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.”

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The Language of the Kingdom

Someone has called the Psalms the “language of the kingdom,” that is the kingdom of God. If you want to speak the language of the kingdom of God, read the Psalms. Sometimes I get people who hear me pray a public prayer and say something like, “man, you need to teach me how to pray to like that.” When they say that, I usually point them to the textbook that taught me: the book of Psalms.

When we read Mary’s song, in Luke 1.46-55, and also the song of Zechariah, in Luke 1.67-79, we find a lot of Old Testament in them. When these songs are sung, we can see that the language of the kingdom is on the singers’ hearts. Notice the numerous OT references in Mary’s song:

“My soul glorifies (or magnifies) the Lord” – see 1 Sam 2.1-10

“And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” – Psa 25.5

“For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” – 1 Sam 1.11; Psa 136.23; 138.6

“from now on all generations will call me blessed” – Psa 71.18

“for the mighty one has done great things for me” – Deut 10.21; Psa 71.19

“Holy is his name” – Psa 99.3; 111.9

“His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” – Psa 103.17; cf. Ex 20.6

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm” – Psa 89.11ff; Psa 98.1

“He has brought down rulers fromi their thrones but has lifted up the humble” – 1 Sam 2.4, 7; Job 5.11-13

“He has filled the hungry with good things” – Psa 107.9; 1 Sam 2.5

“But has sent the rich away empty” – Job 22.9

“He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful” – Isa 41.8-9; Psa 98.3

 “To Abraham and his descendant forever” – Micah 7.20

Mary has been selected as the conduit for the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises and from her heart springs the language of the kingdom. If you want to speak the language of the kingdom, pick up the textbook and learn from those who spoke it. Reading, memorizing, reciting the Scripture will enable one to communicate your thoughts as these people did. This is not say that one must speak fluent King James Version to be understood by God; people struggling in their prayer life can learn from these examples as to how a child of God can communicate their thoughts and feelings to their heavenly Father.

Jesus is coming soon…

As we continue through Luke, we run across the account of the announcement to Mary of the brith of Jesus who is to be the Messiah. Following this, she visits with her relative Elizabeth. How exactly they are related is uncertain but it would seem that since Elizabeth is of the line of Aaron (v.5), then Mary may also be of the Aaronic line. Hence, Jesus is of the tribe of Judah (through Joseph, see v.27) and of Levi, further cementing his position as priest and king. However, it must be noted that Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek because the Hebrew writer states Jesus descended of Judah (Heb 7.14).  

When I read the story of Mary (I’m sure I’m not alone in this), my mind goes to my mother. My mom reminds me a lot of Mary and she often reminds me of just how blessed she has been and is to have son like me (no one like mom to make you feel good about yourself). She doesn’t do it to brag and I certainly don’t write to brag about my mom or me; what I’m saying is that it must have been a difficult thing for Mary when Jesus came in one night from the carpenter shop, having completed his final project, and sitting down he told his mom about his necessity to go to Jerusalem to fulfill his purpose. I remember when I left for Lubbock, TX to go to preaching school that my mom wept not because she was mad or angry, but because she knew it was finally time to give her son back to the Lord. I would imagine as Jesus told his mother about his mission to Jerusalem, tears welled in her eyes and she remembered back to the day the angel came.

The Angel’s Appearing

In Luke 1.26, we find that Elizabeth is in her sixth month when the angel visits Mary. Gabriel, the same angel who appeared to Zechariah (v.19), who stands in the presence of the Lord now appears to Mary bring a message with him. First, he commends Mary. He calls her “highly favored one” (NKJV) in verse 28. The question is raised: how did she get to be highly favored? Can anyone become highly favored like Mary? Certainly. We grow to be highly favored with God the same way Mary did, which is the same way Jesus. In 2.52, the text says Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.” This is something we grow in over time and it seems to be that one does this by obeying the Father’s will, which is what Jesus did his entire life.

It is necessary in this study to interject a word about Mary’s favor with God. Catholicism must not impede our understanding nor view of Mary. She is a mere woman; in her own words, she is a “maidservant” or “the Lord’s servant.” The idea of “highly favored” is not that she is full of favor, Catholicism not withstanding. She has not favor to confer on anyone; rather, she has received favor from the Lord, just as her will as he lives his life (cf. 2.52). As one commentator wrote: “God had given her His free and uncaused grace in a unique measure by choosing her as mother of His Son.”

It is doubtful whether Mary understood all of these things when the angel appeared to her. But she is greatly disturbed at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this was. It would appear that she may feel that this kind of greeting is not suited for her. She appears to be a modest and sober young lady. Yet again, we find God using the simple and humble people in life to fulfill his purposes. In this case, he picks a virgin from the dusty little town of Nazareth to bring into the world the Messiah. What an awesome responsibility for this lowly maidservant (1.48)!

