In the first three chapters of Luke—those chapters which give us the introduction to his gospel, and which furnish too the introduction of the Son of man into our midst—there are mentioned seven places, around which cluster events of rare interest.
First we have, in Luke 1:9, The temple of the Lord, into which Zacharias the priest had gone, in the order of his course and in fulfilment of his office, to burn incense. There appeared to him an angel of the Lord, who informed him that his prayer had been heard, and that his wife Elizabeth should have a son. Long years of prayer for this very favour had passed fruitlessly away. Zacharias was now old, and Elizabeth “well stricken in years.” Nature had well-nigh run its course, and hope had doubtless faded. But these prayers were now to be answered.
The angelic messenger announces the birth of a son, supplies his name, John—“Beloved of Jehovah”—states his character, and shows that he is the forerunner of the Lord.
Zacharias is incredulous. His hopes are bounded, after all, by the capabilities of nature, so that his unbelief has to be rebuked, and he stricken dumb until the birth of the child.
Now, all this indicates the interposition of God. He is accomplishing His purposes, and deigns to use means for that end. He has His way in the sea. None can say unto Him, “What doest Thou?”
The vessel for this communication—a vessel spoken of as blameless in verse 6, but unequal, alas! to the occasion—was this simple but pious priest Zacharias. He and his wife were faithful to God, and walked uprightly before Him, and hence the honour conferred upon them. And well it is thus to walk, even though occasions arise when unbelief may assert itself and we be put to shame. Better surely to be stricken dumb whilst receiving a grace-given John than retain speech, and fail such a gift! Still better, through grace, to have both speech and son—to walk in a faith that is equal to the occasion. Yet who has not failed when some such occasion arrived—who but One? The promise was at last fulfilled; and amid scenes of joy there was born to Zacharias the herald and immediate precursor of the Lord. Such a birth caused widespread interest; and the child grew, and was strong in spirit, and was in the desert till the day of his showing unto Israel.
But an event far more portentous was to be enacted elsewhere. There was sent from God to a city of Galilee (Luke 1:16), called Nazareth, the angel who had announced to Zacharias the birth of John, with tidings to a virgin named Mary, that she should conceive and bring forth a son, and should call His name Jesus. Wonderful tidings these! If the birth of John were miraculous, this still more so. This was to be the “Son of the Highest,” and that “holy thing” born of her should be called “the Son of God.”
What was there in Nazareth and what in Mary that led the angel there? The city was small, obscure, and belonging to Galilee. The virgin was unknown, and, as she says, “of low degree” (v. 52). There was no proportion between the place, the person, and the promise; but then we must remember that grace is not beholden to anything here; and He whose advent is now announced comes to lowly circumstances and to contrite and humble hearts, He did not despise the virgin’s womb.
To Mary the whole thing was supernatural. She could but say, in a faith that gives her a character as a true-hearted and dependent saint, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy word” (v. 38); and the angel departed from her. She thus absolutely places herself in the hands of God to be His honoured vessel for the incarnation, and coming in flesh of “that holy thing,” “Son of the Highest” and “Son of God.”
Losing no time, Mary arises and goes to see her cousin Elizabeth. She comes to a city of Judah (Luke 1:39) in the hill country, some distance probably from Jerusalem. The home of Zacharias was there, and thither hastened the virgin, with heart surcharged, to learn from her kinswoman the secret of her joy, as furnished to herself by the angel.
But hardly had Mary’s salutation broken on Elizabeth’s ear than “the babe leaped in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Ghost.”
The recognition and response were immediate. God brought it about. Elizabeth at once acknowledges in Mary the mother of her Lord, and pronounces her “blessed among women.”
The soul of the virgin then bursts forth in deep and grateful praise, admitting her low degree and the mercy of God her Saviour towards her.
Mary remains in the city of Judah three months, and then returns to Nazareth.
Then John is born of Elizabeth; and at his birth the tongue of his father is loosened, who pours out his soul in the worship of God. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” he says, “for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.” That horn of salvation was the yet unborn child of Mary, thus announced by a vessel now filled with the Holy Ghost, who occupies so large a place in all these scenes and circumstances! How distinct is the intervention of God!
“And thou, child,” referring to John, “shalt be called the prophet of the Highest . . . to give knowledge of salvation . . . to give light to guide our feet into the way of peace,” are the closing words of this aged servant of the Lord. It is interesting to notice, that of the twelve verses that engage his prophecy, eight are devoted to Him whom he calls the horn of salvation, and only four to his own child, the prophet of the Highest! But when the Holy Ghost speaks He ever glorifies the Lord Jesus as His brightest theme.
