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Meditations Contents
Series Theme:   Uniquely in Luke Meditations

PART ONE: Chapter 1

Meditation Title: Overview 




Part 1: Chapter 1



Many Writers



An Orderly Account



Introducing Zechariah



An Unexpected Arrival



Fear & Misgivings



God's Warm-up Man



Accountable to God



The Favour of God



The Favour of God (2)



No Impossibilities with God



Jesus described



The HS's Activity



The Sign of being Blessed



Obedience & Releasing



Talk of the Town



Prophet of God



Part 2: Chapters 2 & 3



In the Flow of Circumstances



To the Lowest of the Low



Peace on earth



Simple Messengers



Law Abiding Parents



A Spirit Forerunner



A Spirit Forerunner (2)



A Light to the World



A Sign Spoken Against



A Faithful Worshipper



Back to an Ordinary Life



The Lost Boy



The Boy at Home



God in History!



Practical Righteousness



Rebuke & Reprisal



Part 3: Chapters 4 to 6



Spirit filled and led



An Opportune Time












Unexpected rebuke



Frustrated Punishment



Making Opportunities



A Spectacular demonstration



Inspection Team



Dubious Contacts



Contentious Healing



A Prayer Vigil



A Gathering



Woe to the Rich



Woe to the Well-Fed



Woe to Laughers



Woe to the Respected



Assessing Values



Open Heartedness



Part 4: Chapters 7 to 10



A Good Reputation









Compassion in Action



Power in Action



Saints & Sinners



Cause for Love



Signs of Love



Forgiveness by Faith



A Mixed Band



The Place of Prayer



The Big Picture



Unrighteous Righteousness



Going for Gold



Doing the Stuff



Grace not Glory







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Meditations Contents
Series Theme:  Uniquely in Luke Meditations

Meditation No. 1

Meditation Title: Many Writers


Lk 1:1    Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us


One of the ideas behind writing meditations is that we can explore more deeply some of the thoughts that come out in the verses before us. I suspect that this first verse of Luke is one that normally gets swallowed up in the first four-verse introduction. It bears looking at on its own!


The whole subject of the inspiration of Scripture is fascinating. Paul was to write, All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16 ), but how did it come about. It is quite clear from the different Gospels that the four different writers brought their own understanding to bear on what they included, but exactly how much God nudged or pressed them to write will be a mystery this side of heaven. Matthew clearly wrote with the Jewish community in mind. John writing much later wrote for the church; that also is clear. Mark, it is believed, wrote for the Gentile community and Luke for the world at large. There are different characteristics in each that lead to these conclusions.


Exact dates for the writing of each are impossible to discern but suggestions have been made, which we'll use here, that they were written in the following order: Mark sometime between AD 40 and 65, Luke between AD 61 and 63, Matthew between AD 63 and 66, and John somewhere between AD 80 and 98.


Luke obviously drew from Mark's Gospel with approximately 320 verses being used from Mark's approximate 660 verses. He and Matthew seem to have drawn on some other common material not used by Mark. Of the approximate 1150 verses of Luke, approximately 630 of them are unique to Luke – i.e. a little over half the Gospel – and it is from these verses we are taking these meditations. These are the verses that bring out Luke's special insights. Now having said that, it is quite possible, if not probable, that some of these verses come from other existing sources of which we know nothing, but the point is that Luke uniquely uses them because he ‘sees', with eyes of understanding, the importance of this aspect of the truth.


The truth is that none of the Gospels fully report the life and activity of Jesus. As John said as he closed his Gospel, Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:25) There is much overlap of the three Synoptic Gospels and each of them conveys much valuable information, although incomplete. John, writing many years later, wrote with the benefit of years of contemplation and insight and growing realization of the importance of many of the things that Jesus has said, that the earlier writers just hadn't realised. Thus the Synoptic Gospels give us a sharp, unvarnished factual account of what took place. John adds the significance.


So here is Luke, a scholar as we shall later see, who has become a Christian, and has travelled with Paul's apostolic team and who, like others, realises that the time has come when it would be useful to actually put into print what the early church already knew and taught. False teachings were already beginning to arise as the enemy sought to sow seeds of confusion, and the apostles were getting older with a growing realisation that they would not always be around to defend the truth and testify to what had actually happened. Luke hadn't been one of those apostles but he was clearly a scholar who wrote using both classical Greek and Hebrew styles of writing. He writes, as we shall see, with great integrity. Although others had written, his sources show there are aspects of the Gospel story that have not been put together previously, and his analytical mind wants to ensure they are included. As a doctor he comes with insights and understandings about people that are absent in Matthew and Mark. There is a touch of humanity in his writings that go beyond that of the others.


How delightful that God should prompt these four different writers to produce an account of the most wonderful and also most terrible period of all of history, How wonderful that He takes and uses the different characteristics of these men to bring out different facets of the story. If we had just had one Gospel account it would have been very flat. With the four we have a very much more ‘3-D' account!


Luke reaches out to the various sources around him and produces this wonderful Gospel account. For the sake of our meditations, we will put aside those parts of his Gospel account that are found in either Mark or Matthew and will use those that are uniquely his alone. It's going to be a good study! Come with us each day.







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Series Theme:   Uniquely in Luke Meditations

Meditation No. 2

Meditation Title: An Orderly Account

Lk 1:1-4   Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.


There are those who think that Christianity (and all other religions, for that matter) is simply the bright ideas of people from the past. Luke lays an axe to that idea. These first four verses of his Gospel speak first about being witnesses to historical incidents. We cannot emphasise this enough. These things were first of all things that have been fulfilled among us.” The word ‘fulfilled' suggests that they were things previously spoken about but which have now happened. The accounts of these things were handed down to us.” In other words, the things that had happened were passed on by those who had been there to those who hadn't. When you put it like that it emphasises that Luke and many others hadn't been there at the time and had therefore missed out seeing and hearing what had gone on. This is all the language of recording things that actually happened! Indeed these things had been passed on by those who from the first were eyewitnesses.” An eyewitness is someone who has been there and seen with their own eyes exactly what had happened. They are reporting on events which occurred. No, this is not about imaginary events or even just a lot of religious ideas. This book or Gospel is all about reporting and recording a whole series of things that happened in time-space history. The Christian faith is founded on historical events. If such a thing as a time machine were possible, if we were able to go back to that time nearly two thousand years ago, we wouldn't find a bunch of men making up stories, but we would be witnesses to a whole series of things that were happening, and they are the things recorded in the Gospels!