The Angel’s Announcement

 Beginning in verse 30, we have the message the angel brought from the throne of God. First, he assures with “Do not be afraid” (major theme). The reason she does not need to be afraid is because she has found favor with God and will therefore carry out one of the greatest assignments a servant could have, namely give brith to God’s Son. Catholics misinterpret/mistranslate this verse to say “Hail, Mary, full of grace” as though she is the source of grace for all men. This, of course, is foolish; only God has the grace necessary for the salvation of our souls. As another commentator has written: “Gabriel is simply saying that God’s favour (sic) rests on her.”

Very specific details are given concerning the child she is to bear: sex, name, character, purpose. All these are related by Gabriel to Mary. Gabriel conveys the message of the Lord that was announced to David in 2 Samuel 7, that one would sit on the throne of David forever and this of course is Jesus. But also Isaiah 9 is caught up in this as well in that Gabriel announces that “his kingdom (that is his rule, reign, dominion) will never end” (v.33). Jesus is the final fulfillment, then, of all the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah going clear back to Abraham (land and nation have been fulfilled, but Jesus fulfills the seed promise, cf. Gal 3.16), yea even unto the garden (Gen 3.15). The King is coming and Mary is to bring him into the world.

Mary realizes something is wrong: she is a virgin and has never been with a man. She is pledged to Joseph (v.27), but they are yet to be married. It is a similar like that of Zechariah however, Mary had favor with God (these words were not spoken to Zechariah, though that is not imply Zechariah was not favored by God, after all he was rigtheous, cf. v6). But probably more important than that is the attitude of the heart. Zechariah doubted and voiced his concerns out of unbelief (v.20). Mary’s question appears to be out of innocence.

The Angel’s Answer

To answer her question about how all this will come about Gabriel explains that this birth will take place supernaturally with the power of the Holy Spirit behind. Gabriel also testifies to the divinity of Jesus by stating that he is the Son of God. It would seem that Mary has no knowledge of her relative, Elizabeth, pregnancy for Gabriel tells her what has happened. Verse 37 is a bit tricky: the American Standard renders it “For no word of God shall be void of power.” However, just about every other translation has something akin to “For nothing is impossible with God.” Probably both are right: the Greek is something like – not impossible (double negative – therefore, possible) with God every single word (or event). Thus, with God every single word/event is possible. Like the children’s song goes: My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do. If God said it, as sure as sunrise, it’s going to happen.

I must stress that we should not allow Catholicism to fuzz our image of Mary. Mary’s response to what is going to take place is phenomenal. It is a response of faith that a true woman of God would and should have to the will of God. She acknowledges her position before the Lord (that is, a servant) and is ready for the will of God for her life. It will cost her friends, perhaps family, reputation, and almost a husband. But in her mind she desires the Lord’s will be done and therefore prays (more or less), “come, Lord Jesus.”

Mary and Elizabeth

After her incident with the angel, Mary makes the trek to the hill country where her relative, Elizabeth, lives. When the child, just six months old still in the womb, hears the words of Mary, he leaps in and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit (another theme rampant in Luke). Elizabeth appears to prophecy; having no knowledge of the events that took place (it would appear) she blesses Mary her child, and wonders about her visit from the Lord, yet inside Mary. And even the baby in Elizabeth, John the Baptist, aware of his Lord’s presence leaps for joy also. Finally, there is a blessing bestowed on Mary for her belief in the power of God to work within.

From Mary we learn the proper perspective to the will of God in our life. We have God telling us what he desires in our life (His word) and we need an attitude of “May it be as you say, Lord.” We also learn about God. As stated before, We are witnessing the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to Abraham: the promise of blessing through a seed. The blessing is salvation for mankind. The seed is Jesus. God is faithful. He made a promise and he ahs not forgotten. He has carried out promises in the past and will continue to fulfill his promises today because he is faithful.

The Lord’s Tools

 As I continue through Luke, I come upon the narratives of the foretelling of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. And as I reflect upon the people in these accounts, my mind recalls Woodrow and Belle Mercer. Woodrow is a farmer from Jigger, Louisiana and Belle is his lovely bride for over 60 years. They are “salt of the earth” kind of people who have worked hard to provide for their children but also to please their God. Though not sinless, they are people who seek to faithfully serve the Lord.

When I think of Woodrow and Belle, they’re who I think of when I read about Zechariah and Elizabeth. We find God using simple, humble people to bring about fulfillment of His great scheme of redemption. These are the people, simple and humble, that will bring into this world the forerunner for the Messiah. Luke specifically picks up on this and is sure to point this out to his reader. God is using those people that are just doing the best they can to please God. The text says that “both of them were upright (that is their trust was in the Lord) in the sight of God, observing (from the heart) all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (v.6). These were people who, though not sinless, served God faithfully.

