The Beginning of the Gospel of Luke
“For as much as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. THERE was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest name 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 [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 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. 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 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. 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. 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 favoured, 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 favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS [Hebrew version of this is Yeshua, which means “God saves”]. 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.”
The Two Messages of Gabriel
“Seven hundred kids in the school today, and see it filled. Let’s pray. ‘Father, we settle our hearts before you, Lord, some day, soon, we’ll be standing around your throne in your presence, thinking about the times that we had talked about that, Lord, before it happened. Lord, standing on the Sea of Glass, with an innumerable company of angels and saints, and the cherubim around your throne, beholding you as a Lamb that had been slain from the foundation of the world, Lord, with your love, in the midst of the entire creation, your faithfulness. Lord, I pray, this building is just brick and mortar, and it will burn and pass away with this earth, Lord, but the students that we have, Father, Sunday school, during the week, school now, Father, that we might enrich them Father, these young men and women, that they would be on fire for Jesus Christ, with the strength and the commitment to stand alone against the tide of this present world. Lord, we pray for ourselves as we open your Word this evening, as we begin to look at the record that you’ve given us through Luke, Lord, that you’d be working in our hearts, that we would always love Jesus more when we leave than when we came. And Father we pray for those here this evening that may not know you, that are not saved, Father, that all of that would be settled before the evening is over. And Lord, each of us as your children, we’re aware of the sin that so easily besets us, Lord, of our own struggles and weaknesses and frailties. But Lord we are overwhelmed with your faithfulness, and your commitment to carry us through, and to present us faultless before your throne with exceeding joy. Lord what a wonder you are. Be with us as we study Father your Word, we pray in Jesus name, Amen.’
Of the Gospel Writers, Who is Luke?
Luke chapter 1, now those of you who are joining us for the first time with the study in the Gospels, may be wondering why four Gospels. I know, Matthew, Mark and now as we head into Luke, there are many things that are repeated, many of the different scenes and records of the life of Christ. John varies greatly from the first three Gospels, which really give us the Galilean ministry. John focuses on the Judean ministry and some of the personal teachings of Christ that we don’t have in other places. But Luke gives us many things that we don’t have anywhere else. Luke is the one alone who gives us the record of the birth of Christ that we’re all so familiar with, from the Christmas story and the birth of Christ. [And historically, Jesus was born in the fall of the year, around the fall Holy Day season, some time between the Feast of Trumpets through the Feast of Tabernacles, as John was born in the spring, around Passover time. For proof of this from a Messianic Jewish source, see http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/festiavloflights2.htm] Luke from Acts chapter 15 onward includes himself in the narrative. He wrote this Gospel, and he wrote the Book of Acts. Now you know, there’s a controversy over who wrote the Book of Hebrews, besides the Holy Spirit I mean. If Paul wrote the Book of Hebrews, Paul is a major writer used by God in the New Testament---if Paul did not write the Book of Hebrews, then Luke is the other major author in the New Testament, because of the length of the Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke, that would make him writing more than any other writer in the New Testament. So certainly an incredible man, the first medical missionary, those of you who do that are comrades and compatriots in the medical field. Luke was the physician that traveled with Paul. And in the journeys he records in the Book of Acts, from chapter 15 onward, you find the personal pronoun “we” everywhere, “we” did, and “we” sailed to Puteoli, and “we” did this, Luke with Paul on his journeys then, and with Paul all the way to the end, as Paul signs off in 2nd Timothy and says, “Luke alone is with me, Demos hath forsaken me, having loved this present world. When you come, bring my cloak from Troas…” So Luke certainly an incredible life. Church tradition tell us that he was also an artist. Not only a doctor, but an artist, evidently a very gifted man. He gives us six songs that we have in none of the other Gospels. He gives us the song, the magnificot of Mary, the song of Elisabeth, the song of the things that are given us by Zechariah, of Anna, of Simeon, and the angels of that evening where they announced the birth of Christ. And certainly he draws remarkable pictures. And God chose him to give us this particular record. Now Matthew no doubt was written to the Jews. 99 times the Old Testament is quoted in Matthew’s Gospel, more than the other three Gospels combined. And his emphasis was “so it was fulfilled”, I think 44 times he says that, speaking of Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled. And certainly he’s writing out of the line of the tribe of Judah, writing to the Jews [Matthew, that is]. Mark, writing to the Roman world, short, to the point, hard-hitting, giving the perspective of a servant. And they say, I forget how many million slaves there were in Rome, and he portrays Christ not as the one who came to be served, but the one who came to serve and lay down his life a ransom for many. Luke is the one who portrays the humanity of Christ, because he’s a doctor. He takes note of so many things we don’t have in other places, he’s the one that tells us that after Peter chopped off the ear of the high priest’s servant, that Jesus picked it up and put it back on. Those kinds of things impressed doctors. Luke is the one who gives us that record. He’s the one that is amazed, giving us a picture of the humanity of Christ, but leaves us at the end with the promise of the Holy Spirit, God’s very presence indwelling humanity. So, very sensitive, as he moves through his chronology of the Galilean ministry of Christ, and he gives us some remarkable pictures.
