Luke 1 – The Birth of John the Baptist
A. Introduction to the Gospel of Luke.
The first four verses of Luke’s gospel are one sentence in the original Greek. They are written in refined, academic, classical style. But then, for the rest of the gospel, Luke didn’t use the language of scholars but of the common man, the language of the village and the street. Through this, Luke said to us, “This account has all the proper academic and scholarly credentials. But it is written for the man on the street.” Luke wrote so that people would understand Jesus, not so they would admire his brain and literary skill.
1. (1-2) Mention of the prior accounts of the life of Jesus.
Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us,
a. Many have taken in hand: Luke wrote his gospel knowing that many had already written histories of the life of Jesus. This may be a reference to the works of Mark and Matthew (most people think John was written after Luke), and it may also refer to other biographies of Jesus not directly inspired by the Holy Spirit.
i. Some researchers claim that the writings about Jesus did not come about until two or perhaps three generations after His death on the cross. But the work of German papyrus expert Carsten Thiede (in December 1994) suggests that we actually possess copies of Matthew that date close to the very time of Jesus. Thiede’s findings are based on a careful analysis of the handwriting script used on the recently discovered fragments.
b. Those things which have been fulfilled among us: The previously mentioned writings contain things already commonly known and believed among Christians of Luke’s day. When Luke wrote, most Christians already knew all about the life of Jesus, both from the oral accounts passed on by the original disciples, and by the biographies that had already been written.
i. With the word us, Luke put himself in the community of Christians who believed and received the accounts of Jesus’ life. Luke was a companion of Paul (Acts 16:10-11; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24) and Paul called him the beloved physician (Colossians 4:14). Luke was a doctor and therefore a man of science and research, and this in reflected in his history of the life of Jesus.
ii. By every indication, Luke was a Gentile. Colossians 4:10-11 and 4:14 show that he wasn’t Jewish, because he was not included in the group who are of the circumcision. This makes Luke unique in that he is the only New Testament writer who was a Gentile.
iii. God gave this lone Gentile writer a great privilege. Because he also wrote the book of Acts (which makes up the second volume of this Gospel), Luke wrote more of the New Testament than any other human writer did (assuming that Paul did not author the letter to the Hebrews).
c. Just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us: Luke tells us that the prior accounts of the life of Jesus were based on the words of eyewitnesses.
i. Those who from the beginning were undoubtedly the apostles, who were with Jesus from the very start. But those who from the beginning would also include people such as Mary herself, whom Luke probably interviewed in his research for this history of the life of Jesus.
ii. Luke wrote to a first century world that was burnt out on “if it feels good, do it” living; yet it was offended by the crazy superstitions of most religions. The world then, as today, longs for what Christianity offers: faith founded on fact.
2. (3-4) Luke explains the reason for the writing of his account.
It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
a. It seemed good to me also: Luke was not one of those who was an eyewitness of events from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Yet he put himself in the same line as other who wrote their accounts of Jesus’ life from first-hand experience (such as Matthew and Mark), because his account was based on diligent research and a perfect understanding of events.
b. To write to you an orderly account: Having already read Matthew and Mark’s account, Luke wanted to give a third account with an emphasis on comprehensiveness and order. Therefore, Luke is the most comprehensive gospel. He documents the story of Jesus’ all the way from the annunciation of John the Baptist to Jesus’ ascension.
· Luke is the most universal gospel. In Luke, Gentiles are often put in a favorable light.
· Luke’s gospel is the one most interested in the roles of women, children, and social outcasts.
· The gospel of Luke is the one most interested in prayer. He has seven different references to Jesus praying that are found in this gospel alone.
· Luke’s gospel is the one with the most emphasis on the Holy Spirit and on joy.
· Luke’s gospel is the one with the most emphasis on preaching the good news (the gospel). This term is used ten times in this Gospel (and only once in any other Gospel) as well as fifteen additional times in Acts.
c. Most excellent Theophilus: Luke addressed his gospel to a man named Theophilus, but it was also written with a wider audience in mind.
i. By his title (most excellent), we gather that Theophilus was probably a Roman government official. It is entirely likely that the books of Luke and Acts make up Paul’s defense brief for his trial before Caesar, since Acts leaves Paul waiting for that trial.
ii. Whoever Theophilus was, he had already had some instruction in the faith (in which you were instructed).
B. The announcement of the birth of John the Baptist.
1. (5-7) The time and people beginning the history of the life of Jesus.
