Him bodily, as the man before God, according to His own heart, and thus as Mediator between God and man, and centre of a moral system much more vast than that of Messiah among the Jews)-we must observe, I repeat, that Luke, who is occupied with these new relations (ancient, in fact, as to the counsels of God), gives us the facts belonging to the Lord’s connection with the Jews, owned in the pious remnant of that people, with much more development than the other evangelists, as well as the proofs of His mission to that people, in coming into the world-proofs which ought to have gained their attention, and fixed it upon the child who was born to them.

In Luke, I add, that which especially characterises the narrative and gives its peculiar interest to this Gospel is, that it sets before us that which Christ is Himself. It is not His official glory, a relative position that He assumed; neither is it the revelation of His divine nature, in itself; nor His mission as the great Prophet. It is Himself, as He was, a man on the earth-the Person whom I should have met every day had I lived at that time in Judea, or in Galilee.

I would add a remark as to the style of Luke, which may facilitate the study of this Gospel to the reader. He often brings a mass of facts into one short general statement, and then expatiates at length on some isolated fact, where moral principles and grace are displayed.

Many had undertaken to give an account of that which was historically received among Christians, as related to them by the companions of Jesus; and Luke thought it well-having followed these things from the beginning, and thus obtained exact knowledge respecting them-to write methodically to Theophilus, in order that he might have the certainty of those things in which he had been instructed. It is thus that God has provided for the instruction of the whole church, in the doctrine contained in the picture of the Lord’s life furnished by this man of God; who, personally moved by Christian motives, was directed and inspired by the Holy Ghost for the good of all believers. (2) At Luke 1:5 the evangelist begins with the first revelations of the Spirit of God respecting these events, on which the condition of God’s people and that of the world entirely depended; and in which God was to glorify Himself to all eternity.

But we immediately find ourselves in the atmosphere of Jewish circumstances. The Jewish ordinances of the Old Testament, and the thoughts and expectations connected with them, are the framework in which this great and solemn event is set. Herod, king of Judea, furnishes the date; and it is a priest, righteous and blameless, belonging to one of the twenty-four classes, whom we find on the first step of our way. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron; and these two upright persons walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord (Jehovah) without blame. All was right before God, according to His law in the Jewish sense. But they did not enjoy the blessing that every Jew desired; they had no child. Nevertheless, it was according, we may say, to the ordinary ways of God in the government of His people, to accomplish His blessing while manifesting the weakness of the instrument-a weakness that took away all hope according to human principles. Such had been the history of the Sarahs, the Rebeccas, the Hannahs, and many more, of whom the word tells us for our instruction in the ways of God.

This blessing was often prayed for by the pious priest; but until now the answer had been delayed. Now, however, when, at the moment of exercising his regular ministry, Zacharias drew near to burn incense, which, according to the law, was to go up as a sweet savour before God (type of the Lord’s intercession), and while the people were praying outside the holy place, the angel of the Lord appears to the priest on the right side of the altar of incense. At the sight of this glorious personage Zacharias is troubled, but the angel encourages him by declaring himself to be the bearer of good news; announcing to him that his prayers, so long apparently addressed in vain to God, were granted. Elizabeth should bear a son, and the name by which he should be called was, “The favour of the Lord,” a source of joy and gladness to Zacharias, and whose birth should be the occasion of thanksgiving to many. But this was not merely as the son of Zacharias. The child was the Lord’s gift, and should be great before Him; he should be a Nazarite, and filled with the Holy Ghost, from his mother’s womb: and many of the children of Israel should he turn to the Lord their God. He should go before Him in the spirit of Elias, and with the same power to re-establish moral order in Israel, even in its sources, and to bring back the disobedient to the wisdom of the just-to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

The spirit of Elias was a stedfast and ardent zeal for the glory of Jehovah, and for the establishment, or re-establishment by repentance, of the relations between Israel and Jehovah. His heart clung to this link between the people and their God, according to the strength and glory of the link itself, but in the sense of their fallen condition, and according to the rights of God in connection with these relationships. The spirit of Elias-although indeed the grace of God towards His people had sent him-was in a certain sense a legal spirit. He asserted the rights of Jehovah in judgment. It was grace opening the door to repentance, but not the sovereign grace of salvation, though what prepared the way to it. It is in the moral force of his call to repentance that John is here compared to Elias, in bringing back Israel to Jehovah. And in fact Jesus was Jehovah.

But the faith of Zacharias in God and in His goodness did not come up to the height of his petition (alas! too common a case), and when it is granted at a moment that required the intervention of God to accomplish his desire, he is not able to walk in the steps of an Abraham or a Hannah, and he asks how this thing can now take place.

God, in His goodness, turns His servant’s want of faith into an instructive chastisement for himself, and into a proof for the people that Zacharias had been visited from on high. He is dumb until the word of the Lord is fulfilled; and the signs which he makes to the people, who marvel at his staying so long in the sanctuary, explain to them the reason.

But the word of God is accomplished in blessing towards him; and Elizabeth, recognising the good hand of God upon her with a tact that belongs to her piety, goes into retirement. The grace which blessed her did not make her insensible to that which was a shame in Israel, and which, although removed, left its traces as to man in the superhuman circumstances through which it was accomplished. There was a rightmindedness in this, which became a holy woman. But that which is rightly concealed from man has all its value before God, and Elizabeth is visited in her retreat by the mother of the Lord. But here the scene changes, to introduce the Lord Himself into this marvellous history which unfolds before our eyes.

God, who had prepared all beforehand, sends now to announce the Saviour’s birth to Mary. In the last place that man would have chosen for the purpose of God-a place whose name in the eyes of the world, sufficed to condemn those who came from thence-a maiden, unknown to all whom the world recognised, was betrothed to a poor carpenter. Her name was Mary. But everything was in confusion in Israel: the carpenter was of the house of David. The promises of God-who never forgets them, and never overlooks those who are their object-found here the sphere for their accomplishment. Here the power and the affections of God are directed, according to their divine energy. Whether Nazareth was small or great was of no importance, except to shew that God does not expect from man, but man from God. Gabriel is sent to Nazareth, to a virgin who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David.

The gift of John to Zacharias was an answer to his prayers-God faithful in His goodness towards His people who wait upon Him.

But this is a visitation of sovereign grace. Mary, a chosen vessel for this purpose, had found grace in God’s sight. She was favoured (3) by sovereign grace-blessed among women. She should conceive and bring forth a son: she should call Him Jesus. He should be great, and should be called the Son of the Highest. God should give Him the throne of His father David. He should reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and His kingdom should have no end.

It will be observed here, that the subject which the Holy Ghost sets before us is the birth of the child, as He would be down here in this world, as brought forth by Mary-of Him who should be born.

The instruction given by the Holy Ghost on this point is divided into two parts: first, that which the child to be born should be; secondly, the manner of His conception, and the glory which would be its result. It is not simply the divine nature of Jesus that is presented, the Word which was God, the Word made flesh; but that which was born of Mary, and the way in which it should take place. We know well that it is the same precious and divine Saviour of whom John speaks that is in question; but He is here presented to us under another aspect, which is of infinite interest to us; and we must consider Him as the Holy Ghost presents Him, as born of the virgin Mary in this world of tears.

To take first the Luke 1:31-33.

It was a child really conceived in Mary’s womb, who brought forth this child at the time which God had Himself appointed for human nature. The usual time elapsed before its birth. As yet this tells us nothing of the manner. It is the fact itself, which has an importance that can neither be measured nor exaggerated. He was really and truly man, born of a woman as we are-not as to the source nor as to the manner of His conception, of which we are not yet speaking, but as to the reality of His existence as man. He was really and truly a human being. But there were other things connected with the Person of the One who should be born that are also set before us. His name should be called Jesus, that is, Jehovah the Saviour. He should be manifested in this character and with this power. He was so.

This is not connected here with the fact, “for he shall save his people from their sins,” as in Matthew, where it was the manifestation to Israel of the power of Jehovah, of their God, in fulfilment of the promises made to that people. Here we see that He has a right to this name; but this divine title lies hidden under the form of a personal name; for it is the Son of man who is presented in this Gospel, whatever His divine power might be. Here we are told, “He”-the One who should be born-”should be great,” and (born into this world) “should be called the Son of the Highest.” He had been the Son of the Father before the world was; but this child, born on earth, should be called-such as He was down here-the Son of the Highest: a title to which He would thoroughly prove His right by His acts, and by all that manifested what He was. A precious thought to us and full of glory, a child born of a woman legitimately bears this name, “Son of the Highest”-supremely glorious for One who is in the position of a man and really was such before God.

But other things still were connected with the One that should be born. God would give Him the throne of His father David. Here again we plainly see that He is considered as born, as man, in this world. The throne of His father David belongs to Him. God will give it Him. By right of birth He is heir to the promises, to the earthly promises which, as to the kingdom appertained to the family of David; but it should be according to the counsels and the power of God. He should reign over the house of Jacob-not only over Judah, and in the weakness of a transitory power and an ephemeral life, but throughout the ages; and of His kingdom there should be no end. As indeed Daniel had predicted, it should never be taken by another. It should never be transferred to another people. It should be established according to the counsels of God which are unchangeable, and His power which never fails. Until He delivered up the kingdom to God the Father, He should exercise a royalty that nothing could dispute; which He would deliver up (all things being fulfilled) to God, but the royal glory of which should never be tarnished in His hands.

Such should be the child born-truly, though miraculously born as man. To those who could understand His name it was Jehovah the Saviour.

He should be King over the house of Jacob according to a power that should never decay and never fail, until blended with the eternal power of God as God.

The grand subject of the revelation is, that the child should be conceived and born; the remainder is the glory that should belong to Him, being born.

But it is the conception that Mary does not understand. God permits her to ask the angel how this should be. Her question was according to God. I do not think there was any want of faith here. Zacharias had constantly asked for a son-it was only a question of the goodness and the power of God to perform his request-and was brought by the positive declaration of God to a point at which he had only to trust in it. He did not trust to the promise of God. It was only the exercise of the extraordinary power of God in the natural order of things. Mary asks, with holy confidence, since God thus favoured her, how the thing should be accomplished, outside the natural order. Of its accomplishment she has no doubt (see Luke 1:45; “Blessed,” said Elizabeth, “is she that believed.”) She inquires how it shall be accomplished, since it must be done outside the order of nature. The angel proceeds with his commission, making known to her the answer of God to this question also. In the purposes of God, this question gave occasion (by the answer it received) to the revelation of the miraculous conception.

The birth of Him who has walked upon this earth was the thing in question-His birth of the virgin Mary. He was God, He became man; but here it is the manner of His conception in becoming a man upon the earth. It is not what He was that is declared. It is He who was born, such as He was in the world, of whose miraculous conception we here read. The Holy Ghost should come upon her-should act in power upon this earthen vessel, without its own will or the will of any man. God is the source of the life of the child promised to Mary, as born in this world and by His power. He is born of Mary-of this woman chosen by God. The power of the Highest should overshadow her, and therefore that which should be born of her should be called the Son of God. Holy in His birth, conceived by the intervention of the power of God acting upon Mary (a power which was the divine source of His existence on the earth, as man), that which thus received its being from Mary, the fruit of her womb, should even in this sense have the title of Son of God. The holy thing which should be born of Mary should be called the Son of God. It is not here the doctrine of the eternal relationship of the Son with the Father. The Gospel of John, the Epistle to the Hebrews, that to the Colossians, establish this precious truth, and demonstrate its importance; but here it is that which was born by virtue of the miraculous conception, which on that ground is called the Son of God.

The angel announces to her the blessing bestowed on Elizabeth through the almighty power of God; and Mary bows to the will of her God-the submissive vessel of His purpose, and in her piety acknowledges a height and greatness in these purposes which only left to her, their passive instrument, her place of subjection to the will of God. This was her glory, through the favour of her God.

It was befitting that wonders should accompany, and bear a just testimony to, this marvellous intervention of God. The communication of the angel was not without fruit in the heart of Mary; and by her visit to Elizabeth, she goes to acknowledge the wonderful dealings of God. The piety of the virgin displays itself here in a touching manner. The marvellous intervention of God humbled her, instead of lifting her up. She saw God in that which had taken place, and not herself; on the contrary the greatness of these marvels brought God so near her as to hide her from herself. She yields herself to His holy will: but God has too large a place in her thoughts in this matter to leave any room for self-importance.

The visit of the mother of her Lord to Elizabeth was a natural thing to herself, for the Lord had visited the wife of Zacharias. The angel has made it known to her. She is concerned in these things of God, for God was near her heart by the grace that had visited her. Led by the Holy Ghost in heart and affection, the glory that belonged to Mary, in virtue of the grace of God who had elected her to be the mother of her Lord, is recognised by Elizabeth, speaking by the Holy Ghost. She also acknowledges the pious faith of Mary, and announces to her the fulfilment of the promise she had received (all that took place being a signal testimony given to Him who should be born in Israel and among men).

The heart of Mary is then poured out in thanksgiving. She owns God her Saviour in the grace that has filled her with joy, and her own low estate-a figure of the condition of the remnant of Israel-and that gave occasion to the intervention of God’s greatness, with a full testimony that all was of Himself. Whatever might be the piety suitable to the instrument whom He employed, and which was found indeed in Mary, it was in proportion as she hid herself that she was great; for then God was all, and it was through her that He intervened for the manifestation of His marvellous ways. She lost her place if she made anything of herself, but in truth she did not. The grace of God preserved her, in order that His glory might be fully displayed in this divine event. She recognises His grace, but she acknowledges that all is grace towards her.

It will be remarked here that, in the character and the application of the thoughts that fill her heart, all is Jewish. We may compare the song of Hannah, who prophetically celebrated this same intervention; and see also Luke 1:54-55. But, observe, she goes back to the promises made to the fathers, not to Moses, and she embraces all Israel. It is the power of God, which works in the midst of weakness, when there is no resource, and all is contrary to it. Such is the moment that suits God, and, to the same end, instruments that are null, that God may be all.

It is remarkable that we are not told that Mary was full of the Holy Ghost. It appears to me that this is an honourable distinction for her. The Holy Ghost visited Elizabeth and Zacharias in an exceptional manner. But, although we cannot doubt that Mary was under the influence of the Spirit of God, it was a more inward effect, more connected with her own faith, with her piety, with the more habitual relations of her heart with God (that were formed by this faith and by this piety), and which consequently expressed itself more as her own sentiments. It is thankfulness for the grace and favour conferred on her the lowly one, and that in connection with the hopes and blessing of Israel. In all this there appears to me a very striking harmony in connection with the wondrous favour bestowed upon her. I repeat it, Mary is great inasmuch as she is nothing; but she is favoured by God in a way that is unparalleled, and all generations shall call her blessed.

But her piety, and its expression in this song, being more personal, an answer to God rather than a revelation on His part, it is clearly limited to that which was necessarily for her the sphere of this piety-to Israel, to the hopes and promises given to Israel. It goes back, as we have seen, to the farthest point of God’s relations with Israel-and they were in grace and promise, not law-but it does not go outside them.

Mary abides three months with the woman whom God had blessed, the mother of him who was to be the voice of God in the wilderness; and she returns to follow humbly her own path, that the purposes of God may be accomplished.

Nothing more beautiful of its kind than this picture of the intercourse between these pious women, unknown to the world, but the instruments of God’s grace for the accomplishment of His purpose, glorious and infinite in their results. They hide themselves, moving in a scene into which nothing enters but piety and grace; but God is there, as little known to the world as were these poor women, yet preparing and accomplishing that which the angels desire to fathom in its depths. This takes place in the hill country, where these pious relatives dwelt. They hid themselves; but their hearts, visited by God and touched by His grace, responded by their mutual piety to these wondrous visits from above; and the grace of God was truly reflected in the calmness of a heart that recognised His hand and His greatness, trusting in His goodness and submitting to His will. We are favoured in being admitted into a scene, from which the world was excluded by its unbelief and alienation from God, and in which God thus acted.

But that which piety recognised in secret, through faith in the visitations of God, must at length be made public, and be fulfilled before the eyes of men. The son of Zacharias and Elizabeth is born, and Zacharias (who, obedient to the word of the angel, ceases to be dumb) announces the coming of the Branch of David, the horn of Israel’s salvation, in the house of God’s elect King, to accomplish all the promises made to the fathers, and all the prophecies by which God had proclaimed the future blessing of His people. The child whom God had given to Zacharias and Elizabeth should go before the face of Jehovah to prepare His ways; for the Son of David was Jehovah, who came according to the promises, and according to the word by which God had proclaimed the manifestation of His glory.

The visitation of Israel by Jehovah, celebrated by the mouth of Zacharias, embraces all the blessing of the millennium. This is connected with the presence of Jesus, who brings in His own Person all this blessing. All the promises are Yea and Amen in Him. All the prophecies encircle Him with the glory then to be realised, and make Him the source from which it springs. Abraham rejoiced to see the glorious day of Christ.

The Holy Ghost always does this, when His subject is the fulfilment of the promise in power. He goes on to the full effect which God will accomplish at the end. The difference here is, that it is no longer the announcement of joys in a distant future, when a Christ should be born, when a child should be brought forth, to bring in their joys in days still obscured by the distance at which they were seen. The Christ is now at the door, and it is the effect of His presence that is celebrated. We know that, having been rejected, and being now absent, the accomplishment of these things is necessarily put off until He returns; but His presence will bring their fulfilment, and it is announced as being connected with that presence.

We may remark here, that this chapter confines itself within the strict limits of the promises made to Israel, that is to say, to the fathers. We have the priests, the Messiah, His forerunner, the promises made to Abraham, the covenant of promise, the oath of God. It is not the law; it is the hope of Israel-founded on the promise, the covenant, the oath of God, and confirmed by the prophets-which has its realisation in the birth of Jesus, of the Son of David. It is not, I again say, the law. It is Israel under blessing, not indeed yet accomplished, but Israel in the relationship of faith with God who would. accomplish it. It is only God and Israel who are in question, and that which had taken place in grace between Him and His people alone.

Footnotes for Luke Chapter 1

1: That is, as to the contents of the Gospel. In the ninth chapter His last journey up to Jerusalem begins; and thence on to the latter part of the eighteenth, where (Luke 1:31) His going up to that city is noticed, the evangelist gives mainly a series of moral instructions, and the ways of God in grace now coming in. In verse 35 of chapter 18 (Luke 18:35) we have the blind man of Jericho already noticed as the commencement of His last visit to Jerusalem.

2: The union of motive and inspiration, which infidels have endeavoured to set in opposition to each other, is found in every page of the word. Moreover the two things are only incompatible to the narrow mind of those who are unacquainted with the ways of God. Cannot God impart motives, and through these motives engage a man to undertake some task, and then direct him, perfectly and absolutely, in all that he does? Even if it were a human thought (which I do not at all believe), if God approved of it, could not He watch over its execution so that the result should be entirely according to His will?

3: The expressions, “found favour” and “highly favoured” have not at all the same meaning. Personally she had found favour, so that she was not to fear: but God had sovereignly bestowed on her this grace, this immense favour, of being the mother of the Lord. In this she was the object of God’s sovereign favour.

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These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Darby, John. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "John Darby's Synopsis of the New Testament". 1857-67.

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

St. Luke"s Gospel

Luke 1:3-4

Our information concerning St. Luke is scanty. It is conjectured by some that he was one of the seventy disciples sent forth by our Lord, in addition to the twelve Apostles ( Luke 10:1). There seems no reason to doubt that he was the companion of St. Paul in his travels, and that he was a "physician" ( Colossians 4:14). Some have thought that his profession as a physician may be traced in his manner of describing our Lord"s miraculous cures of diseases, and his companionship of St. Paul in his manner of speaking on such subjects as God"s glory and Christ"s love to sinners. It is generally agreed that his Gospel was written with a special reference to Gentile converts rather than Jews. Origen, Jerome, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and others suppose that St. Paul refers to St. Luke and his Gospel in the words, "the brother whose praise is in the Gospel" ( 2 Corinthians 8:18).

The short preface is a peculiar feature of St. Luke"s Gospel. But we shall find, on examination, that it is full of most useful instruction.

I. St. Luke Gives us a Short but Valuable Sketch of the Nature of a Gospel.—He calls it, "a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us". It is a narrative of facts about Jesus Christ. Christianity is a religion built upon facts. Let us never lose sight of this. It came before mankind at first in this shape. The first preachers did not go up and down the world proclaiming an elaborate, artificial system of abstruse doctrines and deep principles. They proclaimed facts.

II. He Draws a Beautiful Picture of the True Position of the Apostles in the Early Church.—He calls them "eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word". There is an instructive humility in this expression. They were servants of the word of the Gospel. They were men who counted it their highest privilege to carry about, as messengers, the tidings of God"s love to a sinful world, and to tell the story of the Cross.

III. He Describes his own Qualifications for the Work of Writing a Gospel.—He says that he "had perfect understanding of all things from the very first". It would be mere waste of time to inquire from what source St. Luke obtained the information which he has given us in his Gospel. We have no good reason for supposing that he saw our Lord work miracles or heard Him teach. To say that he obtained his information from the Virgin Mary or any of the Apostles is mere conjecture and speculation. Enough for us to know that St. Luke wrote by inspiration of God. Unquestionably he did not neglect the ordinary means of getting knowledge. But the Holy Ghost guided him, no less than all other writers of the Bible, in his choice of matter. St. Luke does not wish his friend to remain in doubt on any matter of his faith. He tells him that he wants him to "know the certainty of those things wherein he had been instructed". Let us bless God daily that we have a written volume which is "able to make us wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" ( 2 Timothy 3:15).

Luke 1:3-4

What are the legitimate uses of the imagination, that is to say, of the power of perceiving, or conceiving with the mind, things which cannot be perceived by the senses? Its first and noblest use Isaiah, to enable us to bring sensibly to our sight the things which are recorded as belonging to our future state, or invisibly surrounding us in this... but, above all, to call up the scenes and facts in which we are commanded to believe, and be present, as if in the body, at every recorded event of the history of the Redeemer.

—Ruskin, Frondes Agrestes, sec9.

References.—I:3.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. x. p452. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. i. p144. I:3, 4.—T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. pp236,243. I:5.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p284. I:5-17.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Luke, p1. I:9.—Ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p393113.—A.G. Mortimer, The Church"s Lessons for the Christian Year, pi i. p9. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i.p19. I:15.—J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints" Days, p257. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Luke, p8.

Luke 1:16

It is because we have so few high saints among us, that we have so many low sinners.

—Richard Baxter.

It would have been but a poor occupation for God to compose this heavy world out of simple elements, and to keep it rolling in the sunbeams from year to year, if He had not had the plan of founding a nursery for a world of spirits upon this material basis. So He is now constantly active in higher natures to attract the lower ones.


Preparation for the Best (First Sunday in Lent)

Luke 1:17

When we speak of preparing ourselves for the future, we commonly think of some coming evil. Life Isaiah, in our familiar and apposite metaphor, a campaign; and "it is usual in war for the guns and the sentinels always to face towards the enemy however far off he may be". There is an instinctive sense of enemies in this mortal life of ours, and every day looks forward more or less anxiously to its tomorrow. Men have so generally acknowledged this state of matters that there are few vaunts which have a more honourable sound to our ears than the old Latin one in utrumque paratus. Yet the phrase is sad. Its readiness for either fate suggests alertness, but has a certain desolate suggestion also: it acknowledges the possibility of the better chance, but it somehow seems to expect the worse.

So it comes to pass that we are far more seldom ready for the better than for the worse event. Preparedness for the best things is rare, because we do not realize that they need preparation, and concentrate our attention in steeling ourselves against possible adversity.

Many a Parsifal is able to combat and unhorse his enemy, and yet is stupefied and blunders irretrievably when he sees the vision of the Holy Grail. Many an adventurer like Jacob looks back ruefully upon an hour of far-reaching promise and spiritual opportunity, saying "Surely God was in this place and I knew it not". The world, in the beginning of the first century, was adjusting itself to Augustus as best it might; but when Christ came, the world knew Him not. We are often prepared to meet the devil: to meet our God we are not prepared.

In the Church Year the great events of the Christian story group themselves into a cluster from Palm Sunday to Whitsunday, breaking the routine of the daily life with the splendid memories of Christ"s passion and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is fitting that before this season the Church should have set apart a prior season of special preparation.

I. First, there is the preparation of the purification of the heart. All meditation leads that way at once. There is much to be forgiven before we can hope to understand and triumph, and there is much also to be changed. It is only the pure in heart who can by any means see God, and the evil habits of thought, imagination, and desire must be searched out and put away.

II. There is also necessary the boldness of Divine affections. We all admit that the world Isaiah, one way or another, too much with us. Preparation, therefore, must include the practice of looking beyond the world, and carrying up our thoughts and feelings to God Himself. But it requires daring to train our eyes on the Divine, and none but the courageous in heart will succeed in doing it. For the affections that are to find God in Christ must travel along the two lines of our worst and of our best.

Let us face and fully recognise both our weakness and our strength, our worst and our best. Let us bring them both, a strange offering of contrasts, to His feet; that, in our communion with Him, His power and His love may go out upon them both, and recreate us after His image.

—John Kelman, Ephemera Etemitatis, p49.

References.—I:17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No2404. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. pp53, 545118.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No1405.

Luke 1:19

Then Gabriel, like a rainbow"s birth,

Spread his wings and sank to earth;

Entered, in flesh, the empty cell,

Lived there, and played the craftsman well;

And morning, evening, noon and night,

Praised God in place of Theocrite;

(He did God"s will; to him, all one,

If on the earth or in the sun.)

—R. Browning, The Boy and the Angel.

Reference.—I:20.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p281.

Luke 1:25

Dr. Richard Hooker, at one period of his life, was exposed to a cruel slander against his moral character, which, says Izaak Walton, "he kept secret to himself for many months; and being a helpless Prayer of Manasseh, had lain longer under this heavy burthen, but that the Protector of the innocent gave such an accidental occasion as forced him to make it known to his two dearest friends, Edwin Sandys and George Cranmer, who were so sensible of their tutor"s sufferings, that they gave themselves no rest, till by their disquisitions and diligence they had found out the fraud, and brought him the welcome news.... To which the good man"s reply was to this purpose: "To my God I say, as did the mother of St. John Baptist, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me, in the day wherein He looked upon me, to take away my reproach among men. And, O my God! neither my life nor my reputation are safe in my own keeping, but in Thine, who didst take care of me when I yet hanged upon my mother"s breast.""

The Angel"s Greeting to the Virgin Mary

Luke 1:26-28

The festival of the Annunciation has been variously yet appropriately designated thus: "The Day of Salutation"; "the Day of the Gospel"; and "the Festival of the Incarnation". In many parts it was for some time the first day of the ecclesiastical year, as it is now, under its vernacular name—Lady Day, the first quarterly division of the ordinary year. How the ancient Church observed the day can scarcely be ascertained now. And this is not a little remarkable, as the Christian Fathers have written numerous homilies on the day itself, and the Christian Muse has for centuries been actively engaged in illustrating it To the Christian artist, the holy mysteries of the day have ever had a special fascination, as shown by the pictures and paintings—some very grotesque, others very beautiful—which were produced during the first ages succeeding the Annunciation itself. Christians of the present day regard it as the first stage of the Incarnation. Hence we gladly keep the day as a holy festival, and fix our mind upon its marvels.

I. In Old Testament times names were reckoned of paramount consequence, as they were identified with some unusual fact in personal and family life, and were also prophetical. The name Mary—so familiar to us—is the same as Miriam. Its first and best signification is "exalted"; and this applies with peculiar emphasis to Mary of Nazareth. Yet it must not be forgotten that she had lineally descended from David; therefore the blood of Israel"s ancient kings flowed in her veins. She was also a virgin—pure and spotless. Had it been otherwise she had never been the mother of Jesus, because, from first to last, He was to be holy and undefiled; and this could not possibly have been if the least fleck of impurity had been found in her nature. The place of her residence corresponded with her true condition. Nazareth means "separated" or "sanctified". Yet it was no grand metropolis, no flourishing sea-side town, but a small inland, upland city, in the heart of Galilee, called "Galilee of the Gentiles". In other words, it was a little city of carpenters; hence Joseph lived here, and though "of the house of David, "yet, being poor, he worked hard at the toilsome craft of the place. It had no reputation for learning or piety. To this little city a great angel was Divinely sent. He is called Gabriel—"the strength of God". In the celestial hierarchy he ranked next to Michael the archangel, and when in heaven, he says, "I stand in the presence of God"; that Isaiah, right before His throne.

II. Whether Mary was in her house, or what her engagement when Gabriel visited her, we know not; but he instantly saluted her—"Hail!" After this brief salutation, Gabriel bids Mary rejoice, because being "highly favoured" she is to be the mother of the Messiah. This, in truth, was the honour for which every Hebrew female intensely longed from the beginning; but Mary was Divinely chosen for this signal pre-eminency. What joy she felt when Gabriel assured her of this! When he left, she hastened to her cousin, Elisabeth, in the upland country, to communicate the information and the joy to her. "Only the meeting of saints in heaven can parallel the meeting of these two cousins: the two wonders of the world under one roof, declaring their mutual happiness!" (S. ). High dignity, beside deep joy, was now conferred upon Mary. "Thou art highly favoured," said Gabriel to her. But this dignity was not of an earthly, fleeting nature; for Mary was left by the angel in the same humble condition in which he found her; and, in truth, her humble condition was the same at the birth of Christ, and to the day of her own death. The dignity, therefore, was heavenly and lasting. So it has proved itself. No woman, from Eve downward, has been so honoured as the Blessed Virgin of Nazareth. Her very memory is fragrant as Eden. Nor is this all: "The Lord is with thee". This constituted her real blessedness, and was the climax of the annunciation of the angel. The Lord was with Mary in two sublime senses—to sustain and further deepen the joy of her soul, and to perform the covenant which Gabriel had made with her at His bidding. One other brief sentence fell from those angel lips, forming the noblest utterance ever made: "Blessed art thou among women!" After the battle of the river Kishon, and after Jael had slain, in her tent, the captain of the host of the King of Canaan, Deborah, the prophetess, pronounced the heroine "blessed above all women"; but Gabriel, the angel, pronounces a better and richer blessing on Mary; and Mary, in her glorious Magnificat, says of herself, "All generations shall call me blessed". This they have done since the birth of Christ, and this they will continue to do as long as Christ Himself shall reign, even for ever ( Luke 1:32-33).

References.—I:28.—J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints" Days, p191. J. T. Bramston, Fratribus, p111. C. A. Berry, Vision and Duty, p157. J. H. Barrows, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p330. J. Denney, ibid. vol. xlix. p337.

Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Luke 1:32-33

March25 is a memorable day in our calendar. It is important in our business life and in our domestic life. To Churchmen Lady Day has a high significance because that on it we commemorate the announcement of the angel to the Blessed Virgin that she should bring forth a Son who was to be the Incarnate Son of God. We can never forget that she was "highly favoured amongst women" in that she was chosen to be the channel by which—and the thought is a most stupendous one—the Incarnation of the Son of God was to be effected. We reverence her purity and we admire the beauty of her character. When we think of the greatness conferred upon womanhood in the Incarnation it should lead all men—should it not?—to cultivate habits of chivalry and grace in all their dealings with women. But we shall mistake the significance of this festival unless we observe that the Church centres our attention not upon Mary but upon her promised Son. The Collect, the Epistle, the Gospel, the Lessons all point to Him.

I. The Promised Son.—The message of the angel revealed to Mary that her Son should be Jesus, the Saviour. He was coming to redeem Israel, "to save His people from their sins"—and not Israel only but all the world. This was Hebrews, of Whose coming Isaiah prophesied (as we read in the portion of Scripture appointed for today"s Epistle) when he said that, "a virgin shall conceive and bear a Song of Solomon, and shall call His name Immanuel". Nor was this all. The angel who appeared to Mary said that her Son should be a King, "and of His kingdom there shall be no end".

II. The Work He Came to do.—As our Saviour He came to save us from our sins. He was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil. Has His coming made any difference to your life? Is He in our workshop? Is He in our office? Is He in our home? Is He in our amusements? "God with us" will sanctify every relationship of life. He claims to have control over our life, for is He not the King? "Of His kingdom there shall be no end." Has it begun in you? The religion of Jesus Christ is not for one time or for one land, for "He hath made of one blood all the nations of the earth," and you and I have to spread the kingdom of our Lord if He really is our King.

III. The Future Glory.—It is astonishing that although nineteen hundred years have passed away there should still be so many who do not recognise His claims over them. May it be ours to know Jesus to be our Saviour! May we realise His presence in our lives as our Immanuel! May we recognise His claims as our King! Then and then only shall we pass through this world with an assurance of the future glory.

References.—I:30, 31, 34, and35.—Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p209. I:31-35.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p93. I:33.—Ibid. vol. i. pp36, 209; ibid. (4th Series), vol. ii. p470. I:34.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No1405. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p182.

Luke 1:35-40

In her volume on The Makers of Florence, Mrs. Oliphant describes Mariotto"s picture of the "Visitation "which hangs in the Pitti Palace; Elisabeth and Mary stand in the foreground of the canvas, against the blue sky, the elder woman stepping out eagerly to meet and welcome the shrinking mother of our Lord. "I have heard," she adds, "of a woman, sadly lonely in a strange country, and little aware of the merits of the picture, poor soul! who would go and linger in the room "for company," wistfully wishing that the kind, penetrating, sympathetic tale of that old, tender Elisabeth could but fall on herself." The passage has an autobiographic note, for the woman was no other than Mrs. Oliphant herself.

References.—I:35.—W. Alexander, Primary Convictions, p67. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints" Days, p201. W. Archer Butler, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical (1Series), p16. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p165; ibid. vol. ix. p865

The Handmaid of the Lord (The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

Luke 1:38

The story of the Annunciation is one of the most impressive to be found in the Gospels. In the Gospel for today we have a striking illustration of the singular beauty, purity, and steadiness of character which are manifested by the Blessed Virgin.

I. Her Faith.—The remarkable faith with which she received the annunciation from the angel of the wonderful event which was to take place is a lesson to us all. Her words are very simple and very full of submissive faith—"Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word".

II. Her Piety.—The manner in which, as we read later, she pondered in her heart the various events of the Lord"s childhood, which seemed to point out her Son as being greater than even she herself had suspected, is worthy of notice. It befits religious character of the highest order, and shows her to have been possessed of the deepest piety.

III. Her Submission.—The same religious discretion marked her conduct on the occasion of her losing sight of Jesus on their return from Jerusalem when He was twelve years old. His answer might well add to His parents" perplexity, and His mother does not seem to have understood it; but she did not forget the saying because she could not understand it; on the other hand, she kept it in her heart. She was wholly submissive to what she believed to be the Divine will.

IV. The Reverence Due to Her.—We need not flinch from according to the Blessed Virgin the honour which belongs to her. "All generations shall call me blessed," and we must have dull hearts if we do not so account her. We honour the Apostles because they were very near to, and much honoured by, the Lord, and we rightly honour the Virgin Mother of our Lord. But one word of caution is necessary. While we reverence the Blessed Virgin as one of the first of saints, while we call her blessed, and think her the most highly honoured of the human race, we must not harbour any temptation in our hearts to worship her. The best antidote to Mariolatry is to have our whole souls filled with the contemplation of the Virgin"s Song of Solomon, even our Saviour and hers, Jesus Christ our Lord, the Eternal Son of God.

References.—I:38.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p171. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p200. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy Tide Teaching, p77. A. G. Mortimer, The Church"s Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. i. p22. Bishop Jacob, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p21. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints" Days, p90. C. W. Furse, Sermons at Richmond, p285. R. W. Church, Human Life and its Conditions, p172. I:39.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. x. p93. I:42.—J. H. Barrows, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p330. I:43.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p40. I:43.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p244. I:44.—Ibid. vol. v. p448.

Luke 1:46-47

"After this," writes George Fox in his Journal for1646, "I met with a sort of people that held women have no souls (adding, in a light manner) no more than a goose. But I reproved them, and told them that was not right; for Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."

References.—I:46.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No1514. W. P. Paterson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p22. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. i. p269. I:46-55.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p17. I:46, 47.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No606; vol. xxxvii. No2219, and vol. li. No2941. J46-48.—H. P. Liddon, The Magnificat, p1. I:47.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p495.

Reverence Due to the Virgin Mary

Luke 1:48

Many truths are, like the "things which the seven thunders uttered," "sealed up" from us. In particular, it is in mercy to us that so little is revealed about the Blessed Virgin, in mercy to our weakness, though of her there are "many things to say," yet they are "hard to be uttered, seeing we are dull of hearing".

But, further, the more we consider who St. Mary was, the more dangerous will such knowledge of her appear to be. Other saints are but influenced or inspired by Christ, and made partakers of Him mystically. But, as to St. Mary, Christ derived His manhood from her and so had an especial unity of nature with her; and this wondrous relationship between God and man it is perhaps impossible for us to dwell much upon without some perversion of feeling. For, truly, she is raised above the condition of sinful beings, though by nature a sinner; she is brought near to God, yet is but a creature, and seems to lack her fitting place in our limited understandings, neither too high nor too low. We cannot combine, in our thought of her, all we should ascribe with all we should withhold. Hence, following the example of Scripture, we had better only think of her with and for her Song of Solomon, never separating her from Him, but using her name as a memorial of His great condescension in stooping from heaven, and not "abhorring the Virgin"s womb". And this is the rule of our own Church, which has set apart only such festivals in honour of the Blessed Mary as may also be festivals in honour of our Lord; the Purification commemorating His presentation in the Temple, and the Annunciation commemorating His Incarnation. And, with this caution, the thought of her may be made most profitable to our faith; for nothing is so calculated to impress on our minds that Christ is really partaker of our nature, and in all respects Prayer of Manasseh, save sin only, as to associate Him with the thought of her by whose ministration He became our brother.

—J. H. Newman.

References.—I:48.—C. A. Berry, Vision and Duty, p157. I:48-50.—H. P. Liddon, The Magnificat, p30. I:49.—F. de W. Lushington, Sermons to Young Boys, p106. I:51-53.—H. P. Liddon, University Sermons (2Series), p203. Ibid. The Magnificat, p57. I:53.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliv. No2582, and vol. lii. No3019. I:54, 55.—H. P. Liddon, The Magnificat, p84. I:65, 66.—J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints" Days, p247. I:66.—R. F. Horton, This Do, p61. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints" Days, p131. I:67.—A. G. Mortimer, The Church"s Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. i. p39. I:67-80.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p24.


Luke 1:68

About one hundred and eighty years ago (that was in the time of King Charles II.) six persons died in this college in less than a week. That was what we call an awful visitation of God. When we speak of a visitation of God we generally mean His visitation to punish. Then why is it said here, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited". Why, because you see how it goes on, He hath visited and redeemed His people.

I. Old age is His very true and real visitation—and being Song of Solomon, how ought you to receive it? If a king, an earthly king, were to give you notice that he was coming to see you, what preparation should you make for his visit? The very first time God begins to visit you in old age, the very first time you can say, "I am quite well, and yet I am not so strong as I was," then that means, "Now this corruptible body is beginning to show me that it cannot always, no, nor yet for very much longer, hold together". And that means that it will in time be laid to sleep in the churchyard, waiting for that blessed hope and the Resurrection brought to pass by our Lord Jesus Christ So still you ought to be able to say—ought you not?—"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel".

II. Israel means—He that sees God. And why that name? Because it is only to them who, so David says, have set God always before them that these promises are made.

See how God visited Zacharias himself. In the first place, in judgment, because he disbelieved the miraculous birth of St. John Baptist. "Behold, thou shalt be dumb and not able to speak." And then in love, when immediately the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. And so He visits all of us. Think of every affliction that you have had from your youth up till now; they were God"s visitations. And every deliverance you ever had; that was God"s visitation too. One"s whole life is full of such visitations, such deliverances, and we may all say with good King Hezekiah, "The Lord was ready to save me".—J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. i. p65.

Luke 1:71-79

We talk very much, and very badly; in pulpit, and Parliament, and press. We want the man who has something new to say, and knows how to say it. For my own part, I don"t think, when he comes, that he will glorify explosives. I want to hear some one talk about Peace—and not from the commercial point of view. The slaughterers shan"t have it all their own way: civilization will be too strong for them, and if old England doesn"t lead in that direction it will be her shame to the end of history.

—George Gissing.

References.—174, 76.—E. J. Boyce, Parochial Sermons, p216. E. H. Hopkins, The Record, vol. xxvii. p799. I:76.—W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p96. I:77-79.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No1907.

The Dayspring

Luke 1:78

The Eternal God is never in a hurry, for a thousand centuries are unto Him but as a moment. In all His great kingdoms the Divine Actor works gradually—the blade, the ear, and the full corn in the ear; the daydawn, the ascending sun, and the full meridian; the promise, the type, and the antitype; the law, the prophets, and the Gospel; the crude altar, the superb temple, and God manifest in the flesh. Gradual progression runs through the ages like a line of light. We invite your attention to the gradual unfolding of Redemption.

I. Gradualness of Development is a prominent feature in all the works of God. (1) In the physical sphere we meet on every hand with this striking feature. A great story demands a long prologue—hence the slowly ascending scale from the protoplasmic beginning to man! In the words of Emerson: "The gases gather to the solid firmament, the chemic lump arrives at the plant and grows, arrives at the quadruped and walks, arrives at the man and thinks". The wheels of His stupendous machinery revolve slowly, and the majestic gradualness of their revolutions bears the stamp of eternity. (2) In the intellectual sphere we meet with this feature of gradualness. Even our consciousness, the Song of Solomon -called foundation of our being, develops. How very gradually our education proceeds. Again, most of our great discoveries have been gradually lured out of their hiding-places. All our great discoveries have come about gradually, "like the deities, their feet have been shod with wool". (3) In the moral and spiritual sphere we meet with this principle of gradualness. No man can leap at a bound into sainthood. The soul can no more be fully sanctified at once than the dawn can become the meridian in an hour, than the blossom can become a ripe apple in a day, than the babe can become a giant in a week!

II. Analogy suggests that the gradualness which we find in the physical, mental, and moral spheres may also be expected in the Progress of Redemption. (1) The world was not ready for an earlier Revelation. The lesson must always be suited to the mental and moral capacity of the learner. Carlyle"s essay on "Bacon" was one of his finest; but it took twenty-five years to become popular, because the age was not educated up to it! A schoolboy cannot understand Milton"s poems without first learning the alphabet, and for ages humanity was God"s child in God"s school learning the moral and spiritual A, B, C. (2) God was anxious to convince humanity of the utter impossibility of self-education. Intellect, and the arts, and physical force, and order, and government strained every nerve to save the world; but it was a colossal failure, and the world, like a tired child, sat weeping away its heart. For our own part we rejoice in this gradualness. And why? Simply because a full-orbed revelation flashed upon us in one instant would have overwhelmed us! We mortals are too feeble and frail to bear the full outflashing of the Divine! "Ye cannot bear it now." As one divine well puts it: "God could have said more to us; but He has not because He would not, and He would not because He loved us too well to overwhelm us with this revelation".

—J. Ossian Davies, The Dayspring from on High, p9.

Luke 1:78

Thus, from our point of view, does Goethe rise on us as the Uniter, and victorious Reconciler, of the distracted, clashing elements of the most distracted and divided age that the world has witnessed since the introduction of the Christian Religion; to which old chaotic Era, of world-confusion and world-refusion, of blackest darkness succeeded by a dawn of light and nobler "dayspring from on high," this wondrous Era of ours Isaiah, indeed, oftenest likened. To the faithful heart let no Era be a desperate one! It is ever the nature of darkness to be followed by a new, nobler light; nay, to produce such.... Woe to the land where, in these seasons, no prophet arises; but only censors, satirists, and embittered desperadoes, to make the evil worse; at best but to accelerate a consummation, which in accelerating they have aggravated! Old Europe had its Tacitus and Juvenal; but these availed not. New Europe too has had its Mirabeaus and Byrons and Napoleons and innumerable red-flaming meteors, shaking pestilence from their hair; and earthquakes and deluges and Chaos come again; but the clear Star, day"s harbinger (Phosphoros, the bringer of light), had not yet been recognised.


References.—I:78.—Basil Wilberforce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p30. W. M. Bunting, Preacher"s Magazine, vol. xviii. p234. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. liii. No3029. G. H. Curteis, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p4. J. Ossian Davies, The Dayspring from on High, p22.

The Dayspring

Luke 1:78-79

"Them that sit in darkness." The figure is not suggestive of the twilight of a summer"s eve, or the trembling expectant twilight of a summer"s morn; it is the midnight of the winter season. We all know the power of the darkness. How intense and feverish becomes the imagination in the still dark hours of the night! How erratic and untrustful our judgments!

I. "Them that sit in darkness." That was the condition of the race before the Saviour was born. The world was dark, and clammy, and cold. What did death mean to these tenants of the night? It meant the dissolver of the body. It meant the pilot of the soul. If you want to know the explanation of much of the darkness, you must turn to the first and second chapters of the Epistle to the Romans.

II. "They sit in darkness and in the shadow of death...." Now, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem... what? The morning dawned upon that night-burdened, shadow-haunted, fear-filled world. "The dayspring from on high hath visited us." "The dayspring?" not the full day, but the spring of the day, the light-fountain, Heaven"s East. We should only have been "blinded with excess of light". So He dawned upon us; the light fell upon the sore and wearied hearts of men with the soft warmth of an infant"s kiss. "Soft and quiet as the breast feather of a motherly bird." "Hath visited." Another word which helps to heap up and multiply the comforting suggestion. It is a visit of sympathy, of healing, of relief, of release. Such is the infinitely gentle and delicate coming of the omnipotent God.

