GETTING READY FOR THE SAVIOR
Week of December 9, 2007
Bible Verses:† Luke 1:5-7,11-13,57-60,65-66,76-79.
Biblical Truth: God can use faithful believers to prepare others to believe in the Savior.
Exemplify Faithfulness:† Luke 1:5-7,11-13.
† 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
† The meaning of Zechariahís name, ďYahweh has
remembered again,Ē fits the account, but Luke makes no effort to exploit the
point, since he offers no translation for his audience, which included
Gentiles. The name is common, especially in the Old Testament. Zechariah was a
righteous and faithful Jewish servant of God. As a priest, he served in the
temple for two one-week periods each year, excluding festival periods.
† This couple not only had the right heritage, they also had a commendable spirituality. Both were righteous before God, an expression describing a moral righteousness that conforms to Godís standards, as the following reference to a blameless conduct shows. This use of righteous is different from Paulís use of the term to refer to those who are positionally righteous before God [Rom. 3:21-31]. The righteousness described here is from the perspective of Godís law. In contrast to Pauline justification, righteousness here is concrete and visible and is seen in consistent acts. The phrase, sight of God, depicts Godís positive evaluation of their lives. They are faithful saints who have an approved walk before Him. The participle, walking, describes how Johnís parents were obedient: they faithfully and consistently obeyed God. The adjective, all, shows that this coupleís righteousness covered the full range of Godís commandments. But this righteousness does not mean that they were without sin [see 1:19-20]. It just means that they lived a consistent life of obedience before Godís law.
† The pious couple lacked children and were
troubled as a result. The absence of children was generally seen as a reproach
in Judaism and in the Old Testament. But the coupleís righteousness shows that
their barrenness was not the result of judgment nor unrepentant sin. Rather, God
had something special in mind, as He had with many of the great Old Testament
saints who were born under similar conditions. They were childless because
† The account returns to Zechariah, and the
drama begins in earnest. As Zechariah goes to place the incense on the altar
and offer up a prayer, an angel appears to him. He stands at the right of the
altar, the side of favor. This position places the angel between the altar and
candlestick in the
† When Zechariah saw the angel, he was terrified with fear. In the Scriptures, an encounter with the Divine or His agents usually produces fear. And Luke consistently records this response to Godís presence, His activity, or the presence of His messengers [Luke 1:29-30,65; 2:9; 5:8-10; 9:34; Acts 5:5,11]. The priestís response is real terror, as is indicated by the verb, he was afraid. This response reveals that Zechariah is taken aback by the angelís appearance. He does not expect it, nor does he view it as a common occurrence. Rather it places him in deep anxiety. The angelís presence heightens the drama. God is at work.
† The angel announces the childís arrival with a word of comfort. The call not to fear is typical of an annunciation scene and seeks to relieve the anxiety that the encounter with God or His messenger has produced. As Zechariah is about to find out, there is no need to fear what the angel will say or do. He brings good news [1:19]. The reason that Zechariah need not fear is that his prayer has been heard. The birth announcement reflects Old Testament announcements. The father usually names a child; Godís naming a child shows that the child is important to His work. Luke is not concerned with the meaning of Johnís name; but the name is appropriate enough, seeing that it means ďYahweh has been gracious.Ē The child is special and significant, as the angelís further explanation will reveal.
Recognize Godís Activity:† Luke 1:57-60,65-66.
† Now the time had come for
[57-58]† The time of fulfillment has come.
[59-60]† The time to name the child comes, and it
yields a surprise for the gathered witnesses. The naming takes place in
conjunction with the circumcision on the eighth day. The crowdís expectation
that the child might be named Zechariah is not surprising. A child was
customarily named after a relative, usually the father or the grandfather. The
Lord chose a different name, so that the custom of parentsí choosing did not
[65-66]† The birth, the unusual name given to John,
and the return of Zechariahís speech brought a twofold response: fear and
discussion. The realization that God was near produced the fear. Such a
response to Godís presence is common. Word of the events that surrounded the
birth spread through
Help People Know About Salvation:† Luke 1:76-79.