Luke, the Documenter, the Reporter
He begins by saying “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.” So, given to us here as a prologue, no doubt an epilogue, no doubt as he finished writing his Gospel, he put this sequence of verses together, and then it was placed at the beginning of his letter. He says, that in his day there were many that had undertaken to give a declaration of those things that were believed among them. Now, by the way, if you’re here this evening, and you do not know Christ personally, you’ve got to understand what a remarkable record we have in the New Testament Scripture. And it is attested to by any rational archeologist and professor. Again, today, listening to a tape of the records we have of Plato and Socrates and Homer, and the different Greek authors that are famous, and you total up the manuscripts that we have from them, and they total around 859, whereas we have 24,633 New Testament manuscripts. Certainly the most documented life in history is the life of Jesus Christ. But they won’t tell you that at the universities, they won’t make that plain to you. Luke tells us here that he is undertaking to bring to us that declaration which many, and we don’t know how many, but in his day many had already sought to write down. We know that Peter tells us he was an eye-witness when he says “when we made known the power and coming of the Lord, we didn’t do it by cunningly devised fables, but we ourselves were eye-witnesses of his majesty, of his power.” John the apostle says, “that which we have seen, that which we have heard, that which we have handled of the Word of Life, that which we seek to communicate unto you.” Again, today, in our jurisprudence system, if you have two or three eye-witnesses, you can put somebody in prison for life, or send them to the electric chair. Paul says, as he writes of the resurrection of Christ in 1st Corinthians 15 that there were over 500 eye-witnesses of Christ’s resurrection that were still alive, as he writes, over 500. So Luke here, giving us a very clear description of the beginning. “Forasmuch as many have” and we don’t know how many “taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses” and he uses a medical term here “autopsus” where we get autopsy, he says ‘they examined this, the ministry of the word,’ and he spoke to them. By the way, as we go into this, just realize, he’s the only one who gives us the record of Zechariah and Elisabeth, what happened to them and how John the Baptist was declared of Gabriel and was born. He’s the only one that tells us the magnificot of Mary, and the actual interview between her and Gabriel, and “how it came to pass in those days, that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…” He is the one, imagine he says, he sat with eye-witnesses and made a thorough examination, speaking to them of the details of Christ’s life. Imagine him sitting with Mary, saying, “What was he like? What was it like when Gabriel appeared to you, and what went through your mind, and what was it like when you went to see Elisabeth, and John the Baptist leaped in her womb, what was it that you heard from them about how Gabriel had come to them, aged, aged people and this miraculous conception of this greatest prophet that had ever lived in John the Baptist, what was it like, that crazy ride from Bethlehem to Nazareth in your third trimester, and what was it like the humiliation of everyone thinking you were pregnant before you were married, what was it like out in the cold, dark alley giving birth to the Savior of the world?” You know, just imagine what it was like for him. And I’m sure he talked to her about things we don’t have recorded. “What was he like when he was little? Did he ever go through the terrible two’s, or did he go through “the wonderful two’s”? What was he like as a child? What were his instincts, what was it like when you went to Egypt and came back, what did you see in his eyes, and what kind of questions did he ask, and what was he like when he was a young man?” How remarkable, how remarkable.
“Having a Perfect Understanding---Anothin---From Above
And Luke tells us that “were delivered unto us, which from those which from the beginning were eye-witnesses, and ministers of the Word. It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding…” he investigated everything completely “…of all things, from the very first, to write unto thee…” Now we’re not sure, “from the very first” there is from the Greek phrase “anothin” which means “from above.” Jesus would say to Nicodemus, you remember the “Nick at Night” incident, he would say to Nicodemus “Unless a man is born again”, we say, but it’s “born anothin”, from above. James says in his letter that “wisdom from above, anothin, is first pure, peaceable, easily entreated.” In fact John throughout his Gospel never uses that as a word to signify the beginning of something, but always a word speaking from above. Jesus said “the Son of man came down from anothin, from above.” Very interesting, I think what Luke is saying here, in my heart, is verse 3, he says “having had perfect understanding of all things anothin, from above, to write these things down.” I think he’s saying ‘There was the declaration that was made in our days, and believed among us, and it was delivered to us by eye-witnesses’---that I talked to those that were eye-witnesses themselves---and then he says ‘perfect understanding, investigating completely,’ he says, ‘the very facts, and then being guided from above, anothin, I wrote these things to you, most excellent Theophilus.’ Now, we don’t have any idea who Theophilus is or what he was like. Theophilus simply means “lover of God.” So certainly this Gospel is written to all of us who love God. And Luke is saying, you know, ‘You can take this to the bank. This is what was believed among all us in the beginning, it was declared amongst us, many of us sought to write it down, the details. I myself thoroughly spoke to those that were eye-witnesses, and then investigating myself completely, was guided from above to write these things to you.’ Lover of God, most excellent Theophilus, the reason, verse 4, “That you might know the certainty” that’s for us also, “of those things wherein thou hast been instructed”, catecao, where we get catechism from, the instruction, he says ‘I’ve written them down, having thoroughly investigated them, spoken to eye-witnesses, guided from above, written them down for any lover of God,’ “so that you might know of a certainty the things wherein you have been instructed”, the Word of God, what a safety it is. He says that is why he was guided to write these things down.
