Sunday, December 04, 2011

Luke 1:1-25 - Birth of John Foretold

Annunciation to Zecharias
Opening thought
We often send birth announcements when a new baby arrives. In the case we have today, the birth announcement comes before the baby’s conception.

Contextual Notes:
Matthew and Luke are the two of the four Gospels which record the infancy of the Lord Jesus. Mark and John wait to introduce him at the beginning of his public ministry. In Matthew, the main focus is Joseph, while in Luke, the private experiences and sayings of Mary are given in detail. After a brief introduction (Luke 1:1-4), Luke explains the events of the birth of Jesus (1:5-2:52).
In Luke’s day, more sophisticated writers introduced their works with stylish prose written in classical style. Luke does this superbly, demonstrating that he was very well educated. Luke begins his gospel with a formal address, balanced in form, and classical in language, to a Theophilus, one continuous sentence with six main clauses, the first three balancing the second three. These verses stand in marked contrast to the rest of the Gospel, written in a more Semitic style close to the way those who lived and witnessed it retold and related the story of Jesus.
Luke is the only one of the four Gospel writers who did not know the Lord while he was physically on the earth. He was not present during Jesus’ ministry, death, or resurrection.
Theophilus – He could have been a wealthy Greek who wanted to know the truth of Jesus or a pseudonym for a public official. The name means “friend of God.” The use of “most excellent” suggests a person equestrian status.
Luke presents an orderly account of eyewitness accounts (Luke 1:2) from those who were with Jesus: his family, friends, and disciples. Luke says he is not the first to record Jesus’ life (Luke 1:1).He does not claim to be an eyewitness, as a forger would, so his words reinforce the genuineness of his text. This most personal of the four gospels is the most universal. Like for Theophilus, the gospel is for you.
After that grand prologue (Luke 1:1-4), Luke begins with the announcement of the birth of the forerunner of the Messiah, John, and he starts in the heart of the promises of the OT, the place of intercession before the Holy of Holies inside the Temple.

Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 1:1-25 to explain to believers how God planned birth announcement of the forerunner to the Messiah.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about
Pray and Read:  Luke 1:1-25

Sermon Points:
1.   Renewal of God’s Covenantal Promise (Luke 1:5-12)
2.   Renewal of God’s Covenantal Calling (Luke 1:13-17)
3.   Renewal of God’s Covenantal Favor (Luke 1: 18-25)