Another thing that is often said by those who don't know much about these things is that the Gospel accounts can't be relied upon. They were, after all, written at least a couple of decades after these things happened and people in those days weren't as careful as today in recording things that happened. Again, these opening words of Luke lay the axe to this misunderstanding. Look at his language: I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning.” Luke is obviously aware that it is easy for rumours to grow up that have no foundation and being a well educated professional man, he's not going to be taken in by any such thing. No, he carries out a careful investigation. Look at that language. An investigation is a serious looking into events. When the government today calls for an investigation into events, it is a serious activity. The police or whatever other investigating body are given strong powers to require statements to be taken from anyone who has had anything to do with the matter. No, an investigation is a serious activity and Luke does it carefully. There is nothing casual about this man's approach and he wants us to realise that! He finds people who had been eyewitnesses and he takes their accounts and he checks them out. He is a serious reporter!


More than that, he is going to write an orderly account” Not only is he going to take great care in collecting all his information, he is going to present it in an orderly way (We'll have to watch for that as we read this Gospel). Why is he going to take all this trouble? He's approaching his task like this so that his friend, to whom he writes, will have confidence in what he is reading and may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” He wants his friend to be quite clear in his mind that what he is reading is what Luke has thoroughly checked out and it can, therefore, be believed. Luke is quite open about why he writes. He wants to reassure his friend that the things he, as a believer, has been taught in the early church about Jesus, are right! This Gospel that he now writes, will accord perfectly with all that the church had been teaching. Now that is particularly interesting and something we so often miss: the church had been teaching all this previously and therefore Luke is simply putting into print what the church had been saying ever since Jesus had been on the earth.


When we approach this Gospel, therefore, we can come to it in complete confidence, knowing that what we read here is what the church had been teaching and what they were teaching was what had been passed on by those who had been with Jesus and had been eyewitnesses to all he said and did. Be confident!






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Series Theme:   Uniquely in Luke Meditations

Meditation No. 3

Meditation Title: Introducing Zechariah


Lk 1:5-7   In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.


Perhaps if we were inventing a religion, as some have suggested was what Christianity is all about, we might have sat down and wrote a list of descriptions about the God we said we worshipped, a list of ‘spiritual things' we felt his followers should do, and no doubt a bunch of rules for living. However the revelation of what we now call Christianity did not follow that pattern at all.


Perhaps we take it for granted because, well, it's always been there, but the revelation of the Gospels is all about things that happened to people. We picked up yesterday on the historical facts aspect or it and today our emphasis is on the people side of it. The reason the Gospels are so interesting is that they are stories, or to be more accurate, accounts, of things that happened to people. This is the big claim of Christianity, that it is all about God's dealings with people. As I observe some other world religions, I am sure that this ordinariness that comes through the Gospels is a stumbling block to some who want ethereal, ‘spiritual' experiences, mystical if you like. There is none of that here in the Gospels. It is all about God having direct dealings with people.


The first people we encounter in Luke's Gospel are this elderly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth. They live in the land of Judea during the reign of Herod the Great. They are part of the nation of Israel and both of them can trace their ancestry back to the tribe from which priests were taken. Thus he is a priest. They were no doubt proud of their ancestry. History was a big thing to the Jews. The big thing about their history was that it was tied up with God. The whole of the Old Testament is about their history with God.


There are four important things we are told about this couple. We have already mentioned their ancestry, and that is important to them. The second thing is tied up with their ancestry. God had given Israel many commandments, the Law, which were His guidelines by which He wanted them to live. This couple kept the rules! Look at Luke's description of them: Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly.” These were good people. The third thing about them is that they were elderly: they were both well along in years.” We don't know exactly what that means and how old they were but Zechariah later describes himself as old (1:18) and his wife as well along in years (1:18). Later on the angel coming to Mary describes Elizabeth as in her old age (1:36). This doesn't necessarily mean past child-bearing age, but there does seem a certain implication there that that may be so. The fourth thing about them is that they were childless because Elizabeth was barren.” Now I think that's a bit tough from a modern standpoint because we know that a man can be infertile, but Doctor Luke records it as it was viewed – Elizabeth couldn't have children.


Now there seems a very obvious lesson from what we have observed yet it needs pointing out because often many of us don't believe it. It is this: bad things happen even to religious people! These were good people, spiritual people – and yet they were childless, and in that culture, as in most cultures, that would have caused them heartache. “Why us?” must have been a constant cry of their hearts. Sometimes the answer has to be, this is just how it is in a Fallen World; things go wrong. It's not the judgement of God; it's simply that in a world that has fallen from its original state of perfection because of sin, things now go wrong.


We may look at our lives and have many questions. This I believe is one of the big differences between heaven and earth. Our time on earth is characterised by questions. Our time once we reach heaven will be characterised by answers. For the time being we are called to walk by faith and not by sight, and although faith is founded on God speaking to us, very often He doesn't give us all the answers we would like. So here's the starting point to their story. They are an elderly couple who seek to be faithful to God, but they have the heartache of childlessness. As so often, the story starts with people in need, but that's just how life is. That may sound a slightly depressing start, but that's how it is, and that, perhaps, makes all that follows even more wonderful!


The other aspect of that is that it is thus easy for us to perhaps empathise with them, because we are often people in need, we are often people with hurts and questions. This Gospel comes to fragile people, people who feel vulnerable, because life has not always been good to them. If that's how you feel about life, then get ready to realise something afresh – God loves you, is there for you, and is waiting to do stuff for you! Get ready!







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Series Theme:   Uniquely in Luke Meditations

Meditation No. 4

Meditation Title: An Unexpected Arrival


Lk 1:8-11     Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.  Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.


There is a strange thing about life, which we all know but rarely think about. It is that we don't know what is coming next. Yes, we may have a job which requires us to be in the same place doing the same thing for five out of every seven days, we may plan in business to achieve certain goals, we may have to attend exams or whatever, and so a lot of life is actually very predictable. However there are things that come along in life that we just didn't foresee; things like illnesses or accidents, redundancies, rising interest rates that change your financial status. Then there are chance encounters, opportunities that come from nowhere. So yes, there are in fact, lots of things that come unexpectedly into our lives. In fact they are even more unexpected because, as we noted, there are lots of things in life that just keep on happening and which make us think that life will just go on the same for ever. There's a danger in church life that we fall into that mentality as well.


