Key Verse: 1:6
"Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all
the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly."
1. What was Luke's motivation in compiling the gospel account? (1-4)
Why were the birth, life and death of Jesus such epochal events in
human and biblical history? (1-4)
2. In what respects was Zechariah's life of faith like a lamp burning
in dark times? What shows the darkness of the times? Why were these
two old people called upright? (5,6)
3. Describe Zechariah's encounter with the angel Gabriel. What does
this event reveal about Zechariah's prayer life? (8-13)
4. Why was John called great before God? (14-17)
5. Why was Zechariah rebuked by the angel Gabriel? How did God train
him and what was the purpose of the training? What was Elizabeth's
confession of faith? What does this show about her faith?
The birth of John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Messiah had
been prophesied long ago (Is 40:3). At last, the prophecy was about to
be fulfilled by the announcement concerning the birth of John the
Baptist. In this passage, there is another story about two senior
citizens who prepared the spiritual environment for the birth of John.
They were Zechariah and Elizabeth. Today we learn about John's parents,
Zechariah and Elizabeth, and a little about John.
First, St. Luke's motivation in compiling the gospel account (1-4).
In the world, there are many autobiographies and biographies written
by many in the hope that their achievements or their good deeds might
be remembered by their descendants. But their lives and works impress
us as sad and fatalistic instead of making us happy. In fact, they
tried hard to survive and died sorrowfully.
But Jesus' story about his life and work marks a new era of human
history. For example, BC changed into AD, Anno Domini--"in the year of
our Lord." This indicates a historical landmark. In terms of
bibliology, Jesus' life and work divide the Old Testament era and the
New Testament era. What is astonishing, many have undertaken to draw up
an account of Jesus' life and work. Their numbers, throughout the
generations, are uncountable. But only four of them completed writing
the story about Jesus' life and work. They are Matthew, Mark, Luke and
John. There is a story about a despotic king. The king wanted to rule
his nation based on Chinese positivism. In order to maintain his
policy, he killed 8,000 Christians. Once, after he became old, he said
to his wife, "I want to grant one request to you, whatever it may be."
Then the queen, who had been very faithful to the king, said very
quietly, "I request your permission to receive baptism. I want to
receive eternal salvation from sin and eternal life and the kingdom of
God" (Jn 5:24). Then the king said, crying, "Your request is granted."
Christian faith spread mainly to the servant-class as well as to the
slave-class people. They heard Jesus' word that all men are equal in
God. One slave asked a Christian evangelist, "If all human beings are
equal, then are we slaves equal with the king?" "Yes, you are," the
evangelist answered. Then the slave was happy to die for the sake of
proclaiming the gospel of Jesus.
At that time, there was no written Bible book. Some people had Old
Testament scrolls. But mostly, Jesus' story about his life and work and
his words were handed down by word of mouth, mainly by his disciples,
who were the eyewitnesses of God's work and the servants of God's word.
Luke, the historian and evangelist, realized that this life-giving word
of God must be spread to the whole world. So he assumed the task of
compiling the story about Jesus' life and work, and Jesus' words. In
doing so, he carefully investigated everything from the beginning and
dedicated his gospel to Theophilus. The word "Theophilus" has the
impression of an emperor or a king. But it is not. "Theophilus" means
those who love God.
Second, Zechariah's life of faith (5-7).
The period from 40 BC to 4 BC was a time when King Herod ruled Judea
(5), and it was a time of tragedy for the people of Israel. Herod was a
puppet of the Roman Empire and an instrument of Satan. This Herod
strangled his two sons, suspecting that they would be his possible
political opponents. What was worse, when he heard that the King of the
Jews had been born, he became fearful, not knowing that he was a
spiritual king. So in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus, he ordered all
the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under
to be killed (Mt 2:16). "In the time of Herod," thus points to a period
of tragedy in the history of Israel (16). The lamp of God seemed to
have been extinguished. But it was not. There were still many devout
people who were waiting for the coming of the Messiah. Among them,
Zechariah and Elizabeth were a good example. Luke says they were
upright before God. Why were they upright? Look at verse 6. "Both of
them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's
commandments and regulations blamelessly." In other words, they studied
the Bible diligently. Humanly speaking, Zechariah and Elizabeth were
very fatalistic people because they had no child in their old age (7).
