HE SHALL BE GREAT
Verses 1-4 The things surely believed among us
1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; 3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, 4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.
There is much that could be said on this more of which may well come out in future meetings but so that we make a start tonight let me explain the introduction to the whole book as given in the four verses that we have read together. Notice that he wrote to Theophilus, a very Greek sounding name meaning lover of God but possibly owned by a high ranking Roman official as Luke would have moved in high society. Luke uses this mans name at the start of the other book he wrote, the Acts of the Apostles, which makes a significant part of the New Testament (getting on for one quarter in terms of words). So that Luke, believe it or not, is the most prolific writer of all the writers of the NT in terms of words written. Luke wrote about things most surely believed among us and he included Theophilus in that term. The record is written as a letter for the benefit of one who had embraced the Lord Jesus, claimed Him as His own Saviour and wanted to progress in spiritual things. The purpose of Lukes account was to set out in detailed order (verse 1 and verse 3), and, based on the eyewitness accounts of others for he was not a companion of the Lord Jesus as he was of Paul the apostle, the things that were, and indeed are, believed about the Lord Jesus. Many had undertaken to perform this task but none of their records finds its way into the canon, the measuring stick, of scripture. Luke had an accurate and intimate knowledge of all things pertaining to the Lord Jesus from the start of His life. He wrote his words to this man Theophilus who, it would appear, was curious as a young believer, or at least Luke thought so, to know the certainty of the things of which he had been instructed.
The things most surely believed among us John Barton helped by stating that the things that we believe are that the Lord Jesus is the Son of God, that He came to seek and to save that which was lost, that He is sinless, that He lived a perfect life, that He died to save us, that He is coming again.
Say, friend, are you curious? Do you believe? Do you struggle with the concepts that have been brought to your attention over the many years you have come along to this place? Perhaps it was that this man was a new convert to Christianity. I for one believe so. We have some such here today. None of us know all the answers but, by reason of considering these things over many years, many have come to know the Lord Jesus better than when we first trusted Him. You will grow, too, if you apply yourself to grow in the faith. Just as a child needs food to grow so each of us needs spiritual food in order to grow spiritually. Theophilus needed that. Luke felt that he needed an ordered approach just as explained to him in these early verses. Dear newly saved one this book will start at the beginning of the life of the Lord Jesus and even before His birth and work systematically and in order all the way through His sojourn down here so that the discerning reader or, in our case, hearer will know the full and ordered story of the Lord Jesus as the perfect Man among men.
Perhaps you have never been saved. Perhaps it is that you know the Lord Jesus to be a good man but there are millions in the world, many of whom are of other faiths, who believe that. You believe much about Him. Luke wrote what he wrote as a record of the things that were most surely believed, the things that were so well established among the Christian community. But without believing in Him, resting your eternal future into His hand, trusting Him entirely for your souls salvation then the one of whom Luke wrote to a newly converted Gentile soul is not your Saviour and cannot be all the while you refuse Him to be so.
As we present the Lord Jesus in an orderly way to you over the coming months may it be that, if you still do not know Him as Lord and Saviour, you come to know Him as such. If you belong to Him then may we help you to get to know Him better than you know Him now?
Verses 5-25 The promise of John
5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. 8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, 9 According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. 20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. 23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. 24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
The story starts with a reference to the days of Herod the king of Judea. By describing him this way we know exactly who was in mind. There were many people called Herod and we have to distinguish between them. This man was a king in Judea but was not a true Jew. He was an Edomite, a Nabatean, who had been present in Rome for some time. It was there that he was proclaimed king of the Jews and he eventually took up this position once Rome took control of Israel. He is known in history as Herod the Great but he was nothing short of a vassal king. He was a murderous man who not only was responsible for the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew 2 but for many members of his own family. He was a man who was bent on getting his own way but must not be confused with the Herod of Matthew 14 who was Herod the tetrarch of Galilee and this mans son. This Herod the Great was the king at the time that the Lord Jesus was born and Matthew 2 tells us that he passed away shortly after the Lord Jesus was taken down into Egypt and that Archelaus his son (one of nine or ten by a number of women) reigned in his stead.
