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1. Birth of John the Baptist
1Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, 2even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, 3it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus; 4that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed. 5There was in the days of Herod, king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah: and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. 8Now it came to pass, while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, 9according to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to enter into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the hour of incense. 11And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of altar of incense. 12And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: because thy supplication is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16And many of the children of Israel shall be turn unto the Lord their God. 17And he shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him. 18And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings. 20And behold, thou shalt be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall come to pass, because thou believedst not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marvelled while he tarried in the temple. 22And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: and he continued making signs unto them, and remained dumb. 23And it came to pass, when the days of his ministration were fulfilled, he departed unto his house. 24And after these days Elisabeth his wife conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25Thus hath the Lord done unto me in the days wherein he looked upon me, to take away my reproach among men. 26Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee. 29But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be. 30And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. 31And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God. 36And behold, Elisabeth thy kinswoman, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren. 37For no word from God shall be void of power. 38And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. 39And Mary arose in these days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; 40and entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elisabeth. 41And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit; 42and she lifted up her voice with a loud cry, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me? 44For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45And blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a fulfilment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord. 46And Mary said,
My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48For he hath looked upon the low estate of his handmaid:
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49For he that is mighty hath done to me great things;
And holy is his name.
50And his mercy is unto generations and generations
On them that fear him.
51He hath showed strength with his arm;
He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.
52He hath put down princes from their thrones,
And hath exalted them of low degree.
53The hungry he hath filled with good things;
And the rich he hath sent empty away.
54He hath given help to Israel his servant,
That he might remember mercy
55(As he spake unto our fathers)
Toward Abraham and his seed for ever.
56And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned unto her house. 57Now Elisabeth's time was fulfilled that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58And her neighbors and her kinsfolk heard that the Lord had magnified his mercy towards her; and they rejoiced with her. 59And it came to pass on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him Zacharias, after the name of the father. 60And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. 61And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62And they made signs to his father, what he would have him called. 63And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. 64And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, blessing God. 65And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 66And all that heard them laid them up in their heart, saying, What then shall this child be? For the hand of the Lord was with him. 67And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,
68Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
For he hath visited and wrought redemption for his people,
69And hath raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of his servant David
70(As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been from of old),
71Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72To show mercy towards, our fathers,
And to remember his holy covenant;
73The oath which he spake unto Abraham our father,
74To grant unto us that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies
Should serve him without fear,
75In holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76Yea and thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High:
For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways;
77To give knowledge of salvation unto his people
In the remission of their sins,
78Because of the tender mercy of our God,
Whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us,
79To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death;
To guide our feet into the way of peace.
80And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel.
It appears from the Acts of the Apostles, and the Apostolic Epistles, that the earliest preaching of the Gospel consisted of a brief summary of the facts of our Lord's earthly history, with a few words of pointed application to the parties addressed. Of these astonishing facts, notes would naturally be taken and digests put into circulation. It is to such that Luke here refers; and in terms of studied respect, as narratives of what was "believed surely," or "on sure grounds" among Christians, and drawn up from the testimony of "eye-witnesses and ministering servants of the word." But when he adds that "it seemed good to him also to write in order, having traced down all things with exactness from their first rise," it is a virtual claim for his own Gospel to supersede these "many" narratives. Accordingly, while not one of them has survived the wreck of time, this and the other canonical Gospels live, and shall live, the only fitting vehicles of those life-bringing facts which have made all things new. Apocryphal or spurious gospels, upheld by parties unfriendly to the truths exhibited in the canonical Gospels, have not perished; but those well-meant and substantially correct narratives here referred to, used only while better were not to be had, were by tacit consent allowed to merge in the four peerless documents which from age to age, and with astonishing unanimity, have been accepted as the written charter of all Christianity.
1. set forth in order—more simply, to draw up a narrative.
2. from the beginning—that is, of His public ministry, as is plain from what follows.
