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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Skip Heitzig » Skip Heitzig - Luke 1:1-25

Skip Heitzig - Luke 1:1-25

Skip Heitzig - Luke 1:1-25
Skip Heitzig - Luke 1:1-25
TOPICS: The Bible from 30.000 Feet, Bible Study, Gospel of Luke

Good evening. Great to be with you tonight outside. Now is the time to have a seat. Now is the time to turn off Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and open your Bibles, even if it's on your phone or iPad, open it up to the gospel of Luke, chapter 1. I'm at a disadvantage. I wish I could see you all a little more clearly than doing this. Hi, guys, how are you? And I wish I had eyes in the back of my head, but, hey, how you doing back there? It's great to see all of you all out tonight. The first chapter of Luke has seventy-nine verses, so we're not going to be able to cover them all. It's not going to suit our purpose. And we're going to do more or less an introduction looking at the first few verses, the first, perhaps, twenty-five verses, and we're going to take the Lord's Supper in this place.

I love the fact that our children's ministry has taken over our sanctuary. They do this once a year. They put on such a great VBS. It is over the top. It is so good. And so I gladly give it to them because of the all the energy, all the love, and all the results that happen because of it. And so we get to meet outside tonight. We get to go through the gospel of Luke, at least in part, and take the Lord's Supper. And I always love doing outside, and here's one of reasons: I feel we're getting back more to what it was like at the time of Jesus with his disciples. He didn't have an air conditioned auditorium when he met with his men, and when he taught, he was outdoors. And those that have traveled with us to Israel, we always go on site and we meet outdoors, and sometimes it's hot.

Sometimes in Galilee it's well over a hundred degrees. And it helps us recreate the setting of what it was like when Jesus was around teaching. He was teaching in settings that were outdoors. When he was in Jerusalem, he taught in the temple. And the temple was a big structure. It had Solomon's porch. We also have Solomon's Porch, though a little bit different. But we're in Luke's gospel. Let's pray before we get into it. Father, thank you for the opportunity that you've given us. Thank you, Lord, that we do experience and are changed by your presence. There were two songs where we mentioned that tonight in our praise. And you said in a special way wherever two or more gather, you are in their midst.

Lord, be in our midst tonight as we gather for the purpose of being instructed in righteousness, the words of Paul himself, "instruction in righteousness." I pray that we would grow. I pray that you would give us the ability to have full attention upon what Dr. Luke tells us, in Jesus' name, amen. Somebody once said that a pastor sees people at their best, a lawyer sees people at their worst, and a doctor sees people as they are. The gospel of Luke was written by a doctor. He was not a Jewish eyewitness like the other gospel writers were. He was a Gentile, he was non-Jewish, and he was the only Gentile author that we have in the New Testament, the gospel of Luke written by Dr. Luke. Though he was not an eyewitness, you will see in the first four verses of his book that he utilized eyewitnesses.

They were very important. He was very exact in getting the message out in a form that was reliable, inspired by God, but he put everything he could into the exactness of these writings. Now a little bit about Dr. Luke. We don't know a whole a lot about him. According to a couple of the early church fathers, one by the name of Eusebius, the other by the name of Jerome, Luke was born in a place called Antioch. Now, that can be confusing, especially if you're a Bible student, because there's not one Antioch, there's a few of them. So up in Syria, that Antioch just north of Israel where the early church began to headquarter itself, from that Antioch is where Luke came from, which is interesting because Luke not only writes the book of Luke, but the book of what? Acts.

It's a two-volume work, volume I and volume II: volume I is Luke, volume II is Acts. So much of the book of Acts centers on what goes on in his hometown, the hometown of Luke, raised in Antioch, heard the gospel and was transformed. We know that he's a doctor because in the book of Colossians, the fourth chapter, in the fourteenth verse, the apostle Paul writes his audience and he says, "Luke the beloved physician and Demas give you greetings." So we know that he was a physician in the early church. It seems that he met Paul just about before and during his first missionary journey. If you remember the book of Acts, Paul begins in Antioch on his first missionary journey. Luke does not join him then, but he must have met him then and then joined him subsequently on his second and third missionary journeys.