There was a priest named Zacharias (or Zachariah) of the course of Abia (or Abijah). His wife, Elisabeth (note the spelling), was of the priestly line. She could trace her lineage back to Aaron. These two were both righteous before God, in His sight. They were not only righteous before men but before God. They obeyed the law and the ordinances of God and were blameless. This does not mean to say that they were sinless but they were blameless. God could look down on righteous lives and those around would have been unjust in pointing the finger of blame. There was only one who was sinless even though there were plenty who unjustly pointed the accusing finger at the Lord Jesus. The priest and his wife had no children and for a woman there was a great reproach in that (see verse 25). There were two reasons why the events that we have read about were miraculous. Elisabeth was barren so she could bear no children and had this been possible in earlier years she was now old and past the age of child bearing. Zacharias was also old (well stricken in years).
We were told that it was his lot, his portion, to burn incense in the temple (at Jerusalem). This, it was explained, was a once in a lifetime experience. There are many who return to a hall such as this to hear the gospel but for others they may only ever attend once. Think of Zacchaeus. The saviour was passing through his town that day and it was His final journey to Jerusalem. It was then or never as far as he was concerned. How it is important to make any attendance at a gospel meeting count. While Zacharias was offering incense so there was a crowd outside. An angel called Gabriel (verse 19) appeared at the right side of the altar (see Ezekiel 10.3) and fear resulted.
He was told that he was to have a child and that the childs name was to be called John. He was to do the calling of the name. There are seven people in scripture whose name was given before they were born. This is the sixth and the seventh is the Lord Jesus. John means gift or grace and he truly was a gift from God to the nation. The Lord was in a far greater way both the personification of the gift and grace of God.
Thy prayer is heard. The prayer no doubt had been for a child and prayed many times when they were younger. But now that they were old presumably this prayer had ceased. God takes note of our prayers. He does not forget them. Elisabeth was to produce a son. He was to have joy and gladness and many people were to rejoice at his birth because he was to be great in the sight of the Lord (compare verse 6) and be, in effect, like the Nazarite of Numbers 6. He was to be dedicated and given to God. This one when fully grown would direct the people to their God and many other things are said of him.
Zacharias asked a question, Whereby shall I know this?, and the answer given was unequivocal. For Mary (verse 34) there was no rebuke but what was to happen to her had never happened before and would never happen again. What was about to happen with Zacharias and Elisabeth had happened during the life of Abraham and Sarah. There was a precedent. He should have believed what the angel had to say. There is a necessity for belief for each and every one of us especially in the matter of salvation.
Eventually, though there had been some staggering, he must have believed and, like Abraham, considered not his body now dead or the barrenness of his wife or her advanced years.
Elisabeth only speaks once in this section but what wonderful words in verse 25. The Lord dealt with me, He looked upon me and he did it for me (in her case he took away her shame). How wonderful to think that God is prepared to take dealings with us, that he is prepared to look in favour upon us and that He is willing to do so much for us not by way of taking away our reproach but more in that He is willing to remove our sins.
Verses 26-38 The promise of the Lord Jesus
26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
The first half of Luke chapter 1 gives details of two announcements of miraculous births. The first one, announced by an angel to a priest officiating in the temple by the name of Zacharias, concerned an old man with a wife who was well beyond child bearing age. They were to have a child and the announcement is the subject of the previous section. This section is the second announcement again given by an angel only this time to a young (teenage even) girl who was not yet married but engaged to a man called Joseph. The first announcement concerned a woman beyond the age of child bearing. The second concerned a young woman who was not yet married. In the consideration of this second announcement comparisons may be made (indeed contrasts, too) with the first announcement.
The first comparison is that the angel appeared to individuals (verse 13 and verse 26). As we read through this book and the Lord Jesus is unfolded to us we will learn that He is the God of the individual. The Lord Jesus called individual disciples and made them into a band of men. He healed a leper, a centurions servant, a widows son, a blind beggar. He dealt with a rich ruler and with Zacchaeus up there in the tree. When it came to speaking of heaven and hell the Lord Jesus illustrated the principle by referring to certain individuals. Nothing has changed with the passage of time. Our God is still the God of the individual. He deals with individuals in the matter of salvation or in various issues of life. It matters not about our status whether we are young or old, rich or poor. God deals with each of us as individuals. We all matter to Him.
The second comparison is that both individuals were troubled. Mary was troubled at the angels arrival and announcement v 28, 29. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. Zacharias had the same reaction in v11, 12. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. Both were troubled - the word used for Marys consternation is an intense form of the word used to describe the agitation experienced by Zacharias. When God speaks to us we should be affected and maybe troubled. As challenges with message of the Gospel or regarding our Christian life.
The third comparison is that a promise was given to Mary that she was to have a son - v31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, She did not understand the promise v34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? Her question was one of wonder rather than one of doubt how? There was a problem in her mind she was not married and no girl had ever produced a child without knowing a man.
Zacharias was given the same promise in v13 but responded with unbelief (v18). And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. Zacharias expressed unbelief by also asking a question of the angel pointing out that his wife was too old impossible. He should have known better as he was older, wiser and a priest. He would have been acquainted with what had happened in Abraham and Sarahs case.
The fourth comparison is that both individuals receive answers from God to the questions that they asked. What were Gods answers to their reactions to the promises given? Mary was given the assurance that the Holy Spirit would deal with the problem of no husband. v35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: The Holy Spirit was to be responsible for producing the child (come upon thee) and the protection of the child during the pregnancy (overshadow thee). The example of God doing the impossible was to be seen by what had happened to her cousin Elisabeth. Zacharias, however, was judged for his unbelief and made dumb. What a reminder for us. God has demonstrated His love for us by providing a Saviour to deal with our sin which is keeping us from ever getting to heaven. He has told us how to be saved. He has told us of blessing that awaits those who are saved and the penalty of rejecting Him. Like Zacharias we have the evidence in the things written in the Bible and the witness of changed lives.
The fifth comparison is that there was a reaction to the answers given by the divine messenger by both Zacharias and Mary. Mary believed the impossible - v38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. What a blessing came from her trust in Gods Word but note that Mary was not worshipped by the angel and never was she called the mother of God. She acknowledged that she was but the handmaid of the Lord v38. No different from us. She simply believed Gods word though she did not understand what was going to happen. She understood a lot more later. For us it is only when we come to trust God and accept the Lord Jesus as Saviour that we ever understand the Bible due to the Holy Spirit within. Will find out in the next section what happened to Zacharias and the blessing that came when he expressed and demonstrated his belief.
The sixth comparison concerns the babies that were to be born. Both were to be boys. Zachariass son was to be John the Baptist who was the man God gave to announce to the Jewish people the arrival of their Messiah, Marys son (see chapter 3). The central character of Lukes gospel is Marys baby so we need to be clear as to who He is. Verses we have read tell us a lot about Him and establish who He is.
1. v31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, What does this tell us? a person born just like us a man.
2. v31, 32 and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: What does this tell us? The name Jesus means Jehovah saves. Joseph was told by the angel, Thou shalt call his name Jesus for he shall his people from their sins. He is referred to as the Son of the Highest - i.e. Son of God; see also v35 therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. Clearly He is God. As we go through Luke remember that this man called Jesus IS GOD. Plaese note that john the Baptist is referred to as merely the prophet of the Highest in verse 76 of this same chapter.
3. v32 ..and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: This clearly establishes Him as the promised Messiah and a fulfilment of one of 300 Old Testament promises.
4. v33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. So the Lord Jesus will reign for ever for He is eternal. He will return one day to set up His Kingdom see chapters 17 and 21
In conclusion of this section the subject of Lukes gospel is Jesus - a man - all man; God - all God and Saviour. Our final question is this - is He yours?
Verses 39-56 Expectant mothers meet
39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; 40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. 46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; 55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. 56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
This passage of scripture was discussed on the day before the royal baby was born to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Expectant mothers meet regularly before their great day and the two in these scriptures were not in the same social group but in the same family as verse 36 has revealed that Mary and Elisabeth were cousins. .
We have already noticed that Zacharias and Elisabeth were expecting a son in their old age and that Mary was expecting a son despite being a virgin. Matthew 1.20 says that Joseph was told by the angel that the child within Mary was conceived of the Holy Spirit. The virgin birth of the Lord Jesus is a fundamental truth of scripture.
This section starts with the visit of Mary, the younger woman and only just with child, to Elisabeth the older woman and already six months pregnant. She went with haste as there was no time to be lost. She went from Nazareth to an unspecified place in the hill country of Judea no doubt to the south of Jerusalem and possibly as much as 100 miles from her home town.