III. What was the purpose of the dawning? "To give light to them that sit in darkness." (1) To illumine the world. The mission of the dayspring was the ministry of illumination. The Dayspring was not first of all a redeemer. He must first reveal before He can redeem. (2) As redeemer also did this Dayspring visit us. "To guide our feet into the way of peace." It is the guidance of a pioneer. Pioneers are "living ways". David Livingstone laid down his life in Africa, and became a "living way "to guide our feet into the heart of that dark continent. The pioneer is the living way into undiscovered realms.

—J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, p186.

References.—I:78, 79-—R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p223. J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas to Epiphany, p1. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Luke, p30. I:79.—F. de W. Lushington, Sermons to Young Boys, p73.

Luke 1:80

"Every week," said Goethe of Schiller in his early life, "he became different and more finished; each time that I saw him he seemed to me to have advanced in learning and judgment."

References.—II:1.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. i. p89; (6th Series), vol. v. p433; (6th Series), vol. iii. p137. II:1, 2.—Ibid. vol. v. p274. II:1-7.—Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p193. II:1-3.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p19. II:4.—Ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p280. II:6.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p11.

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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Luke 1:5-25. The birth of the Baptist announced. From the long prefatory sentence, constructed according to the rules of Greek syntax, and with some pretensions to classic purity of style, we pass abruptly to the Protevangelium, the prelude to the birth of Christ, consisting of the remainder of this chapter, written in Greek which is Hebraistic in phrase and structure, and Jewish in its tone of piety. The evangelist here seems to have at command an Aramaic, Jewish-Christian source, which he, as a faithful collector of evangelic memorabilia, allows to speak for itself, with here and there an editorial touch.



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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Luke 1:21-22. The people without.— , waiting; they had to wait. The priest was an unusually long time within, something uncommon must have happened. The thought likely to occur was that God had slain the priest as unworthy. The Levitical religion a religion of distance from God and of fear. So viewed in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Illustrative quotations from Talmud in Wünsche, Beiträge, p. 413.



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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

IN THE OPENING verses Luke avows the object before him in writing his Gospel; he wished to bring certainty to the mind of a certain Gentile convert. God had given him a perfect understanding of all things from the outset, so now he wrote them “in order,” or “with method;” and we shall see as we proceed that he sometimes ignores historical order to present things in a method that is moral and spiritual. The understanding of that moral and spiritual order, together with having the facts clearly in writing, would bring certainty to Theophilus, as also it will to us. We see here how certainty is linked with the Holy Writings—the Word of God. If we had not the Holy Writings, we should have certainty of nothing.

The first and second chapters present us with facts concerning the birth of Christ, and with very interesting pictures of the godly remnant in Israel, out of whom, according to the flesh, He appeared. The first picture, verses Luke 1:5-25, concerns the priest Zacharias and his wife. They were “righteous before God,” from which we may deduce that they were a couple marked by faith, and consequently they were marked by obedience to the instructions of the law. Yet, when told by an angel that his elderly and barren wife should bear a son, he asked for a sign of some kind to be given in support of the bare Word of God. In this he proved himself to be an “unbelieving believer,” though very true to type, for “the Jews require a sign” (1 Corinthians 1:22); and he suffered governmentally, inasmuch as the sign granted was the loss of his power of speech. The sign was quite appropriate however. The Psalmist said, “I believed, therefore have I spoken.” Zacharias did not believe, and therefore he could not speak.

The angel’s prediction concerning the son of Zacharias was that he should be great in the sight of the Lord, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, so that in the spirit and power of Elijah he might “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” In verses Luke 1:6, Luke 1:9, Luke 1:11, Luke 1:15, Luke 1:16-17, “Lord” is the equivalent of the Old Testament “Jehovah,” so the advent of the Messiah is to be the advent of Jehovah. There were to be people on earth who were prepared to receive Christ when He came. The Gospel starts then with a godly priest fulfilling the ritual of the law in the temple, and granted a promise that had to do with a people waiting for the Messiah to appear on earth. We ask special attention to this, for we think we shall see that this Gospel gives us the transition from law to grace, and from earth to heaven, so that it ends with tidings of grace for all nations, and with Christ ascending into the heavens to take up high-priestly service there. In chapter 1 the earthly priest was dumb. In the closing verses of the Gospel the men who are to be priests in the new dispensation of the Holy Spirit, were in the temple and anything but dumb—they were praising and blessing God.

In verses Luke 1:26-38, we have the angel’s announcement to Mary concerning the conception and birth of her Son. She was the chosen vessel for this great event. A few details of much importance must be briefly noted. In the first place, verse Luke 1:31 makes it abundantly plain that He was truly a Man; “made of a woman,” as Galatians 4:4 says.

In the second place, verses Luke 1:32-33 make it plain that He was far more than a mere Man. He was “great,” in a way that no other man ever was, being Son of the Highest; and He is destined to be the looked-for King over the house of Jacob, and take up a kingdom that abides for ever. We observe that there is as yet no hint of anything outside those hopes as to the Messiah which could be based upon Old Testament prophecies. The Son of the Highest was coming to reign, and that reign might be immediate as far as this message was concerned.

A difficulty occurred to Mary’s mind which she expressed in verse 34. The coming Child was to have David as His ancestor and yet be the Son of the Highest! She did not ask for a sign, since she accepted the angel’s words, but she did ask for an explanation. How could this thing be? Mary’s question and the angel’s answer in verses Luke 1:35-37, make quite plain in the third place the reality of the virgin birth and the wholly super-natural character of the Manhood of Jesus.

There was to be an action of the Holy Ghost, producing “that Holy Thing,” and then the over-shadowing of the Power of the Highest—a process we believe—protecting “that Holy Thing,” while as yet unborn. In result there was to be a suitable vessel of flesh and blood for the incarnation of the Son of God. He is Son of David truly, as is indicated at the end of verse Luke 1:32, but Romans 1:3 shows that it was the Son of God who became Son of David according to the flesh. In verse Luke 1:35 of our chapter the article “the” is really absent— “called Son of God”—that is, it indicates character rather than the definite Person. When the Son of God became the Son of David through Mary, there was such a putting forth of the power of God as ensured that the “Holy Thing” born of Mary should be “Son of God” in character, and therefore the fit vessel for His incarnation. It was a miracle of the first order; but then, as the angel said, “with God nothing shall be impossible.”

The faith of Mary, and her submission to the pleasure of God concerning her, comes out beautifully in verse 38. Verses Luke 1:39-45 show the piety and prophetic spirit that characterized Elisabeth, for seeing Mary she at once recognized in her the mother “of my Lord.” She was filled with the Holy Ghost, and recognized Jesus as her Lord even before He was born, an instructive illustration, this, of 1 Corinthians 12:3.

This is followed by Mary’s prophetic utterance in verses Luke 1:46-55. It was called forth by her sense of the extraordinary mercy that had been shown to her in her humble circumstances. Though descended from David she was but the espoused wife of the humble carpenter of Nazareth. In the mercy shown to her she saw the pledge of the final exaltation of those who fear God and the scattering of the proud and mighty of this world. She saw moreover that the coming of her Child was to be the fulfilment of the promise that had been made to Abraham—God’s unconditional promise. She had no thought of Israel having deserved anything under the covenant of law. All depended upon the covenant of promise. The hungry were being filled and the rich dismissed empty. This is ever God’s way.

We must not omit to notice that Mary spoke of “God my Saviour.” Though the mother of our Saviour, she herself found her Saviour in God.

In due time the son was born to Zacharias and Elisabeth and at the time of his circumcision his father’s mouth was opened. He wrote, “His name is

John,” showing that he now fully accepted the angel’s word, and hence the name of his son was a settled question. At last he believed, though it was faith that follows sight, of the true Jewish type; consequently his mouth was opened. He praised God, and filled with the Holy Ghost he prophesied.

A striking thing about this prophecy is that, though it was provoked by the birth of his own son John, that child was only before his mind in a minor and secondary way. The great theme of his utterance was the yet unborn Christ of God. He held things in their right proportion. This was the fruit of his being filled with the Spirit, who always magnifies Christ. Had he spoken merely in the enthusiasm engendered by the birth of the unexpected son, he would have talked mainly or altogether about him and the exalted prophetic office to which he was called.

He spoke of the coming of Christ as though it had already materialized, and he celebrated the effects of His coming as though they had already been accomplished. This is a common feature of prophecy: it speaks of things as accomplished which historically are still in the future. For the moment the prophet is carried in his spirit outside all time considerations. In the imminent appearance of Christ, Zacharias saw the Lord God of Israel visiting His people in order to redeem them. The salvation that He would bring would deliver them from all their enemies and enable them to serve Him in freedom, and in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life. And all this would be in fulfilment of His promise and oath to Abraham. Notice how the Holy Spirit inspired him to refer to the unconditional promise to Abraham, just as Mary had done. Israel’s blessing will be on that basis and not on the basis of the covenant of law.

In all this we observe as yet no clear distinction between the first and second comings of Christ. Verses Luke 1:68-75, contemplate things which will only be brought to pass in any full sense at His second coming. True, redemption was wrought by Christ at His first coming, but it was redemption by blood, and not by power; and it is true of course that the holiness and. righteousness in which a restored and delivered Israel will serve their God through the bright millennial day will be based upon the work of the cross. Still in these verses the two comings are regarded as one whole.

Verses Luke 1:76-77 refer directly to John, who had just been born. He was to go before the face of Jehovah preparing His ways. He was to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins. This he did as verse Luke 1:3 of Luke 3:1-38 records, in connection with his baptism. Notice that here “His people” acquires a rather new sense—not Israel nationally, but those who were the believing remnant in the midst of that people. All is on the ground of mercy even with John and his Elijah-like ministry. It is, “the remission of their sins on account of the bowels of mercy of our God” (New Trans.).

In verses Luke 1:78-79 Zacharias returns to the coming of Christ, and all of course is on the ground of that same mercy, for the word “whereby,” connects what follows with the mercy just mentioned. The “Dayspring from on high” is a peculiarly lovely description of Christ. Alternative words for “Dayspring” would be “Daydawn” or “Sunrising.” His advent was indeed the dawning of a new day. Every earthly sunrising has been, to human eyes, from beneath upwards. This one was “from on high” that is, from above downwards. The Spirit of God moved Zacharias to announce by inspiration the dawning of a day that would be new, though the full wonder of it was as yet hidden from his eyes.

He saw however that it meant the bringing in of both light and peace for men; and here he does begin to speak of things that were blessedly accomplished in the first coming of Christ. When He came forth in His public ministry the light began to shine, and the way of peace was well and truly laid in His death and resurrection, and the feet of His disciples led into it immediately after. The prophecy of Zacharias closes on this strikingly beautiful note. In the first glimpse we have of him he is a troubled and fearful man. His last word recorded in Scripture is “peace.” He had seen by faith the coming of the Saviour, like the dawning of a new day of blessing, and that made all the difference.

Verse Luke 1:80 summarizes the whole of John’s life up to the opening of his ministry. God dealt with him in secret in the deserts, educating him in view of his solemn preaching of repentance in the days to come.

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Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

F.B. Meyer's 'Through the Bible' Commentary


Luke 1:13-25

As we open this Gospel we feel the wealth of a new age. The country was full of anarchy, misrule and wild passion, but there were many who “spoke often one to another,” Malachi 3:16. They were the quiet in the land, who “were looking for the redemption of Israel,” Luke 2:38.

The separation of the Nazirite was in ordinary cases temporary and voluntary; but Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist were Nazirites from their birth. As the leper was the living symbol of sin, so was the Nazirite of holiness. No alcohol, no razor, no ceremonial defilement, Numbers 6:1-27. The mission of the Baptist was to bring back the ancient spirit of religion and prepare Messiah’s way.

Notice Gabriel’s great and noble position of standing before God, and compare 1 Kings 10:8; 1 Kings 17:1; Luke 21:36. Unbelief robs us of the power of testimony for Jesus. But when faith is in full exercise, the tongue of the dumb sings.

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Meyer, Frederick Brotherton. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "F. B. Meyer's 'Through the Bible' Commentary". 1914.

Arno Gaebelein's Annotated Bible


Analysis and Annotations

I. The Birth and Childhood -- Chapter 1-2:52


1. The Introduction. (Luke 1:1-4)

2. Zacharias and Elizabeth; the Vision. (Luke 1:5-12)

3. John the Baptist, his birth and ministry announced. (Luke 1:13-17)

4. Zacharias’ Unbelief and Punishment. (Luke 1:18-26)

5. The Angel’s Announcement to the Virgin Mary. (Luke 1:27-33)

6. Mary’s Question and the Answer. (Luke 1:34-38)

7. Mary Visits Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45)

8. The Virgin Mary’s Hymn of Praise. (Luke 1:46-56)

9. The Birth of John. (Luke 1:57-66)

10. The Prophetic Song of Zacharias. (Luke 1:67-80.)

Luke 1:1-4

The third Gospel begins in a way that no other Gospel does. It begins in a very human and humble way corresponding beautifully with the purpose of the Gospel. Yet it is couched in the choicest language. “Not only is it written in most classical Greek, but it reminds us by its contents of the similar preambles of the most illustrious Greek historians, especially those of Herodotus and Thueydides” (Prof. F. Godet). From the introduction we learn that Luke was not an eye-witness and minister of the Word; he did not belong to those who walked with the Lord during His earthly ministry. We do not know who the “many” were who had written on the great things which had taken place on earth and which all Christians believed. The remark has no reference to Matthew or Mark. Some have found in this simple introduction, in which Luke has nothing to say about a divine commission to write, an evidence that he did not write by inspiration. Others have pointed out the fact that the words “from the very first” mean literally “from above” (so rendered in John 3:3) and found in these words an evidence that Luke was inspired. This, however, is incorrect; Luke does not assert his own inspiration. The entire introduction rather shows the guidance of the Spirit of God.

“It is a beautiful example of how naturally the Spirit of God works, or may work, in what we term inspiration. The instrument He uses is not like a mere pen in the hand of another. He is a man acting freely--for ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty’--as if from his own heart and mind alone. He uses all the means he has got, and uses them diligently. You are quite prepared to find in his work the character of the writer: why should not He who has prepared the instrument, use it according to the quality of that which He has prepared? Why should He set aside the mind which He has furnished, any more than the affections of the heart which He has endowed?”--Numerical Bible.

Luke 1:5-12

For about 400 years the Lord had sent no communication to His people Israel. The silence of heaven is at last broken. The ministering Priest Zacharias beholds the Angel Gabriel, the same wonderful being, who brought heaven’s messages to Daniel. The names of the aged and pious couple are significant. Zacharias means “Jehovah remembers,” and Elizabeth is translated “the oath of God.” If we join them together we have the sentence “Jehovah remembers the oath of God.” The time of remembrance had come. Prophecy is about to be fulfilled.

Luke 1:13-17

John’s birth and ministry are announced. “John” means “Favor of Jehovah.” It fits in beautifully with the names of Zacharias and Elizabeth. “Jehovah remembers the oath of God” and the blessed result of the remembrance is “the Favor of Jehovah.” Gabriel (which means: “God is mighty”) announces that Zacharias’ prayer had been heard and the answer was now given. The prayers of many years had not been forgotten. God’s time for the answer had come. John is not Elias, but he came in the spirit and power of Elias. Malachi 4:5-6 is yet to see its fulfillment before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

Luke 1:18-26

The announcement of the birth of a son was not believed by Zacharias. Like Abraham and Sarah he looked to earthly circumstances. He did not reckon with the power of God. Disbelieving the words of Gabriel he was struck dumb. He should have shouted praises; instead, he expressed his doubt. Unbelief insults God; the character of God demands judgment upon unbelief.

Luke 1:27-33

Next God’s messenger is sent to Nazareth of Galilee to carry the greatest message, which was ever given to an angel. He appears in Nazareth and came in to the Virgin Mary. How simple and beautiful is the narrative! Here is the woman, the Virgin of Prophecy, who is to bring forth the long promised Son. She is to conceive; bring forth a Son; His name is to be called Jesus; He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest. Even so it came to pass. Then we have an unfulfilled part of the announcement. “The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David; and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His Kingdom there shall be no end.” When He comes the second time, not in humiliation, but in power and great glory, He will receive the throne of His father David and the promised Kingdom. “Let us beware of spiritualizing away the full meaning of these words. The house of Jacob does not mean ‘all Christians.’ The throne of David does not mean the office of a Saviour to Gentile believers. These words will yet receive a literal fulfillment, when the Lord Jesus comes a second time. The Kingdom of which he speaks is the glorious Kingdom of Daniel 7:27.” (Bishop Ryle.)

Luke 1:34-38

The Virgin’s question “How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man?”--is not the result of unbelief. She believed, presupposing the absolute reality of the promise, in asking the exact manner of its fulfillment. The blessed mystery of the incarnation, how the Son of God should take on the human form and become man, is made known. It is a great mystery. “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee” means that the human nature of our Lord was produced in the Virgin by a creative act of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18-20). And therefore He possessed an absolutely holy nature. “And the Power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.” This is not a repetition of the first statement. It means that the Son of God, who is the Most High, overshadowed the Virgin, uniting Himself with the miraculously prepared human nature. He is designated in His Being “that holy thing” because He cannot be classified. And because He is holy there could be nothing in Him, who was born of the Virgin, which is unholy. And beautiful is the submission of the Virgin to the will of God.

Luke 1:39-45

Mary then visited her cousin Elizabeth. How perfectly human is the whole account! And how beautiful the language of the elder woman calling the Virgin “the mother of my Lord.” Surely this was a great revelation she received. With holy reverence we also should use that worthy Name. Well has it been said, “Let us remember the deep meaning of the words ‘the Lord’ and beware of using them lightly and carelessly.” Then she blessed Mary. “Blessed is she that believed.”

Luke 1:46-56

The marvelous outburst of praise which comes from Mary’s lips is a beautiful echo of the Old Testament Scriptures. The pious Virgin knew the Word of God; her heart was filled with it and the Holy Spirit used the Word in the expression of her praise. Many Psalms are touched upon, but especially are we reminded of Hannah’s inspired song. (1 Samuel 2:1-36.) Notice also Mary’s deep humility and her acknowledgment of the need of a Saviour. The invention of Rome, of the sinless and immaculate person of Mary, is disproved by everything in the Word of God.

Luke 1:57-66

When John is born Zacharias’ tongue is loosed. He is a type of Israel. Now that people is dumb; some future day when “the Grace of Jehovah” is acknowledged by them, when they see and believe, the remnant of Israel will praise and bless God. No doubt Zacharias was also afflicted with deafness. The last written word of the Old Testament is a curse, Malachi 4:6; the first written word of the New Testament is “grace”--Bengel, “Gnomen” (John: Grace of Jehovah).

Luke 1:67-80

Zacharias prophesies. He praises God for the fulfillment of His promises spoken by the mouth of His holy Prophets. The Lord of salvation is Messiah. It denotes strength and power. He brings deliverance, salvation from enemies and the promised covenant mercies. (Psalms 132:17-18). He beholds the blessings of the promised Kingdom and beholds the blessed results of the visit of the day spring from on high. The Septuagint (Greek translation of the O.T.) translates the word branch in the Old Testament with “day spring.” Christ, the Branch, is also the day spring from on high. The fulfillment of Zacharias’ prophecy takes place with the second coming of the Lord.

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Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". 1913-1922.

Golden Chain Commentary on the Gospels

And Zacharias said to 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 to him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak to you, and to show you these glad tidings. 20. And, behold, you shall be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because you believe not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22. And when he came out, he could not speak to them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned to them, and remained speechless.

CHRYS Considering his own age, and moreover the barrenness of his wife, Zacharias doubted; as it is said, And Zacharias said to the angel, Whereby shall I know this? as if he said, "How shall this be?" And he adds the reason of his doubting; For I am an old man. An unseasonable time of life, an ill-suited nature; the planter infirm, the soil barren. But it is thought by some a thing unpardonable. in the priest, that he raises a course of objections; for whenever God declares any thing, it becomes us to receive it in faith, and moreover, disputes of this kind are the mark of a rebellious spirit.

Hence it follows; And the angel answering said to him, I am Gabriel, who stand before God.

THEOPHYL As if he says, "If it were man who promised these miracles, one might with impunity demand a sign, but when an angel promises, it is then not right to doubt. It follows; And I am sent to speak to you.

CHRYS. That when you hear that I am sent from God, you should deem none of the things which are said to you to be of man, for I speak not of myself, but declare the message of Him who sends me. And this is the merit and excellence of a messenger to relate nothing of his own.

THEOPHYL Here we must remark, that the angel testifies, that he both stands before God, and is sent to bring good tidings to Zacharias. GREG. For when angels come to us, they so outwardly fulfill their ministry, as at the same time inwardly to be never absent from His sight; since, though the angelic spirit is circumscribed, the highest Spirit, which is God, is not circumscribed. The angels therefore even when sent are before Him, because on whatever mission they go, they pass within Him.

THEOPHYL But he gives him the sign which he asks for, that he who spoke in unbelief, might now by silence learn to believe; as it follows; and, behold, you shall be dumb.

CHRYS. That the bonds might be transferred from the powers of generation to the vocal organs. From no regard to the priesthood was he spared, but for this reason was the more smitten, because in a matter of faith he ought to have set an example to others.

THEOPHYL. Because the word in the Greek may also signify deaf, he well says, Because you believe not, you shall be deaf, and shall not be able to speak. For most reasonably he suffered these two things; as disobedient, he incurs the penalty of deafness; as an objector, of silence.

CHRYS. But the Angel says, And, behold; in other words, "At this instant." But mark the mercy of God in what follows: Until the day in which these things shall be performed. As if he said, "When by the issues of events I shall have proved my words, and you shall perceive that you are lightly punished, I will remove the punishment from you." And he points out the cause of the punishment, adding, Because you believe not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season; not considering His power Who sent me, and before Whom I stand. But if he who was incredulous about a mortal birth is punished how shall he escape vengeance, who speaks falsely of the heavenly and unspeakable birth?

GREEK EX. Now while these things were going on within the delay excited surprise among the multitudes who were waiting without, as it follows: And the people waited for Zacharias, an marveled that he tarried. And while various -suspicions were going about, each man repeating them as it pleased him, Zacharias coming forth told by his silence what he secretly endured.

Hence it follows, And when he came out, he could not speak.

THEOPHYL. But Zacharias beckoned to the people, who perhaps inquired the cause of his silence, which, as he was not able to speak, he signified to them by nodding. Hence it follows, And he beckoned to them, and remained speechless.

AMBROSE But a nod is a certain action of the body, without speech endeavoring to declare the will, yet not expressing it.

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Aquinas, Thomas. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Golden Chain Commentary on the Gospel".

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

And the people waited for Zacharias,.... That were without, in the court of the Israelites, praying there, while he was offering incense: these were waiting for his coming out, in order to be blessed by him, according to Numbers 6:23 and be dismissed: and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple; beyond the usual time of burning incense; which might be occasioned either by a longer discourse of the angel with him than what is here related; or being struck with amazement at the sight and hearing of the angel, he might continue long musing on this unexpected appearance and relation; or he might spend some time not only in meditation upon it, but in mental prayer, confession, and thanksgiving. The high priest, when he went in to burn incense on the day of atonement,

"made a short prayer in the outward house, (in the temple,) and he did not continue long in his prayer, שלא להבעית, "that he might not affright" the Israelites'F13Misna Yoma, c. 5. sect. 1. ,

thinking that he was dead; for many high priests that were unfit for, or made alteration in the service, died in the holy of holiesF14Maimon. & Bartenora in ib. ,

"It is reportedF15T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 53. 2. of one high priest, that he continued long in his prayer, and his brethren, the priests, thought to have gone in after him; and they began to go in, and he came out; they say unto him, why didst thou continue long in thy prayer? he replied to them, is it hard in your eyes that I should pray for you, and for the house of the sanctuary, that it might not be destroyed? they answered him, be not used to do so; for we have learned, that a man should not continue long in prayer, that he may not affright Israel.

This high priest, they elsewhere sayF16T. Hieros. Yoma, fol. 42. 3. , was Simeon the just,

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Gill, John. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament


18-20. Here we see that Zacharias evinced his doubt of Gabriel’s communication by asking a sign. O how many people now doubt God and wait for signs, instead of taking Him at His word and rejoicing in His promises! The result in the case of Zacharias was, that he became dumb, and so remained till the birth of John the Baptist. If you ever doubt God, you will forfeit your testimony, and become a poor dummy in the meetings. You can recognize it definitely in all cases. So fast as the people give way to doubt, they forfeit their testimony, becoming dumb. Real faith always tells its own story. How common to find whole Churches dumb, thus evidencing the lamentable fact that, if they ever had faith, they have permitted the enemy to steal it away from them! Without faith there is no salvation. Hence you see that all dumb Churches are proper missionary ground. You must get their tongues loose, or they forfeit the hope of salvation.

21-23. Here we see that the words of Gabriel were signally verified when Zacharias, sure enough, was dumb, because he had disbelieved the word of the Lord spoken by the archangel. Be sure you believe all of God’s Word, and keep your testimony ever ringing clear, as otherwise you forfeit your salvation.

24,25. Here we find that when Elizabeth realized pregnancy, she went into retirement five months. Why was this? Evidently that she might enjoy uninterrupted communion with God, fasting, praying, and meditating, thus sinking away into His will, adoring His majesty, and contemplating His glory; meanwhile seeking that extraordinary enduement of grace requisite to qualify her for the immeasurable responsibilities of motherhood, and especially the maternity, training, and education of such a man as she knew, by the revelation of Gabriel, that her son would be. In that age of the world, and the ensuing fifteen hundred years, monastic seclusion for spiritual blessings was very common. We seriously feel the need of it now, in this age of superficiality. Nothing is really so much needed on the part of God’s people, and especially the ministry of God’s people, at the present day, as uninterrupted communion with God. Certainly the reproach of her sterility was gloriously removed in the birth of such a man as John the Baptist, the prince of prophets, and even more the precursor of the world’s Redeemer. We have in the birth of John the Baptist a repetition of that supernatural intervention of the Holy Ghost which characterized the birth of Isaac. In that case, however, the faith of Abraham was robust and triumphant, that of Sarah somewhat staggering through unbelief; whereas, in the case of John the Baptist, Zacharias’s faith flickered seriously, while that of Elizabeth is unimpeached, and, as we have good reason to believe, was athletic throughout.

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Godbey, William. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament".

Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures

The Vision of Zacharias Regarding the Birth of John the Baptist - In we have the testimony of Zacharias regarding the birth of John the Baptist. The testimonies that Luke compiles in these first two chapters regarding Jesus' birth and childhood very likely came from the lips of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Thus, Luke reaches as far back in time to record the earliest eye-witness testimonies of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Outline: Here is a proposed outline:

1. A Description of Zacharias and Elisabeth —

2. The Angelic Prophecy Given to Zacharias —

3. The Fulfillment of the Divine Prophecy —

Luke's Emphasis on Jewish Customs- Luke, a Gentile, in writing to Theophilos, a Roman leader, places a tremendous emphasis upon the customs of the Jews in the story Zacharias and the angel in the Temple predicting the birth of John the Baptist ( ). Luke's description of these customs in this passage of Scripture is presented in a way that shows that the Jews held tremendous respect for God. Luke seems to be making an effort to present the Jews as a devout people and not as a cult.

— A Description of Zacharias and Elisabeth - Luke 1:5-7 provides the context of the eye-witness account of the angel appearing to Zacharias to announce the birth of his son John the Baptist. These opening verses describe the two main characters involved in this narrative, and the setting in which the vision took place.

Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

Luke 1:5 — "There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea" - Comments- Luke is the only Evangelist that calls King Herod by his full title as "the king of Judaea." Matthew and Mark simply call him King Herod. Luke was placing this title in perspective of the Roman politics of his day. In fact, Luke -Acts is dated and framed around the Roman political system, unlike the other evangelists. Luke asks his reader, Theophilus, to enter his story from a political view, thus alluding to the possibility that Luke wrote his Gospel and Acts as a legal brief.

Luke, a Gentile convert, is probably writing to a Roman government official. Therefore, he begins his narrative by describing the time and setting in a way that an educated Roman would understand. This Roman official would have been familiar with King Herod and the approximate period of his reign over the Jews. He would have some working knowledge of Jewish customs and temple worship.

Smith tells us that Herod the Great, whose name means, "son of a hero," "was the second son of Antipater," an Idumean, "who was appointed as procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar" in 47 B.C. Josephus tells us that Antipater appointed his Song of Solomon, Herod, over Galilee shortly thereafter at the age of fifteen (15), and later over Coele-Syria (Antiquities 1492). However, scholars suggest he was slightly older, since Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. at the age of 69 or 70. In 41 B.C. Mark Antony appointed Herod as tetrarch of Judea. After being forced to flee from Judea the following year, Herod made his way to Rome where he then received the title as king of Judaea (Antiquities 1444). This is the title that is used in Luke 1:5. With the aid of Roman soldiers Herod the Great took control of Jerusalem in 37 B.C. where he reigned with corruption and cruelty until he died of a terrible illness of body and mind at Jericho, in April, B.C 4, at the age of sixty-nine (69), after reigning thirty-seven (37) years over Judaea. He is believed to have died the year of Jesus' birth and to have slaughtered the babies in Bethlehem shortly before his death. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment is the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, called Herod's Temple. This work began in 20 B.C. and continued after his death.

Luke 1:5 — "a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia" - Comments- The name Abia is a variant reading of the Hebrew name "Abijah," which name is used twenty times in the Old Testament to refer to at least six men and two women. We find in 1 Chronicles 24:1-19 how King David organized the priesthood by dividing it into twenty-four courses among the sons of Aaron. The order of Abia was given the eighth having been divided by lot. Thus, Zacharias would have been a descendent of Abia in order to serve under his order.

Luke 1:5 — "and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth" - Comments- Although a Levite priest could marry from any tribe of Israel, Zechariah's marriage to a woman of the tribe of Levi, and particularly, from the family of Aaron, reflects his deep devotion to his office as a priest unto the Lord.

The fact that Elisabeth's genealogy can accurately be traced back fifteen centuries to Aaron, who was the brother of Moses, is supported by the genealogies found in Matthew ( ) and Luke ( Luke 3:23-38). In addition, Josephus tells us that there were indeed public tablets of Jewish ancestry (The Life of Flavius Josephus 1). Josephus also tells us of the painstaking care that the Jews have taken to keep records as old as two thousand years of their ancestry. All Jews of the Diaspora kept accurate records, which were sent to Jerusalem for safekeeping (Against Apion 17). Eusebius (A.D 260 to 340), the ancient church historian, testifies to the Jewish tradition of keeping accurate records of their ancestry (Ecclesiastical History 1713-14).

Luke 1:6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

Luke 1:7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

Comments - Barrenness Under the Law- Under the Mosaic Law, barrenness was considered a curse, so that a woman without children often felt the reproach of her family and friends, as is mentioned in Luke 1:25. However, Luke 1:6 proclaims her and her husband's righteousness immediately before describing her barrenness in Luke 1:7, which serves to foreshadow a divine intervention in this couple's life. Two examples of Old Testament narrative material that begins with similar statements are found in the life of Samson ( Judges 13:2) and Samuel ( 1 Samuel 1:1-2), where both mothers were barren, yet gave birth to famous men of God through divine interventions.

Judges 13:2, "And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not."

, "Now there was a certain man of Ramathaimzophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite: And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children."

— The Angelic Prophecy Given to Zacharias - Luke opens his testimony with a Jewish priest receiving a divine oracle from the Lord through the angel Gabriel.

Oracles in the Ancient World- The concept of a priest receiving a divine oracle was not new to the ancient Greco-Roman world. The classical writers reveal that the concept of sacred mysteries being utters as divine oracles was practiced in the ancient world. Regarding the use of oracles, the ancient Greeks regarded divine oracles as a form of worship until the time of the Persian war (490-479 B.C.). 137] The temple of Apollo located at Delphi was famous in the ancient world for delivering oracles to men by those in a trance, or they interpreted dreams or patterns in nature. 138] The Greek historians Herodotus (484-425 B.C.) 139] and Plutarch (A.D 46-100) 140] mention this place of oracles in their writings. While the Romans as a nation did not regard oracles as a religious practice, this custom continued within the Empire, but not without the contempt of the Romans. 141] This practice was later outlawed under the Roman emperor Theodosius (A.D 379-385). 142] King Saul's visit to the witch of Endor shows its popularity among ancient eastern cultures ( ). The damsel who prophesied over Paul and Barnabas in Philippi is an example of the proliferation of divination in the New Testament times ( Acts 16:16-24). The Sibylline Oracles, 143] a collection of Greek oracles compiled by Jews and Christians in the early centuries before and after Christ, reflect the widespread popularity that the Sibyl prophetesses held in ancient Greek and Roman history. Regarding the concept of "mysteries" ( μυστή ριον) revealed through oracles, Plutarch, writing about the Pythian priestesses who prophesied at Delphi, speaks of "interpreters of the sacred mysteries." 144] Thus, when Paul refers to the mysteries hidden from the ages being revealed to the Church ( Romans 16:25, 1 Corinthians 2:7, Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 3:3-4; Ephesians 3:9; Ephesians 6:19, Colossians 1:26; Colossians 2:2; Colossians 4:3, 1 Timothy 3:9), or when Luke, Paul, and Peter speak of the "oracles" ( λόγιον) (G 3051) of God ( Acts 7:38, Romans 3:2, Hebrews 5:12, 1 Peter 4:11), they are speaking in a cultural language that the Greeks and Romans understood, where pagans frequently sought oracles through divine utterance at the temples to reveal hidden mysteries for their lives.

137] C. H. Prichard, "Oracle," in A Dictionary of the Bible, vol 3, ed. James Hastings (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1901), 629.

138] R. F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, R. K. Harrison, and Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nelson"s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, rev. ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), in Libronix Digital Library System, v 21c [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp, 2000-2004), "Oracle."

139] Herodotus writes, "…and he [Dorieus] asked the Spartans for a company of folks, whom he took away as colonists; he neither enquired of the oracle at Delphi in what land he should plant his settlement, nor did aught else that was customary…" (Histories 542) See Herodotus III, trans. A. D. Godley, in The Loeb Classical Library, eds. T. E. Page, E. Capps, and W. H. D. Rouse (London: William Heinemann, 1938), 46-47.

140] Plutarch tells us that the Sibylline prophetesses of Delphi used poetic verses with their prophecies, saying, "…for when we drew near that part of the rock which joins to the senate-house, which by common fame was the seat of the first Sibyl that came to Delphi from Helicon, where she was bred by the Muses…Serapio made mention of certain verses of hers, wherein she had extolled herself as one that should never cease to prophesy even after her death…" (Wherefore the Pythian Priestess Now Ceases to Deliver Her Oracles in Verse 9) He later writes, "…but I am constrained to claim your first promise, to tell me the reason wherefore now the Pythian prophetess no longer delivers her oracles in poetic numbers and measures…and also the temple of Tellus, to which the oracle appertained, and where the answers were delivered in verses and song." (Wherefore the Pythian Priestess Now Ceases to Deliver Her Oracles in Verse 17) See William W. Goodwin, Plutarch's Essays and Miscellanies, vol 3 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1911), 77, 86-87.

141] The Roman poet Lucan (A.D 39-65) reflects the contempt for such oracles by the Romans when he writes, "They had now come to the Temple, the only one which among the Libyan nations the uncivilized Garamantes possess. There stands Jupiter, the foreteller of destiny, as they relate; but not either brandishing the lightnings or like to ours, but Ammon with crooked horns." (Pharsalia 9593-598) See H. T. Riley, The Pharsalia of Lucan (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), 359.

142] C. H. Prichard, "Oracle," In A Dictionary of the Bible, ed. James Hastings (), 629.

143] The Sibylline Oracles, trans. H. C. O. Lanchester, in The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English With Introductions and Critical and Explanatory Notes to the Several Books, vol 2, ed. R. H. Charles (electronic edition), in Libronix Digital Library System, v 21c [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp, 2000-2004).

144] Plutarch writes, "The interpreters of the sacred mysteries acted without any regard to us, who desired them to contract their relation into as few words as might be, and to pass by the most part of the inscriptions." (Wherefore the Pythian Priestess Now Ceases to Deliver Her Oracles in Verse 2) See William W. Goodwin, Plutarch's Essays and Miscellanies, vol 3 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1911), 70.

Romans 16:25, "Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,"

1 Corinthians 2:7, "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden Wisdom of Solomon, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:"

Ephesians 1:9, "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:"

, "How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)"

Ephesians 3:9, "And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:"

Ephesians 6:19, "And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,"

Colossians 1:26, "Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:"

Colossians 2:2, "That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;"

Colossians 4:3, "Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:"

1 Timothy 3:9, "Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience."

Acts 7:38, "This is Hebrews, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:"

Romans 3:2, "Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God."

Hebrews 5:12, "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat."

1 Peter 4:11, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."

The reference to pillars and foundations of the Church in 1 Timothy 3:15 suggests that Paul had in mind the ancient Greek and Roman temples with their practice of divination, and that he compares this pagan scene of worship to the New Testament Church and the Holy Scriptures, which serve as its pillars and foundation.

Luke 1:8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest"s office before God in the order of his course,

Luke 1:9 According to the custom of the priest"s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

Comments- The Order of the Levitical Priestly Service- The order of the Levitical priestly service was established during the time of Moses and the building of the Tabernacle, when the Levites were set apart from the other tribes for divine service ( Numbers 3:5-10; Numbers 8:6-26). When King David built the Temple in Jerusalem he further organized these priestly duties ( 1 Chronicles 24:1-19), which order was continued by Solomon ( 2 Chronicles 8:14), Hezekiah ( 2 Chronicles 31:2; 2 Chronicles 31:19), and Ezra ( Luke 6:18). The Scriptures tell us there were twenty-four orders of priests ( 1 Chronicles 24:1-19), with Zechariah being of the eighth order of Abijah ( 1 Chronicles 24:10, Luke 1:5).

1 Chronicles 24:19, "These were the orderings of them in their service to come into the house of the LORD, according to their manner, under Aaron their father, as the LORD God of Israel had commanded him."

2 Chronicles 8:14, "And he appointed, according to the order of David his father, the courses of the priests to their service, and the Levites to their charges, to praise and minister before the priests, as the duty of every day required: the porters also by their courses at every gate: for so had David the man of God commanded."

2 Chronicles 31:2, "And Hezekiah appointed the courses of the priests and the Levites after their courses, every man according to his service, the priests and Levites for burnt offerings and for peace offerings, to minister, and to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the tents of the LORD."

2 Chronicles 31:19, "Also of the sons of Aaron the priests, which were in the fields of the suburbs of their cities, in every several city, the men that were expressed by name, to give portions to all the males among the priests, and to all that were reckoned by genealogies among the Levites."

Ezra 6:18, "And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses."

Luke 1:10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

Luke 1:10 — "And the whole multitude of the people were praying without" - Comments- One thing that the people were praying during this period of history is for the Messiah to come and deliver them from the oppression of the Roman Empire.

Luke 1:10 — "at the time of incense" - Comments- The offering of incense represented men's prayers unto God ( Psalm 141:2, Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4).

Psalm 141:2, "Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice."

Revelation 5:8, "And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints."

, "And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel"s hand."

Luke 1:11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

Luke 1:11Comments- If Theophilus was not familiar with the angelic visits recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, he was certainly familiar with the mythological visitations described in Roman-Greco mythology.

Luke 1:12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

Luke 1:13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a Song of Solomon, and thou shalt call his name John.

Luke 1:13Comments- Zacharias and Elisabeth were now beyond the age of childbearing ( Luke 1:7). Luke 1:13 reveals that they had prayed earnestly for a child when they were younger. They had probably long abandoned their hope and earnest prayer for a child because of their old age.

Sometimes our prayers are not answered immediately within the time frame that we want them answered. We see in verse 20 that God did not answer the prayers of this old couple until the time in which they were to be "fulfilled in their season."

Luke 1:20, "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."

Yet, because Zacharias had sown seeds of prayer for the people of his nation by offering incense in the Temple, he placed himself in a position to receive a blessing. In the fullness of time, their seed produced a harvest.

Luke 1:14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

Luke 1:15 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.

Luke 1:15 — "and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink" - Comments- The angel's description of person abstaining from drinking wine nor strong drink is found in the law of the Nazarite ( Numbers 6:1-20) which explains how a man or a woman separates themselves unto the Lord. Zacharias well knew that the angel was telling him that his son would be separated unto God for a special purpose. He knew from Matthew 1:16 that this purpose would be to bring the children of Israel back unto their God.

Luke 1:15 — "and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother"s womb" - Comments- Luke 1:15 describes the anointing of John the Baptist from the womb. This is a unique statement in the four Gospels, supporting the secondary theme of Luke, which declares the prophetic utterances of eye-witnesses who testify of the deity of Jesus Christ through the anointing and empowering of the Holy Spirit, which reflects the office and ministry of the prophet. We see this emphasis of the anointing of the Holy Spirit in Jesus' ministry in Luke 4:1, "And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan." Luke the Evangelist will emphasize this theme at the end of his Gospel when Jesus commissions His disciples in Luke 24:48-49, saying, "And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high."

Luke 4:1,"And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,"

, "And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high."

Luke 1:15Comments - The experience of an individual being filled with the Holy Spirit was new to mankind, since they were only empowered by the Holy Spirit under the Old Covenant. The Holy Spirit had never dwelt permanently inside a person until the institution of the New Covenant. Samson was a Nazarite with whom the Holy Spirit came upon for a season to empower him to do the work of God, but the Holy Spirit would leave before coming again. In contrast, John the Baptist would be the first to have this type of permanent anointing, followed by Jesus Christ, then the one hundred twenty in the upper room, and the New Testament Church.

Luke 1:16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.

Luke 1:16Comments- Luke 1:16 reflects the primary theme of Luke's Gospel, which declares the deity of Jesus Christ through eyewitnesses. John the Baptist will turn the hearts of many people through his testimony of the deity of Jesus Christ. The phrase "the Lord their God" specifically refers to Jesus Christ, since the next phrase in Luke 1:17 says that John the Baptist will "go before Him," that Isaiah, John will go before and prepare the way for the arrival of Jesus Christ.

Luke 1:17 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.

Luke 1:17 — "And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias" - Comments- As with the statement in the previous verse ( Luke 1:15), "and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother"s womb," this statement supports the secondary theme of Luke's Gospel, which declares that we are to be witnesses of Jesus Christ through the anointing and empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Luke 1:17 — "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children" - Comments- One of the characteristics of a depraved society is child abuse. Even today in some of the most wicked societies there is abusive child labour, child trafficking, child slavery, child sex slavery and child sacrificing.

Luke 1:17Comments - Luke 1:17 is a paraphrased quote from Malachi 4:5-6.

, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."

As an historian, Luke begins where the Old Testament ends. He breaks four hundred years of silence by announcing the fulfillment of the last prophecy of the Old Testament. Since the Gospel of Luke is built upon prophetic fulfillment, Luke must tie his recorded prophecies to Old Testament prophecies.

Luke 1:17 refers to the anointing of John the Baptist, which reflects the secondary theme of Luke's Gospel, which states that we are to be witnesses of Jesus Christ through the anointing and empowering of the Holy Spirit. This anointing that Elijah walked in was an anointing that brought the nation of Israel into a time of national repentance. In like manner, John the Baptist called the nation of Israel into repentance, and the people of that nation followed his call of repentance through water baptism.

Comments - The Character of John the Baptist - The description of John the Baptist in Luke 1:16-18 suggests that God forms the character of individuals even while they are in the womb. Any parent knows that each child has a unique character, with different gifts and interests, although they are raised in the same home by the same parent. God gives every person a unique profile and character as a part of His wonderful plan of creation for the human race.

Luke 1:18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old Prayer of Manasseh, and my wife well stricken in years.

Luke 1:18Comments - Zacharias responded to Gabriel's prophecy by asking for a sign to prove that what the angel was telling him was the truth. Thus, the angel met him at his point of faith by giving him a sign, which was to strike him dumb until the day of John's birth. Zacharias would believe because of this sign. In contrast, the virgin Mary would respond to Gabriel's prophecy by asking how she would conceive ( Luke 1:34), and he responded to her point of faith by explaining how the Holy Spirit would descend upon her so and bring about a miraculous conception. Jesus rebuked the people for seeking after a sign ( Matthew 12:39; Matthew 16:4, Mark 8:12, Luke 11:29). Paul tells us that the Jews required a sign ( 1 Corinthians 1:22).

1 Corinthians 1:22, "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:"

Luke 1:19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

Luke 1:19Comments - The angel Gabriel appeared to three people in the Scriptures: Daniel ( Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21), Zacharias ( Luke 1:19), and Mary, the mother of Jesus ( Luke 1:26). These are the only times Gabriel is mentioned in the Scriptures. In all three appearances he comes to men and women of God to bring them a message from the Lord.

Luke 1:20 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.

Luke 1:20 — "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" - Comments - We note that Mary believed the words of the angel Gabriel, while Zachariah doubted. As we get older, we tend to become more skeptical in life, while youth tend to be more teachable and easily believe what adults tell them. Zachariah was struck dumb because of his unbelief. Perhaps his unbelief would have brought many negative confessions from his lips, thus hindering the fulfillment of this prophecy from the angel of the Lord. Note the power of the tongue:

James 3:6, "And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell."

Luke 1:20 — "which shall be fulfilled in their season" - Comments - Each of these eye-witness testimonies leading up to Jesus' birth contain prophetic utterances. Prophecy, which is the aspect of 5-fold ministry underlying Luke's Gospel, follows a redemptive timeline that God the Father alone has planned. The phrase "which shall be fulfilled in their season" indicates that not even Gabriel the angel knew the time of their fulfillment.

Luke 1:20Comments - The angel Gabriel struck Zechariah speechless as a sign and confirmation to him that the prophetic word was genuine because of his doubt. In contrast, the angel gave Mary a confirmation when he informed her that her cousin Elisabeth was with child.

