Life of Christ
Lesson 1 (The Very First LC Bible Study Lesson)
The Undoubted Truth…
Introduction…This now represents an edited version of Learning Center Bible Study Lesson 1, written 17 years ago. Several things leap out at me. 1) The work, time, inspiration and passion required to research, discover and write sustainable TRUTH, as well as, the outstanding, inspired research and reporting of a few first century Christians , still stands the historical test of time; 2) Spiritual faithfulness’ true reward is often delayed, but no less real; 3) We are John the Baptist. John the Baptist foreshadows every Christian. When we are reborn in Christ, we are graced with God’s Spirit, and with God’s Spirit our goal is to prepare people for God. Pure and simple.
Luke 1:1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us,
How “many” have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us?
Normally, we don’t think of “many” versions or accounts of Christ and his apostles’ lives and experiences, but perhaps, just as many people attempt to write their own account or history of some person or event today, no doubt, many attempted the same thing with Christ. It is probably amazing that we did end up with the four gospel accounts, as well as, Luke’s account of the early church in the book of Acts.
Does “us” include not only Christ and his apostles, but others significant to the church’s establishment, including not only Luke himself, but Paul, Barnabus, Silas, John Mark and later, Apollos, Priscilla and Aquilla?
And how does one edit all the many events into a cohesive story or account of Jesus and the apostles’ lives?
2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word,
Eyewitness accounts—that must have been amazing, and just as amazing, is Luke telling us that these accounts, and indirectly the gospels, were based on thoroughly-reserached eyewitness accounts.
Something else that tends to strengthen Luke’s testimony here is that in the mighty shadows of the more advanced Greek and Roman civiizations, the reporting of historical events was becoming more historically accurate and therefore, less susceptible to myth and fictionlized accounts of the truth.
3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;
Was Luke inspired as well to research and write these accounts? He does seem to be attempting to lend credibility to his gospel by stating that his account was 1) based on first-hand accounts of witnesses that were there from the beginning, 2) was thoroughly researched, 3) was edited in a historical order, and 4) written to someone, because of Luke’s addressing him as “most excellent,” of no doubt, official rank, almost as if Theophilus, which by the way means “lover of God,” wanted to know the truth—was Jesus real? Was he indeed the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of David and therefore, God’s promised heir to King David’s throne, and therefore Israel’s savior from national oppression? Did the miracles happen? Did Jesus really rise from the dead and ascend to heaven? Did the apostles really receive the power of God and do the miracles attributed to them? So in essence, 2,000 years, we as modern-day Theophiluses, still seek the truth about Jesus and his apostles.
4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.
“The exact truth” only strengthens Luke’s testimony here.
Did Theophilus doubt what he had been taught? Had Theophilus financed Luke’s writing of this account? Who had taught Theophilus? Was he Greek? A Greek royal or governmental official? That is pretty amazing to have an account of Jesus’ life written or dedicated to you. Thank you, Dr. Luke. Thank you, Theophilus. Thank you eye-witnesses and thank you, God? Thank you; thank you; thank you.
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.
As we learn from Matthew’s account, King Herod was not a good guy or king. In fact, he was not even Jewish, but being of Arabic (Nabatean) and Idumean descent, he was actually a descendent of Esau (Jacob’s twin brother who was NOT a recipient of the Abrahamic Covenant) and Esau’s forgotten and conquered descendants, the Edomites. He was also a Roman appointed ruler, having been appointed by the Roman Senate and supported by Roman Emperor Octavian (Caesar Augustus).
Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia on King Herod:
…also known as Herod the Great and Herod I, was a Roman client king of Judea, referred to as the Herodian kingdom. He has been described as “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis“, “the evil genius of the Judean nation”, “prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition”, and “the greatest builder in Jewish history”. He is known for his colossal building projects throughout Judea, including his expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (Herod’s Temple), the construction of the port at Caesarea Maritima, the fortress at Masada and Herodium.
Vital details of his life are recorded in the works of the 1st century CE Roman–Jewish historian Josephus. Herod also appears in the Christian New Testament as the ruler of Judea at the time of the birth of Jesus, who orders the Massacre of the Innocents.
Upon Herod’s death, the Romans divided his kingdom among three of his sons and his sister—Archelaus became ethnarch of the tetrarchy of Judea, Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, Philip became tetrarch of territories east of the Jordan, and Salome I was given a toparchy including the cities of Jabneh, Ashdod, Phasaelis.
