Preacher, Preach the Word

It’s like waiting at the airport for someone. Many times I have waited at the Lubbock International Airport for in coming flights with preachers, students, or just guests for the Sunset workshop to arrive. And the whole time I’m wondering as a new person emerges from the terminal, “Is this the person I have been waiting for?” Now take that and amplify it times ten and you probably get an idea of what these people gathered around the Jordan listening to a preacher of repentance might have felt. Is he the Messiah, the one we have been waiting for.

Luke says they wondered this “in their hearts.” This is something they deperately wanted. It was no small thing to them; the Jews had waited long enough (some 400-600 years) for the Messiah – so John, are you him? And very humbly John replies that he is not. John gives a fuller account of the questioning John faced and he would deny being anyone of power, humbly and always pointing to the coming Lord. In Luke, John explains that he is not even worthy to untie his sandals, a lowly, menial job. He also points out the fact that his (John’s baptism) is inferior to the baptism that the Messiah bring with him. After all, John’s is merely preparatory for the “one baptism” that Jesus introduces for the church. This is not to say John’s baptism is of no value; the people still needed it and John was preparing the people for the “one baptism.” It was still required for the people.

Now about the baptisms: John’s was in water; Jesus brings a baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire. There are many different ways this phrase could be interpreted but I think the context demands that the Holy Spirit correlates to Pentecost (see Acts 1.5 where Jesus picks this idea up and exegetes it for us) and the fire relates to judgment. We read the next verse (3.17) and this becomes clear. This is a judgment type scene John describes. He uses simple language the people could understand (preachers can learn from that) and explains that “the Lord knows them that are his” (see 2 Tim 2.19) and gathers them up while those who are not his and remain in wickedness (i.e. do not repent) will be burned up like chaff in a fire that cannot be extinguished.

John was truly a preacher who preached the gospel. But you cannot preach the gospel without divine judgment. The “health and wealth gospel” that so many preach today that promises all the blessing but doesn’t touch the wrath of God on sin and wickedness with a ten foot pole is not the full gospel. John understood that one cannot preach the good news of salvation and deliverance with preaching about what one is saved and delivered from. But if you want to preach like John, know this: people will not like  it. Herod did not like the cut of John’s jib and had him thrown into prison. Nevertheless, the watchman must stand on watch and warn the people of the things that could ruin their relationship with the only God who can save them from sin, death and hell. So every watchman, every preach and teacher, stay alert and keep watch and sound the trumpet to warn the people lest the Lord hold you accountable for the people’s blood (See Eze 33.1-9).

Fruitful Repentance

Apologies and Appreciation

Sorry to you faithful readers – Monday and Tuesday were busy days and I just could not find the time to write. But I do want to express my appreciation to everyone who reads my blog because last week we had a record number of views. So thank you very much for stopping by and reading and I hope I can continue to contribute to your walk with God with my endeavour.

For those of you who are curious, the lock-in was great: nothing like staying up all night and then trying to get your body to recoop all day following. But seriously it was fun and we enjoyed ourselves very much. And to continue the thoughts of last Friday, John himself is locked into his mission. He more or less picks up right where the Old Testament prophets left off with his preaching. He demands repentance from the people and not only that but he applies to everyone’s particular situation in life.

The Crowds

Although Luke does not explicitly state who “the crowds” (OXLOS in the Greek, a mixed crowd) are, Matthew tells us that the crowds were made up of Pharisees and Sadduccees (see Matt 3.7). And by the language used by John here in verse 7, it is clear he is probably addressing the same group of Pharisees and Sadduccees. Coincidently, reptilian language was also used by the prophets of old (cf. Isa 59.5). One may see this response of John and think it is a bit harsh considering Matthew tells us that “they were coming to baptized of him,” but it should be noted that though they thought baptism was the right thing, the problem with them lay within. Hence, John is addressing their hearts; yes, they come to be baptized by John, but what is their intent and motivation. I believe John, with his announcement that these are a “brood of vipers,” tells us exactly where these men’s hearts are.

John coommands these people to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. On the heals of this statement, John paints very vivid pictures of God’s judgment: the first is of a tree that is barren or is a bad tree. Truly, Jerusalem and the Jews had become a barren, fruitless tree by the time of John and Jesus. Jesus would clear the temple on two separate occasions and in Mark’s account of the second cleansing, there is a short story about a barren fig tree that Jesus withers, no doubt prophetic of the coming of the Lord to wither the barren tree of Israel. Hence, the ax is at the root of the tree, indicating the imminence of the coming. The final fulfillment of this prophecy would be in AD 70 when the Lord came and cleared the temple for good through the Roman armies.

The second picture is that of the stones. Knowing the tendency of these religious elitists, John jumps the gun on them and tells them of the true nature of sonship. God’s children are those who produce fruit in keeping with repentance, not those of the elitist category. And in case they missed the point, he was sure to point out that God could raise up true children of Abraham from the stones of the ground. This is true prophetic preaching given by the Spirit of God through the man of God and this kind of preaching naturally produced a reaction in the crowds.