In the book of Acts, volume II of Luke, Luke writes in the third person. He writes about Paul and he writes about Peter and he writes about "they" and he writes about "them," until we get to chapter 16. In chapter 16 he changes the way he writes. He doesn't say, "They went there," "They did that," he says, "We went there," "We did that." So, evidently, from chapter 16 onward Dr. Luke joins the evangelistic team of Paul the apostle and travels with him where he goes. I can only imagine that Luke and Paul hit it off. They were like-minded. And let me tell you why I think that is: Paul, the way he writes, what he knows, his ability to speak to the men of Athens, the great philosophers, and the great erudite philosophical minds of the time was very compatible with Luke.

Because when you read the book of Luke, if you've ever studied Greek, you know that Luke is a difficult book to read in the Greek language. It would have been exact, as I said, it is very polished, and it is more in a classical Greek style. It is one of the most beautiful writings ever. In fact, one of the French critics of Christianity named Renan said that the gospel of Luke was the most beautiful book he had ever read. So it's in a high kind of a Greek, a polished kind of a Greek. And being a physician, being studied, he would have had a mastery of the language and the ability to communicate. So I say that Paul and Luke must have hit it off. If you remember in First Corinthians, the first chapter, and it has become my life verse.

He said, "You see your calling, brethren, how not many mighty, not many noble after the flesh, are called. For God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise." I say that's my life verse, "God as chosen the foolish things of this world." When I read that verse, I thought, "He's writing about me. What a perfect description of me." There's not many mighty, there's not many noble, but God principally chooses just ordinary, run-of-the-mill people like you and I. However, he didn't say there are not "any" that are noble. He said there are not "many" that are noble. There are exceptions to that rule, and I think Luke and I think Paul was exceptions to that rule. I think that they were noble. I think they were brilliant men. They were erudite. They were perspicacious.

They had great insight into language and culture and people. And I think they tracked with each other and they formed suitable traveling companions. I mentioned that Luke is analytical in his writing. He is very pedantic, he's very exact, and he's very analytical as you'll see just in the first few verses we read, if and when we get to them. But back in the 1800s in England, when there was sort of a wave of criticism against the Bible and against Christianity, and there were men who had been influenced by the higher criticism of Germany and Western Europe, that filtered into England partly as a blowback to the Victorian era in England, which is a greater era, by the way.

But what happened after the Victorian era is you had people who looked at the values and the morals of Victorian England and said, "Oh, that was so narrow-minded. It was so stilted." And there was a brilliant scholar of that ilk by the name of Sir William Ramsay. He was an historian and an archaeologist. He did not believe that the Bible was accurate. That was his presupposition. He never studied it really in depth, but he believed that the Bible had to be just a book put together by human beings, filled with flaws, really, really inaccurate. And so he decided that he would take the two most historical New Testament books to prove that, those two books, the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, both written by Dr. Luke. And the reason he chose those two books to attack is because they contained so many geographical references.

And he said, "Because there's so many geographical references, all I have to do is go to the archaeological digs of those places and see if these accuracies are indeed intact or if they're fallacious." So he began to study the background and the history of the New Testament. He went to some of the archaeological digs and he wrote after his findings as an atheist, and then he moved toward being an agnostic. And then he eventually moved to being a born-again Christian, because he said that the gospel of Luke does not have, neither does to the book of Acts have one single historical inaccuracy. He said, "Luke as an historian is first rate and should be classified with the great historians of the day."

Sir William Ramsay became not only a born-again believer, but an apologist, one who defended the Christian faith against attacks like he had previously. So that is the book, at least in part, that we are dealing with. Now I mentioned Luke was a doctor, and as a doctor Luke will write like a doctor. When he describes miracles, he's going to use medical terminology. That's one of the reasons I'm attracted to his writings. Did you know that Luke uses more medical terms in his writing than Hippocrates, the father of medicine, used in all of his writings? So, it's very inclined toward medical terminology. Now, if you don't mind, tonight because of the setting, and as I mentioned, we're not going to go through lots of verses, I want to just paint the picture of the New Testament.

And since we've been in the Old Testament for quite some time in the book of Numbers, I want to sort of refresh your memory as to what we're dealing with in the New Testament. We have four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. What we have is a fourfold picture of Jesus Christ as if from different angles. I like to think of the Holy Spirit as a director on a movie set, and he commissions four camera angles to pick up different realities of the same setting. And so one camera is focused on one group, another camera is focused on an individual and how they react to it, or what another person's or group's actions are, all in the same setting, no contradiction, but they are complementary one to another. Or if you're a musician, think of it as a string quartet.