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.
a. in the days of Herod: These events happened at a definite time. This was the man known as Herod the Great, who was at the end of a long and terrible reign. Ethnically, he was not a descendant of Israel, but of Jacob’s brother Esau – therefore an Edomite, or an Idumean. He was known for his spectacular building programs, but even more so for his paranoid cruelty, which drove him to execute many, including members of his own family.
b. A certain priest named Zacharias…His wife…was Elizabeth: These events happened to definite people. Zacharias and Elizabeth were righteous and obedient, yet also stigmatized by their barrenness (but they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren).
c. Of the division of Abijah: Priestly divisions (including the division of Abijah) were noted in 1 Chronicles 23-24.
2. (8-10) Zacharias’ temple service.
So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.
a. According to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense: Only priests from a particular lineage could serve in the temple. Over the years the number of priests multiplied, (there were said to be as many as 20,000 priests in the time of Jesus) so they used the lot to determine which priests would serve when. The lot to serve might fall to a priest only once in his life.
i. To a godly man like Zacharias, this was probably the biggest event of his life, a tremendous privilege, a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Surely he wondered what it would be like to enter the holy place, and if God had something special to speak to him in this special event of his life.
ii. It is also easy to imagine that Zacharias asked the other priests who had already performed this service what it was like; asking them if they had any unique spiritual experience when they ministered before the Lord. The whole event was filled with enormous anticipation.
b. To burn incense: According to the Law of Moses, incense was offered to God on the golden altar every morning and every evening (Exodus 30:7-8). By this time, there was an established ritual for the practice.
i. There were several lots cast to determine who did what at the morning sacrifice. The first lot determined who would cleanse the altar and prepare its fire; the second lot determined who would kill the morning sacrifice and sprinkle the altar, the golden candlestick, and the altar of incense. The third lot determined who would come and offer incense. This was the most privileged duty; those who received the first and second lots would repeat their duty at the evening sacrifice, but not with the third lot. To offer the incense would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
ii. Before dawn, hundreds of worshippers gathered at the temple. The morning sacrifice began when the incense priest walked toward the temple, through the outer courts, he struck a gong-like instrument known as the Magrephah. At this sound, the Levites assembled and got ready to lead the gathered people in songs of worship to God.
iii. The other two priests chosen by lot that morning walked up to the temple on each side of the priest chosen to offer the incense. All three entered the holy place together. One priest set burning coals on the golden altar; the other priest arranged the incense, so it was ready to go. Then those two priests left the temple, and the incense priest was left all alone in the holy place.
iv. In front of him was the golden altar of incense; it was 18 inches square and 3 feet high. On that small table lay the burning coals, with little wisps of smoke rising up, ready for the incense. Behind the gold altar was a huge, thick curtain, and behind that curtain was the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place, where no man could enter, except the high priest, and that only on the Day of Atonement. As he faced the golden altar of incense, to his right would be the table of showbread, and to his left would be the golden lampstand, which provided the only light for the holy place.
c. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense: When the people outside saw the two men exit the temple, they knew that the time to offer the incense had come. Those hundreds of people bowed or kneeled before the Lord and spread their hands out in silent prayer. They knew that at that moment the incense priest prayed in the holy place, in the very presence of God, for the entire nation.
i. There followed several minutes of dead silence in all the temple precincts – as Zacharias lingered in prayer in the holy place during this, the most solemn experience of his life.
ii. The connection between the burning of incense and prayer might seem strange to some, but it the Bible the burning of incense is a strong picture of prayer (Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8).
ii. What did Zacharias pray for? He must have thought about it carefully beforehand. He may have even taken out a prayer list, though it is more likely he memorized it. He also knew how long to pray, because he had attended the morning sacrifice as a worshipper many times before, and he knew how long the incense priest stayed in the temple. He must have prayed for both needs of the nation of Israel, which was occupied and oppressed by the hated Romans. He must have prayed for God to send the Messiah. He probably would have thought it wrong to throw in his personal needs at such a holy moment!