The cry comes to John for practical application. And he gives it to them straight. If only God’s people today would ask for it straight! If only true prophetic preaching could be heard by God’s people! What an abundant harvest of fruit God’s people could produce in keeping with true repentance. John does not pull any punches and tells the “brood of vipers” to show love. The command of “love thy neighbor” appears to have been lost in the religious jumble and John demands a return to this kind of love. Share. It is that simple. A lesson we teach our children today. This is not a call for communal living (Essenes notwithstanding), but a plea to share what you have.

The Tax Collectors

Truly a bunch of despised people, the tax collectors appear to part of the mixed crowd that had gathered at the river Jordan where John appears to be and as the “teacher” (a term that will be applied to Jesus during his ministry) what they must do to produce the fruit of repentance God requires. And again, John preaches truth.

A strong temptation of exacting more tax than one should was always before the tax collector. Rome would levy heavy taxes anyway, so why not tax even more and pocket a little on the side? Well, John aware of what these men were doing, commanded that stop doing that. John may have been endowed with the Spirit to know each of these situations, but I would like to think he was among the people, aware of their concerns, hurts, and practices and that is why he was so in tune with what they needed to do. To address the people where they are, the man of God must be among them, aware of their situation.

The Soldiers

A rough and ragged bunch of men, these were perhaps Jewish soldiers though we need not think that Roman soldiers could not have been able to hear the baptist at some time. Some say these soldiers could have been escorts of the tax collectors, providing the necessary muscle so they could exact their taxes. Nevertheless, they too cry out for application and John explains what they must do.

John does not call anyone to leave their jobs; he merely requires of them that they act uprightly in them. Be content with what you have and treat people right. Indeed, the fruit that a Christian can produce today is the fruit of a good example for the world. We are the salt and light and without a good example, those who seek to slander the Lord can. But instead, act uprightly is the call from Scripture. Live upright lives in this present age (cf. Titus 2.12).

The message is simple: produce the fruit of the kingdom. Repent but also show your repentance by your deeds and actions. To be sure, the faith God requires is a faith that prompts right living and without it, your faith is useless and dead. That is what John is getting across. These people may have faith in God, but there needs to be a connection with that faith to their lifestyle. Fruitful repentance is repentance that shows up in a persons life.

The Baptist

Tonight, several youth groups in and around Wichita will be convening on Wichita State campus for a lock-in. From 10PM tonight until 6AM tomorrow morning, these youth groups will have be locked in to play, eat, and fellowship with each other. Among the activities scheduled will be basketball, pool, air hockey, racket ball, possibly some Guitar Hero or Rock Band on the X-Box 360 – typical youth group activities.

It seems appropriate that the day Kim and I accompany the youth on the lock-in is the day we get to the beginning of John the Baptists ministry. Even before conception John was “locked in” to his calling. He was to be the one who was to prepare the way for the Lord (cf. Luke 1.17). And now in Luke 3, John is locked in to begin his ministry as a voice crying in the wilderness.

The Historical Setting

As is his custom, Luke couches this account in a real historical setting. The fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar most scholars agree is AD 27-28. It is AD 27 if Luke goes by one calendar and AD 28 if he goes by a Roman calendar. At any rate, all the men were reigning in their respective capacities when John begin preaching in the wilderness. Coincidently, every name on this list (v.1-2) has been confirmed by archaeology lending further credence to the historical reliability of this gospel. Luke records true history and his meticulousness concerning historical matters should bolster his accounts concerning the miracles, signs, wonders, and claims performed and made by Jesus and his disciples. Luke recorded accurately real historical events that surrounded a Nazarene named Jesus in the first century AD. And if these accounts are true, and the claims made by Jesus are true, supported by an historical resurrection proving that Jesus was (and is) who he claimed he was (namely, the Son of God), then Luke’s gospel holds heavy implications for every person on the face of the planet.

The Prophet and His Message

Onto the stage of history steps one of the most charasmatic and odd characters: John the Baptist. Luke spends no time discussing his appetite or wardrobe but you can check Matthew 3.4-6 or Mark 1.6 for this information. Luke drives right to the point of John and his ministry. After centuries of silence from heaven, God is once again bringing his word to mankind. Luke uses some of the same language used of the Old Testement prophets concerning when they got their message (i.e. attaching a time in history to it) and from whence their message came (that is, God). Compare the language of Luke in verses 1-2 with Isaiah 1.1; Jeremiah 1.1-3; Amos 1.1, etc. John is a prophet after the order of the Old Testament prophets and Luke brings that to light superbly.

