The Apostle Luke Series, Installment One
[Luke chapter 1, verses 1-25]
Today I will begin a new series of Bible studies, the gospel according to Luke, an apostle of Christ Jesus, who is the Son of God, hallelujah! Chapter one of Luke’s gospel is 80 verses long, so I’m breaking this first chapter up into three parts. As we begin chapter one at verse one, we find this gospel being addressed to one “Theophilus” in the form of a very long letter. So who was this guy Theophilus? According to ‘gotquestions.org’, “The fact is that we really do not know who Theophilus was, which is why there are several different theories as to who he might be. No matter how much evidence there may or may not be for each theory, the simple fact is we do not who Theophilus was because the Bible does not identify who he was. However, from the context of Luke and Acts, it seems clear that Luke is writing to a specific individual, even though his message is also intended for all Christians in all centuries. While both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts have applications for all Christians, they were probably written to a specific individual whom Luke addresses as “most excellent Theophilus”. Since it seems clear that Theophilus was an actual person, …it is important to note that Luke addresses him as “most excellent,” a title often used when referring to someone of honor or rank, such as a Roman official…. Therefore, one of the most common theories is that Theophilus was possibly a Roman officer or high-ranking official in the Roman government.” So now that we have determined that Theophilus’ true identity has been lost in the mists of time, let’s begin exploring Luke’s gospel.
“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 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. In the time of Herod King of Judea there was a man named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s regulations and commandments blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.” (Luke 1, verses 1-7)
King Herod of Judea was an appointed dictator and king sent from Rome. The Roman Empire was at its peak during the time this was written, which will become increasingly clear as we continue to read this gospel. The “priestly division” Luke refers to here alludes to the Tribe of Levi. These were the Levitical priests who performed the animal sacrifice rituals that were required in the Old Testament, which was still in force historically speaking, but was about to come to an end with the impending birth of Christ, which had not yet occurred. So Hezekiah was a Levitical priest from the division of “Abijah”, which presumably is a division of the Tribe of Levi (for a more detailed explanation check out Exodus chapters 28 and 29 as well as Leviticus chapter 21 and the first half of chapter 22). Despite their unfruitful marriage, both Zechariah and Elizabeth had remained faultless and faithful to the Lord in everything they did. I find this quite noteworthy in a world where many people change spouses as if they were putting on a new set of clothes.
“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. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and gripped with fear. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, and 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. 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 the power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of their fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’ The angel answered, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.’” (Luke 1: verses 8-20)
What is actually occurring here is the fulfillment of Zechariah’s responsibilities, which is that only one of the priests is allowed inside the inner sanctuary, one who is designated by what amounted to the pulling of straws. So that day was Zechariah’s ‘short straw’ day to burn incense in the Temple. Only the designated high priest was allowed to enter the Temple to burn incense or make any kind of offering under penalty of death, according to the Old Testament (see the Books of Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy in no particular order). But, after Zechariah enters the “Holy of Holys”, as the Bible calls the inner sanctuary, something most unexpected happens. “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and gripped with fear. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, and he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” So the prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth, we find out, have been answered by God. Immediately afterwards, the angel who appeared to Zechariah tells him what his son’s name will be, and that his about-to-be conceived son will be a servant of the Lord’s. If you were about to become a parent, what would you think or say if an angel appeared to you? Needless to say, this is not exactly a commonplace occurrence, which is why Zechariah was so terrified. It probably would have unnerved me too.
“…he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 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 the power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of their fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” This is one of the earliest mentions of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, particularly for the New Testament. The naming of Elijah, an Old Testament prophet (see 1st Kings 17: 1 and 2nd Kings chapter 2), is noteworthy here. Zechariah is being told that his unborn son would take up where the prophet Elijah left off centuries earlier. Zechariah’s unborn son, as it turns out, fills Elijah’s shoes very well indeed. “Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’ The angel answered, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.’” This, my dear readers, is what can happen to anyone who doubts God’s word. “You don’t think you can accomplish the Lord’s will for your life”, said the archangel Gabriel? “Fine, because you won’t be accomplishing much else until God allows it, because I am going to make you mute until the day of your son’s birth”. Never, ever doubt the word of the Lord! If He says something is going to come true, it will with 100% certainty! And now let’s finish this week’s lesson starting where we left off at verse 21.
“Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the Temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the Temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘The Lord has done this for me’, she said. ‘In these days he has shown His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.’” (Luke 1, verses 21-25)
So Zechariah comes out of the Temple, unable to tell anyone why he had been in there so long. He then goes home, and can’t tell his wife either. This must have made Elizabeth at least somewhat perplexed, and I only imagine the one-sided conversation that took place between Zechariah and Elizabeth (“Why can’t you tell me what happened? Are you sure you’re not hiding something from me? I can tell if you are, you know!”) But by the mercy and grace of God, he and his wife conceive! Moreover, they both know the gender of the child before he was born, something that was unheard of back in those times. But in the end, Elizabeth says a prayer that basically says, “Thank you, Lord, that I have finally conceived a son. You have made people respect me just by letting me get pregnant, for they used to show contempt for me because I was barren”. This goes to show you how much times have changed over the centuries. Back then, women were scorned if they couldn’t have children. These days, it’s quite the opposite. Single women with children are oftentimes singled out as being ‘immoral’ or as having insatiable libidos, but I never have agreed with the stereotyping of single women with kids. The majority of them have escaped from abusive or violent relationships, and I will decline to judge them for that. In closing, we’ll leave off right here for now, and we’ll be starting up at verse 26 next week, where the births of Jesus is announced. So until then, have a blessed and safe week!