3. (11-17) The angel’s announcement to Zacharias.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘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.”
a. Then an angel of the Lord appeared: The angel simply stood on the right side of the altar of incense. Zacharias probably had his eyes tightly shut in passionate prayer, and when he opened them he saw this angel.
b. When Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him: The angel who appeared to Zacharias was not a romantic figure, or a naked baby with wings. This angel was a glorious, fearful, and an awesome creature. Like most angels in the Bible, the first thing this angel has to say to his human contact is “Do not be afraid.”
i. Zacharias must have thought, “Does this happen to everyone who does this? The other guys didn’t tell me anything about this!”
c. Your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear a son: It is doubtful that Zacharias prayed for a son when he was at the golden altar of incense. First, it might have seemed like such a selfish need. Second, since he and Elizabeth were both well advanced in years (Luke 1:7), they had probably given up on this prayer a long time ago.
i. Sometimes we pray for something for a long, long time. We pray for the salvation of a spouse or a child. We pray for a calling or a ministry. We pray that God would bring that special person to us. But after years of heartfelt prayer, we give up out of discouragement. Zacharias and Elizabeth probably prayed years of passionate prayer for a son, but gave up a long time ago, and stopped believing God for so much anymore.
ii. When we are in that place, we sometimes begin – in the smallest of ways – to doubt the love and care of God for us. But God always loves, and His care never stops.
iii. Zacharias’ reaction to the angel’s promise was probably thinking, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I didn’t pray for a son. We’re old, you know. I gave up on that prayer a long time ago. I’m praying for the salvation of Israel. I’m praying that God will send the promised Messiah.” Zacharias didn’t know that God would answer both prayers at once, and use his miracle baby to be a part of sending the Messiah!
iv. Zacharias had no idea that God would answer the two greatest desires of his heart at once. He had probably completely given up on the idea of being a dad; it was a hope that was crushed over the years of disappointment. But God hadn’t given up on it, even though Zacharias and Elizabeth had.
d. You shall call his name John: The boy was given a name before he was even conceived. This was a command from the Lord to name the boy John.
e. He will begreat in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink: This is probably a reference to the vow of a Nazirite found in Numbers 6. Their son John would be specially consecrated to God all the days of his life, as Samson should have been.
i. Though John would be great in the sight of the Lord, by the grace of God, he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matthew 11:11).
f. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb: Their son John would have a unique filling of the Holy Spirit, being filled with the Holy Spirit even while in the womb.
i. Calvin, on John being filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb: “Let us learn by this example that, from the earliest infancy to the latest old age, the operation of the Spirit in men is free.”
g. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God: John’s great work would be to prepare the way of the Messiah by turning hearts to God before the Messiah came. The pattern for his ministry would be the great prophet Elijah – in the spirit and power of Elijah. Jesus later said this was fulfilled in John (Matthew 11:14 and 17:12).
h. To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children: This quotation from Malachi 4:5-6 is meaningful for more than its reference to Elijah. These were essentially the last words in the Old Testament, and now God’s revelation is resuming where it had left off.
i. Elijah was a man who called Israel to a radical repentance (1 Kings 18:20-40).
4. (18-20) Zacharias’ doubt and muteness.
And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”
a. How shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife is well advanced in years: Zacharias’ attitude was, “Thanks for the promise, angel. But knowing the condition of my wife and I, this is a big one. Can you give us a sign to prove it?”
i. It isn’t that Zacharias doesn’t want to believe this; he does. It is simply that he feels it must be too good to be true, and he has probably protected himself from disappointment by not setting his expectations too high. We rob ourselves of many a miracle by the same attitude.
ii. Zacharias looked at the circumstances first, and what God can do last; we are tempted to think this is logical; but if God is real, there is nothing logical about putting circumstances before God.
b. I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God: Gabriel reminds Zacharias of who he is and where he has come from. There is a big contrast between I am an old man and I am Gabriel – which held more weight? Gabriel also “preaches the gospel” to Zacharias (brings you glad tidings).
i. It was nothing but good news to Zacharias that he would not only have a son, but that the son would have a significant role in God’s plan of redemption. This is the good news that Gabriel brought to Zacharias.
ii. This gives a better idea of what it really means to preach to gospel – it is to bring good news to people who need it.
c. My words which will be fulfilled in their own time: If there is no Zacharias, there is no John the Baptist. If there is no John the Baptist, there is no herald announcing the coming of the Messiah. If there is no herald announcing the coming of the Messiah, the prophecies in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah are unfulfilled. If any of the prophesies of the Old Testament regarding the first coming of the Messiah are unfulfilled, then Jesus did not fulfill all things. If Jesus did not fulfill all things, then He did not complete God’s plan of redemption for you and I and we must perish in our sins! This was good news!
d. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak: Zacharias paid a price for his unbelief. His unbelief did not make God take his promise back; it just kept Zacharias from enjoying it.
i. When we do not believe God’s promise for our lives, we do not necessarily destroy the promise; but we do destroy our ability to enjoy the promise. What made this such a severe punishment was that Zacharias had such great news to tell.
ii. Strangely, many Christians would not consider this a punishment – they don’t mind keeping quiet about the good news of Jesus.