— The Fulfillment of the Divine Prophecy - Luke 1:21-25 records the fulfillment of the angel Gabriel's divine prophecy as Zechariah was struck dumb and Elisabeth conceived.

Luke 1:21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.

Luke 1:22 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.

Luke 1:22Comments - According to Luke 1:22, the people were anticipating Zacharias to speak to them. The Jewish Tamid (72) instructs the priest to offer a blessing over the people according to Numbers 6:24-26 on the steps that ascended to the Sanctuary after the daily sacrifice. 145] Some scholars suggests the possibility that Jesus' final blessing in Luke 24:50 fulfilled the priestly blessing that Zecharias was not able to perform because the angel struck him with dumbness in the opening passage of Luke's Gospel ( Luke 1:21-22). 146] This blessing would make an appropriate closing to the Gospel, and it alludes the fact that Jesus Christ is now our Great High Priest.

145] Esther G. Chazon, Ruth A. Clements, and Avital Pinnick, eds, Liturgical Perspectives: Prayer and Poetry in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls; Proceedings of the Fifth International Symposium of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature (Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2003), 122.

146] David L. Allen, "Class Lecture," Doctor of Ministry Seminar, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 25 July to 5 August 2011; John Nolland, Luke 1:1-9:20, in Word Biblical Commentary, vol 35A (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), in Libronix Digital Library System, v 21c [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp, 2000-2004), comments on Luke 1:22.

Luke 24:50, "And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them."

, "Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them."

Luke 1:23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.

Luke 1:24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,

Luke 1:24Comments - Elisabeth was able to hid her pregnancy for the first five months. However, during the sixth month the angel appears to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and tells her about Elisabeth ( Luke 1:26-38). This means that Elisabeth was no longer hidden.

Luke 1:25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

Luke 1:25Comments - The Jews of this day believed that a woman was barren because of divine judgment. This is because the blessings and favor of God described in the Mosaic Law promised to bless the fruit of the womb. The word "men" is used in Luke 1:5 to refer to men and woman, especially to her immediate relatives and friends.

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Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures

Prophetic Witnesses of Jesus' Birth (God the Father's Predestination) ( ) and Infancy and Childhood (God the Father's Calling) ( Luke 2:1-52) - Luke 1:5-80 gives three testimonies of prophecies predicting Jesus' divine birth and His predestined office and ministry as Saviour of the World, while Luke 2:1-52 gives three prophetic witnesses of Jesus' infancy and childhood. These six prophetic witnesses of His birth and childhood reveal the fact that Jesus Christ has been predestined to His divine office as the Saviour of the World. In contrast, Matthew's parallel account emphasizes the birth of the Messiah as a King. Matthew's Gospel introduces the King in a way that follows proper protocol for royalty. Matthew reveals Jesus as a descendent of the royal lineage of King David and the fulfillment of the promises that God made to Abraham. Luke's genealogy reveals Him as the promised seed of woman.

Outline - Here is a proposed outline:

A. Three Prophetic Witnesses of Jesus' Birth —

1. The Vision of Zacharias —

2. The Prophecy of Mary —

3. The Prophecy of Zacharias & Elisabeth —

B. Three Prophetic Witnesses of Jesus' Infancy & Childhood —

1. The Prophetic Witness of the Shepherds at His birth —

a) The Birth of Jesus —

b) The Witness of the Shepherds —

2. Two Prophetic Witnesses in the Temple at His Dedication —

a) The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple —

b) The Witness of Simeon —

c) The Witness of Anna —

d) Jesus Returns to Nazareth —

3. The Prophetic Witness of the Jesus' Childhood in the Temple —

Luke's Prophetic Witnesses- After four hundred hears of silence, God was not speaking to His people through the office of the prophet, but through simple Jewish men and women of God regarding the coming of the Messiah. In Luke 1:5 to Luke 2:52 God gave directly to Mary, the mother of Jesus, many witnesses to confirm that this divine birth was a fulfillment of prophecy.

1. Gabriel-

2. Elizabeth-

3. The Shepherds-

4. The Three wise men-

5. Simon-

6. Anna-

Mary was a very probable source that Luke used when compiling these witnesses of Jesus' birth and childhood. Luke 1:5 to Luke 2:52 gives three testimonies of prophecies predicting Jesus' divine birth and three testimonies from His childhood of His office and ministry as Saviour of the World.

Luke's Emphasis on Prophecy- It is important to note how these stories place emphasis in the narrative material upon the work and empowerment of the Holy Spirit to enable these people to declare their testimonies through prophecy. The secondary theme of Luke/Acts states that those who testified of Jesus Christ did so through the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Regarding the three testimonies that prophesied the births of John and Jesus, in the Witness of Zacharias ( ) the angel tells Zacharias that his son would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb. In the Witness of Mary ( Luke 1:26-56) the angel tells Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and overshadow her, and the babe leaped in Elisabeth's womb as she was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. In the Witness of Zacharias and Elisabeth ( Luke 1:57-80), Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. In the story of Jesus' birth, Simeon came by the Spirit and prophesied what was revealed to him by the Spirit about the child Jesus, and Anna the prophetess also came and gave her prophecy under the unction of the Spirit.

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Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures

Prophetic Witnesses Predicting the Birth of Jesus ( ) - Luke 1:5-80 gives three testimonies as prophecies predicting Jesus' divine birth and His predestined office and ministry as Saviour of the world.

1. The Vision of Zacharias ( Luke 1:5-25) - Luke 1:5-25 contains the vision of Zacharias, in which the angel Gabriel gives Zacharias a prophecy of the birth of his Song of Solomon, who will go forth as a herald of the coming of the Lord. This passage concludes with Zacharias and Elisabeth awaiting the fulfillment of this prophecy after having conceived ( Luke 1:24-25).

, "And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men."

2. The Prophecies of Gabriel, Elisabeth, & Mary ( Luke 1:26-56) - Luke 1:26-56 contains three prophecies of Gabriel, Mary, and Elisabeth predicting the birth of the Saviour, who is to be named Jesus. This passage concludes with Mary awaiting this birth in fulfillment of prophecy ( Luke 1:56).

Luke 1:56, "And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house."

3. The Prophecy of Zacharias ( Luke 1:57-80) - Luke 1:57-80 contains the prophecy of Zacharias, who offers praise for the coming Saviour and a prediction of the office and ministry of his son John the Baptist. This passage concludes with the child in the desert awaiting his manifestation to Israel in fulfillment of this prophecy ( Luke 1:80).

Luke 1:80, "And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel."

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Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. 2013.

Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books

First Narrative: Announcement of the Birth of John the Baptist, Luke 1:5-25.

The first words of the narrative bring us back from the midst of Greece, whither we were transported by the prologue, into a completely Jewish world. The very style changes its character. From the fifth verse it is so saturated with Aramaisms, that the contrast with the four preceding verses resulting from it obliges us to admit, either that the author artificially modifies his language in order to adapt it to his subject, and so produces an imitation,—a refinement of method scarcely probable,—or that he is dealing with ancient documents, the Aramaic colouring of which he endeavours to preserve as faithfully as possible. This second supposition alone appears admissible. But it may assume two forms. Either the author simply copies a Greek document which already had the Hebraistic character with which we are struck; or the document in his hands is in the Aramean tongue, and he translates it into Greek. Bleek maintains the first view. We shall examine, at the seventy-eighth verse of chap. 1, his principal proof. As all the most characteristic peculiarities of Luke"s style are found in these two chapters, the second alternative is by this circumstance rendered more probable.

But in this case it is asked, Why Luke, translating from the Aramean, did not reproduce his document in purer Greek, as he was perfectly competent to do; comp. Luke 1:1-4. And he is blamed for his servility as a translator.

It is exactly as if M. de Barante were blamed for preserving with all possible fidelity, in his history of the Dukes of Burgundy, the style of the ancient chronicles from which the contents of his narrative are drawn; or M. Augustin Thierry, for "having kept as near as he possibly could to the language of the ancient historians." So far from deserving the blame of his critics, Luke has shown himself a man of exquisite taste, in that he has preserved throughout his narrative all the flavour of the documents he uses, and has availed himself of the incomparable flexibility of the Greek language to reproduce in all their purity of substance and form, and give, as it were, a tracing of the precious documents which had fallen into his hands.

This first narrative describes: 1. The trial of Zacharias and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-7). 2. The promise of deliverance (Luke 1:8-22). 3. The accomplishment of this promise (Luke 1:23-25).

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Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books

2. The promise of deliverance: Luke 1:8-22. This portion comprises: 1. Luke 1:8-17, The promise itself; 2. Luke 1:18-22, The manner in which it was received.

1. The narrative of the promise includes: the appearance (Luke 1:8-12), and the message (Luke 1:13-17), of the angel.

The appearance of the angel: Luke 1:8-12. — The incense had to be offered, according to the law (Exodus 30:7-8), every morning and evening. There was public prayer three times a day: at nine in the morning (Acts 2:15?), at noon (Acts 10:9), and at three in the afternoon (Acts 3:1; Acts 10:30). The first and last of these acts of public prayer coincided with the offering of incense (Jos. Antiq. 14.4. 3).

In the construction ἐγένετο ἔλαχε, the subject of the first verb is the act indicated by the second.— ῎εναντι, in the face of, before, is suitable here; for the officiating priest enacts a part in the front of the Divinity. The words, according to the custom of the priest"s office (Luke 1:8), may be referred either to the established rotation of the courses (Luke 1:8), or to the use of the lot with a view to the assignment of each day"s functions. In both cases, the extraordinary use of the lot would be worthy of mention. The reference of these words to what precedes appears to us more natural; we regard them as a simple amplification of ἐν τῇ τάξει: "the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest"s office."

On the use of the lot Oosterzee rightly observes that it proceeded from this, that nothing in the service of the sanctuary was to be left to man"s arbitrary decision. The function of offering incense, which gave the priest the right to enter the holy place, was regarded as the most honourable of all. Further, according to the Talmud, the priest who had obtained it was not permitted to draw the lot a second time in the same week.— εἰσελθών, having entered; there was the honour! This fact was at the same time the condition of the whole scene that followed. And that is certainly the reason why this detail, which is correctly understood by itself, is so particularly mentioned. Meyer and Bleek, not apprehending this design, find here an inaccuracy of expression, and maintain that with the infinitive θυμιάσαι the author passes by anticipation from the notion of the fact to its historical realization. This is unnecessary; εἰσελθών is a pluperfect in reference to θυμιάσαι: "It fell to him to offer incense after having entered." The term ναός, temple, designates the buildings properly so called, in opposition to the different courts; and the complement κυρίου, of the Lord, expresses its character in virtue of which the Lord was about to manifest Himself in this house.

The 10th verse mentions a circumstance which brings out the solemnity of the time, as the preceding circumstance brought out the solemnity of the place. The prayer of the people assembled in the court accompanied the offering of incense. There was a close connection between these two acts. The one was the typical, ideal, and therefore perfectly pure prayer; the other the real prayer, which was inevitably imperfect and defiled. The former covered the latter with its sanctity; the latter communicated to the former its reality and life. Thus they were the complement of each other. Hence their obligatory simultaneousness and their mutual connection are forcibly expressed by the dative τῇ ὥρᾳ. The reading which puts τοῦ λαοῦ between ἦν and προσευχόμενον, expresses better the essential idea of the proposition contained in this participle.

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Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books

2. vers. 18-22 relate the manner in which the promise is received; and first, the objection of Zacharias (Luke 1:18); next, his punishment (Luke 1:19-20); lastly, the effect produced upon the people by this latter circumstance.

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Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books

Vers. 21 and 22. According to the Talmud, the high priest did not remain long in the Holy of Holies on the great day of atonement. Much more would this be true of the priest officiating daily in the Holy Place. The analytical form ᾖν προσδοκῶν depicts the lengthened expectation and uneasiness which began to take possession of the people. The text indicates that the event which had just taken place was made known in two ways: on the one hand, by the silence of Zacharias; on the other, by signs by which he himself ( αὐτός) indicated its cause. The analytical form ἦν διανεύων denotes the frequent repetition of the same signs, and the imperfect διέμενεν, he remained dumb, depicts the increasing surprise produced by his continuing in this state.

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Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

5–25.] ANNOUNCEMENT BY GABRIEL OF THE BIRTH OF JOHN. Peculiar to Luke. The style now totally alters and becomes Hebraistic, signifying that the following is translated or complied from an Aramaic oral narration, or perhaps (from the very distinct character of these two first chapters) document.

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Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

21.] It was customary for the priest at the time of prayer not to remain long in the holy place, for fear the people who were without might imagine that any vengeance had been inflicted on him for some informality;—as he was considered the representative of the people. The words ἐθαύμαζον ἐν are best taken together, wondered at, as in ref. Sir. They may also be taken separately, taking ἐν as ‘during:’ and so Meyer: but this is not so probable.

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Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

Luke 1:21. The priests, especially the chief priests, were accustomed, according to the Talmud, to spend only a short time in the sanctuary; otherwise it was apprehended that they had been slain by God, because they were unworthy or had done something wrong. See Hieros. Joma, f. 43, 2; Babyl. f. 53, 2; Deyling, Obss. III. ed. 2, p. 455 f. Still the unusually long delay of Zacharias, which could not but strike the people, is sufficient in itself as a reason of their wonder.

ἐν τῷ χρονίζειν αὐτόν] not over ( ἐπί, Luke 4:22, al.), or on account of (Mark 6:6, διά), but on occasion of his failure to appear. So also Sirach 11:21; Isaiah 61:6. Rightly, Gersdorf, Ewald, render: when he, etc.

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The Bible Study New Testament

21. The people were waiting for Zechariah. Those who were praying in the courts waited until the priest who burned incense came out to dismiss them with a benediction. They wondered why he did not come out.




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Ironside's Notes on Selected Books

The Coming Forerunner -- Luke 1:5-25

“There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia; and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, and they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

“And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

“And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men”- Luke 1:5-25.

There is an interval, as you know, of about four hundred years between the book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, and the Gospels of the New Testament. We speak of these sometimes as “the four hundred silent years” because in those years we have no record, so far as inspired history is concerned, of God’s speaking audibly to man, either directly Himself or through angelic ministration. Of course, in the books sometimes called “Apocrypha” we do read of angels visiting men and prophets being raised up, but in the inspired Scriptures we have no record of anything of the kind during those four hundred years. They were years of waiting. The people of Israel had returned from captivity in Babylon about B.C. 536 to 445. God had spoken to His prophet Daniel, saying that at the end of a certain limited period-483 years to be exact, 69 periods of seven years each-the Messiah was to come, and the people were waiting for His coming. They knew that the time had almost expired, and one can understand the expectancy with which the Jews would go up to Jerusalem year after year to keep the feasts of the Lord, hoping that the promise would be fulfilled.

But nothing happened until a never-to-be-forgotten day when a priest named Zacharias was ministering in the holy place in the temple at Jerusalem. We read in verse Luke 1:5 : “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judsea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.” You will remember that, as recorded in 1 Chronicles, chapter 24, King David divided the priesthood of Israel into twenty-four courses, each course to serve two weeks at a time annually in the temple, and then give place to the next course. The course of Abia was the eighth. (In the Old Testament it is called Abijah, but it would be pronounced as it is spelled here in Luke.) Zacharias, then, belonged to this particular course, and he may or may not have served in the temple on previous occasions, but this day he was burning incense at the sacred altar, the golden altar in the holy place. We read of him and of his wife that, “They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (verse Luke 1:6). That is not to say that they were sinless, “for there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not,” we are told; but blameless refers to motives. Their motives were right. They were seeking to obey God, to walk with God, and they had, in a sense, His approval except for one thing. It was a great reproach in Israel if a married woman did not give birth to a child; therefore, people must have wondered whether God was displeased with this couple, whether, after all, He did not look upon them with disfavor. But sometimes, you know, God does not do immediately that for which our hearts crave, and yet He has it in His own purpose to reward in due time.

The years went by and this couple were still childless, until now they were quite elderly, and had given up all thought that they might become the parents of a child. But we are told here that while Zacharias on that particular day “executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord” (Luke 1:9-10). As he stood at the altar and sprinkled the incense upon the fire that was ever burning there, the multitude of the people gathered outside were bowed in prayer before God. It was a lovely picture of the fellowship of prayer, Zacharias here might really speak of our blessed Lord, who has entered into the Holiest above, ever living to make intercession for us, while we His people join in prayer down here.

As Zacharias was praying and the people were lifting up their hearts to God, suddenly the silence of four centuries was broken. We read: “There appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense” (Luke 1:11). It must have been a startling thing. No living Israelite had ever seen an angel. They had read of angelic appearances in years gone by, but they must have thought that perhaps all that was over forever and that none of them was ever likely to be so-visited. As Zacharias looked upon this glorious being, we are told, “He was troubled, and fear fell upon him” (Luke 1:12).

It was a customary thought among the Jews that it meant death to look either upon God or upon any heavenly representative. You remember in the Old Testament how when angels appeared to various ones they were filled with dread, and thought that it meant they were about to die. But the angel immediately quieted his mind. “The angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John” (Luke 1:13). “Fear not!” This seems to have been a favorite expression on the lips of Gabriel, for farther down in the chapter the same angel is said to have appeared to the blessed virgin Mary, and we read in Luke 1:30 : “And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God.” Then in the second chapter and the tenth verse, where the angel host appeared in glory unto the shepherds tending their flocks on the hillside, we read: “The angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.” The gospel message is intended to take away all fear and to fill the heart with assurance, the knowledge of God’s deep and abiding interest in His people.

So the angel quieted Zacharias’ fears and gave him the promise, “Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son.” And the angel named the son: “Thou shalt call his name John” (Luke 1:13). What a wonderful thing for a heavenly messenger to give the name for a child! We have several instances like that in Scripture. God told Abraham that he was to call his son “Isaac.” Here the angel named the child that he said would be born, “John.” It simply means, “The grace of Jehovah.”

This son who was to be born was to be the means of bringing joy and gladness to many people, and first of all to his own parents. “Thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:14-15). You remember what the Lord Jesus Himself said of him later on; that “of those who were born of women there was none greater than John the Baptist. And yet he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” This man was great, destined to be great, because he was to prepare the way for the coming of the King. He was to baptize the King and to present Him to Israel, but he himself was to go home to be with God, as a result of Herod’s bitter cruelty, before he saw the new order fully established here in the earth. Therefore, the very least who now receives Christ and enters into the kingdom of God occupies a greater position than John the Baptist himself. He said, “The King is coming.” We can say, “Thank God, He has come, and we are definitely linked up with Him.”

John was to be a Nazarite. Long years before, when God gave the Law, He said that if any in Israel were especially devoted to the Lord, they were to keep away from anything that came from the vinetree. They were not even to touch dried raisins or any other product of the vine, because the vine itself was the symbol of joy, and these men gave up the joys of earth in order that they might be more wholly devoted to God Himself. Then there were other regulations laid upon them. They were not to become defiled by coming near any dead body. They were to grow long hair, indicating the place of dependence, until the days of their Nazariteship were fulfilled. Samson was to be a Nazarite from his birth, and he became weak when he allowed his long hair to be cut. John the Baptist also was to be a Nazarite from his birth. He was to be wholly devoted to the service of the Lord from the very beginning. But more than that, he was to be especially, singularly marked out and empowered by the Holy Spirit even from the moment he came into the world. We read: “He shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God” (Luke 1:15-16).

God prepared him from his earliest days for the great mission that he was to fulfil. I think you will often find that when the Lord selects a man for some special work, He puts His hand upon him very early in life and impresses upon him the possibility and the joyful privilege of becoming His messenger to a lost and needy world. How many of God’s servants who have had a great ministry throughout the years were called as little children, children of godly parents, and from their earliest days were made acquainted with the things of the Lord, exercised in regard to their responsibility to God, and then when there came the full, clear consciousness of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, it seemed as though nothing could hold them back. Young as they were, they began proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ.

John, then, was called from his very babyhood to be Christ’s servant, and the assurance was given: “Many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God” (Luke 1:16). His coming had been foretold back in the book of Isaiah. The Holy Spirit definitely spoke of the coming of this one into the world. In the fortieth chapter, beginning with Luke 1:3, we read: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Luke 1:3-5). This was a prophecy uttered seven hundred years before John’s birth concerning the coming into the world of him who was to be the preparer of the Saviour’s way.

And then Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet, speaks of him twice. In chapter 3, verse Malachi 3:1, God says through Malachi: “Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” John the Baptist was that messenger, sent to prepare the way of the Lord. I might add that here you have clear, definite proof as to the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, because it was Jehovah whose way was to be thus prepared, and John came to prepare the way of Jesus. The Jesus of the New Testament is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Then in the last chapter of Malachi, verse Malachi 4:5, we read: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).

This was prophetic of the ministry of John the Baptist. It was not exactly that Elijah himself was coming back from heaven to earth, but John was to come in his energy. Referring again to the first chapter of Luke, verses Luke 1:16-17, we find that they emphasize the fact that John was the messenger of Jehovah. “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” The reference is definitely to the prophecy given in Malachi.

You remember how later on, the apostles came to the Lord Jesus as He spoke of His second coming, and asked, “Why say the scribes that Elias must first come?” Jesus answered them, “Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsover they listed”; and then He explained that John came in the spirit and power of Elijah. We have no other scripture intimating that Elijah is yet to come. He has already come in the person of John the Baptist. You may say, “Well, he is to come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Yes, and so he did! The great and dreadful day of the Lord is still in the future, and we have this dispensation of grace in between; but that is in accordance with all Old Testament prophecy. This present age is all hidden. It is the great parenthesis in God’s plan. “He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just”; that is, to call the people of Israel back to the testimony of the Word of God and to that law which had already been committed to their fathers.

When this announcement was made to Zacharias he was filled with amazement. See how human he is! He and his devoted wife had prayed for years, “O God, that it would please Thee to give us a son;” and they thought they prayed in faith, but the years had gone and no son had come into their home to brighten their lives. And now, when the angel appears and says, “You shall soon embrace a son, and you will call his name ‘John’” Zacharias looked at the angel doubtfully. He forgot how he had prayed all these years. He forgot that God can be depended on to hear the prayer of faith, and he asked the angel: “Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years” (ver. Luke 1:18). In other words, he is practically saying, “Well, what sign will you give me that this promise will be fulfilled? It is almost too much for me to believe. I can scarcely think that my prayer is really going to be heard. What sign will there be that God is going to do this for me?” The angel-may I say it reverently?-seemed to be just a little bit nettled over Zacharias’ lack of faith.

I wonder if our God is not often grieved in the same way over our lack of faith! He gives us such great and precious promises, and we come to Him in prayer, and we spread out our needs before Him and He gives us His Word, and we find ourselves asking, “Whereby shall I know this?” Hath He spoken, and shall He not do it? That is all that is necessary for faith-the word of the living God. We do not need some other sign in order to make God’s word more certain of fulfilment.

So the angel answered Zacharias and said: “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings” (ver. Luke 1:19). In other words, he is practically saying, “Zacharias, have you not failed to recognize who it is that has brought this message to you? I am the angel that stands in God’s own presence-Gabriel, Gabriel who appeared to Daniel, Gabriel who unfolded the prophecy of the seventy weeks, who told of the glorious things yet to come.” Now he says, “I am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings.” That ought to have been enough. “I have come direct from the throne as Jehovah’s messenger. You ought to be ready to accept my word for it, but now you want a sign. I will give you a sign, a sign perhaps which you will not enjoy, but I will give you a sign since you are not willing to rest upon the naked Word of God.” “Behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season” (ver. Luke 1:20).

Unbelief shut Zacharias’ mouth. The last words that came from his lips before the promise was fulfilled were these: “Whereby shall I know?” The first words that came from his mouth after the promise was fulfilled were words of praise and thanksgiving. Unbelief made him dumb: faith opened his lips again.

“The people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple” (ver. Luke 1:21). He was there, you see, at the altar of incense much longer than a priest ordinarily would be. He should have come out, according to the regular course of affairs, to bless the people; but he had remained there in the presence of God, although they did not understand it. So they marvelled that he tarried so long. “And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless’’ (ver. Luke 1:22). He stood there and just made a sign, unable to speak. “He beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.” Instinctively they realized that something amazing had happened, that he had seen a vision. Then we are told: “It came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own home” (ver. Luke 1:23).

He had to remain but the two weeks there in Jerusalem, and then he went back to his home and in due time God began to fulfil His promise. “And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men” (vers. Luke 1:24-25).

One can imagine how full her heart must have been as she realized that after all these years God was truly answering prayer, and she was to be the mother of this child who was destined to welcome the Messiah Himself when He came to Israel. Oh, that you and I might learn the lesson of faith, trust, confidence in God, a God whose hand is still stretched out, and who challenges us with the question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”




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Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. 1914.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

waited — to receive from him the usual benediction (Numbers 6:23-27).

tarried so long — It was not usual to tarry long, lest it should be thought vengeance had stricken the people‘s representative for something wrong [Lightfoot].

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.

And the people waited for Zacharias - to receive from him the usual benediction ().

And marveled that he tarried so long in the temple. It was not usual to tarry long, lest it should be thought vengeance had stricken the people's representative for something wrong. (Lightfoot).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

John Lightfoot's Commentary on the Gospels

21. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.

[They marvelled that he tarried so long.] There is something of this kind told of Simeon the Just, concerning whom we have made some mention already:

"The high priest made a short prayer in the holy place. He would not be long in prayer, lest he should occasion any fear in the people. There is a story of one who tarried a long while in it, and the people were ready to have entered in upon him. They say it was Simeon the Just. They say unto him, 'Why didst thou tarry so long?' He answered them, saying, 'I have been praying for the Temple of your God, that it be not destroyed.' They answered him again, 'However, it was not well for you to tarry so long.'"

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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Lightfoot, John. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "John Lightfoot Commentary on the Gospels". 1675.

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Luke 1:1. Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things, which within a short compass of years have been acted and accomplished among us. In the first age, Eusebius admits, that no less than sixty gospels had made their appearance; a number which Mr. Whiston repeats without scruple or disbelief. The fathers, Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine, allow that the number was considerable. Heretics wrote gospels, of which Ambrose says, “they have filled their gospels with empoisoned doctrines,” though otherwise edifying.

Of these gospels Du Pin, the learned ecclesiastical historian, whose original work is now before me, says, Les anciens, font mention de deux evangiles. The ancients mention two gospels, which, though not of equal authority with the four canonical gospels, yet we may not reject them as heretical productions. The first is the gospel of the Nazarenes. The foundation of this work was that of St. Matthew’s, but which, after the christians had fled to Pella, became altered by jewish sectarians.

The second is the gospel according to the Egyptians, a passage from which is cited by St. Clement in his Stromata, where our Saviour says to Salome, who had asked that her two sons might sit, the one on his right and the other on his left hand, “I am come to destroy the works of the woman;” meaning as Clement expounds it, generation and death, the effects of concupiscence. The above gospels are cited also by Origen and Jerome: but both are now lost. To these we add,

1. The gospel of St. Peter, a spurious book, though noticed by Eusebius and Jerome.

2. The gospel of Nicodemus, still extant.

3. The gospel of truth, a Valentinian production.

4. The gospel of perfection, approved by the Gnostics.

5. The gospel according to St. Matthias. This being mentioned by Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome, is put by Galesus in our apochryphal books.

6. The gospel of St. Thomas. This also is named by the above fathers, and is put by Galesus in the same rank.

7. The gospel of St. Bartholomew, which Origen names in his preface to his homilies on Luke, and St. Jerome in his commentaries on St. Matthew. This also is called apochryphal.

8. The gospel of Thaddeus, apochryphal.

9. The gospel of Barnabas, apochryphal.

10. The gospel of Andrew, apochryphal.

These gospels must have contained some good things, else they would not have been so honourably named by those fathers, and retained as apochryphal works. Had they been really written by the apostles whose names they bear, and uncorrupted, they would have found their way into the sacred canon.

Luke 1:3. It seemed good to me also to write. Though Luke had access to those gospels then in use, yet he would write from the oral dictates of those who had accompanied the Lord from the commencement of his glorious career. Those short words show the great care which our evangelist took that nothing might enter his copy but the truth, and the truth as it is in Jesus. No doubt he had the manuscripts to which he alludes, as well as the living witnesses.

Having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first. ανωδην, as in John 3:3, designates also a knowledge of those things from above. As the new birth is from above, so Luke claims here, in addition to the apostolic teaching, inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

Theophilus, a lover of God. This cannot be fictitious, because he had been instructed in the christian faith: but who he was is uncertain.

Luke 1:5. In the days of Herod — a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia, or Abijah. Two of the twenty four courses served a month, but all assisted at the great festivals. Each of these courses were subdivided, according to the houses of their fathers.

Luke 1:6. They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, This testimony is given to the parents of John, to show that the long-promised herald of the Messiah, who went before his face, as a burning and a shining light, emanated from a hallowed parentage; and being specially promised to Israel, he was, like Isaac, specially given when his parents were both advanced in years. The works of God are works of admiration.

Luke 1:9. His lot was to burn incense, at the evening and morning sacrifice. In Ecclesiasticus, chap. Sirach 50:15, we are told that Simon the highpriest “poured out a sweet-smelling savour to the Most High, the King of all. Then shouted the sons of Aaron, and sounded the silver trumpets, and made a noise to be heard, for a remembrance before the Most High. Then all the people fell down to the earth upon their faces, to worship the Lord God, the Most High.” In later times they rung a bell when the incense was ignited; and while the priest was praying, each man in silence, or with a low voice, so as to hear only his own voice, prayed for pardon and for grace. But why should the papists at mass burn incense, and ring a little bell? This mimicry insults the mediatorial advocacy of Christ as imperfect. Why not also kill oxen and sheep? — On the word temple, see 1 Samuel 1:9. 2 Samuel 7.

Luke 1:13. Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard. In early years, he had often prayed for a son, and now in later days for the Messiah: both those prayers shall be accorded, and with a plenitude of joy. The vows of the church are registered in heaven.

Thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name JOHN. This is a name of frequent occurrence in the Hebrew scriptures. יחנןJochanan, or Johanan, from the root חנןchanan, “I have gratified.” It designates joy, rejoicing, and exultation. 1 Chronicles 3:15; 1 Chronicles 6:9; 1 Chronicles 12:12. Isaiah 30:19-20. When God gave names, or rather surnames to the holy patriarchs, whom he peculiarly adopted as his sons, they indicated the grace which God conferred. The name is written in Greek and Latin as in Hebrew, ιωαννης, Johannes, the grace of God, or the gift of God; for John, like Isaac, was a son by divine favour, as illustrated in the next words.

Luke 1:14. Thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth, because it was the birthday of righteousness, when the dayspring from on high visited his people.

Luke 1:15. He shall be great in the sight of the Lord. The first minister of his kingdom, opening the way for the glory of the Lord to follow, and to enlighten the gentiles. He shall drink no wine, allowed to other priests, except when they officiated. Leviticus 10:9. Nor strong drink, σικερα; the same as the Hebrew שׂכרsechar, in 1 Samuel 1:15, which the LXX render μεθυσμα, metheglin, wine made from honey and water. The prohibition extends to all other kinds of strong drink, whether from fruits or from corn, being a Nazarite, as explained in Leviticus 6:1. On the contrary, the wine he shall drink shall be the celestial wine, which inspired Elijah and the ancient prophets. He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mothers womb. Like Moses, Samuel, and Jeremiah, he was designated to the ministry from his birth, and gave early indications that he was moved by the Holy Ghost to glorious achievements in future years. He shall go before, as the angel or messenger of the Lord, and a harvest of souls shall be gathered in for him.

Luke 1:18. How shall I know this, for I am aged, and my wife is advanced in days. Here is a wary priest, suffering his too cautious mind to balance on the side of unbelief. He saw a presence more than human; he knew how God had assisted Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, and the mother of Samson, to be mothers of illustrious men. He must also have known what Josephus states, Antiq. 50, 13. c. 18, how Hyrcanus had seen a glorious vision when Heliodorus came to plunder the temple of the hallowed treasures for the support of aged priests, widows and orphans. 2 Maccabees 3. Nothing is more displeasing to the Lord than to disbelieve his word when sealed by the wonted characters of revelation.

Luke 1:19. I am Gabriel that stand in the presence of God. The same archangel was sent almost five hundred years before, to announce to Daniel the time of the Messiah’s advent, and he was now sent to say, that the time is at hand. Faith in a message above the powers of nature, from the age of this priest and his wife, required annunciation by a presence more than human. Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21.

Luke 1:26-27. In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent of God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to Joseph. There are diversities of operations, but it is the same Spirit. The birth of John was divinely announced to the jews, and religious men would keep an eye on so auspicious a child. But now the conception of Christ is concealed from all, except the witnesses selected of God. The glorious mystery of God manifest in the flesh, as noticed on Isaiah 7:9., is too bright to be disclosed to vulgar eyes, till the world should become prepared by the doctrine, the miracles, and the resurrection of the Saviour from the dead.

Luke 1:28. Hail — highly favoured, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women. This is a Gothic word, health, peace, joy, Ave, χαιρε, rejoice. What more can we add, but repeat, “the Lord is with thee.”

Whence could Hesiod form his Theogony or generation of the gods, but on the most ancient traditions. Whence, (as is noticed by the learned Frenchmen, Lavaur and bishop Huet) could the idea of Semele’s conception by Jupiter be derived, but from the hallowed traditions of the patriarchs. With these authors, our learned Dr. William Stukeley, in his Palæographia sacra, 1763, perfectly coincides. Whence then could Dr. Joseph Priestley derive his authority for saying, “Jesus was the legitimate son of Joseph and Mary.” Socinianism is assuredly an apostasy from the faith of the whole primitive world.

Luke 1:32. He shall be great, in sanctity, great in doctrine, great in miracles, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, after his hypostasis or glorious person is clothed with flesh, as he has ever been called since he was promised to Adam, the Woman’s Seed, or Son, to bruise the serpent’s head. The illustrious Agur, whose sayings the servants of king Hezekiah appended to Solomon’s Proverbs, confessing his ignorance, as to the immensity of Deity, asks, “What is his name, and what is his Son’s name, if thou canst tell.” Proverbs 30:4. This faith was David’s consolation, when the kings of the earth took counsel against the Lord, and against his Christ. Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee; or as St. Paul, to- day do I declare thee, the Son of God with power, seated for ever on the throne of David, and on the right hand of God. Psalms 72.

Luke 1:35. The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. The assumption is all mystery. It asks for adoration, not for comment. God so loved the world that he sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that he might redeem us from the curse of the law. The wings of Jehovah cover the mercyseat, his cloud rests upon the tabernacle. Let the priests and the people adore without, while incense is burned within. Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, shall be born. He shall emerge from the bosom of the virgin, even the Sun of righteousness, to illuminate a benighted world. Psalms 85:10-11.

Luke 1:36. Behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age. This was associating joys to Mary’s consolation: it showed the gracious care of heaven when the fulness of time was come for the redemption of the world. The plans of heaven were written in the volume of the book: God had but to open and extend the scrowl.

Luke 1:39-40. Mary arose in those days, and went to the hill country with haste, being unable to contain her joys. When Elizabeth heard her salutation, the babe leaped in her womb for joy. The like word occurs in the targums, when speaking of the mountains shaking, and the hills leaping. They also add, that “the infants leaped for joy in their mother’s bosoms, when they saw what God had done to Pharaoh at the Red sea.” — What women, what infants, what glory under one roof! Let the mother of the two Gracchuses boast no more of her jewels. See on Malachi 3:17.

Luke 1:41. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. The salutation of Mary kindled the spark of inspiration to a flame. The divine impetus was so strong, that like the ancient prophets, she burst at once into the effusion of discourse and song. Whence is this grace that I should be the first woman to hear the Saviour preached; that the mother of my Lord should come to me. Blessed art thou among women, supremely blessed above the daughters of Eve. Blessed be the fruit of thy womb, the fountain from which all those benedictions flow. Let Zion weep no more. The Lord who has thus begun, will complete his work. There shall surely be a performance of all the excellent things which the prophets have spoken of Christ, of the conversion of the gentiles, and of all the glory of his kingdom.

Observe, Elizabeth puts Mary among women; why then should the papists for filthy lucre place her high above all gods? She gives identity and locality to Mary: the mother of my Lord is come to me. Then while under her roof she was not in Nazareth. She calls Mary a woman, but her Son she calls her Lord; and as above, the Son of God. Why then should the papists give omnipresence to Mary, and in all the worship of their communion cause prayers to be addressed to her. Mater Dei, ora pro nobis. Mother of God, pray for us. Nay, no minister must preach without reciting, on dividing the subject, his Ave Maria. Oh protestant, if you regard the labours and tears of the reformers and confessors, if you revere the blood of martyrs, and like Paul would rend your raiment at the sight of idolatry, see that you shun the altars of Baal, and all the scarlet array of the mother of harlots.

Luke 1:46-47. Mary said, my soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. This song is the sublime of Hebrew poësy, bold in sentiment, and chaste in expression. It embraces all the cheering themes which once inspired the ancient seers. It is the utterance of Mary’s heart, in the triumph of faith, and is like the flood-tide which makes the rivers overflow their banks. She magnifies the riches of grace, that all the high and princely families of the Asmonean house, who had a palace near the temple, should be overlooked, and she, a lowly virgin, made the mother of “the heir of all things.” Courtly elevations swell the pride of mortals, but celestial favours humble the soul to the dust. Therefore her song awoke up to glory; her soul and spirit, all her powers of mind and heart were developed in the exuberance of praise. With other princes riches have wings, and crowns decay; but here is glory permanent in all its characters: “all generations shall call me blessed.”

Luke 1:51-52. He hath showed strength with his arm. This indicates his conquering power, like the arm of heroes which obtains the victory. He is great above all gods; he hath exalted the lowly, and cast down the mighty from their thrones. So Hannah sung, when she embraced a Samuel in her arms. But the words of Mary have all the expanse of prophecy. The Lord chose the things that were not to bring to nought things that are. He made poor apostles the ministers of his kingdom, to establish the glory of the cross on the ruins of idolatry. He has spread the gospel feast for the poor gentiles, pursuant to his promises to Abraham, while the gainsaying jews are sent empty away, to beg their bread in distant lands.

Luke 1:69. A horn of salvation, against which no foe, no power can stand. His horn can defend the flock. Job 16:15. Psalms 112:9. David’s horn was now in the dust, but in Christ it rose to the throne.

Luke 1:72-73. To perform the mercy promised — the oath which he sware to Abraham. Zacharias makes here a proper distinction between the promise of the Messiah to Abraham, Genesis 12:3, and the oath which he sware after Abraham had obtained an enlargement of the promise by the oblation of Isaac. These were “the two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie.” Thus Zacharias read the scriptures with enlightened regards, and built the hopes of the church on the word of God, the sure mercies of David.

Luke 1:74-75. That we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies. God had promised to deliver Israel out of Egypt, Exodus 3:12; and he will in like manner deliver his people from sin and Satan, as Paul explains it in Romans 6:18; that being made free from sin, we might serve God in holiness and righteousness all our days. The first of these words, “holiness,” comprehends all the piety we owe to God; the second, “righteousness,” includes all the moral obligations of life, in duties and good offices towards our neighbours.

Luke 1:76. And thou, child, my infant son, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the Lord to prepare his way. What an apostrophe of a father to a son, born to eclipse the glory of his sire. A son, to prepare the way of the Messiah. To give knowledge and assurance of salvation by the remission of sins, agreeing with the words in Mark 1:4, that John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. By assurance that the ransom is paid, by a removal of the wrath which the law excites in the conscience, by a sentiment of the love of God shed abroad in the heart, by all the joys of remission, and the fruits of faith which follow. What other gospel but this could relieve the labouring conscience of its load, and produce renovation of heart and life.

Luke 1:80. He was in the deserts. The Greek does not import that John was an eremite, that is, a hermit or anchoret. His father kept him much at his country retreat, leading him no doubt, as a Nazarite and priest by birth, to attend the festivals in Jerusalem as the law required.


St. Luke introduces his gospel with credentials of indisputable purity. He wrote under sacred patronage, in the face of many contemporaries, and even rival historians. He wrote with confidence, having had perfect knowledge of facts and expressions from the first, as well as illumination from above; and he wrote with the most laudable purpose of instructing and confirming Theophilus, and all who should read, in the faith of Christ. Christianity is therefore founded on argument. How should so many men, writing in different times and places, so exactly agree in all the essentials of their history, if they did not write from a clear head and an honest heart. For it is allowed that their slight variations, or apparent contradictions, are a striking confirmation of the truth of the gospel.

Concerning the birth of John we may remark, that the scripture characters were divinely raised up, and called of God. They had no hand whatever in their call and elevation. Let worldly courtiers canvass and become votaries for honour; the honour that cometh from God is all of grace, conferred by the giver, and always in due time. When Jacob was surrounded with great difficulty and distress, the Lord raised up Joseph to nourish his people. When the nation was sorely oppressed, behold, Moses was drawn from the water. In like manner, the Judges, David, Esther, and others, were successively elevated by the special hand of God. Thus also John, the Lord, and his apostles, succeeded in the scheme of providence, and unfolded the mystery hid in ages past.

The angels of God take a most lively interest in the redemption of man. They attended JEHOVAH when he sware to Abraham. Genesis 18:2; Genesis 22:15. They attended in the visions of Isaiah, and of Daniel; and now Gabriel, as first of the train, comes to confirm these promises to Zacharias in the temple of God. Rejoice, ye heavens, and be glad, oh earth, the truth and faithfulness of God endure to all generations. Awake, oh sluggish world, to trace the steps of grace, for all heaven is alert. Come and learn the certainty of the things in which you have been instructed; for it is the highest happiness of angels to unfold the mysteries of providence in redeeming love. Where are there mysteries to be found so sublime, so pure, so abasing to the pride of reason, and so exalting to the humble soul.

Men greatly honoured must be greatly tried. This law seems to have no exceptions. Zacharias was struck both deaf and dumb. And in the next chapter, Mary’s joys are much allayed by the intimation, that the sword of anguish would pass through her soul because of her son. Divine joy participates so much of the consolations of heaven that we must drink it but sparingly in this life.

The salutation of the virgin is highly interesting. The person deputed — his approach and address, are all becoming and proper. There is no meanness of circumstance, nothing as in pagan fable revolting to delicacy. All is simplicity in the expression, all is sublime in the mission, being a disclosure, conformable to prophecy, of the grand plan of redeeming love. The virgin was troubled and embarrassed at the applause of so divine a stranger; but he detailed his mission, that she should be the mother of the Messiah, painting at the same time the future glory of her son. Mary, acknowledging herself the handmaid of the Lord, said, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” So may my soul say, when the Lord applies to me his great and precious promises.

The angel directed her to a companion in her sacred joy. He said that her cousin Elizabeth, then a hundred miles distant, and hitherto reputed barren, was six months advanced in pregnancy with a son, designated to be the harbinger of the Lord. In such extraordinary cases faith requires extraordinary support and pledges from God. So Jeroboam saw his altar rent. God struck the base altar before he struck the baser people. So when Isaiah went to give Ahaz a consoling sign of this virgin, he took his son in his arms to announce the speedy death of both the hostile kings: chap. 7.

How divine was the interview between these two women. They poured joy into each other’s breast, which swelled the torrent as the river of paradise. Their converse comprised all of heaven that mortals can taste on earth, and forgetful of prayer, their whole souls were lost in the transports of praise.

In the song of the virgin we see the dark curtains which had veiled protracted promises, dropped all at once. She saw the person and glory of her son, and all the joyful ages of his people calling her blessed. Above all, she magnified the riches of redeeming grace in passing by the haughty and the proud, and in looking upon her a virgin of low estate. Such is the mercy of the Lord to them that fear him.

Mary did not leave this happy family till she saw the birth of John; had assured signs of pregnancy; and heard Zacharias, dumb as he was, open his mouth in all the sublime effusions of prophetic song. As a little rivulet loses itself in a vast torrent, so this venerable priest lost the private joy of his illustrious infant, in the glories of Messiah his Lord, then sheltered under his sacred roof. And he viewed not his kingdom with carnal eyes, as the scribes and pharisees, but as a horn of salvation raised up for the saints, in conformity to the promises made to Abraham. He viewed it as promoting righteousness and holiness in the church, and as the opening of celestial day on a dark and beclouded world. Yea, and this was to his soul the summit of joy, that his son should he called “the prophet of the Highest,” and presede his Lord with the proclamations of pardon to a sinful people. Thus the divine wisdom took its counsel for the salvation of fallen man. Thus He who condescended to make us in his own image, stooped again to repair our ruin by uniting his divine to our human nature, sanctifying it in its assumption, and making it a model of our future glory. Thus, in this humble cottage were concealed the high characters which attracted the notice of all heaven, while the world knew them not. Satan, tremble, for thy bruiser is incarnate. Idolatry, avaunt, for thy light is come. And thou earth, be glad, for the promised Prince is come to bless the nations and distant tribes with righteousness, and peace, and joy.

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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.

Ver. 21. The people waited for Zacharias] They would not away without the blessing prescribed to the priests, Numbers 6:23-27. In the council of Agathon it was decreed that people should not presume to go out of the temples before the ministers had blessed the congregation. (Canon 32.)

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

The Unbelief of Zacharias

Zacharias does not believe the angel at his word. He shows himself to be an 'unbelieving believer'. He ignores everything the angel says about the announced son and asks for a sign (1Cor 1:22) to confirm that God has indeed answered his prayers. What do his prayers mean then? Did he pray in faith that God is able to do what he has asked? Do we trust God when we pray? How is our relationship with Him and how do we know God?

It is significant that a man who has lived with God for so long and has been in His presence so many times, doubts a message from heaven. He doubts that God is able to change the course of nature where necessary. The Scriptures, that Zacharias knows, bear witness to this in the examples of Sarah, Rebekah, and Hannah. What about our faith in Scripture?

