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Luke 1:1-2 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.

Although anonymous, this gospel was likely written by Luke, the missionary companion of the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:11), around AD 60. Luke was not an eye-witness of Jesus’ ministry, but gathered his material from people who were. He wrote so that we may know the certainty of the things [we] have been taught (Luke 1:4). Luke wants to emphasize that Christianity is not based on hearsay, but on historical facts about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A thorough knowledge of these facts can lead to religious certainty. 

Luke 1:5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah

Zechariah was married to Elizabeth, and they served God together for decades (Luke 1:7). Having walked with God for so many years, they could speak of his goodness and faithfulness. Their only disappointment was that they did not have any children.

Infertility has been a concern for many, but in Bible times it could be disastrous. Children were the means of support in old age, so the future was bleak without them. They were also considered a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3), so if you did not have children, some would think you were not being blessed. And who wants a priest who is not blessed by God?

Zechariah and Elizabeth could have become bitter, but they chose to serve God in spite of their problems. We prefer to serve God without any problems, but there will always be problems this side of heaven. Serving God in spite of our problems is part of being faithful.

Luke 1:9 [Zechariah] was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense

This was an important event for Zechariah, since many priests lived and died without ever serving inside the temple. Zechariah had probably never been inside the temple before, so this would be the high point of his ministry. The honor of serving inside the temple was so great that it had to be decided by lot. 

The lot was used out of fairness, but also to rely on the sovereignty of God. The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:33), says Proverbs. God’s sovereignty over the lot was clearly seen in the case of Zechariah, since out of the many priests available, the lot fell to him. This was precisely as God intended. 

The apostles also cast lots to replace Judas Iscariot. First they narrowed it down to two men who were equally qualified, then they prayed: Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs. Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles (Acts 1:24-26). Since God is sovereign over everything, the apostles believed that he also controlled the lots. We might reason the same way, but there is no record of lots being used after Pentecost, since guidance was sought from the Holy Spirit. 

Luke 1:10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside

The worshippers were not praying inside the temple, but outside the temple. Most religious buildings are for worshippers to go inside, but the temple was like God’s personal house (Exodus 23:19), and was not open to the public. In fact, by divine command, any unauthorized person who tried to go inside the temple was to be killed (Numbers 3:10). The temple was for God to be close to his people, but not too close, since the true payment for sin had not been made yet.

We can imagine Zechariah’s anxiety as he passed from outside the temple to inside the temple. The altar of incense was in a room called the Holy Place, and directly behind it was a room called the Most Holy Place. That was the room where God himself dwelt (Exodus 25:22). These two rooms were separated by a curtain, and only the High Priest could go behind the curtain, once a year, to offer sacrificial blood for the sins of the people (Leviticus 23).

But something amazing happened the moment Jesus died. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). This showed the way to God is now open to everyone through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We are no longer at arm’s length from God, but are warmly invited into his presence through the atoning death of Christ.

Luke 1:13 But the angel said to him: Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard

He did not say, Your prayers have been heard, but, Your prayer has been heard—as though Zechariah only had one prayer his entire adult life. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John (Luke 1:13), said the angel.

This was quite a surprise, since Zechariah and Elizabeth were both very old (Luke 1:7). In fact, it may have been years since they asked God for a son. They likely assumed it was not God’s will for them, and simply went on with their lives. But even if they stopped praying, God had not forgotten their prayer. Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son—and what a son he would be.

Reflection and Review
How can Christians be sure of their faith?
Why wasn’t God’s house open to all?
How should we respond to unanswered prayer?