5. (21-23) Zacharias appears to the multitude.
And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. And so it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house.
a. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long: The custom was for the priest to come from the temple as soon as he was finished praying, to assure the people that he had not been struck dead by God. Zacharias’ delay had started to make the crowd nervous.
i. After the incense priest finished, he came out of the holy place through the great doors of the temple and met the other two priests right outside the doors. Then the incense priest raised his hands and blessed the people with the blessing from Numbers 6:24-26. The hundreds of gathered worshippers knew what to do; they responded by saying, “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.”
ii. After all this, the Levites got the worship singers and musicians started. They began with a blast from special silver trumpets; then a priest struck the cymbals, and the choir of Levites began to sing the Psalm of the day. The choir was made up of not less than twelve voices, which mingled young and old for a full range of sound and probably some great harmonies.
b. But when he came out, he could not speak to them: When Zacharias came out, he was supposed to stand on the temple steps, overlooking the crowd, and pronounce the priestly blessing on the people (Numbers 6:24-26), and the other priests would repeat it after him. But Zacharias couldn’t speak!
i. Doing the best he could through hand motions, he told the story of what happened to him in the temple. It’s hard to know if everyone believed him!
6. (24-25) Elizabeth’s conception and joy.
Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
a. His wife Elizabeth conceived: Zacharias had normal relations with his wife; he partnered with God to fulfill the promise. He did not count on this child coming from a miraculous conception.
b. She hid herself five months: Elizabeth did not go away to hide her pregnancy; she was gone for the first five months, the time when she would be least noticed as pregnant. She went away to spend time with the Lord, and to meditate on the destiny of the child within her.
C. The announcement of the birth of Jesus.
1. (26-27) Gabriel is sent to Mary in Nazareth.
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
a. In the sixth month the angel Gabriel: Gabriel’s work was not finished with the announcement to Zacharias in the temple. In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, he came to a village in Galilee.
b. A city of Galilee named Nazareth: Chronologically, this is the first mention of Nazareth in the Old or New Testaments. Nazareth is perhaps remarkable for its unremarkable nature; it was unmentioned in the Old Testament, in the Apocrypha, and in the writings of Josephus.
i. Though Nazareth is in the general region of Galilee, it is 15 miles away from the Sea of Galilee. It is six miles from the closest major road. Nazarethhad no good water supply; only one fairly weak well in the center of the village.
ii. Jesus would forever be identified with this place, being repeatedly called Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 1:24, John 18:7, John 19:19, Acts 2:22). His followers were also called “Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).
c. To a virgin betrothed: Mary was betrothed to Joseph. There were three stages to a Jewish wedding in that day.
· Engagement (a formal agreement made by the fathers).
· Betrothal (the ceremony where mutual promises were made).
· Marriage (approximately one year later, when the bridegroom came for his bride at an unexpected time).
i. When a couple was betrothed, they were under the obligations of faithfulness, and a divorce was required to break the betrothal. This was not a casual promise.
d. The virgin’s name was Mary: Mary is clearly said to be a virgin. There is no ambiguity about the idea here – Mary had never had sexual relations with any man.
i. The conception of John the Baptist, the forerunner, was miraculous; we should expect an even more remarkable conception of the Messiah.
ii. “The name ‘Mary’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Miriam, the sister of Moses. It means ‘exalted one,’ a fitting description of the soon-to-be mother of the Messiah.” (Pate)
2. (28-29) Gabriel greets Mary.
And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.
a. The angel said to her: Gabriel said three things to Mary. Each f these were certainly true of Mary, who had a unique privilege among any person to ever live.
· She was highly favored.
· That the Lord was with her.
· She was blessed.
i. However, all these things are true of the believer in Jesus. We are highly favored as Mary was (Ephesians 1:6), the Lord is with us (Matthew 28:20), and we are blessed (Ephesians 1:3).
ii. The Roman Catholic prayer that begins “Hail Mary, full of grace” is accurate. Mary was full of grace, and so is the believer. But Mary’s grace was a received grace, not grace to give to others.
b. But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying: The fact that Mary was troubled at his saying shows her humility. Mary was surprised to hear such extravagant words said of her.