But they were not victimized by fatalism because they believed in God
through regular Bible study. Second, they were upright before God
because, not only did they study the Bible, but also they lived up to
the teachings of the Bible. One medical doctor was the only one who
completed all the Bible study material assigned to the Chicago UBF
leaders. The doctor was happy. The other day fellowship leaders were
invited to a Christmas dinner. The doctor said, "I really want to bring
my wife to the dinner." So his wife was invited to the dinner.
What then is the key point of the law of God? It is to love God
wholeheartedly and to love our neighbor as ourself (Mk 12:30-31).
Zechariah and Elizabeth loved God and they loved their neighbors in
that dark generation. The townspeople may have said, "They have no fun,
not even a goat." But they really liked Zechariah and Elizabeth as
their parents. Zechariah and Elizabeth were happy all the time because
they had God in their hearts. The townspeople were happy whenever they
saw Zechariah and Elizabeth. Compared with the great military power of
the Roman Empire, these two old persons' life of faith seemed to be
unimportant. But to God, these two old persons' life of faith was more
powerful than the military power of Rome. And they were the lamp of
God, and the whole church of God.
Third, Zechariah's life of prayer (8-13).
In the ancient Jewish world, many thousands of priests wanted to
have the privilege of burning incense in the temple, and most of them
died without enjoying the privilege. But Zechariah was chosen by
fortune to carry out the priestly duty in the temple (8,9). It was a
great day in his life. Insomuch as he was thrilled with the privilege,
he was obliged to pray for his people, calling their names one by one.
When Zechariah was alone in the temple burning incense, an angel of the
Lord appeared (11). When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was
gripped with fear (12), for the Hebrew people thought that they would
die if they saw God with their own eyes. This might be one reason why
he was afraid. Still, there was another reason. Look at verse 13. "But
the angel said to him: 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has
been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to
give him the name John.'" While he should have been praying for his
people and his nation as his priestly duty, Zechariah did not pray for
the people, but he prayed for himself, saying, "O Lord, give me a son!"
Zechariah did not mean to pray for himself. But his habit of praying
for a son to be given him was habitually repeated. Thus he revealed the
basic selfishness of humankind. And Zechariah's performance of priestly
duty was not excellent. However, we cannot deny the fact that Zechariah
prayed. We are greatly inspired by Zechariah to have a hope of raising
10,000 young American Bible teachers through selfish people's prayer.
Maybe Zechariah began to pray for a son after 10 months of married
life. Then he prayed for a son for three years, but when he looked at
his wife's stomach, he saw no sign. He prayed another three years and
looked at her. Still, he saw no sign. In this way, he must have prayed
for a son all his lifetime. Prayer is a measure of faith. Even though
he lived in an unbelieving generation, he was a man of prayer. It is
interesting to know that Zechariah had one prayer topic all his
lifetime. By nature, human beings are forgetful. If people were not
forgetful, they would die because of all the unhappy memories of the
past. In his wisdom, God made men forgetful. So we don't have to worry
that we are forgetful. But Zechariah never forgot his one prayer topic
all his lifetime, for a son to be given him. God used this man of
prayer as the father of John the Baptist. This part reminds us of Mark
11:24. It says, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer,
believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
It is important to know that God uses praying people. To the eyes of
worldly people, Zechariah in the temple burning incense and the crowd
of people praying outside looked like a handful of mountain goats. But
in God's sight, these praying people were main members in God's
history, and God was ruling the world through them.
Fourth, John is great before God because God chose him (14-17).
