Supernatural Truth – Luke 1:1-25

We’re starting our new series in Luke’s gospel and we’re starting with supernatural truth!

We’ll take it a bit at a time each week. It’s a masterpiece of writing – one of the finest in the ancient world. But it’s much more than that. It’s supernatural truth.

The supernatural weirdness starts right here in the first account. But the author, Luke, wants you to know some things:

  1. Yes, there are some amazing supernatural things here.
  2. But, it’s well-researched, eye-witnessed truth.
  3. It’s for your ultimate joy – and who wouldn’t want that?

Luke begins by giving an introduction.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube given in June 2022 at Bromborough Evangelical Church. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

Know that this is true (1-4)

I read an article on the Guardian website recently that asked whether Jesus ever really existed in history. The conclusion was that any serious historian (which includes many atheists) would tell you that Jesus is easily, securely, and firmly found in the history books – both the Bible and elsewhere.

Luke was a schooled, intelligent man. His writing is high-end Greek. And he wrote his book about Jesus for Theophilus. We’ve no idea who that is, but it doesn’t matter. The book of Acts starts similarly, and the two books make Luke the New Testament’s biggest contributor by word count (followed by Paul, then John).

Read Luke 1:1-3.

When Luke sat down to write, Mark’s gospel was certainly available to him (and he took sections from it).  There were other accounts too, some written down and much verbal.

So Luke has gathered his material together. Then he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning”. He met with eye-witnesses (often citing names). He’s collated it all into an “accurate [lit. orderly] account”. It’s worth remembering that an accurate / orderly account doesn’t necessarily mean chronological. Some of his material he assembled thematically.

Careful writing

There’s an overall structure to the book with themes that keep being repeated – we’ll get to all that in time to come. That does mean that sometimes things are in a different order to Matthew or Mark. Some people will point out “inconsistencies” between them, but the writers themselves would have laughed at the idea. So as we go through we won’t spend ages trying to iron out differences – we’ll actually draw attention to them and ask why Luke has arranged his material as he has. It’s deliberate. They knew their stuff.

In fact, Luke is crystal clear in what he wants you to know at the outset: Read Luke 1:4.

  • He doesn’t want you bogged down wondering what you can believe, or trust.
  • He knows he’s researched some things that are hard to believe: Blind people receiving sight; dead people raised to life; lives changed; angels visiting shepherds; even Jesus himself raised from the dead.
  • And he wants you to know that you can “be certain of the truth of everything”. 
  • Yes, it’s weird. But that’s because it’s supernatural; being hard to believe doesn’t make it impossible.
  • This is supernatural truth. Be certain of that.

Get real

Luke is as good as his word, and takes us back to the beginning. We’re introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and we find that they are godly and devout, and that they are very real. This whole book is about the supernatural truth of God being experienced by real people.

Luke doesn’t begin, “Once upon a time” but rather “When Herod was king of Judea…” – this is real stuff happening to real people.

  • Zechariah and Elizabeth were husband and wife descended from priestly ancestry.
  • Zechariah was a priest in the temple. (There were probably around 18,000 of them at the time.)
  • And they were godly people, but sad too: Read Luke 1:6-7. 
  • Their childlessness wasn’t because they’d offended God, it was just that he was waiting for a specific time.

Now in Luke 1:8-9 we’re told that Zechariah was chosen by lot “to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense.” The Temple in Jerusalem was a huge place. There was a sanctuary building in the middle with courtyards outside – the whole thing was referred to as the Temple. But the sanctuary bit (also often called the Temple) was where God’s presence dwelt particularly:

  • He was enthroned above the ark of the covenant within the most holy place, hidden from view by a huge curtain.
  • Just outside the curtain was the altar of incense. It was to be kept burning day and night, and was tended to only by priests.
  • One day, that priest, chosen by lot, was Zechariah.
  • As there were 18,000 of them, a priest might only ever do it once in his lifetime – or even never. This was special.

Encountering the supernatural

Zechariah went in, and the people outside were praying. In both this gospel and Acts, Luke often connects prayer with times of great importance. You’ll see that over and over again. God acts in response to prayer – gathered prayer in particular.

Zechariah then had the fright of his life. Read Luke 1:11-12.

He very much expected to be alone. For someone else to be there, they’d not entered from this world! The angel tells him not to be afraid, that his prayers have been heard, and that he will have a special son who he’s to name John. We find out later on that this is John the Baptist. The angel tells Zechariah that John will be amazing in so many ways (we’ll come back to that).

But how does Zechariah respond?

  • As he stands just outside the curtain where God dwells?
  • As he looks at this impossible angel telling him impossible things?
  • You might think, “If that had been me, I think I’d have believed it!” But would you?
  • Zechariah was a good, godly man. His life was devoted to the service of God at the Temple. And even he couldn’t believe it.
  • If you find some of this stuff hard to believe then you might be comforted to know that even the people there at the time couldn’t take it in either.

Truth is absolute

But truth is truth whether you believe it or not.

Read Luke 1:18-20.

  • There can be no higher authority than God himself.
  • The angel Gabriel stands in God’s presence, and as the angel of the Lord he speaks God’s words in God’s place to Zechariah.
  • There comes a time when you have to face facts and listen to God’s word – not least because it’s actually “good news”.

It’s time to get real with God. You’re not the first person to have doubts or ask questions.

But he is your maker and you are accountable to him for your unbelief. The good news is that he has very good news for you. News of great joy, in fact.

Know joy in the Lord

Read Luke 1:23-25.

We don’t really know why Elizabeth went into seclusion for five months. You can speculate, but we can’t really know. What is clear is that she was thrilled at what the Lord had done for her!

And that takes us back to the joy that the angel Gabriel had promised. Look again at Luke 1:14-17

14 You will have great joy and gladness, 

  • Of course; they really wanted a child.

and many will rejoice at his birth, 

  • This child was not just for them. God, the Lord, had a purpose in bringing John into the world.
  • It wasn’t by chance that Zechariah was chosen that day – the Lord has been at work for centuries for that moment.

15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord.

  • There can be no higher hopes for your children.

He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 

  • It’s not clear why he’s not to drink alcohol, though the emphasis is clear: He will be filled with the Holy Spirit!
  • God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit: The Three are One.
  • When someone becomes a Christian, they Holy Spirit dwells in them and stays there. (Why we’re different.)
  • But before Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the Holy Spirit only rested on people in exceptional circumstances.
  • There are echoes in this birth of Old Testament births: Abraham & Sarah; Samson’s birth; Hannah’s Samuel…

The Lord had plans for John

16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. 

  • Don’t miss this. Many of God’s people had turned away, and many would turn back as a result of John’s preaching.
  • He would be preaching repentance – turning back to God.
  • And (here’s the important bit): This would bring great joy to many people!
  • The church has good news to tell; in calling you to repentance you’re called to God. And to find God is great, great joy. 
  • The burdens of guilt, uncertainty, hopelessness, and meaninglessness melt away into certainty and joy.

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, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.

  • These words are from the Old Testament.
  • The last book in the OT, Malachi, says that Elijah will come and turn the hearts of fathers to their children and children to their fathers – images of peace within God’s people.
  • And Isaiah 40 says that someone will come who will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.
  • Gabriel is saying that times of great joy will come to many people because of this baby, John, preparing hearts for the way of the Lord.

And “the Lord” there in Isaiah 40 is, of course, God.

And yet we will soon see that the Lord he is preparing the way for is none other than Jesus – Christ, the Lord.

You’re in the story too

Great joy was coming to Zechariah and Elizabeth in the birth of their son. But that birth was another step in God’s great plan for joy for you! There’s a lot of joy and a lot of feasting in Luke’s gospel! It happens over and over when someone turns to God, to life, to Jesus.

There’s also bitterness and distress – found by many who think themselves religious, or righteous, important or just secure (usually financially secure).

But look at where this gospel about Jesus begins: It’s all steeped in Temple / Jerusalem imagery. It’s soaked in allusions to remarkable births in the Old Testament, and specifically picks up on promises being fulfilled. Old Testament promises about an Elijah to come, to make way for the Lord. The Lord who will bring good news to the poor, the broken, the hurt, the lost. Jesus, the Lord, the son of God, who came to seek you out.

What happened to Zechariah and Elizabeth was supernatural and amazing, but it was all very much part of God’s plan.

  • He planned for John to be born to prepare hearts for the coming messiah, Jesus.
  • He planned for Elizabeth to be childless until the right time; he also planned for Zechariah to be chosen by lot when that right time arrived.

And the same God has brought you here so that he can call you. He came to seek and save you, right now. There are no coincidences. There is supernatural truth.

The living God calls you to joy in Christ. Turn to him today.