Devo 12/3/20: Luke 1:5

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Luke 1:5-7, ESV

Stranger Than Fiction

What genre is Luke writing? The gospel of Luke is written as a historical narrative. Luke is writing in the Greek language, but this story is not another Greek myth. Here in verse 5, Herod the Great is included in the narrative for at least two reasons. First, Herod is a man whose name will be remembered. Luke is using Herod the Great as a kind of historical reference point, a useful waypoint for his readers to search out the validity of his story. Second, this King of Judea is used as a contrasting background for the reader to take notice of the strange way that God seems to always choose the least likely people.

Let’s imagine a man trying to create a myth to propagate a new false religion, just for fun. Would it be likely that the charlatan would choose to begin his story about the miraculous work of God with historically verifiable facts? Maybe. Would that con-man try to convince the simple-minded with a story about God’s grace being poured out upon an unknown priest with little influence? Wouldn’t it make sense that a false tale-bearer would make his story about God’s grace poured out upon a famous King who has invested copious amounts of money in rebuilding and expanding God’s temple? Probably.

Luke’s story begins with a nod to the most influential man in all of Palestine but focuses upon a simple priest who is ordinary for all intents and purposes. Herod’s name will live on in history books, but Zechariah’s name would be easily lost if it were not for God choosing to bless him as the father of the Messiah’s forerunner. (We will get to that forerunner thing in a later post.) Zechariah’s lineage is mentioned not because he comes from a long line of heroic Jews, but because he comes from a long line of ordinary priests.

Character Matters

Another contrast between this King and priest is in their moral lives. Herod the Great was not a morally virtuous King, but he did possess a brilliant political mind, accompanied with an iron will to maintain his rule. Herod’s cruelty to maintain his power is depicted clearly in the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel. The King was proud, strong-willed, subtle, and immoral, but the priest on the other hand was a holy man. Both Zechariah and his wife are described as being “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments”. Luke’s emphasis on Zechariah’s moral character is important in the narrative. We mustn’t misconstrue the phrase “righteous before God” to mean something like Zechariah and his wife had both merited God’s approval with their morality. No, the idea of being “righteous before God” is connected to ardent belief in God and His promises. However, it was their faith that motivated their outward moral character that was evidenced in their “walking blamelessly in all the commandments.”

Our moral character matters. Obedience to God’s law matters. Please don’t buy into the modern evangelical lie that says, “the law of God isn’t for Christians today”. The law of God is like a mirror in at least two ways. First, the law of God is like a mirror that shows you your own guilty reflection. This is exactly the way James describes the law of God in James 1. Second, the law of God is like a mirror that reflects the character of God. For example, the law says “Thou shalt not bear false witness”. How does that law reflect the character of God? God’s witness/testimony is always true and it is impossible for God to lie (Heb 6:18). The law demands your words to be true and faithful because God’s words are always true and faithful. Our moral character matters, but not to merit God’s good rewards.

Grace Matters Most

Grace isn’t merited, isn’t inherited, and isn’t free. Unmerited favor is a good definition of grace. This word perfectly describes God’s choosing of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They did not merit God’s goodness toward themselves through obeying God’s law. They also did not inherit God’s goodness toward themselves through being in the lineage of priests. Furthermore, the grace of God’s goodness toward them wasn’t free at all. I can hear an objection coming. “But Pastor, you said that grace is unmerited and therefore we cannot earn it. So then it seems that grace must be free.” My friend, you are partly right. The grace of God in Zechariah’s life, Elizabeth’s life, and our life is free for all of us. None of us deserve grace or have earned it through law-keeping. However, grace isn’t actually free because it was purchased for us. Grace was bought and paid for upon an old rugged tree just outside the walls of Jerusalem on a hill called Golgotha.

The righteousness of the priest Zechariah was not his own righteousness. Paul explicitly teaches us in Romans 3, “by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight”. Then Paul goes on in that same chapter to positively affirm that we, through faith in Jesus as the propitiatory sacrifice, are declared to be righteous by God “apart from works of the law”. Grace matters most because we are saved by grace through faith, and our moral character is the natural result of God’s grace at work in us. God’s grace is the root of His goodness for us and our obedience is the fruit that is produced by God’s goodness.