In Zechariah's case it was probably the same. Whatever he did as a priest he probably did week in, week out. It has been suggested that because of the numbers of priest though, the opportunity to go into the inner part and burn incense before the Lord only came once in a lifetime. In King David's reign they had appointed twenty four divisions of priests (1 Chron 24:1-19). After the exile only four had returned (Ezra 2:36 -39) but had been re-divided into twenty four and given the old names. Now in Zechariah's time each division served for one week, twice a year. In other words there would only be 14 men out of his division each year that would be chosen to go in and offer the incense. Our verses in Luke tell us that they were chosen by lot and on this particular day the lot fell to Zechariah.


Now we need to realise two things about this. First, it was a great privilege that was given to the priest only once in his lifetime, so yes, this is a very special occasion. The trouble with special occasions is that they tend to be very formal. The priest would have been instructed exactly how to go about offering the incense. He would be concerned as to ensure that he did it exactly right – because he was only going to do this once! It's a bit like people setting up a special service for royalty say, where everything has got to be just right. Perhaps some of us have this sort of feel about our Sunday services – they have got to be ‘performed' in just the right way. So here he is, excited to be doing this thing that he'd never had the opportunity to do before, and would never do again. Wonderful!


But there is a second thing to be considered, and this is that in all probability he was not expecting anything more than to go in, perform the ceremony, have a great feeling about it, and then go out. He was certainly not expecting God to turn up in any way. After all God had not spoken to Israel for over four hundred years. This would be the equivalent for us of saying that God had last spoken back in the sixteenth century! Just imagine it, year after year of silence from heaven. Eventually you give up any expectation of God speaking. “Oh it was something He used to do, but we have no need of that today.” Does that sound familiar? Isn't that exactly what parts of the church say about the activity of the Holy Spirit? Oh, He stopped speaking once the canon of Scripture was completed. This virtually pushes us into the position of deists who say that God started the world off but doesn't intervene in it now. The Christian deists say, “Well, yes, Jesus died for our sins and the Spirit started the church off, but He doesn't speak or move in our lives today.” How absurd!


The very thing about the age we live in, is that it is the age of the Spirit and God has never stopped speaking or acting by His Spirit since the day of Pentecost. We'll look at how Zechariah responded to all this tomorrow, but for the moment, can we check our belief system? Are we like Zechariah, performing our rituals, week in, week out? Have we no expectation of God speaking? I have to constantly remind our worship leaders, “Give God space to speak and move each week when we gather. Don't just plough on with six songs. Let God speak through people, let Him do what He wants to do.” Thus we find He often speaks through a word of revelation to bless, encourage or direct, He often prompts people to pray, to testify or to ask for prayer. Our coming together is not to be dead ritual, performed the same way every week. It is to be an opportunity for the people of God to encounter the living God who speaks and moves among His people and is thus glorified.


Let's shake off that deadly way of thinking that says that God doesn't speak and move today. He does! Let's cast off that attitude of non-expectation and instead come together every Sunday with an anticipation of meeting with the living Lord. Let's open our ears and our hearts and our services to Him that He may be glorified. Hallelujah!







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Series Theme:   Uniquely in Luke Meditations

Meditation No. 5

Meditation Title: Fear & Misgivings


Lk 1:12-14,18     When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John…He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth…. Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."


We thought yesterday about the unexpected nature of an angel turning up in the Temple after over four hundred years of silence from heaven. This may be the point, before we consider Zechariah's response, to ponder why the long wait from heaven. Michael Green in Evangelism in the Early Church proposes a number of reasons why God moved with this timeframe so that this was the perfect time for the Gospel to be spread through the world. Paul was to say, when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman (Gal 4:4). We might put this “when the time was just right…” So God sees the time is just right and the angel Gabriel is dispatched from heaven to start the ball rolling.


Now perhaps the first thing to note is that God communicates with Zechariah in a very clear, tangible way. An angel is a very clear form of communication. The Lord could have just prompted Zechariah and Elizabeth to make love and given Elizabeth the ability to conceive after this long time, but instead He chooses to involve Zechariah in such a way that his faith is challenged. Have we realised this about our own lives, that God delights in communicating with us in such a way that it requires a response of faith from us? When you were reading your Bible and that passage seemed to leap out at you and convict you, did you realise that it was God speaking to you and requiring a response from you? When the preacher's sermon on Sunday seemed to speak to you and convict you, did you realise that the Lord was speaking specifically to you and was looking for a response from you? When a Christian friend approached you with ‘a word', did you realise that this was God speaking and required a response from you?


How does the thought of God speaking to you and requiring a response from you, leave you feeling? Does it evoke fear in you that such a thing might happen? If it does, it may be that you are in the same boat as Zechariah. When Zechariah saw the angel, saw God's means of communication, he was startled and was gripped with fear. Now this is a godly man, a man who was upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly,' (v.6), a good man! However, it seems that he knew about God but didn't know the Lord personally. He hadn't come to the place of knowing God's tremendous love, or of knowing the security that comes with that. Having observed the Lord's rules for all these years had not left him understanding how good God was. No, when an angel comes it scares the life out of him! We won't bother to speculate why.


Years later Jesus was to speak a very simple parable: the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Mt 13:45,46). Now that little picture says that knowing God's rule over your life is THE most wonderful thing possible and is worth giving up everything else that you have to obtain. That is the way that Jesus portrayed knowing God, but poor old Zechariah hasn't come into that knowledge yet.


The angel realises all this and reassures the old man, and then gives him a piece of news that should absolutely thrill him: you're going to have a son and he's going to be special! For a couple who had yearned to have children for years and years, this should have been like winning the Lottery! But look at Zechariah's response. His response should have been, “Wow! That's absolutely wonderful! Thank you so much!” but instead it was How can I be sure of this?” What? What is this saying about Zechariah? It says that this rule-keeping and otherwise possibly lovely man, is really clueless about God! Think about it! This is an angel isn't it? Zechariah knows it's an angel otherwise he wouldn't be terrified. If God says something is going to happen, even if we think it is beyond our human ability, it's not beyond His! He doesn't say something is going to happen if He's not sure that He can do it. Now you see how silly that is. Let's be honest, Zechariah's response could be read in one of two ways. It could be either, “You're kidding me, I don't believe you, you're lying!” or “Yes, well, that maybe what you say but God can't do that in my life.”


Now to be fair to Zechariah he has had a lifetime of rule-keeping without the knowledge or experience of God and so he might have just been caught on the hop, and we might have responded similarly, but I'm afraid that is no excuse. We'll see in a couple of days the chastising he receives. When God speaks, take Him at His word. Don't doubt, don't question, just accept the good news when it comes. Be careful as you next open the Bible. Be careful next Sunday! Be on the alert!







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Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations

Series Contents:


Meditation No. 6

Meditation Title: God's Warm-up Man


Lk 1:15-17   for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."


