Lesson 3: Birth of Jesus and John the Baptist Foretold
Luke 1: 5-38
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A Blending of the Four Gospel Records. Lesson #3. We would like to begin this lesson in Luke 1:5. It is very important that you keep in mind there are three periods of Bible history. The first period lasted about 2500 years from Adam to Moses. God gave NO written law in that first Bible age, so far as we know. God dealt directly with the heads of families known as Patriarchs. Adam was driven from the garden. Noah was told to build an ark of gopher wood. Abraham was told to get out of his country. God communicated directly with those men.
In the second Bible age, that began with Moses and the Ten Commandments; God dealt with the Jews for about 1500 years through prophets and priests who administered that law. But you and I live in still another Bible age today, known as the Christian age. It is imperative that you remember that the SETTING of these four biographies (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) was near the close of the MOSAIC AGE...i.e. the second Bible age. It is true these books were written after the Christian age had started; but, they record events which took place near the close of the Mosaic age. Jesus lived and died under the Mosaic Age, sometimes called the ten commandment law or old covenant.
For about 400 years no prophets had appeared. Finally, that silence was broken with John the Baptist. John was a prophet like the prophets of old, i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and others. Jesus said in Matt. 11:9 that John was more than a prophet. You will recall that the apostle John said in his prologue (John 1:8) that John the Baptist "was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light." We talked about John's mission in our last lesson. Then that Light, known to us as Jesus Christ came and closed out that second Bible age.
Now, let's read Luke 1:5-12. Get your eyes on the text! Let's read. "There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zachariah, of the course of Abijah: 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 alter of incense. And when Zechariah saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him."
O.K., Matthew, Mark and John began their discussion of John the Baptist AS an adult man, about 30 years of age. But, Luke began with Zechariah and Elisabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. Herod was the king of Judea. This Herod is better known in history as Herod-the-great. This Herod had been the king for more than 30 years when John the Baptist was born. King Herod was a Roman king. He received his authority from the Roman government. Judea (mentioned here) was IN the land of Palestine and that land was under Roman dominance. It is my understanding that Herod was a king over more territory than Judea. However, Zechariah and Elisabeth lived in Judea (we learn this down in v.39-40). They were Jews, i.e. descendants of Abraham. Both were of the priestly tribe, known as the tribe of Levi. They were very righteous, according to v.6. Elderly, but no children. During the 10 commandment age, in which they lived, it was the duty of the priestly tribe to administer the Law of Moses and conduct the worship. Aaron, (Moses1 brother) was made God's first high priest. David divided Aaron's descendants (by lot) into 24 courses or groups (we learn this in I Chronicles, 24 ch.). Each course served at the temple, located in Jerusalem, one week. Did you notice in v.5, Zechariah was of the course of Abijah. It fell his duty (by chance) to burn incense at the temple. The temple proper was divided into two rooms, a large room called the Holy Place and a smaller room called the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place. Incense was burned in the larger room which contained three items of furniture: the candlesticks, the table of shewbread, and an alter (or table) where incense was burned. This is described in Ex. 30:1-6. Incense was burned as part of the worship during the Mosaic period twice a day, once in the morning and again in the evening according to v.7-8 in that chapter. Even the compounding of ingredients used for burning incense is spelled out in that chapter (Ex. ch. 30). This was most honorable duty, but very exacting and meticulous work. Many years before, two sons of Aaron, named: Nadab and Abihu, had died before the Lord because they used strange fire in burning incense. When the priest entered the sanctuary the people would gather outside for silent prayer, sometimes known as the hour of prayer. So, on this occasion the elderly priest Zechariah, dressed in his priestly garb entered into the temple to burn incense. There was a large crowd outside praying. V.10 says a "multitude." A heavy curtain, known as the veil, separated the two rooms of the temple. The alter of incense stood in front of the veil. As Zechariah burned the incense, as undoubtedly he had done many times* before, quietly, deliberately, painstakingly and alone; suddenly, Zechariah discovered an angel standing by him on the right side of the table toward the shewbread. V.12 says Zechariah was troubled. That's probably putting it mildly. That verse also says FEAR fell upon Zechariah. I would have been terrified. This was relieved somewhat as the angel Gabriel began to speak.
Let's read Gabriel's message (v.13-20). Are you ready? "But, the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zechariahs 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 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 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. And Zechariah 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 preformed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season."