3. from the very first—that is, from the very earliest events; referring to those precious details of the birth and early life, not only of our Lord, but of His forerunner, which we owe to Luke alone.
in order—or "consecutively"—in contrast, probably, with the disjointed productions to which he had referred. But this must not be pressed too far; for, on comparing it with the other Gospels, we see that in some particulars the strict chronological order is not observed in this Gospel.
most excellent—or "most noble"—a title of rank applied by this same writer twice to Felix and once to Festus (Ac 22:26; 24:3; 26:25). It is likely, therefore, that "Theophilus" was chief magistrate of some city in Greece or Asia Minor [Webster and Wilkinson].
4. that thou mightest know—"know thoroughly."
hast been instructed—orally instructed—literally, "catechized" or "catechetically taught," at first as a catechumen or candidate for Christian baptism.
Lu 1:5-25. Announcement of the Forerunner.
5. Herod—(See on Mt 2:1).
course of Abia—or Abijah; the eighth of the twenty-four orders of courses into which David divided the priests (see 1Ch 24:1, 4, 10). Of these courses only four returned after the captivity (Ezr 2:34-39), which were again subdivided into twenty-four—retaining the ancient name and order of each. They took the whole temple service for a week each.
his wife was of the daughters of Aaron—The priests might marry into any tribe, but "it was most commendable of all to marry one of the priests' line" [Lightfoot].
6. commandments and ordinances—The one expressing their moral—the other their ceremonial—obedience [Calvin and Bengel], (Compare Eze 11:20; Heb 9:1). It has been denied that any such distinction was known to the Jews and New Testament writers. But Mr 12:33, and other passages, put this beyond all reasonable doubt.
7. So with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Elkanah and Hannah, Manoah and his wife.
9. his lot was to burn incense—The part assigned to each priest in his week of service was decided by lot. Three were employed at the offering of incense—to remove the ashes of the former service; to bring in and place on the golden altar the pan filled with hot burning coals taken from the altar of burnt offering; and to sprinkle the incense on the hot coals; and, while the smoke of it ascended, to make intercession for the people. This was the most distinguished part of the service (Re 8:3), and this was what fell to the lot of Zacharias at this time [Lightfoot].
10. praying without—outside the court in front of the temple, where stood the altar of burnt offering; the men and women in separate courts, but the altar visible to all.
the time of incense—which was offered along with the morning and evening sacrifice of every day; a beautiful symbol of the acceptableness of the sacrifice offered on the altar of burnt offering, with coals from whose altar the incense was burnt (Le 16:12, 13). This again was a symbol of the "living sacrifice" of themselves and their services offered daily to God by the worshippers. Hence the language of Ps 141:2; Re 8:3. But that the acceptance of this daily offering depended on the expiatory virtue presupposed in the burnt offering, and pointing to the one "sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savor" (Eph 5:2), is evident from Isa 6:6, 7.
11. right side—the south side, between the altar and the candlestick, Zacharias being on the north side, in front of the altar, while offering incense [Webster and Wilkinson]. But why there? The right was the favorable side (Mt 25:33) [Schottgen and Westein in Meyer]; compare Mr 16:5.
13. thy prayer is heard—doubtless for offspring, which by some presentiment he even yet had not despaired of.
John—the same as "Johanan," so frequent in the Old Testament, meaning "Jehovah's gracious gift."
drink neither wine nor strong drink—that is, shall be a Nazarite, or "a separated one" (Nu 6:2, &c.). As the leper was the living symbol of sin, so was the Nazarite of holiness; nothing inflaming was to cross his lips; no razor to come on his head; no ceremonial defilement to be contracted. Thus was he to be "holy to the Lord [ceremonially] all the days of his separation." This separation was in ordinary cases temporary and voluntary: only Samson (Jud 13:7), Samuel (1Sa 1:11), and John Baptist were Nazarites from the womb. It was fitting that the utmost severity of legal consecration should be seen in Christ's forerunner. He was the Reality and Perfection of the Nazarite without the symbol, which perished in that living realization of it: "Such an High Priest became us, who was Separate from Sinners" (Heb 7:26).
filled with the Holy Ghost, from … womb—a holy vessel for future service.