So being a priest, Zacharias, by Law, was a descendent of Aaron, Moses’ brother and the tribe of Levi, from which the priests were taken. And it would also seem that Zacharias’ wife, Elizabeth was also a descendent of the priestly clan since she is described as a daughter of Aaron. Can you imagine being able to somehow being able to trace your lineage back over 1400 years to the days of the Exodus, as well as 2100 years plus to days of Abraham, and in some sense all the way back to Adam and Eve? No doubt, even within the vast sea of world’s great empires and kingdoms, descendants of Israel had maintained something very special—their religious-national identity—amazing!
Constable writes: “King David had originally divided the priesthood into 24 divisions and had placed the leader of one priestly family at the head of each group (1 Chron. 23—24).” “Actually only four divisions returned from the Exile (Ezr. 2:36-39), but the four were subdivided to make up twenty-four again with the old names.” (Constable quoting: Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke, p. 68). Abijah was the leader of the division to which Zechariah belonged (1 Chron. 24:10). Constable goes on to say that “each division (of the priesthood) would serve for one week twice a year plus during the major festivals” (Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, pp. 198-207).
Also note: “Zacharias” means “Yahweh remembers,” and Elizabeth could mean “God’s Covenant” (Constable referencing Bailey p. 107).
But while godly and faithful to the Law, there were both old and, because Elizabeth could not have children, they were also childless. This has all the earmarks of the account of Abraham and Sarah, the biological parents of all Israelites, and we know how their story turned out. They were old and childless, but through their son Isaac, God gave them descendants, figuratively, as the sands on the seashore or the stars in the sky, and of which through faith, according to Paul (Romans 3-4), we too, though not Jews by biological, are God’s children by Spiritual rebirth and adoption.
Had this childlessness caused them any Spiritual, emotional or social consternation, shame or disappointment, or had they taken this in stride? It certainly seems that for whatever reason they had come to accept that this was their reality—that they were not going to have any children to pass down their priestly lineage—what a disappointment!
8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.
Interesting to note that the honor of entering the temple’s holy place where the incense was burned was chosen by lot, and on this particular day, the lot fell to Zacharias. He could not have imagined what lay before him—that he would be spoken to by an angel with one of the great messages’ of human history.
I also like that the priest was surrounded by prayer outside the holy place.
11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.
This had to be kind of scary? I know, as a kid, I was always afraid to be alone at night in the church for fear God might break the silence and audibly speak to me.
12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him.
I am with you Zacharias.
13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.
So apparently, Zacharias and Elizabeth, though childless, had been praying for a child. Their prayers have been answered.
14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.
Why would John not drink wine or liquor? Is this connected to the Nazirite vow within the Law (Num. 6:1-12)? He will have the Spirit of God beginning within his mother’s womb. He definitely has a significant role within God’s kingdom.
16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
With this pronouncement, the angel has just connected John with the ancient OT prophesies concerning the Messiah’s forerunner (See. Isaiah 40 and Malachi 4). In essence, the angel has just announced that with John’s birth, in addition, Israel’s long-awaited and prophetically-promised savior-king, the Messiah, or anointed one, is about to arise and therefore, deliver Israel and the world from its oppression. Life just became divinely electric. Heaven is emphatically interrupting earth. Something special is about to occur. What many Israelites did not fully come to understand was that the Messiah, according to Isaiah 53, must first come to save the world, via his offering himself as human-divine atonement or payment for mankind’s sin, or Spiritual offense against and before her holy, perfect and righteous Creator-Judge, before he, the Messiah, would return to save her from the devastating, earthly physical consequences of mankind’s evil. Note: if he had not done this in this order—offering Spiritual salvation and cleansing from sin and evil before physical deliverance from all thing evil, then he would not have had anyone to physically save from evil, because as both the psalmist, King David, and a thousand years later, the Apostle Paul writes: no one is righteous before God; all have sinned; all fall very short of God’s perfect glory; all have become worthless (Psalm 14; Rom 3). Therefore embedded within the angel’s prophesy is a two-fold deliverance from sin and evil—one includes a personal cleansing or atonement from sin and evil and the second, delivers mankind from evil’s physically devastating affects. Both are required for a complete and final deliverance from evil.
18 Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.
Since you view your seemingly human limitations as of greater value or strength than the word God’s messenger (which is what “angel” means), I will give you a sign. You will walk out of here unable to speak until the day your son of divine promise is born.
20 And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
21 The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. 23 When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home.
24 After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 25 “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.”
Why did she remain in seclusion for five months?
Summary: Theophilus, I have historically reearched the account of the truth concerning Jesus and his apostles that you have been taught and it is historically reliable. It is the truth. It begins with a childless couple of which the husband is a priest. As he serves in the temple, an angel appears to him and tells him that his barren wife will have a child that will be given the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb and that someday, according to prophecy, will prepare the nation for the Lord’s coming. When the priests questions how his wife could have a child, the angel mutes his voice until his son is born. When he returns to his home, his wife gives praise to God because indeed she becomes pregnant.