I've never been to one, but I understand that often when they are recording programmes for TV, the studio audience are warmed up by a comedian or some other person who prepares the audience to be an active live audience for the programme. Now I think that is what John the Baptist was for Jesus. He was God's man who came ‘on stage' first to get the people ready to receive Jesus.


We've considered quite a bit about Zechariah but now we need to consider the most important thing about him, that he was to be a father and, more specifically, the father of God's ‘warm-up man'! Our verses today are the angel's description of the son that Zechariah is going to have. What a start for his description: he will be great in the sight of the Lord, i.e. God's going to think a lot of him! If you are a parent, suppose an angel came to you before you conceived your child and said your child is going to be very highly thought of by God. What would you think, I wonder? This child is going to be important! This child is very significant in God's purposes. Whatever is he going to do to merit this description?


What next? He is never to take wine or other fermented drink. Wow, this puts him into the bracket of a Nazirite, one of those special people called to live a life specially dedicated to God. And he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth . Wow, people in the Old Testament were only filled with the Holy Spirit when they had a special task to perform for God and usually it was a case of the Spirit coming upon them just to perform the task, but for this son, he's going to be Spirit-filled from the word go. This is a man that God is separating out for His purposes right from the womb. This child is indeed special!


So what is he going to do? Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God . He's going to turn people back to God. That's going to be a tough one because the signs are that this is a nation that is just ‘performing' as far as a relationship with the Lord is concerned. This is a nation that doesn't seem close to God. The reason we say that is that when Jesus started ministering one of the main things he had to do was heal large numbers and cast out large numbers of demons. This was a people that had had a healing mandate from God when they left Egypt . Blessing would involve wholeness. Demons don't take up occupation unless there are people far from God! And this child's job is going to be to bring this people back to God. That IS pretty significant!


But there is more: And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah. This child is going to grow up to be a prophet like Elijah had been. He's going to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. He's going to make adults childlike in their responses to God. As children find it easy to accept God, so the adults will also as a result of this child's ministry. There's yet more: and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous. He's going to turn disobedient people back to God to show them wise as they seek for righteousness. And more: to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Now that's interesting! To get the people ready? Ready for what? His turning the people to God is not the end result; it's merely a preparatory thing. God is obviously going to do something more, but that isn't being revealed yet.


What is wonderful about all this is that God is sharing it with Zechariah. He's forming a foundation of belief which can become a stepping stone for faith. We've noted this before, but the Lord delights in sharing His plans with us, as they affect us, because He wants this knowledge to impact us and change us, so that it brings a response in us. When God shares things with us about the future, He's looking for a faith response. Now maybe we didn't take that in before, so can we grab hold of it now?


So what is the point of God sharing this with Zechariah? Well certainly that he will go back home and with his wife try for a baby after all these years of childlessness. Certainly that when the baby is born, they will care for him as a special child (but wouldn't they do that anyway?) Perhaps so that as the child grows they understand him and his leanings given by God. Yes, that might be important. But surely the most important reason that the angel is sharing this with Zechariah is to bring about a faith response in Zechariah, NOW this moment. If you are part of a church that brings prophetic words and you have received prophetic words over your life, the most important thing about that experience is your response AT THAT MOMENT. How you respond at that moment reveals the state of your heart. If it is, “Yes Lord, please do it! Thank you so much!” you're in a good faith position. If it is less than that, there is some heart work to be done! Perhaps this meditation is to work in the same way as John was to work – to get you ready. That implies, to get ready for something more. Are you ready for it?







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Meditation No. 7

Meditation Title: Accountable to God


Lk 1:19-20   The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."


There are times when it pays not to be a sceptic! Any church leader will tell you that they wish that every one of their congregation were on fire for God with their lives well and truly sorted out – but people are people and unbelief in various forms is often the most human characteristic observable. If only we could wave a magic wand over people and all their spiritual ills would disappear! If only people would respond instantly to God's word. We even pray for better responses because the hard truth is that most of the time the Lord moves very gently in dealing with people. Oh yes, He will deal with them. The truth is that even when they were actually dying because of their unbelief, Paul had to spell out to them what was happening (1 Cor 11:30). Rarely, it seems, do we see the Lord moving dramatically to deal with unbelief.


Yet this was one of them. This good man, this law-keeper, Zechariah, finds it so hard to believe that he and his wife, in their old age, could have a child, even when he is being told by an angel from God. It seems as if God feels He has to do something dramatic to urge him along the path to blessing. The Lord knows that if only He can get Zechariah to respond, the outcome will be the blessing of producing the man who will prepare the people to receive Jesus. It all hinges on this. If God can't get this man to respond there will be no John, and if there is no John then the people will not be prepared to receive their Saviour. Could God not have used another family and there been a different ‘John'? Obviously not! The Lord sees the potential and no one else will achieve what John will achieve.


So the Lord has determined to deal with this situation so that there is a good outcome. The angel could have berated Zechariah, flashed bolts of lightening around and him and generally scared him some more, but that isn't God's way. That could have turned Zechariah off, it could have made him completely give up, so no, the angel doesn't do that. He is operating with God's wisdom as well as God's power and authority and so he does something that will stay with Zechariah until this child is established. This has got to be something that will encourage Zechariah to be obedient right through to the naming of the child, not just conceiving him.


So the angel speaks a word and Zechariah is dumb for the next nine months. He doesn't know when it will end; he just knows he is dumb. It is something that is constantly with him. Time and again he feels the frustration of not being able to speak out and get someone's attention, or speak out and give an answer. He has to learn to communicate through sign language, and he realises that he's not too old to learn new things!


Does God move dramatically like this today? Were there other times when He moved dramatically? To answer the second question first, yes there are a number of such instances. There were times when he brought instant death. There was the example of Korah (Num 16:31-35) in the Old Testament and Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament (Acts 5:1-). But there were lesser instances of God's strong moving. There was the example of Miriam's leprosy (Num 12:10), King Jeroboam's shrivelled arm (1 Kings 13:4) and Gehazi's leprosy (2 Kings 5:27). In each case the infirmity was a sharp reminder of having challenged the Lord, a reminder that stayed until repentance came.


So does God move like this today? Yes, I'm convinced He does. I am convinced there are things that happen that are the simple, straight forward discipline of God – and remember that discipline in the Bible is not about punishing so much as about training. I suspect that much of the time we're like the Corinthians and don't realise what is happening, but nevertheless these things that come as trials will test us and change us, even if we're not aware of it at the time.