You got two violins, a viola, and a cello, all tuned beautifully together, all making beautiful music together. We have that kind of a portrait of Jesus Christ. So, we have the gospel of Matthew. Matthew, just to refresh your memory, writes about Jesus Christ as the sovereign Messiah, the King of the Jews. He's writing to Jews about the sovereign kingship, Jesus the King of the Jews, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. That's why Matthew loves that phrase, "as it is written." He'll say, "This happened because it was written..." and he quotes the Old Testament text. So he's writing about Jesus as the sovereign, and he's writing to the Jews. When we get to the gospel of Mark, which we've already covered as well, he writes about Jesus as the servant or in particular the "suffering servant."

And Mark likes the word "immediately," or "and": "and..." "and..." "immediately..." "then..." "then..." It's like when you read Mark, you go, "Hah-hah-hah-hah." You're sort of out of breath after just reading a chapter, because he just keeps it going. He keeps it moving. He is portraying Jesus on the move as a servant going to the cross. Mark writes, not to the Jews, but to the Romans. Then we come to the gospel of Luke, and Luke is writing to the Greeks. And he writes, not about Jesus as the sovereign, not as Jesus as the servant, but Jesus as the Son of Man, the perfect man, the ideal man. Then John speaks about Jesus as the Son of God.

For years the Greeks had an ideal, a picture, and it's mentioned in several of their writings, of perfect humanity, the ideal man, ideal physically, ideal emotionally, spiritually, perfect humanity controlled by deity. They wrote much about the ideal man. And so Luke, being a Gentile, writing to Greeks offers Jesus as the ideal God-man, God in a human body, the ideal man, the perfect man, the one that the world longs for, the fulfillment of all their dreams and ambitions. One of the reasons I love the gospel of Luke is that he gives the fullest description of the birth of Jesus Christ more than any of the other gospels. The nativity scene in the first couple of chapters is unparalleled, and it's the go-to Scripture at Christmastime.

Check out the Christmas cards, check out sermon titles, and the passages we often refer to will be in the gospel of Luke because he gives so much literary real estate to the nativity of the Christ. Luke will write about parables, stories that Jesus gave. Some that are not included in the other gospels. He'll write about miracles that are not included in the other gospels. There are eighteen parables in Luke that are found nowhere else. There are six miracles of Jesus Christ that are in Luke that are found nowhere else. Some of the most famous: the parable of the prodigal son, the parable of the good Samaritan, both included in the gospel of Luke. Here's something else about this book: Luke is a book filled with praise, worship. He gives the worship songs of Christmas that none of the other gospel writers give.

Mary's song of worship and praise that we're going to find, not tonight, obviously, but next time, called the Magnificat of Mary. "My soul doth magnify the Lord," she said, and there's a beautiful song that Mary gives. Then there's the song of Zacharias. We're going to be introduced to him, God willing, tonight in these first few verses. He gives the Benedictus, another song of praise. Luke includes that. Luke will also include what the other gospel writers do not include, was the words of the angels at Bethlehem: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, toward men of goodwill," that beautiful Christmas anthem mentioned only in Luke. Then Luke writes one of my favorite stories in all of the Bible.

It's one of those stories that every time I read it wish it would have been tape recorded or, not tape recorded, that's old technology, but MP3'd. Somebody with an iPhone could have been there and captured it on video or panorama, something. And that is in Luke, chapter 24, the story of the two disciples going from Jerusalem to Emmaus when Jesus walks up alongside of them incognito. They don't know it's him. He's risen from the dead. He engages in the conversation. They still don't know it's him till he finally reveals himself and he blows their mind. That's included in the gospel of Luke. Let's look at the first four verses. I know we can at least get through that.

"Inasmuch," writes Luke, verse 1, "Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitness and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.'" Four verses, one single Greek sentence. It's a long sentence. I would have been, I'd have points taken away by my English teacher if I would have tried that. But he's not writing in English, he's writing in Greek, and it's classical Greek. And what you notice in those first few verses is that Luke reveals himself as a historian.

He gives away his methodology. He talks about his sources. He has interviewed eyewitness. And he has followed a certain method to give an accurate account. Now, who was it that Luke would have interviewed as eyewitness? Who were the eyewitness who were with Jesus? Mary, anybody else? Apostles, right, the disciples, the earliest apostles, they were with him. So Luke would have interviewed primary sources. The primary sources that we know were already written at that time were Matthew and Mark. John had not been written yet. So Luke must have had some access to the writings of Matthew the apostle and Mark the friend of the apostle Peter. And it would have been personal people that he could interviewed to get what really happened and compare their stories to write it down for a guy named Theophilus.