He preaches a message of repentance and baptizes for (Gk. eis, or unto, for) the remission of sins. Most people say John’s baptism was unto Jesus’ baptism which I don’t really understand. What I know was that these people’s sins were forgiven by God. This was manditory for the generation John preached to in order that he might prepare them for the one who was to come after him. The person subjecting themselves to John’s baptism needed to repent, that is turn from their life of sin to God, and receive baptism to obtain forgiveness from God.

However, John’s baptism must not be confused with the “one baptism” of Christianity. John’s purpose was to prepare the people for the coming of the Lord and the salvation he brought. It should also be noted that these people who received John’s baptism did not receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it was necessary for Paul to baptize the disciples he found in Ephesus into the name of (or into the possession of) the Lord Jesus (see Acts 19.1ff) because they had not received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus gives the Great Commission in Matthew 28.18-20, the baptism he commands (into the possession of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) takes presidence over the baptism of John. Now that the people are ready, reap the harvest. Perhaps someone else can clarify this even more.

Prophecy Fulfillment

All of this, John’s coming, preaching, and baptizing, were in conjuction with the word of God previously spoken through the prophet Isaiah. Luke, as well as all the other gospel writer, perfectly interpret the prophecy of Isaiah for us, telling us John is final fulfillment of the word spoken by Isaiah. Luke, though, quotes more of this passage than the other writers in order to emphasize the universality of the salvation Jesus brought with him. It was and is for “all mankind.”

The coming of John demonstrates for us the faithfulness of God to his people. For centuries, the Israelites have been waiting for the coming of the Lord. And just as God said it would happen, he sends them a prophet in the succession of the great prophets of Israel with the word of God in mouth and heart. John the baptist is on the scene commanding repentance and baptism to make ready a people for the Lord.

The Great Physician in the Midst of the Doctors

When I was very young, my parents took me to watch the Oakland A’s play. I don’t remember much of the game (if any) but this event sticks out in my mind for one reason. Midway through the game, my dad and I went to the concession stand for some refreshments of some kind. Somehow, we got separated – I think I started following a guy who looked like my dad or the line moved I didn’t. Whatever the case, I got lost. But I didn’t panic right away; I just thought I would walk back to our seats, no problem. But as I went back to the section I thought was ours, I realized to my horror that is wasn’t. I had no idea where I was and now the panic came. All kinds of thoughts probably filled my head though now after the passing of time I can’t remember. But I remember crying and being afraid.

The way the story ends is classic. My dad is shouting at the top of his lungs, “Beebees” (what he affectionately called me as a boy) and “Nick!” Someone apparently hears my dad, sees a little boy crying and connects the dots. “He’s over here!!” This good Samaritan calls to my dad. He finds me and hugs me and the crowd around us all says, “Ahhh.”

Reading the account of Jesus in Luke 2.41ff, my mind goes back to this event in my life. Jesus is lost. His parents frantically search for him, but they do not find a crying boy.

Trips to Jerusalem

Every year, Jesus’ parents visited the captial of the Jewish world: Jerusalem. Whether Jesus is with them on these trips is uncertain. Perhaps he was and if he did accompany them on these excursions, he no doubt had seen the “doctors” (KJV) or the “teachers” (NIV) sitting int he temple courts and reasoning. If he had gone with them, then no doubt he had seen the Passover lambs and the smelled the smoke of the sacrifices and the blood of the sacrifices flowing from the temple. This is the only account we have of Jesus as a young boy have some conscious knowledge that he is destined for something great. But I wonder if this event is prompted by previous journeys to Jerusalem. I suppose we will never know for certain these things.

What we do know is that when Jesus was twelve years old, his parents took him to Jerusalem for the Feast. But after the seven day Feast (see Ex 13.6), Mary and Joseph head for home. According to what we understand about the travelling customs, women went ahead of the men in the caravan with the young boys and the men followed with the older boys. So it is not necessary to assume Mary and Joseph are negligent parents. It seems Mary assumed Jesus was with Joseph and vice versa. Whatever the case, when the camp stops for the night and the group is together, Mary and Joseph realize Jesus is not with the group. Jesus has stayed behind in Jerusalem.

Finding Jesus

I imagine the parents are frantic, much like my dad was when I got lost in the stadium. They search among their friends, the whole panic welling up in their throats. Maybe some feelings of angst and anxiety flood their senses. And when the boy is not found, they realize they must return to Jerusalem. Already a distant “day’s journey” away, when they arrive at Jerusalem they cannot find Jesus until the third after their departure from Jerusalem. And it would seem that during these three days, Jesus has been in the temple courts, reasoning and discussing with the “doctors.”

It was common practice that after a Feast (such as Passover), that the rabbis and teachers would gather together in these “disputation groups.” Similar to our small groups, these teachers dug deep into the word and would ask each other certain questions concerning matters that may or may not have been involved in the preceding Feast. It was also a time when pupils would come and learn from the teachers. And therefore to find out Jesus is not only asking questions but also answering question posed to him is really a comon thing in their culture – that was how the pupil learned, by asking and answering questions.


