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Luke 1:1-1:25
Key Verse: 1:6

Thank God for granting us an opportunity to study the gospel of Luke. For a little over a year, we studied Acts. The book of Acts is a sequel to the gospel of Luke. Together, these books reveal God’s plan for world salvation. In Acts 1:1-2 the author said, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven…” In Acts we could see how the ministry of Jesus continued with the church's establishment in Jerusalem and its expansion in Samaria and to many other regions of the world, eventually reaching Rome through Paul’s rented-house-ministry. In Luke’s gospel we will study about Jesus’ earthly messianic ministry.

Luke 1:1-4 is the introduction to his book of Luke-Acts: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” This shows what Luke wrote, how he wrote his book, to whom he wrote and why he wrote. He wrote everything from the beginning of Jesus on earth through careful and thorough investigation. About 30% of Luke gospel are fresh materials and we owe Luke many beautiful narratives of Jesus, such as Jesus’ nativity and infant story, his boyhood and many parables on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, the Good Samaritan, the Lost son and the story of Zecchaeus and many more. And he wrote "an orderly account"-- though not in a precise chronological sequence, but a logical or topical connection of more importance to Luke. Luke describes Jesus as a man, revealing the heart of God for mankind, while Matthew, as king, Mark, as a servant and John, as God.

Luke wrote this gospel apparently to Theophilus, a certain person worthy of high honour who had been taught about Christianity. So the immediate purpose of this book was the spiritual well-being of Theophilus. Theophilos means “loved by God.” So we can say that the intermediate purpose of this book was to enlighten earnest enquirers and to strengthen the faith of believers. And the ultimate purpose to reach all people of all nations, as Simeon prophesied in 2:32: Jesus is a light both for the Jews and the Gentiles. He came to seek and save what was lost in the whole world. Especially in our times the view of Jesus seems to be distorted because of the strong influence of secular humanism, multiculturalism and earthbound hope and happiness, even among Christians. It seems that people are taught about Jesus in some aspects. However, all should know the certainty of Jesus, the exact truth about Jesus so as to obtain salvation in full measure to the glory of God. As we study Luke’s gospel with this purpose, we ask for God’s mercy and blessing upon our study.

After the prologue, Luke begins his gospel with the story of a godly couple, whereas Matthew begins his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus, which is the line of King David, Mark, with John’s coming according to God’s prophecy which was right away followed by Jesus’ ministry, and John with the eternity of Jesus. The start of each gospel is interesting and seems to fit the theme of the each. Today, let’s think about the life of faith of Zechariah and Elizabeth, an ordinary couple, who would make an environment for the birth John the Baptist, and also about John himself.

First, Zechariah and Elizabeth (5-13). Look at verse 5. “In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.” When we read the Old Testaments, there had been good kings in Israel, such as David, Hezekiah, and Josiah. But Herod, though called himself Herod the Great, was a terrible king. He even strangled his wife and his own two sons, suspecting that they were his possible opponents. And at the news of Jesus’ birth he ordered that all the boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem and its surroundings be murdered. He was a diabolic monster. He was nominated king of Judea by the Roman Senate in the year 40 B.C. He ruled Judea from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C. His rule was really a dark, ominous and calamitous time in the history of Israel.

In such a time there were a pious couple, Zechariah (“Jehovah has remembered”) and Elizabeth (“God is an oath”, “Absolutely Reliable One”). Herod goes down in human history, but not Zechariah and Elizabeth. However, Luke had to write in the history of God about them with Herod just as a backdrop. Then who were they? They were both from a priestly line. In some way their family tree was special, both were descendants of Aaron. Yet at that time there were around 20,000 priests. We can say that they were priests, but still ordinary lay men. But what was truly special about them?

Look at verse 6. “Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” What an evaluation by the historian Luke! Of course, their priesthood did not make them upright in the sight of God. In this evaluation, human title, degree, wealth, health, our outward appearances, these things were not involved at all. Such things can be counted before people, but not before God. Then, what does it mean that they were upright in the sight of God? Certainly, it does not mean that they were perfect and sinless. According to the Bible, it means that they lived a life of faith. Romans 1:17 says, “The righteous will live by faith from first to last.” Undoubtedly they lived before God and kept a right relationship with God, repenting of their sins whenever they realized them and seeking to please him in all they did. They did not compromise, rationalize or make excuses for their sins. Then, how could they live such a life of faith? It was by observing the Lord’s commandments and regulations. A commandment is an underlying principle and a regulation is its application to concrete life situations. Their observing the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly shows the degree of their spiritual life. For them their fellowship with God was most important each day. And they studied the Bible until the words of God were carved on the tablets of their hearts so that they could live by them as manuals of their life. It is different from just obtaining a lot of Bible knowledge. Their purpose of Scripture study was to know God and obey God’ words very personally. And the Spirit of God was with them in such a life of obedience to God.