Also, since Luke traveled with Paul, Luke would have been in Caesarea when Paul was in jail for two years. Caesarea is in Israel. Most of the apostles were in that area still. He could have had access to the other apostles while Paul was in prison for two years in Caesarea. We know from Acts, chapter 21, that Luke met Philip and no doubt got his account. He was one of the primary sources. We know from Luke chapter 8 verse 3 that there was a woman who followed Jesus named Joanna, the wife of Chuza, who was the steward of Herod the Great. She was also one of the sources who was around as a disciple of Jesus, and somebody who had access to Herod to get information from. It could even be that Luke had access to the apostle John.

After all, Paul traveled throughout Asia Minor and maybe was able to go into Ephesus and meet with John and some of the others. But all of that was compiled together for the gospel of Luke, these two volumes, which brings up an issue: Why is it that we claim the Bible is the inspired Word of God, when here you have a guy who said, "I belabored getting the accurate story of what really happened in the life of Jesus by examining and writing down eyewitness testimony of people who were with Jesus and heard what he said"? Well, I'm glad you asked. Because the fact that there is a human being who is that smart and who researches and puts effort into something does not negate the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture.

It's just one of the means the Holy Spirit used to bring us the inspired text. "All Scripture is inspired." I believe that. Second Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is inspired by God." The Greek word theopneustos means God-breathed. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction of righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." I believe that. But I also know and I believe that God used the personalities of the authors or the methods of this author. It wasn't like dictation. It's not like they fell into a trance and went, "Um, I'm getting a message from God," and they wrote it down like he was dictating something.

So the follow-up question you should be asking is: If that's true, if the Bible is the inspired Word of God using the human personalities that be. How? How did he do it? And to make it short, because we do want to get through a little more, Peter gives us the best answer, wraps it up in a nutshell. In Second Peter, chapter 1, he says, "No prophecy of Scripture was given by any private interpretation, but", listen, "holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." The word "moved" means carried along. It was a word used of sails that are put up and the wind carries the ship along to the destination determined by the direction of the wind, as well as the one who's controlling the sails. It goes to its predetermined designation.

So look at it this way: the men who were writing Scripture hoisted their sails and God breathed into it, so that the destination, what they wrote, was exactly where God wanted it to go, what God wanted them to say, even down to the very words that they used as individual according to written personality as they were. That's really the best view of inspiration. Every word, every letter is inspired by God, but it also takes into consideration the personality of the one who writes. God used that as well. So that's Luke's methodology; he interviewed eyewitness. Now, go back and notice in verse 2, two words, one is "eyewitnesses," but they're both medical terms. He says, "Just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers." The word "eyewitnesses," listen to it, it's a Greek word, autoptai.

Some of you already know where we get, what English word we get from autoptai. Any guesses? Autopsy. Autopsy, autoptai means somebody who has seen something with his or her own eyes: "I've examined it personally. I've autoptai." Those are the people who have seen something. The second word in the same verse is "ministers," upēretai/hyperetai. Upēretai means under-rowers, like in a boat, the guys who are manning the oars to get the ship going, the under-rowers. But when used in medical terminology it means an intern, a student. So listen to what he's saying. He's saying, "Here's my method of writing the account of the life of Jesus Christ: I've interviewed those who have autopsied the lifestyle of Jesus Christ. They were interns of the Great Physician. They were learners and students. That's the firsthand testimony that I've gotten."

That's how Luke phrases the opening words of his book. Okay, I mentioned that Luke is volume I of a two-volume set; the sequel is the book of Acts. We know that because of the person he writes to. He writes to Theophilus, "most excellent Theophilus." We don't know a lot about Theophilus except that he's, well, "most excellent." That's about all we know is what you read, "most excellent," or a better translation, "your Excellency." He's thought to be some Roman dignitary, but it's the same person that the book of Acts is also written to. Listen to how Acts begins: "The former account which I made to you, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day he was taken up," written to the same person.