Everyone is amazed at the skills of Jesus. He demonstrates some kind of knowledge that astounds not only the people gathered around, but even the “doctors” are surprised by his answers. When Mary and Joseph find him, though, the question posed to him by Mary appears to have hurt behind it. She explains their situation over the past couple days as they have frantically searched for Jesus. But unlike my dad who found a crying boy, Mary and Joseph find their son content where he is and bit surprised at their response.

Notice the contrast between Jesus’ response and Mary’s statement. She states that “your father” and she have been looking for Jesus. But Jesus replies that he must be about “my Father’s” business (see KJV). Here we have the first appearance of Jesus’ consciousness about his divinity. He is the “Son of the Father,” that is God’s Son. And so the we see the first affirmation by Jesus himself that he is the Son of God.

Naturally, like his disciples that he will select during his ministry, his parents do not understand. They do not understand what he means nor what the implications of his statement are. It is intersting to note that the first words words in Luke’s gospel are affirmations that he is the unique Son of God. As one commentator has written conerning this, “[Jesus] so clearly refers to His divine Sonship, and…He points to His life’s vocation to be about His Father’s business…These words indicate a divine inevitability: Jesus must be busy with the interests of His Father.”  

What all Jesus knew about his divine position and calling is uncertain. But it would appear he had some knowledge and consciousness about his divine assignment. We should also note that while he does have some cognition concerning his divine mission, he may not have been aware of the angst and anxiety of his parents who were search for him, a trait that Luke will show us Jesus had (i.e. to know what is within a man, reveal the thoughts of many hearts, cf. Luke 2.35). This ability will probably not be endowed to Jesus until he is empowered by the Holy Spirit at his baptism and begins his ministry.

Back to Nazareth

Following this “traumatic” experience, Jesus and his parents head back for Nazareth where Jesus will no doubt learn the skills of Joseph in carpentry. Scripture tells us that Jesus was obedient to his parents from then on. However, there will come a time when he cannot obey the voice of his mother (See Mark 3.21, 31) and he will have to obey God rather than man (or women). Again, Mary is treasuring up all these things in her heart, no doubt the reason they are recorded in Luke’s gospel. Mary was probably the source of these accounts of Jesus boyhood and birth in Luke 2 as the historian gathered data and information from various sources as he prepared to write a treatise for Theophilus.

The last statement in Luke 2 is what happened between Jesus’ boyhood and when he began his minstry. Very simply Luke summarizes 18 years of history in one verse. These may have been words from Mary herself as she recalled the other events in Jesus’ life following this event. She may have been familiar with the story of Hannah and the blessing she received and perhaps as she recounted the account to Luke the words of 1 Sam 2.26 came to mind. This is of course mere speculation.

What happened during these years, very little is known. Most agree that during this time Joseph died and Jesus became the provider for his mother, brothers and sisters as a carpenter (cf. Mark 6.3). Carpentry during the time consisted of erecting houses, making furniture and other household requirements and also some farming tools. Surely it was his time in carpentry that shaped his teaching when he began his public ministry; some of his parables have carpentry-esque themes (house built on sand, etc.). What we know is that Jesus grew up, adding to his wisdom more wisdom, he matured, he was favored by men but more importantly by God.

Come See the Baby, part 4

Once again, we set a new record for site views yesterday so pat yourselves on the back or give yourselves a hand. Again, thanks for your continued support and reading.

Enter the Prophetess

I can remember as a young boy how there were some older women that left an impression on me. They were the kind of old ladies who carried candy mints that left a waxy film in your mouth after eating them and who had high pitched voices. But it was usually these who seemed the most devout to me. They had a “holy” manner about them. They could rattle off Scripture better than most grown men, even preachers. Their bibles were worn and the pages highlighted, written on, and marked up.

This is what I picture when I think of Anna the prophetess. She, like Simeon, is an obscure figure in history and she makes only one appearance (here in Luke’s gospel). Most of the women I mentioned above were widows and Anna herself is a widow. She is from the “lost tribe” of Asher – apparently some survived and managed to keep some sort of genealogical record. There has not been a prophet in Israel for hundreds of years and we are still a few years out from John the Baptist making his rise in the prophetic realm. However, God has raised up his prophetess, of which the Talmud records only seven, thereby making this office very select. How long she was married and/or been a widow is unclear, but most scholars accept that she was eighty-four (hence, the NIV).

We have a glimpse of her character given to us by the historian: she is devout, never leaving the temple, which probably means that she was in constant worship to the Father. Indeed, the text gives credence to this saying she “worshipped night and day.” It could also mean she had quarters in the temple area somewhere but this may not be so. She also fasted and prayed, indicating a disciplined lifestyle. It is this devout widow who is the next to see the baby.


It seems that this whole account of Simeon and Anna took place one after the other. When one was finished giving prophetic testimony concerning the baby, the other picked up where the other left off. Anna highlights the Redeemer that has been sent to Israel. She thanks God for this child, no doubt her mind thinking of the plight of her people and the redmeption Jesus will offer them. She recognizes that Messiah has come to help his people.

