Luke is a Gentile who traveled a great deal with the Apostle Paul even to the end and as such had a great number of contacts in the Christian community including the apostles of the Lord. The Book of Luke and the Book of Acts form a two part series he wrote to Theophilus of whom we know little. We don't know whether this Theophilus was a Christian or pagan or even if it refers to an individual.
However what is emphasized in both introductions is the historic basis of the faith. The author was clearly communicating as Peter also wrote: "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty."2Peter 1:16 (niv) These are not myths or folklore. Rather these are actual historical accounts. To believe otherwise would not qualify one to be legitimately reckoned a "Christian" according to the Bible. Furthermore, Christian faith is not contrary to historic fact, but rather embraces it. For what has happened is truth. And the basis of Christian faith is not mere teachings or speculation, but rather historic facts.
The "course of Abia": the class or course itself of priests who for a week at a time performed the duties of the priestly office. David divided the priests into twenty four classes, each of which in its turn discharged the duties of the office for an entire week, from sabbath to sabbath
Only the descendants of Aaron (Moses' brother) could be priests.
6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
This is not to say that they were sinless, but rather were not subject
to reproach for a gross violation of the law. We see this in a similar
sense in Timothy and Titus with respect to the chosing of spiritual leaders,
1Ti 3:2 "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;..." The apostle Paul even described himself before he was saved as "blameless" even though he persecuted Christians, Php 3:6"Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" However Zacharias and Elizabeth were not only blameless with respect to the law, but also righteous in God's sight. (One doesn't always go with the other)
7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
One is reminded of Abraham's wife Sarah who also was barren, but bore Isaac in her old age. And also Hannah who was also barren, but after praying bore the prophet Samuel.
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.
"It was only once in a lifetime that a priest obtained the lot of going into the sanctuary, (not the outer courts) and burning incense on the golden altar." (Robertson's Word Pictures)
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.
The Altar Incense was just in front of the Veil that separated the Holy
Place from the Most Holy Place
See The Tabernacle. Rev 5:8 and Rev 8:3,4 reveal that the incense represents the prayers of the saints. So it is quite appropriate that the people are praying at the same time as the incense is offered.
12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell
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.
So we see many analogies to events in the Old Testament
Elijah (Elias) is significant when you consider the famous incident when he challenged the prophets of Baal and called fire down from heaven, which led to the people of Israel to repentant from their Baal worship to return to the Lord. (1Kings 18:20-40)
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.
Gabriel first shows up in the book of Daniel (Dan 8:16; 9:21). He gave Daniel understanding of prophetic visions.
Zacharias' response is not uncommon. For example when God promised Abraham that Sarah, who was also old and barren, would have a son, Abraham responded thusly:
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" And Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!" Gen 17:17,18 (niv)Sounds like unbelief to me! Yet he doesn't treat Abraham as Zacharias was treated. And below we see Mary having a similar reponse as Zacharias, yet also was not treated the same. Why? Perhaps because Zacharias was a priest and also should have been familiar with God's ability in such matters. What we learn from this is we must be careful to take God's Word seriously. The dumbness may also represent the idea that God wants only believers to speak his praise. God is not impressed when unbelievers make alot of noise in artificial praise.
vs 25 - The Jewish society looked down upon barren women, as baring children - especially a son - was reckoned the main role of women. And we see similar attitudes in the stories of Hannah and Sarah.
To be "espoused" or "betrothed" or "pledged" is likened to a very serious engagement period. This lasts for a year before the wedding but during this time the couple is called husband and wife even though the marriage hasn't yet take place and the marriage has not been consummated.
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.
While the proud fill themselves with their own praise in the imaginations of their hearts, the humble are taken by surprise when they learn that God highly favors them.
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?
While bearing children in old age had been done before, giving birth as a virgin had been unheard of, but for the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (niv) Perhaps the uniqueness of this birth is the reason why Gabriel didn't react the same way as with Zacharias.
Jesus was not an uncommon name. It means "Jehovah is salvation". It's
a variation of Joshua.
The Messiah was to be the eternal King of Israel in the line of David as was prophecied. (Isaiah 9:7)
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.
Here's a case against abortion. Elizabeth was just starting her third trimester and John was not only a person, but quite aware of what was going on around him. And notice how Elizabeth interprets this, whereas the carnal can't see past the physical.
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.
Notice how faith is exalted - the faith of both Elizabeth and Mary. This faith was not blind, but based upon the prophecies and the vision of the angels, and such visions were confirmed by the physical evidence of the pregnancies. Christian faith is not a blind faith. It is based upon miracles declared according to the Word of God.
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.
Normally we think of God as saving us from our sins. But here Mary considers also the idea of salvation from humiliation. But in what sense does she speak of being of low estate or low degree? Is she speaking of what people think of her, or what she thinks of herself? It is apparent that God thinks highly of her, which should also be her attitude, since it is true. I think she is speaking of how she is treated in the world. Her worldly circumstances were humiliating in that people in the world looked down upon her.
Much as many among Catholics exalt Mary as individual, it seems that she viewed herself in a category of people. And it is in that context that she gives praise to God. She views herself in that category of people who are:
Furthermore, she has in her mind all of Israel and God's fulfillment of prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah.
56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
She probably stayed up to John's birth, being also her first trimester. The fellowship was no doubt a source of strength in the time of trouble to come.
Zac had in mind the Messianic Kingdom here. It is apparent that he sensed enemies around him.
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.
But Zac didn't have just in mind salvation from enemies, but also salvation from sin. Today we tend only to think of one (forgiveness) and not the other. Much as John is thought to be preaching a gospel of law, in reality he preached of grace through forgiveness of sins. But in the process of doing so he also spoke much of sin (just as Paul in the frist two and a half chapters of Romans) in order to draw them to God's grace.
80 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.