A Study on the Birth of Jesus Christ

Luke Chapter 1, Verses 1-25

Please return to the main page of this study for the introduction and further verses.

By Mary E. Stephens
Sept. 2014


Luke 1:1-4 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

It is significant that God chose a physician (Col. 4:14) to be one of the two writers that recorded the actual events around Jesus Christ's birth. A physician would be interested in both the miracle of John's birth to aged parents and the miracle of the virgin birth. 

It's also interesting that Luke says that he had a "perfect understanding" from the "very first", and then he proceeded to write about the birth of Jesus. Could it be possible that he was an older man than Christ and some of the other apostles and that he had been an apprentice to the doctor who cared for Mary in some way? We don't know how old he actually was, except that he apparently lived through Christ's ministry and then through the book of Acts, which he also wrote. If he had been much older it isn't likely that he would have traveled so much with Paul, but it is feasible that he was a fairly young man as these events open. We won't know till we get to heaven, but his "perfect understanding" from the "very first" may indicate a closer association than we might imagine.

The name Theophilus means "God lover", or we might say "lover of God." Since no other details are given either here or in Acts where he's mentioned again, it is hard to know for sure if this was addressed to a real man named Theophilus, or if it was intended to be written to all who loved God, meaning all Christians. The expression "most excellent" is only used in one other place, and that is in Acts 23:26 where Claudius Lysias is writing to Felix about Paul, and he addresses him as "the most excellent governor". This isn't much to go on, but is a small clue that if Theophilus was indeed a man, perhaps he was one in a position of honor or power.

Luke 1:5-7 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

Deuteronomy 7:12-14 Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the LORD thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers: And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee. Thou shalt be blessed above all people: there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle.
It's important to remember that they were blameless in their keeping of all the law, but not perfect. No one can keep the law perfectly. They performed the appropriate sacrificed for their trespasses, etc. They were held blameless, but not saved in the same way that we now stand before God since the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We also should note that even under the Old Testament covenant and promises given by Moses, though this couple walked before God blameless, they were still childless. They did not have the "reward" of children that some people today (Quiverfull, Patriarchy Movement, etc.) like to talk about in Psalm 127, despite the fact that they were obviously godly people. God had promised offspring to the Jews if they obeyed His law (see verse right). In this case, as in others (Samuel, Samson) I believe  that it pleased God in His great purpose to allow this in order to draw attention to the miracle of John the Baptist's birth. Obviously God also wanted John to be an only child. Those are both interesting points when considering the teachings of those who want to make children "rewards" in the Christian context today.

Luke 1:8-9 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

This was all coordinated by God to precision. Zacharias and Elisabeth had to conceive in a certain time frame in relation to the later events. There were no mistakes in this, and the order of his course had probably been set when the temple was rebuilt several hundred years before. The Lord made sure that Zacharias' "lot" happened to be the burning of incense inside the temple so that this interview with the angel would be both in a holy place and yet also private.

Luke 1:10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

Psalms 141:2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
It's interesting how incense and prayer are connected in scripture. Even the heathen recognize a connection between the two, probably because Satan loves to counterfeit God's methods with his own twisted inversions of them. We don't have to burn actual incense now, though. The prayer of the saints is incense. Revelation 8:3-4 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.

Luke 1:11-12 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

It is hard to imagine Zacharias' feelings. There had been about 400 years of "silence" with no new revelations from God as far as we know. There were some prophets around more than likely since Anna, whom we'll read about later, was a prophetess. But, we don't have an scriptural reason to believe there had been angels appearing during that time with special messages. Naturally, he would wonder what this meant and why he was having this messenger appear to him. What possible message could be coming? Seeing an angel in light of the last revelations given would be doubly fearful perhaps. I'm not sure chronologically who the last person was to have an angel appear to him would have been, but it was probably associated with some very heavy subject matter - and not necessarily cheerful.

[Illustration unknown source.]

Luke 1:13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

Considering what we just thought about, how shocking to have the message directed to him and his wife personally; and that it should be such news as this! It was not what he expected. In fact, he couldn't believe it.

I love this verse, though. First his fears are allayed. It's wonderful how many times we read "fear not" in the Gospels. Then, here are two people "well stricken in years". They were no longer able to have children as we see in v. 18; and v. 36 tells us Elisabeth was "in her old age". Do you suppose they would be foolish enough to still be praying for a child? It isn't likely. They knew better than that. But Gabriel tells him "thy prayer is heard" as if it were in the present tense. And, it was with God!

What have you stopped praying for? The salvation of a loved one? A wayward child or family member? A child of your own? A spouse? I remember that I stopped praying for my "future husband" more than once, but God still answered my prayer. Your prayer is heard too - in the present tense. God may not answer it in the way you thought or in the time you expected, but your prayer is heard. Even after you die some of your prayers may be heard and answered. If a loved one gets saved or restored to walk with the Lord after you are gone and that was something that you prayed for, your prayer is still being answered, is it not? 

Take heart, Christian friend.  Even when we give up asking sometimes, God still hears and sometimes He has just the answer we looked for yet in store. I know of one couple who never had children of their own, but in their "old age" God gave them a "son" by adoption through a prison ministry. That "son" stuck to them when he left prison and has stayed with both the Lord and with them (as parent figures). What they couldn't have in the flesh, God gave them in the Spirit, even as Paul called Timothy his son.