O.K. we learn through the angel Gabriel, that Zechariah and Elisabeth had prayed for a son. Gabriel said their prayer was heard and it would be answered. He even told Zechariah what to name this son. Even more than that, Gabriel said this John would be "great in the sight of the Lord." In v, 17, Gabriel said Zechariah's son (John) would go forth in the "spirit and power of Elijah." What does that mean? Elijah was a prophet in the O.T. Does this mean that Elijah was reincarnated in John the Baptist? NOI It doesn't mean that. This was a way of saying there would be great similarity in the zeal and spirit of these two men. Both John and Elijah turned many people to the Lord. Do you remember? Malachi prophesied that God would send "Elijah the prophet" before the coming of the Lord? (Mai. 4:5). That's the very end of the O.T. John was the fulfillment of that prophecy. If I should tell you: you are studying with the spirit of Abraham Lincoln. What would I mean? I trust you get the point. So, we won't take up time here comparing the similarities of John and Elijah. We will touch on it in a future lesson. But, notice here in v.15 that Zechariah's son (John) would be filled with the Holy Ghost, "even from his mother's womb." This is the first time the word "Holy Ghost" has occurred in our study text. And, although the word is capitalized to make it a proper noun, no definition accompanies the term here. Thus, Luke expected his readers to understand this term. You will remember that Luke was writing to Theophilus, who had already "been instructed." (that's v.4 up above). Actually, an understanding of this term requires a thorough study of the whole Bible. Some light will be shed on this I trust before we complete our study of the four gospel records. So, suffice it to be said here that the Holy Ghost is a person. The third person of the Godhead. The Godhead being made up of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. We said before when talking about authorship, the Holy Ghost, did not come in a physical body as Christ did. Yet he is the author of the New Testament, including Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
But, right now, let's get back to v.18. Notice Zechariah's response to the angel, Gabriel. How can this^ be? I'm an old man! My wife (Elisabeth) is well stricken in years! Now, you would think that a priest (of all people) ought to believe an angel, especially in the temple. But, take a lesson here; when we accept something and get it embedded in that grey matter up in our cranium, it's hard (very hard) to shift gears. After all, what this angel said was contrary to what Zechariah (and Elisabeth) had accepted for years. How long had it been since they prayed that prayer? We don't know. But, Zechariah couldn't shift gears and accept this as fast as Abraham did. You see, it was exactly what Zechariah wanted. Yet, he just couldn't believe it. This teaches us to be careful what we pray for; God might give it to us. Look at Zechariah's words in v.18. "Whereby shall I know this?" You see, Zechariah wanted more proof i.e. a sign, a feeling, or some other evidence in advance. Then suddenly, "behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be preformed..." Now notice, the angel expressly says this was: "because thou believest NOT my words." So, Zechariah got his sign, but not in the way he had hoped. There is a great lesson here for us. Observe it and obey it, don't doubt it. Moses at the burning bush complained he couldn't speak well. God helped him out with Aaron. But ultimately, Moses would have been better off speaking for himself. You might notice, it's indicated Zechariah's condition was temporary.
O.K., Let's read v.21-25. Have you got it? "And the people waited for Zechariah, and marveled 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."
Alright, the multitude praying outside the temple were getting impatient. Zechariah couldn't speak when he finally came out of temple. When he finished his week he went home to Elisabeth. And, she soon became pregnant. Fortunately, that doesn't require speaking. Elisabeth must have been very happy. For women to be barren (as v.7 said), must have been much more a reproach (as she called it, v.25) THEN, than now. As I said before, the other three writers (Matthew, Mark and John) DO NOT mention either Zechariah or Elisabeth. We'll get back to the parents of John the Baptist later. But, right now, let's read v.26-38. "And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man named Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her."
O.K. these verses contain a lot of information. And there's a lot of implications here for us. Let's try to review that text quickly, "in the sixth month..." (v.26), has reference to the sixth month of Elisabeth's pregnancy. So, that dates the event relative to the conception of John the Baptist. We have NO WAY of ascertaining the calendar date. In our day, it is generally asserted that Jesus was born on Dec. 25th. If you have been programmed with that kind of thinking, you should ERASE YOUR SLATE CLEAN, here and now. We do not know the month, day or season. It's NOT stated! And, if the Holy Spirit had wanted us to know, he would have included that fact. Thus, some who study the Bible, claim to be smarter than the Bible. That's going beyond the scriptures. Now, if there were other ways of establishing the date; that would be fine. But, frankly, I know of no such material. Now, if you want to estimate, approximate, and relate to other events; we can ascertain with reasonable accuracy' the year; but not the month or the day. Mary lived in Nazareth of Galilee. The country of Galilee was part of Herod-the-great's kingdom. There were three main sections (that concern us). Galilee, where Mary lived, in the city of Nazareth, was on the north. Judea, where Zechariah and Elisabeth lived and where the temple was located was in the southern part. Samaria was in between. Next we learn, Mary was a virgin! We don't know her age. She was NOT married, but she was espoused to be married; i.e. it had already been determined who her husband should be. We would say she was engaged and her fiancé was Joseph. We learn a little about Joseph here; he was a descendant of David, and thus; of the tribe of Judah. But, you want to keep in mind, Luke's account is from Mary's point of view. Matthew on the other hand advanced upon the subject from Joseph's point of view (Matt. 1:18). An angel appeared to both Joseph and Mary, before they were married. Luke records the message conveyed to Mary. Matthew records the message to Joseph. The message to Mary came first. We want to discuss Gabriel's message to Mary in more detail. But right now, our time is out. We'll get back to this in Lesson # 4. Have a good day.