The Humorous Story of Zachariah and Elisabeth
He tells us “There was in the days of Herod”, this is Herod the Great, shrimp, gave himself the title of Great, I think he was insecure in a tremendous way. “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.” So a certain priest, about 20 to 22 thousand priests then. Not Levites, priests, estimated, over 20,000. Abia, the order of Abia is also of the line of Aaron, so both Zachariah and Elisabeth are of the line of Aaron. He comes to the Temple to serve in his course. They had re-introduced the 24 courses of priests that David had established as he gave order to the worship of the Tabernacle, and David himself said that he was instructed of God and shown the pattern of those things. And now in this day these 24 courses would come up, two courses per month, 12 months a year. So Zachariah comes up, and we’re going to hear that he’s well-stricken in years. And the Greek phrase means “bent over,” he’s old. You get the idea. And the lot will fall on him to burn incense. So this is all a set-up. And it always is. You know, it’s that contradiction, as it were in our faith, it’s our responsibility, but it’s God’s sovereignty, both there, I’m glad of that. It’s always a set-up, but it never is. You know what I mean. [he laughs] If you do, you can tell me, because I don’t. Certain priest, his name was Zachariah. The beautiful thing is, Zachariah, his name means “Jehovah remembers.” His wife’s name, Elisabeth, means “the oath of God.” So this beautiful old couple together, their names together means “Jehovah remembers the oath of God.” And how the Old Testament had ended was “Behold I send Elijah before thy face, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, the children to the fathers”, word of grace, “lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Very important word, “lest,” grace. It says “They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” Now that’s a pretty remarkable thing for the Holy Spirit to write through Luke. Both of them were righteous, now obscure before men, not known or noticed, but not [unnoticed] before God. They had spent a long life in service. Elisabeth is barren, that was grounds for divorce in that society. Zachariah is of the character that he loved his wife, and instead of embarrassing her, he had resigned himself to the fact that they would not be the parents of the Messiah, which was the hope of every Jew in Israel [they were of the tribe of Levi though, and the Messiah had to be of the tribe of Judah, of the clan of David though]. Barrenness was considered a curse and grounds for divorce. And yet he had stayed with his wife, and he had loved her, and they’re both aged, well-stricken in years, bent over. The Holy Spirit says “both of them are righteous and blameless”, remarkable people, certainly, “in the ordinance of God. And they had no child because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well-stricken in years”, bent over. So this is a blessed barrenness, by the way. The angel is going to say to Zachariah, “God hath heard they prayer.” Zachariah’s thinking ‘Wait a minute, I prayed that fifty years ago, what do you mean, now God hears my prayer, we’re both 90 years old. Now he hears my prayer!?’ Here they are, they’re obscure, they had determined to do what’s right, and no man had noticed, no man had given them credit. They would have lived and died and [people] would never have known them. And yet for the sake of their relationship to the Lord, they were both righteous and they were both blameless. But that was noted of God. And the whole time they felt that God wasn’t answering their prayer, that God wasn’t listening, God had a plan that was so much better than what they ever dreamed. And how many times have we seen that in our life? Again, I remember my Mom, twenty years I griped about my Mom not getting saved. ‘Lord, you know the Rapture’s gonna come, what about my Mom, you’d have saved your Mom, what about my Mom?’ and just going back and forth with the Lord. [Some denominational groups don’t believe in a preTrib Rapture, but instead believe in going to a place of safety during the Tribulation. The Rapture believing side of the Body of Christ tends to ignore all the non-Rapture Scriptures in the Word, while the non-Rapture side of the Body of Christ tends to ignore all the Scriptures that show a Rapture. There is one brave little denomination which has tried to combine the two sets of Scriptures, and they came up with an interesting composite scenario. Like all of our human interpretations of God’s prophetic Word, we’ll see when it “comes to pass.” But if you’re interested in scoping this interpretation out, log onto http://www.unityinchrist.com/revelation/Pentecost-Revetion1.htm.] And then again, remarkably, we’re in Israel baptizing in the Jordan, and here comes my Mom, she gets in line to be baptized, comes out and stands in the Jordan River, starts to weep. I say, “Mom, what’s wrong?” She says “I want to be close to the Lord, but I feel so far away from him.” I said “You need to pray this prayer with me.” I prayed the sinner’s prayer with my Mom, standing in the Jordan River, she got saved, and I baptized her. [Comment: Some groups use the term “got saved”, past tense, as their way of saying they have entered into the Salvation process with the Lord, when the Holy Spirit starts indwelling them. In reality, a person’s salvation is a lifelong process, and most of the Scriptures talking about being saved have it in the present or future tense. Quite literally, a person is not really saved unto they come up in the 1st Resurrection to Immortality described in 1st Corinthians 15:49-54. That is why some denominations steer away from the term “got saved”, while yet again others use the term. The term itself is not entirely Biblically accurate though. Not until after the 1st Resurrection to Immortality, when one is no longer in danger of the second death, is that person truly “saved” (cf. Revelation 20:4-6).] And I said, “Lord, I griped for 20 years, your plan was so much better than my plan.” And here’s Zachariah and Elisabeth, they went more than 20 years, and they’ve kind of resigned themselves, you know, ‘God loves us.’ They remained blameless, righteous, they’re serving him.’ He didn’t say ‘Forget it, why should I be a priest? You know, my wife, she’s barren.’ No, there’s none of that, remarkably. But God takes note of it. I think God takes note of it when we trust him against odds, when his faithfulness does not seem to be manifested to us, and we stay true to him. Believe me, it’s written in God’s record, as it is here.
