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Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1 Listen
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
Mary is betrothed (espoused) to Joseph. That's the procedure for marriage then - a wedding contract without consummation of the relationship until some period of time later. We see in verse 18 that the marriage had not been consummated at that time, yet Mary was expecting. All was well when Joseph received a word from an angel (verse 23) that this child was the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 (see notes); this child would be the Messiah. Joseph is also told that the newborn child is to be called "Jesus" (Greek: Iesous pronounced ee-ay-sooce´). That is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name, "Joshua" (Hebrew: yehosua). Neither language has a "J" sound in its alphabet. The Hebrew name "Joshua" carried the connotation of "is salvation." At the time of the birth of Jesus, it was a common name. Keep in mind, the street language in Judea during this era was Aramaic, a Semitic sister language to Hebrew. While the grammar was somewhat different, the language sounded like Hebrew. Therefore, when people heard the name "Jesus," they undoubtedly were reminded of the successor of Moses who led the people of Israel into Canaan. Incidentally, it should be pointed out that, even though the people in Palestine in Jesus' day predominantly spoke Aramaic, the Gospels were actually recorded some years later in the dominant written language of the world, Greek. Educated people spoke and read Greek; few in Judea were skilled in Hebrew. Bible historians tell us that very few people in Jesus' day actually were able to read and write - just speak Aramaic. Hebrew was used in the readings of the Old Testament in the temple and synagogues.
Since Greek was the commercial language of the Roman Empire during the first century, it is likely that the people in Judea also spoke Greek, at least to some extent. When Jesus was crucified, the inscription on his cross was written in Greek, Latin and Hebrew.
Oh...one more thing, notice verse 25 regarding intimate relations between Joseph and Mary, "And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS." The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Mary remained a virgin for her entire life. That baseless fallacy is disputed by this verse (i.e. "firstborn son") as well as Matthew 13:55 (see notes) which says of Jesus what was commonly known by his neighbors, "Is not this the carpenters son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?"
1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;
3 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,
4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.
The Gospel of Luke was written by Luke, who also wrote the Book of Acts. Several times in Acts, Luke identifies with Paul's journeys by using the word "we." You'll find these in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16. Luke and Acts are addressed to an individual named Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). "Theophilus" is a Greek name formed from two Greek words, "God" and "lover." The name means "lover of God." Paul named Luke as a companion in Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24, and 2 Timothy 4:11. Luke acknowledges here that his Gospel was written later in verses 1-3 from the accounts of eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus when he writes, "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."
Zacharias, you're gonna have a baby! (Luke 1:5-25)
5 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.
6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course,
9 According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
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.
14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
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.
16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
17 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.
18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
19 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.
20 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.
21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.
22 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.
23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,
25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
Zacharias was a priest at the temple in Jerusalem. See the window to the right (Zacharias) for some specific information provided by Easton's Bible Dictionary regarding the one-week-long temple duty Zacharias was performing when the angel appeared to him.
This is a big day for Zacharias; he's gonna be a daddy; an angel stood beside the altar of incense and told him so. NEVER DOUBT AN ANGEL! When Zack asked for a sign, the angel immediately took his voice away. How's that for a sign? Why? Because he doubted! And he will remain that way until after the birth of the baby (verse 20). He came out of the temple using sign language. Elisabeth, his wife, was extremely grateful to conceive a child - especially John the Baptist. There was a considerable stigma attached to being childless in those days (see verse 25). You'll recall that God took the prophet Ezekiel's voice away also back before the fall of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 3:16-25, see notes); he, too, was a priest and was unable to speak (except to prophesy) for over seven years - until the fall of Jerusalem. That had to go through the mind of Zacharias every once in a while. Zacharias did not speak again until after John the Baptist was born.
Notice verse 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 mothers womb." While it doesn't mention his hair, this verse leads one to speculate that John may have had the Nazarite vow (Numbers 6, see notes) on him from birth as Samson did (Judges 13, see notes). This is to be no ordinary child as we see in verses 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." The name "Elias" there is Hebrew "Elijah" transliterated to Greek and then to English; it's Elijah. This baby has a big mission ahead. Was John the Baptist Elijah? Click here to read the article concerning this issue. We see the birth of John the Baptist in verse 24.
Incidentally, Gabriel, the angel who brought this message, is only referenced otherwise in the Book of Daniel (8:16 and 9:21 - see notes). The appearance of an angel with this kind of a resume was quite significant.
Now some news for Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
Mary, you're going to have a baby also. Notice Luke 1:32-33, "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." This will be no ordinary baby. This is the fulfillment of all those Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah (Isaiah 9, see notes). Uh, oh! Got a problem though - no husband. Gabriel, the angel, assures her that it's all taken care of. Like Joseph (see above), she also gets the same instructions to name her child "Jesus."
Mary visits Elisabeth (Luke 1:39-45)
39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
Time to share the good news. Elisabeth is tickled, and John the Baptist is happy too (verse 41). She readily acknowledges that Mary's son is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in verse 43 when she says, "And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"
Mary breaks out in song (Luke 1:46-56)
46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
In reply to Elisabeth's comments, Mary waxes eloquent with the goodness of God and her sense of joy at having been chosen to bear. We see in verse 56 that Mary stayed with Elisabeth about three months.
John the Baptist arrives (Luke 1:57-66)
57 Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.
58 And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.
59 And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.
60 And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.
61 And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.
62 And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called.
63 And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all.
64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.
65 And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea.
66 And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.
Zacharias is still unable to speak until the circumcision and naming of the baby on the eighth day. Elisabeth says, "Let's name him John." Nobody by that name in your family, Elisabeth. Are you sure about this; don't you want him to be Zacharias, Jr.? Then they took a writing tablet to Zacharias for a second opinion on a name; he wrote "John." Immediately his tongue was loosed and finally he was able to speak, "John it shall be!"
Zacharias breaks out with a prophecy (Luke 1:67-80)
67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,
68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,
69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,
75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,
78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
80 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.
It was obvious to Zacharias that his boy was no ordinary boy. Just look at the prophecy God gave him concerning his son, John the Baptist. There was no question in the mind of Zacharias what John would do with his life. Look at Luke 1:76, "And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;" Oh...and he also calls in the Abrahamic Covenant markers here in verse 73. That's a reference to the promises God made to Abraham. For more on God's covenant with Abraham, click here. Zacharias fully understands that his son will be instrumental in the fulfillment of this covenant.
Verse 80 is a little curious, "And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel." Zacharias and Elizabeth were old when John was born. Perhaps they died while he was a child. Whatever, John the Baptist was raised "in the deserts" until he embarked upon his God-given ministry of announcing the Messiah.