by Pastor Don Elmore
March 29, 2015
Scripture Reading: Luke 1:1-4
Sometimes I go back and look at the old New Covenant Messengers and read articles that were written years ago. I did so last Saturday morning and immediately found three articles. I turned right to them. It was three articles written by our own Dan and Cory. It is in NCM #26.
The third article, written by Cory, was very interesting. It told of the origin of Valentine’s Day. Valentine was the Roman Catholic priest who defied the Emperor’s order to ban marriages; and as a result married many couples. The Roman Catholic Church merged the worship of Lupercalia and the death of the priest Valentine. Lupercalia was the she-wolf that nursed Romulus and Remus when they were orphaned. The two boys grew up and are credited with the founding of Rome.
In her second article, Cory said the following about why they were home schooling:
“As I said, that was seven or eight years ago and now our oldest [Hannah] is doing sixth and seventh grade work, our second daughter [Katie] is in third grade, our third daughter [Rebecca] is in second grade and we’re going to be starting kindergarten with our fourth daughter [Emily] in the fall Not to leave any one out, God has also given us a son [Abel] who will be two this month.”
That means that the NCM that I was reading was about 18 years old! My, how time flies.
But the first article that I saw was the article written by Dan titled: “Listen! When A Dumb Man Speaks.” It was an article that dealt with a favorite portion of scripture for Dan: Luke, Chapter One. I thought, “What a fine article. It needs to be done again so our people don’t forget what happened.”
Do you know who Luke wrote the book of Luke to; and not just this book but his next: the book of Acts? Theophilus. Who was he? All we know for sure is that he was a man “instructed” in the life of Christ. That is all.
I liked how Dan started out his article: “Several times in the Bible, God used strange or unusual events to precede the delivery of an important truth or prophecy.” Dan gave examples of what happened in several Bible stories: the talking mule; the hungry lions that did not eat Daniel; and the fish that swallowed Jonah. These events certainly set the stage for what was coming. But what Dan was alleging was the strange or unusual event that preceded the birth of our Savior. It was the birth of another Isaac!
Luke states that he will give to Theophilus the information of the truth of all things about Christ. It would come from:
- Ministers of the word,
- First-hand knowledge, and
- Knowledge from above.
The Unusual Event
Luke begins his narrative with the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth. Zacharias was a priest in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea. King Herod was an Idumaean or Edomite by birth, founder of the Herodian family, and king of Judaea from 40 BC to 4 AD. He was made such by the Roman Senate4 on recommendation of Mark Antony and Octavius Caesar. King Herod was a Jew by religion.
The elderly Israelite priest, Zacharias, was severing in the Temple the course of Abia or Abijah; the 8th course. What does this mean?
In 1 Chronicles 24 it tells of the dividing of the priests into 24 one-week intervals; one week they were governors of the House of the LORD in their own turn; one week at a time. The 24 divisions of the priests were made between the chief men of only 2 sons of Aaron: Eleazar and Ithamar. This is because Aaron’s other 2 sons died; being childless. Both of them were killed in a judgment of God while offering strange fire before the LORD in a drunken state.
There were more chief men from Eleazar than Ithamar, and thus they were divided into 16 groups from Eleazar and 8 from Ithamar. Lots were drawn to determine first for the house of Eleazar and then the house of Ithamar to decide the order of the courses. Each lot was recorded by the scribe before the king.
Zacharias’ wife was also descended from Aaron and her name was Elizabeth; which was the same name as Aaron’s wife. They both are stated as being righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. They had grown old together; but they had no child. They suffered the same fate as had Abraham and Sarah. Barrenness was considered to be a punishment by many at that time but what was going to happen to them were a faint foreshadowing of the greater miracle which took place in the eventual birth of our Lord. When Abram made out his will, he was saddened by the fact that he had no son to leave his wealth to.
Zacharias was serving in the Temple according to his before mentioned course. His particular job was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. The incense was made of a mixture of sweet spices. It was made of stacte, onycha, galbanum and pure frankincense, in equal parts; beaten very small (Exodus 30:8; 30:34-38). This is when all the excitement begins.