Zachariah Chosen to Burn Incense in the Temple
It says “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” (verses 8-9). Naos, the Holy of Holies. Of 2,000 priests in his course, the lot falls on him, the Temple having been in construction 16 years at this point in time, the lot falls on him, Zachariah. It may have been the first time in his life to burn incense, which that means he’s going to the Table of Incense, right before the Naos, the Holy of Holies, with the vail, with the cherubim embroidered on it. [The Altar of Incense, Exodus 30:1-10, was located just outside of the Holy of Holies, positioned right up next to the huge curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holies of Holy, where the Ark of the Covenant resided. Also within the Holy Place was the Table of Show Bread and the Menorah, the seven-branched candelabra whose wicks were immersed in pure olive oil, burning brightly. So Zachariah was burning incense within the Holy Place, right up next to but not inside the Holy of Holies.] And as he went in, three priests would go in, a priest would go on his left, bearing the coals for the fire, a priest would be on his right, bearing the incense itself, they would come to the Table of Incense, and the other two priests then would leave. And Zachariah, as he stood there alone, then would take the coals and place them in the center, and then he would put the incense on the coals. And as the smoke went up, he would stand there alone then and pray for the nation. And it was a privilege, it was an honor. And that lot had fallen now to him. “And the whole multitude of people were praying without at the time of incense” (verse 10). The whole nation is outside because when he comes out he pronounces benediction, “the Lord bless thee, the Lord keep thee, the Lord make his face to shine upon thee and give thee peace, the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee.” You know, we sing the song. So they’re outside waiting, because when he comes out from the Altar of Incense, before they leave, he’ll pronounce a benediction upon them, with hands upraised, ‘The Lord bless thee, the Lord keep thee…’, they’re outside waiting.
Poor Old Zechariah Gets the Surprise of His Life---Gabriel appears!
“And there appeared unto him an angel…” Luke twenty-three times mentions angels, that’s amazing for a doctor, too. “There appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.” Now you know Luke talked to somebody who had the details, because we even find out what side of the altar the angel was standing on. “And when Zachariah saw him, he was troubled,” I guess, “and fear fell upon him.” I imagine God keeps his heart beating at this point in time, I mean, if I went in there, and you have a priest on the right and a priest on the left, and they said ‘Here’ and they left me the incense and they left me the coals and then they left me standing all alone---you know, the [high] priest that went behind the vail once a year on Yom Kippur, they would tie a rope around his ankle in case he died in the presence of the Lord, nobody was going to go in and get him, they could drag him out. Well here, this is as close as you can get without going in on Yom Kippur, there he is praying, the vail is 80 feet high, these huge cherubim are embroidered on it, it’s gotta be a little bit spooky, he’s in there with incense, praying, he opens his eyes, and there’s Gabriel standing on the right side of the Altar of Incense, “and he was troubled.” Man, I would have just keeled right over---Baboom! And I guess Gabriel’s a pretty impressive sight. What does he look like? What do you think Gabriel looks like? I know you imagine him with a trumpet, you know, is he leaning on his trumpet? You kind of imagine him, like big wings, big robe, Viking hat, beard, sword---Yaaa!---Oden!! You know, just kind of an awesome looking impressive sight, I would say. “And the angel said unto him, Fear not…” that tells us where Zachariah was. “Fear not, Zachariah, for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John”---Johanan---the Lord is Gracious (verses 11-13). Again, I think, you know after four hundred years of silence, now all of a sudden an angel is speaking to someone, those silent years between Malachi and this event. And not only that, the angel is saying ‘Your prayer is heard.’ Zachariah’s gotta be thinking ‘My prayer is heard, my wife’s going to have a baby, I’m 90 years old, what do you mean my prayer is heard, you heard my prayer a little late, didn’t you? How am I going to explain this to her?’ ‘Honey, you’ll never guess what happened. [laughter]
Gabriel Describes What John the Baptist Would Do---Our Job Too
“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, he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost [Holy Spirit] even from his mother’s womb.” So God knows us awful well, doesn’t he? Filled with the Spirit even from his mother’s womb. God would say to Jeremiah, “I knew you before you were conceived.” That’s a pretty thorough knowledge, I would say. John the Baptist. Now his mother was Jewish, he didn’t know he was going to be a Baptist [laughter]. There’s all kinds of things that are surprising as we move along here. Filled with the Holy Ghost 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(capital H, speaking of the Messiah, Jesus) 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; and to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (verses 14-17). Now, again as I look at this, he’s going to go forward in the spirit and power of Elijah. The Pharisees and Sadducees and the scribes will come from Jerusalem as John is baptizing, it says when we read of his ministry ‘that all of Judea and the surrounding districts, all of Jerusalem, all the way from Decapolis, people come from all over to be baptized of John. There was an air of expectancy. I know you’ve heard Chuck Missler, and I’m not sure where he digs this stuff up [I’m not either], but there’s some kind of tradition in the Talmud or the Mishna or somewhere that the mantle, the leather girdle of Elijah and then Elisha was kept in the Altar of Incense itself. He digs up where that record is, and some say the other thing that Gabriel told Zachariah to do is ‘by the way, take that leather girdle for your son.’ I don’t know. But the whole area comes to hear him. He preaches with such power, he’s filled with the Holy Spirit, and it says “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” And by the way, any anointing on your life is for the same thing. Any anointing on your life is not to tear down the Body [of Christ], it’s not to gossip, it’s not to divide people into little parties in the Body of Christ, it’s not to show how smart you are, and how inept everybody else is in theology. If God has put his anointing on your life, you know, Jesus has said God has anointed me to preach the Good News, to bind up the broken hearted. Here it says God’s anointing on his life “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” to make them ready. I’m thinking these Last Days, boy that’s sure what we’re doing, and we need to be busy about it. [i.e. the Body of Christ, all of us within it, are to be doing as John the Baptist did---we are to be a type of John the Baptist’s work, “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” John the Baptist did that as well as herald the 1st coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. We are to do the same, as well as herald the 2nd coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. That responsibility was given to the Body of Christ in Matthew 28:18-20, and he said we’d succeed in Matthew 24:14.]
