“Your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,
and you shall call his name John” ~ Luke 1:13b NIV
Join us as we examine the events surrounding the first Christmas over 2000 years ago. Please grab your Bible, read Luke chapter one, and let’s begin.
The nation of Israel was under Roman rule at the time of Jesus’ first coming and had actually been an occupied country for six centuries. The last word from God was given over 400 years before when God promised a messenger would be sent (Malachi 3:1) and that Elijah would come (Malachi 4:5).
In verses 5-7, Luke introduces Zacharias and Elizabeth, both of the priestly line of Aaron. They walked righteously before God, but they were very elderly and had suffered from the social stigma of barrenness.
One special day, Zacharias was chosen by lot to burn incense in the Temple (probably the only time in his life he would have this privilege because he was only one of Aaron’s many descendants). A large crowd prayed outside as Zacharias burned incense, and prayed, in the room called the “Holy Place” of the Temple. Suddenly, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias and told him that God was answering his prayer (verse 13).
What was that prayer? Zacharias may have been praying that day, representing the people of Israel, for the coming of the Messiah and for Israel’s deliverance from foreign rule. Zacharias and Elizabeth had probably given up long ago praying for a baby! God told Zacharias through Gabriel that both his prayers for a child and for the Messiah were going to be answered.
Faith Lesson #1: God doesn’t forget our prayers, but answers in His timing.
Faith Lesson #2: God chose to reveal the coming of His Son to the simple and common people. God didn’t send an angel to Caesar, Herod the king, or the Jewish High Priest. Rather, He chose people who walked humbly and righteously before Him, like Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.
Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist and prophesied about his life and ministry (verses 14 – 17). He said John would be the fulfillment of the prophecies in Malachi and would prepare the way for the Messiah in the “spirit of Elijah” (see also the Lord’s comments in Matthew 11:7-14).
Faith Lesson #3:Throughout the Christmas story, we see how God fulfilled His plans and the prophecies given hundreds of years earlier. God worked out events to carry out His sovereign plan. In looking forward to the return of Christ, we should anticipate how God might also work in our generation.
Zacharias doubted and asked for a sign (verse 18). This very human reaction was not a good idea! Gabriel reminded him that he was a special messenger from the very throne of God. Zacharias was given a sign: he wouldn’t be able to speak (and possibly not hear as well, see verse 62).
After 400 years of silence from God, he could’ve been the first person to tell God’s people that the Messiah was coming soon. He would have even been able to announce the Good News in the Temple to those gathered for prayer. He should’ve remembered when God promised a son to Abraham and Sarah, who were also past childbearing age. He couldn’t communicate God’s message until John was born and he was miraculously restored.
Faith Lesson #4: When God reveals His plan to us, He expects us to respond in faith based on the knowledge He has already shown us. Yet, even though Zacharias doubted, God still used him later, at John’s birth, to announce the coming of the Messiah (verses 63 – 79).
We hope that these “faith lessons” from the announcement and birth of John the Baptist are helpful as you reflect on Christmas and on God’s plans for you. God has a plan and He will do it!
We hope that during this season, you will come to know God in a deeper way as Immanuel, “God with us”!
This painting of the infant John by Sir Joshua Reynolds was printed in the Bowyer’s Bible.