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Luke 1:1-38 – Two Births Foretold

The story of the New Testament begins sounding very much like the Old Testament – a priest from the division of Abijah, a daughter of Aaron, righteousness described as walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord – and barrenness in a godly woman.

Zechariah was chosen by lot to burn incense in the temple offering the prayers of Israel to God on their behalf. This was not a chance occurrence of the lot but rather a choosing by God. Zechariah is an old man and had probably waited his entire life for this once in a lifetime opportunity.

As he is praying there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense who instructed him with the following words: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” What had Zechariah been praying? Most likely there and then Zechariah had been praying for the people of Israel. His prayers for himself and a son would have long ago fallen silent – but God remembers our long-forgotten prayers. Nevertheless, Zechariah’s long-forgotten prayers and his immediate prayers for the nation come together in what Gabriel announces – the coming birth of John the Baptizer.

John would be a Nazarite from birth and for life. He would be the promised prophet like Elijah spoken of in Malachi. He would go before the Lord preparing Israel for God’s arrival by calling for repentance. John’s birth signaled the beginning of God’s saving work.

Unfortunately, Zechariah responds in unbelief – how shall I know this? He should have believed Gabriel’s words because Gabriel stands in the presence of God and was sent to bring this good news. Unbelieving Zechariah is struck with deafness and muteness – he did not hear so he cannot hear, he did not speak in believing so he cannot speak.

Zechariah’s encounter with Gabriel takes place at the center of the Jewish world, the Holy Place, only a veiled doorway from the presence of God’s glory. Next the angel Gabriel appears to a young girl, far away from the temple mount in Jerusalem, to Nazareth in Galilee — insignificant, despised, unclean. far away from the Jerusalem temple betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.

Mary believes the words spoken to her – she will miraculously conceive a son to whom the throne of David will be given – Jesus. She asks: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Zechariah had asked how he could know what he had been told, Mary asks how what she had been told would happen – a big difference! Gabriel replies: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” Mary responds to God’s word by confessing herself a servant of the Lord and submitting to God’s purpose.

The old priest Zechariah and the young girl Mary contrast differing responses to the good news. One would have expected Zechariah to have the greater spiritual credentials but surprisingly it is a young girl who believes. Mary hears and speaks in faith and so she continues to hear and speak, unlike Zechariah.