IN GOD’S TIME
“You will be with child and give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31–32).God’s Spirit is active whenever the Lord is about to do a work in and for His people.
Luke stated his purpose (1:1–4), and immediately launched his history. He reported angelic visitations before the birth of John the Baptist (vv. 5–25) and Jesus (vv. 26–38). He told of Mary’s visit to John’s mother (vv. 39–45) and recorded her “Magnificat,” a hymn of praise (vv. 46–56). When John was born (vv. 57–66) his father, Zechariah, predicted his ministry as forerunner of Messiah (vv. 67–80).
Understanding the Text
“Eyewitnesses and servants of the Word” Luke 1:14.
Many believe that Luke had the opportunity to travel in Palestine and interview Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and others during the two years Paul was kept under arrest at Caesarea (cf. Acts 24:27). Luke himself said he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning,” indicating he searched out many sources and compared their accounts before writing. Luke wasn’t interested in passing on rumors or twice-told tales. He offered a factual, carefully researched study of Jesus’ life. Why? In sending this account on to Theophilus, to whom Acts is also addressed, Luke said he had written “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Jesus did live; Jesus did teach and perform miracles; Jesus did die and rise again. Just as this and the other Gospels say. So travel with Luke. Meet the people who actually knew Jesus, and hear their testimony about Him. As you do, you realize anew that our faith is rooted in reality, not in myths or legends. “But they had no children” Luke 1:5–7. The pain of childlessness was particularly acute in Israel, where this condition was also a source of shame. But note that the text stresses the upright character of both Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth. Only then does it say, “But they had no children.” By linking their character with her condition, Luke makes it clear that Elizabeth’s barrenness was not a consequence of sin. He also reassures us. We too can experience suffering that has no relationship to personal sins. God, who had only good in mind for Zechariah and Elizabeth, and ultimately blessed them, will ultimately bless you and me too. “He was chosen by lot” Luke 1:9–12. The priests were divided into 24 groups, each of which served for a week twice a year at the Jerusalem temple. But the privilege of burning incense inside the temple was distributed by lot, and a priest might have this honor only once during his lifetime! Now, in Zechariah’s old age, at last the lot fell on him. Again we see that God’s blessings are often delayed. Though it’s hard, you and I too need to wait patiently for God’s timing. “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth” Luke 1:13–17. The angel that appeared to Zechariah conveyed God’s promise of a son, who would be the forerunner of the promised Messiah (v. 17). The account contains the first mention of the Holy Spirit, whose activity dominates this chapter (vv. 35, 41, 67). God had chosen that particular moment in history to personally intervene, to bring salvation to humankind. Note too the reference in each context to joy. John, filled with the Spirit, “will be a joy and delight to you” (v. 14). Elizabeth and her babe, also filled with the Spirit, “leaped for joy” when Mary “the mother of my Lord” came to visit. Neither Mary nor Zechariah could contain the overflow of praise as the Spirit worked in their lives (vv. 46–55; 67–79). As we open ourselves to God’s Spirit and surrender to Him, we too will discover a joy that bubbles over into praise. “Because you did not believe my words” Luke 1:18–25. Asking God for a special sign of confirmation can be right or wrong. In this case Zechariah’s request for a sign grew out of unbelief, and therefore was wrong. But notice that Zechariah’s unbelief did not cause God to go back on His word. Sometimes true believers like Zechariah have difficulty taking hold of the promises of the Lord. Don’t let others frighten you with the teaching that unless you believe, you will never benefit from God’s promises or receive His gifts. Many promises are unconditional, and depend on the faithfulness of God rather than on the strength of the believer’s faith. When you come across a promise in God’s Word, deliberate on how trustworthy God is, and simply thank Him for His gift. “Nothing is impossible with God” Luke 1:26–38. How fascinating to see a young girl, certainly not out of her teens, unhesitatingly accept Gabriel’s promise of a Virgin Birth. Zechariah, a godly and aged priest, had doubted the same angel’s promise of a