IN THE OPENING verses Luke avows the object before him in writing his Gospel; he wished to bring certainty to the mind of a certain Gentile convert. God had given him a perfect understanding of all things from the outset, so now he wrote them "in order," or "with method;" and we shall see as we proceed that he sometimes ignores historical order to present things in a method that is moral and spiritual. The understanding of that moral and spiritual order, together with having the facts clearly in writing, would bring certainty to Theophilus, as also it will to us. We see here how certainty is linked with the Holy Writings-the Word of God. If we had not the Holy Writings, we should have certainty of nothing.
The first and second chapters present us with facts concerning the birth of Christ, and with very interesting pictures of the godly remnant in Israel, out of whom, according to the flesh, He appeared. The first picture, verses 5-25, concerns the priest Zacharias and his wife. They were "righteous before God," from which we may deduce that they were a couple marked by faith, and consequently they were marked by obedience to the instructions of the law. Yet, when told by an angel that his elderly and barren wife should bear a son, he asked for a sign of some kind to be given in support of the bare Word of God. In this he proved himself to be an "unbelieving believer," though very true to type, for "the Jews require a sign" (1 Cor. 1: 22); and he suffered governmentally, inasmuch as the sign granted was the loss of his power of speech. The sign was quite appropriate however. The Psalmist said, "I believed, therefore have I spoken." Zacharias did not believe, and therefore he could not speak.
The angel's prediction concerning the son of Zacharias was that he should be great in the sight of the Lord, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, so that in the spirit and power of Elijah he might "make ready a people prepared for the Lord." In verses 6, 9, 11, 15, 16 and 17, "Lord" is the equivalent of the Old Testament "Jehovah," so the advent of the Messiah is to be the advent of Jehovah. There were to be people on earth who were prepared to receive Christ when He came. The Gospel starts then with a godly priest fulfilling the ritual of the law in the temple, and granted a promise that had to do with a people waiting for the Messiah to appear on earth. We ask special attention to this, for we think we shall see that this Gospel gives us the transition from law to grace, and from earth to heaven, so that it ends with tidings of grace for all nations, and with Christ ascending into the heavens to take up high-priestly service there. In chapter 1 the earthly priest was dumb. In the closing verses of the Gospel the men who are to be priests in the new dispensation of the Holy Spirit were in the temple and anything but dumb-they were praising and blessing God.
In verses 26-38, we have the angel's announcement to Mary concerning the conception and birth of her Son. She was the chosen vessel for this great event. A few details of much importance must be briefly noted. In the first place, verse 31 makes it abundantly plain that He was truly a Man; "made of a woman," as Galatians 4: 4 says.
In the second place, verses 32 and 33 make it plain that He was far more than a mere Man. He was "great," in a way that no other man ever was, being Son of the Highest; and He is destined to be the looked-for King over the house of Jacob, and take up a kingdom that abides for ever. We observe that there is as yet no hint of anything outside those hopes as to the Messiah which could be based upon Old Testament prophecies. The Son of the Highest was coming to reign, and that reign might be immediate as far as this message was concerned.
A difficulty occurred to Mary's mind which she expressed in verse 34. The coming Child was to have David as His ancestor and yet be the Son of the Highest! She did not ask for a sign, since she accepted the angel's words, but she did ask for an explanation. How could this thing be? Mary's question and the angel's answer in verses 35-37, make quite plain in the third place the reality of the virgin birth and the wholly super-natural character of the Manhood of Jesus.
There was to be an action of the Holy Ghost, producing "that Holy Thing," and then the over-shadowing of the Power of the Highest-a process we believe-protecting "that Holy Thing," while as yet unborn. In result there was to be a suitable vessel of flesh and blood for the incarnation of the Son of God. He is Son of David truly, as is indicated at the end of verse 32, but Romans 1: 3 shows that it was the Son of God who became Son of David according to the flesh. In verse 35 of our chapter the article "the" is really absent-"called Son of God"-that is, it indicates character rather than the definite Person. When the Son of God became the Son of David through Mary, there was such a putting forth of the power of God as ensured that the "Holy Thing" born of Mary should be "Son of God" in character, and therefore the fit vessel for His incarnation. It was a miracle of the first order; but then, as the angel said, "with God nothing shall be impossible."
The faith of Mary, and her submission to the pleasure of God concerning her, comes out beautifully in verse 38. Verses 39-45 show the piety and prophetic spirit that characterized Elisabeth, for seeing Mary she at once recognized in her the mother "of my Lord." She was filled with the Holy Ghost, and recognized Jesus as her Lord even before He was born, an instructive illustration, this, of 1 Corinthians 12: 3.
