A Priest, His Wife and a Son — The Prequel to the Incarnation

“An orderly account … to give certainty.”

Luke wrote his gospel based upon this purpose. His story of the life of Jesus and his book of Acts, written about the earliest days of the Church of Christ represent the only books in our Bibles attributed to a Gentile or non-Jewish writer. All other writers were of Israel, every one of them a descendant of Abraham.

Luke was known as a “Greek.” This wasn’t a reference to his ethnicity or national origin. The designation was a label affixed to those educated in the liberal arts — philosophy, logic, geometry, medicine, etc. He was a physician, a beloved one according to Paul. He likely attended one of the academies located in several cities throughout the Roman Empire.

Perhaps Luke and Paul were acquaintances in Tarsus, an intellectual center in Asia Minor, a part of the world that is now part of Turkey. How this man came to believe the Gospel and grow as a disciple who travelled about with Paul on his missionary adventures among the Gentiles is unknown.

Fine Journalism

What Luke left to us, however, are two the best documented and resourced accounts of the days of Jesus and of the spread of the Gospel through the Roman world. The accuracy of his reports have been challenged many times and always proven — in particular, by a young archaeologist, theologian, and onetime skeptic Sir William Mitchell Ramsay.

Sir Ramsay traveled through Asia Minor in 1881 and 1882 with a mind “unfavorable” to the historicity of the Luke record. The tours, however, brought about a change of heart in this scholar who concluded that Luke got it correct:  “It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth,” said Sir Ramsay.

I introduce Luke because in knowing a bit about the man behind the telling of these stories we can have minds that more readily receive what he wrote.  For sure, his writings are most excellent journalism. This writer expanded upon what was recorded in the earlier gospels of Mark and Matthew. He noted that he based his compilation on the stories of “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word” (see Luke 1:2).

Luke wasn’t there when Jesus did the things that He did. Still, he was diligent in his interviews of those who did walk and talk with the Savior, and he was thorough in his collection of the details related to the Son of Man.

As a “Greek,” Luke had to have been educated in the humanist patterns of thinking. And so his gospel really sets out to tell readers of Perfect Humanity as revealed by the life of the Savior.

The Fullness of the Time

“In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law.” These words are from Paul, written in Galatians 4:4.

Chapter 1 of Luke defines this fullness for us. He starts this gospel with an explanation of the setting for the coming of Jesus. People were being made ready for the Incarnation.

What were those days like? Israel had been without a throne nearly 600 years. Her most recent king, Zedekiah, was captured, blinded, and carried off to Babylon in 586 BC. The Promised Land came to be ruled by Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, the Macedonians, the Seleucids, and at last the Romans.

There came to exist a religiously fervent and political conglomeration among the Jews. There were warriors and zealots and apocalypticists. They anticipated the coming of a king who would restore Israel to the glory known from the histories of David and Solomon. In most minds, this king would stride in with strength and power to exhibit a spectacular triumph for the Chosen Nation.

There were others who, in those days, practiced simple, quiet, consistent faithfulness. Those who formed this remnant element in the region are the people Luke introduces to us at the start of his story.

In the hill country of Judea, there was a couple. Surprise, it all begins with a man and his wife. Where have we heard this before? Read Genesis and note the couples God used in His plan.

In this case, the man was Zechariah, an aged priest serving at the Temple. His wife, Elizabeth, had been barren and was now well past the age of child bearing, just as Sarah was.

A Visitation

Zechariah, so consistent in his service, came to take his turn to present the offering on the incense altar in the holy place of the Temple. As he did, the angel Gabriel met him there.

The appearance startled and left Zechariah fearful and frozen. “But the angel said to him, “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” (Luke 1:13).

Gabriel laid out for Zechariah a series of instructions on raising the boy. This John would live his days “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 1:17).

The flood of information left Zechariah thunderstruck. He’d prayed so long and hard for Elizabeth to conceive. The answer had come now, but his unbelief entangled him. “And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’”

Gabriel chided this priest and said he had to shut the priest’s mouth. Who knows? Maybe this was done to stifle any unbelieving thought he might utter in the meantime.

Zechariah came out totally tongue-tied and likely a bit confused. Those with him on that day knew something remarkable had happened to him. At first, he couldn’t tell them about Gabriel, or John, who would be the Baptizer and forerunner of the Christ.

How did Zechariah respond? He faithfully kept doing the work of a priest. He also remained a faithful and loving husband. “And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived …” (Luke 1:23-24).

Heaven connected with earth. Two ordinary people experienced the extraordinary touch of God. Click To Tweet

Heaven connected with earth. Two ordinary people experienced the extraordinary touch of God.

Elizabeth was stunned just as much as her husband was. She hid her pregnancy for as long as she could. Her barren status was something she’d lived with for so long that she was perhaps a bit over cautious as she went about things. But she couldn’t contain her joy and announced, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people” (Luke 1:26).

A doubtful man of the Temple and a bedraggled woman who so longed to be a mother were the ones visited with the glory of the Lord. How unlikely it seems to us that these would have major roles in the prequel to the Christmas story.

If we read our Bible attentively, we will notice these kinds of people are always at the center of Heaven’s purposes. The tales of Noah and Joseph and Elkanah and Hannah and Ruth and the wife of Manoah who bore Samson reveal the essence of God’s ways. He seeks out the small, the meek, the hidden, to bring forth the wonder of His saving grace and mercy.

“Fear not, little flock, it is God’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

Our lives may appear dry and unfruitful on the surface. Questions may fill our heads and weigh on our hearts. We may at times feel so discouraged and even forgotten by Him.

Just wait. Keep watch. “And you will have joy and gladness. …” (Luke 1:14).






Steve Andrulonis
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