In verses 41-56 there are three persons who express joy and praise.
There are three other sections in Marys hymn of praise. In verses 48-49 she speaks of what God has done for her, and in verses 50-53 of what He has done for those who fear (revere) Him, and in verses 54-55 she speaks of what He had done for Israel. All generations from then on would call her blessed. It was not just Elisabeth alone who was to bless her but down through the succeeding ages there would be many to do so. This blessing must not be at the expense of blessing God. There are many sincere people throughout this world who have been incorrectly taught to venerate Mary. They attend their place of worship to ascribe praise to her and not to God. Nowhere in the Bible do we get the title Blessed Virgin Mary as used by many throughout the world. Our worship must be of God. The fact that Mary is referred to as the mother of my Lord by Elisabeth is not disputed in this observation, but where worship displaces God and His Christ then there is something wrong and something which Mary herself never intended to happen. It is considered helpful to compare this song of praise by Mary with an earlier one spoken by Hannah in I Samuel 2.1-10, which see. Notice what Mary says when she speaks of what God has done for those who fear Him. He has showed them mercy. His strength has been displayed in that the proud have been scattered (the proud stand in contrast to those who fear Him); the mighty have been put down and, by way of contrast, the lowly have been exalted; the hungry have been filled with good things and, again by contrast, the rich have been sent away empty.
At the end of the Magnificat there is a statement informing the reader that Mary stayed with Elisabeth for three months (or until close to the time when John the Baptist was born) and then took the long journey back to her house.
Verses 57-80 John is born
57 Now Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58 And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. 59 And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. 60 And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. 61 And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62 And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. 63 And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. 64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. 65 And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 66 And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him. 67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, 69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; 70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: 71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; 73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, 74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. 76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, 78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, 79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. 80 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.
We have learnt that the Holy Spirit (and His filling) is a theme that runs through Lukes writings. In these early passages in Luke we notice that this applies to Zacharias, Elisabeth, Mary (in the sense that the Holy Spirit was to come upon her and overshadow her) and now John. We may also have noticed that this section contains one of five songs in the early part of Lukes gospel account:
There are other things to note from a consideration of OT scripture. Circumcision on the eight day (Genesis 17.12 and Leviticus 12.3) signifies a new beginning. There was also a longstanding tradition in place to call the male offspring by his fathers name. Whilst on the subject of tradition there are two types of manmade tradition one is good as it is beneficial though not necessarily mandated by scripture and the other is unhelpful especially when it opposes principles laid down in scripture.
With this in mind the breakdown for the passage is:
57-66 Johns birth
67-79 Zachariass song
80 Johns development
57-66 comprehensively affected (note the use of the word all to show that all were involved)
63 They marvelled all
65 Fear came on all
65 All these sayings were noised abroad
66 All that heard these sayings laid them up in their hearts (compare with Mary in Luke 2.19 and 51)
67-79 Zachariass song says more concerning the Lord Jesus than his own son, John
68-70 The coming Messiah He is the horn of salvation
71-75 The salvation He will bring
76-77 John had a part to play as His forerunner but note that he is only called the prophet of the Highest whereas the Lord Jesus has been referred to as the Son of the Highest in 1.32
78-79 Final praise of God
The promised Messiah was to bring visitation (verse 68), redemption (v68), salvation (vs 69, 71 and 77), deliverance and freedom to serve (v74), remission of sins (v77) and light/guidance (v79). Two titles of the messiah are given the horn of salvation in the house of David and the dayspring from on high. The dayspring speaks of the sun rising to usher in a new day. This idea of day and light runs throughout scripture. Job spoke of a daysman (Job 9.33) between God and man. The Lord Jesus is such a mediator. Peter (II Peter 2.19) spoke of the day star (the morning star appearing for the church). Malachi spoke of the sun of righteousness (Malachi 4.2) rising with healing in his wings. John wrote about the light that shone in darkness (John 1.5).
How wonderful to think that God was to provide salvation in that His Son would visit planet earth and redeem a people to Himself by paying the ransom price in blood upon the cross. How marvellous to think that not only did He tell mankind this long before He came but reminded them again so near to His arrival by these wonderful words spoken by Zacharias and others that we have already considered.