Now, some people sort of mess with this verse and they think that Theophilus, because "Theophilus" means literally lover of God. Isn't that a great name? Lover of God or friend of God, theos phileó: one who loves God, or one who's the friend of God. So some people believe that it's written to just all friends of God. No. I believe that Theophilus was an actual person. In fact, the way it seems is that Luke was writing to his master. Luke had been a slave and as a slave he is writing an account of the life of Jesus Christ to his master named Theophilus who had also come to Jesus Christ and wanted to get down to the bottom, the nitty-gritty of the story. "Give me an accurate picture of what happened with this Jesus." And so Luke the slave writes the account.

Now, some people go, "Wait, wait, wait, wait, slave? Slave? You just told me Luke was a doctor. All the doctors that I know are not, or certainly don't act like slaves." Two thousand years ago half of the Roman Empire were slaves. And wealthy patrons often owned doctors who were also conscripted into slavery. And that's what we believe Luke was. He was a slave who had been given freedom by Theophilus and now he writes the story of Jesus. In fact, it's just my guess that it was Theophilus the patron, the master, who bankrolled the ability to do all the research that Luke did and he gives this account to Theophilus. Verse 5, "There was in the days of Herod", and we will get more about Herod in days to come.

"There was in the days of Herod," this is Herod the Great, "the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah, his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth." I prefer the Hebrew pronunciation Elisheba. Anybody here named Elizabeth? Okay, your name in Hebrew, the original pronunciation of your name, not the anglicized Elizabeth, is Elisheba. And Elisheba means his oath or the God of the oath. So it's a beautiful name. Elizabeth was his wife. "And they were both," verse 6, "righteous before God, walking in all of the commandments and ordnances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both of them were well advanced in years." The name Zacharias means God remembers.

As I mentioned, Elisheba, Elizabeth, means his oath. Have you ever heard of the city named Beer Sheva or Beersheba, "from Dan to Beersheba"? It's a place in southern Israel still in existence today. "Beersheba" means the well of the oath. So Elizabeth is his oath. And you put Mr. and Mrs. Zacharias' name together, listen to what it means: God remembers his oath. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you Mr. and Mrs. God remembers his oath. That's what their name together meant. Again, a beautiful hint of what is to come. God does remember his oath. He's going to give them a son who will point to Jesus Christ and his name will be John the Baptist. God remembers his oath. Zacharias was a priest. I find it interesting that Elizabeth, her lineage was of the same family of priests or the family of Aaron.

Now, here's the skinny on marriage 2,000 years ago among Jewish priests: Jewish priests were required to marry a pure Jewess, a girl of pure Jewish lineage. And it was even better, considered more meritorious if she were of the same family, priestly family as that of Aaron. And that's what you have here, a godly couple both from a lineage of the priestly family, the family of Aaron, married to each other. However, they're childless. To be childless 2,000 years ago, unlike it is today, was a social disgrace, because of how beautifully the Old Testament writes about children. Like Psalm 27, remember what it says? "Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is his reward." So the thought was God rewards people by giving them children.

If they're childless, they have not found favor with God. It became a social stigma, a social disgrace. Some of the ancient rabbis even said this, if you can believe it, again, not Scripture, just the tradition of the rabbis. One rabbi said there are seven people that will be excommunicated from God and the list begins like this: a Jew who has no wife, and a Jew who has a wife but has no child. So can you imagine Zacharias a priest and Elizabeth, Elisheba his wife, when they were young the kind of grief they went through and the kind of prayers they prayed? "O Lord, please, we want a heritage, we want to pass this on to children. Give us a child." But many years had passed. Now Luke, being a doctor, doesn't just say they're childless, gives us the reason behind their childlessness.

She was barren. She was unable to conceive. Something a doctor would notice. And then to add to that, he shows the complication of their story by saying that they were well advanced in years. So not only is she barren, not able to conceive, but they're old. The old King James says "well stricken in years." What a description, "well stricken in years." Last few weeks I've had a few visits to the physical therapist just for some issues that come when you start getting to be well stricken in years, certain aches and pains and problems in different parts of the skeletal, muscular anatomy. And the physical therapist, you know, I just started realizing why. He goes, "What is that scar from?" I go, "Oh, that's from a mountain bike wreck." He'd go, "Okay."