There was the presence of a whole multitude of people praying which indicates that it was a Sabbath or a feast day. Each of the multitude prayed in silence outside the sanctuary, at the time of incense. Incense was offered evening and morning. Probably Zacharias’ vision came in the morning: 9 AM.
Suddenly and unexpectantly standing on the right side of the altar of incense was Gabriel, an angel of the Lord. The altar was where Zacharias was burning incense. It stood in the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. It was a small table 22 inches in breath and length and 44 inches in height. It was made of acacia wood, and overlaid with gold (Exodus 37:25).
The Altar of incense, located in the Holy Place, was right next to the veil that separated it from the Most Holy Place. It was here that Zacharias was ministering when Gabriel met him standing on the right side of the Altar.
Zacharias was as close to the Holy of Holies Place as he could get. Only the High Priest, on one day of the year, could enter the Holy of Holies. Notice all the other furniture: The Ark of the Covenant, the Censer, Altar of Incense, the Table of Showbread, the Lampstand, the Laver and the Brazen Altar.
And when Zacharias saw the angel, he was troubled and had much fear. But Gabriel said unto him: “Fear not Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John” (Luke 1:13 b).
So Zacharias was told, while he is performing his service at the temple, an astonishing fact. He and his wife were too old to have a child, but they are going to have a son! And Gabriel even gives him his name. It duplicated the story of Abram and Sarai. Abram is told that he is going to have a son and is told his name. His name will be Isaac.
Let’s stop right here for a minute and think. How many people in the Bible were named before they were born? The answer is 7. They are besides John:
- Ishmael: “And the angel of the LORD said unto her [Hagar], Behold, thou are with child, and shallot bear a son, and shalt call is name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction” Genesis 16:11.
- Isaac: “And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call is name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him” Genesis 17:19.
- Solomon: “Behold, a son shall be born to thee [David], who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all is enemies around about: for his name shall be Solomon and I will give peace and quietness unto Israel in his days” 1 Chronicles 22:9.
- Josiah (325 years before his birth): “And he [man of God of Judah] cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD: Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name and upon the shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee” 1 Kings 13:2.
- Cyrus (175 years before his birth): “That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem. Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid” Isaiah 44:28.
- Jesus: “And she [Mary] shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins” Matthew 1:21.
So right from the beginning, John was in good company. But there was more to this story. After Zacharias was told by Gabriel that he was going to be given a son, and:
- That he would have joy and gladness,
- Many shall rejoice at his son’s birth,
- His son shall be great in the sight of the LORD,
- He shall not drink neither wine nor strong drink,
- He shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from is mother’s womb,
- He shall turn many of the children of Israel to their God,
- He shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, and
- He will make ready a people prepared for the LORD.
Zacharias was told by a spiritual being in the place right in front of the veil that he would feel as Abraham did when he named his new-born son Isaac. Isaac means “laughter” and many (but not all) shall rejoice at the birth of his son.
What did Zacharias answer Gabriel? He asked for a sign which demonstrated his unbelief. Zacharias seemed to think that it was too late for him to have any children, so he didn’t believe the words that Gabriel had just told him. As a result, Gabriel told Zacharias that he would be dumb (not able to speak) until the day that these things shall be performed.
Remember it was Gabriel that:
- Had announced to Daniel the time of Christ’s birth and death,
- Had said about the overthrow and final restoration of the nation of Judah (Daniel 1:1),
- He announced the birth of Jesus to Mary (Luke 1:46).
Gabriel was one of the 7 angels that stood in the presence of God (Revelation 8:2) and may probably be called angels of the presence (Isaiah 63:9). The 7 angels are said to see the face of God (Matthew 18:10). Don’t you think that if this is true, that Zacharias should have believed what the messenger of God told him without asking for a sign of approval?