16, 17. A religious and moral reformer, Elijah-like, he should be (Mal 4:6, where the "turning of the people's heart to the Lord" is borrowed from 1Ki 18:37). In both cases their success, though great, was partial—the nation was not gained.
17. before him—before "the Lord their God" (Lu 1:16). By comparing this with Mal 3:1 and Isa 40:3, it is plainly "Jehovah" in the flesh of Messiah [Calvin and Olshausen] before whom John was to go as a herald to announce His approach, and a pioneer o prepare His way.
in the spirit—after the model.
and power of Elias—not his miraculous power, for John did no miracle" (Joh 10:41), but his power "turning the heart," or with like success in his ministry. Both fell on degenerate times; both witnessed fearlessly for God; neither appeared much save in the direct exercise of their ministry; both were at the head of schools of disciples; the success of both was similar.
fathers to the children—taken literally, this denotes the restoration of parental fidelity [Meyer and others], the decay of which is the beginning of religious and social corruption—one prominent feature of the coming revival being put for the whole. But what follows, explanatory of this, rather suggests a figurative sense. If "the disobedient" be "the children," and to "the fathers" belongs "the wisdom of the just" [Bengel], the meaning will be, "he shall bring back the ancient spirit of the nation into their degenerate children" [Calvin, &c.]. So Elijah invoked "the God Abraham, Isaac, and Israel," when seeking to "turn their heart back again" (1Ki 18:36, 37).
to make ready, &c.—more clearly, "to make ready for the Lord a prepared people," to have in readiness a people prepared to welcome Him. Such preparation requires, in every age and every soul, an operation corresponding to the Baptist's ministry.
18. Whereby, &c.—Mary believed what was far harder without a sign. Abraham, though older, and doubtless Sarah, too, when the same promise was made to him, "staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God." This was that in which Zacharias failed.
stand, &c.—as his attendant (compare 1Ki 17:1).
not able—deprived of the power of speech (Lu 1:64). He asked a sign, and now he got it.
until the day that these things shall be performed—See on Lu 1:64.
21. waited—to receive from him the usual benediction (Nu 6:23-27).
tarried so long—It was not usual to tarry long, lest it should be thought vengeance had stricken the people's representative for something wrong [Lightfoot].
22. speechless—dumb, and deaf also (see Lu 1:62).
24. hid five months—till the event was put beyond doubt and became apparent.
Lu 1:26-38. Annunciation of Christ.
(See on Mt 1:18-21).
26. sixth month—of Elisabeth's time.
Joseph, of the house of David—(See on Mt 1:16).
28. highly favoured—a word only once used elsewhere (Eph 1:6, "made accepted"): compare Lu 1:30, "Thou hast found favour with God." The mistake of the Vulgate's rendering, "full of grace," has been taken abundant advantage of by the Romish Church. As the mother of our Lord, she was the most "blessed among women" in external distinction; but let them listen to the Lord's own words. "Nay, rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it." (See on Lu 11:27).
31. The angel purposely conforms his language to Isaiah's famous prophecy (Isa 7:14) [Calvin].
34. How, &c.—not the unbelief of Zacharias, "Whereby shall I know this?" but, taking the fact for granted, "How is it to be, so contrary to the unbroken law of human birth?" Instead of reproof, therefore, her question is answered in mysterious detail.
35. Holy Ghost—(See on Mt 1:18).
power of the highest—the immediate energy of the Godhead conveyed by the Holy Ghost.
overshadow—a word suggesting how gentle, while yet efficacious, would be this Power [Bengel]; and its mysterious secrecy, withdrawn, as if by a cloud, from human scrutiny [Calvin].
that holy thing born of thee—that holy Offspring of thine.
therefore … Son of God—That Christ is the Son of God in His divine and eternal nature is clear from all the New Testament; yet here we see that Sonship efflorescing into human and palpable manifestation by His being born, through "the power of the Highest," an Infant of days. We must neither think of a double Sonship, as some do, harshly and without all ground, nor deny what is here plainly expressed, the connection between His human birth and His proper personal Sonship.