3. (30-33) Gabriel announces the birth of the Messiah, born to Mary.
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
a. You have found favor with God…you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son: The focus was not on Mary, but on a Son, to be named JESUS (a common name). This Son was unmistakably identified as the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament.
i. He will be great: No one has influenced history more than Jesus Christ. “Is it not proven that he is great? Conquerors are great, and he is the greatest of them. Deliverers are great, and he is the greatest of them. Liberators are great, and he is the greatest of them. Saviours are great, and he is the greatest of them.” (Spurgeon)
· Jesus is great in the perfection of His nature.
· Jesus is great in the grandeur of His offices.
· Jesus is great in the splendor of his achievements.
· Jesus is great in the numbers of those He rescues.
· Jesus is great in the estimation of His people.
ii. He will be called the Son of the Highest: Jesus would be the son of Mary, but not only her son; He would also be, and be known as, the Son of God.
iii. The throne of His father David: He will be the Messiah prophesied to David (2 Samuel 7:12-16), who has the rightful authority to rule over Israel, and of His kingdom there will be no end.
b. You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son: Mary knew exactly what Gabriel was talking about because she was a woman of the word of God. When Gabriel said this, Mary knew he quoted from Isaiah 7:14: the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.
4. (34-37) Mary’s question and Gabriel’s response.
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”
a. How can this be, since I do not know a man? Mary’s question was logical. She asked the same question Zacharias asked (Luke 1:18), but his question was asked in skeptical unbelief, and her question was asked in wonder-filled faith.
b. The power of the Highest will overshadow you: Gabriel answered that the power of the Highest, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, would overshadow Mary.
i. The word overshadow means “to cover with a cloud,” as in the cloud of Shekinah glory (Exodus 16:10, 19:9, 24:16, 34:5, 40:34) or the cloud of transfiguration (Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:34).
ii. This cloud was a visible manifestation of the glory and presence of God; this means that the same power of God that was with Moses and others in the Old Testament was now going to do a unique work in the life of Mary.
iii. “This delicate expression rules out crude ideas of a ‘mating’ of the Holy Spirit with Mary.” (Morris)
iv. “Technically speaking, however, the angel predicted a virginal conception, rather than a virginal birth. As far as anyone can tell, the actual birth of Jesus was normal; not so his conception.” (Pate)
c. That Holy One who is to be born: Because this will be the manner of His conception, He would be the Holy One (different from all others), and He will be called the Son of God.
i. This doesn’t have the same impact on us today because of our unfamiliarity with the idea of being a Son of God. But Mary (and all other Jewish people from her culture) knew what this meant: this child would be equal to God (John 5:18).
ii. Jesus did not become the Son of God; He was called the Son of God, recognizing His nature from all eternity.
d. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age: With such an amazing promise, Gabriel also brought evidence, explaining that Elizabeth was pregnant. If God could do that, He could do what He promised for Mary.
i. “Though believers are satisfied with the bare word of God, yet they do not disregard any of his works which they find to be conducive to strengthen their faith.” (Calvin)
e. With God nothing shall be impossible: The point is clear. More literally, one could translate this for no word of God shall be powerless. God will absolutely perform what He has said.
i. The words, ‘for nothing’ (literally, ‘no word’) ‘will be impossible for God,’ recall the divine promise of a son addressed to Sarah (Genesis 18:14 [Septuagint]) and, in so doing, provide another confirming example of God’s ability to carry out His promise to Mary.” (Pate)
5. (38) Mary’s response of faith.
Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
a. Behold, the maidservant of the Lord! Mary first responded by agreeing with what Gabriel said about her. She wasthe maidservant of the Lord, and it was not her position to debate with her Master, but to accept what He said.
i. “It was inevitable that clouds would gather around her character, which would sorely perplex the good man to whom she was betrothed. But as soon as she realized that this lot was ordained for her by God, she humbly acquiesced, with these model words of patient faith.” (Meyer)
b. Let it be to me according to your word: Mary then responded with an affirmation of faith. “Let it be to me according to Your word” is the proper response of every believer to every promise of God.
i. All this took more trust in the Lord than we might think. Mary agreed to receive a pregnancy that would be seen as suspicious, and this in a culture that had a potential death penalty for adultery. Mary identified herself with sinners so that the purpose of God would be fulfilled.
ii. Spiritually speaking, there are similarities between God’s work in Mary and His work in every believer.
