Coming this fall from this blog’s author, a new book series of Biblical lessons of the apostles Luke and Paul, “The Social Gospel Series volumes 1 and 2”. These studies are done from a whole new 21st century perspective that is sure to educate while making the process enjoyable. A must-read for believers, whether they attend church or not! Serves as an inspirational guide for secular people too!
This series comprises the writings of the apostle Luke — which are the gospel that bears his name and the Book of Acts — followed by the writings of the apostle Paul, starting at Romans and ending with Philemon. This exhaustive work took over 7 years to write, and contains rich details and fresh perspectives on these sacred Scriptures as this series aspires to make the Bible more relevant than ever. Free excerpts in their order of appearance in the book will be shared regularly for the next 6 months up until the books’ fall release, and they will be sold as a set. Studies on the works of the other apostles, such as John’s gospel and his 3 epistles (the next in this series), will be made available as time permits. Today’s free excerpt is Luke chapter 1, parts 1 and 3 (part 2 is the Christmas story of Jesus birth, and this Sunday is Easter).
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!
The Birth of John the Baptist
[Luke chapter 1, verses 57-80]
For today’s lesson, we’ll be finishing up the rest of Luke chapter one, which is a pretty long chapter as far as Scripture is concerned. So far we have learned that Luke’s gospel was written – in all likelihood – when the apostle Luke was an elderly man, and that this is actually a long letter to a gentleman named Theophilus composed for posterity’s sake, something like a 1st century version of a blog posting. We have also studied the circumstances surrounding the conceptions of Jesus Christ and John the Baptist, including the story of Zechariah the Levite priest who, when told he would become a father even though he was of old age, asked one single question – ‘how?’ – only to be rendered mute by the angel who visited him until the birth of his son for questioning the will of God. The remainder of this chapter completes that process, as we shall soon see. So, let’s take up where we left off beginning at verse 57.
“When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. On the eight day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, ‘No! He is going to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘There are no relatives among you who has that name.’ Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John’. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking all about these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, ‘What then is this child going to be?’ For the Lord’s hand was with him.” (Luke 1, verses 57-66)
You will recall from part one of our study of this chapter that Elizabeth and Zechariah had conceived a child even though they were elderly, and what a miracle that was! Keep in mind the average life span back then was 40-45 years of age, and that since life was a lot harder people tended to age much more quickly. Elizabeth and Zechariah were likely older still, probably in their 50’s or 60’s, so Elizabeth’s pregnancy was most assuredly miraculous in every sense of the word. “On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child”, refers to Genesis chapter 17, where male circumcision was first made mandatory. “They came” refers to coming to the Temple at Jerusalem, which was where the circumcisions were performed in those days.
The other thing that really stands out here, at least to me, is this couple’s complete agreement on the baby’s name despite the fact that Zechariah couldn’t speak. As we found out in part one of this Bible teaching, Elizabeth’s baby was filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he was conceived. So both Zechariah and Elizabeth insisted that the child’s name was John because that’s what they had been told in advance by the visiting angels. They also had foreknowledge of the baby’s gender for the same reason, and all this at a time when knowing the gender of an unborn child prior to its birth was unheard of. It was for all these reasons that the people in the Judean hill country (this would be the higher elevations of the West Bank area today) were so awestruck by this series of events. “Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, ‘What then is this child going to be?’” So it can be clearly seen that everyone knew this was going to be a special child, completely out of the ordinary. And now let’s conclude today’s Bible study beginning at verse 67.
“His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and he has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us – to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High: for you will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.’ And the child grew and became strong in the Spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.” (Luke 1, verses 67-80)
Zechariah knew when he wrote on that tablet, “His name is John”, that he would get his voice back, but he also knew when it was in his best interest to just go ahead and believe God. Everyone has seen or experienced this very thing at some point in their lives. There are times when it seems to us that God must have taken a break and left our very fate open to question. Things will seem to be going haywire all at once in spite of our best efforts, and we sometimes don’t know why this is so. I have no doubt that Zechariah’s inability to speak for nine months straight took a heavy toll upon him. In much the same way, things continuing to go wrong in our own lives for what seems like no logical reason can at times take a heavy toll on us as well. Living for Christ can be stressful at times because we live in an anti-Christ world. Just look around you and you, too, will conclude that our overall situation is rapidly deteriorating. Indeed, we are headed for a major war, something I just posted about this past weekend. (please see http://wp.me/p4uvMi-fT)
Yet God has been trying to “guide us into the path of peace” throughout humankind’s recorded history. This anti-Christ world will continue for the near future, and it’s going to get a lot worse, especially for those who are ardent Christians. But that is the price we must pay to prove our faith, because Jesus has already paid the ultimate price to save all of us. It is up to us to reciprocate as best we can because Jesus has already saved us, if only we will believe. If there is anyone reading this who has not believed in Jesus up to this point, I implore you to embrace him as your Savior while you have the time and the opportunity! Please don’t delay because things are winding up very quickly, and current events will soon take a turn for the worse. It is not enough to simply “accept Jesus” as some denominations erroneously teach. Don’t just accept him, as if we’re doing Jesus a favor – embrace him wholeheartedly! Your world will be much better because of it, so claim the eternal salvation of Jesus Christ today, a salvation that has been yours all along! Enjoy your new relationship.
For more titles by Rev. Paul J. Bern, be sure and visit https://www.authorrevpauljbern.com