When difficulties come into our lives and we complain about them, what we are unable to see is the good outcome that God sees He is working towards for us. We can't see the future and very often we can't even see the whole picture of what is happening in the present, and so we don't realise where this is going and don't realise that it is working to change us and perhaps change other people, so that at the end of it, blessing will be there that couldn't have been otherwise. Zechariah no doubt struggled with being dumb right up until the naming of John. At that point, when he confirmed the boy's name in line with God's wishes, his tongue was released and not just to talk, but now to prophesy. We need to see the big picture and we need to see the end outcome, and until we can, we need to have and open heart, that says, “Lord, what do you want of me?” and is willing to do what God says in answer. Do you have that sort of heart?







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Meditation No. 8

Meditation Title: The Favour of God


Lk 1:21-25   Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.  When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. "The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people."


There is always more than one way of looking at life. As we suggested yesterday, Zechariah's dumbness could be considered (by him and by critics) as a really hostile move by God but, as we started thinking about it, I hope you saw that it was, in fact, a means of encouraging Zechariah on, to ensure he moved into the place of blessing. I'm not sure that I know of any Christian who relishes James' injunction: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” (Jas 1:2) because trials are, by definition, trying times. To be able to appreciate what is happening, we need to be able to see the bigger picture (what is actually going on in this) and the end results (what will be achieved by it). Unfortunately, so often, we can't today see either of those things and we just have to trust that it is the Lord working and at the very least, in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Rom 8:28).


So here is poor old Zechariah, having just encountered an angel and quite possibly feeling totally bemused by the whole thing. He takes a while to come back out to where the people were and when he goes to speak, he finds he can't! Just like the angel said. He starts out in his new career of sign language and manages to convey that he's had some sort of encounter with God, a vision at least. His time for service comes to an end and he returns home to Elizabeth. Now I think we have to draw a veil over what went on back there, over whether it was a spontaneous coming together of this couple who had been apart, over whether he had been able to communicate with her what had happened and what he had been told. Whatever happened, the end result was that Elizabeth found herself pregnant, to her great joy.


It is not improper to speculate, to try to put ourselves into the picture, as long as we recognize that it is speculation. Sometimes the writers in Scripture drop in a few words but don't give us any explanation. For instance we find here that after she finds herself pregnant, Luke tells us that she for five months remained in seclusion, and we're not told why. Perhaps she was suffering bad morning sickness, perhaps she just felt that she shouldn't do anything that might risk the baby, perhaps she just felt that she should ‘lay low' until she was absolutely sure that everything was all right and the signs were that she was well and truly on the way to having a baby. After all those years of childlessness, you can't be too sure! The truth is, we don't know!


However, what we do know is that this lady is absolutely sure in her own mind what has happened: God has stepped in and enabled her to conceive! Perhaps Zechariah had managed to explain what had happened, but whatever it is, she is sure that God is involved and she is blessed! Indeed, all of the years of childlessness, the comments and gossip no doubt, about why, the feeling of disgrace at not being able to conceive, suddenly all this is wiped away and this, she is certain, is the favour of the Lord.


Now put that alongside Zechariah's trials – because he still can't speak – and you have two sides of life, one a bane the other a blessing, but the truth is that the bane was necessary to bring about the blessing. On one side of the equation we have one really dumb guy, and now on the other a really blessed woman.


What does this say to us? Only what we've been saying already – that sometimes trials seem to have to go before blessings. But there is something bigger. Zechariah is an example to us to show us that God does not give up on us. Yes, He may have to take some serious actions but when He knows what He can do through us, that is warranted. The crucial thing is that He knows what he can achieve through us and what it will take to help to bring us through to the place of achievement! It's a crazy thing – caused by the presence of sin in the world – but God desires to bless us more than we are to be blessed! Here was God wanting to end their childlessness and Zechariah can't believe it. But, hey, remind yourself, how many times has the Lord said something great to you and you've said, “No, that's too good. It can't be.” I was once leading a group, running a course on the wonder of God's love, and one of the ladies in the group said, “I can't believe what you are saying. I can't believe it is that good!” And she left the church! How terrible is that! The pressures of life had been so great that she couldn't believe that now God wanted to bless her. Don't let the enemy rob you of God's offer of blessing. Take Him at His word. Receive it joyfully.







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Meditation No. 9

Meditation Title: The Favour of God (2)


Lk 1:26-30   In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God.


There is a difficulty with this passage: it is so well known that it is difficult to get behind the words that are read in so many carol services every Christmas! There is actually another difficulty when you are doing a meditation in a series: it has a lot of similarities with the previous episode involving Zechariah and the angel Gabriel. Nevertheless we look to see what stands out in this passage in this reading.


Strangely it is the observation that the angel is named. In the previous encounter his name didn't come out until he himself revealed who he was (1:19). Gabriel appeared to Daniel (Dan 8:16, 9:21). Thus there are two mentions of him in Daniel and two in Luke 1, but no other reference in the Bible. In this passage it is Luke who tells us who he was although he doesn't say Gabriel told Mary who he was. Presumably Mary later spoke with Zechariah and ‘compared notes', and she subsequently tells Luke. Suffice it to say he appears a significant angel in God's angelic host who has been entrusted with this activity of informing two people of the children they will have. Again we note that God didn't just speak to Mary in her mind or in a dream. He made the communication much more tangible. It is such an important communication it must be done in a very memorable way.


Mary is a young girl getting ready to be married. Much is made about her being a virgin. Interestingly it was Matthew who linked her to the Isaiah prophecy (Mt 1:22,23, Isa 7:14) not Luke, yet Luke has her pointing out the fact. That she was is certain for in such a strict society there would not have been pre-marital sex as there is so commonly today, especially from a pious young woman, as she obviously is. She is pledged to be married to Joseph, a descendant of David. This is stronger than our engaged but less than actual marriage.


When the angel greets her he says, Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” Now Mary's response is interesting. She was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. I suspect that her wondering comprised a number of questions which would flash through her mind. I am highly favoured? What does that mean? The Lord is with me? What does that mean? I am not conscious of God's special presence. What can all this mean? She doesn't say anything but the angel sees that she is perplexed and reassures her: "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. There it is again. She has found favour with God. Why? How? What does this mean? We'll see the explanations given tomorrow.