They have an announcement made to them. As Zechariah is serving as a priest before God, he is chosen by lot to burn incense according to custom. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity…literally. A priest, if chosen by lot keep in mind, could only perform this duty one time in his entire lifetime. So to be chosen to serve in this capacity was an awesome responsibility which some priests never were privileged to perform. As Zechariah is performing his priestly function, he is interrupted by an angelic visitor. The text says that Zechariah was “startled” and “gripped with fear.” But Gabriel, the angel, says “Do not fear” (a theme rampant in Luke) and announces a message of good news: Zechariah, an old man (v.18a), and his wife Elizabeth, who is well along in years (v.18b), will have a child.

 Notice what Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist, will do in verses 14-17: he will be a joy and delight to Zechariah, many will rejoice because of his brith, and he will be great in the sight of the Lord. Then we find a restriction for John: never to take wine or other strong drink (fermented, NIV). Following this, we have the power behind John’s message which is the Holy Spirit. Empowered, he will bring back many of Israel back to the Lord and go before the Lord (preparing the way) in the spirit and power of Elijah (that is the attitude and Holy Spirit behind him). He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – all this to prepare the people for the Lord’s arrival. What a fantastic mission that is placed upon John!

Zechariah cannot believe this – literally. His question is a throwback to the question of Abraham centuries before (Gen 15.8). He doubts and because of his unbelief, Gabriel punishes him by striking him mute. Gabriel (whose name means “man of God”) is a dignitary from the divine realm. He stands in the presence of God and is a messanger of glad tidings. He has authroity Zechariah does not recognize and therefore causes Zechariah to become mute. Zechariah demonstratres the attitude of unbelief. On the other hand, his wife realizes the blessing God has bestowed upon her and demonstrates an attitude of gratitude (v.25). She understood who was in control and acknowledged the blessing of God in her life.

What about these people who are in these first few verses (v.10, 21, 22)? Who are they and why are they there? Simply, they are Jews, assembled together to worship as the text indicates. What are they praying for? I think it is fair to say they may have been praying for the coming Messiah, praying for the Lord to send the promised. They were Jews who probably knew the Scriptures and the promises of the Messiah. So they prayed for his coming. As Zechariah is held up in the temple they begin to ask about what is taking Zechariah so long. And when he emerges, they gather he has seen a vision but are not aware that he is the one who will usher in the forerunner for the Messiah they have waited so long for.

I believe we learn from this account about a God who is there, always in the midst of things. He is watching his people, constantly aware of their of their prayers, he hears our prayers (v.13) and petitions and will answer them in accordance with his time frame. Also we learn about a God who uses the simple things, the humble people wh are seeking to do the will of God, trusting in Him and obeying His word from the heart. Finally, we see a God who can perform the impossible. Be a barren woman becoming a pregnant or a barren ministry producing fruit, God is the one who performs the impossible and he is willing and able to do these things through the simple and humble people. These are the tools He seeks to use whether it be in bringing His Son to earth or in bringing a lost person to repentance.

Questions and other sundry matters

Allow me to express my appreciation to every reader out there whether you comment or not. You drive me to continue to study and post my findings in an orderly and coherent manner. Along the same lines, to those who did comment we had some very good additional information and also some very good questions which I will now address.

How “many” do you think attempted to compile a record of Jesus’ life? Inasmuch as the language of Luke is very general with regards to how many, I think we can conclude that we can never know. Luke says many…so there were many.

Do you think Luke was inspired? Let’s address what inspiration is. Easton’s Bible Dictionary says it is “that extraordinary or supernatural influence vouchsafed to those who wrote the Holy Scriptures, rendering their writings infallible.” Was there a divine influence in the writing of Luke? Absolutely and I believe Paul affirms this with his statement in 2 Tim 3.16. How much of an influence did the Spirit have on Luke? That is the question. I believe it was enough to ensure Luke wrote what he was supposed to write (i.e. nothing false or erroneous) but it was not the inspiration the Apostles were promised that would guide them into all truth and teach them all things (John 14.26; 16.13). Hence, Luke went to the eye and earwitnesses which leads to the next question…

Who were the possible eyewitnesses in your opinion? I believe that Luke went to the apostles, as many as were alive and that he could interview. Probably his largest source of information was the apostle Paul. After all Paul was inspired as the other Twelve were inspired. Paul was guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit and was himself an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (1 Cor 15.8). What I found interesting was that one commentator said that Luke may have interviewed Mary, hence the references to Mary treasuring in her heart the things she had seen at the birth of Jesus and pondering them in her heart (Luke 2.19). Also, Luke may have used Joanna (8.3) and Cleopas (24.18) as references as well.