It is also likely that Zacharias and Elisabeth had doubted God's love for them at times. They were human after all, just as we are. How many of us lose faith and question God's care for us when we are being denied something that we think we especially "need"? What an amazing thing for them to have this heart's desire granted them after all those years of waiting and praying. Proverbs 13:12 Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.  Only a couple who has experienced this can really appreciate the enormity of this event, I think. Yet, we all have areas at some point in life where we doubt God's love. But, look what the angel says next.

Luke 1:14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

They were going to have this long awaited joy and gladness granted to them, long, long after it seemed possible.

Zacharias and Elisabeth seem to have had a lot of family and friends since many would rejoice at John's birth. One thing this reminds us of is that childless people need to maintain good family and/or friend connections. That may seem like an extremely practical and down-to-earth thing to mention here, but it's the truth. When a couple doesn't have children we really, really need that connecting with others, and especially in the body of Christ today. That support and people interaction is so important.

Luke 1:15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.

John was not the first baby predicted by an angel from God who was detailed to be a Nazarite. Samson was supposed to be one also (and he was for awhile), Judges 13:3-5. John was also destined to be great in the sight of the Lord and filled with the Holy Ghost. These were wonderful promises to a man who was to be the father of this son.

I believe this verse also shows that unborn children are persons. Of course, in v. 13 he is already named by God which is also good evidence, but how much more that he was "filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb"? I can't think of any scripture that indicates that the Holy Spirit of God fills anything other than human beings. Later we'll see that John was also responsive to external spiritual stimulation before he was born (v. 41). And, just to be clear here, since John later responds before his birth to the voice of Mary as he did, this obviously was the Holy Spirit in him, so I don't believe the "from" part of "from his mother's womb" means that it happened as soon as he was born. It is obvious that it started before his birth.

Luke 1:16-17 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

This was a very specific prophecy from the O.T. that is repeated here about a specific man for a specific purpose. Malachi 4:5-6 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. John's ministry was preparing Israel to receive their Messiah in the flesh in the spirit and power of Elijah (which is a whole other topic in itself since Elijah was such a great prophet).  

It is important to note that this was not the ministry of Jesus Christ, nor of His church! Jesus said He came to send a sword of variance in families, not to make peace in family relations. Matthew 10:34-36 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.  Furthermore, we find Him telling us in John 13:15-16, For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. So, it's safe to say this healing of family relations as John did it is not our calling either.

When the Patriarchy Movement and Family Inclusive Church Movement appropriated these verses to themselves they were right out of line. They took passages with a very particular meaning, and an exclusive fulfillment in a very special ministry of one man and applied it haphazardly to a great number of people - namely themselves. They took upon themselves something that was not theirs to have. Even worse, their use of it has a very bad implication for the Lord Jesus Christ since He said His ministry was the exact opposite! They are, quite frankly, making themselves greater than their Lord. This is actually sickening.

Luke 1:18-20 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

Beware, beware of asking for signs. You may be very sorry for the one you get. Jesus said, "A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign..." Matthew 16:4. In the Bible signs are generally directed toward the Jews anyway. As N.T. Christians we're supposed to walk by faith. We especially shouldn't be seeking signs to verify what God has clearly said to us in His word. Zacharias got a sign that was in keeping with his unbelief. Since he didn't believe what God was telling him through Gabriel, he was going to be unable to speak until these things were all fulfilled - over nine months! If you ask for a sign or "proof" in unbelief, don't be surprised if God answers you with something that is appropriate to your unbelief.

Luke 1:21-22 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.

Well now, that's a bit awkward, isn't it? Obviously this ministration of offering incense was not usually a long process. The people were beginning to wonder what was going on, but when Zacharias finally came out, he couldn't tell them a word! Again, this was a just result of his unbelief!

[Illustration by Otto Elliger.]

Luke 1:23-25 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

Sadly, even in the church age with all the revelation we have regarding how God deals with us now and the fact that our rewards for spiritual obedience are spiritual rewards, there are still Christians who will reproach other Christians who don't have children. They will also exalt the "blessing of children" as if it were something far and John 9:1-3 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. above any other blessing to be attained, even in this age of the Gentile church. Obviously, this situation was one of those as the man who was born blind (see verse, left). God's purpose in making Zachariah and Elisabeth barren was that the works of God might be shown in them. Yet, sadly, she was reproached by people because they had no children. 

Please, don't reproach people who don't have children. You may not understand the circumstances as well as you imagine that you do.  I've heard some appalling stories of this in the Lord's church, and it ought not to be. 

One couple my family knew had been saved in middle life. She had already had a hysterectomy and they could not have children of their own. They visited a Reformed church in Michigan and were greeted and questioned by a leader in the church (apparently). He asked them, among other things, if they had children. When they told him they didn't have any, he basically rebuked them by telling them they needed to have children, in so many words. This is shameful. He knew nothing about them or their background. They were first time visitors and he was reproaching them for something that he knew nothing about! The arrogance of such presumption is beyond belief, and yet there are too many people in the Lord's church who think they know exactly what some other Christian should be doing, even in such a personal area as having children, and they are not above meddling and reproaching them (even if it's "just" by nagging them about it). I'm not sure how they think that such behavior exemplifies the command to love one another.

This is another important lesson we can learn from Zacharias and Elisabeth's sweet story - to let God be God, even in something as important to our human minds as having children. Give people room to serve the Lord in His will without reproach - and without children. Their prayers may be answered in a way neither you nor they can anticipate, or it may please God to show His works in them without children. And, of course, this applies to other areas of life as well. There are so many things that we humans get bent out of shape over when someone else doesn't do exactly as we think they should. Let's beware of making things into reproaches that really aren't in the sight of God.

John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

1 John 2:7-11 Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.


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