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The Gospel of Luke: Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
Luke 1: 5-25; Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6
“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home. After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.””
Luke 1:5-25 NASB1995
The Epistle of James is now finished in my devotionals. I feel like I have received so much from the Lord digging into that sobering and serious letter to believers. Now it is time to prepare for the coming of the Lord! Starting with this devotional, I will examine the Advent stories as told by Luke in chapters 1 and 2.
God had been silent for over 400 years. The prophecy of Malachi (“Messenger”) is the last recorded book in the Old Testament, then there is nothing. No prophecies or visions that are written down. The people of Israel prayed for the Messiah, suffered under various foreign powers, and barely tolerated a religious structure that was becoming more and more corrupt. Malachi had these things to say in his prophecies from God:
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.”
Malachi 3:1 NASB1995
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.””
Malachi 4:5-6 NASB1995
In researching this passage in Luke, which describes the very earliest event in the advent of our Lord, I had to agree with a Sermon from Steven Cole on Bible.org that says that the world just before the coming of our Lord was waiting and waiting for true Revival. Revival is Defined as “a period of renewed religious interest”. Other definitions expand that to include the observation that a religious Revival happens after a long period of quiet or inactivity. We are waiting for Revival today. A fervent prayer by every believer on bringing Revival to our land would be a good start. Revival does not come by planning for a “revival” and putting it on the church calendar and posting banners. Revival is not a short-term emotional response to a weekend of good preaching. Revival is on God’s terms and timing. And in the time of the corrupt and evil Herod, the King of Judea, and under the thumb of the brutal Roman occupation and the first true Caesars, the time was ripe.
Zacharias and Elizabeth were elderly, righteous followers of God, of the tribe of Levi. This couple, who were blameless in the eyes of God were, sadly, childless. Zacharias was one of thousands of priests who were given temple duties periodically. While doing those duties, one of the greatest honors, and one that was “won” by lottery, was the special duty to attend to the incense offering at the gold altar in the Temple just outside the Holiest of Holies (the Holiest of Holies area was accessible only by the High Priest once a year). Zacharias was chosen to do this once-in-a-lifetime honor. God’s plan is perfect, as always. While Zacharias is attending to this duty and praying fervently, the angel Gabriel appears to him. Zacharias’ name, by the way, means “God Remembers” - remember, there are no coincidences when God is involved!
I’m not sure about you, but I can imagine that being face-to-face with one of the higher angels of God is a terrifying experience. This was not one of those cutesy cherubs flying around sending love arrows at people; I’m thinking of the ones in particular in the Disney movie “Fantasia” in the sequence that explores Roman mythology with music from the 6th symphony of Beethoven. Gabriel is a being of great power and authority and has been in the presence of God. Gabriel tells Zacharias not to fear and brings him the joyous news that he and Elizabeth will have a son. This son will be great in the sight of the Lord, will be filled with the Holy Spirit, will fulfill the vows of the Nazarite (no drinking, growing a beard, etc., just like Samson) and will pave the way like a new Elijah for the coming of the Lord (Messiah). He will turn many back to God and to repentance.
Zacharias doubts this miracle can happen because of their advanced ages and the barrenness that Elizabeth suffered; he sounded a little bit like Abraham (or perhaps Sarah). Gabriel punishes his doubt by making him unable to speak until the child comes - faith is SO important, especially when what you want seems impossible. I can just see the people waiting outside for Zacharias, wondering why he is taking so long to perform these duties. When he emerges, he can’t speak and makes gestures instead of giving the blessing, and the people are now convinced that he has seen a vision. He returns home to Elizabeth - that must have been an interesting “chat” filled with hand gestures and things scribbled on a piece of parchment - and she indeed becomes pregnant.
Here is some superb commentary by David Guzik about that encounter between Zacharias and Gabriel:
How shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife is well advanced in years: Zacharias’ attitude was, “Thanks for the promise, angel. But knowing the condition of my wife and I, this is a big one. Can you give us a sign to prove it?”
It isn’t that Zacharias doesn’t want to believe this; he does. It is simply that he feels it must be too good to be true, and he has probably protected himself from disappointment by not setting his expectations too high. We rob ourselves of many a miracle by the same attitude.
Zacharias looked at the circumstances first, and what God can do last; we are tempted to think this is logical; but if God is real, there is nothing logical about putting circumstances before God.
I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God: Gabriel reminds Zacharias of who he is and where he has come from. There is a big contrast between I am an old man and I am Gabriel – which held more weight? Gabriel also “preaches the gospel” to Zacharias (brings you glad tidings).
It was nothing but good news to Zacharias that he would not only have a son, but that the son would have a significant role in God’s plan of redemption. This is the good news that Gabriel brought to Zacharias.
This gives a better idea of what it really means to preach the gospel – it is to bring good news to people who need it.
My words which will be fulfilled in their own time: If there is no Zacharias, there is no John the Baptist. If there is no John the Baptist, there is no herald announcing the coming of the Messiah. If there is no herald announcing the coming of the Messiah, the prophecies in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah are unfulfilled. If any of the prophecies of the Old Testament regarding the first coming of the Messiah are unfulfilled, then Jesus did not fulfill all things. If Jesus did not fulfill all things, then He did not complete God’s plan of redemption for you and I and we must perish in our sins! This was GOOD news!
But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak: Zacharias paid a price for his unbelief. His unbelief did not make God take his promise back; it just kept Zacharias from enjoying it.
When we do not believe God’s promise for our lives, we do not necessarily destroy the promise; but we do destroy our ability to enjoy the promise. What made this such a severe punishment was that Zacharias had such great news to tell.
Strangely, many Christians would not consider this a punishment – they don’t mind keeping quiet about the good news of Jesus.
There is so much to grasp in this commentary. We rob ourselves of miracles by thinking only of our circumstances that can be seen and we also destroy the ability to enjoy His promises. Zacharias was receiving the best news that he could possibly hear. He would have a son and the son would be the messenger heralding the Messiah. The prophecies are being fulfilled, right before his eyes. But God had been silent for so long. Why now? Because God’s words will be fulfilled in their own time! The great advent of the coming of our Lord begins and the remnant who has been faithful are front and center in the story.
My next devotional will examine another visit that the Angel Gabriel makes, to a young virgin in the city of Nazareth named Mary, in Luke 1:26-38.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer
Dear Heavenly Father - Thank you for fulfilling your prophecies in your time for our salvation by using loyal servants like Zacharias and Elizabeth. Please help us accept the miracles that are placed before us and not be concerned about our circumstances. Nothing from You is too good to be true. Let us not be silent in sharing the story of Jesus. Let us also give thanks every waking moment for the Good News! Amen
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org
Commentary by David Guzik from Enduring Word is used with written permission.