John, the Son of Zechariah and Elizabeth

Last week I talked about Jesus as the Son of God and why we believe the Christmas story is true. I thought we’d continue along those lines today to help us connect the dots which establish why we believe the Christmas story. Today we’ll look at the gospel according to Luke and a portion of his account of the story.

Luke was a gentile, likely converted after Jesus ascended following His resurrection. He was a contemporary and companion of the apostle Paul and was a careful historian who wrote more than 1/4 of the New Testament (the books of Luke and Acts). Luke, again, is a person from history of whom there is record of his existence both written and inferred through his and other writings though he never mentions himself by name in either the gospel of Luke or Acts.

Let’s begin with Luke’s introduction to the book which bears his name.

Luke 1:1-4

1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,
2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.
3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

I love this introduction by Luke because it speaks directly to the skepticism many were experiencing about the authenticity of Jesus. It’s a skepticism shared by many today who look at the story of Christmas, as well as the life of Jesus, as a legend, a myth, or a contrived story.

However, Luke addresses this skepticism head-on. He tells us that, first, he interviewed eye-witnesses to the life of Jesus and, second, carefully investigated everything he could find which would prove or disprove who Jesus claimed to be. His conclusion: “…I …decided to write an orderly account, …so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” And with that, Luke launches into a systematic and thorough account of the life of Jesus.

Let’s pick up at verse 5 and pay particular attention, once again, to the role of the Holy Spirit.

5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.
6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.
7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,
9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.
12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.
13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.
14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth,
15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.
16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.
17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.
20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple.
22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home.
24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.
25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Luke’s strategy in arguing that Jesus was the Son of God was to bring his readers, who were likely Jews, into the story from the perspective of credible witnesses; a Jewish temple priest and his wife, who had their own miraculous story which was well known to them.

I love how God uses one miracle – the natural birth of a child to parents who are, by their own admission, old – to convince us of another miracle – the supernatural birth of Jesus. Since Zechariah is a historical figure, his life and story was likely familiar to Jews who were still alive, Luke’s account was given credibility. And God eases all of us toward the miraculous birth of Jesus through the equally miraculous, though slightly more palatable, birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Like we established last week, we believe the story of Christmas not only because we read it in the Bible but because the perfect life Jesus lived, his death on the cross and his resurrection are all historical facts verified by eye-witness accounts. But God also surrounded the birth of Jesus with other miraculous events in order to remind those present at the time (and us) that He has always saved His people through miraculous intervention; the Ark, Joseph’s favor in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea to name a few.

All of this history and their belief in the eventual coming of a Messiah conspired to help many Jews be more inclined to accept the miraculous arrival of Jesus. They already believed the miracles from their history and they could not deny the miracle which happened before their eyes and to one of their respected elders, Zechariah. It seems reasonable that Zechariah became one of the most convincing witnesses and spokesmen for the birth of Jesus, God’s Son.

So, once again, we believe the story of Christmas because of the historical evidence of the birth and life of Jesus. And, finally, we have the witness in our spirits by the Holy Spirit who convinces us when we read the words of scripture that these are words to be believed and teachings around which we should order our lives.

Generations of true believers continue to drive the narrative forward; God sent His Son to the world that through His sacrifice, all who place their faith and trust in Him will be rescued from the consequences of their sins. That’s the gospel, the good news, and the message of Christmas.

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