Luke also highlights the devoutness of Mary and Joseph: they kept the Law. What had been perscribed by Moses, they were sure to fulfill it. They exhibit the characteristics of faithful Jews. The rest of the childhood of Jesus is skipped until he is twelve years old. Luke catches all this growth with a simple statement of Jesus’ physical, mental, and spiritual development. Chronologically, the visit of the Magi should follow as well as the flight to Egypt, but Luke does not pick these up. Why? I suppose they did not need to be mentioned to emphasize his purpose in writing about the Redeemer or the Son of Man. These newborn occasions certainly could have been discribed to Luke by Mary and were what stood out concerning Jesus’ childhood. It certainly left a deep impression (see 2.33).

Following all this, Mary and Joseph take Jesus back to Nazareth in Galilee where Jesus grows until he is brought to the temple as a twelve year old. Concerning the grace of God, one commentator has written, “through all the years of growth and increase in true wisdom the grace of God, His guiding, protecting and supporting love and power, rested upon the Child. There was no partition-wall between Him and God, because He was perfect in all things.” No doubt during this time of growth his parents, as devout Jews, made several treks to Jerusalem with Jesus. And every year his attention was brought to the annual sacrifice of atonement for the sins of Israel. His eyes probably saw the blood of thousands of sacrifices, like a red river out of the temple sacuPerhaps over time, his spirit within him was stirred as his divine mission

Come See the Baby, part 3

A Brief Note

I want to express my thanks and gratitude to all of you who read my comments over God’s word. And I am pleased to announce that yesterday marked the highest site views since I started this endeavour. And to you, precious reader, I express my thanks. My prayer is that my meager efforts help you see God clearer in your life and that your understanding of his word is enhanced. Also, feel free to leave a comment and let me know who is reading this thing.

And Now…

As commanded by the angel, Jesus’ parents name him Jesus. On the eighth day, as was custom, he is circumcised, distinctly marking him as a covenant child of God. Jews were born into covenant; we are taught to enter covenant and we do that through baptism (see Col 2.11-12). Having done this, they take him to the temple that they might sacrifice the necessarily sacifice for their purification and present Jesus to the Lord. By their offering, we know they were not very rich people: the poor person’s offering was a pair of doves or two young pigeons (see Lev 12.8). Since they could not afford a lamb for Mary’s sacrifice, they brought some birds.

Someone may ask, “Well, where is all the money from those rich gifts brought to them by the wise men?” First, it should be noted that what Luke is recording here happened within 33 days of Jesus’ birth (Again, see Lev 12.3). Second, keep in mind that it took some time for the Magi to find Jesus after following the star in the sky and receiving instructions from Herod. Third, also remember that it was only after the birth of Jesus that Magi started headed Jesus’ direction (see Matt 2.1). Fourth, the time of the appearing of the Magi was not until Jesus was a “child” (Matt 2.11), implying Jesus has grown from being a baby (when he is presented at the temple).

Someone else may say, “Well, where did all the wealth go that he did get?” Remember that Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt (Matt 2.13ff). No doubt the funds received by the Magi were used to finance this trip.


Most people say the Simeon was an old man, but as far as I know his age is not revealed in Scripture. However, the Holy Spirit has revealed to him that he was not to die until he had seen “the consolation of Israel.” Also, based on the language of his prayer it can be implied that he was an old man. What we do know was he was righteous and devout, and he was apparently a person who was full of the Spirit: the Holy Spirit reveals things to him and it moves him to enter the temple court. But when his eyes fall upon the baby Jesus, he knows who he looks at and prays a prayer to God Almighty concerning the child.

In the prayer, he expresses he is ready to go having met the Lord. Truly, that is the spirit every Christian should have. We have seen the Lord and have received the promise (the Holy Spirit, Acts 2.38). At any time, we are ready to be dismissed. More than that, just as Simeon has seen salvation, we have experienced it. As Christians, we are saved from sin, death, and hell. Indeed, the light has shone on Gentiles and salvation is for all men.


Mary and Joseph are stunned; like so many people in the book of Luke, they are blown away at the words and actions they have seen. Simeon, before stepping out of history, blesses both of them and then says something to Mary. He prophesies to her that Jesus will cause the rising (used elsewhere in the NT for resurrection) and falling of many. Perhaps this is prophetic of Jesus’ power to act as judge. But notice that Jesus will reveal the thoughts of many hearts. That is the idea of the “light of the world.” His light shines in the darkness and shows men’s deeds for what they are, either good or evil. What do you think of Jesus? I can tell you that he knows what is in you heart of hearts concerning him.

