CHAPTER I (CONTINUE)
THE PREPARATORY PERIOD
1. Annunciation and Birth of John the Baptist
(Reference: Lk. 1:5-25; 57-80)
Luke alone gives an account of the birth of John the Baptist. His father, Zacharias, belonged to the priestly tribe of Levi, as did his mother, Elizabeth. (This is not the same Zachariah as the prophet in the Old Testament.) They were advanced in years and Elizabeth had never been able to have children. Back in the days of King David the priesthood had been divided into twenty-four courses, each course serving in the temple for one week, twice a year (1 Chron. 24:10). While in the holy place an angel appeared unto him and announced that Elizabeth would bear a son who would have the spirit and power of Elijah and was to be named John. Zacharias just could not believe such a thing could happen, and for that reason he was stricken dumb until the prophecy should be fulfilled.
Zacharias went home to his wife after his service in the temple, and she conceived and in due time the child was born. On the eighth day the relatives and neighbors gathered for the circumcision ceremony and they all called his name Zacharias after his father, but Elizabeth said, “Not so, but he shall be called John.” They remonstrated with her that none of her kinfolk bore that name, and then asked Zacharias what name he wanted the child to have. He called for a writing pad and wrote, “His name is John,” and immediately his speech was restored. The people marvelled and fear came upon them and all wondered what manner of child this would be, as the story spread throughout the hill country of Judea.
Then Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and he began to prophesy. His prophecy concerned the Messiah who was not yet born and his own son John. Even though Jesus would not be born for another six months, Zacharias praised God for rising up a Horn of salvation for Israel in the house of His servant David. It is most important to note that Zacharias, filled with the Holy Spirit, brings the same message as did the O.T. prophets concerning God’s promise to the nation of Israel for a physical, earthly kingdom. Theologians of the Post-millennial and Amillennial schools claim that the Jews were greatly mistaken in supposing that God intended to establish them in a literal, material kingdom. They claim that all of these promises which the Jews took literally must be spiritualized. Thus, they teach that Jesus came only to establish a spiritual kingdom in the hearts of men. But what did the Spirit-filled Zacharias in the N.T. say?
“As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life” (Lk. 1:70-75).
Although the actual word “kingdom” does not occur in this passage, it is plainly intimated by the reference to this Deliverer who is raised up in the house of David, and by the twice repeated reference to salvation, not only from sin, but from Israel’s enemies. But it is argued that these could not be physical enemies, such as the Romans, because the Jews were never delivered from them. What proponents of this objection fail to understand is that this deliverance was conditioned upon Israel’s repentance and acceptance of the Messiah. These conditions become evident later on in the preaching of Jesus and of the apostles, (cf. Lk. 19:41-44; Acts 3:18-26). The fact that the generation of Israel rejected the Messiah does not mean that these national promises of the kingdom will never be fulfilled. God swore with an oath to Abraham and He promised David that even though Israel failed He would finally restore His kingdom, (2 Sam, 7:5-17). Therefore, this Davidic covenant must yet be fulfilled.
Zacharias also prophesied that John would be called the prophet of the Highest, to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, and to give the knowledge of salvation unto Israel by the remission of their sins. All what we are told of his childhood is that he grew and became strong in spirit and lived in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel.
2. Annunciation and Birth of Jesus
(References: Matt. 1:18-25; Lk. 1:26-56; 2:1-20; John 1:14)
Luke also tells of the annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel. It took place six months after Elizabeth had conceived John. This is the first “hail Mary.” Roman Catholics have repeated it millions of times since then.
Truly, Mary was highly honored to be chosen to be the mother of the humanity of God’s Son, but the high honor bestowed upon her, exalting her as immaculately conceived and higher than Christ himself, substituting her as the intercessor between God and man, when Scripture states there is only one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5), is an invention of the Roman Church.
When the angels said, “Thou hast found favor with God,” he used the word which is almost always translated “grace.” This is the first time grace is mentioned in the N.T. and one of the eight times it is used in Luke, which may indicate the influence of the Apostle of Grace upon Luke. Mary needed the grace of God just like any other human. If Mary had been sinlessly conceived as Romanists aver, she would not have needed a Savior; but in the Magnificat she exclaims: “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior” (vs. 47).
