April 26 – A New Beginning

First of all, I want to thank you for all the wonderful replies to the devotions. In these difficult times, the devotions also help me and the other writers on the team to stay focused on our Heavenly Father. It is so comforting to know that God is at work both in us and in all those reading the devotions.

Over the next while, we are going to read through the Gospel of Luke with some breaks here and there. Getting to know Jesus better is our focus in life, and hopefully this will help us as we face all the difficulties of living in 2021.

Luke 1: 1 – 4 NLT

“Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honourable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.”

Just who is Luke? As we read these first 4 verses, we do know his purpose in writing is for Theophilus to be certain that his Christian faith was true and he could rely on it. I decided to include an article found on gotquestions.org – a website I find very helpful in finding all sorts of information. This article is a summary from a book by Charles Swindoll – The Great Lives from God’s Word. The article tells us a lot about Luke. Knowing who Luke is helps us to be more confident that what he says is reality, truth. It also helps us in our culture with its focus on science to understand that the Bible can be relied on.

“Little is known about Luke, the author of the books of Luke and Acts in the Bible. We do know he was a physician and the only Gentile to write any part of the New Testament. Paul’s letter to the Colossians draws a distinction between Luke and other colleagues “of the circumcision,” meaning the Jews (Colossians 4:11). Luke is the only New Testament writer clearly identifiable as a non-Jew.

Luke was the author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Luke does not name himself in either of his books, but Paul mentions him by name in three epistles. Both Luke and Acts are addressed to the same person, Theophilus (Luke 1:3Acts 1:1). No one knows exactly who Theophilus was, but we know that Luke’s purpose in writing the two companion books was so that Theophilus would know with certainty about the person and work of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:4). Perhaps Theophilus had already received the basics of the Christian doctrine but had not as yet been completely grounded in them.

Luke was a close friend of Paul, who referred to him as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). Perhaps Luke’s interest in medicine is the reason his gospel gives such a high profile to Jesus’ acts of healing.

Paul also refers to Luke as a “fellow labourer” (Philemon 1:24). Luke joined Paul in Troas in Asia Minor during Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16:6–11). Some scholars speculate that Luke was the “man of Macedonia” whom Paul saw in his dream (Acts 16:9). Luke was left in Philippi during the second missionary journey (Acts 17:1) and picked up again to travel with Paul in the third journey (Acts 20:5). Luke accompanied Paul on his journey to Jerusalem and Rome and was with him during his imprisonment there (2 Timothy 4:11). Luke’s vivid description of his travels with Paul in Acts 27 seems to indicate that he was well-travelled and well-versed in navigation.

Scholars have noted that Luke had an outstanding command of the Greek language. His vocabulary is extensive and rich, and his style at times approaches that of classical Greek, as in the preface of his gospel (Luke 1:1–4), while at other times it seems quite Semitic (Luke 1:5—2:52). He was familiar with sailing and had a special love for recording geographical details. All this would indicate that Luke was a well-educated, observant, and careful writer.”

Luke 1: 5 – 25 NLT

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.

One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.

11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. 17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, (Malachi 4: 5 – 6) and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. 22 When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary.

23 When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. 24 Soon afterwards his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. 25 “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”

This was a very special day for Zechariah – the day he was chosen to burn the incense in the area in front of the Holy of Holies. According to InterVarsity Press online commentary, there were close to 20 000 priests at that time. Zechariah was chosen by lot, likely the only time in his life that he would have this particular job. As he offered the incense, he was likely thinking about God’s promises of a Messiah. He lived in a time when Israel was under the rule of the Roman Empire, and also the assigned rule of Herod who promoted temples to the Greek and Roman gods. Messiah would be so welcome at that moment in history.

Suddenly, an angel appeared to him, and told him he and his wife would have a son who would have an extraordinary life preparing “the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” (v. 17)

Just stop for a moment, and put yourself in Zechariah’s place. This is an exciting day in his life, a time when he was able to serve God in such a special way. Can you think of a moment in your life when your relationship with God was deeply moving and personal for some reason? Perhaps it was a special moment while you were serving God in some capacity. Perhaps it was a special moment when you sensed God’s leading in a decision you had to make.

At that moment for Zechariah, an angel appears and tells him he is going to have a son. Honestly, I totally understand Zechariah’s response. “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” Would he be wondering if he was dreaming or hallucinating? How often does anyone see angels, especially an angel who tells him something highly unlikely will happen? Has the incense clouded his thinking? Has his excitement over the day messed his mind?

Zechariah is not a casual follower of God. Luke tells us that “Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.” (v. 6) Yet, when the angel appears with a message, Zechariah can’t believe his eyes and ears. Have you ever questioned God’s leading in your life? Wondered why certain things happened? Like Zechariah, many of us are sincere in our faith, but at times have questions. We are human in a broken world.

This is a pivotal moment in human history. This is the beginning of God’s coming to earth. John will be the forerunner of Jesus. Nothing will be the same from this time onward. The angel deals with Zechariah’s stunned response by telling him exactly who he was – “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news!”  And then he tells Zechariah he will spend the next months is silence – deaf and unable to speak.

Was that a punishment? Maybe, a bit. Zechariah would still be able to communicate by writing and reading. But he also had months of silence to contemplate what God had told him and to get prepared to be the father of this incredible son. Those months were likely actually a blessing. Gabriel had told him what John would be like, and some of the rules that needed to be followed as John grew up. Zechariah needed time to fully comprehend the joy and the stress of being John’s dad. Even Elizabeth went into seclusion for 5 months.

Sometimes I wonder if this pandemic is a time of silence for us. It’s certainly been a time for churches to reevaluate their programs and to find effective ways to reach people. But for every one of us, it has also been a reset time as we figured out what is truly important for us. For introverted me, I discovered I need friends and family; being busy is no longer a goal of mine. I’ve also discovered my relationship with God is more important. It’s God that keeps me hopeful each day in one more day of lockdown. It’s been tough, but it’s been a learning curve too.

One thing we do know. God has definite plans for this world. God also has definite plans for each one of us. “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29: 11) Sometimes, like Zechariah, we question God and wonder what He is doing. God doesn’t reject us for that. He doesn’t get angry the way we do when we tend to walk away from frustrating situations. God is patient and helps us get back on track with him. “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2: 4)

The beginning chapters of Luke tell us the story of how God came to this earth. Despite Zechariah’s doubt, he still came. Despite our brokenness and unbelief, he still came!

Our song for today is The God of All Our Days by Casting Crowns.

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