So Zacharias, remember, was doing his duty in the temple. He was burning incense as the people were praying outside the temple in the courtyard. The people waited for Zacharias and marveled that he tarried so long in the temple. But when he did come out, he couldn’t speak a word to them: i.e. couldn’t dismiss then with the usual blessing and they probably perceived by his excited manner that he had seen a vision in the temple. Zacharias remained speechless for over 9 months.
So he couldn’t speak the rest of the week as he finished his course at the temple and then went home. His silence was a sign and also a punishment of having sought one. So a faithful priest can have a lapse of unbelief.
And after he had been home for a couple of days, his wife Elizabeth conceived. For 5 months she hid herself. And then she receives a visitor, her cousin, Mary from Galilee.
But before this occurs, in Elizabeth’s 6th month, Gabriel was sent by God unto the city of Galilee named Nazareth. This is the passage from which we learn that John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus Christ.
The same angel of God that had visited Zacharias six months earlier went to Elizabeth’s cousin Mary and told her that she was going to have a very special son whose name was going to be named Jesus. This was shocking to Mary for she was a virgin and had never known a man. Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit shall come upon her; therefore the holy thing which shall be born of her shall be called the Son of God. It was a special, miracle birth—a virgin birth.
Mary and Joseph were engaged (betrothed to a man). This engagement was entered into with much ceremony, and usually took place a year before the marriage. It was so sacred that the parties entering into it could not be separated save by a bill of divorcement.
So Mary goes and visits her cousin Elizabeth for three months. When Mary salutes Elizabeth, the babe in her womb [John] leaped for joy and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Right before Elizabeth gave birth, Mary returned to her home in Nazareth. Note that Mary lived in Galilee; Elizabeth lived in Judea. Galilee was where there were mostly descendants of Benjamin and Levi living, with very few men from Judah and even fewer Jews. Judea was where there were most of the descendants of Edom (Jews) lived and a very few men from Judah.
The Silence of Zacharias
It is hard to imagine how Zacharias felt. He had not said a word for about 10 months. When he failed to believe what Gabriel had told him, God made him unable to say a word. So when the people who were praying saw Zacharias after he came out of the temple on that day, knew that something strange had occurred during his stay. For the remainder of the week, when he finished his course, he was silent.
And then he was silent:
- When they traveled back home,
- When he had intimate relations with his wife,
- When Elizabeth announced to him her pregnancy,
- When Elizabeth told her cousin, Mary, what had happened after she saluted them,
- Through all nine months of his wife’s pregnancy,
- When he son was born,
- When his son was circumcised.
They circumcised John on the eighth day of his life. And the people who were with them called the little boy Zacharias after his father. But Elizabeth, the young boy’s mother, said “No. His name shall be John.” But the people protested that there was none of their kindred that were called by this name.
And then they asked Zacharias what he thought his son should be called. Zacharias, of course, couldn’t speak. So he reached for a writing tablet and wrote: “His name is John.” The people all marveled.
Immediately Zacharias’ mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed and he spoke and praised his God. He hadn’t uttered even one word in ten months and now h e was praising God. The people who were around these new elderly parents were filled with fear. And the word spread throughout the hill country of Judea.
Let’s think about Zacharias’ dumbness (lack of speech). If this happened today, could there be any pill which would make Zacharias to speak? Could there be any kind of medicine or surgery that could help him? It wouldn’t matter. Zacharias would not speak no matter what they could do! And he didn’t know for sure when or if he would ever say another word out loud again. But he believed what Gabriel had told him now.
And Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied the following information. Now what do you think that he prophesied? He hadn’t spoke for almost 10 months; probably thinking that he would never say another word. Do you think what he said would have been the result of months of preparation? What was the message that this elderly man wold prophesy?
Prophecy of Zacharias
68) “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people.”
Zacharias begins by worshipping the God who had made him speechless for almost a year. He identified him as the God of ISRAEL. No other people are mentioned as He being the God over. He said that the God of Israel and visited and redeemed His people—which obviously is not the whole world, but only Israel. At this particular time most of the House of Israel was in a state of divorcement.
69) “And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;…”
God has risen up the strength or power for whom? It was not the Chinese or the Africans or the Indians or the Arabs: nobody but “us”: the descendants of His servant David.