This is followed by Mary's prophetic utterance in verses 46-55. It was called forth by her sense of the extraordinary mercy that had been shown to her in her humble circumstances. Though descended from David she was but the espoused wife of the humble carpenter of Nazareth. In the mercy shown to her she saw the pledge of the final exaltation of those who fear God and the scattering of the proud and mighty of this world. She saw moreover that the coming of her Child was to be the fulfilment of the promise that had been made to Abraham-God's unconditional promise. She had no thought of Israel having deserved anything under the covenant of law. All depended upon the covenant of promise. The hungry were being filled and the rich dismissed empty. This is ever God's way.
We must not omit to notice that Mary spoke of "God my Saviour." Though the mother of our Saviour, she herself found her Saviour in God.
In due time the son was born to Zacharias and Elisabeth and at the time of his circumcision his father's mouth was opened. He wrote, "His name is John," showing that he now fully accepted the angel's word, and hence the name of his son was a settled question. At last he believed, though it was faith that follows sight, of the true Jewish type; consequently his mouth was opened. He praised God, and filled with the Holy Ghost he prophesied.
A striking thing about this prophecy is that, though it was provoked by the birth of his own son John, that child was only before his mind in a minor and secondary way. The great theme of his utterance was the yet unborn Christ of God. He held things in their right proportion. This was the fruit of his being filled with the Spirit, who always magnifies Christ. Had he spoken merely in the enthusiasm engendered by the birth of the unexpected son, he would have talked mainly or altogether about him and the exalted prophetic office to which he was called.
He spoke of the coming of Christ as though it had already materialized, and he celebrated the effects of His coming as though they had already been accomplished. This is a common feature of prophecy: it speaks of things as accomplished which historically are still in the future. For the moment the prophet is carried in his spirit outside all time considerations. In the imminent appearance of Christ, Zacharias saw the Lord God of Israel visiting His people in order to redeem them. The salvation that He would bring would deliver them from all their enemies and enable them to serve Him in freedom and in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life. And all this would be in fulfilment of His promise and oath to Abraham. Notice how the Holy Spirit inspired him to refer to the unconditional promise to Abraham, just as Mary had done. Israel's blessing will be on that basis and not on the basis of the covenant of law.
In all this we observe as yet no clear distinction between the first and second comings of Christ. Verses 68-75, contemplate things which will only be brought to pass in any full sense at His second coming. True, redemption was wrought by Christ at His first coming, but it was redemption by blood, and not by power; and it is true of course that the holiness and. righteousness in which a restored and delivered Israel will serve their God through the bright millennial day will be based upon the work of the cross. Still in these verses the two comings are regarded as one whole.
Verses 76 and 77 referSaturday 08-Sep-2007 6:53Jehovah preparing His ways. He was to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins. This he did as verse 3 of Luke 3 records, in connection with his baptism. Notice that here "His people" acquires a rather new sense-not Israel nationally, but those who were the believing remnant in the midst of that people. All is on the ground of mercy even with John and his Elijah-like ministry. It is, "the remission of their sins on account of the bowels of mercy of our God" (New Trans.).
In verses 78 and 79 Zacharias returns to the coming of Christ, and all of course is on the ground of that same mercy, for the word "whereby," connects what follows with the mercy just mentioned. The "Dayspring from on high" is a peculiarly lovely description of Christ. Alternative words for "Dayspring" would be "Daydawn" or "Sunrising." His advent was indeed the dawning of a new day. Every earthly sunrising has been, to human eyes, from beneath upwards. This one was "from on high" that is, from above downwards. The Spirit of God moved Zacharias to announce by inspiration the dawning of a day that would be new, though the full wonder of it was as yet hidden from his eyes.
He saw however that it meant the bringing in of both light and peace for men; and here he does begiSaturday 08-Sep-2007 6:53f Christ. When He came forth in His public ministry the light began to shine, and the way of peace was well and truly laid in His death and resurrection, and the feet of His disciples led into it immediately after. The prophecy of Zacharias closes on this strikingly beautiful note. In the first glimpse we have of him he is a troubled and fearful man. His last word recorded in Scripture is "peace." He had seen by faith the coming of the Saviour, like the dawning of a new day of blessing, and that made all the difference.
Verse 80 summarizes the whole of John's life up to the opening of his ministry. God dealt with him in secret in the deserts, educating him in view of his solemn preaching of repentance in the days to come.
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