Taking Away Reproach


I. The Necessity of a True History – 1:1-4

A. Reconstitution of those things that have been carried out in full (1). The beginning assumption is that Christ’s earthly mission has been completed. Luke sees the importance of a narrative that sets the events in a context to demonstrate the viability of the immediate interpretation placed on these events by the apostolic preachers of the gospel. Luke accompanied Paul and wrote this gospel as a prelude to his record of the preaching and actions of the apostles.

B. Handed on by eyewitnesses and servants of the Word (2). Though Luke was not an eyewitness of the events of the life of Christ, he knew that what he was hearing from the apostles demanded a substantial historical account of the life, actions, and teachings of Christ. He, therefore, employed the accounts of eyewitnesses in crafting this discussion of Jesus’ messianic claim.

C. Follow by careful research from the first events of this happening. Luke had searched out the compiled narratives and the eyewitnesses as far back as the initial events leading to the birth of John the Baptist. Not only the witnesses but the interplay of the persons involved in the following narrative served as a powerful witness to the purposive flow of events culminating in the crucifixion and resurrection and appearances. These were not historical accidents, but all came about in the pursuit of a plan.

D. An orderly, well-arranged, account in Writing – This does not mean that everything is necessarily in chronological order but is arranged carefully to make the point that Jesus in his redemptive work is fulfilling that which was prophesied about him. Luke selects his historical events and arranges them, not to create a false impression but to show definitively that Jesus is indeed “a Savior, Christ, the Lord.”

E. To know unfailingly the things you have been taught – These things concern the fulfillment of prophecy, the nature of the miracles, the appearances and instructions after the resurrection, and the events of Luke’s record of the acts of the apostles in pursuit of the command of Jesus.


II. Historical Setting and Persons – 1:5-7

A. Time – Herod was king of Judea (See also Matthew 2:1) .He had been appointed king by Rome around 40 B.C. and had assumed the reign around 37B.C. He ruled till around 4 B. C. according to comparison with the dates of contemporaries. He was near the end of his reign but still manifest a deeply suspicious and possessive outlook. He was brutal and deceitful. The Son of God did not choose an easy time to be born as a man into human society.

B. Persons – Zacharias and Elizabeth

  1. Zacharias fittingly by the law of Moses was a descendant of Aaron. He was of the division of Abijah, one of 24 divisions of the priesthood made by David according to 1 Chronicles 24. See verse 1, 4, 10. Each division served in Jerusalem for two weeks, separate sessions of one week each. All the divisions were there to serve during four festival weeks of the year. Elizabeth also was the name of the wife of Aaron (Exodus 6:23).
  2. Character
  • The text tells that “Both were righteous in the sight of God walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” Malachi 3:18 describes such godliness as a precursor to the coming of the “great and dreadful day of the Lord” when the forerunner, Elijah the prophet, also shall appear (Malachi 4:50). “Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” Zachariah and Elizabeth were righteous in their devotion to the Lord’s service.
  • The announcement of Gabriel in 13-17 draws attention to the passage in Malachi and how their own attitude of service and obedience was an element of the messianic expectation.
  • This description does not mean that Zacharias and Elizabeth were not sinful and did not need justification, but that he consciously served God in accordance with the revealed requirements of his office and sought to do it heartily. They saw the law, including its ceremonial provisions at the time, as a picture of why sinners needed mercy, how God would show it, and how mercy-receiving sinners could live for the praise and honor of God.
  1. Condition – What is the importance of this?
  • In spite of a long marriage, she was childless because she was barren. So it was with Hannah (1 Samuel 1:2). Now in addition to being barren from her youth, she was of old age, beyond the time when women are able to conceive.
  • Obviously when God placed such importance on women bearing children, to be barren seemed to be the result of some divine retribution. This happened, however, in order that the miraculous nature of this conception would give Mary at least one person that would believe her, rejoice with her, and receive her during a very delicate time of her young life.


III. Specific Circumstances of the Announcement – 1:8-10

A. Zacharias was ministering according to the orderly arrangement agreed upon by the priests.

B. Chosen by lot to enter the temple to burn the incense offering [Exodus 30:1-10] This was to be done every morning and evening. The providence that arranged for Zacharias to be selected by lot on this occasion shows the punctilious nature of how God designed his world and his redemptive purpose according to his infinite wisdom.