Never Tell God’s Messenger You Don’t Believe Him!
“And Zachariah said unto the angel…” This is one of those very remarkable statements in all the Bible, “how shall I know this?...” You know, has this guy had bad experiences with angels in the past? You would think that if Gabriel would have come and stood next to you, and say this is what’s going to happen, you would say “I believe you.” Zachariah says “Whereby shall I know this? for I am old…” ‘I’m an old man, and notice “and my wife is well stricken in years” (verse 18). No, Gabriel’s probably thinking, ‘they’re both well stricken in years,’ but Zachariah says ‘No, it’s my wife, she’s well stricken in years.’ I wonder if in heaven she says ‘Zachariah, why did you say that, it’s in the Bible, it’s all over the world, you were well stricken too.’ [laughter] “And the angel answering said unto him”---you know, I kind of get a sense of this, he says to Gabriel ‘How do I know this is true?, you know I’m old, my wife, you know, she’s really old [laughter]. ‘Gabriel says to him, ‘I’m Gabriel, who do you think I am!?’ Look at the way he answers “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God…” ‘I’ve been sent to talk to you and show you these things, what do you mean, ‘How shall I know?’’ This is how you’ll know, “And, behold, you shall be dumb, and not be 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.” ‘How about this Zachariah, I’ll give you nine months to think about how you know that this is true. You can stew for awhile, ‘how do I know this is true.’’ He’ll be struck dumb, he won’t be able to talk, “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 Zachariah, and they marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.” Because they’re waiting for him to come out and pronounce the blessing so they can go home. They must be thinking ‘What is he doing? Well he’s well stricken in years, we saw him go in, you know, where is this guy? [maybe he died in there]’ So this is a pretty remarkable scene, I think as this takes place. It says “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” (verse 22). He’s playing pictionary now, he comes out and says [pastor Joe is waving his arms around making signs] [laughter]. They’re going, ‘ugh, angel!’ he’s out on the steps now, trying to tell them, he’s motioning with his hands, and it says “and they perceived that he had seen a vision” by whatever hand signals he’s giving them…just imagine what kind of hand signals, and the tense in the Greek it says “and he continually beckoned to them, and remained speechless.” Amazing.
When his service time is completed he goes home to Elisabeth
“And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house” (verse 23). And what did he tell his wife when he got home? ‘Oh, hi honey, how were things at the Temple?’ For months he’s writing notes now to Elisabeth. You know, where’s the pad and the pencil? “After those days his wife Elisabeth conceived…” Now, you can imagine when he first came home, he wrote a note ‘Honey, we’re going to have a baby, an angel told me.’ And she must have thought, ‘Boy, he was whacked in the head or something, he had a stroke, that’s why he can’t talk.’ I mean, what did she think? How remarkable. He’s writing the messages, ‘Honey, I should never have asked him.’ He said ‘Honey, we’re gonna have a baby.’ And she said ‘How do I know this?’ And he wrote, ‘No! NO! Don’t say that!!’ [laughter] “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.” Because she knew, she had to wait until she was showing, because if she told anybody, nobody would believe her. So, she hides herself for five months, and she says “Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.” Imagine all those years this old saint had felt she was living with a reproach, and no doubt in many ways had felt for some reason God had shut up her womb. And no doubt many times Satan told her it was because ‘he’s angry at you, because you’ve displeased him.’ And all the while God had the most remarkable plan that you could ever imagine. You know, if you’re here this evening, and we have a number of ladies in the church that struggle with infertility, and many times they’re like Hannah in the Book of Samuel, just broken-hearted and weeping and crying before the Lord, ‘Lord, if you’ll grant conception I will dedicate this child to you…’ that kind of thing. You know, we don’t know ever what the Lord is doing, and why he might be waiting. You know, believe me, we’ve had women, couples here in the church, and they’ve asked us to pray, pray and pray, and all of a sudden there’s conception, and by the fourth child they’re back saying “Would you please pray that this stops now.” [loud laughter] And you’re laughing, but believe me, we’ve seen it happen. And all this time she thought, you know, God was angry. You know, don’t ever believe that. God loves us unconditionally. That is what the blood of Christ is about. That’s what it’s all about. ‘He’s taken away my reproach’, this is an amazing scene.