Matthew says nothing about the annunciation to Mary but he does tell us that Mary was espoused to Joseph and that she was found to be with child before they had come together. According to the law Joseph could have called for her death (Deut. 22:20-24), but because he was a just man he decided to follow Deut. 24:1 and put her away quietly. But an angel appeared unto him in a dream and told him not to fear to take Mary to himself, because the conception had been by the power of the Holy Spirit and the child should be named Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins. Upon awaking, Joseph took Mary as his wife, but had no sex relations with her until she had brought forth her firstborn. Catholic doctrine refuses to accept this plain statement of Matt. 1:25. Mary had other children after Jesus was born. Ch. 13:55,56 names four brothers of Jesus as well as sisters.
Matt. 1:22 is the first of the many “that it might be fulfilled” statements in Matthew. Here the fulfillment is the Virgin Birth as predicted in Isa. 7:14.
Returning to Luke’s account in ch. 1:32,33 God makes it abundantly clear that the N.T. and the O.T. are in perfect agreement on the subject of Israel’s promised kingdom. God is going to give to Jesus the throne of His father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever and of His kingdom there shall be no end. Some theologians claim we today are spiritual Israelites but we have never heard any claim to be spiritual Jacobites. Jacob was his natural name: Israel his divinely given name. Christ is going to reign over the house of Jacob. Notice too that the Kingdom will have no end. The Millennial form of the Kingdom will have an end, but the Kingdom will continue after that in the new earth without end. After the last enemy is subjugated under the feet of Jesus, there will be no further need of Jesus to reign with a rod of iron, as in the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15, cf. 1 Cor. 15:26-28).
Luke gives a very detailed account of the actual birth of Jesus, which might be expected from a medical doctor. His mention of the taxation which was made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria helps to tie in the birth of Christ with secular history and it provides another example of the Providence of God: how He works through seemingly unrelated events to bring about His ends. It was because of the taxation that Joseph and Mary had to take the journey down to Bethlehem to enroll and while there Mary’s time to be delivered came. Thus, Jesus was born in Bethlehem instead of Nazareth and a prophecy uttered 700 years earlier was fulfilled (Mic. 5:2). One would have thought that God would see to it that His Son was born in the most pleasant and commodious surroundings, perhaps in the palace of the king, but this was the first step in His humiliation. There was no room in the inn, so He was born in a stable (cf. Phil. 2:5-8).
Luke also is the one who has given us the beautiful store of the shepherds. It was a joyous announcement: “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” But before the ministry of Christ had ended He was being rejected by Israel, so that He had to change all of that joyous message and instead ask: “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division” (Lk. 12:51). It has been said that there can be no lasting peace on earth until Israel is established in her land, until Christ is in His rightful place on the throne of David, and until Satan is in his appointed place, the lake of fire.
There has been much controversy over the date of Christ’s birth. There are several logical arguments against the traditional date of Dec. 25 for the birth of Christ. It is argued that the shepherds would not be abiding in the open fields with their flocks in the dead of winter, not only because of the cold nights (it does snow in Jerusalem), but because there would be no pasturage at that season. It is also argued that the Roman government would not choose a time for the enrollment when it would be most difficult for the people to travel back to their own cities. And then the improbability of Mary in her condition taking this trip on donkey-back of some seventy miles in the winter is pointed out. From May through October there is no rain in Israel, but in December the almost continuous winter rains set in which continue through February. The hill country through which they travelled had an average elevation of 3000 feet. Such a journey through cold rains and even snow would surely have been a most difficult trip for a woman ready to give birth to a child.
It may at first seem strange that Mary who belonged to the tribe of Judah had a cousin, Elizabeth, who belonged to the priestly tribe of Levi. Edersheim, an authority on Jewish matters, states:
There can be no question, that both Joseph and Mary were of the royal lineage of David. Most probably the two were nearly related, while Mary could also claim kinship with the Priesthood, being, no doubt, on her mother’s side, a blood relative of Elizabeth, the Priest-wife of Zacharias. Even this seems to imply that Mary’s family must shortly before have held higher rank, for only with such did custom sanction any alliance on the part of Priests.
(Main Source: Understanding The Gospels – A Different Approach – Charles F. Baker)