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Understanding the Gospel of Jesus Christ; Chapter 2 – The Birth and Childhood of Jesus Christ; Part 2

Eddie is a Christian writer and has been a mentor to countless young people through God's ministry over the past 20 years.

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Gabriel announces the births of the forerunner and the Messiah

Luke described his purpose for writing the Gospel of Luke.

Luke 1:1-4

To the most honorable Theophilus, one who loves God:

Many people have undertaken thorough written accounts about the events fulfilled and most surely believed among us. For their material, they use the sources from the reports circulating among us from the beginning from the early disciples, ministers of the Word, and eyewitnesses of what God has done in fulfillment of His promises. I carefully investigated all these accounts from the beginning and have decided to write a careful summary for you, to reassure you of the faith of all you were taught.

In a manner similar to Hellenistic Greek histories and Graeco-Roman literature, Luke began his Gospel with a prologue that identified his audience and explained his reason for writing it. He acknowledged that other writers accounted for or investigated the Man and circumstances of Jesus Christ. His account included many eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus. Luke intended his Gospel to compliment what had already been written by other authors of the era about Jesus. He wanted to reassure a fellow Christian’s faith in what he had been taught about Jesus Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah.

Questions

Do you know what purpose God had for John the Baptist in His plan to offer redemption to humanity?

Why do you think Luke, a noted physician, and historian, would include the events of John the Baptist’s birth within his Gospel account of the birth of Jesus?

Gabriel predicts John the Baptist’s birth

The following events may have occurred around 7-6 BC., during the reign of King Herod the Great. The priestly division, Abijah, consisted of hundreds of men who were on duty for one week two times a year. Only once in a lifetime can a priest be fortunate enough to burn incense on the altar before the holy of holies, which was left to casting lots to determine who could receive that special honor. Though the lot fell to Zechariah, it was not by chance that he had been presented the opportunity to go into one of the most sacred portions of the Temple. You can sense the man’s heartbeat jumping all over the place with nervous joy as he commenced with his duties. He had no idea of what was about to happen next.

Luke 1:5-25

It all began with the Jewish priest named Zechariah. He lived when Herod was king of Judea. Zechariah was a member of the priestly order of Abijah. His wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zachariah and Elizabeth both lived their lives righteously in the eyes of God. They were careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children of their own because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both very old.

One day Zechariah was serving God as a priest in the Temple because his division was on duty that week. According to the custom of the priests, he was chosen by the lot to enter the Temple of the Lord and burn incense in the Lord’s presence. A considerable crowd stood outside and prayed while the incense was being burned.

Questions

Would you be afraid if an angel suddenly appeared in front of you?

What was your gut reaction the first time you realized God answered a prayer of your heart positively?

How did you respond to that answered prayer?

The appearance of Gabriel

While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared standing to the right of the incense altar. The appearance of the angel overwhelmed Zechariah with fear.

The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid Zechariah! For I have come to tell you that God has heard your prayer, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son! You are to name him John. You will have immense joy and gladness, and many will rejoice with you at his birth. He will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong alcohol.

“Even before his day of birth, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will persuade many Israelites to turn their hearts back towards God. He will be a man with the same spirit and power as Elijah, the prophet from old. He will precede the coming of the Lord, preparing the people for His arrival. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will change disobedient minds to accept Godly wisdom.”

“How can I know this will happen?” Zechariah asked the angel. “I am an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

The angel replied, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the presence of God. He sent me to bring you this good news! Behold! Since you did not believe what I told you, you will not speak until the child is born. My words will certainly come true at the proper time.”

The people who were waiting outside of the Temple for Zechariah to come out were beginning to wonder why he was taking so long. When he finally emerged from the Temple, he could not speak to them. When he could only gesture to them, they realized he must have seen a vision in the Temple sanctuary. He remained at the Temple until his term of service was over before he returned home.

Not long after that, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and went into seclusion for 5 months. “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children!”

Zechariah reacted to the angel as many of the other characters with similar encounters had. Gabriel’s announcement? Zechariah and Elizabeth were going to be parents, even at their advanced age. The prayers of their heart would finally be answered by Yahweh. Even the most righteous human is not without fault. Zechariah was no different. Well advanced in years, he found it hard to fathom that he would father a child at last. Consequently, he lost the ability to speak until the birth of his son. His wife Elizabeth, however, welcomed the news as a blessing and praised God for His kindness toward her.

Gabriel’s prophecy of John’s accomplishments spoke of the importance of preparing oneself to respond to Yahweh’s calling. John the Baptist was only the forerunner to the Messiah, but his message of repenting of their sins and returning of their hearts to God established the journey to salvation possible. Without a desire to turn away from sin and focus our heart on desiring a reconnection with our Heavenly Father, one would be unable to receive and believe in the mission and message of Christ.