Next Stop, Gabriel Visits Mary---a Remarkable Girl
“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 [Hebrew: Miriam]” (verses 26-27). Now not Jerusalem, where you think the Messiah would be born, he’s sent to Nazareth. When Nathaniel hears of Nazareth, remember he says ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Because Nazareth was filled with brothels, houses of prostitution, Roman soldiers would stop there on their way to Via Mare down to Jerusalem. It was an immoral city, it was known for drunkenness, and the trouble when the Roman soldiers where there. And when Nathaniel would hear he was Jesus of Nazareth, he’d say, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ And the remarkable thing is, here is Gabriel, sent to this town, more remarkably, to a virgin, in the middle of all of that. You know, in 1996, one out of three births in America were with single moms. One out of three. And look, if you are a single mom here, we love you, and Christ has forgiven you if you have gone and asked for forgiveness, and the fruit of the womb is his reward. But how different it was in those days, and how we have absorbed that and been desensitized in the society that we live in. My grandmother, I remember she was 96, she died last year, showing me pictures of Ellis Island. And she said “When we came to this country, if you were pregnant and you got to Ellis Island and you weren’t married, they sent you back to where you came from, because there was a standard that was right and wrong.” And how things have changed. But, this tells me, that it’s possible, for a young woman who was committed to God, right in the middle of Nazareth, to remain a virgin, when the whole town is famous for its immorality, for everything that’s going on. And by the way, let me say this too, if you are not a virgin, boy or girl, if you gave yourself away before you came to Christ, and now you’ve come to Christ, the Bible does say “all things are past away, all things are become new.” And Paul will say to the Corinthian church, which was famous for its sexual sin, “I want to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” So whatever your life was in the world, once you come to Jesus, all of that is gone and washed away, as far as Christ is concerned you are a virgin because of his righteousness. But you keep yourself until that day. [Comment: How are we to keep ourselves? You are to walk as a Christian, and not as those in the world. see http://www.unityinchrist.com/whatisgrace/whatisgraceintro.htm] And look out, because there are guys who hang around this church, not many, but sometimes, and if they tell you they love you, and try to force you into uncompromising positions, they’re liars, they love themselves. What you do is you say, ‘Close your eyes and I’m going to give you a big kiss.’ [laughter] And when their eyes are closed you ball up your fist and you punch them right in the nose, Whamo! [laughter] Now, I’m just kidding of course [loud laughter], but of course if we see guys walking around here next week with black eyes, we’ll know who they are, won’t we? [laughter]
Mary’s Espousal to Joseph---A Picture of Us
Mary’s probably 14 to 16 years old, a godly, godly young woman, in the midst of a crazy, crazy city. “a virgin espoused to a man”, she was ready to be married to a man named “Joseph of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary” (verse 27). Now in those days you were engaged, that was, that could be set up when you were a little kid, you know, they made ‘arrangements.’ Usually you were married by arrangement, and you hoped the guy didn’t grow up to look like Frankenstein, you know, you just prayed, made you pray your whole life. And then from engagement went to a one-year period before the wedding day called “espousal,” and during that period you dated, but it was in public with chaperones. And during that year of espousal the groom was preparing an addition to his father’s house. Jesus says to us “I go to prepare a place for you that where I am you may also be.” Beautiful types and shadows. [Comment: That will be the New Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven, cf. Revelation 21:1-23. Not only is that “the Father’s house,” but a place is being prepared within it for us, for that awesome day when it comes down from heaven, as depicted in Revelation 21.] And then when the wedding day came, the bride was not told what time the groom was coming to pick her up. If you were getting married on September 25th, the groom said ‘See you on September 25th.’ He doesn’t tell you when. He could come anytime from sundown the evening before [when those in the Middle East reckoned the next day began at] until the next sundown. You never had a warning. Most of the time he was anxious, because he’s been waiting since a little kid to get married, so you had to have oil for your lamps, because as soon as it got dark, it was your wedding day. And often the bride groom would come in the evening, as soon as the sun went down, and they would cry “Behold, the bride groom cometh”, and they would blast a trumpet, and he would come and take the bride. And we see that in the Rapture of the Church. Then he would take the bride to his father’s house, and take her into the chamber that he had built, the addition, and consummate the marriage, and everybody knew what was going on, there was a feast going on outside for seven days. And it’s so typical of Christ taking us before the seven years of his wrath will come upon this earth, to become his bride. [Comment: Now, as mentioned before, there are two major schools of belief about pre-trib eschatology, the Classic pre-Millennial one teaches the Church will go to “a place of safety” for the last 3.5 years of the Tribulation, and then be Raptured up to God’s throne and the sea of glass at the time of the blowing of the 7th Trumpet in Revelation 11:15-18 (this would be the period of time described by the apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 15:49-54 and 1st Thessalonians 4:13-17, the 1st resurrection to immortality at the ‘last trump.’) The other group, called Dispensationalists, believe in a pre-Tribulation Rapture of saints up to God’s throne and the sea of glass, where they dwell for the last 3.5 years of the tribulation. A newer understanding has come out, which combines the Scriptural passages of both major groups into a scenario which may be closer to the way the actual events may pan out. see http://www.unityinchrist.com/revelation/Pentecost-Revetion1.htm. Either way, this ‘rapture’ is to the wedding feast of Jesus Christ by the Bride of Christ (cf. Revelation 19:7-10). It would be nice in the name of unity within the Body of Christ, if we could come to a common consensus and agreement on this issue.]