And then a few minutes later, "Well, what's that cut from?" I go, "Oh, that was a snowboarding fiasco." And then last time I went he said, "You know, I think your back is crooked, your sacrum and your coccygeal skeleton is a little bit misplaced to the left. Any trauma that you can remember of why this would be?" I said, "No, I really can't." And then I thought, "Oh, yes, it was that time I fell really hard, while snowboarding, on ice and I felt it on my tailbone." And so I just started thinking of this. This was what happens when you become stricken in years. The older you get, you start feeling the aches and pains. Zacharias and Elizabeth were well stricken in years for beyond any hope of having my child ever again. She's barren. They're old. "Ain't gonna happen," they think, perhaps.

But it is going to happen. "They had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years."So it was," verse 8, "that while he [Zacharias] was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord." Every single male who was born from the family of Aaron was automatically a priest. At the time of Jesus Christ there were, we believe, upwards of 20,000 priests. Posed a little bit of a problem. There was only one temple. Twenty thousand staff members in one temple is hard to manage. So they never really worked together, except for three times a year they had peripheral duties: the Feast of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

Other than that they just sort of hung out in their towns wherever they lived, except for two weeks a year. Every priest of those 20,000 for two weeks per year were chosen to come and work in the temple. One week and then six months later another week, from Sabbath to Sabbath, then six months off, and then Sabbath to Sabbath. Pretty good job, right, two weeks a year? Because there were 20,000 priests there were good chances that you would never be selected to be the one who goes in to burn the incense like Zacharias does. It was something you would always hope would happen, but you were never guaranteed that because there were so many priests. And when you would report for duty, you would select a lot, and the lot would tell you where you're going to serve and what you're going to do.

And he happened, by God's providence, to pick the lot that said he's going to burn incense in the temple. Now, do you mind if I just give you a little temple background so you can get the whole picture? Let's say you and I were walking toward Jerusalem right now. And let's say it's not the evening, but it's the morning. And we're about thirty miles outside of Jerusalem, three-zero, thirty miles away. Josephus the Jewish historian said on a clear day you could see the shining gleam of gold on the top of the temple from thirty miles away. So we see it in the distance and we go, "Hot diggity dog! We're almost there. Thirty more miles by foot, in the sun, hallelujah!" And so we make it there and we see the structure, the structure of thirty acres with different buildings.

And right in the center is the magnificent temple built in grand scale, even grander and more expansive than Solomon's temple, built by Herod the Great. There are courts: there's the court of the Gentiles, anybody can hang out there; there's the court of Jewish women, Jewish women and men can hang out there; then there's a court of the Jewish men, only Jewish men can hang out there, women can't, Gentiles can't. Then you go closer and there's a special little inner sanctum called the Holy Place. In the Holy Place the priest would go. There's yet another room that only the high priest can go once a year. But in the Holy Place the priest would go. Why? Because in the Holy Place when you would walk in, there would be an altar, a little golden altar right in front of you, if you were the priest, where incense was burned.

That's the altar where Zacharias will serve. To your left as you enter the Holy Place, if you were a priest, you would see a large, golden candelabra, a seven-branched candlestick called the menorah. To your right there would be a special table with loaves of bread on it, twelve loaves, one representing each of the twelve tribes of Israel. And if you were chosen like Zacharias, again, his heart just swelled with gratitude. And he walked in and here is what would happen. Do you remember from our study in Numbers that every single day in the tabernacle, and later the temple, every day two lambs had to be killed, morning and evening, morning sacrifice and evening sacrifice. So every day a male lamb, one year old, was killed and offered on an altar. That's the sin offering.

Second, there was a meal offering or a grain offering: flour mixed with oil. And, third, there was a libation offering, a drink offering of wine that was poured out. Then the priest would walk in and put a pinch of incense in the altar and walk out. And when he'd walk out, he would address the crowd and he would give them the blessing of Aaron out of Numbers, chapter 6. "The Lord bless thee, the Lord keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you peace," you know, that blessing of Aaron. That's what he would do when he walked out. Well, not on this day, because when he walks in, he sees something, someone he did not expect with a certain message for him, which caused him to have a delay. It says, "He went into the temple of the Lord."

Verse 10, "The whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But an angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elisheba will bear you a son, and you will call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will neither drink wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God."

