By Jim Huskins
During this season, the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel is so popular that it’s easy to forget about the first chapter. The opening of Luke is especially powerful when we consider the context of what preceded it.
The final words of the so-called old testament are found in Malachi 4:5-6, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” In Luke One, at the beginning of the Gospel account, we see this prophecy unfolding.
Every Bible character is portrayed against the backdrop of human fallibility. Abraham, Moses, David, and Elijah are heroes of our faith, but their failures are never sugarcoated. In Luke 1:5-7 we meet a couple who are described in astonishing terms, “They were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” This glowing report introduces an elderly priest named Zachariah and his wife, Elizabeth.
Only descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother, could serve as priests. Zachariah’s wife was also a descendant of Aaron. Despite their illustrious ancestry and blameless lives, Zachariah and Elizabeth were viewed with contempt by their community because they were childless. Deuteronomy 28:1-14 records an impressive list of blessings that accrue to those who “faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments.” Verse 4 says, “Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.”
We do not grasp the significance of this blessing because we live in a culture that mostly views children as an expense, an inconvenience, and a barrier to self-actualization. This un-Godly attitude is so pervasive that we have legalized the wholesale slaughter of the unborn and the newborn. In First-Century Israel, infertility was seen as a curse. Zachariah and Elizabeth’s neighbors were no doubt convinced that they were guilty of some secret sin. The Word of God says otherwise.
Zachariah was chosen by lot to burn incense inside the Temple. This was a once-in-a-lifetime privilege that many priests never experienced. Zachariah probably prayed for and thought about this moment from the time he became eligible for priestly duty at age thirty. Not in his wildest dreams, however, did his expectations include a visit by the Angel Gabriel.
The Golden Altar of Incense stood in the Holy Place of the Temple. It was next to the curtain that shielded the Holy of Holies. A priest offering incense was expected to pray for the nation while experiencing this most holy event in his life. During that prayer, Zachariah is terrified by the discovery that he is not alone.
Gabriel is one of the highest-ranking heavenly creatures. His mission was to announce one of the most significant events in history. His appearance was otherworldly. His message was inconceivable. “You and Elizabeth will have a son,” says Gabriel. “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.”
Four hundred years earlier, Malachi made this same prophecy. A message given to Adam, broadened through Abraham, clarified through Moses, and intensified through the prophets is finally nearing fulfillment. The one who will bear the mantle of Elijah and prepare the way for Messiah is about to be born. Zachariah’s difficulty absorbing this experience provokes my heartfelt sympathy. Who among us could receive such a proclamation—even from such a source—without some incredulity?
After John is born and the time arrives for his circumcision, Zachariah regains his speech. His first utterance is one of the most profound prophecies in scripture. It clarifies the purpose of the incarnation. John 1:68-79 says that the “Horn of Salvation” from the “house of David” will fulfill the words spoken by the prophets of old. Those words were promises to save Israel from her enemies, show mercy as promised to the Patriarchs, remember the holy covenant sworn to Abraham, and enable God’s people to serve Him in holiness and righteousness.
This glorious prophecy goes on to specify the role of John the Immerser. He will be a prophet of the Most High, and he will prepare for Messiah’s work of bringing salvation through the removal of sin. In the end, Messiah will bring light to those who sit in the darkness of death.
The clarity of Zachariah’s pronouncement is astounding. Neither Messiah nor His messenger is charged with canceling the promises made to Israel from the beginning. Neither is sent to “replace” Israel with some other entity. Neither is charged with starting some new religion. Their combined mission is to fulfill all the covenant promises and make a way for sinful humans to once again stand in the presence of Holy God.
Most Christians insist that Jesus calls His followers to forget everything that came before Him. Zachariah—whose name means “God remembered”—says that Messiah calls us to remember and implement the terms of the covenant made with Abraham. Those terms are that we who are saved by grace are obligated to live in holiness and righteousness. The only way to know what that means is to read the first five books of the Bible.
Obedient Heart Fellowship believes that the entire Bible is both true and relevant. We accept salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, and we attempt to love and serve Him by keeping his commandments. See Revelation 14:12. firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim & Beverly Huskins are members of Obedient Heart Fellowship in McDowell County. You can read more good Christian news from Jim HERE.