Exposition:   Note well,

1.   RENEWAL OF GOD’S PROMISE (Luke 1:5-12)
a.   Luke 1:5-6 – The time of Herod (the Great) was 37-4 BC. Zechariah and Elizabeth were quietly living upright lives in the sight of God despite what the world around them did. Zechariah means “The Lord Remembers,” and Elizabeth means “the covenant of God,” and their names together, “The Lord remembers His Covenant” give us the theme of the annunciation of John’s birth. John (Yochanon), by the way, means “YHWH has shown favor.”  Taken all together we have “The Lord remembers His Covenant and shows favor.” The terms Luke uses are the same that the OT uses for righteous (Noah, Gen 6:9; Abraham, Gen 17:1; Job, Job 1:1). They were both descendants of Aaron because priests should marry within the descendants of Aaron.
b.   Luke 1:7Elizabeth was a Godly woman far along in years (Luke 1:6; aged suggests over age 60[1]) like Sarah mother of Isaac (Gen 18:1-5; 21:1-7), Rebekah mother of Jacob and Esau (Gen 25:21), Rachel mother of Joseph and Benjamin (Gen 30:22-23), the mother of Samson (Judges 13), and Hannah mother of Samuel (1 Sam 1:1-2:10) endured the shame and pain of barrenness (Luke 1:25). Elizabeth quotes Rachel (Gen 30:22-23). Culture blamed the woman for barrenness (Luke 1:7) or a punishment for sin (1 Sam 1:11), but none of these women were to be blamed. Feminist theology tries to use the women of Luke to make some point about how men abuse women, but in reality to be childless was disastrous financially and socially because parents had no one to support them in their old age (1 Tim 5:4, 8). Not only that, but they miss the point that the barren woman had come to be a symbol for Israel, barren of the Messiah (Hannah, 1 Sam 2:5, 9; 2:10; Isaiah 49:20-21, 23; 54:1; Luke 1:54)
c.   Luke 1:8-10 - Priestly division: Priests were organized in 24 teams at the time of King David (1 Chron 24:8-17, esp.10. Abijah’s the eighth division) and rotated for temple service twice a year for one week. Team members drew lots to determine who would have the privilege of burning incense inside the temple (Prov 16:33; Acts 1:26[2]). This was a very special privilege for Zechariah because a priest could be chosen once per lifetime[3] since there were as many as 18,000.[4] The morning and evening sacrifice were major hours of prayer at the Temple (Acts 3:1), and incense was offered just prior to the sacrifice. Incense was to go up before the Lord continually (Exod. 30:7-8). As he offered the incense and the new smoke went up, the whole group of worshippers in the whole Temple would fall down in private prayer.
d.   Luke 1:11-12 – Zechariah was surprised by the angel’s appearance at the right side of the altar of incense (Luke 1:11). The altar of incense symbolizes the intercession that takes place before the Lord; therefore, the altar was positioned in the center of the court of the priests outside the Holy of Holies. Visions before the altar of incense had happened before with Samuel (1 Sam 3), Isaiah (Isaiah 6), and the prophet Zechariah (Zech 3:1). It was also not the first time there was an appearance at the right side of the altar of incense. Another Zechariah (Zech 3:1) reports that Satan stood at the high priest’s right to accuse him, but the high priest, standing in front of the Angel of the Lord (Holy of Holies) defends him and brings a message of peace for his people. Still, our Zechariah is afraid (Luke 1:12) like Gideon (Judg 6:22-23), Manoah (Judg 13:22), Daniel (Dan 8:16-17; 10:10-11), and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5). That fear is usually answered with “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:13; 1:29-30).
e.   APPLICATION: Perhaps you’ve just been going through the motions of church and Bible study and prayer and have forgotten that you are dealing with a supernatural God. It is natural for him to do things supernaturally. Don’t let the familiarity with sacred things numb you to the passion and power of His Person and His Presence. He is here to renew the promises he made to you years ago before things in your life muddled and sidelined and diverged God’s promises in your life from your immediate focus, before school and job and children and family responsibilities usurped the very definite promises He has made you. He stands by ready to renew the promises if you will ask Him to do it. He loves you and wants to renew you in His Word and the Promises of His Word.
2.   RENEWAL OF GOD’S CALLING (Luke 1:13-17)
a.   The angel’s message: This appearance is similar to major births in the OT (Ishmael, Gen 16:11; Isaac, Gen 17:16, 19; 18:1-15; Immanuel, Isaiah 7:14). Zechariah’s prayer has been answered.
b.   His name will be John (Yochannon) meaning “YHWH has been gracious, shown favor.” He will be great in the Lord’s sight (not necessarily the world’s),
c.   He will be a perpetual Nazirite (Luke 1:15; 7:33), set apart for service to the Lord (Num 6:1-21, esp. Num 6:3-4), like Samson (Judges 13:4-5, 7) and Samuel (1 Sam 1:11, 15). One was strong physically. Samuel and John were spiritual giants.
d.   APPLICATION: What makes the difference is not the external symbols of religion, but our personal, inner commitments and communion with God. Are you living out the externals of Christianity only, or are you living out the reality of that the symbols represent?