· Jesus lives within the believer spiritually, as He did in Mary physically.
· Jesus lives within us spiritually by His word, as He did in Mary physically.
· Jesus is made visible to the world through us, as He was through Mary physically.
iii. “Truly did our Lord speak when he said to his disciples, ‘These are my mother, and sister, and brother.’ We bear as close a relationship to Christ as did the Virgin mother, and we in some sense take the same position spiritually which she took up corporeally in reference to him.” (Spurgeon)
c. And the angel departed from her: We don’t know the exact moment Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary. It may have been when Gabriel spoke to her, or soon after. Whenever it was, the cloud of God’s glory overshadowed Mary (Luke 1:35), and Jesus was miraculously conceived in Mary’s womb. Jesus’ birth from this conception is what we call the Virgin Birth.
i. When we approach the event we call Virgin Birth, we have to agree with Paul’s analysis: great is the mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16). But the message of the Scriptures is clear regarding the Virgin Birth. There can be no question about the Virgin Birth, only questions on the authority of Scripture.
ii. The Virgin Birth is unique. Many mythologies have legends about a god who had sexual relations with a woman and produced offspring, but the idea of a virgin birth is unique to Christianity.
D. Mary’s song.
1. (39-41) Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.
Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
a. Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste: Mary heard from Gabriel that her relative Elizabeth was pregnant (Luke 1:36). So she went the considerable distance (somewhere between 80 and 100 miles) from the region of Galilee to the hill country of Judea for a visit.
i. Mary probably understood that not many people could understand her experience with Gabriel and miraculous conception. If anyone could understand, it might be Elizabeth.
b. The babe leaped in her womb: When Elizabeth saw Mary, her unborn child – John the Baptist – leaped, because he was filled with joy. Though John wasn’t born yet, he had a spiritual awareness and could respond to the Spirit of God.
i. “Such comfort there is in the presence of Christ (though but in the womb) as it made John to spring. What then shall it be in heaven, think we?” (Trapp)
2. (42-45) Elizabeth’s blessing to Mary.
Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
a. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! John the Baptist had not yet been born, and Zacharias was still mute. Yet Elizabeth believed the word of the Lord given to her husband Zacharias when he was in the temple. In the temple, Gabriel told him that their promised son would make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:17).
i. Elizabeth believed that, and also believed that the baby in Mary’s womb was the Lord who Elizabeth’s son would prepare the way for (the mother of my Lord). This faith was in Elizabeth because she was filled with the Holy Spirit.
b. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things: Elizabeth recognized that Mary’s faith played an active role in receiving the promise. God promises should never make us passive; they should prompt us to seize them by faith. Elizabeth wanted to encourage Mary’s faith, so she declared “there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
3. (46-56) Mary’s song of praise to the Lord.
And Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”
And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.
a. My soul magnifies the Lord: This song (often called the Magnificant, after the Latin translation of the first few words) resembles Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, but it also has at least 12 other allusions to the Old Testament. This means that Mary was a woman who studied and knew God’s Word. The Scriptures were on her heart, and came out through her song.
i. “It appears by the whole frame of this holy song, that the blessed Virgin was well versed in the Scripture, which she here makes so much use of in sundry passages…She had by her much reading made her bosom Bibliothecam Christi, Christ’s library, as a Father saith; and may seem to have been exercised in the good word of God from her infancy.” (Trapp)
ii. Mary was great gifted, highly privileged. She did exactly what such greatly blessed people should do: Mary magnified the Lord. This remedies pride and self-congratulation and is something every blessed believer should do.
b. My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior: This means Mary needed a Savior, and she knew that she needed a Savior.
i. “Mary answered the Roman Catholic dogma of the immaculate conception, which holds that from the moment of her conception Mary was by God’s grace ‘kept free from all taint of Original Sin.’ Only sinners need a Savior.” (Liefeld)
ii. “Mary was a member of the sinning race…but the honour conferred on her was of the highest, and our thoughts of her, our language concerning her, should at least not lack the dignity and respect manifested in the word of Gabriel. Hers was the crown and glory of all Motherhood, and we should ever think and speak of her reverently.” (Morgan)
c. He who is mighty has done great things for me: This song mainly celebrates God’s goodness, faithfulness, and power. Mary’s song shows the futility of trusting in self, of trusting in political power, or of trusting in riches. Mary’s trust was in God, and it was rewarded.