70) “As He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began;
71) That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72) To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant;
73) The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
74) That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,
75) In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.”
The Holy Prophets have been speaking about this since the world began:
- That Israel should be saved from their enemies
- The mercy promised to our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, will be performed
- To remember the Holy Covenant that He sware to our father Abraham
- That Israel once they are delivered from our enemies might serve Him without fear
- That Israel will serve their God in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life.
76) “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways:
77) To give knowledge of salvation unto His people b y the remission of their sins,
78) Through the tender mercy of our God: whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
79) To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Zacharias addresses his son. He says that John will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways. He will be the one that will begin to give the light to Israel: by promoting the Light of the World—Jesus Christ.
Did you notice all of the personal pronouns that Zacharias uttered in this short speech? It was some of the first words that he had spoken since he was unable to speak any words for almost 10 months:
68) Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for HE hath visited and redeemed HIS people.
69) And hath raised up an horn of salvation for US in the house of HIS servant David;
70) As HE spake by the mouth of HIS holy prophets, which have been since the world began;
71) That WE should be saved from OUR enemies, and from the hand of all that hate US;
72) To perform the mercy promised to OUR fathers, and to remember HIS holy covenant;
73) The oath which HE sware to OUR father Abraham,
74) That HE would grant unto US, that WE being delivered out of the hand of OUR enemies might serve HIM without fear,
75) In holiness and righteousness before HIM, all the days of OUR life.
76) And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for THOU shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare HIS ways;
77) To give knowledge of salvation unto HIS people by the remission of THEIR sins,
78) Through the tender mercy of OUR God: whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited US,
79) To give light to THEM that sit in darkness and in the shadows of death, to guide OUR feet into the way of peace.”
And if the personal pronouns weren’t enough to convince you, what did Zacharias mention, right in the middle of his speech?
72) “To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant;
73) The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,….
The unconditional holy covenant that God made with our father Abraham; for He was the only one who walked between the slain 3 year old heifer, she goat and ram; along with a turtle dove and a pigeon—for Abram was put in a deep sleep. Only God walked the path of the covenant. The covenant was passed on to the following people as told to us by the Bible. Here is the chart of the 8 sons of Abraham with his 3 women. Who were the people that the God of Israel visited and redeemed?
Mary also addressed the covenant in Luke 1:54-55: “He hath holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy; As He spake to our father, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.”
The Abrahamic covenant is the difference as to why we are a holy people, a particular people and a particular treasure. The Bible is the book that tells who is in that covenant. It only went to one of Abraham’s eight sons: Isaac. It did not go to his first son: Ishmael. Ishmael is the father of the Arabs of the world today.
It then went to only one of Isaac’s twin sons: Esau, who despised the covenant and sold it to his twin brother: Jacob. Esau is the father of the Jews of today.
And it went then to Jacob’s seed. It is this people who are the people of God. All Israelites who committed the sin of miscegenation; their seed was no longer a part of the covenant. True descendants of Jacob/Israel are the covenant people of God.
The birth of John the Baptist and Isaac were similar in a lot of ways:
- Both of their parents were old; past the time when they could produce a child.
- They both were told that they would have a son in the near future.
- Neither parents believed the message that they were told.
- Both set of parents were punished for their unbelief.
- Both received with joy their son.
- John the Baptist was a descendant of Isaac.
- Even a young Christian knows both Isaac and John the Baptist.
After Zacharias’ nearly 10 months of silence, what he said was not a “spur-of-the-moment” or an “off-the-cuff” little speech. And if the length of time to prepare, or Zacharias’ position as an Aaronic Priest, didn’t qualify him to say something meaningful, then how about the help he received by being filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:67).
So the next time you sit down to read about the birth of Jesus, or hear someone else start a story-reading at the beginning of Luke 2:1:
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.”
Please! Just back up a few verses and you will find out WHY and TO WHOM this Savior was being born.
Blessed be the LORD God of Israel.