The angel's response sounds almost indignant. Does Zacharias know who he is dealing with? The angel is not personally offended, but the reaction of Zacharias is an insult to God. Gabriel points this out when he declares that he stands in the presence of God (present tense), not that he stood in the presence of God (past tense). He is aware of God's presence and that he is the spokesman of God. Doubting his words is doubting what God says. He has said nothing but what God has told him. Therefore, Zacharia's doubt is proof of his unbelief.

We also don't like it when someone does not believe our words, how much more an angel who speaks on behalf of God and how much more God Himself when He speaks. Often we do not read Scripture with sufficient intimacy in our hearts. We read the Scriptures as if we wanted to become familiar with words and phrases. But if, by reading the Scriptures, I do not enter into the presence of God with my heart and conscience, I have not learned the lesson that the Scriptures would like to teach me. Zacharias is not in the presence of God with his heart and conscience, so he cannot believe that what is said comes from God.

Zacharias receives the requested sign, but it is a sign of judgment. The sign he receives fits his unbelief, just as speaking fits faith (2Cor 4:13). The priestly service is silenced by unbelief. However, it is a temporary judgment. The words of God will be fulfilled in their time, despite his unbelief. The punishment will be removed by mercy at the right time.

While the conversation takes place in the temple house, the people outside are waiting for Zacharias. The people are not only literally outside the temple house, they are also outside the announcements made in the temple. They are not used to a priest staying in the temple house that long. Something must have happened.

When the priest appears, he cannot give them the usual blessing. Between the masses on the temple square there will have been several faithful, people who all expect the salvation of Jerusalem (Lk 2:38). The muteness of Zacharias is also a sign for the people, that all may reflect on it. Zacharias makes the gesture that they can go. He himself remains mute. He keeps on fulfilling his service the prescribed time. When the service of his division is ended, he goes home.

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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Luke 1:21". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann

The anxiety of the people:

v. 21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he tarried so long in the Temple.

v. 22. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the Temple; for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.

v. 23. And it came to pass that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.

The offering of incense was the culmination of the morning service during which Zacharias was in the Holy Place all alone. The people were always apprehensive of some disaster that might befall the officiating priest, that God might slay him as unworthy and then visit His wrath upon the entire people; therefore they worried about him. The conversation with the angel had prolonged the priest's stay far beyond the usual hour of closing, and their uneasy wonder about the delay was increasing. When he finally emerged from the Holy Place and stepped into the open space of the priests' court, near the steps which led down to the other courts, he could not speak to the people, he could not pronounce the Aaronic blessing, which concluded the morning service. Zacharias had received proof positive that the credentials of Gabriel were beyond question; dumbness had at once fallen upon him. But by his gestures and signs the people sensed or perceived, understood that something unusual had occurred in the Temple, they inferred that he had seen a vision of some kind which had rendered him speechless. But though Zacharias had been deprived of the power of speech, he served the full course of his Temple ministry, he stayed for the full week, 2Ki_11:17. There were other services that did not demand the use of the voice, and many ministrations in the Temple were given over to such as had minor physical defects. But at the end of the week he returned to his house, to the city of the priests where he had his home. The words of one commentator referring to the work of the pastors in this connection may well be extended to include all Christians, inasmuch as they all should be engaged in the work of the Master. He writes: "There is something very instructive in the conduct of this priest; had he not loved the service he was engaged in, he might have made the loss of his speech a pretext for immediately quitting it. But as he was not thereby disabled from fulfilling the sacerdotal function, so he saw he was bound to continue till his ministry was ended, or till God had 'given him a positive dismissal. Preachers who give up their labor in the vineyard because of some trifling bodily disorder by which they are afflicted, or through some inconvenience in outward circumstances which the follower of a cross-bearing, crucified Lord should not mention, show either that they never had a proper concern for the honor of their Master or for the salvation of men, or else that they have lost the spirit of their Master and the spirit of their work. Again, Zacharias did not hasten to his house to tell his wife the good news that he had received from heaven, in which she was certainly very much interested: the angel had promised that all his words should be fulfilled in their season, and for this season he patiently waited in the path of duty. He had engaged in the work of the Lord, and must pay no attention to anything that was likely to mar or interrupt his religious service. Preachers who profess to be called of God to labor in the Word and doctrine and who abandon their work for filthy lucre's sake are the most contemptible of mortals and traitors to their God."

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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". 1921-23.

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

             PART FIRST

The Miraculous Birth and Normal Development of the son of Man




  Luke 1:5-80

A. Annunciation of the Birth of His Forerunner Luke 1:5-25

5There was, in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias,[FN13] of the course of Abia: and his wife was [he had a wife][FN14] of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth 6 And they were both righteous before God, walkingin 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 [far advanced] in years 8 And it came to pass, that, while he executed the priest’s office [ἐν τῷ ἱερατεύειν] before God in the order of his course, 9According to the custom of the priest’s office [of the priesthood, τῆς ἱερατείας],[FN15] 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 time11[the hour, τῇ ὥρᾳ] of incense. 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 Song of Solomon, and thoushalt call his name John 14And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoiceat 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 [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.

18And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old Prayer of Manasseh, and my wife well stricken [far advanced] 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 [bring] 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 [didst not believe, οὐκ ἐπίστευσας] my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

21And the people waited [were waiting, ἦν λαὸς προσδοκῶν] for Zacharias, and marvelled22[wondered, ἐθαύμαζον] that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple; for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless 23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished [completed], he departed to his own house 24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.


Luke 1:5. In the days of Herod.—See remarks on Matthew 2:1.

A certain priest.—Zachariah has been supposed, on insufficient grounds, to have been the high-priest. It is worthy of remark, how the meaning of both the names (Zachariah, i.e, the Lord remembers; and Elisabeth, i.e, God’s oath) was explained and fulfilled by what happened to those who bore them.

Of the course (class) of Abijah.—The descendants of Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron, were exclusively called to the service of the sanctuary, and divided into four and twenty classes or orders ( 1 Chronicles 24), each of which ministered in the temple during a week. The descendants of Eleazar, the elder Song of Solomon, formed sixteen of these classes or courses; those of Ithamar, the younger, only eight,—that of Abijah being ( 1 Chronicles 24:10) the eighth. From the days of Song of Solomon, these four and twenty courses relieved each other weekly in the temple-service; it Isaiah, therefore, not to be wondered at, that attempts have frequently been made to ascertain the exact time of the year at which the Lord was born, by means of the chronological date of the week of the course of Abijah. The result of these researches, made chiefly by Scaliger, Solomon van Til, and Bengel, is communicated and criticised by Wieseler (Chronologische Synopse, pp140–148). It Isaiah, however, self-evident, that all such calculations must be uncertain and rash, until it can first be proved that the pregnancy of Elisabeth commenced immediately on the return of Zachariah, and that the several courses continued, each suo loco et tempore, to perform their services in unintermitted succession.

Luke 1:6. Righteous before God.—A declaration not only of their truly Israelitish and theocratic character, but also that they were persons to whom the divine approval pronounced upon Noah, Genesis 7:1, might rightly be applied, and who knew, from their own experience, the “blessedness” of which David sung in Psalm 32. When the promise made to Abraham is on the point of fulfilment, we suddenly find that the true Abrahamic character ( Genesis 15:6; Genesis 17:1), however rare, has by no means utterly disappeared in Israel.

Luke 1:9. According to the custom of the priesthood.—In the service of the sanctuary, nothing was left to accident, or to human arrangement. The lot determined who was to perform each separate portion of the sacred service, and, especially, who was each morning and evening to burn incense before the Lord. This office was considered exceedingly important and honorable. According to Josephus (Antiq. Jud. xiii10), a heavenly vision was also vouchsafed to John Hyrcanus during its performance. It seems impossible, however, to determine whether the vision of Zachariah took place at the time of the morning or evening offering.

Luke 1:10. Were praying.—The pious were accustomed to unite in the outer court (ἔξω) in silent supplication, while the priest in the sanctuary offered the incense, which was ever regarded as the symbol of acceptable prayer. Comp. Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4.

Luke 1:11. There appeared unto him.—It may be taken for granted, that the quiet and solitary sojourn of Zachariah in the Holy Place had both quickened and elevated his susceptibility for beholding the angelic appearance; yet the narrative certainly bears no traces of any ecstatic state, properly so called. Indeed, the fact which he must have told himself, that he saw the angel, “standing at the right side of the altar of incense” (which he may have considered a good omen), vouches for his clearness of perception, and sobriety of mind.

Luke 1:13. Thy prayer is heard.—It is generally thought, that the secret prayer of Zachariah for a Song of Solomon, known to God, and long uttered in vain, is here intended. But would the aged Zachariah have limited himself to this request? Did no higher aspiration, than a merely personal one, arise from the heart of a priest in the Holy Place? Must not Zachariah have been among the προσδεχόμενοι λύτρωσιν ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ, spoken of Luke 2:38? And is it not therefore probable, that the chief matter of his prayer might be expressed by the words of the Psalmist ( Psalm 14:7): “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Sion?” For all these reasons, we conclude, with Meyer, that the prayer of the priest had special reference to the coming of Messiah. A twofold answer to this prayer is promised: first, that Messiah shall indeed appear in his days; and secondly, that he shall himself be the father of the forerunner, who was to prepare His way ( Malachi 4)—an honor he could not have ventured to anticipate. Zachariah sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all other things—earthly joy of a father, etc.—are added to him ( Matthew 6:33).

John.—Hebr.: Jochanan (i.e, God is gracious; equivalent to the German Gotthold). According to an old Greek glossary: Ἰωάννης, ἐν ἐστιν χάρις. The name of the forerunner, as well as that of Jesus ( Matthew 1:21), was prescribed before his birth. Was this distinction vouchsafed also to the mother of our Lord, whose name has since been so idolized?

Luke 1:15. He shall be great in the sight of the Lord.—Truly great, then; for just what a man is in God’s eyes, that is he indeed, neither more nor less. A silent hint also, that no earthly greatness is to be expected; for “that which is highly esteemed before men is an abomination in the sight of the Lord.”

He shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.—Plainly referring to the condition of the Nazarites, for the origin and laws concerning whom, see Numbers 4. Acts 21:24 shows that such vows were not unusual in Israel in New Testament times. This appointment places the forerunner, in this respect also, on a level with Samson and Samuel, who, as well as himself, were born to their parents contrary to all natural hopes and expectations.

From his mother’s womb;—i.e., not merely inde a puero, according to Kuinoel’s lax interpretation, but before he shall have seen the light of life (comp. Luke 1:41), from his earliest origin.

Luke 1:17. In the spirit and power of Elijah.—An evident reference to the last of the prophets, Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6, whose words are thus endorsed by the angel. The expression, “the Lord their God,” Luke 1:16, alludes not exclusively to the Messiah, but to the Jehovah of Israel, of whom it is said, that He Himself should appear in glory when the divinely commissioned Messiah should come into the world. The true subjects of Messiah are also the “people prepared for the Lord” the God of Israel.

To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.—The feeling of the paternal relationship had grown cold in many hearts, in the midst of the moral corruption of Israel: when the forerunner lifts up his voice, the ties of family affection shall be strengthened. Others interpret this, to restore to the children the devout disposition of their fathers.

Luke 1:18. For I am an old man.—According to the law of Moses the Levites were not permitted to serve beyond their fiftieth year, Numbers 4:3; Numbers 8:24. But this law did not apply to the priests, and Zachariah was probably much older than fifty. His objection seems, in itself, as natural as that of Mary, Luke 1:34; but the Lord, who sees the heart, knows how to distinguish between the objections of unbelief, and the natural questionings of innocence.

Luke 1:19. I am Gabriel.—An answer full of dignity, and at the same time perfectly intelligible to a priest well instructed in the Holy Scriptures, who would recognize, by this name, the heavenly messenger, revealed to Daniel ( Luke 8:16; Luke 9:21) as one admitted to very intimate relations with the Godhead. The belief in different classes of angels, though a development of later days, was the fruit of direct revelation. They who look on the Book of Daniel as the invention of a later age, cannot credit his angelology; and the angelic world, which was opened to Zachariah and to Mary, is closed to them, as a punishment of their unbelief.

Luke 1:20. Thou shalt he dumb, and not able to speak.—This is no mere repetition, but the first member of the sentence is the consequence of the second. The notion, that a natural dumbness, arising from an apoplectic stroke, is here meant, is one of those curiosities of Rationalism, which have only an antiquarian interest.

Luke 1:21. And the people were waiting for Zachariah.—According to many interpreters, they were waiting to receive the blessing. It does not, however, appear that this was always the office of the priest who offered incense. It seems more probable, that, not being accustomed to find the priest remain longer in the sanctuary than was strictly necessary, some might have feared, when Zachariah had been some time expected in vain, that some misfortune, or sign of the divine displeasure, had befallen him.

Luke 1:22. They perceived that he had seen a vision.—Dumbness having fallen upon him in the temple, it was a natural supposition, that this might be the result of an angelic appearance. Zachariah makes signs that the supposition is correct. Interpreters have given due prominence to the symbolic signification of this moment in the sacred history. Bengel says: “Zacharias, mutus, excludebatur tantisper ab actionibus sacerdotalibus. Prœludium legis ceremonialis finiendœ, Christo veniente.”—Chemnitz: “When the voice of the preacher ( Isaiah 40) is announced, the priesthood of the Old Testament becomes silent. The Levitical blessing is silenced, when the Seed comes, in whom ‘all the families of the earth are blessed.’ ”

Luke 1:24. And she hid herself five months.—Neither, as it seems to us, from shame on account of her advanced age, nor to secure rest, nor from unbelief, nor for the sake of observing an ascetic retirement, and then suddenly making her situation known; but to leave to God, through whose extraordinary intervention she found herself in this condition, the care of making it manifest, and of taking away her reproach among men (comp. Luke 1:25). There is a remarkable coincidence in the frame of mind of Elisabeth and Mary, under similar circumstances. Elisabeth was συγγενής to Mary, not merely κατὰ σάρκα, but also κατὰ πυεῦμα.


1. “Introite, et hic Dii sunt,” seems to resound in the ear of the believer, as Luke leads him into the sanctuary of the gospel history. We are indebted to the fact, that he begins his previous narrative at an earlier period than Matthew, for the advantage of recognizing fresh proofs of the “manifold wisdom of God,” in the course of events which preceded the birth of the Lord. The new revelation of salvation begins in the days of Herod, when sin and misery had reached their climax, and when the yearning for Messiah’s appearance was more intensely felt than ever. The temple, so often the scene of the manifestation of the glory of the Lord, becomes again the centre, whence the first rays of light secretly break through the darkness. Every circumstance, preceding the birth of John, testifies to a special providence of God. He is born of pious parents, and of priestly blood, that the genuine theocratic spirit may be awakened and produced in the forerunner of the Lord. He is trained for his high destination, not in corrupt Jerusalem, but in the retirement of a remote city of the priests ( Luke 1:39). It is not revealed to all, that the voice of “him that crieth” shall soon resound over hill and valley. The first witness to this is only the pious old Prayer of Manasseh, who greets the prophet as his child. An angel assures Zachariah of the distinction conferred upon him. What human tongue could have foretold, it to him; or how could he have ventured to hearken to the voice of his own heart, without direct revelation? The angel appears to him in the retirement of the sanctuary, while he is employed in the faithful discharge of his priestly office, and standing on the right side of the altar, he intimates that the days are past in which the appearance of beings from another world betokened death and destruction to mankind. To enhance his enjoyment of it, the blessing is announced as an answer to prayer; and the very name given to the child, speaks to him of the graciousness of his God. As a son begotten in old age, John ranks with Isaac; as granted to the barren in answer to prayer, with Samson and Samuel. His office and mission are stated in words which must have recalled to Zachariah the prophecy of Malachi; while the description of his habits, as those of a Nazarite, and of his character, as in the spirit of Elijah, must have pointed out to his father a life of sorrow and strife. And when the astonished priest desires a sign, his want of faith is visited with a proof of the severity, but at the same time of the goodness, of God. As faith is to be the chief condition of the new covenant, it was needful that the first manifestation of unbelief should be emphatically punished; but the wound inflicted becomes a healing medicine for the soul. Zachariah is constrained to much silent reflection, and, according to the counsel of God, the secret is still kept for a time. The sight of the priest struck dumb, awakens among the people an expectation of some great and heavenly event; and soon will “the things” done in the priest’s house be “noised abroad throughout all the hill-country of Judæa” ( Luke 1:65).

2. So many traces of divine wisdom are apparent in the narrative, that scepticism itself has no exceptions to make, but to its miraculous character. In this case the appearance of an angel is especially offensive to the tastes and notions of modern criticism. This being the first account of the kind, which we meet with in Luke’s Gospel, we may be allowed the following remarks. The existence of a higher world of spirits, can as little be proved, as denied, by any a priori reasoning; experience and history can alone decide the point. Now it is certain, on purely historical and critical grounds, that angels have been both seen and heard by well known and credible individuals; and if this be Song of Solomon, a higher world of spirits must exist. It has, indeed, been said (by Schleiermacher), that belief in the existence of angels has no necessary basis and support in the religious self-consciousness (or subjective experience) of the believer;[FN16] but the question here is merely concerning the historical truth of biblical angelology, and not concerning the subjective experience it produces. Angels are not merely “transient emanations and effulgences of the divine essence” (Olshausen); but personal, conscious, holy beings, related, like men, to the Father of spirits. God, being the supreme and absolute Spirit, is able to employ such λειτουργικὰ πνεύματα in His service; and Prayer of Manasseh, having received a spiritual element from God, cannot lack the ability of perceiving, with an enlightened eye, the appearance of beings so nearly related to himself. It is not when the bodily eye has been directed to the material world, but when a higher and more spiritual organ has been developed, and the ear opened to the voice of God, in the hours of prayer and solitude, that angelic appearances have been perceived. This power of perception, produced by God Himself, must be distinguished from the trance or vision, properly so called, wherein angels have sometimes, but by no means always, been perceived. Comp. Acts 10:10; 2 Corinthians 12:1 ff. The angelic apparitions were by no means the fruit of an overstrained imagination, but objective revelations of God, by means of personal spirits; yet only capable of being received under certain subjective conditions. With respect to the angel who appeared to Zachariah, if unbelief, on hearing his name, should cavil, and doubt whether such definite names are borne in heaven, this conclusion cannot be escaped under the pretext, that Gabriel (the hero of God) is no nomen proprium, but merely an appellativum; and we have only to answer, neganti incumbit probatio.

3. There is a remarkable coincidence between Zachariah and Abraham on the one side, and Elisabeth and Sarah on the other; not only in the fact of their unfruitfulness during so many years, but also in the frame of mind in which they at length received the glad tidings. But in these parallel histories, it Isaiah, in the Old Testament, the man who is strong, the woman weak, in faith ( Genesis 18:12); while here, on the contrary, it is the man whose faith falters. Even in the very first chapter of Luke, woman, who had so long been thrown into obscurity in the shadow of Prayer of Manasseh, begins, in the persons of Mary and Elisabeth, to take her place in the foreground, by the heroism of a living faith; as if to show that she is no longer the slave of Prayer of Manasseh, but a fellow-heir with him of the grace of life ( 1 Peter 3:7). It Isaiah, however, quite in keeping with divine wisdom that in this case unbelief in view of the rising sun of the gospel salvation is much more severely punished than under the old dispensation. The clearer the light, the more intolerable the shade in the eyes of God. On the psychological ground of the doubt of Zachariah, compare the fine remarks of Dr. Lange, Leben Jesu, ii1, p65 (German ed.).

4. It is a striking proof of the divine Wisdom of Solomon, that John is announced as the second Elijah. This name gives the earliest indication of his mission, as reformer, in an extremely corrupt nation; of his struggle, in resisting single-handed the false gods of his age, as Elijah did Ahab and Jezebel; of his fate, in being first persecuted and rejected, but afterward honored. The likeness of John the Baptist to Elijah, strikes us not only in his outward appearance, his clothing, and way of living, but in his spirit and character, as a preacher of repentance. The difference between them—consisting chiefly in the fact, that the second Elijah performed no miracles—is explained by the peculiarity of his relation to the Messiah. If the latter were to appear as a prophet mighty in word and deed, His forerunner could do no miracles, without dividing the attention, and provoking a comparison, which must have been to the prejudice of one or the other. He who would cavil because the head of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets is encircled by no halo of miracles, will find his answer, John 10:41.

5. On the formerly often-questioned genuineness of the two first chapters of Luke, comp. Credner, “Einleitung in das N. T. ” p131; on the whole of Luke’s narrative of events preceding the birth of Christ, J. P. Lange, “On the Historical Character of the Canonical Gospels, especially on the History of the Childhood of Jesus,” Duisburg, 1836; and (though with critical discrimination) “Die Jugendgeschichte des Herrn,” by Dr. E. J. Gelpke, Bern, Chur (Coire), and Leipzig, 1842.


The announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, appointed by divine Wisdom of Solomon, received in human weakness, confirmed by striking signs, crowned with surprising results.—God’s way in the sanctuary: 1. The dark sanctuary, or dwelling-place of the Infinite; 2. the divine, where His glory is manifested.—The answer to the prayer of Zachariah was: 1. Earnestly desired, 2. long delayed, 3. promised in a surprising manner, 4. incredulously waited for, and5. gloriously vouchsafed.—The happiness of pious couples, even when the blessing of children is denied.—The high value of tried fear of God in the eyes of the Lord.—The life of faith a continual priesthood.—A lonely old age cheered up and made serene by the light of the Lord.—God’s revelation hidden from the eye of the world.—The holy angels present, even now, in the Lord’s house.—The fear with which the revelation of great joy fills the heart of a sinner.—John a gift of God.—The birth of John still a matter of rejoicing to many.— John, the second Elijah: their similarity and dissimilarity.— John, great in the sight of the Lord: his superiority to all the Old Testament prophets, his inferiority to our Lord.—The gift of abstinence even under the new covenant.—No meetness for the kingdom of heaven, without sincere repentance.—The desire to see signs and wonders: 1. Easily explicable; 2. very reprehensible; 3. entirely superfluous, where a greater sign has already been vouchsafed.—The angel who stands in the presence of God: his mysterious name, exalted work, and hidden origin.—Zachariah dumb, yet preaching to believers and unbelievers.—The announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, a proof of the truth of the prophetic word ( Isaiah 45:15): 1. God, a God that hideth Himself; 2. the God of Israel; 3. the Saviour.—Elisabeth, a type of the faith which receives God’s blessing, enjoys God’s peace, and waits God’s time.—When the reproach of his people is taken away, the Lord has been looking down on them favorably.—The Lord’s second coming Isaiah, like His first, openly announced, incredulously doubted, patiently expected.—The Lord will give more to His people than He withholds from them.—Does Zachariah tremble at the sight of an angel? Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear, when the Lord cometh with ten thousand of His saints?—The punishment of unbelief is in the end a blessing.—The less, the preparation for the greater.—Who hath despised the day of small things? Zechariah 4:10.—“Children are an heritage of the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is His reward.”—Gabriel standing in the presence of God in heaven, and John great in the sight of the Lord on earth.—The interest of the angels in the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.—Even in times of the greatest corruption, there are still houses which are temples of God.—“The vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” Habakkuk 2:3.

Starke:—In prayer, we should remember the presence of angels.—Even one of the holiest of men cannot stand before an angel.—Even the true servants of God are not without infirmities.—Nothing is great, but what is great before God.—God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, Ephesians 3:20.—The more intimate the communion of a Christian with his God, the more certain his chastisement when he offends Him.—He who sins with his mouth, is punished in his mouth.—God has an eye upon His people, though no one else should see them.—There are times when the children of God bear reproach; there are also times when God takes away their reproach before men: in both His grace is shown.


FN#13 - Luke 1:5.—As a question of principle, I would advocate a uniform spelling of Scripture names, conforming Hebrew names as much as possible to the Hebrew, and Greek names to the Greek original. This would require an alteration of Zacharias into Zachariah, Abia into Abijah, Elias into Elijah, Jeremy into Jeremiah, etc. But as Zacharias occurs so often in this chapter, I left it undisturbed. Comp. my Critical Note to Commentary on Matthew, 1:16, vol. i. p48.

FN#14 - Luke 1:5.—The E. V. follows the textus rec. and Cod. A.: γυνὴ αὐτοῦ (uxor illius). But the best uncial MSS. (Sinait, B, C.*, D, L, X.), and the modern critical editions of Lachmann, Tischendorf, Alford, and Tregelles, read γυνὴ (without the article) αὐτῶ, uxor illi, he had a wife; and so also van Oosterzee in his German Version: er hatte ein Weib. The received text is a correction for perspicuity sake. The other differences of reading in this section are still less insignificant and not worth mentioning in this Commentary, as they are also passed by in the original. See the Critical Apparatus in Tischendorf’s Greek Testament, editio septima of1859, and Tregelles’ Greek Testament, Part ii, containing Luke and John.

FN#15 - Luke 1:9.—Van Oosterzee likewise observes the (unessential) distinction between ἱερατεύειν, Luke 1:8, and ἱερατεία, Luke 1:9, and renders (with Luther) the first Priesteramt, the second Priesterthum. The Latin Vulgate, however, has in both cases sacerdotium, and de Wette Priesteramt. The E. V. renders ἱερατεία, which occurs twice in the Greek Testament, the priest’s office, Luke 1:9, and the office of the priesthood, Hebrews 7:5, and ἱεράτευμα, priesthood, 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9.—P. S.]

FN#16 - It should not be inferred from the text that Schleiermacher denied the existence of angels altogether. He only denied the existence of Satan and the evil angels.—P. S.]

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition available at Public Domain.
Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible



Luke's introduction shows that, though he was concerned about giving exact information in this letter to Theophilus, he had not thought of being an instrument directly inspired by God. Theophilus was evidently a Gentile authority of whom nothing more is said in scripture, except in Acts 1:1, where only his name is mentioned. Many others had been energized to write an orderly history of those things concerning the Lord Jesus, and Luke was persuaded there was room for his letter also, having received accurate information from those who were eyewitnesses and servants of God in ministering His Word (v.3). But God had ordered that Luke was to write scripture and laid hold of him for this purpose, without Luke realizing that he was inspired by God. Therefore we may expect depths and beauties in this book that Luke himself had not designed.

Theophilus was manifestly in governmental authority (compare v.3 with Acts 26:25), and Luke desired that he should have accurate knowledge and certainty of those things in which he had already had some instruction. The human element in Luke's words is beautifully transparent, as intended by God.



Luke begins by speaking of the priesthood in Israel in the days of Herod. But the high priest and others who were prominent are passed by, and Zacharias, an otherwise very ordinary priest, and his wife Elizabeth are singled out, both of the line of Aaron, comparatively righteous before God and as regards law blameless (v.6). Zacharias means "God has remembered," and Elizabeth, "God has sworn" -- names very appropriate since God was about to fulfill His great promise concerning the Messiah. Having no child and advanced in age, they aptly reflected Israel's condition of desolation, from which only the grace of God can produce blessing.

It was "heads of their fathers' houses" (1 Chronicles 24:4) who served in these priestly courses by turn, elders who represented the priesthood, for there were too many priests for all to serve in the temple. The work of Zacharias was to burn incense in the temple where only priests could enter. He thus was an intermediary: the people prayed while he made intercession. This was God's order in Israel, so different to that now in the Church of God.

When an angel, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to Zacharias, he was understandably troubled and fearful, yet in what more appropriate place should a priest expect God to reveal Himself? However, the words of the angel were intended to set him at perfect rest. He addressed him by name with no introduction except the quietening words, "Fear not" (vs.11-13). The message of the angel was plain and direct. The prayers of Zacharias had been heard: his wife Elizabeth would have a son who was to be named John. His birth would give joy and gladness to his father and many others. The prophecy of the angel is clear and precise that John would be great in the sight of the Lord (not in the world's eyes), that he should drink neither wine nor strong drink, which evidently indicates that he would be a Nazirite (Numbers 6:1-8). It was also God's sovereign ordering that he should be filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth. There was only one John the Baptist: it would be folly for another to aspire to be the same as he (Jeremiah 1:5). John would be divinely prepared for his unique service of preparing the way of the Lord, and his powerful, earnest preaching of repentance turned many Israelites to the Lord (vs.15-16).

Verse 17 explains Matthew 11:14, "If you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come." The very fact of the Lord's saying, "If you are willing to receive it" indicates a deeper spiritual application, which Luke explains. It was not that John was the same person as Elijah, but John's service before the Lord was "in the spirit and power of Elijah." John's ministry was of the same character as that of Elijah, sternly pressing on Israel the guilt of their disobedience to the law. The reference here is to Malachi 4:6 which some of the Jews took to mean Elijah personally, but John denied this interpretation (John 1:21). The same applies to another prophet who will yet rise during Israel's tribulation, with the same object in view (Revelation 11:6), though unlike John and Elijah, he will not be alone. John's ministry would have good effect also on proper family relationships (v.17). It would subdue the spirit of disobedience and replace it with the wisdom of the just, for the chief object of that ministry was "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Repentance is essential for this, and since John was the forerunner of the Lord Jesus, he must emphasize the guilt of Israel so as to prepare their hearts to receive the grace of the Lord Jesus.

The angel's message was so clear and positive that it ought to have left not the slightest doubt in the mind of Zacharias, yet his word was not enough for him. He felt he must have a sign to confirm this or else accept the testimony of his aging circumstances rather than the testimony of God's Word! He aptly pictures the unbelief of Israel.

The angel then disclosed his name, Gabriel, the one who stood in the presence of God and was sent directly with this message. He then gave a sign, though not so pleasant as Zacharias desired. Zacharias would be deprived of speech until the day this prophecy was fulfilled (vs.19-20). Again we have here a likeness to Israel's condition at the time, mute regarding the things of God, unable to lift their voices in praise and thanksgiving, just because of unbelief, until the day they see their Messiah.

The people waiting outside the temple were perplexed when he came out, for they had not expected God to intervene in the nation's affairs, but the evidence was clear that Zacharias must have seen a vision in the temple (vs.21-22). It is then briefly mentioned that, when the days of his service were finished, he returned to his own house. He would not see frequent service in the temple, for there were twenty-four courses of priests, each to serve in turn, evidently being changed each sabbath day (2 Chronicles 23:8).

It is not said how soon after this Elizabeth conceived, but when it happened she confined herself at home for five months, though deeply thankful to God that He had taken away the reproach of her barrenness (vs.24-25).



In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy the angel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth in Galilee to bear a yet more marvelous message to a virgin who was engaged to marry Joseph, both of them being of the house of David. Gabriel's salutation speaks of great grace given to Mary (favor and grace being translations of the same Greek word), of the Lord's presence with her, and of her being blessed among women. Thus her personal blessing is mentioned first (great grace given to her), then her relationship to the Lord (His presence with her), and her relationship to others (blessed among women).

Mary was perplexed at such words, as no doubt also by the sudden appearance of the angel, but wisely waited in silence for an explanation. "Fear not." he says, to set her at rest. Again he speaks of her being favored by God (this subject -- grace or favor -- being beautifully emphasized in Luke). No human merit could deserve such honor as being chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah. But God had chosen her to be the one who would independently of human resource conceive and bring forth a totally unique Son, His name to be called Jesus (vs.30-31).

He (not Mary) would be great, called "the Son of the Highest," a dignity far higher than could be given to Him by Mary, indeed an eternal dignity. Therefore the Lord God would give to Him the throne of His father David. First mentioned is His being Son of the Highest, His eternal deity; then Son of David, which involves His manhood, being born of Mary. David's throne will be given to Him in the Millennium, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob, with no other ever rising to take that throne. His kingdom will be perpetual (vs.32-33).

Mary does not question the truth of Gabriel's words, as Zacharias did, but did ask how she was to give birth to a child apart from contact with a man. This gave occasion for the marvelous declaration of verse 35, that the Spirit of God would come upon Mary, the power of the Highest overshadowing her, with the result that "that holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (v.35). While He would be a true Man, born of a woman, yet He was altogether untainted by her sinful nature, intrinsically holy, the fruit of the power of the Spirit of God. Nothing is said here of His former eternal existence as Son of the Father, the eternal Son, but this is vitally involved in His being called the Son of God.

Gabriel tells her also of Elizabeth's conception in her old age of a son, she being the cousin of Mary. He needed to add nothing more as to John, for this was enough to exercise Mary to visit Elizabeth, as was divinely intended. Mary's simplicity of faith is beautiful. She willingly took the place of a handmaid, a servant, and accepted the word of Gabriel, in contrast to the unbelief of Zacharias (v.38).



Mary then takes a journey to Judea, with haste, to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Let us observe that haste in this case is commendable, for it was based upon the word of God given to her, and the Lord had designed this to strengthen and encourage faith in both of these favored women. As Mary entered the house and spoke, the babe in Elizabeth's womb leaped; and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, broke forth in a short but beautiful prophecy (vs.39-45). Here the living power of the Spirit of God is accompanied by a lowly spirit of humility that finds delight in the blessing of another, recognizing that Mary is to be the mother of the Lord. Elizabeth rejoiced in the blessedness of Mary among women and in the blessedness of the fruit of her womb.

Though Elizabeth was older than Mary, yet she felt herself unworthy to have the mother of her Lord visit her. But she knew that it was for joy that her own child leapSaturday 25-Jun-2011 11:14genuine delight in Him who was born of the virgin. She also speaks of the blessedness of Mary's faith and the unquestionable fact that what she had believed would certainly take place.



Mary's praise and adoration ascribed to the Lord is beautiful. She is a picture of the godly remnant of Israel, the mother of the man-child (Revelation 12:1-6), and her language here will be that of the restored remnant of the Jews following the Great Tribulation. Her soul (the center of her emotions and affections) magnified the Lord, Jehovah. Her spirit (the center of her understanding and intelligence) rejoiced in God her Savior. Verse 46 indicates her submission to His authority when using the title Lord. Verse 47 shows her worship of the supreme God, yet who in grace became her Savior, for she knew herself to be a sinner who needed His salvation, just as we all do.

In verse 48 she is seen to recognize His tender mercy and care for her in her low estate, and that hers was an honor that would never fail to elicit the respect of all generations. While the great and mighty of this world are forgotten, this lowly, humble woman has such an honor as will never be forgotten.

To God also she ascribes infinite power, the mighty One who dealt with her in such power as in no other. But she hastens to add, "and Holy is His name," for in the world, power is ignorant of holiness, but God's power is sanctified (set apart) from every corrupting element. There also is the gentle, tender side of His character, showing mercy without ceasing to those who fear Him. "His mercy endures forever" (Psalms 106:1)

Note that from verse 46 to 49 it is God personally of whom she speaks, "the Lord," "God my Savior," "He that is mighty," and "Holy is His name." But from verse 50 to 55 it is rather what He has done that is emphasized. His mercy is first mentioned, then strength (verse 51) by which the pride of the ungodly is humbled, showing judgment together with strength. Imaginations and high things that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God are brought down to dust. In verse 52 rule is seen, His putting down the mighty of this world and exalting the lowly. Verse 53 deals with His administration, His filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty. He reverses the cruel order of the world. Verse 54 tells of His help to His suffering servant Israel, remembering mercy after long years of Israel's captivity, and this according to His promise to Abraham and his seed -- not according to the covenant of law. The law is left entirely out of Mary's prophecy, for here the glory of God and the person of Christ is the theme. What she speaks had direct application at the time and will also have application at the end of the Tribulation. Mary remained until near the time of Elizabeth's delivery, then returned home.



The promise to Zacharias is realized as Elizabeth gives birth to a son, which causes much rejoicing among her neighbors and relatives at the great mercy of the Lord toward her. According to Jewish law, the babe was circumcised the eighth day and evidently the priests decided that he should take his father's name, Zacharias. But his mother firmly objected and insisted that John was his name. Zacharias himself settled the dispute by writing that his name was John (v.63). Others marveled at this, surprised that he would not agree to give his son his own name. But the angel had settled this before.

When he gave the name John to his son, Zacharias immediately regained his faculty of speech. His unbelief was changed fully to faith, and he spoke in praise to God. These things being reported in the region, there was a serious, reverent fear that fell upon the people who realized that God was acting in some unusual way. He prepared hearts to expect in John an unusual character "And the hand of the Lord was with him," we are told, in subduing, living reality of power (v.66).



The prophecies of Elizabeth and Mary are found before that of Zacharias, though he was the first to be visited with a revelation from God. But he was slower in believing. However, he was now filled with the Holy Spirit to express another stirring that warms the heart. He spoke in the language of firm assurance and conviction, as though all was fully accomplished, though as yet the Messiah had not been born.

Jehovah, God of Israel had visited and redeemed His people, he declared. There is no question as to the accomplishment of this, though the people were not yet free, and the nation as such will not be redeemed until the end of the future seven-year Tribulation period. It is in Christ that God has visited His people, He who is raised up as a horn of salvation in the house of David. The horn speaks of potential power, for it was specially for power in salvation that Israel was looking, little realizing that this must involve great suffering and death for the Messiah. Zacharias gave no suggestion of this, though mentioning the remission of sins (v.77).

He refers to the messages of the prophets from earliest times as speaking of the Messiah, but he does not consider such prophecies as Isaiah 53:1-12 which speak of the Messiah as suffering, but rather appeals to those prophecies that speak of His great power in delivering Israel from their enemies (v.71). This was mercy promised to the fathers, His holy covenant sworn to Abraham. What was necessary to accomplish this is a matter which evidently did not occur to him. Simeon's prophecy, a little later, is more discerning in this regard (Luke 3:34-35), though not actually indicating the death of Christ, but suffering nevertheless.

In Israel's future deliverance Zacharias expresses the desire that Israel might serve God in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life, which will be true in the Millennium when all their fears will be banished (v.74).

In verse 76 he addresses his child John, to say that he will be called the prophet of the Highest; going before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, a herald of One infinitely greater than himself. Because of this great honor, no greater prophet had ever risen than John, none having such a place as this (Luke 7:28).

Verse 77 shows that John would drive home the truth to individuals, to give knowledge of salvation by the remission of their sins. This would call for his preaching a personal repentance, a most important matter to prepare the Jews for having to face their Messiah. The actual remission of sins would only be by God's tender mercy, through the visitation of Him who was the very arising of the day for those in darkness, that is, the blessed Son of God. It is He who would give light to those in darkness, those who had only the shadow of death hovering over their heads, feeling the desolation of their hopeless state. He would change the path of their feet from that of self-will and rebellion to one of peace and tranquility.

John, we are told, not only grew physically, but also in strength of spirit, for he sought the presence of God, though in virtual seclusion, being alone in the deserts. This was a most unusual life for one born into the priesthood of Israel, but John sought no recognition from the high priest or other authorities. In this lonely way he was being prepared by God for his special work.

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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.

Wells of Living Water Commentary

The Seven Magnificats

Selections from Luke 1:1-80 and Luke 2:1-52


By way of introduction to the seven Magnificats, we will study the annunciation of the birth of Christ, as it was given by the angel unto Mary. Our study will follow Luke 1:27-38 .

1. The virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph. We emphasize that Mary was a virgin. This was plainly set forth in the prophetic Scriptures, when the Holy Ghost wrote, "A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His Name Immanuel." Jesus Christ was virgin born, or else He could never have been called "Immanuel," "God with us." The latter is contingent upon the former.

The fact that He died for us on the Cross, would have been impossible, in any atoning sense, if He had been begotten by natural generation; inasmuch as, in that case, He, Himself would also have been a sinner. Only One who knew no sin, and did no sin, and in whom there was no sin, could die for sinners.

2. Mary was announced as "highly favored," and "blessed * * among women." When the angel approached Mary, he said "Hail, thou that art highly favored." The word "hail," means "joy"; therefore, the angel was saying to Mary, "All joy." When Mary heard his salutation, she was troubled and cast in her mind what manner of salutation it might be. Then the angel said unto her, "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God."

3. Mary instructed concerning the Child who should be born. The angel said to Mary, that the One whom she was to name "Jesus," would "be great." He also announced, "And (He) shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the House of Jacob for ever; and of His Kingdom there shall be no end."

What an accumulation of titles are found here, yet they were all true. He was called "Jesus," the "Son of the Highest," He was "Great," and He shall yet ascend David's throne, and reign over the House of Jacob in an everlasting Kingdom.

4. Mary told how the possibility of her being mother to the Son of the Highest could be realized. The angel said unto her (Luke 1:35 ), "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." As we speak of the angel's annunciation of the birth of the Saviour, let us emphasize the deeper meaning of the Names ascribed to Him at His birth: emphasizing, particularly, that He was called the "Son of God." As we do this, let us also refer to that remarkable prophecy in Isaiah 9:6 . To all orthodox Christians, Christ carries the Name of "God our Saviour."


1. Mary hastening to the hill country. When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she should be mother to our Lord, he also told her that her cousin Elisabeth was to have a child within the next three months. In wonderment, Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, unto a city of Judah. We can see her on arrival, as she entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. In answer to Mary's call, Elisabeth came out.

2. Elisabeth's magnificat was spoken as she was filled with the Holy Ghost. We emphasize this. A woman who is spoken of in Luke 1:6 as being righteous before God, and as walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless; and a woman who was filled with the Holy Ghost, could not have uttered words contrary to the heart of God, and to the truth.

3. Hear the words of Elisabeth's Spirit-filled magnificat : "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?" Thus, Elisabeth, ascribing her cousin, Mary, as "the mother of my Lord," did no less than to acknowledge the Deity of the One who was to be born of Mary.

It must be true that the angel, who had announced unto Zacharias that he and his wife were to have a child, had also announced that Mary, the virgin, was to have a Child, and that His Name should be called "Jesus, the Son of the Highest."

Thus it was that Elisabeth intelligently announced her absolute faith in Mary's Son, as God.


1. Mary announced that the One to be born of her was God, her Saviour. As soon as Elisabeth had ceased her magnificat, in which she ascribed Mary as the mother of the Lord, and commended Mary because she had believed that there would be a performance of the things which were told her from the Lord; then Mary gave her response and said, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."

We are more than sure that the expression, "God my Saviour," referred to the Christ which should be born of Mary. We are sure, first of all, because Mary's magnificat was an acknowledgment of the verity of that of Elisabeth. In other words, Mary was accepting the title given her by her cousin, as the "mother of my Lord."

We believe, secondly, that Mary was referring to the Babe to be born of her, as "God her Saviour," because Elisabeth said, "Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her."

2. Mary, believing in the Deity of her Son, and receiving the magnificat of her cousin, said, "For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." There was no spirit of boastfulness with Mary. In fact, Mary spoke of her low estate, acknowledged that the Lord, who was mighty, had done great things to her. While all generations were to call her blessed, she, in turn, was to ascribe all the glory to God, saying (Luke 1:49 ) "Holy is His Name."

Mary also continued to say, "He hath shewed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts." Would that all of us might have this same spirit of worship, which Mary demonstrated, as the interpulsings of her own heart. Finally, Mary ascribed the birth of her Child as a fulfillment of what God had spoken to the fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.


1. The magnificat of Zacharias took place at the circumcision of John. When the angel had told Zacharias, the aged priest, that he was to have a child of this aged wife, Zacharias had not believed. Therefore, the angel had said, "I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season." From that day Zacharias was dumb until John was born.

2. A season of great rejoicing. Luke 1:58 tells us that Elisabeth's neighbors and cousins came to see her and rejoiced with her. Thus, on the eighth day, when John was circumcised, they called his name Zacharias, after his father. The mother quickly stopped the proceedings, and said, "Not so; but he shall be called John."

Then her kindred and acquaintances made signs to the babe's father how he would have him called. Zacharias asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, "His name is John." At this moment, Zacharias' mouth was open, his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak and praise God. Zacharias, filled with the Holy Ghost, said many wonderful things about the birth of John. In the midst of his Spirit-indicted magnificat, Zacharias cried out, "And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways."


1. The words of the angel. As the shepherds were guarding their flocks by night, we read, "And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid." Then the angel spake, saying, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."

Let us observe the namings which the angel from Heaven gave to Mary's Babe on that first Christmas Day.

(1) The angel ascribed the Babe as the "Saviour." This was in keeping with what the angel had said to Mary. This was in keeping with what Mary had said when she announced her Babe as "God my Saviour." This was in keeping with what Zacharias had said, "Thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: * * to give knowledge of salvation."

(2) The angel ascribed the Babe as "Christ." That is, the Saviour was God's Anointed One. Beloved, I would that we all, in speaking of this precious Babe, would ascribe to Him His place as Saviour, Christ, and Lord.

(3) The angel ascribed the Babe as "Lord." It is at the Name of Jesus that every knee shall yet bow, and confess that Jesus is Lord. Truly, other than Christ the Lord, there is no Saviour. There is none other name whereby we must be saved.

2. The words of the angels. We read, "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

(2) There was glory to God, because in the birth of Jesus Christ, the marvels of His wisdom and foreknowledge were being wrought out. There was glory to God because God was fulfilling His promise concerning the coming of the seed of the woman and Christ was that Seed.

(2) There was peace on earth and good will to men, because the Saviour, Christ the Lord, had come, bringing salvation.


1. The shepherd's response to the angel's annunciation. As soon as the Heavenly host had disappeared, the shepherds said one to another, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us." There was, upon the part of the shepherds, no expression of doubts as to the verity of the angel's message. They heard and they believed. They did not argue against the finding of God, the Son, in so humble a place as a manger. They, the rather, prepared immediately to go. It is worth our while to consider their words.

How many young people today are willing to say, "Let us * * go "? "I will arise and go to Jesus"? How many others are willing to say, "Let us now go." Alas, alas, so many want to defer the day of their going to Christ. They say, "We will go some other time." How many are willing to say, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem"? In other words, let us go all the way, and not a part of the way.

