The Gospel of Luke
Part 3: Zechariah and Elizabeth

(These notes are prepared based on lesson notes prepared by Rob Mahon for Connection Class Leaders at Hoffmantown church.)

Review:

Last week, we finished the foundation for understanding where Luke fits into the fabric of the Bible, and especially the New Testament. As we dive in, remember that:

So now let’s study Luke.

As we start into Luke, we are going to see that God wants to speak to us. God is speaking ... the question is, are we listening to what God is saying and are we believing what God is saying?

There is a Dennis the Menace cartoon where Dennis and his friend walk into Mr. Wilson's living room while Mr. Wilson is reading the newspaper. Dennis says: "Hi, Mr. Wilson." Mr. Wilson doesn't respond. Dennis repeats, a little louder: "Hi, Mr. Wilson!" Mr. Wilson doesn't say anything. Dennis shouts at the top of his lungs: "HI, MR. WILSON!!"  Mr. Wilson still doesn't respond.

As Dennis and his friend leave the room, Dennis says, "Bye, Mr. Wilson." Mr. Wilson says, "Good-Bye, Dennis." Dennis turns to his friend as they're walking and says, "There's nothing wrong with Mr. Wilson's hearing, but his listening is not so good!"

Most of us are like that when it comes to listening to God! There's nothing wrong with our hearing, but we don't always listen or take to heart what He says, believing Him and obeying Him. Luke Chapter 1 has a lot to say about God's desire to communicate with us. Let's look at the chapter by considering the people mentioned in it. As you read through this chapter, keep this theme is mind: God is speaking ... are you listening and believing?  The first four verses of Luke could be called

Believe Because God's Word Is Trustworthy.”

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us,  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. --Luke 1:1-4
Many have undertaken to draw up an account...

Many scholars believe that both the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew were written before Luke's Gospel. There were probably other first century believers who compiled the works and teachings of Jesus - yet God chose not to include their writings in the Scriptures.

It's important to remember that Luke was not one of the twelve disciples (nor was Mark, for that matter). Of the four Gospels, only Matthew and John were among the twelve disciples chosen by the Lord. All early church tradition holds that Luke is the author both of the Gospel bearing his name and the book of Acts. It is also interesting to note that there are only three specific references to Luke in the New Testament:

As we looked at the introduction lessons the last two weeks, in Acts, Luke included himself in the accounts using "we" in describing events in three different sections of Acts. As he opened the book of Acts, in Acts 1:1, Luke describes the book of Luke as an account "about all that Jesus began to do and to teach". This is significant in that it is Luke's own description of what he wrote.
The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach... --Acts 1:1
Back to verses 3 and 4.
 ... it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;  so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. --Luke 1:3-4
What do we learn about Luke’s approach to writing from this passage? His purpose in writing to Theophilus is that Theophilus may “know with certainty” the things he had been taught. Luke’s goal was to prove through eyewitness testimony, the works and words of Jesus.

Who was Theophilus?

By the way, if you wonder who Theophilus is, Theophilus’ name is Greek meaning “one who loves God”. So presumably he was a believer in a church or a follower of Luke and/or Paul. Apparently the name leads scholars to assume he is Roman. We don’t know much else about him. In Acts, Luke calls him “most excellent”, the same title Paul uses in addressing Felix and Festus. This may imply that Theophilus was a person of rank, perhaps a Roman officer. Some have suggested, but cannot prove, that Theophilus may have been the Roman judge who heard the arguments against Paul in Rome, and Luke and Acts could have been a legal brief presented in defense of Paul at that hearing. The truth is that we do not know, but that does not detract from their immense value to us today. His record is superb.

There are some take homes from these first four verses:

Luke's approach to writing his account of Jesus' life should give us greater confidence in the accuracy of the Bible. Luke "carefully investigated" these events, using "eyewitness accounts" of what happened.

When you fall into the trap of starting to think that the Bible is a good book but not really accurate, remember what Luke said.

When Luke wanted to help Theophilus grow, he first focused him on what Jesus "began to do and teach". Every one of us needs to focus on the same thing, what Jesus did and taught. As we study Luke, we need to make a commitment to some specific application from the life of Jesus from every chapter.