i. Trapp on has done great things for me: “No small things can fall from so great a hand. He gives like himself.”
ii. Mary rejoiced and gloried in God, though the child was not yet born. “Brothers, there are some of you who cannot even sing over a mercy when it is born, but here is a woman who sings over an unborn mercy.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “To Mary was granted the blessedness of being the mother of the Son of God…Yet that very blessedness was to be a sword to pierce her heart. It meant that some day she would see her son hanging on a cross.” (Barclay)
E. John the Baptist’s birth.
1. (57-66) The birth and naming of John the Baptist.
Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her. So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.” But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” So they made signs to his father; what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him.
a. She brought forth a son: The promise was fulfilled just as God said it would be. God always keeps His promises.
b. They rejoiced with her: This fulfilled Gabriel’s promise recorded at Luke 1:14 (many will rejoice at his birth).
i. William Barclay relates the custom of the time: “When the time of the birth was near at hand, friends and local musicians gathered near the house. When the birth was announced and it was a boy, the musicians broke into song, and there was universal congratulation and rejoicing. If it was a girl, the musicians went silently and regretfully away!”
c. They would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias: Both Zacharias and Elizabeth knew the name of the child had to be John, according to the command from the angel (Luke 1:13).
d. They made signs to his father: They treated Zacharias as if he were deaf, not mute. This must have been constantly annoying to Zacharias.
e. His name is John: Now, Zacharias responded in total faith. It wasn’t “I think his name should be John.” For Zacharias, this was recognition of a fact, not a suggestion.
i. Even though he had failed before, God gave Zacharias a second chance at faith. He gives the same to us today.
ii. “This was a return from the point of unbelief, and the exercise of will in the appointed way.” (Morgan)
f. Immediately his mouth was opened: Just as Gabriel said, Zacharias could speak again. He spoke, praising God. It was fitting that Zacharias’ first words were praise to God. His chastisement for disobedience had not made him bitter. Instead, it made him want to trust God all the more, at every opportunity.
2. (67-80) Zacharias’ prophecy.
Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people,
And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of His servant David,
As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
To grant us that we,
Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.
a. Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied: The prophetic voice of the Lord had been silent for 400 years. Now, God spoke through Gabriel (Luke 1:13, 1:28), through Elizabeth (Luke 1:41-42), through Mary (Luke 1:46-55), and now through Zacharias. When God spoke again, it was all connected to the theme of Jesus and His work.
i. Zacharias could truly say, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.” It was as if God was present for Israel (has visited) in a way not experienced for a long time.
ii. Zacharias’ song has been called the Benedictus, from its first words in the Latin translation.
b. Has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David: We know this was truly Spirit-inspired prophecy because the first focus of his prophecy is the unborn Jesus, not Zacharias’ new son John.
· Jesus is the horn of salvation for us (Luke 1:69).
· Jesus is the One who saves us from our enemies (Luke 1:71).
· Jesus is the One to perform the mercy promised to our fathers (Luke 1:72).
· Jesus is the One to remember the covenant (Luke 1:72).
· Jesus makes us able to serve Him without fear (Luke 1:74).
i. “It was a song of salvation, and has within it truth deeper than most likely the singer then understood.” (Morgan)
ii. Zacharias didn’t even know Jesus yet, but he praised Him, he loved Him, and he was passionate about Jesus. We know so much more about Jesus than Zacharias did, so what can excuse the coldness of our hearts?
iii. i. Trapp on by the mouth of His holy prophets: “There were so many prophets, yet they all had one mouth, so sweet is their harmony.”
c. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest: After the initial focus on Jesus, the Holy Spirit then led Zacharias to speak of his new-born son and his place in God’s great plan.
· John was a true prophet, the prophet of the Highest (Luke 1:76).
· John had the unique calling to go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways (Luke 1:76).
· John would teach and give knowledge of salvation to God’s people (Luke 1:77).
· John would show people the remission of their sins (Luke 1:77).
· John would give light to those who sit in darkness (Luke 1:79).
· John would guide God’s people into the way of peace (Luke 1:79).
d. The child grew and became strong in spirit: The promise of God came to fruition in John’s life. John was in the desert till the day of his manifestation because that is where God trains many of His prophets.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission