Family – on Earth and in Heaven

Luke 3 starts with John the Baptist, now an adult, fulfilling his calling and preparing people for the kingdom of God. The Jews thought their family connection would guarantee them a place in the kingdom, but John says if you want to be in God’s family, do what God asks of you. “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones” (Luke 3:8). He goes on to say how we can prove ourselves. If we have two items of clothing, be prepared to give away the extra one. Share our food with the hungry. These are great verses to live by, but they were so radical, people wondered if John was their Messiah. He was quick to deflect attention away from him to the man who would come after him. He felt himself unworthy to perform even the most menial of tasks for Jesus, but he did a great job of bringing God into people’s consciousness. John wouldn’t pander to anyone. He called out wrong when he saw it, which eventually landed him in prison, but it’s not prison-doors Luke wants us to remember; it’s the ultimate moment in John’s career – the day when he baptised Jesus.

After His baptism, Jesus was praying, and the Holy Spirit came down like a dove and settled on Him. Then God’s voice came from heaven: “You are My dearly loved Son, and You bring Me great joy” (Luke 3:22). I find it interesting that directly after God acknowledges Jesus as His Son, Luke moves on to Jesus’ earthly family, tracing His roots all the way back to Adam and then to God.

Let’s never think any earthly connections are going to bring us to God. Closeness with God comes from knowing and believing in Jesus, His Son. You don’t have to settle for anything less.

Perfect Timing

Remember those two miraculous conceptions? Baby John’s been born and Zechariah has spoken about the man he’ll become. In chapter 2, we see the second birth – the birth of Jesus. The angel said He would be the ruler on David’s throne whose kingdom would never end – the Jews’ much-anticipated Messiah, in other words. Many years before Jesus’ birth, God’s spokesman had said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on My behalf” (Micah 5:2), but Mary and Joseph didn’t live in Bethlehem; they were sixty miles away in Nazareth. Except just as the time of Jesus’ birth approaches, a census takes place – the first one while Quirinius was governor of Syria (that’s a really useful name if ever you’re doing a Biblical alphabet and have to think of a Q). Anyway, everyone’s ordered back to their ancestral homes, and Mary’s soon-to-be husband is a descendant of King David, so they have to go to Bethlehem. Jesus is born exactly as predicted hundreds of years before.

His first night on earth, there are shepherds nearby, watching their flocks. Suddenly, the angel of the LORD appears to them (Luke 2:9), but I can’t help feeling it’s what God had planned all along. In “Birth of the Church”, the author says shepherds’ testimonies didn’t hold up in a court of law because they were considered untrustworthy. How like God to trust the untrustworthy with the most important message of all! They’re told the good news and then suddenly, the angel is joined by a heavenly multitude (Luke 2:13). The sky is filled with angels, praising and glorifying God. What a great welcome for Jesus – the King of kings!

Forty days later, Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple, to present Him to God and bring the offerings prescribed in Jewish Law. God had promised a man named Simeon he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah he had waited for. That day, God’s Spirit led him to the temple (Luke 2:27). God led him there on the day that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus, because God wanted him to see the Messiah, and the prophetess Anna came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:38). Do you see a pattern?

The end of the chapter records an incident only Luke tells us about. Jesus stays in Jerusalem after the Jewish Passover festival. Mary and Joseph assume He’s with some of their relatives at first, but eventually discover they’ve lost Him. They go back to Jerusalem and find Him three days later at the temple. Three days? They think all is lost and then on the third day …

Well, from reading this chapter, I realise I can always trust God to put me in the right place at the right time. I don’t need to worry about something crucial passing me by because if it’s something God has prepared for me, He’s going to make sure I’m in on it.

Two Questions, One Difference

As it’s Lent, I thought I’d do a little series on the blog to take us through Jesus’ life. From Monday to Friday for the next few weeks, we’ll read a chapter of Luke’s gospel and see what stands out.

Verses 26-38 of Luke 1 are often read at Christmas – the part where the angel Gabriel visits Mary with the news that she’s going to become pregnant with the Son of God. What I didn’t realise before I was a Christian, though, is that there are in fact two miraculous conceptions in this chapter. The first is one of Jesus’ relatives – John, often known as John the Baptist. His parents were Zechariah and Elizabeth – a couple who were getting on in years and had always been childless. Zechariah was a priest, who was chosen one day to burn incense at the temple. As he carried out this task, the angel Gabriel appeared beside the incense altar. Zechariah was understandably overwhelmed, but the angel reassured him that God had heard his prayer; his wife was going to have a son.

I find Zechariah very easy to relate to. He and his wife have suffered years of infertility; he’s never known any different, so when the angel comes with life-altering news, he asks: “How can I be sure this will happen?” (Luke 1:18). His hope and expectancy have evaporated, but when you’ve got an angel beside you quoting from the Old Testament about someone coming in the power of Elijah to reconcile parents to children and make people ready for the Lord (Malachi 4:5-6), there’s really no excuse to ask how you can be sure! Apparently an angel sent from the presence of God should be proof enough, because Zechariah is struck dumb for his unbelief.

Just a few verses later, Gabriel makes that famous visit to Mary, and she too asks a question. “How can this happen? I am a virgin.” Notice she didn’t ask how she could be sure. I believe she was absolutely sure; all she wanted to know was how it would work. What a contrast! An old man, worn down and seemingly devoid of hope, and a young girl tenacious in her faith.

The angel tells Mary about Elizabeth, who’s pregnant in her old age, so Mary pays her a visit. And some of her first words to Mary? “You are blessed because you believed that the LORD would do what He said.” I wonder if Zechariah was in the room at the time. A little dig at him, perhaps? But Luke makes it clear they were righteous (Luke 1:6), so Elizabeth might have been too kind for that. You’ll be relieved to know that when the baby was born and Zechariah named him John, he was given the ability to speak again, and the message he gives at the end of the chapter is really beautiful.

So, takeaways from Luke 1: Zechariah appeared to have lost his hope and expectation, but it didn’t stop God hearing and answering prayer. To add to that, the childlike faith of Mary is an example to us all. Don’t ask how you can be sure; have faith, and then ask how it’s going to work.