"And he will also go before him in the spirit and the 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 a people prepared for the Lord." Looking at the time before we pass out the elements, let me say it this way: the gospel of Luke is the most natural segue from the Old Testament into the New Testament by virtue of what you have just read. Because the Old Testament closes with a promise, and Luke only begins with that promise, so I say it's the most natural. Now, what promise am I referring to? I'm referring to the book of Malachi, chapter 4. If you have your Bibles, just turn two blocks, three blocks to the left. You'll pass Mark and then Matthew and then you'll find Malachi, chapter 4, the last page of the Old Testament, the last two verses.

Listen, I'll read it. "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and [smite or] strike the earth with a curse." That's the close of the Old Testament. Then we open the New Testament. Between the Old Testament and the New Testament there are 400 years. They are called by scholars "400 silent years." Why four hundred silent years? Not that they were inactive years, they were very, very busy years; four hundred silent years because God said nothing after the close of Malachi. He was done. When the pages of the Old Testament close, when the prophet finished his message, it was over. There was no more voice from heaven for 400 years.

So we open the New Testament, we come to the gospel of Matthew, and we open it up, but suddenly things are different. In the Old Testament the kingdom of Persia was in charge; we turn to the New Testament, Rome is in charge. What happened there? Where did they come from? We look at the Old Testament and we have a Hebrew version of the Scriptures; we turn to the New Testament and they're not reading the Hebrew Old Testament, they're reading the Septuagint, Greek Old Testament. So, again, in the next few minutes, if you don't mind, I just want to bring you up to a little historical speed. I think it will help in the rest of gospel of Luke. So here's what happens: Medo-Persia in the Old Testament was in charge. They're the big dogs. They're the guys that control the world.

They had taken over the world, or they had taken over the west from a guy named Philip of Macedon, who was the father of Alexander, who became Alexander the Great. Medo-Persia expanded their empire. Alexander, when he grew up, wanted to take revenge for his father's death. To make a long story just a little bit shorter, he conquered the Medo-Persians and effectively the whole world at the time in ten years. In ten years' time Alexander made the world a Greek-speaking world, with Greek culture imposed and Greek ideology spread everywhere. But when he was in Babylon at age thirty-three he died. Just before he died they came to him and said, "Okay, you're going to be dead any minute, who's going to be in charge of the kingdom?" He said, his words, "Give it to the strong."

And the kingdom was divided into the leadership of four of Alexander the Great's generals: Lysimachus, Cassander, Ptolemy, Seleucus. You will not be quizzed on this next week, don't worry. But those last two generals are of significant importance. Ptolemy took Egypt. Seleucus took Syria. What is between Syria and Egypt? The land of Israel. So as years went on and these two kings fought each other, the king of the north and the king of the south, Israel got the brunt of that fighting. It became really bad when the eighth king of Syria, the Seleucid king, who hated the Jews more than any other previous king. His name was Antiochus the IV. Antiochus Epiphanes "the Illustrious One," he called himself. That's what Epiphanes is: God made manifest, God incarnate.

The Jews called him Antiochus Epimanes, which means the Beast, because of he butchered thousands of Jews, stopped the Jewish Sabbath, forbade circumcision, burnt copies of the Law, etcetera, etcetera. And he put in the place of the worship of Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, he put a statute to Zeus in the temple in Jerusalem. Butchered a pig, very unkosher, as you know, at the altar of the sacrifice, sprinkled the juices all over the temple. And there was this horrible oppression for years until about 250 BC, roughly, a group of Jews called the Maccabeans, they were Hasmonean priests by the name of Mattathias and his son Judas who rebelled against them. And when they drove them out of the temple and the feast lasted for eight days, they called that Hanukkah, Hanukkah the celebration of lights.

That was the celebration of moving the enemy out of the temple. I'm trying to shorten it as much I can. They were in charge for years until 63 BC when Rome took over. Pompey conquered the world and now the Romans rule the world, and Herod the Great is placed in this part of world. When we pick up Luke next time, we're going to read a lot about Herod and what he did and why he was called the king of the Jews, and how much he hated the idea that somebody like Jesus would be one who would compete against him. So all of that happened those four hundred silent years. God wasn't speaking until now. And all of that backstory happened, when you open the New Testament, all of this stuff is in place. So, "Zacharias said to the angel", after the angel said you're going to have a son, listen to what Zacharias said.