Finally, how many, old or young, will say, "Let us now go, * * and see"? Any revelation, Divinely given, is worthy of careful consideration. God wants us to look into the depths of the meaning of His Words.

2. The shepherds found it as the angels had told them. They came, they saw, and they were satisfied. Is there any better day for us to come, seeking a Saviour? If we do come, we will see that what God has said is true.

3. The magnificat of the shepherds. The words of their magnificat are not given. We do read two things:

(1) We read that the shepherds made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child. Let us do likewise!

(2) We read that the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God. Their Amens and Hallelujahs resounded. The country wide heard them praising God.


1. The Bible description of Simeon. We read concerning this man that he dwelt in Jerusalem, that his name was Simeon, that he was just and devout, that he was waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and that the Holy Ghost was upon him. To such a one, the Lord revealed that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Here was a definite statement to Simeon that Mary's Babe was God the Lord's Christ.

2. The Bible speaks much of the Holy Ghost in conjunction with the birth of the Lord. The angel told Mary that the Holy Ghost was to come upon her. Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost when she spoke her magnificat. Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost when he sounded forth his note of praise. Now that we come to Simeon, we read that the Holy Ghost was upon him; that the Holy Ghost had revealed the birth of the Lord's Christ unto him, and that he came by the Spirit into the Temple, when the parents brought in the Child Jesus that He might be circumcised after the custom of the Law. How intimately did the Holy Ghost move in connection with the birth of Christ!

3. The joy and rejoicing of the aged Simeon as he came into the Temple. He took the Infant, God, up in his arms and blessed God and said, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word: for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel." The aged Simeon declared that the Babe that he held in his arms was "God's Salvation," and that his eyes had seen Him. He declared that this Babe was God's Light to the Gentiles, and His glory to the people of Israel. These words, ascribed to Christ "Salvation," "Light," and "glory," could be ascribed to none other than God, the Son, and Son of God.


1. Description of Anna. In Luke 2:36, we read that Anna was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: we also read that she was of great age; that she had been married seven years, and had been a widow for eighty-four years. She must have been over a hundred. This aged woman served God with fastings and prayer, night and day. For our part, we are very happy that the Holy Ghost saw fit to seal the six magnificats with this seventh one from the lips of Anna. We will be delighted to know what so true and so faithful a woman, and a woman of so great an age, had to say about the Infant Christ.

2. Anna's words. Luke 2:38 says, "And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Israel."

It was remarkable that just as the aged Simeon had ceased speaking, that the aged Anna should come in.

(1) Anna, seeing the Infant, Christ, gave thanks likewise unto the Lord. She joined her magnificat, her praises with those of Elisabeth, of Mary, of Zacharias, of the angels, of the shepherds, and of Simeon. Beloved readers, what say you? Shall we, likewise, add our praise? Yea, our worshipful praise.

(2) Anna, seeing Christ, spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. She, therefore, added her testimony to that of the others, that the Infant Christ, was a "Saviour" a "Redeemer." Beloved, with the seven magnificats, let us follow the example of the wise men, who brought to the Child Christ their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh, and fell down and worshiped Him.


Great is the mystery of the incarnation "God * * manifest in the flesh." The following story tells a tale of how God can do what man cannot do or understand.

And he that was dead came forth (John 11:44 ). The famous clock in Strasburg Cathedral has a mechanism so complicated that it seems to the ignorant and superstitious almost a work of superhuman skill. The abused and offended maker, while as yet unpaid for his work, came one day and touched its secret springs, and it stopped. All the patience and ingenuity of a nation's mechanics and artisans failed to restore its disordered mechanism and set it in motion. Afterward, when his grievances were redressed, that maker came again, touched the inner springs, and set it again in motion, and all its multiplied parts revolved again obedient to his will. When thus, by a touch, he suspended and restored those marvelous movements, he gave to any doubting mind proof that he was the maker, and certainly the master, of that clock. And when Jesus of Nazareth brings to a stop the mechanism of nature, makes its mighty wheels turn back, or in any way arrests its grand movement more than all, when He cannot only stop, but start again, the mysterious clock of human life He gives to an honest mind overwhelming proof that He is God. For a malignant power might arrest or destroy, but only God could reconstruct and restore. A. T. Pierson.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Living Water".

Wells of Living Water Commentary

The Revelations of God

Luke 1:5-79


We begin here a series of studies taken from the Gospel of Luke. This is the Gospel that emphasizes the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of Man. It will suggest many things to us that will bring great blessings. We trust that God will be with us in our studies.

Let us observe several things about visions and revelations in general, and in detail the particular vision that came to Zacharias.

1. We know God by revelation. No one by searching can find out God. When Peter said of Christ, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God," Jesus said, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto Thee, but My Father which is in Heaven." "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: * * neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

The truth is that revelation is the sphere of the believer's walk. The mind may roam in the things of a man, but the things of God are open only to those to whom God hath revealed them.

2. The Bible is a Book of Revelation. The Bible passes back into the beginnings of history and tells us, "In the beginning God created the Heaven and the earth." No human eye ever saw the origin of creation. Angelic beings saw and shouted for joy; but man was not yet on the scene. In the "beginning of things" we must walk by revelation.

Revelation is the basis of all we know of the far distant past, and revelation is the basis of all we know of the far-flung future. Salvation, itself, is a revelation. Christ as Son of God and Saviour is a revelation. The judgments of the Tribulation, of the Bema, and of the Great White Throne are all revelations.

The Bible is the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to show to willing and believing minds.

Let us now study the various aspects of revelation which the Scripture lesson presents.


We read that Zacharias and his wife were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments of the Lord blameless. It was to such an one that God came to make Himself known, and to reveal His purposes.

1. God revealed Himself to Abraham. The Lord said, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do * *? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him."

2. God revealed Himself to David. David was a man after God's own heart. God said unto Nathan, "Go and tell David My servant, Thus saith the Lord." Then a revelation was given unto him concerning the establishment of his kingdom forever, and David learned by revelation that Jesus Christ was to sit upon his throne.

3. God revealed Himself to Isaiah. Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, and His train filling the Temple; but it was only after the Lord had touched Isaiah's mouth and had taken his iniquity away and purged his sin, that the many marvels of prophecy, found in his Book, were revealed to him.


Our text says of Zacharias and Elisabeth that they had no child, and they were both well stricken in years.

1. God works where man cannot move. It is nothing with the Lord to do the impossible and to accomplish the miraculous. The Lord said to Israel, "Go forward," even when there, was an impassable sea before them.

David said, "By Thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall."

He who believes God only in the realm of the natural limits the Holy One of Israel. We read of the Old Testament worthies that they accounted "that God was able." It was for this cause that they staggered not at the promises.

2. God promises to accomplish the impossible. God, by revelation, told Zacharias that his wife would bear him a son. The fact that they were both stricken in years was no hindrance to God.

The impossible has often been accomplished, for, with God, all things are possible, and what He says, He is able to perform.

In the light of past victories, in the light of past accomplishments, wrought by the hand of God, let us believe Him for future victory.

"Is any thing too hard for the Lord?" Nay, we can do "all things through Christ which strengtheneth us." Let us, then, be willing to attempt great things for God, and to expect impossible things from God. "All things are possible * * only believe."


We read in verse eight that while Zacharias "executed the priest's office before God in the Order of his course," that the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, "standing on the right side of the altar of incense."

To me it is a very wholesome thought that the angel should speak to this man while he was in the Temple burning incense. It would not have been difficult for the angel to have spoken to him elsewhere; but it was eminently proper, and strikingly appropriate, that God's messenger should appear in God's House.

The priesthood of that day possessed some men who truly loved the Lord. Zacharias was righteous before God, walking in all the commandments of the Lord blameless. Sometimes those who are true, find themselves connected with a system which is not true to God. They, however, can, themselves, be faithful, no matter the environment in which they move.

It was while Gideon was threshing wheat that the Lord spoke unto Him. It was as Elisha followed Elijah that he received Elijah's mantle. It was while David was tending the sheep that God called him to be king. It was while Amos was among the herdmen of Tekoa that the Word of the Lord came unto him; and, it was while the Apostles were mending their nets that the Saviour called, saying, "Come, follow Me."

If we ever expect to receive a call from God to any service, or to have from Him any revelation of truth, we will receive it as we are walking in the pathway of duty.


In verse thirteen the angel said unto Zacharias, "Thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John." We have now an insight into the personal prayer life of this priest of God. He who was the priest, and who, according to the custom of his office, burnt incense in the Temple, was also a man who prayed when he was not on duty. It is one thing to carry on public ministrations; it is another thing to be faithful in private devotions.

Zacharias had no son, and he prayed for one. His prayer was definite, and we believe that he was importunate in prayer. He prayed earnestly; he prayed continuously. God hears and answers prayer, and He heard Zacharias, and granted his request. Many of us have not, because we ask not.

1. It was as Hannah prayed unto the Lord, that Eli told her of the birth of Samuel.

2. It was as Daniel prayed with fastings, that God sent Gabriel from Heaven to reveal unto him that which should befall Israel in the latter days.

3. It was as Daniel and the three Hebrew Children prayed, that God revealed unto them both the dream and the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar's image.

4. It was as Jesus prayed, that He was transfigured, and discussed with Moses and Elias the fact of His corning decease.

5. It was as Peter was praying on the housetop, that the Lord revealed unto him His heart toward the Gentiles, and sent him to Joppa.

6. It was as Paul prayed, that God sent an ambassador to him to tell him of his future ministry to the Gentiles.


When the angel appeared to Zacharias, announcing the birth of John; he told him not only that he should have a son, but that he should have joy and gladness at his birth. He told him that his son would be great in the sight of the Lord, and that he would be filled with the Holy Ghost from his birth.

John was truly ordained of God, yea, he was foreordained. The Holy Spirit, through the Prophet, had spoken of John as the one who would go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way.

We are certain that God still purposes and plans His work, and calls His workers. The Apostle Paul said, "And when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called my by His grace." Men are called of God even before they open their eyes in birth. Thus, God, by training, by environment, and by special leadings can perfect His called ones unto His Word and work.


1. A doubter rebuked. The beauty of our story is marred by the doubts which crept into the mind of Zacharias. He was a good man and a great man, but he had not yet learned to believe God unflinchingly.

He said, "Whereby shall I know this?" He said, "I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years." Gabriel replied, "I * * stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings."

2. A doubter chastened. The angel told Zacharias that, because he had doubted God's revelation, he should be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that the prophecy was fulfilled, and that which had been spoken was performed.

We wonder what chastisement must abide those who doubt God's revelation of things to come. God hath spoken, and shall He not fulfill it? He hath stretched forth His hand, and will man be able to draw it back?

In the last days men are still doubting prophecy. They are mockers, saying, "Where is the promise of His Coming?" What will be their chastisement?


That which was impossible was accomplished; that wherein Zacharias doubted came to pass. John the Baptist was born, and Elisabeth and her neighbors and cousins rejoiced.

For a while there was a quibble as to what the child should be called. His mother said that he should be called John. The relatives said, "There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name." Then they made signs to the babe's father, as to how he would have him called. Zacharias asked for a writing table and wrote, saying, "His name is John."

Thus it was that prophecy was fulfilled. Thus it was that a revelation became a verification. Will this not be true of all that God has revealed? Of the Law Christ wrote, "One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, till all be fulfilled."


We have before us, in Zacharias' magnificat a foretaste of the magnificent praise and mighty hallelujahs that will fill the Heavens as the prophecies of the Lord's Second Coming meet their fulfillment.

The Lord Himself will descend with a shout. The saints will surely ascend with a shout. The angels will break forth into praise. The very skies will reverberate with paeans of victory and of consummated revelation.

What a glorious climax Christ's Coming will be, to the beforehand Scriptural revelation of that Blessed Advent! This revelation God has vouchsafed to His children.


We are living in a day in which the marvels of prophecy, as foretold by Divine revelation, are being fulfilled on every hand. We wonder how many people are fully awake to the deeper meanings of this fact.

The Bible tells us that in the last days mockers will arise saying, "Where is the promise of His Coming?" These mockers are on every hand.

A certain denominational paper on one occasion had an editorial making light of prophecy. The editor said something like this: "If we believed like Rev. that Christ might come at any moment, we would cease our preaching to sinners, cease our missionary endeavors, and go to Jerusalem, and build us a little watchtower upon the walls of the Beloved City. Then we would fold our hands and watch for Christ to come."

Let us remember that God's Word of prophecy is made sure. The revelation of God may not always be received by the multitude, but those who love and trust Him should accept, at one hundred per cent, every God-given prophecy.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Living Water".

Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible

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 Judæ a, 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. 11And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13But 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. 14And 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. 21And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22And 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. 23And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. 24And 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): 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): 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. 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 (Psalm 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. 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): 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), which was in the temple (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), 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. 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, Psalm 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 8:1,3,4), 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): 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): 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. 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. 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 10:30,31) "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 30:18,19.

3. This son shall be the joy of his family and of all his relations, 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. 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 1:4,5. 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 1:16,17.

[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, lx. 4,9 lxii. 5 lxvi. 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. 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 4:19,20.

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. 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 8:16,9:21. "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. 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. 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), as well as he to them, 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.

2. When he came out, he was speechless, 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. 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.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". 1706.

Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

The father and mother of John the Baptist were sinners as all are, and were justified and saved in the same way as others; but they were eminent for piety and integrity. They had no children, and it could not be expected that Elisabeth should have any in her old age. While Zacharias was burning incense in the temple, the whole multitude of the people were praying without. All the prayers we offer up to God, are acceptable and successful only by Christ's intercession in the temple of God above. We cannot expect an interest therein if we do not pray, and pray with our spirits, and are not earnest in prayer. Nor can we expect that the best of our prayers should gain acceptance, and bring an answer of peace, but through the mediation of Christ, who ever lives, making intercession. The prayers Zacharias often made, received an answer of peace. Prayers of faith are filed in heaven, and are not forgotten. Prayers made when we were young and entering into the world, may be answered when we are old and going out of the world. Mercies are doubly sweet that are given in answer to prayer. Zacharias shall have a son in his old age, who shall be instrumental in the conversion of many souls to God, and preparing them to receive the gospel of Christ. He shall go before Him with courage, zeal, holiness, and a mind dead to earthly interests and pleasures. The disobedient and rebellious would be brought back to the wisdom of their righteous forefathers, or rather, brought to attend to the wisdom of that Just One who was coming among them. Zacharias heard all that the angel said; but his unbelief spake. In striking him dumb, God dealt justly with him, because he had objected against God's word. We may admire the patience of God towards us. God dealt kindly with him, for thus he prevented his speaking any more distrustful, unbelieving words. Thus also God confirmed his faith. If by the rebukes we are under for our sin, we are brought to give the more credit to the word of God, we have no reason to complain. Even real believers are apt to dishonour God by unbelief; and their mouths are stopped in silence and confusion, when otherwise they would have been praising God with joy and gratitude. In God's gracious dealings with us we ought to observe his gracious regards to us. He has looked on us with compassion and favour, and therefore has thus dealt with us.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Henry, Matthew. "Concise Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Matthew Henry Concise Commentary

on the Whole Bible". 1706.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Ver. 21-23. While the priest was in the holy place, the people were in that part of the temple called the court of Israel, or the court of the people, praying: when he had done, he came out, and blessed them according to the law, Numbers 6:23-26, where is the form of blessing which he used; for this the people waited before they went home. Whether the angel’s discourse with Zacharias was longer, or his amazement at the vision made him stay longer than the priest was wont to stay, it is uncertain; but so he did, and when he came out he was not able to pronounce the blessing, nor to speak at all, only he beckons to them, by which the people judged that he had seen some vision. Yet dumbness being none of those bodily defects for which by the law they were to be removed from the priest’s office, nor having any great work in which he used his tongue during his ministration, which was more the work of the hands, he accomplished the days he was to minister, and then departed to his own house, for in the days of their ministration they had their lodgings in buildings appertaining to the temple.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Luke 1:21". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Zacharias Goes Up to the Temple and Is Promised a Son Who Will Prepare the Way for God’s Messiah, and He is Made Dumb in God’s Presence (1:5-25).

From this point on until the end of chapter 2 all is written in Aramaic Greek in vivid contrast to the classical Greek of Luke 1:1-4, and the more general Greek that follows. This may partly reflect Luke’s sources, but he later has no difficulty in turning his Aramaic sources into more general Greek. Thus we must see the Aramaic Greek here as deliberately retained and expanded on in order to give atmosphere to the story. It reflects the old from which the new will come.

For four hundred years there had been no prophet in Israel. Heaven had been silent, and the people had been waiting for the fulfilment of the last words of the last of the prophets, who had declared on God’s behalf, “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord come. And he will turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6). And now it is being clearly indicated that those dark days were ended, and God was about to act. Another has come ‘in the Spirit and power of Elijah’ to fulfil the words of Malachi.

It is indeed interesting that those words were spoken by a man who was called Malachi - ‘My messenger’. And now another will arise of whom it is said that he is ‘My messenger’ (Luke 7:27; compare Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2). In the purposes of God, after the passage of the silent years, one messenger takes up where another has left off.

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Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marvelled while he tarried (or ‘at his tarrying’) in the temple.’

Meanwhile the people outside were waiting and getting restless. Why was the priest being so long? they must have wondered. Something unusual must have happened. They too did not realise the significance of this moment, although they would soon become aware that something remarkable had happened.

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Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

. Prediction of the Birth of John the Baptist.—Lk. alone gives the story, which perhaps existed independently. and had been preserved in Baptist circles like that of Acts 19:1-6. Its Jewish character and form are evident: there are many reminiscences of OT incidents and language. In the days of Herod the Great (i.e. before Luke 1:4 B.C.) there lived in Judæa (Luke 1:39*) a priest named Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth. She was of Aaronic descent (cf. Exodus 6:23, Elisheba), and both were folk of exemplary piety. They were now, like Abraham and Sarah, advanced in life but childless. Zacharias belonged to that one of the divisions of the priesthood which was known as the class or course of Abijah (1 Chronicles 24:10). Each course in turn was responsible for a week's service in the Temple. It fell to Zacharias one day to burn incense, and, contrary to the custom, he was doing this alone. As he stood at the altar an angel (Gabriel) appeared, dispelled his natural fear, and announced the fulfilment of a hope (Luke 1:18) which had long been abandoned. Elisabeth is to bear a son John ("Yahweh is gracious"), who shall bring joy to many besides his parents. From his birth he is to be endowed with the Spirit, he is to live an ascetic life (cf. Judges 13:5, Jeremiah 1:5), and reconcile his fellow-countrymen to Yahweh, their God. In him the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 4:5 f.*) is to be fulfilled; he is to prepare Israel for the coming and the kingdom of God. Zacharias asks a token (cf. Genesis 15:8; Genesis 17:17), and is told that he shall be dumb (for his incredulity) and probably deaf (Luke 6:2) until the prediction is fulfilled (cf. Daniel 10:14 f.). The angel departs; Zacharias, though physically handicapped, fulfils his week's service and goes home. His wife finds that the angelic prediction is in course of fulfilment, and rejoices that the stigma of barrenness (Genesis 30:23) has been removed from her.

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Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary


Luk . Herod, the king of Judæa.—He also ruled over Galilee, Samaria, and the greater part of Peræa. He was the son of Antipater, an Edomite, and had been imposed upon the Jewish nation by the Romans. The sovereignty of Herod and the enrolment under Cæsar Augustus (Luk 2:1) are indications of the fact that the sceptre had departed from Judah (Gen 49:10), and that the appearance of the Messiah might now be looked for. A certain priest.—Not the high priest. Of the course of Abia.—The priests descended from Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron, were divided by David into twenty-four courses, each of which ministered in the Temple for one week (1Ch 24:1-19). Only four of the twenty-four returned from exile in Babylon; these were again divided into twenty-four classes, and the original names were assigned to them. This is alluded to in Neh 13:30. Course.— ἐφημερία is properly a daily service, but came to denote the class which served in the Temple for a week.

Luk . Commandments and ordinances.—It seems arbitrary to distinguish between these as some do, and to understand them to denote moral and ceremonial precepts respectively,

Luk .—Childlessness was regarded among the Jews as a great misfortune. It is several times spoken of in the Old Testament as a punishment for sin (see Luk 1:25).

Luk . His lot.—The various offices were distributed among the priests by lot: the most honourable was this of burning incense, the act being a symbol of acceptable prayer rising to God, no priest was allowed to perform it more than once. This day, therefore, would have been a most memorable one in the life of Zacharias, even apart from the vision. The temple.—I.e. the sanctuary, in which was the altar of incense, as distinguished from the outer court, in which the people were praying.

Luk . The time of incense.—Probably at the time of the morning sacrifice.

Luk . An angel.—St. Luke both in this Gospel and in the Acts dwells frequently on the ministry of angels. The right side.—A circumstance which seems to have no more significance than as marking the definiteness of the vision.

Luk . Thy prayer.—For a son; a prayer formerly offered, but to which he had now ceased to expect an answer. John.—Jehochanan—"the favour of Jehovah."

Luk . Shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.—He shall be a Nazarite (Num 6:3), separate from the world to God like Samson and Samuel. Cf. Eph 5:18 for a similar contrast between the false excitement of drunkenness and spiritual fervour.

Luk . Before Him.—I.e. before the Lord their God, manifest in the flesh. A very clear testimony to the divinity of Christ. "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" (Calvin). Spirit.—Disposition. Power.—Zeal and energy, or mighty endowments. There is one point of difference between Elijah and John Baptist—John did no miracle.

Luk .—"Grotius here remarks on the difference in the cases of Abraham (Gen 15:8) and Zacharias, as to the same action. The former did not ask for a sign from distrust in the promise of God, but for confirmation of his faith; whereas the latter had no true faith at all, and did not as the former turn from natural causes to the great First Cause. Hence, though a sign was given to him, it was a judicial infliction likewise, for not believing; though wisely ordained to be such as should fix the attention of the Jews on the promised child" (Bloomfield).

Luk . Gabriel.—Name means "man of God"; appeared to Daniel (Dan 8:16; Dan 9:21), and to the blessed Virgin (Luk 1:26). Only two angels are mentioned by name in Scripture: Gabriel and Michael (Dan 9:21; Jude 1:9)—the one announces God's purposes, the other executes God's decrees. Stand in the presence of God.—I.e. in attendance, or ministering to: a figure derived from the customs of Oriental courts. He says this to accredit himself as a Divine messenger, and to assure Zacharias that the promise would be performed. To shew glad tidings.—Or, "to preach the gospel." St. Luke uses the word more than twenty times in his Gospel and in the Acts, and it is common in the Pauline writings; but it is only found elsewhere in the New Testament in 1Pe 1:12; Mat 11:5.

Luk . He tarried so long.—It was customary for the priest at the time of prayer not to remain long in the holy place, for fear the people who were without might imagine that any vengeance had been inflicted on him for some informality, as he was considered the representative of the people.

Luk . He beckoned unto them.—R.V. "he continued making signs unto them."


Human Life at its best.—We see here—

I. Human life at its best.—

1. A devout and blameless course of conduct.

2. Honourable descent.

3. Sacred calling.

4. The enjoyment of high privilege—that of being chosen to offer the incense which symbolised the prayers of the nation.

II. Yet at its best human life is compassed about with sorrows and weaknesses.—Sorrows:

1. The heart of the man is troubled by his own personal affliction, especially as childlessness was regarded in Israel as an indication of Divine displeasure.

2. The heart of the priest could not but be wrung by the sinful state of the nation of whom he was the representative before God. Weaknesses:

1. He is overcome by fear at the sight of a messenger from the God whom he served so zealously.

2. He is slow of heart to believe the promise made to him, though it was but the fulfilment of his own prayers.

III. The Divine compassion.—

1. Towards this lonely pair in filling their hearts with joy and gladness.

2. Towards the nation in sending one who would prepare them to receive their Redeemer.

3. In inflicting merely a transitory punishment for unbelief.


Luk . "A certain priest."—One of the special purposes of St. Luke's Gospel is to display the sacerdotal office and sacrificial efficacy of Christ, the true priest, and victim of the whole human race; and he aptly begins his Gospel by showing that the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices were imperfect and transitory, but had a sacred purpose as preparatory and ministerial to the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ.—Wordsworth.

"In the days of Herod."—It makes a great deal of difference in what times and amid what circumstances and influences a man lives. In godly days it is not remarkable that one should live righteously; but when the prevailing spirit is unrighteous, the life that is holy and devout shines with rare splendour, like a lamp in the darkness. Such were the times and the spirit of "the days of Herod," and such were the lives of the blameless old pair here mentioned. Amid almost universal corruption, they lived in piety and godly simplicity. The lesson is, that it is not necessary for us to be like other people, if other people are not what they ought to be. The darker the night of sin about us, the clearer should be the light that streams from our life and conduct.—Miller.

Luk . A Definition of a Holy Character and Life.—

1. Piety towards God: it is a real and not an apparent goodness, for it is an omniscient Judge who here pronounces sentence of approval: it is manifested in a habitual obedience to all the various commandments and ordinances of God (walking describes habitual action).

2. Good repute with men: irreproachable or blameless. Both elements are essential to a perfect character, and it is to be noted that righteousness towards God will always, where it is genuine, include blamelessness towards men. A man may win the approval of his fellows, and yet be neglectful of his duties towards God; but no one can be approved of God, and yet fail to deserve the respect of all who know him.

"Both righteous."—The peaceful, pious home of the old priest is beautifully outlined. Somewhere in the hill country, in quiet seclusion, the priestly pair lived in cheerful godliness, and their content marred only by the absence of child voices in their quiet house. They presented a lovely example of Old Testament piety in a time of declension. Inwardly, they were "righteous before God"; outwardly, their lives were blamelessly conformed to His "commandments and ordinances," not in absolute sinless perfection, but in the true spirit of Old Testament religion. Earth shows no fairer sight than where husband and wife dwell as heirs together of the grace of life and fellow-helpers to the truth. The salt of a nation is in its pious home life.—Maclaren.

"Before God."—It is not enough to have human commendation. How do we stand before God? How does our life appear to Him? No matter how men praise and commend, if as God sees us we are wrong. We are in reality just what we are "before God"—nothing less, nothing more. The question always to be asked is, "What will God think of this?"—Miller.

A Righteous Life.—Zacharias is the first man of whom the Gospels tell us. He was "righteous before God." This was shown by—

1. His blameless life.

2. His faithful service as God's priest.

3. His prayerful spirit.

4. His heartfelt praise.

Luk . "While he executed the priest's office."—How solemnly, how divinely, the holy drama of a new revelation opens! An angel from heaven, a man on earth,—these are invariably the two chief characters in the sacred story; heaven acting upon earth, man brought into contact with the beings of the invisible world. On one hand, an Israelite,—one of the peculiar people to whom the promises belong; more, one of its priests appointed to plead for God to man, and for man to God; one specially chosen out of the chosen nation. On the other, "I, Gabriel, that stand before the presence of God." The scene is the most sacred spot of the whole earth, of the Land of Promise, of the city of the great King—namely, the sanctuary of God's house; and here, in the most holy retirement, an announcement is made, a dialogue held between the two by the altar of incense—type of the worship of the saints—in the hour of public prayer, while Israel is imploring the blessing of Jehovah. Could the opening of the Divine New Testament drama be more solemn, more appropriate, more Israelitish, more sacred, either as regards person, place, time, or action?—Pfenninger.

Luk . "At the time of incense."—The offering of incense was simultaneous with the prayer of the people assembled in the court of the Temple. There was a close relation between these two actions. The one was symbolical, ideal, and therefore perfectly holy in its character: the real prayer offered by the people was of necessity imperfect and tainted by sin. The former covered the latter with its holiness: the latter communicated to the former reality and life. The one was, therefore, complementary to the other.—Godet.

Luk . The Last Messianic Prophecies.—The last of the long series of prophecies that foreannounced the Redeemer were in their substance and form unlike any that had preceded, thus marking the advent of a new order of things. St. Luke presents them to us in three most vivid groups, ascending in their gradation of tribute offered to the dignity of Christ.

I. An angel breaks the silence of ages by predicting the birth of the forerunner, but in such a manner as to make the coming of the Lord Himself the burden of his prophecy (Luk ).

II. Then follows the central announcement by an angel to the virgin mother, in which the supremacy of the Saviour's personal dignity and kingly rule is testified in terms that are never surpassed in Holy Scripture (Luk ).

III. Finally, the Holy Ghost Himself, taking the angel's place, proclaims by Zacharias, the last of the prophets, the future and eternal dominion of the Christ (Luk ).—Pope.

Luk . "An angel."—The third Gospel is throughout a gospel of the holy angels, i.e. we read more of their ministry in connection with Jesus than elsewhere. This is especially marked at the outset (Luk 1:11-26; Luk 1:35; Luk 2:9-16). Our most complete revelations, whether of the functions of the holy angels towards the Saviour during His life-walk on earth, or of their relation to us, are to be found in St. Luke. His narrative shows us in detail the living and continuous realisation of the most beautiful vision of the Hebrew story—"the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."—Alexander.

"On the right side of the altar."—The Temple from which the prayers of the people ascended to God is the place where the first sign is given of the coming fulfilment of the national desire and hope of a Deliverer: here in the presence and message of the angel the first rays of light begin to break through the darkness.

Luk . "He was troubled."—Yet the angel had come on an errand of love. All through the Bible we find that people were afraid of God's angels. Their very glory startled and terrified those to whom they appeared. It is ofttimes the same with us. When God's messengers come to us on errands of grace and peace we are terrified, as if they were messengers of wrath. The things which we call trials and adversities are really God's angels, though they seem terrible to us; and if we will only quiet our hearts and wait, we shall find that they are messengers from heaven, and that they have brought blessings to us from God.—Miller.

"Fear fell upon him."—He that had wont to live and serve in presence of the Master was now astonished at the presence of the servant. So much difference is there betwixt our faith and our senses, that the apprehension of the presence of the God of spirits by faith goes down sweetly with us, whereas the sensible apprehension of an angel dismays us. Holy Zachary, that had wont to live by faith, thought he should die when his sense began to be set on work. It was the weakness of him that served at the altar without horror to be daunted with the face of his fellow-servant.—Hall.

Luk . "Fear not."—The first recorded words are thus those that banish fear—an appropriate prelude to the gospel of peace. St. Luke's last sentence tells of the apostle's "blessing and praising God" (Luk 24:53).

Soothing Words.—The angel's message begins, as heaven's messages to devout souls ever do, with soothing words—the very signature of Divine appearances both in Old and New Testaments. It is like a mother's whisper to a terrified child, and is made still more caressing and assuring by the use of the name "Zacharias," and by the assurance that his prayer is heard. Note how the names of the whole future family are in this verse, as token of the intimate and loving knowledge which God has of each.—Maclaren.

"Thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son."—What other home in Israel could have been the training-ground of the prophet? What more fitting nursery for a personal force, inspired by and steeped in the Scriptures, unindebted and indeed hostile to contemporary urban authority and petrified traditionalism? The prophet did not owe all his originality and unique moral force to himself. His character owed its primary development to the home of a devout priest, blessed by an immediate Divine revelation, and living in the light of a recognised Divine purpose.—Vallings.

Prayer granted at last.—"Thy prayer is heard." That this prayer was not one which Zacharias had offered that day is quite evident; for when the angel told him that it was to be granted to him he was surprised, and doubted as to the possibility of its being granted. It was, therefore, a prayer which he had offered years before, and which now perhaps he had forgotten, until the angel brought it to his remembrance. At any rate, for some time, perhaps for a long time past, he had given up all thoughts of receiving an answer. Yet though he may have forgotten it, God had it in remembrance. In a general way we all believe and admit that the omniscient God is acquainted with all our thoughts, and with the circumstances of our lives; but we can scarcely help being surprised at every new proof we receive of the fact that God knows our individual desires, and the trials and difficulties of our individual lot. Such wonderful acquaintance and sympathy with the sorrow that lay beneath the surface of Zacharias' life is now shown in the message sent to him. From it he might learn, and we may learn, three great lessons:—

I. That delay is not necessarily refusal.—There may be delay in answering prayer, which simply means that God is postponing, and not refusing, the gift of those things which we ask from Him. We should, indeed, be prepared for this; but in our actual experience we are often surprised and perplexed by it. The spiritual blessings of pardon and of help in time of need are, we believe, instantly given. God would no more delay giving them than a parent would delay giving food to his hungry child. But other things—things which we believe would be for our present advantage and comfort—His higher wisdom may lead Him to withhold, or to delay giving.

II. That God is not strict to punish our loss of faith.—Our ceasing to offer the prayer which has not been granted, and even our becoming incredulous as to the possibility of receiving it, do not necessarily preclude our getting the benefit we desire. God does, indeed, require us to manifest faith in order that we may receive; but He is merciful towards our spiritual infirmities, and is not strict to withhold what we may have become unworthy to receive. The strong faith we once had may receive its reward—a reward which rebukes the unbelief into which we may have fallen, and arouses us out of it.

III. That the purpose of the delay may have been to give a fuller and more satisfying answer to our prayer.—Thus was it in the case of Zacharias. The son for whose birth he had longed was predestined to be the forerunner of Christ. It was only now, when the angel appeared to him, that the fulness of time was drawing near for the incarnation of the Son of God, and with this great event the birth of John the Baptist was associated in the counsels of God. Zacharias and Elisabeth were not only blessed with a son, but with a son who was to be the herald of the great King. In this way both the prayer which Zacharias offered this day on behalf to the people that God would hasten the coming of the Messiah, and that which in former years he had offered for himself, were simultaneously granted: both found their fulfilment in what was communicated by the angel. St. Luke elsewhere, in the parables of the selfish neighbour and of the unjust judge, commends importunate prayer, as having power to prevail with God. The example of the fulfilment of Zacharias' prayer is full of encouragement for those who cannot, by reason of spiritual infirmity, manifest heroic faith, and take the gate of heaven by storm.

Luk . "Great in the sight of the Lord."—How true this prediction is Christ's eulogium witnesses, who declared that no greater had been born of women. Greatness, prophesied by an angel, and attested by Jesus, is greatness indeed. Greatness "in the sight of the Lord" is measured by very different standards from the world's. It does not lie in the qualities that make the thinker, the artist, or the poet, but such as make the prophet and the saint. The true ambition is to be great after this pattern—great in dauntless witness for God, in self-suppression, in yearning towards the Christ, in pointing to Him, and in lowly contentment to fade in His light, and decrease that He may increase.—Maclaren.

"Great in the sight of the Lord."—The annunciation of the forerunner by an angel, an honour which he shares with other elect servants of God's will, derived all its meaning from the glory of the Being whose herald he was. The greatest of the children of men was raised up in this preternatural way, and amidst these circumstantials of dignity, not for His own sake, but that His whole life and mission might proclaim to Israel, "Thy King cometh!"—Pope.

"Great in the sight of the Lord."—Truly great, then; for just what a man is in God's eyes that is he indeed, neither more nor less. A silent hint also that no earthly greatness is to be expected; for that which is highly esteemed before men is an abomination in the sight of the Lord.—Lange.

"He shall drink neither wine nor strong drink."—The strongly marked features in the habits of the Nazarite should be viewed as typically teaching that not only the ministers, but all the people of God, should abstain from sin, be temperate in all things, be superior to earthly pleasures and cares, and be altogether a peculiar people, distinguished from men of the world.—Foote.

"Filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb."—As the more plentiful influence of the Spirit was in John an extraordinary gift of God, it ought to be observed that the Spirit is not bestowed on all from their very infancy, but only when it pleases God. John bore from the womb a token of future rank. Saul, while tending the herd, remained long without any mark of royalty, and when at length chosen to be king was suddenly turned into another man (1Sa ). Let us learn from this example that, from the earliest infancy to the latest old age, the operation of the Spirit in men is free.—Calvin.

Luk . "Many shall he turn to the Lord their God."—The word of John was one of preparation and turning men's hearts towards God. It was a concentration of the spirit of the law, whose office it was to convince of sin, and he eminently represented the law and the prophets in their work of preparing the way for Christ.—Alford.

Luk . "The spirit and power of Elias."—I.e. after the model of that distinguished reformer, and with like success in turning hearts. "Strikingly, indeed, did John resemble Elias: both fell on evil times, both witnessed fearlessly for God; neither was much seen, save in the direct exercise of their ministry; both were at the head of schools of disciples; the result of the ministry of both might be expressed in the same terms—‘many of the children of Israel did they turn to the Lord their God'" (Brown).

"Turn the hearts of the fathers to the children."—The true sense of these words seems to me to be indicated by other prophetic passages, such as Isa, "Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale, when he seeth his children [become] the work of Mine hands"; Isa 63:16, "Though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not, thou, O Lord, art our father." Abraham and Jacob, in the place of their rest, blushed at the sight of their guilty descendants, and turned away their faces from them; but now they will return with satisfaction towards them, in consequence of the change produced by the ministry of John. The words of Jesus, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it, and was glad" (Joh 8:56), prove that there is some reality beneath these poetic images. In this sense we can easily explain the modification introduced into the latter part of the passage: the children who return to their fathers are the Jews of the time of the Messiah—the children of the obedient, who return to the wisdom of the holy patriarchs.—Godet.

"And the disobedient to the wisdom of the just."—The very substitution of this clause for the original of Malachi, "and the hearts of the children to their fathers," seems suggestive at least of the connection between filial estrangement and a general ungodliness—between a heart undutiful and a heart irreverent, a son alienated from his father and a man alienated from his God. "He shall turn the hearts of the children to their fathers" is, in other words, "he shall turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the just." It is remarkable, in this connection, that we do not find any express mention, in the Baptist's ministry, of a special appeal to parents and children, such as he addressed to the soldiers, the publicans, the Pharisees, or the people at large. Parental and filial discord was not so much one single example, it was a general description rather, of the dislocation and disorganisation of society which the Baptist was sent to remonstrate with and to heal.—Vaughan.

Luk . "I am Gabriel … thou shalt be mute."—In comparison with the angels man in his present state seems but a feeble creature. He is subject for the time being to their control, and they rule over him. In all their communications with men they show that they mean to be believed and obeyed. They are not to be trifled with, any more than physical nature itself, and cannot leave the authoritative station in which the eternal Word has ranged them.—Mason.

Luk . "Thou believest not."—In the words actually employed by Zacharias, and the blessed Virgin Mary, respectively (see Luk 1:34), there does not seem to be much difference; but the speakers were very diversely affected. While hers was the hesitation of faith (see Luk 1:45), which timidly asked for explanation, his was the reluctance of unbelief, which required a sign. Hence her doubt was solved, his punished.—Burgon.

Luk . "Remained speechless."—Origen, Ambrose, and Isidore see in the speechless priest vainly endeavouring to bless the people a fine image of the law reduced to silence before the first announcement of the gospel.—Farrar.

"Beckoned unto them."—The sign given to Zacharias was one that both chastised and humbled him. His infirmity becomes a sign to him of the power of God. In like manner Jacob was lame after he had wrestled with the angel and prevailed: Saul was blind after he had been overcome by the Lord Jesus on the way to Damascus (Luk ).

Luk . "Hid herself."—The reason for Elisabeth's seclusion is doubtless that given by Godet. From the fifth month the fact of a woman's pregnancy can be recognised. She will remain in seclusion until it becomes evident that God has indeed taken away the reproach of childlessness. As he points out, the combination of womanly pride and of humble gratitude to God is a very natural trait of character, and one not likely to occur to a forger of a later age, who might be supposed to have invented these incidents.

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary

(5) There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. (6) And they were both righteous before G o d, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. (7) And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. (8) And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, (9) According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. (10) And the whole multitude of the people were praying without, at the time of incense. (11) And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. (12) And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. (13) But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. (14) And thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth. (15) For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. (16) And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord, their God. (17) And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (18) And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. (19) And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. (20) And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. (21) And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. (22) And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. (23) And it came to pass, that as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. (24) And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, (25) Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

Here Luke, begins his relation of the wonderful events concerning the Person, Character, Offices, and Relations of the Lord Jesus Christ. And he begins the subject with the date of those transactions, which was in the days of One of the Herods. And it is worthy the Reader's remark, that as this Herod, who was at this time deputy King, under the Roman Emperor, the prophecy of Jacob when a dying was now to be fulfilled. He had said, that the sceptre should not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come. Genesis 49:10. And here we find the sceptre indeed departed, for Herod, a foreigner, was King. Deuteronomy 17:15.

The birth of John, though singularly accomplished, differed widely from that of the Lord Jesus; for though wonderful, it was not miraculous. And the introduction in the opening of this Gospel, in the particulars of it, appears to have been on purpose to mark the striking dissimilarity. We shall have occasion in the course of this chapter to notice this. In the mean time, let us observe the method the Lord was pleased to adopt to bring Zacharias acquainted with it. He was in the course of his ministry, attending the temple service, when an angel appeared to him. This is the first open vision which the Holy Ghost had favored the Church with, from the close of the Old Testament prophecy by Malachi. Zacharias, astonished at the sight and message of the angel, is tempted to doubt, and is struck dumb for his unbelief. But what I particularly request the Reader to remark, in proof that the birth of John differs altogether from that of the Lord Jesus Christ, is, that though the wife of Zacharias was indeed now aged, and had been hitherto barren, yet the event of John's birth was altogether the result wholly of natural causes, and from natural means; and though John was a child of promise, as Isaac was, yet in his conception and birth there was nothing miraculous, or contrary to the ordinary course of nature more than his. Genesis 18:10-14; Galatians 4:28.

When the Reader hath properly noted this, that no more honor be given to the servant than the Lord hath given him, the Reader may properly pause, and consider the greatness of the Man, and the greatness of the Office, in the which he was designed to minister. Like Jeremiah, ordained from the womb, he was filled with the Holy Ghost, for the purpose of this office, in ministering to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jeremiah 1:5. And when it is said, as that it is said, that he should be great in the sight of the Lord, plainly this means, that he was so in the sight of Him to whom he became a forerunner. And hence we find the Lord Jesus bearing testimony to his character, that he was not only a Prophet, and more than a Prophet, but that among them born of women, none had been greater than he. Matthew 11:11. See John 1:23, etc.

I detain the Reader to make one observation more, in order to have suitable apprehensions of the vast difference between the servant, and Him that sent him. It is said here, concerning the office of John, that he should go before the Lord Jesus Christ, in the power and spirit of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Reader! do not overlook, that all that is here said, is said only of John's ministry, as an instrument to this blessed work, and no further. John never did, nor could, convert or turn a single soul. This is Creator-work, and not creature. The Lord who made the heart, can only turn the heart. But John, by ministering in the Lord's name, became the Lord's instrument in the great work. And I beg the Reader to notice, and with the just attention it deserves, what is said of John, in making ready a people prepared for the Lord. Yes! John's ministry, like all other servants, could be blessed to no other than the Lord's people; they whom the Father gave to his dear Son, before the world was formed, and whom God the Holy Ghost had engaged to make willing in the day of his power, were prepared for Jesus as his redeemed; and grace here, and glory hereafter, prepared for them in Christ, from everlasting. How blessedly all the great truths of God harmonize!

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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.

People's New Testament

The people waited for Zacharias. Those who were praying without waited until the incense offering priest came out and dismissed them with a benediction.

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Original work done by Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
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Johnson, Barton W. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "People's New Testament". 1891.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Luke 1:21-22. And the people — Who had been praying in the court of the temple, while the incense was burning; waited for Zacharias — To come out and bless them; for so the priests used to do after burning the incense; and marvelled that he tarried so long, εν τω χρονιζειν αυτον, at his delaying, or, spending time in the temple; εν τω ναω, in the house, or sanctuary. See note on Luke 1:9. All that is here said to have taken place between the angel and Zacharias, might have passed in a few minutes; since, therefore, the people took notice of his continuing so much longer than was usual in the holy place, it is probable, that after the angel had left him, he employed some time in secret devotion, to which the mixture of holy affections that would naturally arise in his mind on so great and extraordinary an occasion would powerfully incline him; and while thus occupied, he might easily forget how fast the moments passed away. When he came out, he could not speak unto them — A circumstance which must have greatly astonished them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision — That is, a divine vision; in the temple — Or holy place. As the signs which he made, left them no room to doubt that some extraordinary and supernatural revelation had been made to him by God. For he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless — He continued deaf and dumb during the remainder of his stay at Jerusalem; a circumstance wisely ordered by Providence to awaken a greater and more general expectation, as to the event of so strange an occurrence; which, as a great multitude were now present in the court of the temple, (see Luke 1:10,) would of course be widely spread, not only through Jerusalem but all Judea.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Were waiting (ην προσδοκωνēn prosdokōn). Periphrastic imperfect again. An old Greek verb for expecting. Appears in papyri and inscriptions. It denotes mental direction whether hope or fear.

They marvelled (εταυμαζονethaumazon). Imperfect tense, were wondering. The Talmud says that the priest remained only a brief time in the sanctuary.

While he tarried (εν τωι χρονιζεινen tōi chronizein). See Luke 1:8 for the same idiom.

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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
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Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels

We see in this passage, the power of unbelief in a good man. Righteous and holy as Zachariah was, the announcement of the angel appears to him incredible. He cannot think it possible that an old man like himself should have a son. "How shall I know this?" he says, "for I am an old man, and my wife well along in years."

A well-instructed Jew, like Zachariah, ought not to have raised such a question. No doubt he was well acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures. He ought to have remembered the wonderful births of Isaac, and Samson, and Samuel in old times. He ought to have remembered that what God has done once, He can do again, and that with Him nothing is impossible. But he forgot all this. He thought of nothing but the arguments of mere human reason and sense. And it often happens in religious matters, that where reason begins, faith ends.