Mary's being greatly troubled possibly comes more out of feelings of being unworthy more than anything else. It is a most common reaction. Most of us when God comes and says really good things, if we are honest, think, “Has God made a mistake? Has He got the right person?” And of course He has! I always like then angel's greeting to Gideon, found in Judges 6: The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." (v.12). There is no doubt whatsoever that Gideon thinks he's got it wrong. He's hiding away from an enemy who are oppressing his people, and ‘mighty warrior' is the last thing he feels like. But that's the point; he's not yet, but that's what God sees he will become. That's our difficulty when God speaks like this. We've said it before but we need to say it again. When God speaks to us, whether apparently as we're reading the Bible, praying, listening to a sermon, or even if someone brings a word to us, if that word is a word of encouragement speaking of how the Lord sees us, we struggle and say, “I'm not like that” but the truth is that God sees that that is how He plans for us to be. So next time it happens, respond positively and say, “Thank you Lord, that that is what you plan for me to be. Let it be!”


So the angel tells Mary that she is highly favoured. This simply means that the Lord thinks she's the right person! She is special in that He has chosen her to bear His Son. Everything about her says that she is going to become a good mum for Jesus. Never heard it put like that? Well that's what this is all about. If you're a Mum, take it that you're the right one for your children. You've got what it takes to be what they need. With God's help it doesn't matter what comes along, you can do it. You may think little of yourself but God thinks more of you. After all He knows what He can do with you in the days ahead. Have fun! Become the person He's designed you to be!








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Meditation No. 10

Meditation Title: No Impossibilities with God


Lk 1:31-38   You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. ….  "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"  The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you….. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."  "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.


We have found ourselves, several times in these meditations considering our responses to God, especially when His word comes us, saying things about our future which we find difficult to receive, simply because it seems too good to be true. There is behind all this a truth that we struggle with: it is that God is both all-powerful and can do anything, and He is full of goodness and loving kindness which means He wants to do good things for us. We know this truth in our heads – because the Bible says it! But actually when it comes to us personally, we struggle to believe that He will do great things for us – today!


Supposing you were a certain fisherman living in Galilee nearly two thousand years ago. Suppose God's word came to you and said, “I am going to come to you in bodily form. You will know me speaking with you on a daily basis. You will travel with me. You will witness signs and wonders on a daily basis. You yourself will help feed thousands with just a couple of loaves. You yourself will actually walk on water. You yourself will actually fail me in a big way, but I will appoint to be leader over my church that I will be raising up.” Perhaps you recognise Peter in that, but suppose that had been you. Now I know the Lord didn't tell him all that beforehand, perhaps because as a humble fisherman he might not have believed it, but suppose He had said it to you. If you had been Peter you too might have not been able to believe it but, and this is difficult to consider, suppose with all the knowledge that you now have of God, He said all that to you. Suppose He said equally dramatic things to you today, how would you respond?


They are dramatic because we can't work out with our limited minds how such things could possibly be. How could I walk on water? Why should I be picked up by God to do this? Are you beginning to catch the reality of what must have been going on in Mary? However there seems to be in Mary one big difference from most of us. To use modern language, she seems ‘up for it'! Her only difficulty is wondering how can it happen because she and Joseph are not yet married and this seems a very ‘now word'. It seems like the angel is speaking about now. She's a good Jewish girl and she is not going against God's law and have sex before they are married! What would people think! So how can this come about? From the angel's response, this is clearly just a case of her thinking, “Well how can we bring this about, because the circumstances aren't right for it at the moment.”


Is that how we respond? This can't be right, because the circumstances aren't right. It's how the disciples, some thirty years later responded when Jesus invited them to feed a large crowd. On one occasion they looked at how small their resources were and said, these are too small to do this. On another occasion they looked at the largeness of the crowd and said this is too big a problem to deal with. The angel's answer? Nothing is impossible with God,” and The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Whatever it is, God is big enough and powerful enough to handle it! The Holy Spirit does the stuff heaven requires. He asks you to do the equivalent of walking on water? It's all right; the Holy Spirit will give you the power to do what is otherwise impossible. That is what all this ‘relationship with God' stuff is about (if you don't mind me putting it like that!) It's about God coming into our lives with His power and being able to do in and through us what we are not capable of doing.


But then in this passage there is a lovely word of encouragement – and God delights in encouraging us. The angel tells Mary about Elizabeth, her relative. In her old age, God has turned round her barrenness and even at this moment she is expecting a baby. See? With God nothing is impossible. Again to use modern language, Mary's response is, “Right on! Bring it on, Lord!” (Sorry we sometimes have to break through the language barrier that we have, to get past the years of familiarity, to see the truth afresh.) But that was Mary's response: yes Lord! Can it be ours when His word next comes?








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Meditation No. 11

Meditation Title: Jesus described


Lk 1:31-38   You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."  …. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.


We have been considering, on and off over these past meditations, just how difficult it is sometimes, as we seek to cope with our past history, to come to terms with God's word of blessing that comes to us in the present. Mostly it is because we cannot see how we can do the things that are being spoken of, how we can actually achieve what is being said. Here, with these verses above, I think Mary could be excused for struggling with the very concepts being shared with her, about her future son, yet that side of it is not what concerns her. We need to consider it.


It is incredible, and we shouldn't miss this, that Mary remembers these details and is able to pass them on to Luke. It is thought by commentators that Mary was almost certainly the source of this material. By the time Luke would be writing she would be in old age. It is said that elderly people are able to remember long distant things very clearly but not remember what happened yesterday. I personally believe it is God's way of enabling us to reflect back on our lives to realise His goodness through the years. Thus it would not be strange that Mary could remember with great clarity what the angel had said to her. I am sure there were years in the middle part of her life when these things were not so clear, but in old age they come back to crystal clarity and she shares them with Luke.


This is an amazing piece of revelation that she is given, a complete summary of just who Jesus is. First, a son, and he is to be called Jesus, which means deliverer. Second he will be great. That could have meant many things, but what follows shows how. He will be called Son of the Most High. Now that would have had Mary thinking. What can this really mean? The Most High is clearly God, so this son of mine is going to be known as God's son? The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David ? He's going to be a ruler, and he's going to resurrect David's reign over God's people? Well Joseph was certainly of the line of David, but what would this rule mean? He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end? Forever? Never end? How can this be? Whatever does this mean? He will be called the Son of God? There it is again, this claim that he is directly related to God Himself. What can that mean?