Verse 14 says that John's birth would bring great joy to his mother
and to his father and to all the neighbors. Why? It was because he was
born in the providence of God. The angel said to Zechariah, "You are to
give him the name John." The name John means, "gracious gift of God."
God chose John as the forerunner of Jesus. So John was great because he
was chosen by God to do the work of God. Some people act as if they are
doing God a favor when they do something for God. We must know that we
did not choose God. God chose us. John 15:16 says, "You did not choose
me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit...." John is
great because he was chosen as the forerunner of the Messiah.
John is great before God because he lived a pure life. Look at verse
15b. "He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be
filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth." John lived a pure life
before God against the corrupt worldly way of life. In order to live a
pure life, he did not take wine or other fermented drink. In most
cases, drinking was the starting point of all the evil-doings. When
John lived a pure life before God, people said, "He is demon-possessed.
He is not corrupt like one of us" (Mt 11:18). He slept in crevices of
rocks. He ate locusts and wild honey. When he lived a pure life, God
gave mighty powerful spirit to him. At that time, the world was immoral
and violent. As we know well, corruption makes a man utterly powerless
to do anything. But when John lived a pure life, God gave him spirit
and power in his inner man.
John is great before God because he had God's holy mission. John was
sent to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. His mission was to
preach the message of repentance to all kinds of people (16,17). In
time past and present, people are proud because of their sins. So they
hate most to hear the word, "repent." John was appointed to carry out
the mission of preaching the message of repentance. For this, John
rebuked people's corruption and perversion. John rebuked many runaway
fathers to repent and come back to their children. He rebuked
disobedient children to repent and live in the wisdom of God. His life
of mission ended with imprisonment and martyrdom. But the Bible history
says that he was not a victim of the vicious cycles of the world, but
that he was a great man in the sight of God.
John is great before God because he is a man of spirit. What was his
source of power as a man of God? John was like a reincarnation of the
prophet Elijah (17). He came in an epoch similar to that in which
Elijah had lived. In the time of Elijah the prophet, King Ahab and
Queen Jezebel ruled Israel. No one dared to rebuke King Ahab and Queen
Jezebel's wickedness. But Elijah, a man of God's Spirit, rebuked them
to repent their wickedness. Likewise, John, a man with God's Spirit,
rebuked Herod the tetrarch to repent of his sin of adultery (Mk 6:18),
even though Herod the tetrarch was a most cruel man who could kill
anybody, anytime. John's power to rebuke came from the Spirit of God
(17). A nation's power does not depend on the size of its highways. It
depends on the spiritual condition of its people.
Fifth, God trains Zechariah (18-25).
The angel's message to Zechariah was God's promise to give him a
son. In his embarrassment, Zechariah said to the angel, "How can I
be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years"
(18). He was a man of prayer. He had faith in God's sovereign rule in
history. But when his prayer was answered, he was too happy to believe
it. Momentarily, he fell into human thinking, forgetting that nothing
is impossible with God.
So the angel Gabriel rebuked him: "I am Gabriel. I stand in the
presence of God...And now you will be silent and not able to speak
until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words..."
(19,20). Though Zechariah had received enough training through his
childless situation, he needed more training in order to have faith in
God's words. For this, God gave him dumb training--training not to
speak unbelieving words for nine months. When Zechariah came out to the
people, suddenly he became a pantomime artist; he tried to speak with
sign language. The multitude waiting outside did not know what had
happened inside the temple. So the people assumed that he had seen a
vision. The interpretation was better than the dream. Anyway, God was
training John's father in preparation for the birth of John.
After this, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months
remained in seclusion. Through five months of seclusion, she came to
the conclusion that God is almighty, and said, "The Lord has done this
for me" (25). We also must experience God's mighty work in us until we
can confess, "The Lord has done this for me."
Zechariah and Elizabeth were upright in the sight of God. In other
words, these two old persons studied the Bible diligently in that dark
generation and loved God wholeheartedly. They also loved their
neighbor as themselves. May God help us to study the Bible diligently
and love God and our neighbors wholeheartedly.