When did Luke become a disciple? From what I have read, tradition holds that Luke was from the Antioch of Syria church. I don’t know about that. Others have said, and I agree, that Luke was a convert of Paul’s in Troas (Acts 16.8-10) and he latched onto Paul as a companion. Of course I would not disagree with someone who said Luke was already a disciple when Paul hit Troas and the two became fellow-travelers. That is also possible.

Theophilus

Little is known about this person. Some have suggested that since his name is “friend of God” that it is merely a symbolic name for all believers. However, Theophilus was a proper name and the title “most excellent” would point to a real historical figure with the name Theophilus or at least a person whose identity is kept private by Luke with a pseudonym. Whatever the case, we do not know what, if any, position Theophilus could have held or even if he were a Jew or Gentile. It is not even certain if he was a believer (he has received instruction, but whether he believes is another story). Luke may be trying to persuade a skeptic concerning the truth of the resurrected Savior (hence the eyewitness testimony of Cleopas and others). Even if he were not a dignitary of some type, he could still research the facts Luke is presenting to see if these things are true or a mere fabrication. After all, Theophilus did live in the first century and could easily go to the eyewitnesses himself to interview them as well.

And the winner is…

Having read the comments and weighing them mentally during this last weekend, I am compelled to begin with a gospel account, even the gospel account of Luke which has been suggested. As best I can, I will address the topics requested in the comments; those topics include discipleship, justification, sanctification, and the rest. I appreciate your recommendations and will do my best to cover the other requests in the future and that in due time.

Luke

By means of introduction, I want to present some remarks one commentator has written concerning the gospel of Luke:

       If ever a man wrote a book filled with good news for everybody, Dr. Luke is that man. His key message is, “For the Son of man is come to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19.10). He presents Jesus Christ as the compassionate Son of man, who came to live among sinners, love them, help them, and die for them.

      In this Gospel you meet individuals as well as crowds, women and children as well as men, poor people as well as rich people, and sinners along with saints. It’s a book with a message for everybody, because Luke’s emphasis is on the universality of Jesus Christ and his salvation: “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2.10).

The physician begins his gospel just as a doctor would begin to write a treatise on medical matters. Indeed, much of his writing is laced with medical terminology. For example, in the first four verses alone (1.1-4), Luke will use no less than four terms that also appear to have been used in the medical field. Further, Luke demonstrates his education and ability to communicate with plutocrats (Theophilus?) with the language he uses in the first four verses.

Luke explains that many have undertaken the task of drawing up (lit. compiling) and account (or record) of the things which have taken place in first century Judea, that is the narrative account of Jesus of Nazareth. He explains that things which are believed among the people have been passed down (i.e. a tradition, probably orally but does not exclude written form) by “eyewitnesses” (Gk. Autoptai, comapre with our word autopsy), which carries the idea that these were men who right alongside the Great Physician as he worked. More than that, they were “ministers,” which carries the idea of one who was an attendant or assistant to the principle physician, or in this case the Great Physician. Therefore, we have men who have the personal knowledge of the ministry of Jesus and also the practical experience necessary to be an apostle.

Luke, working with and collecting data from such men, explains that he has “carefully investigated everything from the beginning.” Luke is not a two-bit historian (Rook Hawkins notwithstanding) who does not research his topic nor know whereof he speaks; Luke has gone to no small measure to compile an account that is as accurate as can be. Therefore, he goes straight to those who were there, just like any modern day journalist would do, to seek out and find the truth and then sets down the things he has gathered in “an orderly account,” specifically for his reader, Theophilus.

The question then arises: “why do this?” Why go to such extreme measures to gather data and collect information? The answer is in verse 4: “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Though originally intended for Theophilus, the principle can be expanded. When we read the gospel narrative of Luke, we are reading sacred history. The data and information has been collected from eyewitness sources, it has been carefully scurtinized and investigated, and the evidence has been recorded in an orderly fashion. Therefore, we too can know the certainty of the things we believe, our faith resting on eyewitness testimony that wouldn hold up in any court of law.

 As we study Luke over the following months, keep in mind that we are reading accurately traced historical facts concerning people, places, and events. This is vitally important when we speak of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus…which we will get to eventually.

The Continuous Commentary

For some time I have been entertaining the thought of writing my own commentary on a blog spot. Because of WordPress’s professional look and feel, I believe I will write my continuous commentary here. For those who feel inclined, you may post your comments; in fact, I charge you who read to correct any doctrine I have wrong or add any constructive and beneficial comments. As means to get me started, does anyone have any requests as to where I should start?