"Zacharias says to the angel, 'How shall I know this?'" That's gotta be one of the funniest verses of Scripture in all of Scripture. Here an angel appears to you, you're scared out of your wits. He tells you something, you go, "How-how do I know that? How-how can I be sure that's true?" Uh, when was the last time you saw an angel Zacharias? An angel appeared to you for goodness' sake. You see him, like you go, "Whatever. Okay, what he said." But he said, "How-how will I know this is true?" "And the angel answered and said to him, 'I am Gabriel.'" Uh-oh, He gives his name. There's only two angels in Scripture that we know the names of, Michael is one, Gabriel is the other. And Gabriel, Gabriel has special interests with the Messiah.

It was Gabriel who said to Daniel, "Seventy weeks are determined for your people." And he laid out the Daniel beautiful prophecy of the seventy, the backbone of prophecy, seventy weeks. He says, "'I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.' And the people waited for Zacharias and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple." You know, they're looking at their little hourglasses and he's not coming out yet. "But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless."

"And so it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now, after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 'Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when he looked upon me, to take away my reproach among people.'" And then the following verse is the birth of Jesus Christ, which we'll get to next time we meet. Don't you think it's interesting that God hasn't said anything for four hundred years, and when he finally speaks through an angel, he gives the message to a man who can't speak for nine months. That's so amazing. Zacharias goes home, for nine months he can't talk to his own wife, which means, and, perhaps, he was used to doing all the talking, he had to listen to his wife talk for nine months.

God remembers his oath and heaven speaks to mankind. John is going to be born. The name John means gracious or God is gracious, the one that Luke introduces, God is gracious. The Old Testament is law; the New Testament is grace. "The law came by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." The last final word of the Old Testament, we read it. I read it to you. Do you remember what it was? Curse. That's the last word of the Old Testament, curse. "Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse." It's the last word of the Old Testament. Among the last words of the New Testament are these: "And there will be no more", say it, "curse." There will be no more curse. And it ends by saying the final words: "And the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."

How to you go from curse to grace? Insert Jesus Christ. Insert the One that John would see when he grows up and say of him, "Behold the Lamb of God." I like to translate it: "Check it out! That's God's Lamb. He's the one that's going to take away the sin of the world. Check it out." You insert Jesus Christ into the curse that is on this earth because of sin, and you get grace, unmerited, undeserved favor. So that's the introduction of the gospel of Luke. We will get well into it next time. We've only covered twenty-five verses tonight. But we're going to pray, and we're going to be passing out the communion elements, and we're going to meditate on these things, and take these elements together. Let's pray.

Lord, though Luke was written to an individual, we believe, named Theophilus, we also know that your Holy Spirit has used his words, you've inspired him to write. You filled his sails with the breath of God, inspiration, and so that what he wrote, the destination he reached, the shore he landed on in this literary work is exactly what you wanted to portray, what you wanted to say from that camera angle, so that the Greeks would see the ideal, the perfect man in Jesus Christ, the God-man. And as Luke introduces in the first opening stories the coming of John, an Elijah-like forerunner who would point the way to Jesus Christ, point the way to the Lord, making straight the ways of the Lord.

We understand this Jesus would be the one whom John would say, "This is God's Lamb. This is the one who will be sacrificed for the sin of the world." And we take these elements, Lord, tonight reminiscent of that fulcrum moment, that hinge moment that turned a curse into grace because of the blood of Jesus Christ God's Son shed for us. Why don't you peel the very top of, Oh, they're not all passed out yet? We will wait till you get them all. I was under the impression that you had them already. In the meantime, while we pass them out, we'll sing together. In holding this bread in your hands, we remember what Zacharias and Elizabeth together means: "God remembers his oath."

He made a promise of a new covenant in the Old Testament, one not based upon law or works or religion, but upon relationship with the One he would send. And the last oath was that one would come who would be his forerunner. Luke is here to say that promise has come true, and if John is born, then Jesus the Messiah will also be born. The One that God sent to take away my sin and yours is the One we celebrate with this bread. It represents his broken body. And as you take this and put it in your mouth, you are obeying what Jesus told his disciples when he said, "Take this, eat it, and do it often, and as you do, remember me." So we remember his sacrifice and we're grateful for his broken body. Let's take the bread together.

As we hold the cup, we remember that the name John means God is gracious and God can be gracious because of what the Bible also declares, "the blood of Jesus Christ God's Son cleanses a man from all sin." God can be gracious to you. He can pour out favor to you because Jesus took the brunt, took the punishment, and his blood shed gives us access into his presence. So we take this together as brothers and sisters. Let's take.
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