It is hard to believe, that it is only three weeks until Christmas, so we are beginning our Christmas study. We will be focusing on Luke’s account, not every point or story arc will be discussed. I will be going where the Spirit leads. I will be reading Luke and Matthew chapters one and two and I hope you will join us in reading through them, at least once a week, if not daily until Christmas. Many of us are very familiar with this and may not believe there is anything more we can glean from the Christmas story. I think that no matter how many times you have studied or read any part of the Bible, there are still new things that you can learn and be encouraged with each new reading. Join me in praying that God will show you something new you never thought about and that you will treasure these accounts in your heart. That it will be fresh to you this Christmas season, no matter if you have read it thousands of times, or this Christmas is your first. For our study together, I felt a good place to begin would be where Lukes starts, by explaining the birth of John the Baptist.
First, let’s give some context that will help set the stage for the first Christmas. Since man first sinned, the Messiah’s coming has been prophesied, God incarnate who is both a hundred percent God and man (Genesis 3:15, John 1:1-14). He was to be born of a virgin, would die, and would rise again taking all the power of sin, death, and satan (Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 53:5–9, Isaiah 53:12, Psalms 16:10). Nearly everything surrounding His birth was prophesied, from where He would be born, what lines He would be born into, where He would go, why He would go there, and many more (Micah 5:2, Genesis 49:10, Isaiah 9:6-7, Hosea 11:1, Jeremiah 31:15). The Bible is 27% prophecy and no one has been able to prove, that even one of them has not come true, that God has fulfilled. That is to say, that the Bible has a lot of prophecy, that three out of ten verses contains prophetic material. This will vary greatly from book to book and even from chapter to chapter. The Christmas story is packed full of fulfilled prophecies this is especially important to understand because of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which predates the birth of Jesus by hundreds of years. When studying these scrolls, we realize that the scrolls are perfectly aligned with the Old Testament. We can say with certainty, that the Old Testament reads the same before Jesus’ birth as it does today. So, all the prophecies Jesus fulfilled were really foretold hundreds to thousands of years before they ever occurred.
The Romans were currently ruling over the Israelites and there had been four hundred years of canonical silence. Zechariah and Elizabeth were two righteous Levites, that were living blamelessly before the Lord, they were barren and older, beyond the years of child bearing. Zechariah was a priest and was chosen by lot to enter the temple to burn incense. Which is something that was done twice daily, in the mornings and evenings. There were many praying outside, while he was in the temple, Gabriel the angel appeared to him. There are two interesting facts given about Gabriel, first he is called the angel of the Lord. This is often what the angel who appeared in the Old Testament is called, but not always, which makes some believe that when it is said like this, it is always Gabriel. This is one of the few times in the Bible when an angel gives his name. The second interesting fact is where the angel is standing, which is on the right side of the altar of incense (Luke 1:11). I think it is interesting for two reasons, first the temple is to be an earthly representation of God’s throne room, he could be standing where he stands in relation to the throne room. Additionally, it is interesting that he is standing on the right side of the altar of incense and Jesus sits on the right hand of the Father. This is important and is mentioned for a reason, because the Bible does not have any words that are not inspired and important, there are no random facts in the Bible. Zechariah responded the same way almost everyone does when seeing an angel, he was troubled and fearful. Gabrial said,“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:13-15) The Christmas story has some of the strongest pro-life verses in the whole Bible. This is one of them, here we see that even in the womb people can be filled with the Spirit of God. Another main one, is the fact that John leaped in Elizabeth, when she heard Mary’s voice. Gabriel continues by saying, “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:16-17) John was to go before Jesus to prepare Israel for the Messiah, in the spirit and power of Elijah. This is interesting because Elijah was a prophet who did many signs and prophecies. We may not think of John as a prophet but he was, and he likely did some signs that accompanied his prophecies.
Zechariah went from fearful, to doubting the angels words. Gabriel responds to his doubt by telling Him, “I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”” (Luke 1:19-20) So, he was made mute because he did not trust the Word of the Lord, which Gabrial had given him. When we do not trust what God has said, especially in the Bible or when it is as clear as an angel appearing, there will be consequences.
The Word of the Lord Fulfilled
So now, we will skip ahead in Luke’s account to the birth of John the Baptist, we will come back to the other parts of this passage in the coming weeks. So, Elizabeth gave birth to John and many rejoiced, because the Lord showed her great mercy, just as Gabrial said they would, these were their relatives and neighbors. Eight days afterwards, when John was circumcised, they asked Elizabeth what she wanted to name him. This is interesting not only because they were asking Elizabeth, that is interesting enough, but because I never thought about how the Jews were able to keep some of the highest quality records in the history of the world. This is likely because of the law and taking records of births on the eight day when they circumcise the male children. We see that Zechariah is still mute and this is why they asked Elizabeth. When she said John, this confused them, because none of their relatives had that name, going back to what I said about them looking at the records to add John. So they signaled to Zechariah to ask what he wanted to name the baby and he wrote John. Then his mouth was immediately opened and he spoke blessing God. We see that this started a stir in the province of Judea. Many laid this up in their hearts, for the hand of the Lord was with him.
Treasure this Christmas
So this Christmas, I want to encourage you to read through the Christmas story and lay its truth, beauty, wisdom, and encouragement up in your heart, meditate on it and let it seep into your memory and worldview. I also want to encourage you that we not only have the same Spirit that John the Baptist had, but also the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave (Romans 8:11). We are called to point to Jesus like John, this means that we are called to point to the fact that Jesus came to save all and is coming back again to call His people home. We need to be sharing the gospel and living it out, not only because it is Christmas and people are more open to the gospel this time of year, but also, we should be sharing and living it out year round because there is nothing more important, especially when peoples’ eternities are at stake. Also, I want to encourage you to enjoy this time with your friends, family, and church family. If you do not have a Church to attend in your area, you still have time to find one before Christmas. Link https://youtu.be/xtpPzwZxde8, if you want to see how I recommend finding a great Church.