Finally, Simeon says that a sword will pierce Mary’s soul. Most commentators say this is the death of Jesus. His death will impact her greatly, as it would any mother. As Leon Morris writes, “His suffering will not leave her untouched. Simeon’s final words point to the revelatory function of Jesus’ work. People declare themselves by their attitude to him. We cannot ultimately be neutral. When people see Christ suffer, their reaction shows on which side they stand.”

Come See the Baby, part 2

Though I myself have not had one (yet), I have seen the joy a new baby brings to parents; they want everyone to come and see the baby. As we saw with Zechariah and Elizabeth, parents want family and neighbors around them during this time in order that they might share in the joy as well. And so here are the new parents, Mary and Joseph, with their baby, Jesus, who is the child of angelic announcement, destined to be the Savior of all men, and who comes to see him? None other than the shepherds of the field.

Luke, recording history, continues to show the “commonness” and simplicity of the birth of Jesus. No room in the inn. Alone in a manger. Born in an obscure, dusty town. And now visited by shepherds. It was probably cool that night, though we don’t know exactly what time of the year it was. It was night though (Luke 2.8). When suddenly, in an instant, an angel appears and the night sky is lit up as the glory of the Lord shone around. We don’t know this angel’s name but I think it would be safe to say he too stood in the presence of the Lord because he brought with him the glory of the Lord, like the face of Moses after he had been on the mountain. And this angel comes with a message.

From the Lips of Angels

This angel begins with comfort – do not be afraid (see 1.13, 30). This angel brings with him “good news” that is for all people. In Bethlehem (the town of David), a Savior is born. John (and only John) would call him the Savior of the World (John 4.42). Indeed, Jesus’ mission is clear even from brith: salvation of makind from their sins. But more than that, Jesus is Christ. The “anointed one;” not just ‘an’ anointed one, but ‘the’ anointed one. One was anointed for a special service, esp. king and priest. And to be sure, Jesus is our kingly priest as the Hebrew writer would point out. And also, Jesus is Lord. He is the ruler, master, the only who is in charge. It is at his name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. The angel announces these things but before he joins the rest of the heavenly host, he gives them a sign: Jesus in the manger.

The Lord’s Army

Immediately there is a great sound in the air as a number of the heavenly host (lit. army) has shown up. This is the fighting force of heaven but they come not with hostility; this army announces peace. “Glory to God” will always precede peace. God deserves all the honor and praise for what he has done: this is the “zenith of divine Self-revelation” as one commentator has put it. God has come near his people that he might redeeem them and save them. Following this announcement of peace on earth, the angels return to their heavenly abode.

 The shepherds, though, go out in search of the one whom the angels spoke of. They want to see the good news of God. And so they find Mary and the baby and just as the angels had said, he is in the manger. It would appear the first to visit Jesus are these shepherds. One note on shpeherds – shpeherds were a class that had a bad reputation. They were seen as unreliable and untrustworthy. In fact, the Talmud says that they are not allowed to testify in court (Talmud, Sanhedrin 25b). And so for these to be the some of the first to lay eyes on the Savior is a remarkable thing. I think it demonstrates that God is no respecter of persons and that the good news is for all.

After seeing the “salvation of God” (cf. 2.30), these shepherds return to the fields but are unable to keep what they have seen to themselves. They go around and spread the word about Jesus and the great things he is destined for. Mary, though, treasures these things. In my opinion, it would seem Luke received this data directly (or at least indirectly) from Mary, in order to know that she treasured up these things. Like any mother, she keeps these memories for herself. Literally, she preserved in a safe condition. But more than that, she pondered them also. Literally, she thought seriously and soberly about these things. She considered the implications of these things for her life and for her childs life, though I doubt she could understand the manifold plan of God at that time. Until Jesus returned to the Father and sent the Spirit to the apostles, this remained a mystery.

We must understand that Mary was not “a perfect being who inmmediately understood perfectly and permenantly grasped the full significance of the angels’ tidings.” After all, in Mark 3.20-35, she is ready with the rest of Jesus’ siblings to drag him back to Nazareth thinking him crazy. So while she did ponder these things, it is doubtful she (or anyone else for that matter) fully comprehended what all this meant.

Luke, the Historian

Recorded for us by a great historian moved by the Spirit to write these things down perfectly and with clarity, we have a simple account of the humble beginning of Jesus the Lord. One commentator has said that “in this narrative, Luke records in a sober and life-like manner, events of a beautiful and miraculous nature, but at the same time actual history.” In addition to this comment, he also wrote that any attempt to relate this account to any apocryphal account of other supernatural births and occurences have been untenable and other attempts to compare it as an imitation of an extra-biblical story have failed also. This is actual, factual history concerning the greatest birth ever: Jesus Christ, the Savior.

Come See the Baby

For me, some of the great cinematic moments are when the main character is introduced. Perhaps the camera has been following him/her from behind and then they turn to face the camera and you see them. I can’t help but think of the scene in Tombstone when Wyatt Earp (played by Kurt Russell) is seen for the first time by his brothers and the audience. I cheer out loud when moments like that happen. The minister I work with told me that when he went to see Death Wish (the first one) in theaters, it was a time when people were very quiet during the movie (unlike today) and people watched movies. But when Charles Bronson blasted away the first thug in the movie, the crowd erupted.