Gabriel’s Message to Mary
Mary is in the period of espousal, it’s more serious than just engagement. In the period of espousal, if you were unfaithful to the person you were espoused to, you would be stoned, it was a death penalty. It was considered equivalent to adultery. So Mary now is going to be found pregnant in that period of espousal. “And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (verse 28). Now by the way, “highly favoured”, that term there is only used one other time in the New Testament, where it is translated “accepted” and it’s in Ephesians chapter 1, verse 6, where it says you and I, that we are “accepted in the beloved.” Wonderful verse. You and I are accepted in Christ, that’s the same word, “well favoured.” It could say here that “thou are accepted” or it could say in Ephesians 1:6 “thou art highly favoured in the beloved.” So the same thing applies to us, by the way. We are highly favoured. Same phrase is applied to us by Paul. “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” Now take note of that, because I think she is. Mary has suffered both at the hands of the Protestants and the Catholics. Because on one side of the coin, she has been given more than the Scripture gives her. She in the Book of Acts is amongst the disciples praying to Jesus as her Lord. And there is a move in the Catholic church now to make Mary the co-redemptress with Christ, and have Mary on one side of the cross and Jesus on the other side of the cross. That is more than Scripture ascribes to her. On the other side of the coin, I think the Protestants have poo-poo’d her and not, you know, she is blessed among women. She was the mother of God, as it were, the Messiah. When you get to heaven [gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven], and you want to know what Jesus was like when he was little, there’s only one person in all of heaven [within the kingdom of heaven] for all of eternity that can tell you that. What was he like when you were four months pregnant, did he kick like other babies? Did he keep you up at night? What was it like that night, was your labour difficult? Or did you sense God’s hand? You know, you’re going to have to go to her to ask those questions, I’ve got some questions I’m going to ask her. And of all the women who have ever lived, she was given that privilege.
Mary’s Response Better Than Zachariah’s
So by Gabriel’s message, “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” (verse 29). Now Zachariah’s troubled at his appearance, she’s troubled at his saying. “and she cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.” Now I guess she did. She puts her mind to it. We’re told further on in Luke that she ponders all of these things in her heart. Mary is a young girl with great depth. And she doesn’t just say ‘Aaaaah, an angel!’ or ‘What do you mean!?’ It says she cast her mind on it, and she sits quietly and listens to Gabriel, and she’s troubled at what he’s saying, but not troubled by his presence. She’s troubled at his words. “and [she] cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God” (verse 30). Para, alongside of God, I think it gives us a great insight into her life, this young virgin in Nazareth. She has found favour with God, as she walked with God, para, alongside of God I think describes her life. “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS” (verse 31). Now common in that day, Yeshua, or Joshua. It is a shortened form of Jehoshua, which is Jehovah-shua, or ‘the LORD has become our salvation.’ We’re told in Matthew 1:21 “you’ll call his name Jesus, because he shall save his people from their sins.” His name means Jehovah has become salvation. Now common in that day, Joshua. “Thou shalt call his name Joshua. 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” (verses 32-33). Now it’s very interesting, in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, “the Son of God scroll” has snippets of this annunciation by Gabriel, it was many of the same phrases. ‘He shall be great, he shall be called the Son of the Highest,’ and scholars are arguing today “When was this written?”. Was it written BC, before Christ, and if so, how far before? It certainly was written right in the days of Jesus. And if in fact it is as Luke tells us in the beginning, “many have taken in hand to set forth in order and declaration these things”, it would tell us the Essene community down at Qumran, and there was a community down there, you have the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and many of whom were scribes. But then you had the Essenes who had kind of withdrawn and lived in caves down by the Dead Sea, and they saw the hypocrisy that went on up in the Temple. And they became a separate sect unto themselves. Many feel that John the Baptist had spent years with them, we don’t know. But they were the ones who kept these scrolls. And what it tells us is that somehow it seems, word had gotten to their community, of the annunciation of Gabriel to Mary in Nazareth, and somehow in the very days of Christ, in that era, in that time they recorded their rendition it seems of this very annunciation, very remarkable scrolls. [These may not be the Dead Sea Scrolls, but some scrolls uncovered at Qumran.]
Mary’s Intelligent Response to Gabriel
“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?” (verses 33-34) Now that’s very different than Zachariah. Zachariah said ‘How do I know you’re telling the truth?’ Mary doesn’t say that, she asked about biology, ‘How is this going to happen? I’ve never been intimate with a man. How would I possibly conceive?’ And not only that, she says “How shall” that word’s in the future tense, it’s a word of faith. She’s admitting to Gabriel ‘I believe it’s going to happen, but how shall it happen?’ If your Bible says ‘how can it happen?’ that’s the wrong translation. It should be how shall, future tense on the word. She believes that this is going to happen, her question is ‘How in the world can this happen?’ Now imagine Luke, doctor, questioning her. ‘Did you know when the shadow of the Highest overshadowed you? Did you know? Did you sense that you had conceived? And did you know immediately after conception, was their a sense of the Son of God indwelling, growing? Or did you not know until you felt a fluttering, like most moms?’ Imagine the questions Doctor Luke asked. But he gives us the record. He must have said to Mary, ‘What in the world did you say to the angel when he said that?’ She said, ‘How shall that happen? I’ve never known a man.’ “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost [Holy Spirit] shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also the holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (verse 35).