e.   He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from conception (cf. Luke 1:41). Except for the Nativity stories (John, Luke 1:15; Mary, Luke 1:35; Elizabeth, Luke 1:41; Zechariah, Luke 1:67; Simeon, Luke 2:25f, only Jesus is described like this, Luke 4:1).
f.    He will go out ahead of the Lord (as in Isaiah 40:3-5; which Adonai Jesus will quote Luke 3:4-6) in the spirit of Elijah (Luke 1:17). Elijah was to return before the day of the Lord to call men to repentance as foretold in Malachi 2:6-7; 3:1; 4:5f (cf. Luke 1:76; 2 Kings 2:9-10; Micah 7:5-6; Matt 11:10-14; 17:10-12) to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. The Lord encourages Israel in Mal. 3:1 to renew the covenant, just the same point made by Luke in this passage of renewal of God’s promises, His calling, and His covenant favor. The angel’s reference is to Malachi 3:1 and 4:5-6 and identifies John’s mission as a forerunner of the Messiah, to prepare the Jewish people for their Redeemer.
3.   RENEWAL OF GOD’S FAVOR (Luke 1:18-25)
a.   BUT Zechariah waffles in unbelief – Zechariah’s response is nearly identical to Abraham’s (Gen 15:8; 17:17; 18:11), highlighting the importance of this birth in God’s covenant with Israel and the end time day of the Lord. But this time it was not a question of belief. It was a question couched in unbelief. Others who asked for a sign were Gideon (Judges 6:17, 36-40; 7:10-11) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:8; Isaiah 7:10-14) asked for signs and were not punished, but Zechariah’s unbelief is punished (Luke 1:20) with becoming mute because his revelation was much greater.
b.   Luke 1:19 – “I am Gabriel”: Kind of humorous, it reads with some incredulity on the part of Gabriel. One of two named angels in Scripture (Dan 8:16; 9:21, 24-27) with Michael (Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7). Note the similarities of Zechariah’s and Daniel’s encounters with Gabriel: Not only the revelatory role and the renewal of God’s redemptive work among his people, but also prayer (Luke 1:13; Dan 9:3), sacrifice (Luke 1:9-10; Dan. 9:20-21), vision (Luke 1:22; Dan 8:17), favor of God (Luke 1:25, 28; Dan 9:23), fear (Luke 1:12; Dan 8:17; 10:8-9, 12, 19), and speech impediment (Dan 1:20; Dan 10:15).
c.   Luke 1:19 Good News: The Good News is always about Jesus. Luke emphasizes telling the Good News. The verb euangelizomai evokes Isaiah’s promise (Isaiah 40:9; 52:7). He uses the verb 10 of the 11 times it is found in the Gospels (Luke 2:10; 3:18; 4:18, 43; 7:22; 8:1; 9:6; 16:16; 20:1).
d.   Luke 1:20-21: Usually casting the incense took only a moment, and the priest emerged immediately, and the crowd became concerned that something had happened to Zechariah. They were concerned for him and concerned that their prayers be heard.
e.   APPLICATION: Here was an upright man living an upright life with his wife who was startled and fearful when he was in the place where God’s presence was and God’s messenger actually spoke to him. Those of us in church sometimes get so used to the mechanics of church that we forget we are dealing in the supernatural and are startled by God when He demonstrates himself. Zechariah never dreamed that God would act for him personally. Zechariah had expected a comfortable, quiet duty with a silent, passive God! Let us not make the same mistake of unbelief. Let us approach the throne of grace with awe and expectancy.
f.    Luke 1:23: He returned home & she conceived. This verse parallels Elkanah and Hannah (1 Sam 1:19-20). Without a son to support him in his old age, Zechariah probably worked a small farm in Judah’s hill country. Priests were supposed to be supported by tithes to the Temple (1 Cor 9:13; Heb 7:5), but high taxes on the poor and corruption made life hard on the less wealthy priests.
g.   Luke 1:24 – Elizabeth in seclusion five months. Perhaps a spiritual retreat for grateful prayer or perhaps Elizabeth was respecting God’s silence imposed on Zechariah.
h.   Luke 1:25 – Favor in my disgrace: This praise was common among barren women whom God had favored (Sarah, Gen 21:6-7; Hannah, 1 Sam 2:1-11), but nearly quotes Rachel (Gen. 30:22-23; 21:6; Psalm 138:6). Children were so highly valued in Jewish society that a childless woman felt intense shame, and her old age would be in jeopardy to have shelter and food and provision of care.
The Lord has renewed his favor toward you and me in paving a way for salvation in Jesus’ name. It starts with the announcement of the birth of the forerunner, John, and will culminate with the sacrifice at Calvary. Here at the beginning of Luke during the time of intercession and the sacrifice, we see the foreshadowing of the intercession and sacrifice of Jesus. Won’t you respond to that sacrifice on the Cross and the Intercession that the Scripture says Jesus still does for you and me? Won’t you give your life to Jesus now?

[1] Mishnah Abot 5:21
[2] Luke begins both his Gospel and Acts with casting lots, but the practice is obsolete with the coming of the Holy Spirit to guide us (Rom 8:14). Luke is perhaps emphasizing the Holy Spirit through mentioning lots.
[3] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Service (1874), 129.
[4] Craig Keener, Bible Backgrounds Commentary: New Testament, 188.