WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
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THE BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST FORETOLD
(The forerunner of the SAVIOR)
Luke’s writings in his Gospel account are the most literary of all New Testament books. His distinctive fluid style in the original Greek text is simply a thing of beauty. Unlike the other three Gospels, whose contents can be traced back to eyewitness accounts of JESUS’ life here on earth, Luke’s Gospel is a detailed account that is a result of careful and thorough investigative research into the events surrounding and involving CHRIST’s birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension back into Heaven. And just like in the case of the other Gospel writers, GOD assigns his writings to attract a particular audience by stressing special and unique interest themes.
Most scholars agree that Luke’s Gospel account is written to attract the attention of the “Hellenist”, or, “the person who is rooted in the Greek culture (Gentiles)”. And despite being ever mindful of CHRIST’s deity, Luke is also brilliantly able to present JESUS’ as the ideal 100% human being (the Hypostatic Union), WHO, quite simply, redefines excellence to even the most righteous of men here on earth. In fact, HE shows quite literally that all men’s righteousness is derived through their obedience to GOD.
Luke also shows, more clearly than the other Gospels, just how greatly JESUS values those who are often dismissed by society, such as women, the impoverished, the downtrodden, and, the powerless. In his Gospel account he shows us that, in JESUS, excellence is not looked upon as a “personal superiority”, that, in itself, “devalues others”, but rather, in JESUS, we see a “divine standard” that is bent on “raising others up”, resurrecting them into a life that is more pleasing to GOD. And so, in the aforementioned ways, perhaps Luke’s Gospel provides us with the most accurate, and most attractive portrait of our LORD and SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST, that can found anywhere else in Scripture, arguably perhaps, even more so the book of Hebrews.
In the New Testament Greek, the word used for “messenger” is “aggelos” (pronounced ang-el-os), and it describes “one who brings news or tidings by divine order from GOD”. Here in Luke chapter 1, after a brief introduction in verses 1-4, Luke writes of an angelic announcement of the coming birth of the “forerunner to CHRIST JESUS”, John “the Baptist”.
Taking up at verse 5, Luke begins his Gospel account by introducing to us, a Jewish Levite Priest named Zechariah, who, lived during the time when “Herod the Great” was king of Judea (37 B.C. – 4 B.C.). He was a member of the priestly line of Abijah, who was a descendant of Aaron, and, who was a priest during the reign of King David. Zechariah was married to a woman named Elizabeth, who was also a descendant of Aaron. They were both considered “righteous” in the sight of GOD because of their obedience, and they had no children because Elizabeth was barren. This aging couple had long prayed to GOD for a child, and little did they know that their prayers were about to be answered.
Zechariah had recently been chosen by “sacred lot” (“Urim and Thummin”) to serve for a week in the Temple, an opportunity that came only once in a lifetime for most priests. One day, as he was serving his term of duty burning incense in the LORD’s presence, in the sanctuary of the temple at Jerusalem, he received a visit from the Archangel of the LORD, Gabriel (Vs.8-9). Gabriel is one the famed archangels that stands in the very presence of the LORD in Heaven.
Here Gabriel gives Zechariah the good news of GOD’s answer to his and Elizabeth’s longtime prayer for a son. The child would be named “John”, and would be great in the eyes of the LORD. He would be a man blessed with the spirit (courage) and power (authority) of “Elijah the Prophet” of old, and would be “the forerunner” for, or “prepare the minds of the people, particularly the Jews, for” the coming of JESUS, the CHRIST (HIS first advent) (Vs.13-17). However, Zechariah, despite his direct word of good news from GOD, and because he was applying “human logic” to the things of GOD, had great doubt in his heart, and was hesitant to believe that he and Elizabeth could conceive a child in their old age (v.18).
This particular passage serves to remind us that GOD expects more faith from those who are called to be HIS leaders, and, who are supposed to know and understand the ways of the LORD more thoroughly. And HE also expects more from a professed Christian than HE does from an unbeliever. Here Zechariah shows the doubt of an untrained layperson, instead of the faith and trust of an experienced spiritual leader and man after GOD’s OWN heart. This unbelief miffs the LORD, WHO sent Gabriel, and as a result, Zechariah’s ability to speak is taken away from him until the birth of his son, John, several months later (Vs.19-20).
GOD had to silence Zechariah because of his words of unbelief that were, unfortunately, contrary to the fulfillment of the covenant promise. He was a man who was versed in Scripture, and was very familiar with the example of Abraham and Sarah giving birth to Isaac at ages that, even far exceeded he and Elizabeth’s. And yet, he found it hard to believe that such a thing could happen to them under similar circumstances.
Christians are called to believe, and when we pray and ask in faith, in JESUS’ name, for the things that are within GOD’s Will, we are called by GOD to believe that HE will deliver. In other words, when we pray to GOD for rain, we ought not to leave home without, at least, an umbrella. We need to, at all times, show at least, a minimum amount of faith (faith, the size of a mustard seed) in the GOD we say we serve.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander