If you read my introduction to Luke, which covers Luke 1:1-4, then you know that the book of Luke is written to a Roman dude named Theophilus. Luke was writing so that Theophilus could know that the stories about Jesus were true. I think this is a super important piece of knowledge for understanding the whole book of Luke.
Luke does not start off his “defense” of the faith the way most modern American Christians would:
He starts with the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth.
They both were righteous (approved) in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they were childless, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both far advanced in years. 1:6-7
Try to think about this in an ancient Roman-y way. Or really any religious person’s way of thinking. When you follow a powerful god or God, what do you get?
He rewards you right?! I mean if he’s fair and just, or simply nice he will! All the sacrificing, dancing, worshiping, rituals, wars, prayers, morals, etc., most religious people do those things to earn favor from their gods.
Elizabeth and Zacharias were APPROVED by God. They did everything required to have a right relationship with him. Yet, they didn’t have the one thing that every ancient person wanted: a child.
Think about that for a moment. They were very advanced in age. They were OLD. Being childless is hard on couples today, but back then, it was everything. Elizabeth says in verse 25, that her childlessness was a “disgrace among men”. People pretty much thought you were cursed if you didn’t have a lot of children, especially boys. Not having any, that was horrific for them.
Before you get ahead of me and say, “yeah, but they had John the Baptist and he was a super hero of the faith”, just hang out with the idea that Zacharias and Elizabeth followed God faithfully until they were OLD and didn’t have a kid. Most of their adult life, they certainly felt the sting of not having a child. It would have been very hard. We have no idea how they handled it. Did they wallow in depression at times? Did they always have a great attitude? We don’t know. We just know that they continued to follow God.
They were faithful. They followed God even when they were dealing with extremely deep disappointment in their lives.
Their service could not have been based on the kind of give and take most people think of with religion. It seems that their faithfulness was based on more than getting rewarded in this life.
I’m sure that this would have been immediately apparent to Theophilus and his ancient Roman friends.
They would have all been like “What the heck? They followed God faithfully and didn’t have any children! That’s not right.” I believe it may have actually been shocking for them. (actually, I think it may be shocking for a lot of Americans….)
And I think it highlights something important about God:
He desires a relationship with us that isn’t based on what he can do for us. He wants us to love him for who he is.
An angel appears to Zacharias and tells him that he will have a son and the son will be filled with the Holy Spirit. The son, John will be a special messenger from God who will tell people to turn back to God.
The Bible says that Zacharias and Elizabeth would have great joy because of John. So, yeah, they were human. They had human feelings. They were happy to have a son. Having a son was probably what they wanted most out of life. It meant that their name would continue. They’d have a legacy. And God was promising that their son would have an important purpose.
However, their relationship with God and his acceptance of them was not based on this circumstance!!!!
Lesson number one from the book of Luke: Our relationship with God should be about who he is and knowing him. He rewards his followers, but not necessarily with material possessions and earthly ease.
Elizabeth and Zacharias are just one example of this.
This is one of the most basic teachings of Judaism. From the early story of Cain and Abel, where Abel was accepted by God and was subsequently murdered, they taught that life only had meaning when you were following God. Abel was a hero because he was accepted by God. His life had purpose and meaning.
I wrote more on this here:The Meaning of Meaninglessness
So whatever you are longing for, whatever disappointments you feel, whatever hardships and hurts you are struggling with, know for certain that they don’t mean that you are rejected by God. He longs to walk through them with you. He won’t guarantee that you get everything you want in this life. He will give you meaning, hope, and power for this life whatever joys and struggles it has.
(also, just another thought: having John in their old age meant they wouldn’t live to see him grow up…which may have been gracious since he was beheaded…hmmm)
I am a really strange mix of a hippie, Calypso, Southern Belle, Madea- wannabe, Christian with the attitude of a Rhode Islander! I’m fascinated with people’s stories, I love to laugh at life with people and I’m genuinely trying to follow Jesus’ teachings. Strangely, my search for truth often has me at odds with American Christians who believe themselves to be the guardians of this truth. I was kicked out of Sunday School as a child for asking too many questions. I learned to repress them but my questions never went away. Thankfully as an adult, I feel completely free to pursue answers. Turns out, God is pretty big and not nearly as upset with my questions as his followers tend to be!
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