Surely these questions must have flashed through Mary's mind as the angel spoke – or perhaps it was all too much for her and she just didn't take it in at the time and it was only decades later that she reflected back and saw it all. Whatever it is, it is a remarkable revelation from heaven, a simple declaration of God's intent. His Son is to be born of a woman, the Son from heaven will take human form, and will rule over the people of God on earth with a rule that has no ending. With the hindsight of thousands of years we can easily see and understand the truth of this proclamation. This child who will be conceived will be born in the usual way but is in fact the very Son of God who has dwelt in eternity with the Father. This is God on earth. No wonder Matthew picked up on the Isaiah ‘virgin prophecy' because it also included, Immanuel--which means, "God with us.” (Mt 1:23). Luke leaves us in no doubt about the one about whom he is writing. From the outset, in these early verses in chapter one, the declaration from heaven is clear. And be clear in your thinking, that is what we have here, a declaration from heaven. This is who Luke is writing about, the Son of God. This isn't, in his mind, just a human Jewish Messiah. This one is coming to the whole world. Yes, the Jewish links are there, going back to David and ruling over the house of Jacob, but even there we need to have understanding.


When Israel is called Jacob, God is gently reminding us of their origins and character. Jacob means twister. This is actually a wonderful grace picture. This glorious Son of God is going to rule over a bunch of twisters – that's you and me if you weren't clear about that! Left to ourselves, that's what we are, a bunch of people who are self-centred, manipulating the world for our own good. These are the people that Jesus is coming to rule over. The only thing that makes them different from the rest of the world is that they confess it, they acknowledge it, and God is able to take that honesty and work with it to bring change to them; that's what the rule of Jesus is all about, and that rule is revealed and declared here in this first chapter.


Jesus is a deliverer from heaven, God in flesh who comes to a bunch of twisters and transforms them. If you've never seen it quite like that, that's what it is, and Luke reveals it to us right from the start. It's all about God's wonderful grace that accepts us like we are and makes us something so much more glorious. How wonderful!








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Meditation No. 12

Meditation Title: The Activity of the Holy Spirit


Lk 1:39-45   At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"


Luke, it is sometimes said, is the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps because Luke has travelled with Paul and has known the ministry of the Spirit in action, that he is open and listening to his sources for signs of God's activity. These unique first chapters of Luke's Gospel are full of the activity of the Lord, either through angels or through the Holy Spirit. Luke may be a doctor who deals in the physical realm, but he is a man who sees the whole picture and thus he knows there is far more than just the physical realm. He is a man who unashamedly believes in – sees, recognises and understands – the work of God by His Spirit.


Mary has been told by the angel that Elizabeth is expecting a baby in her old age. All we are told us that Elizabeth was a relative of Mary (1:36). There is a great age difference between them – Elizabeth is old, Mary is still a teenager – yet it seems natural for Mary to go and visit her relative. We aren't told that she was sent there by God but He may have nudged her to go, so she makes the journey from the north, south to where in Judea they live.


When she arrives and enters there home and greets Elizabeth some unexpected and wonderful happens – God turns up! Suddenly Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. Now the Bible doesn't define what it means by being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit' but the language itself conveys a clear picture of God's presence filling a person's being, and a number of examples reveals what happens. When people in the Bible were filled with the Spirit, examples show us God enabling creativity (Ex 35:31), giving the ability to worship in other languages (Acts 2:4), to speak boldly (Acts 4:7:55, 8,31, 13:9-), or to prophesy (Acts 19:6). We will shortly see in Luke, Zechariah being filled and prophesying (Lk 1:67-). When the Holy Spirit comes and fills someone, things happen. It is God coming to impart blessing in some form but almost invariably it is accompanied by great joy.


So the Spirit comes on Elizabeth as Mary comes in and greets her and Elizabeth speaks out truth that is revelation: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Before Mary has a chance to tell her what has happened, Elizabeth finds herself speaking out the revelation of heave, that she is also having a child and she is especially blessed by God. But listen to this: But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? The mother of my Lord? That is incredible! For her that would probably mean the coming Messiah. Gabriel had told Zechariah that, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb (1:15) and here we have that being fulfilled for she declares, As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” John, within her, was filled with the Spirit as she was filled with the Spirit and leapt within her. It was the ministry of this man-to-be to reveal the Coming One and already that ministry is here seen through Elizabeth . This is all the work of the Holy Spirit who fills her (and him) and inspires her to speak out the truth of the One who is now within Mary. This is the first encounter of the forerunner and the One of whom he will speak and the two expectant mothers (as we shall shortly see) are both inspired by the Spirit to speak out the revelation from heaven.


Elizabeth then gives Mary further encouragement: Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished! In other words, blessed are you Mary for believing what God has said to you. Yes, the prophetic word so often declares the future, so often declares the ‘now truth' but invariably brings encouragement, or as Paul was later to write many years later, everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3). We are living in the age of the Spirit now. Elizabeth and Mary were the forerunners of this age. How wonderful that our relationship with the Lord includes His provision of His own Holy Spirit who comes to us, fills us, inspires us and brings the revelation of heaven to us. Hallelujah!









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Meditation No. 13

Meditation Title: The sign of being blessed


Lk 1:46-49     And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord  and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—  holy is his name.


Is your life ‘blessed'? Do we know what blessed means? It means God has decreed good for us. When you bless someone you are standing as a representative of heaven and decreeing heaven's goodness for them. When you have been blessed you know that God has done you good. Is my life blessed? Absolutely! As I look back over my life, I marvel and wonder at the path I have taken, for it is strewn with ‘coincidences', things that just ‘happened' that opened up another doorway to blessing. I realise that in fact these were not ‘coincidences', they were quiet acts of God. Yes, there have also been lots of other times when God has blessed me obviously as I have prayed or worshipped or read the Bible, times when I was suddenly aware of the revelation of God being given which lifted my spirit and made me sing. There were times (especially during the time of the Toronto Blessing) when God turned up sovereignly and, to my complete confusion, did power things in and through me. There were doorways of opportunity that came my way that opened up blessing. And then there are the good things of the sort that we so often take for granted, like a lovely wife, a lovely family, a good job and good health. Am I blessed? Absolutely! Indeed the more I think about it the more the examples flow into my mind – but I will stop here. Why don't you pause up and reflect back on your life and see all the good things God has done for you?


Mary felt blessed! The nature of verses 46 to 55 indicate that clearly this is a prophetic releasing, Mary is speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit although neither she nor Luke state that. Today's verses are the start of what has been known as the Magnificat, the song of Mary. It is a Spirit release of what she feels that moves from simple feeling of being blessed into a revelation of spiritual realities.


Before we consider it further, consider the incredibly negative comments that are often uttered by atheists and their like about God and being a Christian. The crusading atheist would have us believe that God is a harsh tyrant and any believer is oppressed by Him, that being a Christian is a subservient thing. Look at these criticisms in the light of what Mary says. If you wanted to be really nasty you might say that God came and imposed Himself on Mary and that she was forced into becoming a child-bearer for Him, but what is like that? Well yes, He did come to her expressing His desire to bring His Son into the world through her, but this was a willing young woman who knew and trusted God. If He wanted to do that then it would be for good – and that included her good. So now she finds herself pregnant, and does she feel bad about that? Absolutely not! She feels blessed.