Gabriel predicts Jesus’s birth

Through his emphasis on the importance of women to be included in the Messiah’s mission to draw all humanity back to Yahweh, Luke shifts the announcement of Christ to Mary’s perspective. His intention was not to rail against the patriarchal society of the Jewish nation; he desired to present women as equally important to share the Gospel of salvation to the world. Luke’s account of Mary’s witness compliments Joseph’s encounter described in Matthew.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, sent by Yahweh to Nazareth to Mary, Gabriel announced the miraculous conception of Christ, the Messiah. Mary was a direct descendant of the House of David, which also referred to the tribe of Judah. The Messiah had been prophesied to come from the tribe of Judah.

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of King David.

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, highly favored woman! The LORD is with you!”

The angel’s words were confusing, which disturbed Mary. She tried to consider what the angel's greetings could mean.

“Do not be frightened, Mary,” the angel told her, “for God, has favored you and decided to bless you. You will become pregnant in your womb and have a Son, and you are to name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His ancestor David. And He will reign over Israel, the house of Jacob, forever. His Kingdom will never end!”

Mary asked the angel, “How can I have a baby when I am still a virgin and have not yet known a man?”

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you,” the angel replied. "The Baby born to you will be Holy. He will be called the Son of God. Furthermore, your cousin Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she is already in her sixth month of pregnancy. Nothing is impossible with God.”

“I am the Lord’s handmaiden,” Mary responded. “I am willing to accept whatever He wants. May everything you have said become truth.”

After Mary said this, the angel left.

Questions

What tremendous responsibility was bestowed upon Mary?

How would you have felt if Yahweh had chosen you for such an enormous honor?

What character traits do you believe Mary exhibited to receive the undeserved blessing of the Heavenly Father?

God favored Mary with the grace He gave her, which was not due to her standing.

Here deeply troubled might be better paraphrased as confused or perplexed. She may have wondered how she qualified in the eyes of Yahweh to receive the honor of bearing the Messiah into the world.

Some of us may be faced with that same issue. Several years ago, God called me into youth ministry for my church. Although I had already been teaching God’s Word for over two decades to various age groups, it had never been at the level that the Holy Spirit was influencing upon me. Feeling confused and vastly under-qualified for the responsibility – I was already over fifty, which is almost thirty years beyond the recommended age for persons in youth ministry – I resisted taking on the challenge. I cannot begin to imagine what would have happened if I had denied His calling.

God’s will and plan are often beyond the scope of our comprehension. It is okay for us to feel inadequate because it abolishes the pride that can block us from accepting God’s control. Realizing that Yahweh identifies within us the hidden capabilities that can only be empowered through the Holy Spirit. We become His tools to reach others and teach them about the plan of salvation. Mary certainly did not feel qualified to bear the Son of God, but her loyalty and trust in Yahweh led her to submit to His will.

Mary responded with dignity and respect. She did not accept the blessing with pride or arrogance, rather she humbled herself in the eyes of Yahweh and submitted herself with willing obedience in heart and life. She had reached the age where she already knew of the processes necessary for human procreation. Even though she questioned her own human understanding, she did not question how God intended to accomplish the miracle.

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth

Luke 1:39-45

A few days after Mary had the encounter with the angel, she arose and hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth shouted for joy and exclaimed to Mary, “You are blessed by God above all other women, and your Child within you is blessed as well! Why is this granted to me, that the honor of the mother of my Lord, should come to visit me?

"When you came in and greeted me, my baby jumped for joy the instant I heard your voice! You are blessed because you believed the Lord would fulfill what He told you!”

Questions

What has God done for you that you feel you did not deserve?

At that moment of realization, what praise did you offer God for His grace?

The Magnificat: Mary's Song of Praise

Luke 1:46-56

Mary responded,

“My soul magnifies the Lord.

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

For He took notice of His lowly handmaiden.

Behold, henceforth generation after generation will call me blessed.

For He, the Mighty One, has done important things for me; Holy is His Name.

His mercy goes on to all who fear Him from generation to generation.

His mighty arm does tremendous deeds; He scatters the proud and the haughty ones in the imagination of their hearts!

He has taken the mighty from their seats and princes from their thrones and exalted them of the lowest standing.

He has filled and satisfied the craving hearts with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.

And how God has helped His servants, the people of Israel!

He has not forgotten His promise to be merciful.

He promised our ancestors, Abraham and his children, to be merciful to them forever.”

Mary continued to stay with Elizabeth for about three months before she went back to her own home.

Mary offered a hymn of praise that expressed her faith in Yahweh, her love for Him, and her willingness to serve Him in that important capacity. She recalled the many blessings God heaped upon humanity, echoing many of the Psalms of David. She praised the Almighty for His continuous mercy just as He promised Abraham for his descendants.

It is not too late to express your gratitude. I am sure that when you look back over your life, you can recognize the times when Yahweh had extended His grace to you. There will be times in your future when He will continue to bless you. It is now your responsibility to realize those blessings and express your gratitude.

Are you willing to submit yourself to His providence and direction?

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