We don't know what happened to Theophilus. Did he continue to grow as a disciple? Did he bail out? But we do know that the God blessed Luke's efforts to disciple this man.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. --1 Corinthians 15:58
When Luke wrote his account of Jesus' life, he had no idea that God would use it in the lives of millions of people for the next 2,000 years! He was just faithfully seeking to help someone grow as a disciple. We all need to be involved in helping others grow, whether children or adults, whether we are working with one or several. And we can be sure that God will use and bless our efforts!

Now on to Luke’s history. He starts with the story of Zechariah & Elizabeth. This could be sub-titled,

Believe Because God Is Trustworthy.

Luke begins with an account of the birth of John the Baptist. The reference to "eyewitness accounts" in verse 2 and the focus on John the Baptist’s parents seems to indicate that Luke had the opportunity to speak to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,  of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. --Luke 1:5-7
What do we learn about John the Baptist's parent in these three verses? Verse 25 indicates this was a source of embarrassment to Elizabeth
After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.” --Luke 1:24-25
Moving forward:

Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. --Luke 1:8-10
Zechariah was chosen by lot ... to go into the temple ...

Apparently, because of the large number of priests, this would be the only time in Zechariah's life when he was allowed to perform this task. This would make this event the high point of Zechariah's priestly career. The offering of incense represents the prayers of the nation. Notice that while he offered the incense, the worshippers prayed.

And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zechariah was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. … Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” The people were waiting for Zechariah, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. --Luke 1:11-21

I skipped verses 13-17 because we will come back to these later when we talk specifically about John the Baptist.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him...

Note that this is one of those instances where we know the name of the angel.

There are only two angels mentioned by name in the Bible - Michael and Gabriel. Gabriel is mentioned four times by name (Dan. 8:16, 9:21, Luke 1:19, 1:26):

Verse 19 indicates that Zechariah chose not to believe Gabriel! If he'd just kept his mouth shut and waited a few weeks, he'd have known for sure! So Gabriel gave Zechariah a sign that would encourage his faith and rebuke his unbelief - Zechariah would be unable to speak for the next nine months!

Aren't we all like Zechariah? When we "hear" what God promises in His Word, do we believe and obey or do we doubt and do what we think is best? One way we can demonstrate our faith is through our obedience. Do you behave like you believe the following that God has said?

“Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure -— pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” --Luke 6:38
Do we believe that God will give to us if we give generously to Him?
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. --Philippians 4:6-7
Do we believe that the way to deal with worry is to turn our problems over to God through prayer and trust Him?
Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. --Romans 10:1
Do we believe God that those who don't receive Christ face an eternity apart from God? If we really do, we'll pray for them and we'll share the Gospel with them. I challenge you to pick one way you can demonstrate your faith in God and His Word this week.

Notice Elizabeth's heart for and faith in the Lord:

“This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.” --Luke 1:25
Then in verses 41-45
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” --Luke 41-45
In verse 25 Elizibeth says, "He looked with favor upon me".

In verses 41-45 she says, "And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?"

Later in the chapter (verse 60) when her baby is proposed to be named Zechariah, she said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.”

How did Elizabeth know that her son's name was to be John? Probably her husband, Zechariah, had written out the entire encounter with Gabriel, explaining all that the angel had said to him. It took real courage (and faith!) on her part to speak up concerning the naming of her son.

Consider this situation from Zechariah's perspective. His son is born, but still Zechariah is unable to speak. Eight days later, Zechariah still cannot speak when his son is due to be circumcised. Zechariah may not have believed back in verese 18, but there is no wavering now. He emphatically supports the command to name his son, John.

And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. --Luke 1:63
At this point, with this act of faith, God restores Zechariah's power of speech. What was the first thing Zechariah did?
And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. --Luke 1:64
Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks prophetically concerning Jesus and Zechariah's son, John the Baptist, later in the chapter.

Our faith brings glory to God. When we listen to God and choose to believe Him rather than our circumstances, God is glorified. Imagine all the people who knew Zechariah and Elizabeth and were encouraged because of their faith.

How about you?

Since Gabriel played such an important role in this story, next week we will step aside from the narrative, and see what we can learn about angels and then pick up Luke’s narrative.