The Gospel of Luke – Herod the Great and the Righteous Couple (Luke 1:5-7)

Today’s message summary of February 4, 2018 from Assistant Pastor Travis Jackson:

The name of Adolf Hitler is often associated with evil.  He was opposed by German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was also a spy and anti-Nazi dissident.  It was Bonhoeffer who was a leader against Hitler’s dictatorship and he was arrested and eventually sent to a Nazi concentration camp, where he was  eventually executed.  Hitler and Bonhoeffer is a contrast between good and evil, where Hitler is darkness and Bonhoeffer is light.

In the gospel of Luke, we see the same contrast between King Herod and Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Luke 1:5-7

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijahs division named Zechariah. His wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in Gods sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years.

In verse 5, Luke, the historian notes that Herod is the king of Judea.  It sets the tone for the time period.  Caesar Augustus recognized Herod as an important leader.  He ruled with an iron fist and often proved his loyalty to Rome.  He was a descendant of Esau, who was a rival to Jacob, and their descendants were rivals.  Esau’s descendants were enemies of Israel.  Even though he was not fond of the people of Israel, he wanted to find favor with them in order to rule effectively.  He was responsible for building projects and improving the infrastructure of Israel.  Despite all of the good things that he did, he was one of the darkest and cruel persons in history.  His cruelty came from his concern that someone would take his rule away from him.  He even murdered his own family members because he was suspicious that they were conspiring against him.  Herod even tortured his own sons to death.

We should not be surprised that Herod was looking for Jesus and also wanted to see Him dead, as well.  He had heard the stories about who Jesus was.

Matthew 2:1-18

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising and have come to worship him.

When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. So he assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the Christ would be born.

In Bethlehem of Judea, they told him, because this is what was written by the prophet:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah:

Because out of you will come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.

Then Herod secretly summoned the wise men and asked them the exact time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search carefully for the child. When you find him, report back to me so that I too can go and worship him.

After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it wasthe star they had seen at its rising. It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overwhelmed with joy. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route.

After they were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to kill him. 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. He stayed there until Herods death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called my Son. 

Then Herod, when he realized that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men. Then what was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 

A voice was heard in Ramah, 

weeping, and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children;

and she refused to be consoled,

because they are no more.

 

How paranoid do you think a person would have to be in order to be threatened by the presence of a baby?

Herod’s family, the Herodians, had the authority to put people to death.  The Pharisees wanted to put Jesus to death, and so they kept the Herodians close in order to try to entrap Jesus for this purpose.  They wanted to see if Jesus would declare that it was unnecessary to pay taxes to the Romans, then they would deem Him guilty of insurrection.

Mark 12:13-17

Then they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to Jesus to trap him in his words.  When they came, they said to him, Teacher, we know you are truthful and dont care what anyone thinks, nor do you show partiality but teach the way of God truthfully. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldnt we?

But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at.  They brought a coin. Whose image and inscription is this? he asked them.

Caesars, they replied. 

Jesus told them, Give to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods. And they were utterly amazed at him.

Herod’s legacy, the Herodians, went through the effort to go through Pontius Pilate to carry out Jesus’s death sentence.

Note that any sin that is carried out has an effect on many people.  The Las Vegas gunman murdered 59 people, but his sin has an effect on generations of those who survived.  The text of Herod’s actions affected literally hundreds of thousands of people.  A very dark period of history.

Zechariah, a righteous man, was selected by Herod to hold the position of a priest who served in the division of Abijah.  His responsibility was to perform sacrifices and ceremonies.  They were teachers, as well.  He was one of many priests who were often covered with the blood of the animals who were sacrificed.

Luke 2:22-24

And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were finished, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice (according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons).

The priests of Israel were the precursor of Jesus Christ, who would become our high priest.

Hebrews 7:20-28

None of this happened without an oath. For others became priests without an oath, but he became a priest with an oath made by the one who said to him:

The Lord has sworn

and will not change his mind,

You are a priest forever. 

Because of this oath, Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.

Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office. But because he remains forever, he holds his priesthood permanently. Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them.

For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He doesnt need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests dofirst for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all time when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak, but the promise of the oath, which came after the law, appoints a Son, who has been perfected forever.

 

Jesus’s sacrifice allows for each of us to enter the presence of God as our High Priest.  Now, the belief in the atonement of Jesus Christ is what allows us to be cleansed of sin without the ritual of sacrificing animals.

The goodness of Zechariah is also seen in Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife.  She lived up to the promises of God.  She was raised in a godly environment as part of a priestly family, but it was most important that they lived righteously and with obedience to the Lord God.

Luke 1:6-7

Both were righteous in Gods sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord.  But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years.

 

As believers in the Lord, Jesus Christ, living a holy lifestyle is attainable, yet Christ had not yet come before Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Enoch walked before God and never died–he was taken up into heaven.  Elijah was also righteous and had the same thing happen to him.  You can, indeed, live in righteousness with lives of obedience.  Their obedience matched their faith.  Luke intentionally focuses on Zechariah and Elizabeth because of their role in the birth of John the Baptist, and also connects that event to the birth of Jesus Christ.

It is important to note that they were deemed righteous before God, but we also need to point out these very important points about this righteous couple:

  • Elizabeth was childless, which was a societal burden. John the Baptist’s birth would be a miracle in that Elizabeth would be able to conceive and give birth at a very old age.
  • John the Baptist would be born and raised in a righteous household
  • Zechariah and Elizabeth reflect what model parents should look like
  • God is able to accomplish the impossible.

Luke 1:35-37

The angel replied to her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  And consider your relative Elizabetheven she has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called childless.  For nothing will be impossible with God.

God shows us His nature through these actions.  Anything is possible for God.

Elizabeth was righteous but barren and of old age, and yet God used her to give birth to John the Baptist.  Mary was also deemed righteous, and yet she conceived with the power of the Holy Spirit to give birth to Jesus.

John the Baptist’s life was an answer to prayer for Zechariah and Elizabeth, but it was also an answer of prayer after not hearing from the Lord during the Intertestamental period of 400 years.  God was ready to speak again to His people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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