36. thy cousin—"relative," but how near the word says not.
conceived, &c.—This was to Mary an unsought sign, in reward of her faith.
37. For, &c.—referring to what was said by the angel to Abraham in like case (Ge 18:14), to strengthen her faith.
38. Marvellous faith in such circumstances!
Lu 1:39-56. Visit of Mary to Elisabeth.
39. hill country—the mountainous tract running along the middle of Judea, from north to south [Webster and Wilkinson].
with haste—transported with the announcement to herself and with the tidings, now first made known to her, of Elisabeth's condition.
40. saluted Elisabeth—now returned from her seclusion (Lu 1:24).
41. babe leaped—From Lu 1:44 it is plain that this maternal sensation was something extraordinary—a sympathetic emotion of the unconscious babe, at the presence of the mother of his Lord.
42-44. What beautiful superiority to envy have we here! High as was the distinction conferred upon herself, Elisabeth loses sight of it altogether, in presence of one more honored still; upon whom, with her unborn Babe, in an ecstasy of inspiration, she pronounces a benediction, feeling it to be a wonder unaccountable that "the mother of her Lord should come to her." "Turn this as we will, we shall never be able to see the propriety of calling an unborn child "Lord," but by supposing Elisabeth, like the prophets of old, enlightened to perceive the Messiah's Divine nature" [Olshausen].
45. An additional benediction on the Virgin for her implicit faith, in tacit and delicate contrast with her own husband.
for—rather, as in the Margin, "that."
46-55. A magnificent canticle, in which the strain of Hannah's ancient song, in like circumstances, is caught up, and just slightly modified and sublimed. Is it unnatural to suppose that the spirit of the blessed Virgin had been drawn beforehand into mysterious sympathy with the ideas and the tone of this hymn, so that when the life and fire of inspiration penetrated her whole soul it spontaneously swept the chorus of this song, enriching the Hymnal of the Church with that spirit-stirring canticle which has resounded ever since from its temple walls? In both songs, those holy women, filled with wonder to behold "the proud, the mighty, the rich," passed by, and, in their persons the lowliest chosen to usher in the greatest events, sing of this as no capricious movement, but a great law of the kingdom of God, by which He delights to "put down the mighty from their seats and exalt them of low degree." In both songs the strain dies away on Christ; in Hannah's under the name of "Jehovah's King"—to whom, through all His line, from David onwards to Himself, He will "give strength"; His "Anointed," whose horn He will exalt (1Sa 2:10); in the Virgin's song, it is as the "Help" promised to Israel by all the prophets.
My soul … my spirit—"all that is within me" (Ps 103:1).
47. my Saviour—Mary, poor heart, never dreamt, we see, of her own "immaculate conception"—in the offensive language of the Romanists—any more than of her own immaculate life.
54. holpen—Compare Ps 89:19, "I have laid help on One that is mighty."
for ever—the perpetuity of Messiah's kingdom, as expressly promised by the angel (Lu 1:33).
56. abode with her about three months—What an honored roof was that which, for such a period, overarched these cousins! and yet not a trace of it is now to be seen, while the progeny of those two women—the one but the honored pioneer of the other—have made the world new.
returned to her own house—at Nazareth, after which took place what is recorded in Mt 1:18-25.
Lu 1:57-80. Birth and Circumcision of John—Song of Zacharias and Progress of the Child.
called him—literally, "were calling"—that is, (as we should say) "were for calling." The naming of children at baptism has its origin in the Jewish custom at circumcision (Ge 21:3, 4); and the names of Abram and Sarai were changed at its first performance (Ge 17:5, 15).
62. made signs—showing he was deaf, as well as dumb.
63. marvelled all—at his giving the same name, not knowing of any communication between them on the subject.
68-79. There is not a word in this noble burst of divine song about his own child; like Elisabeth losing sight entirely of self, in the glory of a Greater than both.