Definitely, their life of living by the words of God also signifies that they lived against the trend of the world. They did not conform to the pattern of the world. The time they lived was a dark time. There were no prophets for the last 400 years. Under Herod’s rule, people were anxious and fearful. When the people of Jerusalem heard the news of the birth of the king of the Jews, they were all disturbed along with King Herod. They wanted to stay in their comfort zones, even in that dark and tragic period. This shows the spiritual condition of that time. Most people did not have the promise of God’s words in their hearts, particularly in regard to the promised Messiah. They just lived day to day life. But Zechariah and Elizabeth were different. They had the promise of God concerning the Messiah in their hearts. They were waiting people along with Simeon and Anna. They were like Noah who lived differently from all the people of the world obeying God’s words and building the ark of salvation.

That they lived differently did not mean that they were separated from the people of the world and lived like hermits. No. They loved God and loved their neighbours as themselves, which are the key points of all the commandments of God, and thus the greatest commandment according to Jesus (Mt 22:37-39). Out of love for God they took care of the people around them, knowing their needs, spiritual and physical. Thus the couple Zechariah and Elizabeth were a blessing to the townspeople and to their own people of Israel.

Here we newly see the meaning of our personal Bible reading, 1:1 Bible study, hearing Sunday message and Bible testimony writing. We do this not because other Christians do, but because we personally do knowing the meaning and value of it in the light of the Scriptures. God wants us to learn living by faith all the more.

Look at verse 7. “But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren.” Humanly speaking, what a sorrowful situation! At that time no children meant “no blessing” from God. People may have even judged that the priests’ family must have been terribly wrong with God, thinking, “How come they have no children, even one, while ordinary families had children so easily?” But Zechariah and Elizabeth did not think in that way. They believed that God is good, always good and his love endures forever. So certainly they did not doubt God’s love for them. Their trust in God’s love did not fluctuate by such visible blessings. Their love relationship with God was certain and solid. Yet, undoubtedly having no children was a sore/painfulpart of their lives. However, with their fatalistic element of life they prayed in the assurance of God’s love. Through prayer they did not let their weak part of life rule their hearts. Their prayer was unceasing and unyielding. They wanted to have a child not just to continue their family line. More than that, they must have wanted to have a son who could serve God’s purpose in that generation. Then they were both well along in years. Their lives were truly beautiful. That’s why the author did not hesitate to say, “Both of them were upright in the sight of God.” We can see how much God was pleased with them and blessed them.

We can think more of them in the following verses. There was a special event. Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. This would happen only once in a lifetime of some priests, as God’s blessing chosen by lot. This blessing was given to Zechariah. When the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshippers were praying outside. At this special occasion what happened? An angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. At this startled and fearsome state the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” Wow! What a blessing on this special occasion! Here we can think of Zechariah’s payer life. Certainly, when the assembled worshippers were praying outside, inside he must have prayed as a representative prayer servant for the nation and his people. Yet, he must have also prayed with his personal prayer topic, that God might grant his family a son. We truly learn about his prayer.

Zechariah must have prayed for a child probably after two year of his married life when Elizabeth could not conceive a baby. He prayed so many days and so many years. He prayed persistently. He did not give up praying for a son even when his wife became like a grandma. He must have prayed for more than 30 or 40 or even 50 years. Then finally his prayer was answered. What a man of prayer! His spirit of prayer was really admirable. He was a man who had a life-time prayer topic, although the prayer topic did not seem great.

The song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 reads, “Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew…” it has been my prayer that I may grow as a servant of God’s word and when I deliver the message or teach the Bible, my words may be like dew from heaven on the thirsty souls. Although I am far from it, this is my constant prayer topic. Also, in our Toronto ministry we have prayed for 12 families of God, shepherds’ families in 10 years since 2011. We wanted to experience God’s answering our prayers and prayer all the more for his will to be done in U of T campus pioneering work. May God help each of you to hold to a specific prayer topic and pray until God answers your prayer.