Why? Why is this included in God’s word? What do we learn about God? People? Life? Me?
• Many people may try to write something important, valuable and accurate, but only a few truly make it. Why? Because writing something valuable is not easy to begin with, much less a biographical account of heaven coming to earth. Four accounts survived—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—and it has changed the word. The only way it could have been done? The Spirit of God.
• Luke did his homework, and he didn’t do a sloppy historical research. He was thorough. He performed his due diligence on the greatest story ever recorded. In addition, he cared about his student–Theophilus (an application to us teachers); he wanted his student to know what he had been taught was true (may we have the same passion for our students as we study the life of our Lord Jesus, because it is true!)
• Even those that love God may not always receive everything they want when they want it. Many times, we have to wait. Still we obey. We don’t quit loving or worshiping God just because we don’t get what we want when we want it. The truth is the truth is the truth, regardless of when the package or reward for that worship or obedience is rewarded.
• God has plans and purposes for his children anointed with his Spirit. John was a precursor of every Christian. Born again with or by God’s Spirit, we have the Spirit, and we are created for a purpose—to grow, mature and learn to reflect the glory, truth, love, hope and power of God. We are John. John foreshadows every Christian, and that is amazing. To prepare others, a planet, a people for the presence, coming and power of God—Jesus via the Spirit of God.
• And a part of that being inspired by God is to Spiritually turn families, beginning with fathers and sons, back to one another. There is something special, beautiful and wonderful about the kingdom of God when multi-generations share their love of God with one another. Nothing better. Broken, un-reconciled families Spiritually reconciled. The curse of the Fall reversed.
• When Zacharias questioned the angel’s pronouncement he momentarily raised the earthly above the heavenly. It was as if, despite his faithfulness to minister to God, he missed the point, that his burning the incense was supposed to be a fragrant aroma to God—that his priestly service was a communion with the God of the Universe. It’s as if we can all become so involved with religious ritual that we forget the point—the point is to connect with God, and whether an angel appears or not, God, via his Spirit is seeking to be with us, inspire us, comfort us, encourage us, teach us, lead us, love us, empower us. That’s what the priesthood was all about, and now that God has appeared through an angel with one of the greatest messages in the world’s existence, a priest is questioning a divine angelic being with the question HOW? Are you kidding me? The priest, just as we, are in the presence of God, and God can and will do anything. Nothing is too difficult for him, including causing an aged couple to have a child that will Spiritually prepare God’s people for God…no easy task…because of our unrighteousness and sin. Because he used his voice to question the Divine, his voice was miraculously taken away until these events would be fulfilled. I can guarantee you that after those nine months, Zacharias never questioned God or what God could do, including his son’s faithful ministry in preparing the people for the coming of God. Why? Because, he not only saw an angel, but he couldn’t speak for nine months and because his wife did become pregnant and gave birth to a son…a son of God with whom the Spirit of God dwelt. Zacharias’ faithful ministry and ritual had become real.
It is interesting, that having been quantifiably-graced, Elizabeth remains in quiet seclusion as her baby grows within her womb, and everyday, she is reminded God is.
So What? How?
Thanksgiving…Tough week of counseling. Some things never seem to change. Took some major hits, not so much me, but people I was helping. All I can say is that sin, change, true change, authentic repentance, dishonesty, coverups, deception are all so difficult. Things are usually never as easy as one hopes, thus love’s importance, because love digs, love tries, love never quits, and never quitting may take a long long time. Love exposes…am I doing this in my time and power or God’s? Am I in this for the long haul, or is this just another task? Love crushes my flesh. Despite, experiencing some tough sledding this week, hope prevails. Situations that could have ended badly, did not. How? I have no clue. God? Sometimes, I think I am along for the ride…God’s ride. Nevertheless, I ride, and for that I am truly thankful. I am alive. I love my wife.
Struggle…Persevering, as God uses me to nail seemingly Spiritual Jello to a tree, while at the same time, there are some things I need to finish writing.
Truth…Be faithful; never take ministry or worship for granted. God is there. God is always there. And when God chooses to lead or move or speak, he will, and when he does, trust it, follow it and speak of his glory and greatness.
Application…Be faithful, do my homework, do my research, be faithful to my students and future readers so that just as Dr. Luke wrote two thousand years, I too can say, dear Lover of God, what I have written is well-researched and true. You can trust what you have been taught.
Scripture quotations, unless noted otherwise, are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version‚ NIV‚ Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.