IV. The Appearance and the Announcement – 11-17

A. At the right of the altar of incense an Angel stood. This referred to a place of acceptance and mercy, even as Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. Even though the position was not ominous but favorable, the appearance of such a glorious figure struck fear into Zacharias.

B. Your petition has been heard. The angel, Gabriel, called Zacharias by name and assured him that he had nothing to fear from this appearance. What was this petition. If for a son for them, the prayer probably was given some years back at a time when Elizabeth was younger. God answers the prayer of his people in his own time and according to the plans of his providence. If the prayer was for the coming of the Messiah, which it probably could have been in light of the specific service of Zacharias at this time, then the answer includes both the prayer of years gone by and the immediate request for divine deliverance. Zecharias’ song in verse 67-79 show that he saw this announcement in that light. Here is what the angel said.

  1. Elizabeth will bear a son. So long delayed but now propitiously granted, the son would be the one prophesied. This was not only the answer to a prayer, but the fulfillment of a prophetic promise.
  2. His name will be John. In accordance with the role of this son, he would be called “Jehovah is gracious.” Even the name became an evidence of the divine intervention (verse 60, 61).
  3. Joy will come, yours and that of many. At his birth many rejoiced and in his ministry many were made glad by his message (John 5:35).

C. This child was marked out for Greatness by God.

  1. He was to be great in the Sight of the Lord (15). Jesus called him the greatest to be born among women up to that point. (Luke 7:24-28). What is his greatness? His place as the last of the prophets and the only one that actually saw the Christ and touched him and spoke with him constituted his greatness. He preached the message that the kingdom now was to be given to those who would repent, align themselves with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and forsake all and follow him (John 7:29, 30).
  2. Externally he would be marked out by a particular type of life manifesting absolute sobriety. He would not be devoted to any degree of personal comfort or pleasure but wholly given during his short ministry to receiving revelation from God, avoiding ease and choosing an undistracted concentration on the confrontive message of repentance. From his mother’s womb, he was to be filled with the Spirit. No wonder he leaped when the Son of God even in his mother’s womb came near (Luke 1:43, 44).
  3. By his call to repentance and baptism, John would turn many Israelites back to the Lord and would point to Jesus as the Lamb of God (Matthew 3; John 1:19-35).
  4. John would be a fulfillment of Prophecy.
  • He would be the “Messenger” that came before the Lord (Malachi 3:1, Isaiah 40:3; cf. Lk 1:76; 3:4; 7:27).
  • He would be the Elijah that was to come (Mal 4:5) who would turn and prepare people for the Lord (Malachi 4:6; Matthew 11:12-15).


V. A delay in the opportunity for Proclamation – 1:18-20; 67-79

A. Zacharias requested knowledge superior to the announcement from one of God’s own messengers. This brought upon him the temporary inability to proclaim the wonder of this miracle and its meaning. What more could be asked than a revelation from God through his angel? But Zacharias asked, “How will I know this?” No greater indication of the certainty of the truth of a proposition can be asked than the one given to Zacharias.

B. The angel gave his name and his privileged position. In addition, he told him that his mission focused specifically on this announcement from God. How could any greater assurance be given than an immediate word?

C. Eventually Zacharias would have a loosed tongue and be able to announce all that was involved in the birth of this child.

  • In this birth we could find the soon coming of redemption as a fulfilment of prophecy and covenant (67-74).
  • God’s people would serve him, not as the Pharisees or the Scribes, but in sincere pursuit of holy service (75).
  • John’s activity would be specifically to prepare the people for the Messiah as a redeemer from sin, darkness, and rebellion (76-79).


VI. The fulfillment of the angel’s predictions (21-25)

A. If there were any lingering question in the mind of Zacharias, his immediate muteness in the light of such intense excitement from the people sealed the truth of this revelation. The people saw from two things that this was beyond the normal priestly service. He was delayed in finishing the burning of incense, indicating that something beyond the normal function of the day had occurred. Second, and most startling, he was mute and sought to indicate by signs what had happened. They did conclude that he had seen a vision.

B. In accord with the announcement of the angel, his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant. God had taken away the reproach of barrenness from her and, at the same time, ended the centuries of barrenness in prophetic fulfillment. The longed-for redemption now moved rapidly into the life of Israel and the world: “A light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel (Luke 2:31).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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