Second, John the Baptist (14-17). The name John means “the Lord (Jehovah) is gracious.” The son Elizabeth was going to bear would be indeed the gracious gift of God. The gift would be marvelous, extremely good, to them and to many people. It was God’s answer to their prayer. The angel said continually, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.” Then the angel said, “for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.” There have been many great people in human history. But truly great people are those who are great in the sight of God. People rejoice when they see truly great people. What would be John’s greatness? In verse 15 wine and the Holy Spirit are contrasted. He is never to drink wine or other fermented drink. In other translations, “He must not/never drink wine or strong drink” (ESV, NRSV); in NLT “He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks.” It would be the expression of his pure life before God. Revelation 17:1,2 says, “One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to him, ‘Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.” The Bible clearly tells us not to even gaze at wine. It brings woe and sorrow and strife and poisons in life (Pro 23:29-35). Rather, God wants us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” In our times drinking is the norm for many young people. But we must be aware of what Bible says in regard to drinking. God wants young people to be filled with the Holy Spirit and see visions, not strange sight. John’s greatness would be from his pure life and being filled with the Holy Spirit, even from birth, definitely through the spiritual influence of his parents.

Look at verses 16,17. “Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” This is the description of John’s mission. What can be more important and urgent than saving souls, bringing them back to the Lord their God in each generation? Daniel 12:2,3 says, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”

The people of Israel were God’s chosen people. But many people left the Lord their God, who loved them so dearly. They were like spiritual orphans desolate, wounded and beaten in the world of wilderness. They were bitter and depressed and hopeless. How would John carry out the great work of bringing the people of Israel back to the Lord their God? Verse 17 says, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” In the time of Elijah almost all people left the LORD God and fell into Baal worship through the influence of the vilest king Ahab and his wife queen Jezebel. Baal worship was sweeping the land. No one dared to challenge the national situation, though many felt the nation’s crisis. But the prophet Elijah challenged Ahab and Jezebel and proved that the LORD is the true God letting fire fall down from heaven before all the Israelites. The spirit and power of Elijah was matchless and triumphant over any evil power. John the Baptist would discharge his grave mission with such spirit and power. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous. This is written in Malachi 4:5,6, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” When Jesus’ disciples asked him about the John the Baptist, Jesus clearly said, “Elijah has already come”, meaning he was Elijah promised to come (Mt 17:2; Mk 9:13). John the Baptist would do the difficult job of the restoration of the relationship between the parents and their children. As we know, family is the first building block of society. The broken family relationship is an indication of the sick, broken society. Irresponsible parents and disobedient and rebellious children are the main problem in each society in every generation. Adultery and divorce and Juvenile crimes all stem from this. Whenever we hear about fathers’ abandonment of families and children’s rebellion against parents, it is heart-breaking. It is likely that war is going on in many families. In our times to disobey and rebel against parents seems to be norm, and to obey parents, something weird and abnormal. According to 2 Timothy 3:1, people’s disobedience to their parents is a mark of terrible times in the last days. Responsible parents and obedient children are rare to find. We know that the healing and restoration work should be done from within each family. But who would carry out such a significant and weighty work? John would be truly great as he turned the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents. His work would be heart-turning, that is true turning through repentance. It is noticeable that “bringing back the people of Israel” is written before “turning the hearts of the fathers to their children” or “turning the hearts of the children to their fathers.” When people turn to God truly, they can turn to their parents and children. “The hearts of the children to their parents” in Malachi is written in Luke “the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous.” Obedience from the heart is the wisdom of the righteous. May God raise up responsible parents and obedient and wise children in our generation through the work of John the Baptist. The work can be possible by the Spirit and power of God. In this way a people can be prepared for the Lord.

When the Zechariah heard the angel’s message, it was too good to believe. So he momentarily fell off the tracks of belief, looking only at his human condition and that of his wife, saying, “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Because of this, he would receive 'dumbness training' for nine months, not to speak unbelieving words, whatsoever. This was also a part of God’s divine love for him. God would not give such training to anyone, but only those who deserve it. Zechariah needed this training to be prepared to be a parent of John the Baptist, the great son from God. Later on we will see that the training was very effective and bore amazing fruit in his life.

When Zechariah came out of the temple, he was like a pantomime artist. The people assembled outside interpreted it in a good way that Zechariah became a man of vision. God protected him from any misunderstanding of the people.

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant as God promised speaking through the angel Gabriel. She remained in seclusion for five months, probably meditating on the grace of God deeply, and then confessed, “The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.” God is truly a personal God. He knows our need, our deepest concern and fills it at his time and in his way.

In this passage Zechariah and Elizabeth were upright in the sight of God observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. When they lived a life of faith in this way, God blessed the godly couple with a gracious gift of God, the son John the Baptist, who would be truly great through his pure and Spirit-filled life. He would live a life of mission bringing many of the people of Israel back to the Lord their God by turning the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous. May we value Bible study, prayer, pure life and life of mission and pursue to be upright and great in the sight of God so that we can be used by God in the streams of God’s history.

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