Let us learn in wisdom from the fault of Zachariah. It is a fault to which God's people in every age have been sadly liable. The histories of Abraham, and Isaac, and Moses, and Hezekiah, and Jehoshaphat, will all show us that a true believer may sometimes be overtaken by unbelief. It is one of the first corruptions which came into man's heart in the day of the fall, when Eve believed the devil rather than God. It is one of the most deep-rooted sins by which a saint is plagued, and from which he is never entirely freed until he dies. Let us pray daily, "Lord increase my faith." Let us not doubt that when God says a thing, that thing shall be fulfilled.

We see furthermore, in these verses, the privilege and portion of God's angels. They carry messages to God's Church. They enjoy God's immediate presence. The heavenly messenger who appears to Zachariah, rebukes his unbelief by telling him who he is--"I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God--and am sent to speak unto you."

The name "Gabriel" would doubtless fill the mind of Zachariah with humiliation and self-abasement. He would remember it was that same Gabriel, who 490 years before had brought to Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks, and had told him how Messiah should be cut off. (Daniel 9:26.) He would doubtless contrast his own sad unbelief, when peaceably ministering as a priest in God's temple, with the faith of holy Daniel when dwelling a captive at Babylon, while the temple at Jerusalem was in ruins. Zachariah learned a lesson that day which he never forgot.

The account which Gabriel gives of his own office, should raise in our minds great searchings of heart. This mighty spirit, far greater in power and intelligence than we are, counts it his highest honor to "stand in God's presence" and do His will. Let our aims and desires be in the same direction. Let us strive so to live, that we may one day stand with boldness before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. The way to this high and holy position is open before us. Christ has consecrated it for us by the offering of His own body and blood. May we endeavor to walk in it during the short time of this present life, that so we may stand in our lot with God's elect angels in the endless ages of eternity. (Daniel 12:13.)

We see, finally, in this passage, how exceeding sinful is the sin of unbelief in the sight of God. The doubts and questionings of Zachariah brought down upon him a heavy chastisement. "You shall be silent," says the angel, "and not able to speak, because you believe not my words." It was a chastisement peculiarly suitable to the offence. The tongue that was not ready to speak the language of believing praise was struck speechless. It was a chastisement of long continuance. For nine long months at least, Zachariah was condemned to silence, and was daily reminded, that by unbelief he had offended God.

Few sins appear to be so peculiarly provoking to God as the sin of unbelief. None certainly have called down such heavy judgments on men. It is a practical denial of God's Almighty power, to doubt whether He can do a thing, when He undertakes to do it. It is giving the lie to God to doubt whether He means to do a thing, when He has plainly promised that it shall be done. The forty years wanderings of Israel in the wilderness, should never be forgotten by professing Christians. The words of Paul are very solemn--"They could not enter in because of unbelief." (Hebrews 3:19.)

Let us watch and pray daily against this soul-ruining sin. Concessions to it rob believers of their inward peace--weaken their hands in the day of battle--bring clouds over their hopes--make their chariot wheels drive heavily. According to the degree of our faith will be our enjoyment of Christ's salvation--our patience in the day of trial--our victory over the world. Unbelief, in short, is the true cause of a thousand spiritual diseases, and once allowed to nestle in our hearts, will eat as does a canker. "If you will not believe, you shall not be established." (Isaiah 7:9.) In all that respects the pardon of our sins, and the acceptance of our souls--the duties of our peculiar station and the trials of our daily life, let it be a settled maxim in our religion, to trust every word of God implicitly, and to beware of unbelief.

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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels".

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Chaps. 1 and 2 forming the first part of the Gospel, narrate ‘the miraculous birth and normal development of the Son of Man.’ Chap. 1 tells of events preceding the birth of Christ, namely, the announcement of the birth of John (Luke 1:5-25); the announcement of the birth of the Messiah (Luke 1:26-38); the visit of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56); the birth of John (Luke 1:57-80). Both chapters are Hebraistic in style, and hence have been supposed by many to be mainly translations from some document originally existing in the dialect of Palestine. On the poetical compositions, see below. The objections to this part of the narrative have arisen mainly from prejudice against the remarkable facts it states. Yet the wonderful Person of the historical Christ, is the best and only satisfactory explanation of these remarkable antecedents. All

other explanations leave the historical problem greater than ever.

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Luke 1:21. Were waiting for Zacharias, etc. They would wait, not for him to pronounce the blessing, for this was the office of the other priest, who carried the fire into the holy place (see Luke 1:9); but because it was usual.

Marvelled, etc. Their wonder was both at and during his unusual stay. The brief stay of the priest is said to have been occasioned by ‘the fear that the people who were without might imagine that any vengeance had been inflicted on him for some informality;—as he was considered the representative of the people’ (Alford).

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.

Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible

Luke 1:5-6. There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

There have been some good people who have lived in very bad times; never was there a worse reign than that of Herod; seldom or never a better man and woman than Zacharias and Elisabeth. Let no man excuse himself for sinning because of the times in which he lives. You may be rich in grace when others around you have none, even as Gideon’s fleece was wet with dew when the whole floor was dry. God help us, in these evil days, to be “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless”!

Luke 1:7. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

We do not, at the present time, understand the anguish which filled the heart of an Eastern woman who had no child. It was considered to be a disgrace, and many suffered very bitterly on that account; as did Hannah, and Rachel, and others besides.

Luke 1:8-12. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

Zacharias must have been astonished as he saw that strange visitant; no wonder that “fear fell upon him.”

Luke 1:13-17. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Happy is the father of such a child! Happy is that man whose office it is to be the herald of Christ! Brethren, many of us are called to that office in a certain sense as we come in our Master’s name, and preach concerning him “’Tis all my business here below To cry, ‘Behold the Lamb.’” And in this way we may be partakers of John the Baptist’s joy.

Luke 1:18-20. And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And, the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things —

These glad tidings —

Luke 1:20. Shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

Many a child of God is dumb, because of unbelief. Mary believed, and therefore she sang a holy, joyous song, — a sweet canticle of delight: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” But Zacharias, because of his unbelief, was unable to speak. I wonder whether there is a man here who might have spoken for his God with power, but whose mouth is closed because of his unbelief. If so, may the Lord hasten the time when his dumbness shall be ended!

Luke 1:21-22. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.

By the signs he made, he impressed them with the fact that something extraordinary had happened.

Luke 1:23-25. And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

I do not wonder that, in her solemn joy, she shunned the gossips of the neighborhood and kept herself in seclusion. I do believe that there is many a soul which, when it has found Christ, feels itself much too full of joy to speak, and asks not for a crowded temple, but for a quiet chamber where the heart may pour itself out before God.

Luke 1:26-35. And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man! And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

So was she thus visited, and thus she believed with a wonderful faith, much too wonderful for me to describe in this place. But now let us see what Mary said when she went to visit her cousin Elisabeth.

Luke 1:46-47. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

She needed a Saviour, you see. Though about to become the mother of Jesus, Mary did not think herself without sin. Her eyes still looked to him who should be her Saviour from guilt and condemnation.

Luke 1:48-55. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

This is one of the sweetest songs that was ever sung, and is equal to any of those which came from the inspired lips of the Hebrew prophets. Well might she sing who had been thus favored. Oh, if Christ Jesus should come to any of us by faith, what reason should we have for singing! And will not each one of us, who has been thus honoured, cry with Mary, “My soul doth magnify the Lord”?

Luke 1:56. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.

What wonderful interviews those two holy women had! The one well stricken in years, and the other youthful; yet both highly favored of God. I wonder what they said; doubtless angels remember their charming conversation. May the day come when all that fear the Lord, both men and women, shall speak often one to another concerning their Redeemer, and all that relates to his glorious cause; and then the Lord shall write another Book of Remembrance concerning their hallowed fellowship and intercourse!

This exposition consisted of readings from Psalms 148; and Luke 1:5-35; Luke 1:46-56.

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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". 2011.

The Biblical Illustrator

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Luke 1:21". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

The Biblical Illustrator

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The Biblical Illustrator

Luke 1:19-23

I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God

“I am Gabriel.
” Names of angels

The name Gabriel signifies “The mighty messenger of God.” The Bible knows of only two heavenly personages who are invested with a name: Gabriel (Daniel 8:16; Dan_9:21), and Michael (Daniel 10:13; Jude 1:9, &c.). This latter namesignifies, “Who is like God? “Here the critic asks sarcastically whether Hebrew is spoken in heaven? But these names are evidently symbolical; they convey to us the character and functions of these personalities. When we speak to any one, it is naturally with a view to be understood. When heaven communicates with earth, it is obliged to borrow the language of earth. According to the name given him, Gabriel is the mighty servant of God, employed to promote His work here below. It is in this capacity that he appears to Daniel when he comes to announce to him the restoration of Jerusalem; it is he also who promises Mary the birth of the Saviour. In all these circumstances he appears as the heavenly evangelist., The part of Gabriel is positive; that of Michael is negative. Michael is, as his name indicates, the destroyer of every one who dares to equal, i.e., to oppose God. Such is his mission in Daniel, where he contends against the powers hostile to Israel; such also is it in Jude and in the Apocalypse, where he fights, as the champion of God, against Satan, the author of idolatry. Gabriel builds up; Michael overthrows. The former is the forerunner of Jehovah the Saviour; the latter, of Jehovah the Judge. (F. Godet, D. D.)

“And Zacharias said unto the angel,”

The circumstances under which Zacharias doubted, seem to have been very much like those under which Abraham believed; and as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness; so Zacharias disbelieved, and it was counted to him for sin. And if it be thought that such a sin was heavily punished, it is to be observed

“I am Gabriel,”

We have heard of this angel before, and we lose something unless we look back to the circumstances with which he was previously connected. This, then, was the same angel who appeared to Daniel, to explain to him the time that was to elapse until the coming of the Messiah (Daniel 9:21-27). This being the case, we see at once the special fitness that the same angel should be employed to announce the near accomplishment of that which he had so long predicted. It is the same angel, moreover, who was sent a few months later to announce the birth of the Messiah Himself, as now of His harbinger. The same considerations apply to both transactions. (Dr. Kitto.)

The judgment on Zacharias

Zacharias is a striking example of the ills a good man may have to suffer as the result of his unbelief.

I. CONSIDER HIS CHARACTER AND POSITION. He was a genuine believer. He was well instructed and greatly enlightened. He held a high office as priest. He had been peculiarly favoured. Soothing comfort had just been administered to him. This comfort had been given in answer to his own petition. He staggered at a promise which others implicitly believed.

II. WHAT THEN WAS THE FAULT OF ZACHARIAS? His fault was that he looked at the difficulty.

III. CONSIDER HIS PENALTY. Mercy tempered judgment. He was not struck dead, and the chastisement did not invalidate the promise. Do not be satisfied with being weak in faith. Let the utter unbeliever tremble. If a good man was struck dumb for unbelief, what will become of you who have no faith at all? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

If incredulity, much more open doubt and disbelief, were now thus dealt with, how awfully numerous would be the additions to the family of the dumb! (A. B. Grosart, LL. D.)

He had seen a vision

But evidently this was not the ecstasy of a visionary man who imagined simply what he desired; for when the promise was made, he doubted and questioned. (Lyman Abbot.)

“He beckoned unto them”

To have a child thou deem’st so strange a thing,

That thou art made a child for wondering.

Whilst for a sign too eagerly thou dost call,

Except by sign thou canst not ask at all.

(Richard Crashaw.)

“Remained speechless”

That tongue which moved the doubt, must be tied up. He shall ask no more questions for forty weeks. (Bishop Hall.)

Telling the news at home

I can conceive the rapid gladness with which Zacharias, when his office for the week was fulfilled, sped up Olivet and across the rolling plain towards Bethlehem, and up to the hill-country of Judaea, with the strange and wondrous message that a twenty or thirty years’ old prayer was about to be answered in God’s gift of a son to them. How Elisabeth received the intelligence is left, with fine modesty, in silence. His “stylus” would tell what his tongue could not. (A. B.Grosart, LL. D.)

Grieving because of unbelief

1. Christians are saying to the world either that God is false to his promises, or that God is true. You dishonour him by unbelief. You honour him by faith, the utmost honour you can give him. A German writer gives this incident in the life of Johannes Bruce, the founder of the order of the Carmelites, who, though a Romish priest, was a saint indeed, distinguished for his love to God and his faith. The convent was poor; and the friars, dependent on charity for daily bread, were often compelled to console themselves with the passage, “Man does not live by bread alone.” One day the brethren found, when they had assembled for dinner, that their whole stock of food was a single piece of dry bread. They sat down; they asked God’s blessing upon their crust. Then Johannes arose, and poured forth such words of encouragement and consolation concerning the love of Christ and the great promises He had given His people, that all of them arose delighted and refreshed, and, without partaking of their bread, returned to their cells. They had scarcely reached them, when the bell rang at the convent-gate, and a man entered with a large basket of provisions, which were carried, with a letter, to the prior, who was on his knees praying. He read, the letter dropped from his hands, and he began to weep bitterly. The porter, surprised, said, “Why do you weep? Have you not often said that we should weep for nothing but our sins?” Johannes replied, “Brother, I do not weep without reason. Think how weak the Lord must see our faith to be, since He is unwilling to see us suffer want a single day without sending visible aid. He foresaw that before evening we should despond, unless He sent immediate help to our faith by means of this charitable gift. It is because we possess so little confidence in the rich Lord in whom we are encouraged to trust, that my tears flow.” (From sermon by Charles Finney.)

Unbelief a sin

Mr. Marshall, author of a treatise on Sanctification, in his early years, was under great distress for a long time, through a consciousness of guilt and a dread of the Divine displeasure. At last, mentioning his case to Dr. Thomas Goodwin, and lamenting the greatness of his sins, that able divine replied, “You have forgotten the greatest sin of all, the sin of unbelief, in refusing to believe in Christ, and rely on His atonement and righteousness for your acceptance with God.” This word in season banished his fears. He looked to Jesus, and was filled with joy and peace in believing! (Handbook to Scripture Doctrines.)

As soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished: Trusting God and continuing in duty

A friend of mine once asked the wife of Havelock how her husband bore himself during the terrible conflicts in India. She replied, “I know not. But I know he is trusting in God and doing his duty.” These glorious words may bind us all together; wherever we are, if those who know us best can say with certainty, when asked about us, “ They are trusting in God and doing their duty,” we shall have the blessed peace that was given to Havelock. (Dean Stanley.)

Sticking to duty

An artilleryman at Waterloo was asked what he had seen. He replied that he saw nothing but smoke. The artilleryman was next asked what he had been doing. He replied that he had “just blazed away at his own gun.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)


Here is a sign for incredulity: he had been as good have believed without a sign. (Bishop Andrewes.)


If, then, utter unbelief is utter repression of the best in man, and if further partial belief is partial escape from this galling bondage, what must complete faith in God be, entire acceptance of His Son as Eternal Righteousness, unclouded hope in the perpetuated life of the soul, but the free expression, the joyous utterance, the complete realization of the whole spiritual life of man? Whatever destroys the best in human life cannot be true. It is impossible to believe that the best life of the individual, the family, the nation; it is impossible to believe that the heroism of the solitary soul fighting its solitary but momentous battles, the purity and sweetness and selfsacrifice of home, the advancing righteousness of our land and all lands--spring out of beliefs that are a fountain of lies. Whatever destroys human life must be a lie; whatever builds it into strength and beauty must be true. Human life, in order to complete realization of its best possibilities, needs a God, needs a Christ, needs a hereafter, needs Supreme Love as its minister, needs a supreme manifestation of that Love, and a timely future in which to do its will and enjoy its ministrations. The Jewish priest asked for a sign whereby he might know the angel’s message to be true. The sign came. Dumbness was his sign. The amazed soul, trying to believe, and yet afraid, in accepting the faith of its fathers, of building its hope upon a dream, asks for a sign. The sign is given; the dumbness that falls upon the speaking, singing spirit is the sign that unbelief is disease. The priest silent at the altar, with his prayers unsaid, his thoughts unspoken, his praise unsung, his worship unuttered, is but the type of the soul in the dumbness of doubt, in the paralysis of unbelief, its whole best life denied expression, and shrivelling under the doom of an eternal sentence of repression and death. The priest at the altar, but no longer silent; the priest at the altar, naming his firstborn, his tongue loosed and uttering in sublime, prophetic strains his whole grateful life--is a type of the soul that has found the utterance of faith, from which all paralysis, all dumbness, has passed away, whose thought, feeling, and volition, mind, heart, and will, are winning their noblest expression; whose whole life is in the attainment of its eternal satisfaction. (G. A. Gordon.)

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Luke 1:21". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Luke 1:21. The people waited for Zacharias, They waited for his blessing, and could not imagine what had detained him so much longer than usual. See Numbers 6.

23-27. Leviticus 9:22-23. All that is here recorded, might have passed in a few minutes; it seems probable therefore, that, since the people took notice of his continuing so much longer than ordinary in the holy place, he spent some time in secret devotion, where, in the mixture of holy affections arising on so great and extraordinary an occasion, he might easily forget how fast the moments passed away.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Chapter 1


THE four walls and the twelve gates of the Seer looked in different directions, but together they guarded, and opened into, one City of God. So the four Gospels look in different directions; each has its own peculiar aspect and inscription; but together they lead towards, and unveil, one Christ, "which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty." They are the successive quarterings of the one Light. We call them "four" Gospels, though in reality they form but one, just as the seven arches of color weave one bow; and that there should be four, and not three or five, was the purpose and design of the Mind which is above all minds. There are "diversities of operations" even in making Testaments, New or Old; but it is one Spirit who is "over all, and in all"; and back of all diversity is a heavenly unity-a unity that is not broken, but rather beautified, by the variety of its component parts.

Turning to the third Gospel, its opening sentences strike a key-note unlike the tone of the other three. Matthew, the Levite Apostle, schooled in the receipt of custom-where parleying and preambling were not allowed-goes to his subject with sharp abruptness, beginning his story with a "genesis," "the book of the generation of Jesus Christ." Mark, too, and John, without staying for any prelude, proceed at once to their portrayals of the Divine Life, each starting with the same word "beginning"-though between the "beginning" of St. Mark and that of St. John there is room for an eternity. St. Luke, on the other hand, stays to give to his Gospel a somewhat lengthy preface, a kind of vestibule, where we become acquainted with the presence and personality of the verger, before passing within the temple proper.

It is true the Evangelist does not here inscribe his name; it is true that after inserting these lines of explanation, he loses sight of himself completely, with a "sublime repressing of himself" such as John did not know; but that he here throws the shadow of himself upon the page of Scripture, calling the attention of all people and ages to the "me also," shows clearly that the personal element cannot be eliminated from the question of inspiration. Light is the same in its nature; it moves only in straight lines; it is governed by fixed laws; but in its reflections it is infinitely varied, turning to purple, blue, or gold, according to the nature of the medium and reflecting substance. And what, indeed, is beauty, what the harmony of colors, but the visible music as the same light plays upon the diverse keys? Exactly the same law rules in inspiration. As the Divine Love needed an incarnation, an enshrining in human flesh, that the Divine Word might be vocal, so the Divine Light needs its incarnation too. Indeed, we can scarcely conceive of any revelation of the Divine Mind but as coming through a human mind. It needs the human element to analyze and to throw it forward, just as the electric spark needs the dull carbon-point to make it visible. Heaven and earth are here, as elsewhere, "threads of the same loom," and if we take out one, even the earthly woof of the humanities, we leave only a tangle; and if it is true of works of art that "to know them we must know the man who produced them," it is equally important, if we would know the Scripture, that we have some knowledge of the scribe. And especially important is it here, for there are few books of Scripture on which the writer’s own personality is more deeply impressed than on the Gospel of St. Luke. The "me also" is only legible in the third verse, but we may read it, between the lines, through the whole Gospel.

Concerning the life of St. Luke the facts are few. It has been thought by some that he was one of the "certain Greeks" who came to Jerusalem to worship; while others, again, suppose him to be the nameless one of the two Emmaus travelers. But both these suppositions are set aside by the fact that the Evangelist carefully separates himself from those who were "eye witnesses," which he could not well have done had he taken part in those closing scenes of the Lord’s life, or had he been honored with that "infallible proof" of the Lord’s resurrection. That he was a Gentile is evident; his speech betrayeth him; for he speaks with a Grecian accent, while Greek idioms are sprinkled over his pages. Indeed, St. Paul speaks of him as not being of the "circumcision," [Colossians 4:4; Colossians 4:14] and he himself, in Acts 1:19, speaks of the dwellers at Jerusalem, and the Aceldama of "their" proper tongue. Tradition, with unanimous voice, represents him as a native of Antioch, in Syria.

Responding to the Divine Voice that bids him "write," St. Luke brings to the task new and special qualifications. Familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures-at least in their Septuagint form, as his many quotations show-intimately acquainted with the Hebrew faith and ritual, he yet brings to his work a mind unwarped by its traditions. He knows nothing of that narrowness of spirit that Hebraism unconsciously engendered, with its insulation from the great outer world. His mount of vision was not Mount Zion, but a new Pisgah, lying outside the sacred borders, and showing him "all the kingdoms of the world," as the Divine thought of humanity took possession of him. And not only so, we must remember that his connection with Christianity has been mainly through St. Paul, who was the Apostle of the "uncircumcision." For months, if not for years, he has been his close companion, reading his innermost thoughts; and so long and so close together have they been, their two hearts have learned to beat in a perfect synchronism. Besides, we must not forget that the Gentile question-their status in the new kingdom, and the conditions demanded of them-had been the burning question of the early Church, and that it was at this same Antioch it had reached its height. It was at Antioch the Apostle Peter had "dissembled," so soon forgetting the lessons of the Caesarean Pentecost, holding himself aloof from the Gentile converts until Paul felt constrained to rebuke him publicly; and it was to Antioch came the decree of the Jerusalem Council, that Magna Charta which recognized and enfranchised manhood, giving the privileges of the new kingdom to Gentiles, without imposing upon them the Judaic an achronism of circumcision. We can therefore well understand the bent of St. Luke’s mind and the drift of his sympathies; and we may expect that his pen-though it is a reed shaken with the breath of a higher inspiration-will at the same time move in the direction of these sympathies. And it is exactly this-its "gentility," if we may be allowed to give a new accent and a new meaning to an old word-that is a prominent feature of the third Gospel. Not, however, that St. Luke decries Judaism, or that he denies the "advantage" the Jews have; he cannot do this without erasing Scripture and silencing history; but what he does is to lift up the Son of Man in front of their tabernacle of witness. He does not level down Judaism; he levels up Christianity, letting humanity absorb nationality. And so the Gospel of St. Luke, is the Gospel of the world, greeting "all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues" with its "peace on earth." St. Matthew traces the genealogy of Christ back to Abraham; St. Luke goes farther back, to the fountain-head, where all the divergent streams meet and mingle, as he traces the descent to Adam, the Son of God. Matthew shows us the "wise men," lost in Jerusalem, and inquiring. "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" But St. Luke gives, instead, the "good tidings" to "all people"; and then he repeats the angel song, which is the key-note of his Gospel,

"Glory to God in the highest, goodwill toward men. It is St. Luke only who records the first discourse at Nazareth, showing how in ancient times, even, the mercy of God flowed out towards a Gentile widow and a Gentile leper. St. Luke alone mentions the mission of the Seventy, whose very number was a prophecy of a world-wide Gospel, seventy being the recognized symbol of the Gentile world, as twelve stood for the Hebrew people. St. Luke alone gives us the parable of the Good Samaritan, showing that all the virtues did not reside in Israel, but that there was more of humanity, and so more of Divinity, in the compassionate Samaritan than in their priest and Levite. St. Luke alone records the call of Zacchaeus, the Gentile publican, telling how Jesus cancelled their laws of heredity, passing him up among the sons of Abraham. St. Luke alone gives us the twin parables of the lost coin and the lost man, showing how Jesus had come to seek and to save that which was lost, which was humanity, here, and there, and everywhere. And so there breathes all through this Gospel a catholic spirit, more pronounced than in the rest, a spirit whose rhythm and deep meaning have been caught in the lines."

"There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, Like the wideness of the sea."

The only other fact of the Evangelist’s life we will here notice is that of his profession; and we notice this simply because it enters as a factor into his work, reappearing there frequently. He was a physician; and from this fact some haste supposed that he was a freedman, since many of the Roman physicians were of that class. But this by no means follows. All physicians were not freedmen; while the language and style of St. Luke show him to be an educated man, one, too, who walked in the upper classes of society. Where he speaks natively, as here in the introduction, he uses a pure Greek, somewhat rounded and ornate, in which there is a total absence of those rusticisms common in St. Mark. That he followed his calling at Troas, where he first joined St. Paul, is probable; but that he practiced it on board one of the large corn-ships of the Mediterranean is a pure conjecture, for which even his nautical language affords no presumption; for one cannot be at sea for a few weeks-especially with an observant eye and attentive ear, as St. Luke’s were-without falling naturally into nautical language. One’s speech soon tastes of salt.

The calling of a physician naturally develops certain powers of analysis and synthesis. It is the art of putting things together. From the seen or felt symptoms he traces out the unseen cause. Setting down the known qualities, by processes of comparison or of elimination he finds the unknown quantity, which is the disease, its nature, and its seat. And so on the pages of the third Gospel we frequently find the shadow of the physician. It appears even in his brief preface; for as he sits down with ample materials before him-on one side the first-hand testimony of "eyewitnesses," and on the other the many and somewhat garbled narratives of anonymous scribes-we see the physician-Evangelist exercising a judicious selection, and thus compounding or distilling his pure elixir. Then, too, a skilled and educated physician would find easy access into the higher circles of society, his very calling furnishing him with letters of introduction. And so, indeed, we find it. Our physician dedicates his Gospel, and also the "Acts," to, not the "most excellent," but the "most noble" Theophilus, giving to him the same title that he afterwards gave to Felix and to Festus. Perhaps its English equivalent would be "the honorable." At any rate it shows that this Theophilus was no mere myth, a locution for any "friend of God," but that he was a person of rank and influence, possibly a Roman governor. Then, too, St. Luke’s mention of certain names omitted by the other Evangelists, such as Chuza and Manaen, would suggest that probably he had some personal acquaintance with the members of Herod’s household. Be this as it may, we recognize the "physician" in St. Luke’s habits of observation, his attention to detail, his fondness for grouping together resemblances and contrasts, his fuller reference to miracles of healing, and his psychological observations. We find in him a student of the humanities. Even in his portrayal of the Christ it is the human side of the Divine nature that he emphasizes; while all through his Gospel, his thought of humanity, like a wide-reaching sky, overlooks and embraces all such earthly distinctions as position, sex, or race.

With a somewhat high-sounding word "Forasmuch," which here makes its solitary appearance in the pages of Scripture-a word, too, which, like its English equivalent, is a treble compound-the Evangelist calls our attention to his work, and states his reasons for undertaking it. It is impossible for us to fix either the date or the place where this Gospel was written, but probably it was some time between A.D. 58-60. Now, what was the position of the Church at that date, thirty-five years after the Crucifixion?

The fiery tongues of Pentecost had flashed far and wide, and from their heliogram even distant nations had read the message of peace and love. Philip had witnessed the wonderful revival in "the (a) city of Samaria." Antioch, Caesarea, Damascus, Lystra, Philippi, Athens, Rome-these names indicate, but do not attempt to measure, the wide and ever-widening circle of light. In nearly every town of any size there is the nucleus of a Church; while Apostles, Evangelists, and Christian merchants are proclaiming the new kingdom and the new laws everywhere. And since the visits of the Apostles would be necessarily brief, it would only be a natural and general wish that some permanent record should be made of their narratives and teaching. In other places, which lay back of the line of Apostles’ travel, the story would reach them, passed from mouth to mouth, with all the additions of rumor, and exaggerations of Eastern loquacity. It is to these ephemeral Gospels the Evangelist now refers; and distinguishing, as he does, the "many" from the "eyewitnesses" and "ministers of the word," he shows that he does not refer to the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark-which probably he has not seen-for one was an Apostle, and both were "eyewitnesses." There is no censure implied in these words, nor does the expression "taken in hand" in itself imply failure; but evidently, to St. Luke’s mind, these manifold narratives were incomplete and unsatisfactory. They contain some of the truth, but not all that the world should know. Some are put together by unskilled hands, and some have more or less of fable blended with them. They need sifting, winnowing, that the chaff may be blown away, and the seed tares separated from the wheat. Such is the physician’s reason for now assuming the role of an Evangelist. The "forasmuch," before being entered on the pages of his Scriptures, had struck upon the Evangelist’s soul, setting it vibrating like a bell, and moving mind and hand alike in sympathy.

And so we see how, in ways simple and purely natural, Scripture grows. St. Luke was not conscious of any special influence resting upon him. He did not pose as an oracle or as the mouthpiece of an oracle, though he was all that, and vastly more. He does not even know that he is doing any great work; and who ever does? A generous, unselfish thought takes possession of him. He will sacrifice leisure and ease, that he may throw forward to others the light that has fallen upon his own heart and life. He will be a truth-seeker and a light-bearer for others. Here, then, we see how a human mind falls into gear with the Divine mind, and human thought gets into the rhythm and swing of the higher thought. Simply natural, purely human, are all his processes of reasoning, comparing, and planning, and the whole Gospel is but the perfect bloom of this seed-thought. But whence came this thought? This is the question. Did it not grow out of these manifold narratives? And did not the narratives themselves grow out of the wonderful Life, the Life which was itself but a Divine Thought and Word incarnate? And so we cannot separate heaven from earth, we cannot eliminate the Divine from even our little lives: and though St. Luke did not recognize it as such-he was an ordinary man, doing an ordinary thing-yet we, standing a few centuries back, and seeing how the Church has hidden in her ark the omer of manna that he gathered, to be carried on and down till time itself shall be no more, we see another Apocalyptic vision, and we hear a Voice Divine that commands him "write." When St. Luke wrote, "It seemed good to me also," he doubtless wrote the pronoun small; for it was the "me" of his obscure, retiring self; but high above the human thought we see the Divine purpose, and as we watch, the smaller "me" grows into the ME, which is a shadow of the great I AM. And so while the "many" treatises, those which were purely human, have passed out of sight, buried deep in their unknown sepulchers, this Gospel has survived and become immortal-immortal because God was back of it, and God was in it.

So in the mind of St. Luke the thought ripens into a purpose. Since others "have taken in hand" to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been "fulfilled among us," he himself will do the same; for has he not a special fitness for the task, and peculiar advantages? He has long been intimately associated with those who from the very first were "eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word," the chosen companion of one Apostle, and doubtless owing to his visit to Jerusalem and to his prolonged residence at Caesarea, personally acquainted with the rest. His shall not be a Gospel of surmise or of rumor; it shall only contain the record of facts-facts which he himself has investigated, and for the truth of which he gives his guarantee. The clause "having traced the course of all things accurately from the first"-which is a more exact rendering than that of the Authorized Version, "having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first"-shows us the keen, searching eye of the physician. He looks into things. He distinguishes between the To seem and the To be, the actual and the apparent. He takes nothing for granted, but proves all things. He investigates his facts before he endorses them, sounding them, as it were, and reading not only their outer voice, which may be assumed, and so untrue, but with his stethoscope of patient research listening for the unconscious voices that speak within, and so finding out the reality. He himself is committed to nothing. He is not anxious to make up a story. Himself a searcher after truth, his one concern is to know, and then to tell, the truth, naturally, simply, with no fictitious adornment, or dressing up of his own. And having submitted the facts of the Divine Life to a close scrutiny, and satisfied himself of their absolute truth, and having thrown aside the many guesses and fables which somehow have woven themselves around the wonderful Name, he will write down, in historical order as far as may be, the story, so that his friend Theophilus may know the "certainty of the things" in which he has been "instructed," or orally catechized, as the word would mean.

Where, then, it may be asked, is there room for inspiration? If the genesis of the Gospel is so purely human, where is there room for the touch of the Divine? Why should the Gospel of St. Luke be canonized, incorporated into Holy Scripture, while the writings of others are thrown back into an Apocrypha, or still farther back into oblivion? The very questions will suggest an answer. That touch of the Divine which we call inspiration is not always an equal touch. Now it is a pressure from above that is overwhelming. The writer is carried out of himself, borne up into regions where Sight and Reason in their loftiest flights cannot come, as the prophet foretells events no human mind could foresee, much less describe. In the case of St. Luke there was no need for this abnormal pressure, or for these prophetic ecstasies. He was to record, for the most part, facts of recent occurrence, facts that had been witnessed, and could now be attested, by persons still living; and a fact is a fact, whether it is inspired or no. Inspiration may record a fact, while others are omitted, showing that this fact has a certain value above others; but if it is true, inspiration itself cannot make it more true. Nevertheless, there is the touch of the Divine even here. What is the meaning of this new departure? For it is a new and a wide departure. Why does not Thomas write a Gospel? Or Philip, or Paul? Why should the Evangelist-mantle be carried outside the bounds of the sacred land, to be thrown around a Gentile, who cannot speak the sacred tongue except with a foreign Shibboleth? Ah, we see here the movings of the Holy Ghost! Selecting the separate agents for the separate tasks, and dividing to "every man severally as he will." And not only does the Holy Spirit summon him to the work, He qualifies him for it, furnishing him with materials, and guiding his mind as to what shall be omitted and what retained. It is the same Spirit, who moved "holy men of old" to speak and write the things of God, who now touches the mind and heart of the four Evangelists, enabling them to give the four versions of the one Story, in different language, and with sundry differences of detail, but with no contradiction of thought, each being, in a sense, the complement of the rest, the four quarters making one rounded and perfect whole.

Perhaps at first sight our subject may not seem to have any reference to our smaller lives; for who of us can be Evangelists or Apostles, in the highest meaning of the words? And yet it has, if we look into it, a very practical bearing upon our lives, even the commonplace, every-day life. Whence come our gifts? Who makes these gifts to differ? Who gives us the differing taste and nature? For we are not consulted as to our nature any more than as to our nativities. The fact is, our "human" is touched by the Divine at every point. What are the chequered scenes of our lives but the black or the white squares to which the Unseen Hand moves us at will? Earth’s problem is but Heaven’s purpose. And are not we, too, writing scriptures? Putting God’s thoughts into words and deeds, so that men may read them and know them? Verily we are; and our writing is for eternity. In the volume of our book are no omissions or erasures. Listen, then, to the heavenly call. Be obedient to your heavenly vision. Leave mind and heart open to the play of the Divine Spirit. Keep self out of sight. Delight in God’s will, and do it. So will yon make your lowlier life another Testament, written over with Gospels and Epistles, and closing at last with an Apocalypse.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Expositor's Bible Commentary".

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Chapter 2


Luke 1:5-25; Luke 1:57-80.

AFTER his personal prelude, our Evangelist goes on to give in detail the pre-Advent revelations, so connecting the thread of his narrative with the broken-off thread of the Old Testament. His language, however, suddenly changes its character and accent; and its frequent Hebraisms show plainly that he is no longer giving his own words, but that he is simply recording the narratives as they were told him, possibly by some member of the Holy Family.

"There was in the days of Herod, king of Judaea." Even the surface-reader of Scripture will observe how little is made in its pages of the time-element. There is a purposed vagueness in its chronology, which scarcely accords with our Western ideas of accuracy and precision. We observe times and seasons. We strike off the years with the clang of bells or the hush of solemn services. Each day with us is lifted up into prominence, having a personality and history all its own, and as we write its history, we keep it clear of all its tomorrows and its yesterdays. And so the day grows naturally into a date, and dates combine into chronologies, where everything is sharp, exact. Not so, however, was it, or indeed is it, in the Eastern world. Time there, if we may speak temporally, was of little moment. To that slow-moving and slow-thinking world one day was as a trifle, something atomic; it took a number of them to make an appreciable quantity. And so they divided their time, in ordinary speech, not minutely as we do, but into larger periods, measuring its distances by the shadows of their striking events. Why is it that we have four Gospels, and in fact a whole New Testament, without a date? for it cannot possibly be a chance omission. Is the time element so subdued and set back, lest the "things temporal" should lead off our minds from the "things spiritual and eternal "? For what is time, after all, but a negative quantity? an empty space, in itself all silent and dead, until our thoughts and deeds strike against it and make it vocal? Nay, even in the heavenly life we see the same losing of the time- element, for we read, "There should be time no longer." Not that it will then disappear, swallowed up in that infinite duration we call eternity. That would make heaven a confusion; for to finite minds eternity itself must come in measured beats, striking, like the waves along the shore, in rhythmic intervals. But our time will be no longer. It must needs be transfigured, ceasing to be earthly, that it may become heavenly in its measurement and in its speech. And so in the Bible, which is a Divine-human book, written for the ages, God has purposely veiled the times, at any rate the "days" of earthly reckoning. Even the day of our Lord s birth, and the day of His death, our chronologies cannot determine: we measure, we guess, but it is randomly, like the blinded men of Sodom, who wearied themselves to find the door. In Heaven's reckoning deeds are more than days.

Time-beats by themselves are only broken silences, but put a soul among them, and you make songs, anthems, and all kinds of music. "In those days" may be a common Hebraism, but may it not be something more? may it not be an idiom of celestial speech, the heavenly way of referring to earthly things? At any rate we know this, that while Heaven is careful to give us the purpose, the promise, and the fulfilment, the Divine Spirit does not care to give us the exact moment when the promise became a realization. And that it is so shows that it is best it should be so. Silence sometimes may be better than speech.

But in saying all this we do not say that Heaven is unobservant of earthly times and seasons. They are a part of the Divine order, stamped on all lives, on all worlds. Our days and nights keep their alternate step; our seasons observe their processional order, singing in antiphonal responses; while our world, geared in with other worlds, strikes off our earthly years and days with an absolute precision. So, now, the time of the Advent has been Divinely chosen, for whole millenniums unalterably fixed; nor have the cries of Israel s impatient hopes been allowed to hurry forward the Divine purpose, so making it premature. But why should the Advent be so long delayed? In our off-handed way of thinking we might have sup posed the Redeemer would have come directly after the Fall; and as far as Heaven was concerned, there was no reason why the Incarnation and the Redemption should not be effected immediately. The Divine Son was even then prepared to lay aside His glories, and to become incarnate. He might have been born of the Virgin of Eden, as well as of the Virgin of Galilee; and even then He might have offered unto God that perfect obedience by which the "many are made righteous." Why, then, this strange delay, as the months lengthen into years, and the years into centuries? The Patriarchs come and go, and only see the promise "afar off." Then come centuries of oppression, as Canaan is completely eclipsed by the dark shadow of Egypt; then the Exodus, the wanderings, the conquest. The Judges administer a rough-handed justice; Kings play with their little crowns; Prophets rebuke and prophesy, telling of the "Wonderful" who shall be; but still the Messiah delays His coming. Why this strange postponement of the world's hopes, as if prophecy dealt in illusions only? We find the answer in St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (chap, iv. 4). The "fulness of the time" was not yet come. The time was maturing, but was not yet ripe. Heaven was long ago prepared for an Incarnation, but Earth was not; and had the Advent occurred at an earlier stage of the world s history, it would have been an anachronism the age would have misunderstood. There must be a leading up to God's gifts, or His blessings cease to be blessings. The world must be prepared for the Christ, or virtually He is no Christ, no Saviour to them. The Christ must come into the world s mind as a familiar thought, He must come into the world s heart as a deep-felt need, before He can come as the Word Incarnate.

And when is this "fullness of the time"? "In the days of Herod, king of Judaea." Such is the phrase that now strikes the Divine hour, and leads in the dawn of a new dispensation. And what dark days were those to the Hebrew people, when on the throne of their David sat that Idumean shadow of the dread Caesar! Their land swarms with Gentile hordes, and on the soil devoted to Jehovah rise stately, splendid temples, dedicated to strange gods. It is one irruption of Paganism, as if the Roman Pantheon had emptied itself upon the Holy Land. Nay, it seemed as if the Hebrew faith itself would become extinct, strangled by heathen fables, or at any rate that she would survive, only the ghost of her other self, walking like an apparition, with veiled face and sealed lips, amid the scenes of her former glories. "The days of Herod" were the Hebrew midnight, but they give us the Bright and Morning Star. And so upon this dial-plate of Scripture the great Herod, with all his royalties, is nothing more than the dark, empty shadow which marks a Divine hour, "the fulness of the time."

Israel s corporate life began with four centuries of silence and oppression, when Egypt gave them the doubled task, and Heaven grew strangely still, giving them neither voice nor vision. Is it but one of the chance repetitions of history that Israel s national life should end, too, with four hundred years of silence? for such is the coincidence, if, indeed, we may not call it something more. It is, however, just such a coincidence as the Hebrew mind, quick to trace resemblances and to discern signs, would grasp firmly and eagerly. It would revive their long-deferred and dying hopes, overlaying the near future with its gold. Possibly it was this very coincidence that now transformed their hope into expectation, and set their hearts listening for the advent of the Messiah. Did not Moses come when the task was doubled? And was not the four hundred years silence broken by the thunders of the Exodus, as the I AM, once again asserting Himself, "sent redemption to His people"? And so, counting back their silent years since Heaven's last voice came to them through their prophet Malachi, they caught in its very silences a sound of hope, the footfall of the forerunner, and the voice of the coming Lord. But where, and how, shall the long silence be broken? We must go for our answer and here, again, we see a correspondence between the new Exodus and the old to the tribe of Levi, and to the house of Amram and Jochebed.

Residing in one of the priestly cities of the hill-country of Judaea though not in Hebron, as is commonly supposed, for it is most unlikely that a name so familiar and sacred in the Old Testament would here be omitted in the New was "a certain priest named Zacharias." Himself a descendant of Aaron, his wife, too, was of the same lineage; and besides being "of the daughters of Aaron," she bore the name of their ancestral mother, Elisabeth." Like Abraham and Sarah, they were both well advanced in years, and childless. But if they were not allowed to have any lien upon posterity, throwing themselves forward into future generations, they made up the lack of earthly relationships by cultivating the heavenly. Forbidden, as they thought, to look forward down the lines of earthly hopes, they could and did look heavenward; for we read that they were both "righteous" a word implying a Mosaic perfection "walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." We may not be able, perhaps, to give the precise distinction between "commandments" and "ordinances," for they were sometimes used inter changeably; but if, as the general use of the words allows us, we refer the "commandments" to the moral, and the "ordinances" to the ceremonial law, we see how wide is the ground they cover, embracing, as they do, the (then) "whole duty of man." Rarely, if ever, do the Scriptures speak in such eulogistic terms; and that they should here be applied to Zacharias and Elisabeth shows that they were advanced in saintliness, as well as in years. Possibly St. Luke had another object in view in giving us the portraits of these two pre-Advent Christians, completing in the next chapter the quarternion, by his mention of Simeon and Anna. It is somewhat strange, to say the least, that the Gentile Evangelist should be the one to give us this remarkable group the four aged Templars, who, "when it was yet dark," rose to chant their matins and to anticipate the dawn. Whether the Evangelist in tended it or not, his narrative salutes the Old, while it heralds the New dispensation, paying to that Old a high though unconscious tribute. It shows us that Hebraism was not yet dead; for if on its central stem, within the limited area of its Temple courts, such a cluster of beautiful lives could be found, who will tell the harvest of its outlying branches? Judaism was not altogether a piece of mechanism, elaborate and exact, with a soulless, metallic click of rites and ceremonies. It was an organism, living and sentient. It had nerves and blood. Possessed of a heart itself, it touched the hearts of its children. It gave them aspirations and inspirations without number; and even its shadows were the interpreters, as they were the creations, of the heavenly light And if now it is doomed to pass away, outdated and superseded, it is not because it is bad, worthless; for it was a Divine conception, the "good" thing, preparing for and proclaiming God's "better thing." Judaism was the "glorious angel, keeping the gates of light;" and now, behold, she swings back the gates, welcomes the Morning, and herself then disappears.

It is the autumn service for the course of Abia which is the eighth of the twenty-four courses into which the priesthood was divided and Zacharias proceeds to Jerusalem, to perform whatever part of the service the lot may assign to him. It is probably the evening of the Sabbath the presence of the multitude would almost imply that and this evening the lot gives to Zacharias the coveted distinction which could only come once in a lifetime of burning incense in the Holy Place. At a given signal, between the slaying and the offering of the lamb, Zacharias, barefooted and robed in white, passes up the steps, accompanied by two assistants, one bearing a golden censer containing half a pound of the sweet-smelling incense, the other bearing a golden vessel of burning coals taken from the altar. Slowly and reverently they pass within the Holy Place, which none but Levites are permitted to enter; and having arranged the incense, and spread the live coals upon the altar, the assistants retire, leaving Zacharias alone in the dim light of the seven-branched candlestick, alone beside that veil he may not uplift, and which hides from his sight the Holy of Holies, where God dwells "in the thick darkness." Such is the place, and such the supreme moment, when Heaven breaks the silence of four hundred years.

It is no concern of ours to explain the phenomenon that followed, or to tone down its supernatural elements. Given an Incarnation, and then the supernatural be comes not only probable, but necessary. Indeed, we could not well conceive of any new revelation without it; and instead of its being a weakness, a blemish on the page of Scripture, it is rather a proof of its heavenliness, a hall-mark that stamps its Divinity. Nor is there any need, believing as we do in the existence of intelligences other and higher than ourselves, that we apologize for the appearance of angels, here and else where, in the story; such deference to Sadducean doubts is not required.

