Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thoughts on Luke 1:1-25 (The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold)

Today, I'm reading from Luke 1.  As I begin my reading, there are a few questions that immediately come to mind after reading verses 1-4.
  1. Who wrote the book of Luke?
    The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are both written by Luke.  Paul refers to him as the beloved physician.
  2. Who is Theophilus and why is the letter being written to him?
    You can read more about this here.  In a nutshell, Theophilus translates to "Lover of God."  That means the letter could be written to anyone who loves God.  Some scholars believe that Theophilus was a wealthy relative of Caesar.  Either way, it doesn't really change the meat of the matter.  Just another question that popped up while reading.
Moving on with the rest of the chapter.

In this chapter, we are given a story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Zechariah is a priest.  They are righteous old couple with no children.  It's Zechariah's turn to burn incense in the temple of the Lord.  The text says it was the custom to cast lots for this responsibility.  Think of it like drawing straws.  Zechariah drew the short straw, so it was his job to do it.  Why isn't this a job that a priest would volunteer to do?  Wouldn't it be a great honor and a privilege to go into the Lord's temple and burn incense?

While he is doing his job in the temple, an angel appears to Zechariah and tells him what is going to happen.  The text is too pregnant to not post the whole thing here:

"Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
- Luke 1:11-17 -
So many things jump out at me here:
  • Why does the angel tell Zechariah to not be afraid?
  • The angel tells Zechariah that his prayer has been heard
  • The angel tells Zechariah that he will be a father and his son will be called John
  • He is never to take wine or other fermented drink.  This reminds me of the vow that Samson took (the Nazarite vow: no alcohol, no touching dead bodies, no haircuts).  Why is this important enough for the angel to state?
  • John will go before the Lord
  • John will turn the hearts of the parents to their children.  What were the parents hearts turned to?
Zechariah doubts what the angel says and because of this, he is unable to speak until the things have come to pass (i.e. until John is born).  When he exited the temple, the people knew he had a vision because he was unable to speak.

Can you imagine what that must have been like?  We use our words to communicate all the time, whether it's written or oral.  Imagine trying to tell someone without using any words that an angel came and told you all these things!  Seriously, try it!  Try getting someone to do the simplest of tasks without using words and you will see how difficult that is!

Was the angel a little harsh for muting Zechariah?  I mean, if I were old and my old wife was barren, I'd have my doubts too.  I don't know.  Maybe it would be different if an angel appeared to me and told me all that.  Why do you suppose Zechariah doubted Gabriel?

Whatever the answers are to these questions, I can see these bits of truth:
  • God hears our prayers and answers them (v13)
  • John was empowered by the Holy Spirit to prepare the way for Jesus (v15-17)
  • When God says something is going to happen, it's a matter of 'when' not 'if'
... stay tuned for more thoughts on the word ...

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