Lord God of Israel—the ancient covenant God of the peculiar people.
visited and redeemed—that is, in order to redeem: returned after long absence, and broken His long silence (see Mt 15:31). In the Old Testament, God is said to "visit" chiefly for judgment, in the New Testament for mercy. Zacharias would, as yet, have but imperfect views of such "visiting and redeeming," "saving from and delivering out of the hand of enemies" (Lu 1:71, 74). But this Old Testament phraseology, used at first with a lower reference, is, when viewed in the light of a loftier and more comprehensive kingdom of God, equally adapted to express the most spiritual conceptions of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
69. horn of salvation—that is "strength of salvation," or "mighty Salvation," meaning the Saviour Himself, whom Simeon calls "Thy Salvation" (Lu 2:30). The metaphor is taken from those animals whose strength is in their horns (Ps 18:2; 75:10; 132:17).
house of … David—This shows that Mary must have been known to be of the royal line, independent of Joseph; of whom Zacharias, if he knew anything, could not know that after this he would recognize Mary.
70. since the world began—or, "from the earliest period."
72. the mercy promised … his holy covenant …
73. the oath … to … Abraham—The whole work and kingdom of Messiah is represented as a mercy pledged on oath to Abraham and his seed, to be realized at an appointed period; and at length, in "the fulness of the time," gloriously made good. Hence, not only "grace," or the thing promised; but "truth," or fidelity to the promise, are said to "come by Jesus Christ" (Joh 1:17).
74, 75. That he would grant us, &c.—How comprehensive is the view here given! (1) The purpose of all redemption—"that we should serve Him"—that is, "the Lord God of Israel" (Lu 1:68). The word signifies religious service distinctively—"the priesthood of the New Testament" [Bengel]. (2) The nature of this service—"in holiness and righteousness before Him" (Lu 1:75)—or, as in His presence (compare Ps 56:13). (3) Its freedom—"being delivered out of the hand of our enemies." (4) Its fearlessness—"might serve Him without fear." (5) Its duration—"all the days of our life."
76-79. Here are the dying echoes of this song; and very beautiful are these closing notes—like the setting sun, shorn indeed of its noontide radiance, but skirting the horizon with a wavy and quivering light—as of molten gold—on which the eye delights to gaze, till it disappears from the view. The song passes not here from Christ to John, but only from Christ direct to Christ as heralded by His forerunner.
thou child—not "my son"—this child's relation to himself being lost in his relation to a Greater than either.
prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before him—that is, "the Highest." As "the Most High" is an epithet in Scripture only of the supreme God, it is inconceivable that inspiration should apply this term, as here undeniably, to Christ, unless He were "God over all blessed for ever" (Ro 9:5).
77. to give knowledge of salvation—To sound the note of a needed and provided "salvation" was the noble office of John, above all that preceded him; as it is that of all subsequent ministers of Christ; but infinitely loftier was it to be the "Salvation" itself (Lu 1:69 and Lu 2:30).
78. Through the tender mercy of our God—the sole spring, necessarily, of all salvation for sinners.
dayspring from on high—either Christ Himself, as the "Sun of righteousness" (Mal 4:2), arising on a dark world [Beza, Grotius, Calvin, De Wette, Olshausen, &c.], or the light which He sheds. The sense, of course, is one.
79. (Compare Isa 9:2; Mt 4:13-17). "That St. Luke, of all the Evangelists, should have obtained and recorded these inspired utterances of Zacharias and Mary—is in accordance with his character and habits, as indicated in Lu 1:1-4" [Webster and Wilkinson].
80. And the child, &c.—"a concluding paragraph, indicating, in strokes full of grandeur, the bodily and mental development of the Baptist; and bringing his life up to the period of his public appearance" [Olshausen].
in the deserts—probably "the wilderness of Judea" (Mt 3:1), whither he had retired early in life, in the Nazarite spirit, and where, free from rabbinical influences and alone with God, his spirit would be educated, like Moses in the desert, for his future high vocation.
his showing unto Israel—the presentation of himself before his nation, as Messiah's forerunner.