That is what is happening in Luke chapter 2. Luke is finally going to introduce the hero of the story, Jesus. But unlike most of the famous characters of movies and even history, Jesus, the King of Kings, is not born in a palace or hospital with doctors present or even in his own home. No, the Savior of mankind is born in a stable and laid his head for the first time in a manger because there is no room in the inn for the king to stay. What a picture of humility painted for us by none other than the Lord.

The Historical Reality

Luke begins chapter 2 with some names and places, putting this book in an historical setting. The account of Jesus did not take place in a vacuum with no historical setting. Augustus was reigning as Caeser and acting as govenor over Syria was Quirinius. Further, Luke records that there was a census that took place at this time. We cannot stress the fact that Luke was a great historian and did the research to ensure his writing was accurate. His testimony concerning the places and people in authority in that time period could easily have been checked and if Theophilus is a man of power (as has been suggested), then he could check the certainty of the things he has been taught (indeed the purpose of this gospel account).

Away in a Manger

Joseph and Mary needed to go to Bethlehem to partake in this manditory census. So they leave home and head for Judea, but along the way Mary goes into labor. When it is time for the baby to come, it’s time. And since the inns were crowded (perhaps due to the number of people accumulating for the census), Mary must give birth to the Messiah in, traditionally, a stable. Some have suggested a cave (going back to Justin Martyr). Others claim it was an open air birth or in a house where the animals shared the same roof as the inhabitants. Whatever the case, the point seems to be that this was a lonely and lowly birth. And Luke hammers home the point that Mary was virgin and Jesus was the oldest of his brothers by indicating Jesus was the firstborn.

We should also note that Luke says Bethlehem was the “city of David.” However, we have no record of David returning to Bethlehem after leaving it. In the same way, we have no record of Jesus returning to Bethlehem after he is born here. At any rate, God’s word is fulfilled in that Jesus, the Messiah, is born in Bethlehem just as the prophet predicted (Mic 5.2, cf. Matt 2.6). God has worked his purpose and done so through humble and simple people. His Son has come into the world and redemptions grand scheme will enter the final act as Jesus grows, ministers and dies.

There is a lot that could be said historically and also concerning background. I urge the reader to research these things for themself. Maybe someday I will revisit these matters and expose them more deeply. But what I want us to key in on is Luke’s ability to contrast earthly, fleshy kings and the spiritual king. While Augustus is in Rome issuing decrees for a census, no doubt robed with the finest robes and surrounded by the luxuaries of life, the true king makes his debut in swaddling clothes surrounded by no luxuaries. While Quirinius is governing his territory Syria, one upon whose shoulders the government will rest is laid in a manger. All this is to show the severe misunderstanding the world has concerning true greatness. True greatness is not found in a palace nor in the finer things of life; it is found in small, obscure Jewish town, born to humble parents and laid in a manger. The baby who will grow into a man that will reveal the thoughts of the hearts of men is born. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, is come.


My favorite songs are the old hymns in the old hymnal that we never use anymore. Now we have the great big ten pound “Songs of Faith and Praise” hymnal (your may be gray or blue; ours are maroon). A lot of the are more focused on praise and adoration which is a good thing. But my favorite songs will probably always be those “old time religion” songs like “Sing to me of Heaven,” “Old Rugged Cross,” and “The New Song.”

When we read in Scripture about people singing, I wonder if these were songs that were common to the time. We know they had hymns. In fact, Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn before they left for the garden (see Matt 26.30) But then you read the words and the actions behind them and you can come to the conclusion that they probably were not “Song of the Synagogue.” In fact, when you read Zechariah’s song (called Benedictus because of its opening word in Latin), there are some characteristics that make it unique.

A Horn of Salvation

Immediately we identify the inspriation behind this song: the Holy Spirit. These are therefore words of prophecy which praise God for his revelation, namely the coming Messiah and the one who is to prepare his way. In fact, in English the song begins with “Praise…the God of Israel.” Zechariah understands that this event has been divinely established and acknowledges God’s intervention in Elizabeth and his life.

Notice why God is to be praised – he has come near his people. This is a theme abundant in Scripture, that is God visiting his people. Paul explains that that was his situation even in chains: when all others had fled, God came near (2 Tim 4.17). God is a God who makes house calls. When his people are in need of comfort, encoruagement, even salvation (Luke 1.69), God shows up and supplies his people with what they need. But in addition to this, Zechariah says we have a God who “redeems his people.” There was a price on our head that we could not pay and God stepped into history to pay that price. In order to buy us back from a world of sin, God sent Jesus. And so the idea is that we were redeemed at a high price. Absolutely God is to be praised for these reasons.