† "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS; † To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, † Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, † TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, to guide our feet into the way of peace." ††††[NASU]
† Zechariah now turns his attention to his child. John prepares the way for God, who Himself comes to His people through Jesusí messianic visitation. This verse begins the second major unit of the hymn, as the topic shifts from what God is doing for the righteous, to what He will do through John and the Messiah. The sectional shift is indicated by the change of topic and by the shift from aorist tenses to future tenses. This child shall be known as the prophet of the Most High. The Most High refers to God as the exalted transcendent deity and repeats the reference to him found in 1:32. Whereas Jesus is the Son, John is a prophet. Thus Johnís subordination to Jesus is clear. The topic of John as a prophet reappears in 7:26-35, where the point is made that John is more than a prophet, because he has a special role. The latter text stresses that John is the last of the line of prophets who looked forward to Messiahís coming. John, as a prophet, heralds the arrival of salvation and introduces the figure of this new era. The explanation of this prophetís role comes next. John will go before the Lord for the purpose of preparing the way for Him. The verbs of 1:76, called and go, reflect Old Testament wording concerning the prophet.
† John prepares the way for God through the message of salvation that he brings, a message that declares the forgiveness of sins. As Zechariah describes it, Johnís basic task is to give knowledge of salvation to Godís people. The verb, give, connects to the end of verse 76 and explains how John is to prepare the way. Though the wording about salvation here has no exact Old Testament parallel, most see in the spiritual emphasis an allusion to the new covenant. The stress of the verse is on the intimate connection between salvation and forgiveness of sins. John brings an experience of forgiveness with his message, an experience his baptism portrayed, not because of the rite, but because of what the person brought to the rite Ė a repentant heart. In Lukeís eyes, the emphasis on forgiveness is also a major part of Jesusí ministry. Luke presents the messages of John, Jesus, and the apostles as being in essential continuity with regard to a call to repentance. However, Jesus and the apostles have additional details because of the revelation associated with Jesusí ministry.
† One word, mercy, characterizes the entire plan. Both the forerunnerís and
Messiahís tasks are the concrete expression of Godís mercy. The phrase tender mercy of our God relates to the
description of Johnís call. As 1:78b also makes clear, the entirety of
Messiahís coming also occurs in the context of Godís mercy. Mercy as the ground
of Godís actions repeats a key theme [1:50,54,72; Eph. 2:4]. Salvation is
ultimately an act of Godís mercy, but the sphere of Messiahís ministry is also
the mercy of God. The visit of the
† Zechariah concludes the hymn and describes
Messiahís mission of guiding the lost, those dwelling in darkness, into Godís
way. The task is presented by the two verbs: shine and guide. Both verbs
explain the role of the rising sunís visitation, but in addition they seem to
describe in particular the purpose for his coming. The Old Testament commonly
pictures God as a light who shines on His people and enlightens them. The image
of light appearing in the darkness to aid people is also common, whether the
light is God Himself or an agent of God. The idea of Messiahís shining
describes his coming to humans, his teaching on their behalf, and his
ministering to them. The need for such ministry is described in bleak terms.
People sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. These Old Testament images
appear to refer to those who are oppressed spiritually and physically, like
Messiahís task also involves guidance. The purpose of his
appearing is to lead others to God, into the way of peace. The consequence of
deliverance is a full life, which is able to serve God. The description of
salvation in terms of peace is another common theme in Luke. The Old Testament
idea of peace refers to a personís total well-being as a result of being in harmony
with God. Lukeís picture differs little from the Old Testament. For
In 1:76-79, John and Jesus come by Godís mercy to Godís people. John will prepare the way for Godís visitation in Messiah. He will instruct them about salvation and the forgiveness of sins. But Messiah will go beyond John. For he will serve like a bright guiding light that takes the people out of the darkness and brings them into Godís way. John will proclaim salvation, but Jesus can take them into it.
Questions for Discussion:
1.†††††††† What does Luke mean when he describes Zechariah and Elizabeth as righteous and walking blamelessly in verse 1:6? Is he saying that they are without sin?
2.†††††††† Compare Zechariahís response in 1:12,18-20 and in 1:64. What caused the change? What was the twofold response of the crowd to these events? What was lacking in the crowdís response to the way God was magnifying His mercy?
3.†††††††† Look at Zechariahís prophecy in 1:76-79. What was the role that John was to play in relation to the coming of the Messiah?
4.†††††††† How do the two verbs, shine and guide, in verse 79 describe the mission of the Messiah?
5.†††††††† Why does Luke emphasize that Godís tender mercy must characterize His entire plan of salvation?
Luke, Darrell Bock, Baker Books.
Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Norval Geldenhuys, Eerdmans.
Gospel According to Luke, William Hendriksen, Baker Books.