Suddenly, as Zacharias stands with uplifted hands, joining in the prayers offered by the silent "multitude" without, an angel appears. He stands "on the right side of the altar of incense," half-veiled by the fragrant smoke, which curling upwards, filled the place. No wonder that the lone priest is filled with "fear," and that he is "troubled" a word implying an outward tremor, as if the very body shook with the unwonted agitation of the soul. The angel does not at first announce his name, but seeks rather to calm the heart of the priest, stilling its tumult with a "Fear not" as Jesus stilled the waters with His "Peace." Then he makes known his message, speaking in language most homely and most human: "Thy prayer is heard." Perhaps a more exact rendering would be, "Thy request was granted," for the substantive implies a specific prayer, while the verb indicates a "hearing" that becomes an "assenting." What the prayer was we may gather from the angel's words; for the whole message, both in its promise and its prophecy, is but an amplification of its first clause. To the Jew, childlessness was the worst of all bereavements. It implied, at least they thought so, the Divine displeasure; while it effectually cut them off from any personal share in those cherished Messianic hopes. To the Hebrew heart the message, "Unto you a son is born," was the music of a lower Gospel. It marked an epoch in their life-history; it brought the fulfilment of their desires, and a wealth of added dignities. And Zacharias had prayed, earnestly and long, that a son might be born to them; but the bright hope, with the years, had grown distant and dim, until at last it had dropped down beyond the horizon of their thoughts, and become an impossibility. But those prayers were heard, yea, and granted, too, in the Divine purpose; and if the answer has been delayed, it was that it might come freighted with a larger blessing.

But in saying that this was the specific prayer of Zacharias we do not wish to disparage his motives, confining his thoughts and aspirations within a circle so narrow and selfish. This lesser hope of offspring, like a satellite, revolved around the larger hope of a Messiah, and indeed grew out of it. It drew all its brightness and all its beauty from that larger hope, the hope that lighted up the dark Hebrew sky with the auroras of a new and fadeless dawn. When mariners "take the sun," as they call it, reading from its disc their longitudes, they bring it down to their horizon-level. They get the higher in the lower vision, and the real direction of their looks is not the apparent direction. And if Zacharias thoughts and prayers seem to have an earthward drift, his soul looks higher than his speech; and if he looks along the horizon-level of earthly hopes, it is that he may read the heavenly promise. It is not a son that he is looking for, but the Son, the "Seed" in whom "all the families of the earth shall be blessed." And so, when the silent tongue regains its powers of speech, it gives its first and highest doxologies for that other Child, who is Himself the promised "redemption" and a "horn of salvation;" his own child he sets back, far back in the shadow (or rather the light) of Him whom he calls the "Lord." It is the near realization of both these hopes that the angel now announces.

A son shall be born to them, even in their advanced years, and they shall call his name "John," which means "The Lord is gracious." "Many will rejoice with them at his birth," for that birth will be the awakening of new hopes, the first hour of a new day. "Great in the sight of the Lord," he must be a Nazarite, abstaining wholly from "wine and strong drink" the two Greek words including all intoxicants, however made. "Filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb" that original bias or propensity to evil, if not obliterated, yet more than neutralized he shall be the Elijah (in spirit and in power) of Malachi's prophecy, turning many of Israel s children "to the Lord their God." "Going before Him" and the antecedent of "Him" must be "the Lord their God" of the preceding verse, so early is the purple of Divinity thrown around the Christ he "shall turn the hearts of fathers to their children," restoring peace and order to domestic life, and the "disobedient" he shall incline "to walk in the wisdom of the just" (R.V.), bringing back the feet that have erred and slipped to "the paths of uprightness," which are the "ways of wisdom." In short, he shall be the herald, making ready a people prepared for the Lord, running before the royal chariot, proclaiming the coming One, and preparing His way, then leaving his own little footprints to disappear, thrown up in the chariot-dust of Him who was greater and mightier than he.

We can easily understand, even if we may not apologize for, the incredulity of Zacharias. There are crises in our life when, under profound emotion, Reason herself seems bewildered, and Faith loses her steadiness of vision. The storm of feeling throws the reflective powers into confusion, and thought becomes blurred and indistinct, and speech incoherent and wild. And such a crisis was it now, but intensified to the mind of Zacharias by all these additions of the supernatural. The vision, with its accessories of place and time, the message, so startling, even though so welcome, must necessarily produce a strange perturbation of soul; and what surprise need there be that when the priest does speak it is in the lisping accents of unbelief? Could it well have been otherwise? Peter "wist not that it was true which was done by the angel, but thought he saw a vision;" and though Zacharias has none of these doubts of unreality it is to him no dream of the moment s ecstasy still he is not yet aware of the rank and dignity of his angel-visitant, while he is perplexed at the message, which so directly contravenes both reason and experience. He does not doubt the Divine power, let it be observed, but he does seek for a sign that the angel speaks with Divine authority. "Whereby shall 1 know this?" he asks, reminding us by his question of Jacob's "Tell me thy name." The angel replies, in substance, "You ask whereby you may know this; that is, you wish to know by whose authority I declare this message to you. Well, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak unto you, and to bring you these good tidings. And since you ask for a sign, an endorsement of my message, you shall have one. I put the seal of silence upon your lips, and you shall not be able to speak until the day when these things shall come to pass, because you believed not my words." Then the vision ends; Gabriel returns to the songs and anthems of the skies, leaving Zacharias to carry, in awful stillness of soul, this new "secret of the Lord."

This infliction of dumbness upon Zacharias has generally been regarded as a rebuke and punishment for his unbelief; but if we refer to the parallel cases of Abraham and of Gideon, such is not Heaven s wonted answer to the request for a sign. We must understand it rather as the proof Zacharias sought, something at once supernatural and significant, that should help his stumbling faith. Such a sign, and a most effective one, it was. Unlike Gideon s dew, that would soon evaporate, leaving nothing but a memory, this was ever present, ever felt, at least until faith was exchanged for sight. Nor was it dumbness simply, for the word (Luke 1:22) rendered "speechless" implies inability to hear as well as inability to speak; and this, coupled with the fact mentioned in ver. Luke 1:62, that "they made signs to him" which they would scarcely have done could he have heard their voices compels us to suppose that Zacharias had suddenly become deaf as well as dumb. Heaven put the seal of silence upon his lips and ears, that so its own voice might be more clear and loud; and so the profound silences of Zacharias soul were but the blank spaces on which Heaven s sweet music was written.

How long the interview with the angel lasted we cannot tell. It must, however, have been brief; for at a given signal, the stroke of the Magrephah, the attendant priest would re-enter the Holy Place, to light the two lamps that had been left unlighted. And here we must look for the "tarrying " that so perplexed the multitude, who were waiting outside, in silence, for the benediction of the incensing priest. Re-entering the Holy Place, the attendant finds Zacharias smitten as by a sudden paralysis speechless, deaf, and overcome by emotion. What wonder that the strange excitement them oblivious of time, and, for the moment, all-forgetful of their Temple duties! The priests are in their places, grouped together on the steps leading up to the Holy Place; the sacrificing priest has ascended the great brazen altar; ready to cast the pieces of the slain lamb upon the sacred fire; the Levites stand ready with their trumpets and their psalms all waiting for the priests who linger so long in the Holy Place. At length they appear, taking up their position on the top of the steps, above the rows of priests, and above the silent multitude. But Zacharias cannot pronounce the usual benediction to-day. The "Jehovah bless thee and keep thee" is unsaid; the priest can only "beckon" to them, perhaps laying his finger on the silent lips, and then pointing to the silent heavens to them indeed silent, but to himself all vocal now.

And so the mute priest, after the days of his ministration are completed, returns to his home in the hill country, to wait the fulfilment of the promises, and out of his deep silences to weave a song that should be immortal; for the Benedictus, whose music girdles the world to-day, before it struck upon the world's ear and heart, had, through those quiet months, filled the hushed temple of his soul, lifting up the priest and the prophet among the poets, and passing down the name of Zacharias as one of the first sweet singers of the new Israel.

And so the Old meets, and merges into the New; and at the marriage it is the speaking hands of the mute priest that join together the two Dispensations, as each gives itself to the other, never more to be put asunder, but to be "no longer twain, but one," one Purpose, one Plan, one Divine Thought, one Divine Word.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "Expositor's Bible Commentary".

The Fourfold Gospel

And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marvelled while he tarried in the temple1.

  1. They marvelled while he tarried in the temple. The Jews considered slow service as irreverent and displeasing to God. The punishment attached to displeasing service made them fearful (Leviticus 16:13).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website. These files were made available by Mr. Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on Luke 1:21". "The Fourfold Gospel". Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.

The Pulpit Commentaries


THE origin of the Gospels—the four histories which relate in detail the circumstances of the foundation of Christianity—will ever be an interesting study. Here we shall never know the exact truth of the compilation of these writings, the foundation-stones of all our hopes and fears; a reverent, scholarly speculation is all that can be offered to the student of the Divine memoirs. The speculation, however, probably in this case comes very near the truth.

After the Ascension and the events of the first Pentecost, which quickly followed their Master's return to heaven, the twelve and a few others who had walked in the company which followed Jesus during the years of his public ministry no doubt often met together and talked over the teaching and the acts of their risen and now glorified Master. As time passed on, a certain number of these acts, a certain number of the public and private discourses in the apostolic company, became adopted as the usual texts or subjects of the teaching and preaching in the assemblies large and small gathered together by the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and the neighboring towns and villages, subsequently in other parts of the Holy Land, in Syria, and in more distant countries—in Africa and Italy. We may assume that the Holy Spirit aided the composition of these apostolic summaries by bringing to the memory of these holy men the more important of the words and acts of the Lord Jesus, spoken and done when in their midst.

That some such early authoritative summary existed among the first preachers of the faith we may positively assume,

Some twelve traditional sayings besides those related by the four, and those of no great importance, are all that we possess; no record of other miracles of any description have come down to us.

Years passed on. The precious treasure of the apostolic records, the simple memories of his words and acts preserved, and no doubt arranged in some order, were enough for the first preachers and teachers of the faith of Jesus of Nazareth.

There were, no doubt, many rough attempts to write these down on the part of apostles and their pupils. These are most probably the writings to which St. Luke alludes, without disparaging them, in his preface to his Gospel, in the words, "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us."

But something more accurate in the way of written memoirs was necessary for the Church, as the number of believers multiplied, and the original friends of the Master were one by one taken from their midst—the men who had seen the presence and heard the voice. When the first fervor of enthusiasm had passed away, or rather when the Church had so multiplied that, in the case of the great majority of its members who had only heard of Jesus, this fervor of enthusiasm had never been experienced at all, something of a critical spirit of inquiry sprang up in the various congregations. Who, for instance, was this Jesus of Nazareth, whom the apostles and their pupils preached? Whence came he? Who was that strange teacher John, who baptized him, and, so to speak, introduced him to Israel? Such natural questions necessitated the putting forth, on the part of the leaders of the new faith, documents at once comprehensive as well as authoritative.

Each of the four Gospels supplied an evident want of the early Church; each was the answer, on the part of responsible men, to the natural inquiry of some great section of believers.

The preface to the Gospel of St. Luke, with which we are at present concerned, with great clearness relates how its compiler, having availed himself of all the written and oral apostolic traditions then current in the Church, had personally, with careful and continuous research, traced up these various traditions to their very source, and, having arranged his many facts, presented the whole continuous story to a man of high rank in the Christian congregations, one Theophilus, a noble Greek or Roman, who may be taken as an example of a large class of inquiring earnest Christians of the years 70-90 a.d.

Luke 1:1-4


Luke 1:1

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand. The Greek in which St. Luke's Gospel is written is generally pure and classical, but the language of the little introduction (verse 1-4) is especially studied and polished, and contrasts singularly with the Hebrew character of the story of the nativity, which immediately follows. St, Luke here, in this studied introduction, follows the example of many of the great classical writers, Latin as well as Greek. Thucydides, Herodotus, Livy, for instance, paid special attention to the opening sentences of their histories. The many early efforts to produce a connected history of the life and work of the great Master Christ are not, as some have supposed, alluded to here with anything like censure, but are simply referred to as being incomplete, as written without order or arrangement. They most probably formed the basis of much of St. Luke's own Gospel. These primitive Gospels quickly disappeared from sight, as they evidently contained nothing more than what was embodied in the fuller and more systematic narratives of the "four." Of those things which are most surely believed among us. There was evidently no questioning in the Church of the first days about the truth of the story of the teaching and the mighty works of Jesus of Nazareth. It was the incompleteness of these first evangelists, rather than their inaccuracy, which induced St. Luke to take in hand a new Gospel.

Luke 1:2

Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses, and ministers of the Word. The general accuracy of the recitals contained in those early Gospels is here conceded, as the source of these primitive writings was the tradition delivered by the eye-witnesses of the acts of Jesus; among these eye-witnesses the apostles would, of course, hold the foremost place. The whole statement may be roughly paraphrased thus: "The narrative of the memorable events which have been accomplished in our midst many have undertaken to compose. These different narratives are in strict conformity with the apostles' tradition, which men who were themselves eye-witnesses of the great events, and subsequently ministers of the Word, handed down to us. Now, I have traced up all these traditions anew to their very sources, and propose rewriting them in consecutive order, that you, my lord Theophilus, may be fully convinced of the positive certainty of those great truths in which you have been instructed." Eye-witnesses, anal ministers of the Word; witnesses of the events of the public ministry of Jesus, from the baptism to the Ascension. These men, in great numbers, after Pentecost, became ministers and preachers of the Word.

Luke 1:3

Having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first; more accurately rendered, having followed up (or, investigated) step by step all things from their source. St. Luke, without depreciating the accounts of the life and work of Jesus then current in the Church, here sets out his reasons for undertaking a fresh compilation. His Gospel would differ from the early Gospels:

Luke 2:5-52

THE GOSPEL OF THE INFANCY. The critical reader of the Gospel in the original Greek is here startled by the abrupt change in the style of writing. The first four verses, which constitute the introduction, are written in pure classical language; the sentences are balanced, almost with a rhythmical accuracy. They are the words evidently of a highly cultured mind, well versed in Greek thought. But in the fifth verse, where the history of the eventful period really begins, all is changed. The narrative flows on clearly with a certain picturesqueness of imagery; the style is simple, easy, vivid; but at once the reader is sensible that he has passed out of the region of Greek and Western thought. The language is evidently a close translation from some Hebrew original; the imagery is exclusively Jewish, and the thoughts belong to the story of the chosen people. It is clear that this section of St. Luke's writing, which ends, however, with Luke 2:1-52, is not derived from apostolic tradition, but is the result of his own investigation into the origin of the faith of Christ, gathered probably from the lips of the virgin mother herself, or from one of the holy women belonging to her kinsfolk who had been with her from the beginning of the wondrous events. St. Luke reproduced, as faithfully as he could in a strange tongue, the revelations—some perhaps written, some no doubt oral, communicated to him, we reverently believe, by the blessed mother of Jesus herself. The story of these two chapters is what St. Luke evidently alludes to when, in his short preface (verse 3), he writes of his "perfect understanding in all things from the very first ( ἄνωθεν)."

Luke 1:5-25

The vision of Zacharias in the temple.

Luke 1:5

There was in the days of Herod, the King of Judaea. The Herod here alluded to was the one surnamed "the Great." The event here related took place towards the end of his reign. His dominions, besides Judaea, included Samaria, Galilee, and a large district of Peraea. This prince played a conspicuous part in the politics of his day. He was no Hebrew by birth, but an Idumaean, and he owed his position entirely to the favor of Rome, whose vassal he really was during his whole reign. The Roman senate had, on the recommendation of Antony and Octavius, granted to this prince the title of "King of Judaea." It was a strange, sad state of things. The land of promise was ruled over by an Idumaean adventurer, a creature of the great Italian Republic; the holy and beautiful house on Mount Zion was in the custody of an Edomite usurper; the high priest of the Mighty One of Jacob was raised up or deposed as the officials of Rome thought good. Truly the scepter had departed from Judah. A certain priest named Zacharias; usually spelt among the Hebrews, Zechariah; it means "Remembered of Jehovah," and was a favorite name among the chosen people. Of the course of Abia. ἐφημερία (course) signified originally "a daily service." It was subsequently used for a group of priests who exercised their priestly functions in the temple for a week, and then gave place to another group. From Eleazar and Ithamar, the two surviving sons of the first high priest Aaron, had descended twenty-four families. Among these King David distributed by lot the various tabernacle (subsequently temple) services, each family group, or course, officiating for eight days—from sabbath to sabbath. From the Babylonish exile, of these twenty-four families only four returned. With the idea of reproducing as nearly as possible the old state of things, these four were subdivided into twenty-four, the twenty-four bearing the original family names, and this succession of courses continued in force until the fall of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple, a.d. 70. According to Josephus, Zacharias was especially distinguished by belonging to the first of the twenty-four courses, or families. Of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth; identical with Elisheba, "One whose oath is to God." Both the husband and wife traced their lineage back to the first high priest—a coveted distinction in Israel.

Luke 1:6

And they were both righteous before God. "One of the oldest terms of high praise among the Jews (Genesis 6:9; Genesis 7:1; Genesis 18:23-28; Ezekiel 18:5-9, etc.). It is used also of Joseph (Matthew 1:1-25 : 19), and is defined in the following words in the most technical sense of strict legal observance, which it had acquired since the days of Maccabees. The true Jashar (upright man) was the ideal Jew. Thus Rashi calls the Book of Genesis 'The book of the upright, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob '" (Farrar).

Luke 1:7

And they had no child. This, as is well known, was a heavy calamity in a Hebrew home. In the childless house there was no hope of the long looked-for Messiah being born in it. It was not unfrequently looked on as a mark of the Divine displeasure, possibly as the punishment of some grave sin.

Luke 1:9

His lot was to burn incense; more accurately, he obtained by lot the duty of entering and offering incense. The office of burning incense gave the priest to whom this important lot fell the right of entering the holy place. It was the most coveted of all the priestly duties. The Talmud says the priest who obtained the right to perform this high duty was not permitted to draw the lot a second time in the same week, and as the whole number of priests at this time was very large—some say even as many as twenty thousand—Farrar conjectures that it would never happen to the same priest twice in his lifetime to enter that sacred spot.

Luke 1:10

And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. This would indicate that the day in question was a sabbath or some high day. Dean Plumptre suggests that, lost among that praying crowd, were, "we may well believe, the aged Simeon (Luke 2:25) and Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:36), and many others who waited for redemption in Jerusalem."

Luke 1:11

And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord. Critics have especially found grave fault with this "Hebrew" portion of our Gospel, complaining that it needlessly introduces the marvelous, and brings uselessly into everyday life beings from another sphere. Godet well answers these criticisms by observing "that as Christianity was an entirely new beginning in history, the second and final creation of man, it was natural that an interposition on so grand a scale should be accompanied by a series of particular interpositions. It was even necessary; for how were the representatives of the ancient order of things, who had to cooperate in the new work, to be initiated into it, and their attachment won to it, except by this means? According to Scripture, we are surrounded by angels (2 Kings 6:17; Psalms 34:7), whom God employs to watch over us; but in our ordinary condition we want the sense necessary to perceive their presence—for that condition a peculiar receptivity is required. This condition was given to Zacharias. Origen ('Contra Censure') writes how, "in a church there are two assemblies—one of angels, the other of men,… angels are present at our prayers, and they pray with us and for us." Standing on the right side of the altar of incense. The angel stood between the altar and the shew-bread table. On entering the holy place, the officiating priest would have on his right the table with the shew-bread, on his left the great candlestick, and before him would be the golden altar, which stood at the end of the holy place, in front of the veil which separated this chamber and the dim, silent holy of holies.

Luke 1:12

He was troubled. This was ever the first effect produced by the sight of a spirit-visitant.

Luke 1:13

Thy prayer is heard. What was the nature of this prayer? The Greek word ( δεήσις) used here implies that some special supplication had been offered, and which the angel tells had been listened to at the throne of grace. The righteous old man had not, as some have thought, been praying for a son,—he had long resigned himself in this private sorrow to the will of his God; but we may well suppose that on that solemn occasion he prayed the unselfish patriotic prayer that the long looked for Messiah would hasten his coming. His name John; the shortened form for Jehochanan, "the grace of Jehovah." Under various diminutives, such as Jonah, it was a favorite Hebrew name.

Luke 1:14

Many shall rejoice at his birth. The gladness which his boy's birth was to bring with it was to be no mere private family rejoicing. The child of his old age, who was to be born, would be the occasion of a true national joy.

Luke 1:15

Great in the sight of the Lord. To the pious old Jewish priest the strange visitant's words would bear a deep signification. Zacharias would quickly catch the angel's thoughts. His son was not to be the Messiah of the people's hope, but was to be like one of those great ones loved of God, of whom the women of Israel sang on their solemn feast-days—one like Samson, only purer, or Samuel, or the yet greater Elijah. Could all this deep joy be true? Shall drink neither wine. The old curse then as now. God's heroes must be free from even the semblance of temptation. They must stamp their high lives, from the beginning, by the solemn vow of self-denial and abstinence. It is remarkable how many of the great deliverers and teachers of the chosen people were commanded from childhood to enroll themselves among the abstainers from all strong drink. Nor strong drink. The word δεήσις includes all kinds of fermented drink except that made from the grape; it was especially applied to palm wine.

Luke 1:16

And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. The state of the people at this period was indeed unhappy. The dominant Italian power had introduced into Syria and Palestine the vices and profligate life of Italy and Greece. The great Syrian city Antioch, for instance, in vice and sensuality, had gone far beyond her conqueror, and was perhaps at that time the most wicked city in the world. In the court of Herod, patriotism and true nobility were dead. The priests and scribes were for the most part deeply corrupted, and the poor shepherdless common folk only too readily followed the example of the rich and great. The boy who was to be born was to be a great preacher of righteousness; his glorious mission would be to turn many of these poor wanderers to the Lord their God.

Luke 1:17

In the spirit and power of Elias. There was a confident hope among the Jews, dating frown the days of the prophecy of Malachi, some four hundred years before the vision of Zacharias, that the days of Messiah would be heralded by an appearance of the Prophet Elijah. The selfsame expectation is still cherished by every pious Jew. To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. The usual explanation of these words of the angel, who uses here the language of Malachi (Malachi 4:5, Malachi 4:6), is that the result of the preaching of this new prophet, who is about to be raised up, will be to restore harmony to the broken and disturbed family life of Israel, whereas now the home life of the chosen race was split up—the fathers, perhaps, siding with the foreign or Roman faction, as represented by Herod and his friends; the sons, on the other hand, being Zealots attached to the national party, bitterly hostile to the Herodians. So also in one house some would belong to the Pharisee, others to the Sadducee, sect. These fatal divisions would, in many cases, be healed by the influence of the coming one. There is, however, another interpretation far deeper and more satisfactory; for nothing in the preaching of the Baptist, as far as we are aware, bore specially on the domestic dissensions of the people; it had a much wider range. The true sense of the angel's words here should be gathered from prophetic passages such as Isaiah 29:22, Isaiah 29:23, "Jacob shall no more be ashamed, neither shall his face wax pale, when he seeth ( יךִּ וֹתאֹרְבִ) his children become the work of my hands;" Isaiah 63:16, "Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer!"—The patriarchs, the fathers of Israel, beholding from their abodes of rest the works and days of their degenerate children, mourned over their fall, and, to use earthly language, "were ashamed" of the conduct of their unworthy descendants. These would be glad and rejoice over the result of the preaching of the coming prophet. Godct well sums up the angel's words: "It will be John's mission then to reconstitute the moral unity of the people by restoring the broken relation between the patriarchs and their degenerate descendants."

Luke 1:18

Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man. There was something evidently blamable in this hesitation on the part of Zacharias to receive the angel's promise. It seems as though the radiant glory of the messenger, as he stood before the curtain of the silent sanctuary in his awful beauty, ought to have convinced the doubting old man of the truth of the strange message. The words of the angel, which follow, seem to imply this. What! do you doubt my message? "I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of the Eternal." Others in Old Testament story before—for instance, Abraham (Genesis 15:1-21) and Gideon ( 6:1-40)—had seen and listened to an angel, had at first doubted, but had received in consequence no rebuke, no punishment, for their want of faith. Zacharias was, however, condemned, we learn, to a long period of dumbness.

Luke 1:19

I am Gabriel. The meaning of the name Gabriel is "Hero of God," or "Mighty One of God." In the canonical books only two of the heavenly ones are mentioned by name. Gabriel (here and Daniel 8:16 and Daniel 9:21) and Michael, which signifies "Who is like God" (Jud Luke 1:9; Revelation 12:7; and in Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1). Of these two blessed spirits whose names are revealed to us in the Word of God, their appointed work seems to be in connection with the human race and its enemies. Gabriel is the special messenger of good news. He comes to Daniel, and tells him of the restoration of Jerusalem; to Zacharias, and announces the birth of his son, and declares what his glorious office would consist in; to Mary of Nazareth, and foretells the nativity. Michael, on the other hand, appears as the warrior of God. In the Book of Daniel he wars with the enemies of the people of the Lord; in Jude and in the Revelation of St. John he is the victorious antagonist of Satan the enemy of the Eternal. The Jews have a striking saying that Gabriel flies with two wings, but Michael with only one; so God is swift in sending angels of peace and of joy, of which blessed company the archangel Gabriel is the representative, while the messengers of his wrath and punishment, among whom Michael holds a chief place, come slowly. That stand in the presence of God.

"One of the seven

Who in God's presence, nearest to his throne,

Stand ready at command, and are his eyes

That run through all the heavens, and down to the earth

Bear his swift commands, over moist and dry,

O'er sea and land."

Milton derived his knowledge of the seven from the apocryphal Book of Tobit, where in chapter 12:15 we read, "I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One." In the very ancient Book of Enoch we read of the names of the four great archangels, Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael.

Luke 1:21

And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he tarried so long in the temple. The Talmud tells us that even the high priest did not terry long in the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement. The same feeling of holy awe would induce the ministering priest of the day to perform his functions with no unnecessary delay, and to leave as soon as possible the holy place. The people praying in the court without were in the habit of waiting until the priest on duty came out of the sacred inner chamber, after which they were dismissed with the blessing. The unusual delay in the appearance of Zacharias puzzled and disturbed the worshippers.

Luke 1:22

When he came out, he could not speak unto them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple. Something in the face of the old man, as, unable to speak, he made signs to the congregation, told the awestruck people that the long delay and the loss of speech were owing to no sudden illness which had seized Zacharias. We know that, in the old days of the desert wanderings, the children of Israel could not bear to look on the face of Moses when he came down from the mount after dwelling for a brief space in the light of the glory of the Eternal. Zacharias had been face to face with one whose blessed lot it was to stand for ever in the presence of God. We may well suppose that there lingered on the old man's face, as he left the sanctuary, something which told the beholder of the presence just left.

Luke 1:24

And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months. Various reasons have been suggested for this retirement. It seems most probable that, amazed at the angelic announcement, the saintly woman went into perfect retirement and isolation for a considerable period, to prove well the words of the angel, and to consider how she best could do her part in the training of the expected child, who was to play so mighty a part in the history of her people.

Luke 1:26-38

The annunciation of the Virgin Mary.

The recital contained in this little section is peculiar to this Gospel of St. Luke. It lay outside what may be termed the apostolic tradition. It neither helps nor mars the moral or dogmatic teaching of the men trained in the school of Jesus of Nazareth. It simply answers a question that probably few of the converts of the first quarter of a century which succeeded the Resurrection morning cared to ask:

We do not suppose that the true story of the birth of Jesus Christ was any secret, any precious mystery in the Church of the first days. It was known doubtless to the leading teachers, known to many of their hearers, but it was evidently unused as a popular text for preaching. It probably was not among those "memoirs" of the apostles which were read and expounded in the first forty years in the public synagogues and in the quiet upper rooms of so many of the cities of Syria, and in not a few of the towns of Egypt, Greece, and Italy. Nor is the reason of this doubtful; the wondrous story of the child Jesus' birth would add little to the simple faith of the first believers in the Crucified.

Of miracles and works of wonder they had heard enough to convince them that, if these were true, surely never man had worked like this Man. They had heard, too, of the crowning, sign of the Resurrection. There were men in those first days, scattered abroad in all lands, who had seen these things, who knew that the Master had died on the cross, and who had seen him, touched him, and spoken to him after his resurrection. The mysterious miracle of the incarnation was not needed for the preaching of the first days.

But time went on, and naturally enough many of the thoughtful cultured men who had accepted the doctrine of the cross began to say—We ought to have the true story of the beginnings of these marvelous events authoritatively written down. Here and there we have heard something of the birth and childhood, why have we not the details authenticated? Men like Paul and Luke felt that such natural questionings should be answered. And hence it came to pass that, moved by the Holy Spirit—under, we believe, the direction of Paul—Luke went to the fountainhead, to the blessed mother herself, to those holy women some of whom we believe had borne her company from the beginning, and from her lips and their lips wrote down what she (or they) dictated, partly from memory, partly perhaps from memoranda which she and others had kept of that strange sweet time; and so these two chapters of the Third Gospel, of which the incarnation is the central narrative, were written down much in the original form in which Luke received it, the Greek simply translating the original Hebrew story. Around the words of the Gospel soon gathered a host of miraculous legends glorifying the blessed mother of the Lord. These are utterly unknown to Scripture, and should be quietly put aside. Strange speculations respecting her and the manner of the wondrous birth have been in all times, nay, still are favorite subjects of dispute among theologians. It is a pity to try and be wise beyond what is written. The believer will content himself with just receiving the quiet story of the holy maid as Mary the mother gave it to Luke or Paul, feeling assured that the same power of the Highest by which the crucified Jesus was raised from the tomb where he had lain for three days, was able to overshadow the virgin of Nazareth, was able to cause to be born of her that holy thing which was called the Son of God.

Luke 1:26

And in the sixth month; that is, after the vision of Zacharias in the temple. Unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth. These explanatory notes make it clear that St. Luke was writing for those who were strangers to Palestine. Such details were no doubt added by St. Luke to the oral or written Hebrew narrative upon which this section is entirely based. Under the Roman domination the land of promise was divided into Judaea, Samaria, Peraea, and Galilee. Galilee was the northern department, and comprised the old territory of the tribes of Zebulun, Naphtali, and Asher. From Josephus we learn that at this period the northern division was rich and populous, and covered with flourishing towns. Nazareth, which still exists as a large village of some three thousand inhabitants, under the name of En-Nazirah, is about twenty-four miles to the east of the Luke of Tiberius. It is well situate in a valley among the hills which rise to the north of the Esdraelon plain. From one of the grassy slopes which rise behind Nazareth, one of the noblest views is obtained. The snowy summits of Lebanon and Hennon close the prospect on the north; on the south the broad Esdraelon plain, with the mountains of Ephraim; Gilead and Tabor lie on the east; on the other side, the green uplands of Carmel are bathed by the blue waves of the Mediterranean Sea. The meaning of the name Nazareth has been the subject of much learned controversy. The more usually adopted derivation, however, refers the word to רצן, "a shoot or branch," which conveys, as Dean Plumptre remarks, something of the same meaning as our hurst or holm in English topography. Burckhardt, the traveler, believes the name was originslly used on account of the numerous shrubs which cover the ground in this locality.

Luke 1:27

To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; more accurately, betrothed. The formal ceremony of betrothal took place among the Jews in most cases a year prior to the marriage. The question has arisen whether the words, "of the house of David," refer to Joseph or to Mary. Grammatically, they would seem to belong to Joseph; but the fact of the Gospel being here so closely translated from a Hebrew (Aramaic) original. prevents us from laying down any strict linguistic rules which belong to the Greek language. "Who was Mary the virgin?" has been often asked. Luke 1:32 and Luke 1:69 would lose their point altogether unless we regard Luke as being persuaded that the young Hebrew girl was a descendant of David. In respect to the virgin's family, we read that she was a cousin or kinswoman of Elisabeth. This would at least ally her closely to the priestly race. Dean Plumptre quotes one out of the many ancient apocryphal legends current respecting Mary of Nazareth, deeming it worthy of mention as having left its impress on Christian art. "The name of the virgin's mother was Anne. Mary surpassed the maidens of her own age in wisdom. There were many who early sought her in marriage. The suitors agreed to decide their claims by laying their rods before the holy place, and seeing which budded. It was thus that Joseph became betrothed to her." The same scholar adds, "The absence of any mention of her parents in the Gospels suggests the thought that she was an orphan, and the whole narrative of the nativity presupposes poverty! The name Mary is the same as Miriam or Marah." (On the question of the genealogy recorded by St. Luke, see note on Luke 3:1-38. 23.)

Luke 1:28

Hail, thou that art highly favored. The plena gratia of the Vulgate, said and sung so often in the virgin's famous hymn, is an inaccurate rendering. Rather, "gratia cumulata," as it has been well rendered. "Having been much graced (by God)" is the literal translation of the Greek word. Blessed art thou among women. These words must be struck out; they do not exist in the older authorities.

Luke 1:29

She was troubled; more accurately, she was greatly troubled. Different to Zacharias, who evidently doubted in the mission of the angel, and who required some sign before he could believe, Mary simply wondered at the strangeness of what was about to happen. Her terror at the sudden appearance of the angel, who probably appearedto her as a young man clad in garments of a strange dazzling whiteness, is most natural.

Luke 1:31

JESUS; the ordinary Greek form, the well-known Hebrew Jehoshua, the shortened Joshua, "The Salvation of Jehovah."

Luke 1:32

The Son of the Highest. It is singular that this title, given by the angel to the yet unborn child, was the one given to the Redeemer by the evil spirit in the case of the poor possessed. Is this the title, or one of the titles, by which our Master is known in that greater world beyond our knowledge? The throne of his father David; clearly indicating that Mary herself was of royal lineage, although this is nowhere definitely stated (see Psalms 132:1-18 : 11). These words of the angel are as yet unfulfilled. They clearly speak of a restoration of Israel, still, as far as we can see, very distant. Nearly nineteen centuries have passed since Gabriel spoke of a restored throne of David, of a kingdom in Jacob to which should come no end. The people, through all the changing fortune of empires, have been indeed strangely kept distinct and separate, ready for the mighty change; but the eventful hour still tarries. It has been well observed how St. Luke's report of the angel's words here could never have been a forgery—as one school of critics asserts—of the second century. Would any writer in the second century, after the failure of Jesus among the Jews was well known, when the fall of Jerusalem had already taken place, have made an angel prophesy what is expressed here?

Luke 1:35

The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. Again the angel makes use of the term "Highest" when alluding to the eternal Father. The expression of Gabriel, "the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee," reminds us of the opening words of Genesis, where the writer describes the dawn of life in creation in the words, "The Spirit of God moved [or, 'brooded'] over the face of the deep." "The Word was conceived in the womb of a woman, not after the manner of men, but by the singular, powerful, invisible, immediate operation of the Holy Ghost, whereby a virgin was, beyond the law of nature, enabled to conceive, and that which was conceived in her was originally and cmnpletcly sanctified" (art. 3., Bishop Pearson on the Creed).

Luke 1:38

Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. "God's message," writes Godet, "by the mouth of the angel was not a command. The part Mary had to fulfill made no demands on her. It only remained, therefore, for Mary to consent to the consequences of the Divine offer. She gives this consent in a word at once simple and sublime, which involved the most extraordinary act of faith that a woman ever consented to accomplish. Mary accepts the sacrifice of that which is dearer to a young maiden than her very life, and thereby becomes pre-eminently the heroine of Israel, the ideal daughter of Zion." Nor was the immediate trouble and sorrow which she foresaw would soon compass her round by any means the whole burden which submission to the angel's message would bring upon the shrinking Nazareth maiden. The lot proposed to her would bring probably in its wake unknown sufferings as well as untold blessedness. We may with all reverence think Mary already feeling the first piercings in her heart of that sharp sword which was one day to wound so deeply the mother of sorrows; yet in spite of all this, in full view of the present woe, which submission to the Divine will would forthwith bring upon her, with an unknown future of sorrow in the background, Mary submitted herself of her own free will to what she felt was the will and wish of her God.

Luke 1:39

Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste. Between the annunciation and this journey of Mary to visit her cousin Elisabeth, we must interpose the events narrated in St. Matthew's Gospel, viz. the natural suspicion of her betrothed future husband, Joseph. his action in the matter; and then the dream of Joseph, in which her innocence was vindicated. As we believe that St. Luke's story here was derived from Mary's own narrative, we can understand well that these details, related by St. Matthew, were scarcely touched upon, and the mother would hurry on to the real points of interest in that eventful past of hers. The hill country here alluded to is the elevated district of Judah, Benjamin, and Mount Ephraim, in contradistinction to the low maritime plain on the east—the old Philistia. Into a city of Juda. There is no such city known as "Juda." Some have supposed that the text is corrupt here, and that for "Yuda" we should read "Jutta," which, according to Joshua 15:55, was a priestly city in the hill country. There is a rabbinical tradition in the Talmud which places the residence of Zacharias at Hebron. It is very probable that Hebron, the great priestly city, is here signified.

Luke 1:41

Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit—that Spirit of prophecy, so often mentioned in the Old Testament—seizes her, and she salutes her young kinswoman, Mary, as the mother of the coming Messiah.

Luke 1:42

And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women (see 5:24). The words which clothed the thoughts in these ecstatic expressions of intense joy and thankfulness on the part of the two favored women, Mary and Elisabeth, are in great measure drawn from hymn and song contained in the Old Testament Scriptures. The song of Hannah, the hymn of Deborah, many of the psalms, the songs of the Canticles, the more glorious of the prophetic utterances, had been ever familiar to both these true women of the people; and they could find no language so fitting as the words of these loved national songs to express the intense joy, the deep awe and gratitude of their hearts. Think what must have been the feeling of the two—the one finding herself the chosen out of all the thousands of Israel, after so many centuries of weary waiting, to be the mother of the Messiah; the other, long after any reasonable hope of any offspring at all had faded away, to be the mother of Messiah's chosen friend, his herald, and his preacher, the mighty forerunner of the King of whom the prophets had written!

Luke 1:43

And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? But the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:41) raised Elisabeth's thoughts yet higher. Not only did she bless the mother of the coming Messiah, but the Spirit opened her eyes to see who that coming Messiah really was. Very vague indeed was the conception of the coming Messiah in Israel. The truth was, perhaps, revealed, and in rapt moments received by men like Isaiah and Ezekiel; and now and again men like David; Daniel wrote down visions and revelations respecting the Coming One, the true purport of which vision they scarcely grasped. Generally the Messianic idea among the people pictured a hero greater than Saul, a conqueror more successful than David, a sovereign more magnificent than Solomon. They pictured ever the glorious arm sustaining the coming Hero-King; but few, if any, dreamed of the "glorious arm" belonging to their future Deliverer. But here the Spirit in a moment revealed to the happy wife of the priest Zacharias that the Babe to be born of her young kinswoman was not only the promised Messiah, but was the awful Son of the Highest! Think, reader, what these simple words we are considering signify! Why am I so favored "that the mother of my Lord should come to me"? "The contrast leaves no room for doubt," well argues Dean Plumptre, "that she used the word 'Lord' in its highest sense. 'Great' as her own son was to be (verse 15) in the sight of the Lord, here was the mother of One yet greater, even of the Lord himself."

Luke 1:46-56

The hymn of Mary, commonly called the Magnificat.

Luke 1:46

And Mary said. There is a great contrast between the behavior of the two women when they met in Elisabeth's house. The elder was full of a new strange ecstatic joy. "She was filled with the Holy Ghost" (Luke 1:42), and spoke her words of lofty congratulation with "a loud voice" (Luke 1:42). Mary, on the other hand, was not conscious evidently, on this occasion, of any special presence of the Holy Spirit. Since the hour of the annunciation and her own meek faithful acceptance of the Lord's purpose, she had been dwelling, so to speak, under the immediate influence of the Spirit of the Lord. Her cousin's inspiration seems to have been momentary and transitory, while hers, during that strange blessed season which immediately preceded the Incarnation, was enduring. Hence the quiet introduction to her hymn, "And Mary said." It is, of course, possible that she had committed the beautiful thoughts to writing; but perhaps, in giving them to Luke or Paul, she needed no parchment scroll, but softly repeated to the chronicler of the Divine story the old song in which she had first told her deep imaginings to Elisabeth, and afterwards often had murmur the same bright words of joy and faith over the holy Babe as he lay in his cradle at Bethlehem, in Egypt, or in Nazareth. The "Virgin's Hymn" for nearly fourteen centuries has been used in the public liturgies of Christendom. We find it first in the ethics of Lauds in the Rule of St. Caesarius of Aries.

Luke 1:46-48

My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. This is the first of the four divisions of the Magnificat. In it she speaks of herself, and her deep feelings of adoration and of holy joy, and of intense glad surprise. It is a prayer, but the highest kind of prayer, for it asks for nothing—it simply breathes adoration and thankfulness. We may imagine the angels praying thus. They have all that created beings, however exalted, can desire in the beatific vision which they perpetually enjoy; and yet they pray continually, but only after this manner. The joy of her spirit, notice, is based on the fact of the revelation that he, God, was, too, her Savior; and, of course, not hers only: her great joy was in the thought of the salvation of the suffering, sinning world around her. Then she passes into simple wonderment that she should have been chosen as the instrument of the boundless goodness of God. She had nothing to recommend her only her low estate. Though royally descended, she only occupied a position among the humblest Hebrew maidens, and yet, owing to God's favor, she will be deemed blessed by countless unborn generations.

Luke 1:49, Luke 1:50

For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his Name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. In this strophe, the second division of the hymn of praise, she glorifies three of the principal Divine attributes—God's power, his holiness, and his mercy. His power or might, alluding to the words of the angel (verse 85), "The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee." Surely in all the records of the Lord's works since the world's creation, his might had been never shown as it was now about to be manifest in her. His holiness had been displayed to her in the way in which the mighty acts of ineffable love had been carried out. His mercy: this attribute of God came home with intense power to the heart of the Jewish girl, into which God's protecting Spirit was shining with so clear a light. She saw something of the great redemption mystery which was then in so strange a way developing itself.

Luke 1:51-53

He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath soattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. From adoration, Mary's hymn proceeds to celebrate the mighty results effected by the Divine pity. As so often in thee prophetic strains, the speaker or writer speaks or writes as though the future had become the past; so Mary here describes the Messianic reversal of man's conception of what is great and little, as though the unborn Babe had already lived and done his strange mighty work in the world. The "glorious arm" which, in old days, had wrought such mighty things for Israel, she recognized as belonging to the coming Deliverer (Luke 1:51). His chosen instruments would be those of whom the world thought little, like herself. The proud and mighty would be put down; the men of low degree, and poor and humble, would be exalted. The hungry would be filled; and they who were rich only in this world's goods would have no share in the new kingdom—they would be sent empty away. How strangely had the virgin of Nazareth caught the thought, almost the very words, of the famous sermon her Divine Son, some thirty years later, preached on the mountain-side near Gennesaret!

Luke 1:54, Luke 1:55

He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. Her hymn dies down into a strain of gratitude for the eternal faithfulness to the cause of the chosen people. Had not God in very truth remembered his ancient promise? From one of their daughters, still speaking of the future as of the past, Messiah had been born—a greater Deliverer, too, than the most sanguine Hebrew patriot had ever dreamed of.

Luke 1:57-80

John, afterwards called the Baptist, the son of Zacharias and Elisabeth, is born. The Benedictus.

Luke 1:58

How the Lord had showed great mercy upon her. No doubt the vision of Zacharias in the temple, and his subsequent dumbness, had excited no little inquiry. That the reproach of Elisabeth should be taken away, no doubt few really believed. The birth of her son, however, set a seal upon the reality of the priest's vision. The rejoicings of her family were due to more than the birth of her boy. The story of the angel's message, coupled with the unnsual birth, set men thinking and asking what then would be the destiny of this child. Could it be that he was the promised Messiah?

Luke 1:59

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. This was always, among the Hebrew people, a solemn day of rejoicing; it resembled in some particulars our baptismal gatherings. Relatives were invited to be present, as witnesses that the child had been formally incorporated into the covenant. It was, too, the time when the name which the newly born was to bear through life was given him.

Luke 1:60

Not so; but he shall be called John. It is clear (from verse 62) that the old priest was afflicted with deafness as well as with dumbness. At the naming ceremony, the stricken Zacharias, who was patiently awaiting the hour when his God should restore to him his lost powers, made no effort to express his will. He had already in the past months, no doubt, written down for Elisabeth the name of the boy that was to be born. She interrupts the ceremony with her wishes. The guests are surprised, and make signs to the father. He at once writes on his tablets, "His name is John." The name had been already given. The word "John" signifies "the grace of Jehovah."

Luke 1:63

A writing-table; better, a writing-tablet. The tablets in use generally at the time were usually made of wood, covered with a thin coating of wax; on the soft layer of wax the words were written with an iron stylus.

Luke 1:64

And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. This, the first hour of his recovered power, was without doubt the occasion of his giving utterance to the inspired hymn (the Benedictus) which is recorded at length a few verses further on (Luke 1:68-79). It. was the outcome, no doubt, of his silent communing with the Spirit during the long months of his affliction.

Luke 1:65

And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. The inspired utterance of the old priest, so long dumb, in his beautiful hymn of praise, completed as it were the strange cycle of strange events which had happened in the priestly family.

Luke 1:66

And the hand of the Lord was with him. This kind of pause in the history is one of the peculiarities of St. Luke's style. We meet with it several times in the gospel story and in the history of the Acts. They are vivid pictures in a few words of what happened to an individual, to a family, or to a cause, during often a long. course of years. Here the story of the childhood of the great pioneer of Christ is briefly sketched out; in it all, and through it all, there was one guiding hand—the Lord's. The expression, "hand of the Lord," was peculiarly a Hebrew thought—one of the vivid anthropomorphic idioms which, as has been aptly remarked, they could use more boldly than other nations, because they had clearer thoughts of God as not made after the similitude of men (Deuteronomy 4:12). Maimonides, the great Jewish writer of the twelfth century, in his 'Yad Hachazakah,' says, "And there was under his feet (Exodus 24:10); written with the finger of God (Exodus 31:18); the hand of the Lord (Exodus 9:3); the eyes of the Lord (Deuteronomy 11:12); the ears of the Lord (Numbers 11:18). All these are used with reference to the intellectual capacity of the sons of men, who can comprehend only corporeal beings; so that the Law spoke in the language of the sons of men, and all these are expressions merely, just as, If I whet my glittering sword (Deuteronomy 32:41); for has he, then, a sword? or does he slay with a sword? Certainly not: this is only a figure; and thus all are figures" ('Yad,' Acts 1:8).