The Bible Teaches the Virgin Birth of Christ, the Cornerstone of Christianity
Now, you can say that you don’t believe in the virgin birth. That’s your prerogative. But do not say that ‘The Bible doesn’t teach the virgin birth.” The Bible is very clear. Isaiah 7:14, parthenos, the virgin, the Bible is strictly clear, and it teaches clearly “a virgin shall conceive and bear a child…that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” You can say you don’t believe in the virgin birth, that’s fine, it’s your prerogative. But know this, the Bible teaches it. You know, it’s interesting the statistics I read Sunday about how many ministers in the pulpit that don’t believe that the Bible’s the Word of God, they don’t believe in the Resurrection physically of Christ, they certainly, many don’t believe in his physical return to earth, and so many don’t believe in the virgin birth of Christ. Now they tell you, ‘Oh yeah, I believe in Jesus.’ They do not believe in the same Jesus I believe in. [You preachers and ministers who don’t believe in those miracles] you don’t believe in the Jesus of the Bible. And if the Jesus you believe in died on a cross, it didn’t accomplish a single thing. Because if he wasn’t born of a virgin, his death on the cross didn’t pay for anything. If he was born of two human beings, he was a martyr. If he was conceived immaculately, if he was conceived by the power of God Almighty, if he was sinless, then when he died on the cross, his death purchased a value that he didn’t need for himself, because he was sinless. And that’s the most important thing in the world to us. Christianity is the forgiveness of sins, the faith in the Christ the Bible teaches us about. And the Bible teaches clearly he was born of a virgin, he was conceived of God, a sinless nature, but come in human flesh. The value of that is, that when he died on the cross, he died there sinless, he died with the sin of the world [placed upon him], but he himself was sinless. So he didn’t have to do that. When he went there, he purchased a price, like a ticket from a pawn shop, he purchased something that you can take and redeem, you know, get yourself out of hock. Because he purchased a value that he didn’t need for himself. So it’s offered because he was Divine, it is sufficient for all human beings everywhere. And if you are willing and the choice is yours, you can say to Jesus Christ this evening, “Lord, if you died there for me, and you paid for my sins, and if I can switch places with you because you didn’t have to go there, Lord, I accept that. I believe that you carried my sins 2,000 years ago, and Lord place your righteousness on me this evening.” You can do that tonight in an old meter factory, and change your eternity. There is nothing withholding you from doing that. And we are not talking about playing church, we’re not talking about lighting incense or crawling on your knees or having to make your first Holy Communion, or your Confirmation. We’re not talking about any of the things that maybe in our minds we associate with church. What we’re talking about is Jesus.
Jesus was a real historic figure
And don’t listen to the professors and colleges telling you ‘Oh he wasn’t really that person, he wasn’t really a historical figure.’ Or this supposed professor Dr. Funk, what a great name for him, going around the country with this Jesus Seminar, telling us that most of what the Bible says it doesn’t really say, and it doesn’t really mean what it says about Jesus, and Jesus really didn’t say what Jesus said.’ You know, we just looked at this. If you look in the Encyclopedia Britannica there are 20,000 words about Jesus. Not one of them says he didn’t exist. Because any historian in his right mind will acknowledge there was a historic personality named Jesus. The Bible says not only was he a historic personality, but Luke says ‘by my investigation, seeking to set in order a declaration of those things which are so readily believed among us, I myself interviewed all of the eye-witnesses, and when I had made a careful scrutiny of all of the facts, guided from above, I set down in writing that your faith, lover of God, may be more certain in regards to those things that you have been instructed.’ The question is, where do you stand this evening with Jesus Christ? “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 the 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” (verses 35-38). What a strange day for Mary. “For with God, nothing shall be impossible.” That includes the forgiveness of your sins. Mary says, ‘Let Christ then be born in me. Whatever reproach comes with it, behold the handmaid of the Lord.’ You know, my challenge to you this evening is, if you don’t know Jesus personally, are you willing to say “Lord, I know that with you, nothing is impossible, and even this evening you can forgive all of my sins, once and forever.” But there’s a cost. You know what? Mary would have the embarrassment of saying “the Messiah is within me.” In some ways, that’s the embarrassment you’ll have, to stand up for Christ, and say “I have Jesus in my heart, I have the Savior of the world in my heart.” And there’s a cost. But the greater cost was his. He’s the one who suffered eternity in your place. He’s the one who hung naked before the world on the cross. He’s the one who being God himself allowed them to spit in his face, and to brutalize him, for you. And because he was who he was, when he died, his death paid for the price of all mankind, he says of any who will come…[a transcript of a connective expository sermon on Luke 1:1-38 given by Pastor Joe Focht, Calvary Chapel of Philadelphia, 13500 Philmont Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19116]