In the beginning of Luke 2 we find ourselves in the city of David, that is Bethlehem, to witness the most wonderful event of all—the coming in flesh of Him who is presented to us in Scripture as the eternal Son of God, ever dwelling in the Father’s bosom; creating and upholding all things, but now in lowly and lovely grace becoming man. His parents being brought to Bethlehem by an imperial order for the enrolling of the whole Roman world, the Scripture is fulfilled that Christ should there be born. But, despite His personal glory, room could not be found for Him in the inn. He was “laid in a manger”—a lowly birth-place indeed for One of such consequence, but an indication of the deeper humiliation to which His grace would descend. Shepherds, as they prosecute their nightly toil, are apprised by angelic ministry of the glorious occurrence. To them are made known the tidings of “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and good pleasure in men,” tidings that are proclaimed by heavenly hosts who rejoice over the birth that day in Bethlehem of a Saviour, Christ the Lord. All heaven is vocal; it is resonant with joy. Never such an event before. This birth stands pre-eminent and alone. Impelled by a holy curiosity, these humble shepherds come to Bethlehem to verify the news. They find out as described by the angel, make known the saying which was told them concerning this Child, and return glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.
Well it is, beloved, to linger in reverie over this charming event. Not despising the manger, and yet the object of surpassing interest to heavenly hosts, we find our precious Saviour here entering our world of sin as a man. He, the woman’s seed, was to bruise the head of the serpent, was to be made sin when in death He bore its awful curse, in order not only to save perfectly all His people, but to furnish the ground for “glory in the highest to God, peace on earth, and good pleasure in men.”
A wonderful Man truly who could accomplish so much; but this is He, that “holy thing” born of the virgin, and called “the Son of God”; and it is at Bethlehem that the veil is first drawn aside so that He may be shown to us in the beauty of His grace.
Eight days elapse, and we now find ourselves again in the temple (v. 27), whither the child is brought for the fulfilment of the custom of the law, and to offer a sacrifice—a pair of turtle doves, and two young pigeons. All this is in perfect moral order, but it demonstrates two things, the poverty of the parents, and the fact that the word “immaculate” did not attach, in the mind of the virgin, to her conception. Nay, where that properly attached was to the “holy thing” born of her. And now the Holy Ghost, still diligent in His blessed testimony, leads Simeon into the temple, who at once, under divine tuition, takes the babe in his arms, recognises in Him God’s salvation, and declares himself ready now to depart in peace, whilst the aged and godly Anna, coming just then into the same place, renders thanks to the Lord, and speaks of Him to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Thus seal after seal is put upon this wondrous child. God initiates them all.
Again we return to Nazareth (v. 39), that city of Galilee where Mary had her home, and where now the child grows and waxes strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God is upon Him. So much are we told, but no more, concerning the early days of our Lord at Nazareth.
No room is left for speculation. Notice, however, that He was “filled with wisdom”; and, further still, that grace, the grace of God, was upon Him. These two facts are significant.
Then at the age of twelve He goes to Jerusalem to keep with His parents the Feast of the Passover. That over, He is lost for the time to them, who eventually find Him in the temple amid the doctors, hearing and asking them questions, not teaching them indeed, but showing by His understanding and answers that He was truly “filled with wisdom.”
Rebuked by His mother for anxiety caused on His account, He replied to her, and this is His first recorded sentence, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” But they understood not the saying. No; for He announced His enjoyment of a relationship of which they were necessarily ignorant. But “the grace of God was upon Him.” He could speak of God as His Father, just as, redemption accomplished, He instructed Mary of Magdala to communicate the knowledge of the same relationship to His disciples, “His Father and their Father.” (See John 20:17.) Blessed redemption!
Then He went down with them to Nazareth and was “subject unto them.” Yes, “subject unto them.” Words of deep and mighty import. The recognition of and subjection to parental authority has been thus wondrously dignified. He whose word, in 2 Timothy 3, condemns disobedience to parents, here sets the perfect example of the opposite. May each young reader pause and contemplate this exquisite conduct The lowly grace at Bethlehem is only enhanced at Nazareth. The childhood of Jesus is thus no less a model for His people than is His manhood.
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (v. 52). “He increased in wisdom.” Does this present any difficulty? Certainly no more than that “He was filled with wisdom.” Both are true, and true of the same complex person who was God and man in one—truly God, but as truly man, whether in infancy, childhood, or maturity, and always consistent with the features and characteristics of each stage of human life.
And now lastly at Jordan (chap. 3) we find John in the earnest course of his ministry, baptising and preaching the advent of One mightier than he. “Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art My beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased” (vv. 21-22).
This threefold attestation marks Him off in absolute distinction from all beside. The heavens opened upon Him, the Holy Ghost descended upon Him, and the Father’s voice addressed Him as Son, beloved and well pleasing. In all this He stood alone. Now He bore the seal and stamp of God’s approval. Wondrous scene! It is the introduction here of the Son of God. He enters publicly this world of sin and Satan’s power, bearing heavenly insignia and divine credentials, to be the witness of God, and the Saviour of sinners, to give eternal effect, in its own proper time, to the glad announcement of the heavenly hosts of “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and good pleasure in men,” as well, surely, as to fulfil the prophecy of Zacharias that the Lord God had raised up an Horn of salvation for us.
God glorified, sinners saved, universal peace and pleasure in men, flow from the coming and dying of the blessed Horn of salvation.