Luke 1:67

His father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying. The inspired hymn which follows—thought out, no doubt, with the Holy Spirit's help in the course of the long enforced seclusion which his first want of faith had brought upon him—holds a prominent place in all Western liturgics. Like the Magnificat, it is believed to have been first introduced into the public worship of the Church about the middle of the sixth century by St. Csesarius of Aries. It may be briefly summarized as a thanksgiving for the arrival of the times of Messiah.

Luke 1:68, Luke 1:69

He hath visited and redeemed,… and hath raised up. The tenses of the verbs used in these expressions show that in Zacharias's mind, when he uttered the words of his hymn, the Incarnation, and the glorious deliverance commenced in that stupendous act of mercy, belonged to the past. He hath visited; that is, after some four hundred years of silence and absence, the Holy One of Israel had again come to his people. About four centuries had passed since the voice of Malachi, the last of the prophets, had been heard. An horn of salvation. A metaphor not unknown in classical writings (see Ovid, 'Art. Am.,' 1.239; Her., 'Od.,' 3. 21. 18), and a much-used figure in Hebrew literature (see, among other passages, Ezekiel 29:2; Lamentations 2:3; Psalms 132:17; 1 Samuel 2:10). The reference is not to the horns of the altar, on which criminals seeking sanctuary used to lay hold; nor to the horns with which warriors used to adorn their helmets; but to the horns of a bull—in which the chief power of this animal resides. This was a figure especially familiar among an agricultural folk like the Israelites. "A rabbinic writer says that there are ten horns—those of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the horn of the Law, of the priesthood, of the temple, and of Israel, and some add of the Messiah. They were all placed on the heads of the Israelites till they sinned, and then they were cut off' and given to the Gentiles" (Schottgen, 'Hor. Hebr.,' quoted by Dr. Farrar). In the house of his servant David. Clearly Zacharias looked on Mary, as the angel had done (verse 32), as belonging to the royal house of David.

Luke 1:70

By the mouth of his holy prophets. Zacharias looked on all that was then happening as clearly foretold in those sacred prophetic writings preserved in the nation with so much care and reverence. Which have been since the world began. He considered Messianic prophecy as dating from the first intimation after the fall in Eden (Genesis 3:15), and continuing in an intermittent but yet unbroken line from Genesis to Malachi.

Luke 1:71

That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us. When Zacharias spoke these words, his mind, no doubt, was on Rome and its creatures, Herod and his party, whom Rome had set up. The deliverance of Israel, in every Hebrew heart, was the first and great work of the coming Deliverer; but the inspired words had a far broader reference than to Rome, and the enemies of Israelitic prosperity. The expression includes those spiritual evil agencies which war their ceaseless warfare against the soul of man. It was from these that the coming Deliverer would free his people. It was only after the fall of Jerusalem, and the total extinction of the national existence of the people, that, to use Dean Plumptre's language, "what was transitory in the hymn vanished, and the words gained the brighter permanent sense which they have had for centuries in the worship of the Church of Christ."

Luke 1:74, Luke 1:75

Might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. What Zacharias looked on to was a glorious theocracy based upon national holiness. Israel, freed from foreign oppression and internal dissensions, would serve God with a worship at once uninterrupted and undefiled.

Luke 1:76

And thou, child; literally, little child. Here the father breaks forth into an expression of gladness at the thought of the great part his baby-son was to bear in this great national deliverance. His son, too—oh, joy undreamed of!—is to be ranked among the glorious company of the prophets of the Highest.

Luke 1:77

To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins. Zacharias goes on to celebrate the splendid part his son was to play in the great Messianic drama, lie was to be Messiah's pioneer in order to give men the true information respecting the Deliverer's work. Israel was mistaken altogether in its conception of the salvation which they really-needed. Godet puts it with great force. "Why," he asks, "was the ministry of the Messiah preceded by that of another Divine messenger? Because the very notion of salvation was falsified in Israel, and had to be corrected before salvation could be realized. A carnal and malignant patriotism had taken possession of the people and their rulers, and the idea of a political deliverance had been substituted for that of a moral salvation. There was need, then, of another person, divinely authorized, to remind the people that perdition consisted not in subjection to the Romans, but in Divine condemnation; and that salvation, therefore, was not temporal emancipation, but forgiveness of sins."

Luke 1:78

Through the tender mercy of our God. And, goes on Zacharias in his noble hymn, all this tender care for Israel (but really for mankind, though perhaps the speaker of the hymn scarcely guessed it) is owing to the deep love of God. Whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us. The beautiful imagery here is derived from the magnificence of an Eastern sunrise. In his temple service at Jerusalem the priest must have seen the ruddy dawn rise grandly over the dark chain of the distant mountains, and lighting up with a blaze of golden glory the everlasting hills as they stood round about Jerusalem. The thought which pictured the advent of Messiah as a sunrise was a favorite one with the prophets. We see it in such prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi as, "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold … Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of the; rising" (Isaiah 60:1-3). "Unto you that fear my Name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings" (Malachi 4:2).

Luke 1:79

To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. It would seem that for a moment the Hebrew priest saw beyond the narrow horizon of Israel, and that here, in the close of his glorious song, he caught sight of the distant far-reaching isles of the Gentiles, over which so deep a darkness brooded for ages.

Luke 1:80

And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit. We have here another of St. Luke's solemn pauses in his narrative—one of those little passages in which, in a few words, he sets before us a picture clear and vivid of the events of long years. "The description," writes Dr. Farrar, "resembles that of the childhood of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:26) and of our Lord (Luke 2:40-52). Nothing, however, is said of 'favor with men.' In the case of the Baptist, as of others, 'the boy was father to the man;' and he probably showed from the first that rugged sternness which is wholly unlike the winning grace of the child Christ. 'The Baptist was no lamb of God. He was a wrestler with life, one to whom peace does not come easily, but only after a long struggle. His restlessness had driven him into the desert, where he had contended for years with thoughts he could not master, and from whence he uttered his startling alarms to the nation. He was among the dogs rather than among the lambs of the Shepherd' ('Ecce Homo')." And was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel. "The deserts" here alluded to were that desolate waste country south of Jericho and along the shores of the Dead Sea. We know nothing of the details of the life of the boy, the wonderful circumstances of whose birth are related so circumstantially in this opening chapter of St. Luke's Gospel. Mary, whose "memories," we believe, are recounted almost in her own words, was herself a witness of some of the circumstances narrated; from her friend and cousin Elisabeth she doubtless received the true history of the rest. But Zacharias and Elisabeth, we know, were aged persons when John was born. They probably lived only a short time after his birth. Hence his solitary desert life. Of it we know nothing. In those wild regions at that time dwelt many grave ascetics and hermit teachers, like the Pharisee Banus, the matter of Josephus. From some of these the orphan boy probably received his training. It is clear, from such passages as John 1:31-33 and John 3:2, that some direct communication from the Highest put an end to the ascetic desert life and study. Some theophany, perhaps, like the appearance of the burning bush which called Moses to his great post, summoned the pioneer of Christ to his dangerous and difficult work. But we possess no account of what took place on this occasion when God spoke to his servant John, the evangelist simply recording the fact, "The word of God came unto the son of Zacharias in the wilderness" (John 3:2).


Luke 1:1-4

Preface to the Gospel.


I. THE AUTHOR'S APOLOGY. How conspicuous in it are the elements of candor, simplicity, and earnestness! The first authorities as to the things related were "the eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word." He is careful to intimate that he is not one of them; not an apostle; not even one of the seventy, as some have supposed he was. The position which he assumes is simply this: Many had taken in hand to draw up "a narrative concerning those matters which had been fulfilled among them;" and he too felt constrained to place on record all the information which he possessed. And his claim to be heard is the painstaking which he has brought to the task, the desire to trace the course of the wonderful history with perfect accuracy. Can we fail to note the absence of all self-assertion? Pretentiousness of all kinds is abhorrent to the mind which is "of the truth." Especially when it contemplates the "holy glory" of Jesus, it is like the friend of the bridegroom, who rejoices greatly to hear, not his own, but the bridegroom's voice.

II. THE AUTHOR'S AIM. It is to give the sequence of events "accurately from the first." He had enjoyed exceptional advantages, on account of which he was able to relate the things connected with "the beginning" of the life of Christ. And his purpose is to unfold that life in the completeness and beauty of its development. Now, is not this the work of the Christian teacher still? Christianity is Christ. It is not a mere system of doctrines to be believed and of duties to be done; the root and strength of all doctrines and of all duties is the Person of Jesus. And the noblest function of the "minister of the Word" is to show the eternal life which was with the Father, and is manifested in the Son, who for us was incarnate.

III. THE DESIGNATION OF THE ONE WHOM THE AUTHOR ADDRESSES. "Most excellent Theophilus." Probably he had in view a man bearing this name—a man of high station or rank. The superlative employed is the same as that applied in the Book of the Acts to the Roman procurator, and once by Paul himself, when he replied, "I am not mad, most noble Felix." This Theophilus, therefore, may have been distinguished by position. "Not many mighty, not many noble, are called," but some mighty and noble are; and he may have been drawn through the teaching of St. Paul, and may have wished a full account of those things in which he had been catechized. But be this as it may, note the meaning of the name. "To thee, O lover of God, O soul, teachable, humble, desirous to find in Jesus the Way to the Father; to thee, O hungerer and thirster after righteousness, seeking with pure heart God's gift of the living water; to thee, O man, O woman, who knowest thyself to be the sinner who needs salvation, and wouldst see the Savior who receives sinners and eats with them; to thee, O Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile, this declaration of the gospel of the grace of God is sent! May he who opened the heart of Lydia open thine heart; and through the demonstration of the Spirit, making effectual the exposition of the message, mayest thou have that witness in thyself which is 'the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed!"

Luke 1:5-23

Zacharias and his vision.

Notice some features in the sketch that is given of the priest and of that which happened at the altar of incense.

I. IT IS A PICTURE OF THE SOUL WAITING FOR GOD. That waiting which is emphasized in the Old Testament Scriptures as one of the essentials of piety. How beautifully are the words—"More than they that watch for the morning, my soul waiteth for the Lord;" "It is good that a man should beth hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord"—illustrated in the life and attitude of Zacharias and Elisabeth! Year on year they had waited in their hillside home, asking the blessing of a son. Apparently the hope had set in heavens that were only brass. But one thing was ever bright and real—their faith in the living God; and they walked in all his commandments and ordinances blameless. "Our wills are ours to make them thine." It is easier to consent to God's will when the demand is to act, than to consent when the demand is simply to wait, to direct our prayer to the Eternal, and look up. One of the lessons which we are slow to learn is, "Walk humbly with thy God."

II. THE PASSAGE BEFORE US REVEALS THE HEARER OF PRAYER. (Luke 1:13.) "Thy prayer is heard." Was this the prayer for the son? Or was it the priestly prayer, offered at the altar and through the incense, for the hope and salvation of Israel? Both, it may be, are included. For it is noteworthy that in the two scriptural instances of intense longing for a son—that of Hannah and that of Zacharias—the blessing to the individual is associated with blessing to the whole Church of God. The prayer of faith has interconnections with the purpose of God far beyond our power to estimate, and the doing is "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." "Thy prayer is heard;" the answer often looks a great way back. Matthew Henry quaintly says, "Prayers are filed in heaven, and are not forgotten though the thing prayed for is not presently given us. The time as well as the thing is in the answer; and God's gift always transcends the measure of the promise."

III. Again, LET THE FORM OF THE ANSWER RETURNED SPEAK TO US OF THE REALITY OF THE SPIRITUAL WORLD. (Verse 19.) "The angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God: and I was sent to speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings." The same presence as that we meet in the Book of Daniel. Gabriel is the angel for the greatly beloved, the angel with the glad tidings; he who afterwards bore the most wonderful of messages to the Hebrew maiden. Our ideas are very confused as to the holy angels. There can be no doubt that the tendency of thought in our day is to narrow the sphere of the supernatural. Formerly, it dominated over thought and action; the influence of spirits and occult spiritual forces was brought in to account for much that is re£erable to laws and powers in nature. Nowadays men are occupied in tracing "natural law in the spiritual world." But who can accept the truth of this first chapter of St. Luke's Gospel and doubt as to the reality of a spiritual universe encompassing the material? And if there be such a universe, why should it seem incredible that spiritual presences should, at sundry times, be declared to men—that Gabriels and Michaels should "at God's bidding speed and post o'er land and ocean without rest;" "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation"? The spiritual mind can have no difficulty as to this. It will recognize in the vision of Zacharias a truth for all. Where there is the praying heart there is "the angel on the right side of the altar of incense."

IV. Finally, THE PUNISHMENT RECORDED IS ONE OF MANY WARNINGS IN SCRIPTURE AGAINST THE UNBELIEF WHICH WOULD LIMIT THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL. "How can these things be?" "Whereby I shall know this?" are questions ever rising in the heart. The good priest had waited long. When expectation failed, he bowed his head to God's will. No doubt, one to another, he and his wife, now "well stricken in years," had often recalled the word to Abraham concerning Sarah's laughter, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" But when the trial actually comes, the faith falters. Cannot we understand this? We limp when we should walk and not be weary. "Thou shalt be silent … because thou believedst not." Is not the constant result of unbelief spiritual silence? And the closed heart is followed by the closed lips—"silent … and not able to speak." "Lord, increase our faith."

Luke 1:26-38

The announcement to the Virgin.

Gabriel, "the mighty one of God," or "the man of God," again sent with glad tidings. The work for the great-hearts, for the strongest and best, is the work of preaching the gospel of his grace. The Godsent preacher is he who, like Gabriel, "stands in the presence of God." "He that is now called a prophet was aforetime called a seer." But the true prophet is always a seer. "Sent to a virgin … and the virgin's name was Mary." It is significant that so little is said in Holy Scripture as to this one "blessed among women." Nothing is related as to her birth and parentage, as to her gifts of mind and person; it is not even directly asserted that she belonged to the royal stock of David—that is to be implied only from such a verse as the thirty-second. After the Lord, on the cross, solemnly gave her to the care of the beloved disciple, there is only one allusion to her—an allusion in Acts 1:1-26. There is no reference to her in the Epistles of Paul; none in that of James, certainly nearly related to her; none in those of John, with whom she had lived. St. Luke, speaking of her in connection with the birth, says only, "A virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph." "Blessed," cried a woman one day to Jesus, "is she that bare thee!" He did not deny it; but that there might be no distraction of soul, he added, "Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it." This Mary, or Miriam, is blessed among women. The word of the Lord's angel we need not hesitate to utter', "Hail, thou that art highly favored!" But what is the real beauty of Mary? Is it not that she is in the foremost rank of those on whom the Lord's "yea rather, blessed" rested—that she is pre-eminently the hearer and keeper of the Word of God? The few touches of character which are presented suggest the picture of a rarely lovely nature.

"Faith through the veil of flesh can see

The face of thy Divinity,

My Lord, my God, my Savior."

"This is the doing of the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes."

Luke 1:39-56

The two expectant mothers.

I. THE RETIREMENT. Elisabeth (Luke 1:24) had hidden herself when she knew that the promise of the angel would be fulfilled. Why she did so we are not told, but the language of Luke 1:26 suggests a religious motive. She was filled with gratitude, and she desired, perhaps, a season of holy rest and communion with God. "In silence and solitude," says Thomas a Kempis, "the soul advantageth herself, and learneth the mysteries of Holy Scripture." The same reason may partly have influenced Mary. But, besides this, there is no doubt that she wished to enjoy fellowship with her who alone could share her feeling, and with whom (Luke 1:36) her own prospect of motherhood was so intimately associated. Who can speak of the welcome, the salutations, the conferences, of the two cousins?

"O days of heaven and nights of equal praise,

Serene and peaceful as these heavenly days,

When souls, drawn upward in communion sweet,

Enjoy the stillness of some close retreat,

Discourse, as if released and safe at home,

Of evils past and danger yet to come,

And spread the sacred treasure of the breast

Upon the lap of covenanted rest!"

II. THE SONG OF MARY. Elisabeth, receiving Mary, speaks by the Holy Ghost. Mary had been told of her cousin's condition, but Elisabeth had received no intimation of Mary's. The arrival of the latter is the moment of special revelation. Elisabeth (Luke 1:42) lifts up her voice with a loud cry. The sound of Mary's voice (Luke 1:44) had occasioned the prophetic impulse. She declares the Virgin the mother of her Lord, and in beautiful humility asks, "Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" And, it may be, feeling the contrast between the faith of the Virgin and the unbelief of her husband, she pronounces a blessing on her who had believed. Then, in response from Mary, comes the song which the Christian Church has incorporated into its liturgies, which it has regarded as the opening of that fountain of praise, that wonderful hymnology, which has made glad the city of God. With regard to this hymn—"the Magnificat," as it is usually designated:

1. Compare it with the song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-36). In both there is the same blending of personal gladness with the emotion and experience of the Church; the same losing of self in the sense of an unspeakable loving-kindness; the same boasting in the Lord as he who "fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich empty away." Mary was familiar with this song. Her thought would naturally take shape in utterance charged with its spirit and imagery, even as it represents the purest forms of Hebrew piety. Yet who can fail to see that her utterance is lifted to a higher plane, and is thrilled by a higher inspiration?

2. The song of Mary marks the transition from Old Testament to New Testament praise. The Old Testament is present, not only in the language employed throughout, but also (Luke 1:54, Luke 1:55) in the earnest laying hold of the singular providence of God towards Israel, and the covenant made with Israel's fathers—"with Abraham and his seed for ever." But the germ of the New Testament is manifest in the special thanksgiving (Luke 1:48, Luke 1:49). God the Savior has appeared, and his might is to be declared in the Son because of whose birth all generations shall call her blessed. Thus the two covenants are united in all true Christian praise. The Old Testament is not a thing past; it is completed, and therefore more than ever one possession in Christ. "All the promises of God in him are yea."

"Both theirs and ours thou art,

As we and they are thine;

Kings, prophets, patriarchs, all have part

Along the sacred line."

3. Finally, the song of Mary illustrates Psalms 40:1-8 : whoso waits patiently for the Lord will, like Mary, know that he inclines to and hears the cry of the soul; and a new song will be given to the lips, even praise to our God. The new song of the redeemed soul has its prototype in that which arose, from the hillside dwelling in the uplands of Judah.

Luke 1:59-80

The name-giving, and what followed it.

There is a quiet, gentle beauty in the picture of the home life given in Luke 1:58. The touches of nature in it make us feel our kinship with all the ages. We are told of the flood of congratulations and kind messages which surges towards the happy mother; how the cousins of the priestly families in and around Hebron, and the neighbors scattered over that part of northern Judea, hastened to express their gladness to Zacharias and Elisabeth. The birth of a son of the old age is the talk of the whole country-side. Our attention is more particularly drawn to the ceremonial connected with the circumcision. Observe—

I. THE IMPORTANCE ATTACHED TO THE NAME IN THE BIBLE. Both in his word to Zacharias and his annunciation to the Virgin the angel is explicit as to the name. So, backwards in all the Hebrew records, the name is regarded as full of significance—e.g. Cain, Abel, Seth, Noah. Changes in character and destiny are marked by changes of name—e.g. Abram changed into Abraham; Jacob into Israel; Oshea into Jehoshua; Saul into Paul. The force of the names given to individuals should always be noticed—e.g. Isaac, Ishmael, Jehoshaphat. It is a sign of the deep religious feeling of the Hebrew nation that, in the name, there is so often a part of the ever-adorable name of God—e.g. Elijah, Elisha, Jehoshua. The name is the witness for personal responsibility and personal immortality, a reminder that each of us stands fully out, and alone, before God; that he deals with us separately. Moreover, as the Roman no less than the Hebrew understood, there is a capacity of acting on the imagination and, through the imagination, on the will, in the name. Note, with regard to the name, an interesting conjunction between Christian and Jewish habits. It was the Jewish custom to declare the name on the day of circumcision; it is a Christian custom to declare the name on the day of baptism. As the Hebrew word was the covenant name—that by which the child was to be recognized and individualized in midst of the covenant people—so, theoretically, the name which the parent bestows (not the surname) is that by which the child is individualized in the blood-bought Church of Christ.

II. THE DEPARTURE FROM "USE AND WONT" AT THE CIRCUMCISION OF ZACHARIAS'S BABE. A practice which had its root in a healthy instinct had come to be an accepted institution—the naming of the child after one of" the kindred." What should be the name of the babe? Surely that of the honored father. "Not so," interposes the mother, who had been instructed by her husband, now dumb and deaf; "he shall be called John." "John? No relative is called by this name! What shall the father decide?" Then, to the amazement of all, the writing on the slate, "His name is John." It was the angel name; it was the Divine name. Note: God the Father in heaven has his special name-giving (see Revelation 2:17). Blessed—oh, how blessed!—to have this name—the name written in the Lamb's book of life, in which there is recorded "all that goes on in the depths of the heart between the inmost self and God"!

III. HOW THE PRIEST BECOMES THE PROPHET. The word is no sooner written than the mouth which for months had been closed is opened, and the long pent-up tides of feeling burst forth. When God brings back the soul's captivity, the soul's lost capacities are found. The tongue is loosed which unbelief always ties—tongue and ear as well. "Mine ears hast thou opened; then said I, Lo, I come;" "When I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth;" "We believe, and therefore speak." It is a song of exalted praise, in some of its features resembling Mary's, which flows from the opened lips. See how, towards the end, borne along by the ever-rising inspirations of the Spirit, the song swells into a grand missionary hymn. The Dayspring from on high, that shall visit Israel, will pour a light into the darkness that enwraps the earth, giving light to all that sit in it and in the shadow of death, and guiding their feet into the way of peace. Thus the father prophesied that the child should go before the face of the Lord.

IV. WHAT IS SAID AS TO THE CHILD WHOSE BIRTH AND MISSION HAVE BEEN THUS CELEBRATED. Is not the question discussed in the hill-country (verse 66) one suggested by a birth, by looking at the tiny infant? How wonderful a birth is! What shall be the manner, type of mind, life-story, of the child? A being begun! A journey on and on for ever; but whither? O child!

"God fill thee with his heavenly light

To steer thy Christian course aright;

Make thee a tree of blessed root,

That ever bends with heavenly fruit."

"The child grew, and waxed strong in spirit." Blessed growth! High-spirited in the better sense of the word—the human guided by the Divine! The home far from the world, in the breezy uplands, where he could meditate in the Law of the Lord day and night, and realize the preparation for the work of the prophet of the Highest! Here we leave him for a little. For another Child has been born—he who is called "Wonderful, Counselor."


Luke 1:1-4

Certainties concerning Christ.

There are many things in connection with the gospel of Christ about which there is difference of view and some measure of uncertainty. But it is "those things which are most surely believed" that constitute the rock on which we rest, on which we build our hopes. We cannot live spiritually on uncertainties; they may serve the purpose of speculation or discussion, but they do not bring peace to the soul; they do not minister to life. We may thank God most heartily that there are some certainties concerning Jesus Christ, on which we can construct our life as it now is, and on which we can rely for that which is to come. There is no doubt at all respecting—

I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF OUR LORD'S CAREER. We have the testimony of "eyewitnesses," of men who could not have been mistaken, and who gave the very strongest assurances that they were not deceiving and misleading; we therefore know what were the scenes through which Jesus passed, what were the particulars of his life. We know:

1. His character—how pure, how perfect, it was.

2. His thoughts—how profound, how practical, how original, they were.

3. His works—how mighty and how beneficent they were.

4. His sufferings and sorrows—with what sublime patience they were endured.

5. His death—under what awful solemnities it was undergone.

6. The great and supreme fact of his resurrection. Of all these things we are thoroughly assured.

II. THE OFFER HE MAKES OF HIMSELF AS OUR DIVINE REDEEMER. It is perfectly clear that Jesus Christ regarded himself as One that was here on the highest mission, as One that was very far removed above ordinary manhood. He felt that he stood in a relation to the human race that was not only unusual, but unique. Otherwise he could not have spoken of "giving his flesh for the life of the world," of being "the Light of the world," of "drawing all men unto him;" he could not have invited all heavyladen souls to come to him that they might find rest in him. It is abundantly clear that Jesus Christ offered himself, and still offers himself:

1. As the Divine Teacher, at whose feet we may all sit and learn the living truth of God.

2. As the Divine Savior, in whom we may all trust for the forgiveness of our sins and our reconciliation to God.

3. As the Divine Friend, to whom we may trust our heart, and in whom we may find a Refuge.

4. As the Divine Lord, who claims the obedience and service of our lives.

III. THE SUFFICIENCY OF CHRIST FOR ALL THAT HE UNDERTAKES. Can he, of whom his critics spoke so slightingly as "the carpenter's Son," do all this? Is he equal to such offices as these? There is the experience of eighteen centuries to which this appeal may be made. And from the first to the last; from the experience of the little child and of the man in middle life and of extreme old age; from that of health and of sickness; from that of adversity and of prosperity; from that of ignorance and of culture; from that of human souls of every conceivable variety of constitution and of human lives of every,imaginable variety of condition;—the answer is one strong, unhesitating, enthusiastic "Yes!" Many things are disputable, but this is certain; many things are to be discredited, but these are to be "most surely believed;" and on them we do well to build our present heritage and our eternal hope.—C.

Luke 1:5, Luke 1:6

Life in its completeness.

A very beautiful picture, though on a very small canvas, is here painted; it is a picture of domestic piety. As we think of Zacharias and Elisabeth spending their long life together in the service of Jehovah, attached to one another and held in honor by all their kindred and friends, we feel that we have before our eyes a view of human life which has in it all the elements of an excellent completeness.

I. THE DOMESTIC BOND. Here we have conjugal relationship in its true form; established in mutual respect; justified and beautified by mutual affection; made permanently happy by common affinities and common aims; elevated and consecrated by the presence of another and still nobler bond—that of a strong and immovable attachment to God. A human life is quite incomplete without such tender ties of God's own binding, and these ties are immeasurably short of what they were meant to be if they are not enlarged and ennobled by the sanctities of religion.

II. HUMAN AND DIVINE ESTIMATION. These two godly souls enjoyed the favor of their Divine Father and of their human friends and neighbors: "They were both righteous before God," and they were "blameless" in the sight of men. God accepted them, and man approved them. He to whom they were responsible for all they were and did saw in them, as he sees in all his children, the imperfections which belong to our erring and struggling humanity; but he accepted their reverence and their endeavor to please and to obey him, forgiving their shortcomings. And their kindred and their friends recognized in them those who were regulating their life by God's holy will, and they yielded to them their fullest measure of esteem. No human life is complete without the possession of these two things:

To walk in the shadow of conscious estrangement from God, to miss the sweet sunshine of his heavenly favor,—this is to darken our life with a continual curse, this is to bereave ourselves of our purest joy and most desirable heritage. And while some of the very noblest of our race, following thus in the footsteps of the Master himself, have borne, in calm and heroic patience, the obloquy of the ignorant and the malice of the evil-minded, yet it is our duty, and it should be our desire and aspiration, so to walk in rectitude and in kindness that men will bless us in their hearts, will esteem us for our integrity, will hold us in their affection. The man who "wears the white flower of a blameless life" is the man who will be a power for good in the circles in which he moves.

III. SACRED SERVICE. It may be questionable whether any distinction is intended between "ordinances" and "commandments;" but there can be no question at all that both together cover religious observances and moral obligations. The Law which these two faithful souls obeyed enjoined the one as well as the other. And no human life is complete which does not include both these elements of piety.

1. The worship of God, in private prayer, in family devotion, in public exercises, is a serious and important part of a good man's experience.

2. And certainly not less so is the regulating of conduct by the revealed will of God; the walking, day by day, in uprightness and integrity, in sobriety and purity, in truth and in love. Beautifully complete, fashioned in spiritual symmetry, attractive and influential, is that human life which is spent in the home of hallowed love, which is bright with the favor of God and man, and which is crowned with the sovereign excellences of piety and virtue.—C.

Luke 1:13-17

Parental ambition.

"What would we give to our beloved?" asks one of our poets. What would we ask for our children if we might have our hearts' desire? When the young father or mother looks down on the little child, and then looks on to the future, what is the parental hope concerning him? What is that which, if it could only be assured, would give "joy and gladness"? The history of our race, the chronicles of our own time, even the observation of our own eyes, give abundant proof that the child may rise to the highest distinction, may wield great power, may secure large wealth, may enjoy many and varied pleasures, and yet be a source of sorrow and disappointment. On the other hand, these same authorities abundantly prove that if the parent is only true to his convictions and avails himself of the resources that are open to him, there is every reason to expect that his child will be such an one as to yield to him a pride that is not unholy, a joy that nothing can surpass. Not on the same scale, but alter the same manner, every man's child may become what Gabriel told Zacharias his son should be—

1. ONE TAKING HIGH RANK WITH GOD. "Great in the sight of the Lord." By faith in Jesus Christ our child may become a "son of God" in a sense not only true but high (see John 1:12). "And if children, then heirs, heirs of God" (Romans 8:17). Obedience will ensure the friendship of God (see John 14:23; John 15:14). Earnestness will make him a fellow-laborer with God (1 Corinthians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1). The acceptance of all Christian privilege will make him a "king and priest unto God" (Revelation 1:6). Who can compute how much better it is to be thus "great in the sight of the Lord" than to be honored and even idolized by men?

II. ONE IN WHOM GOD HIMSELF DWELLS. "He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost." God desires to dwell with and in every one of his human children; and if there be purity of heart and prayerfulness of spirit, he will dwell in them continually (Luke 11:13; John 14:17; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Revelation 3:20).

III. ONE THAT IS MASTER OF HIMSELF. "He shall drink neither wine," etc. By right example and wise discipline any man's child may be trained to control his own appetites, to regulate his tastes, to form temperate and pure habits, to wield the worthiest of all scepters—mastery of himself.

IV. ONE IN WHOM THE BEST AND NOBLEST LIVES AGAIN. "He shall go in the spirit and power of Elijah." In John the Baptist there lived again the great Prophet Elijah—a man of self-denying habit; of dauntless courage, that feared the face of no man, and that rebuked kings without flinching; of strong and scathing utterance; of devoted and heroic life. In any one of our children there may live again that One who "in all things in which John was great and noble, was greater and nobler than he." In the little child who is trained in the truth and led into the love of Christ there may dwell the mind and spirit of the Son of God himself (Romans 8:9; Philippians 2:5).

V. ONE THAT LIVES A LIFE OF HOLY USEFULNESS. What nobler ambition can we cherish for our children than that, in their sphere, they should do as John did in his—spend their life in the service of their kind? Like him, they may:

1. Make many a home holier and happier than it would have been.

2. Prepare the way for others to follow with their higher wisdom and larger influence.

3. Be instrumental in turning disobedient hearts from the way of folly to the path of wisdom.

4. Earn the benediction of" many" whom they have blessed (verse 14).

To ensure all this, there must be:

1. Parental example in righteousness and wisdom.

2. Parental training as well as teaching.

3. Parental intercession.—C.

Luke 1:31-33

The greatness of Jesus Christ.

To Mary, as to Elisabeth, it was foretold by the celestial messenger that her Son should be "great." There can be no doubt that, after all that was then said, Mary expected unusually great things of the Child that should be born of her. But how very far short of the fact her highest hopes have proved to be! For to whatever exalted point they reached, the Jewish maiden could not possibly have attached to the angel's words such meaning as we know them to have contained. The greatness of that promised Child was threefold; it related

I. HIS DIVINE ORIGIN. He was not only to be her offspring, but he should "be called the Son of the Most High." And there was to come upon her and overshadow her the Holy Ghost, the Power of the Most High. He was to be not only a son of God, but the Son of God, related to the Eternal Father as no other of the children of men had ever been or should ever be. He was to be One that would in the fullest sense partake of the Divine nature, be one in thought and in aim and in action with the Father (John 5:19, John 5:23; John 8:28; John 10:30; John 14:10, John 14:11). He was to be "God manifest in the flesh."

II. THE WORK HE SHOULD ACCOMPLISH. "Thou shalt call his name Jesus;" and he was to be so called because he would "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:25). There have been "saviors of society" from whom this poor wounded world might well have prayed to be delivered, men who tried to cover their own hideous selfishness under a fair and striking name. What they have claimed to be, Jesus the Savior was and is. He saves from sin. And to do that is to render us the very greatest conceivable service, both in its negative and positive aspects.

1. Negatively considered. To destroy sin is to take away evil by the root. For sin is not only, in itself, the worst and most shameful of all evils by which we can be afflicted, but it is the one fruitful source of all other evils—poverty, estrangement, strife, weariness and aching of heart, death.

2. Positively considered. Saving from sin means restoring to God; it includes reinstatement in the condition from which sin removed us. Jesus Christ, in the very act in which he redeems us from the penalty and power of sin, restores us to God—to his Divine favor, his likeness, his service. Accepting and abiding in the Savior, we dwell in the sunshine of God's everlasting friendship; we grow up into his perfect image; we spend our days and our powers under his direction. It is not only that Jesus Christ delivers us from the darkest curse; it is that he raises us to the loftiest heritage, by the salvation which he offers to our hearts.

III. THE DIGNITY AND POWER HE SHOULD ATTAIN. He was to reign upon a throne, "over the house of Jacob for ever;" and "of his kingdom there should be no end." Great and large as Mary's expectations for her promised Child may have very justly been, they can have been nothing to the fulfillment of the angel's words. For the kingdom of Christ. (as it is or as it shall be) is one that surpasses in every way that of the greatest Hebrew sovereign. It does so:

1. In its main characteristics. It is spiritual. The only homage which is acceptable to its King is the homage of the heart, the only tribute the tribute of affection, the only obedience the obedience of love. It is beneficent. Every subject in this realm is sacredly bound to seek his brother's wellbeing rather than his own. It is righteous. Every citizen, because he is such, is pledged to depart from all iniquity, to pursue and practice all righteousness.

2. In its extent. It has "no end" in its spacial dimensions. No river bounds it; no mountain, no sea; it reaches the whole world round.

3. In its duration. He shall reign "for ever;" his rule will go down to remotest times; it will touch and include the last generation that shall dwell upon the earth. Let us rejoice in his greatness; but let us see to it that

Luke 1:46-48

The voice of praise.

This "improvisation of a happy faith" is not more musical to the ear than it is beautiful to our spiritual discernment. It presents to us the mother of our Lord in a most pleasing light. We will look at these words of devout gratitude as—

I. MARY'S RESPONSE to God's distinguishing goodness to her. She received from God a kindness that was:

1. Necessarily unique. Only to one of the daughters of men could be granted the peculiar honor conferred on her. We are naturally and properly affected by mercies which speak of God's distinguishing goodness to us.

2. Fitted to fill her heart with abounding joy. She was to become a mother, and the mother of One who should render to his people services of surpassing value; no wonder that her "spirit rejoiced" in such a prospect.

3. Calculated to call forth all that was highest and worthiest in her nature. She would have to cherish and to rear, to teach and to train, that illustrious Son who should call her "mother."

4. Certain to confer, upon her, an honorable immortality. All generations would call her blessed.

5. Rendered to one who could not have expected it. God had stooped low to bless, even to the low estate of "his bondmaiden." And, impressed with this wonderful and unanticipated goodness, she poured forth her gladness in a song of holy gratitude, of lofty praise. Such should be—

II. OUR APPRECIATION of God's abounding kindness to ourselves.

1. The indebtedness under which our heavenly Father has laid us. It is, indeed, as different as possible from that which inspired this sacred lyric. Yet may we most reverently and most becomingly take the words of Mary into our lips—both the utterance of felt obligation and the language of praise. For:

2. The response we should make to our Father.

Luke 1:49-55

God revealed in Jesus Christ.

We see much more in Mary's words than the thoughts which were present to her mind at the time of utterance; for we stand well within that kingdom of God of which she stood on the threshold. To the holy confidence she entertained in God's goodness to all Israel, and especially to herself up to that hour, there was added a reverent wonder as to this new manifestation of Divine mercy. So she sang of the power and the holiness, the mercy and the faithfulness, of Jehovah. Through bitterest experiences (Luke 2:35) she passed into the light of truth and the rest of God, and now she sees how much greater occasion she had than she knew at the moment to sing in such strains of the character of God. We look at these Divine attributes as expressed in the coming of the Savior.

I. HIS DIVINE POWER. "He that is mighty hath done … great things" (Luke 1:49); "He hath showed strength with his arm" (Luke 1:51). God's power is very gloriously manifested in the formation and furniture of this earthly home, in the creation of successive generations of mankind, in the providential government of the world, including the mastery of all physical forces and the control of all human energies; but by far the most wonderful exhibition of Divine power is in the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. To exert a transforming power on one intelligent, free, disloyal spirit; to conquer a rebellious, to win an estranged, soul; to raise a fallen nature, and uplift it to a height of holy excellence; to make that which had lowered itself to the basest fit for the society of the holiest in heaven; to do this not in one individual case but in the case of "ten thousand times ten thousand;" to introduce a power which can elevate an,t ennoble families, communities, nations; which is changing the character and condition of the entire race;—this is "the power of God," this is the doing of him "that is mighty."

II. HIS DIVINE HOLINESS. "Holy is his Name" (Luke 1:49); "He hath scattered the proud," etc. (Luke 1:51, Luke 1:52). God's holiness is shown in his providential interpositions, in his humbling the haughty, in his scattering the cruel and the profane, in his raising the lowly and the pure and the true. Thus he has been revealing his righteousness in every nation and in every age. But nowhere does his holiness appear as it is seen in

III. HIS DIVINE MERCY. (Luke 1:50.) Many are the testimonies borne by Old Testament saints to the pity, the patience, the mercy, of the Lord. But in Jesus Christ—in his spirit, in his example, and more particularly in his redeeming death and work—is the manifestation of the grace of God. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." In the gospel of Christ the pity, the patience, the magnanimity, of God rise to their fullest height, reach to their noblest breadth.

IV. HIS DIVINE FAITHFULNESS. (Luke 1:53-55.) God, who made us for himself and for truth and righteousness, who has made our hearts to hunger for the highest good, does not leave us to pine and perish; he fills us with the "rich provision" of his truth and grace in Jesus Christ. "As he spake unto our fathers," so he has done, granting not only such a One as they hoped for, but One that has been to the whole race of man a glorious Redeemer, in whom all nations are blessed with a blessing immeasurably transcending the most sanguine hopes of his ancient people.

1. Let our souls be so filled with the greatness and the goodness of God as thus revealed, that we shall break forth into grateful song, magnifying his Name.

2. Let us return at once to him, if we yet remain at a distance from him; for we have no right to hope, and no reason to expect, that he will ever manifest himself to us in more attractive features than as we see him in the Son that was born of the lowly Virgin.—C.

Luke 1:58, Luke 1:66, Luke 1:67

Joy and awe at a human birth.

When John was born his mother's heart was filled with great joy, and her neighbors rejoiced with her. And when the little child, a week old, was introduced into the Jewish commonwealth, a feeling of awe filled the hearts of those present, and there was much wonderment concerning him. "Fear came on them all," and every one was asking, "What manner of child shall this be?" No doubt the exceptional character of the circumstances attending his birth and his circumcision accounted for the joy and also for the fear; but apart from all that was unusual, there was reason enough ibr both sentiments to be felt and shown. At any ordinary human birth there is—

I. OCCASION FOR HOPEFULNESS AND GLADNESS OF HEART. "The mother remembereth no more her anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world," said our Lord (John 16:21). And why rejoice on this occasion? Because of:

1. The love which the little child will cherish. Not, indeed, to be manifested in its very earliest days, but to be felt and shown before long—the beautiful, clinging, whole-hearted love of childhood; a love which it is fair to see and most precious to receive.

2. The love which the little child will call forth—the love which is parental, fraternal; the love of those who serve as well as that of kindred and friends,—this, too, is one of the most goodly sights on which the eye of purity and wisdom rests; it is one of the sweetest and most wholesome ingredients in the cup of earthly good.

3. The discipline which the coming of the child will involve. All parents have an invaluable privilege, from which they ought to derive the greatest benefit. They may be so slow to learn, so unimpressionable, so obdurate, that they are none the wiser or better for their parentage; and in that case they will be something or even much the worse. But if the "little child" does not "lead" us, it is our own fault and folly. The child's dependency on his parent, trustfulness in his parent, obedience to his parent,—do these not speak eloquently of our dependence upon, our trustfulness in, our obedience to our heavenly Father? The love we feel for our little child, the care we take of him, the profound regret we should feel if he went astray, the sacrifice we are ready to make for his recovery,—does not all this summon us, with touching and even thrilling voice, to realize the love God has for us his human children, the care he has taken of us day and night through all our years, the profound Divine regret with which he has seen us go astray from himself, the wonderful sacrifice he made for us when he spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all, in order to restore us to himself and reinstate us in our heritage? And the labor we are necessitated to bestow, the patience to exercise, and the self-denial and sacrifice to show,—these are essential factors in the forming of our character. We should not choose them, but we may well be most thankful for them.

4. The excellency to which he may attain; it may be that

Who can tell what lies latent in that helpless infant? what sources of power and blessing are in that little cradle?

II. OCCASION FOR REVERENT AWE. It may well be that "fear" comes on all those who hold their own children in their arms. For they who are entrusted with a little child receive therewith a most grave responsibility. It is true that nothing can remove the accountableness of each soul to its Creator for what it has become; but it is also true that parents are very seriously responsible for the character and career of their children. Our children will believe what we teach them, will form the habits in which we train them, will follow the example we set them, will imbibe the spirit which we are breathing in their presence. What shall this child be? That depends on ourselves. If we are only true and wise and kind, our children will almost certainly become what we ourselves are—what we long and pray that they may be. Joy and awe are therefore the two appropriate sentiments at every human birth. When a child is born into the home, there enters that which may be the source of the greatest gladness to the heart; there also enters that which should make life a far more serious and solemn thing.—C.

Luke 1:74, Luke 1:75

The course of the Christian life.

These words of Zacharias will very well indicate the course through which a Christian life passes from its commencement to its close.

I. IT BEGINS IN SPIRITUAL EMANCIPATION. "We being delivered out of the hand of our enemies." In order to "walk in newness of life," we must be rescued from the thraldom of sin. And there is a twofold deliverance that we need. One is from the condemnation of our guilt; for we cannot rest and rejoice in the love of God while we are under a troubled sense of the Divine displeasure, while we feel and know that our "sin has separated between" ourselves and our heavenly Father. The other is from the bondage of evil. So long as we are "held in the cords of our sins," we are helplessly disobedient; it is only when we have learnt to hate sin, and, loathing it, to leave it behind us, that we are free to walk in the path of righteousness. This double emancipation is wrought for us by the Lord whose way the son of Zacharias was to prepare. By faith in him, the great Propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2), we have full and free forgiveness, so that all the guilty past may be removed from our sight; and in the presence of a crucified Redeemer "the flesh and its affections are crucified," we die to our old self and our old iniquities, the tolerance of sin is slain, we hate that which we loved and embraced before, we are "delivered out of the hand of our enemies."

II. IT PROCEEDS ALONG THE PATH OF FILIAL SERVICE. We "serve him without fear." Here are two elements—obedience and happiness. As soon as we unite ourselves to our Lord and Savior, we live to serve. "None of us liveth to himself;" "We thus judge,… that we who live should not live unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us" (2 Corinthians 5:14, 2 Corinthians 5:15). And this is the only true life of man. The animal may live for itself, though even the higher animals live rather for others than for themselves. But all whom we should care to emulate live to serve. It is not the sentence passed, it is the heritage conferred upon us, that in Christ Jesus we live to serve God—to serve him by direct worship and obedience, and also, indirectly, by serving the children of his love and the creatures of his care. And we serve in love; and therefore without fear—without that fear which means bondage; for "perfect love casteth out fear." It is with no hesitating and reluctant step that we walk in the ways of God; it is our joy to do his bidding; we "delight to do his will: yea, his Law is within our heart" (Psalms 40:8). "We have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear;" our spirit is the spirit of happy childhood, which runs to fulfill its Father's word.

III. IT MOVES TOWARDS PERFECT EXCELLENCE OF CHARACTER. "In holiness and righteousness before him." Here are three elements of the Christian life.

1. A holy hatred of evil; leading us to condemn it in ourselves and in others, and prompting us to expel and extirpate it to the utmost of our power.

2. The pursuit and practice of all that is equitable; endeavoring to do and to promote that which is just in all the relations in which we stand to others, or they to one another.

3. Piety; doing every right thing as unto Christ our Lord; living consciously "before him;" so that all our rectitude of heart and excellency of behavior is something more than a habit of life; it is a sacrifice unto our Savior.

IV. IT PERSEVERES EVEN TO THE END. "All our days." There is no break in our course. Our upward and onward path may be undulating, but it is continuous, and is ever making for the summit. We do not retire, or resign, or abdicate, in this noblest work, in this sacred office of being "servant of the Lord," "king and priest unto God." Having loved his own, our Master loved them unto the end (John 13:1); and loving him whom we have not seen, and rejoicing in him with unspeakable joy, we are faithful unto death, and we know that

"To him that overcometh

A crown of life shall be;

He with the King of glory

Shall reign eternally."


Luke 1:79

Christ our Light.

To whom and to what extent the Messiah should "give light" probably Zacharias did not know. He may have limited the blessing, in his mind, to the people of Israel; or, inspired and illumined of God, he may have had a larger and truer outlook. We, at any rate, are unable to confine our thoughts to Jewry; we see in the Sun of Righteousness, in the Dayspring from on high, a celestial luminary "whose going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it, and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof." To us it is "the Light which, coming into the world, enlighteneth every one."