Moreover, God has “raised up a horn of salvation” and this came through “the house of David.” This is a reference to Jesus. As one commentator has written: “The horn was a symbol of strength (as with the horn of a bull), so that a horn of salvation means ‘a mighty salvation’ or ‘a strong salvation.'” When God acts he does it mightily. And so when he brought us salvation, he rolled up his sleeve and went to work – some of the hardest work that can be done: human salvation.

Zechariah also acknowledges that God promised all this in the past through the prophets. This was a promise of salvation from enemies and from those who hate us (in the context, the Jews. Jesus picks this up in 6.22 and applies it to kingdom people). Zechariah then presents a four-fold purpose for the raising of the horn of salvation.

The Fulfillment of Promises

Zechariah was a priest in the temple. That meant he knew the promises of God of a coming Messiah, he knew who the promises had been made to (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), and he had prayed for the coming of the Messiah (see Luke 1.13). And so, filled with the Holy Spirit, he details how the coming of the deliverer was fulfillment of promises and oaths in the past.

First, the coming of the Messiah is to “show mercy to our fathers.” Hence, Jesus’ coming was not merely for those living but was for all men of all time (the Hebrew writer says this was HAPAX, or “once for all.”). And so this touches those “fathers” both Patriarchal and Mosaic who had waited for this. Again, this is a portrait of the mercy God has for his people.

Second, God made specific promises to his people which Zechariah calls his “holy covenant” and “oath.” This demonstrates the faithfulness of God. He spoke a promise, cut a covenant, and it came about. God’s word never fails.

Third, Zechariah acknowledges that man is need of rescuing. Man has been enslaved by Satan from the beginning and was therefore a captive in the kingdom of Satan. But God came and brought redemption with him. We were then rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of Jesus (Col 1.13). The greatest enemy to defeat was death and Jesus gained the victory over that through his resurrection.

Finally, God seeks for his people to serve him without fear. And therefore, to give us this freedom and fearlessness, he sent Jesus, the horn of salvation.

A Prophet for the King

Zechariah now details the mission of his son, John. John is the spokesman for God pointing toward the coming king. He is preparing the king’s people for his arrival. John also has the mission of pointing the people toward forgiveness of sins. This will be realized in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Without these components, there can be no salvation, no forgiveness of sins (cf. Heb 9.22). And so John’s mission is clear: preparing the people, teaching the people of the coming salvation. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8.12) and he shines into the darkness (John 3.19). He illuminates the path we are to walk in and that is the pathway of peace. Paul picks up this idea in Ephesians as well (Eph 5.19).

Luke sums up the years of John until his adulthood. One commentator believes that John’s elderly parents died and he was raised in the wilderness by Essenes (who did raise other people’s children). This is uncertain. What we do know is that he did grow and would become a preacher of repentance in the desert.

God’s Mercy

There is no greater joy to a family than the addition of a new baby…unless you are a couple who have been unable to have children your entire marriage (which you view as a disgrace), you are both very old, and the Lord has shown favor to you to bless you with the forerunner with of the Messiah. Then, maybe you get a bit excited and you invite the whole family over to join in your joy. This is apparently what Zechariah and Elizabeth did when she had come full term and John was born. Relatives and family were there for the great occasion.

Luke records this event with a focus on the mercy of God (1.58). We usually think of the mercy of God in terms of salvation and forgiveness – God is so great in his mercy that he had compassion on sinful and sent his Son to die for us. By his mercy we are able to stand in presence and by his mercy he saved us. However, when it comes to the barren giving brith, we can see the mercy of God. God, who is rich in mercy, gives his humble servants Zechariah and Elizabeth a child who is to prepare the way of the Lord.

Luke then records for us the peculiar event of the naming of John. Elizabeth, knowing it would appear, that the angel has selected the name John for her baby emphatically says “not so” and states that he is to be called John. When the family and neighbors try to enlist Zechariah for help, he says that the childs name is already John (“His name is John,” versus Elizabeth’s state that he would be called John). In the original language, the name John comes first in the sentence, pressing the emphatic necessity that the child’s name is John. Zechariah views his encounter with the angel as something serious and acknowledges the word of the angel as haivng already come to pass.

Immediately, Zechariah’s mouth is loosed and he can speak. Notice the first thing he does: praises God. After months of silence, the first thing he seeks to do is praise the God who has shown mercy to his wife and him. Suppose this had been one of us. What would be the first thing out of our mouths having been struck dumb for unbelief? We can learn a valuable lesson from these simple and humble people that we ought to be praising God at all times for his great mercy that he has shown us.

One final note over this account: notice what happens when the mute man praises God – everyone is filled with awe. This is another theme in Luke, this amazement and awe that people have when something incredible/miraculous takes place. People began to understand that this was “God’s event.” God is at work in this situation and this child is going to be something special. As one commentator has said: “Plainly the events that had just occurred protended some mighty action of God.”