far less wonder! Mary is certainly one of Scripture’s most appealing characters. She reminds us that finding favor with God and having faith in God do not depend on age, theological training, or high religious position. The youngest and the simplest of us can have a vital faith in God and be loved deeply by Him (see DEVOTIONAL). “What then is this child going to be?” Luke 1:57–66 The story of John’s unusual birth was told and retold for years in the hill country of Judea, where he was born. While Jesus grew up in obscurity, John was the focus of attention through childhood (v. 80). A Nazarite from birth, John wore his hair long and avoided wine, setting him apart from others (v. 15). This and the unusual events surrounding John’s birth may have been one means God used to stimulate the attitude of expectancy that did grip many in the first century, who were eagerly looking for the appearance of the Messiah. God not only prepared a place for His Son; He prepared the people who would be invited to trust Him. It’s helpful for us to remember this when we have an opportunity to witness. God will have already been at work, preparing the other person for what we have to share. “His father Zechariah . . . prophesied” Luke 1:67–79. Zechariah’s utterance is a prophecy: a prediction made by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As such it sums up the implications of all the events that Luke described in this first chapter. There’s a pattern here, with each statement of God’s action matched by praise for its benefits. God has come and redeemed His people (v. 68). God has raised up One of David’s house, able to save and so kept His promise to rescue from all enemies (vv. 69–71). God has performed a covenant-keeping act of mercy (vv. 72–73) and not only rescued us, but enabled us to serve Him “in holiness and righteousness . . . all our days” (vv. 74–75). As for John, he would be a prophet (v. 76), who went before the Messiah to give people “the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (v. 77). Earlier Gabriel had told Zechariah that John “will be a joy and delight to you” (v. 14). I know that nearly every child is a joy to its parents. But what a special joy, to know that our children will serve the Lord. There has been only one John the Baptist. But many a Christian parent has shared the joy of Zechariah, and seen children trust God, and then mature in faith.
The Mother of My Lord (Luke 1:26–55)
There’s a vast difference between calling Mary the “mother of my Lord,” as Elizabeth did, and the “mother of God.” In Jesus, God took on human nature, and that human nature was derived from His mother, Mary. God the Son, like God the Father, eternally existing, had no mother. In no way can His divine nature be attributed to Mary, who was merely a creature like you and me. It’s this that Luke seemed to emphasize in his lovely portrait of Mary. She was a creature, like you and me. But her unusual response to God sets us an example. Mary is an example of submission. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she said. “May it be to me as you have said” (v. 38). Mary knew full well what she risked as an unmarried woman: rejection by Joseph, the scorn and contempt of her neighbors. Yet Mary did not hesitate. She committed herself totally to the Lord’s plan for her life. Mary is an example of humility. Twice in that poem known as Mary’s “Magnificat,” she mentions her “humble state” (vv. 48, 52). Though to Mary alone was granted the privilege of being mother of the Messiah, the “One desired by women” (Dan. 11:37), she never became proud. Many men of Scripture through whom God worked succumbed later to pride. Mary, who had more to boast of than any of them, never lost her spirit of selfless dependence on God. Mary is an example of thankfulness. She responded to God’s touch with her whole soul and spirit, praising and exalting the Lord. She saw in God’s work in her own life evidence of His love for all His people, and was thrilled with God’s might, grace, mercy, and faithfulness. Today we should honor Mary, and thank God for her simple trust. But the best way to honor Mary is not to pray to her. Rather the best way to honor Mary is to model our own relationship with God on the traits she displayed. The acts of recognition of which Mary would approve remain the same: to readily submit to our Lord, to nurture a humble spirit, and to express our appreciation to God in praise, as Mary did so long ago.
Don’t pray to Mary. But do honor her, by following her example.
“Humility is like a pair of scales; the lower one side falls, the higher rises the other. Let us humble ourselves like the blessed virgin and we shall be exalted.”—John Vianney