Why is she blessed? Because she recognises she is but a humble girl who has been chosen by the Lord to perform the most wonderful thing possible – to carry God Himself within her womb. It can't be explained, it is beyond our understanding but she is clear about one thing – she is blessed! And it's a good feeling! This is a song of great joy. The Lord Almighty has done great things for her; no one else has ever in all of history has this experience – and no other person ever will. She is unique! To say she is special is the understatement of the year!


Her song continues on to speak out spiritual truths: His mercy extends to those who fear him.” (v.50) Instead of destroying us sinners, wherever He finds those who acknowledge Him, He extends mercy and blesses them. She continues: he has scattered those who are proud.” (v.51) This is God who doesn't sit back doing nothing but brings justice by dealing with the proud and arrogant who are by nature sinners. There is more: He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (v.52) There is none too great to be beyond His reach and none too lowly to be beyond His blessing. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (v.53). He is the great leveler. He has helped his servant Israel.” (v.54) He chose Israel and blessed them. to Abraham and his descendants forever.” (v.55) He chose a man of faith and blessed him and used him as a signpost for all other men and women of faith, to bless them. This is a God who cares for the weak and the poor and who comes down to bless them. This is Mary's understanding as given by the Spirit. She is blessed – and knows it! Are you blessed and do you know it?








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Meditation No. 14

Meditation Title: Obedience and Releasing


Lk 1:57-64   When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.  On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John."  They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who has that name." Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is John." Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.


There is a little verse in Acts 5 that always stands out to me: We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32) It is particularly the part that refers to the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him. Obedience is a key issue in the kingdom of God. The kingdom, after all, refers to the rule of God and when you rule you get your way! God gets His way because He is all-powerful and because He is all-wise and therefore He knows best! Our part of Him getting His way is simply obeying Him. Now this is not a hard thing because everything He does in respect of us is for our blessing but to be blessed we need to do what He says.


Zechariah is still on probation. He is still dumb and has been for nine months. He has no idea if he will ever speak again. Elizabeth has her baby and there is great joy, no doubt, except for Zechariah it is muted (literally!). The word quickly spreads, as it tends to do on these occasions but especially so because Elizabeth and Zechariah have waited for so long. In the Jewish family, the next big thing will be the naming ceremony on the eighth day after the birth when, being a son, the child will be circumcised. This is all likely to happen in the local synagogue and, being a big event in the life of a family, all the family members are there to witness this.


When it comes to the naming part, the local rabbi turns to the parents and enquires if the child will take on the father's name. Zechariah still being dumb says nothing and so Elizabeth speaks up and says, no, he will be named John. This causes a surprise because it broke with family tradition and brought a name into the family that had never been used before. What it also suggests is that somehow, presumably in writing, Zechariah has conveyed to Elizabeth the content of the angel's message, and Elizabeth has gone along with it.


At this point there is a very human and quite humorous incident. They are so surprised by Elizabeth's response that they turn to Zechariah to enquire of him because, presumably, they wonder if Elizabeth is taking the opportunity of Zechariah's muteness to impose her desire on the family, so what do they do? They made signs to his father. There is no other indication in Scripture that he was deaf as well as dumb and so we are left with the conclusion that without thinking they do what people so often do, and assume this dumb man can't hear either. Anyway he indicates, presumably in sign language, to be given something to be able to write, and writes, “His name is John.”


There is a lovely unity in this couple at this point in their lives. They are both being obedient to the will of God. We could take this for granted but we mustn't. Zechariah is being obedient because he has learnt through adverse circumstances that God is to be obeyed. He was, we have previously seen, a rule-keeper, a good man but a rule keeper. So he's been given a rule and a discipline to remind him of it. Don't take for granted his obedience; he could have felt really aggrieved by what had happened and refused to name the child John, but he wasn't. He had learned his lesson, that God knows best and God's will is to be followed. Have you ever been told off for your wrong attitude or behaviour? How did you respond? Was it to learn and to conform to God's will graciously, or did you pout and object to being corrected? Solomon said, “ he who hates correction is stupid .” (Prov 12:1)


Elizabeth is obedient because she has learnt through the blessing of the Lord. Her husband has obviously communicated to her what happened in the Temple. Perhaps she may have been doubtful about it, but when she finds herself pregnant she does not attribute this to coincidence, she sees it as the specific hand of God, and so she is delighted to go along with His instructions and name the child John. One learnt through adversity, the other through blessing. Whichever it takes, God seeks to lead us into the place of blessing that comes through obedience.


The moment he confirms God's will, Zechariah's mouth is opened and he starts praising the Lord and prophesying (as we'll see tomorrow). God has honoured his obedience and the Holy Spirit has come and touched him and released his vocal cords and his spirit. He is blessed – and it shows! He doesn't immediately say, “Oh thank goodness, I can speak again!” He just praises the Lord and prophesies. He is just utterly blessed by the outcome of all this. Yes, he had been slow in his belief, and yes he had been chastised for it, but that was all now past history. The important thing was that God had blessed them, just as He had said, and despite Zechariah's unbelief. How good it is that God doesn't wait until we always get it right before He blesses us! Rejoice in that confidence today! Hallelujah!









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Meditation No. 15

Meditation Title: Talk of the town


Lk 1:65-68   The neighbours were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, "What then is this child going to be?" For the Lord's hand was with him. His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:  "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel , because he has come and has redeemed his people.


It seems to me, as I read Scripture, that it is almost as if there are three levels of information given. First, there are things we are just not told. Quite often you read and wonder about various things that the writers were obviously just not concerned about. Then at the opposite end, there are things that are clearly written about and there is plenty of detail. Finally, in the middle, there is sketchy information given that makes you want to ask the writer for more. This passage today falls into that middle group.


It starts out simply enough: The neighbours were all filled with awe. These events had left them wondering, the people immediately in their vicinity who knew Zechariah and Elizabeth. They knew this elderly couple, they knew this elderly priest who served in the Temple not far off. They were a nice couple, a god-fearing couple who clearly adhered to all of God's Law, good people. But they didn't have any children and that had left people wondering. What had they done not to receive God's blessing of children. Through the years the comments had been made, but now they were old and people accepted that that was just how it was. Then the old man comes home from serving in the Temple and he seemed struck down with something that has left him dumb. That really had people talking. Then those who lived nearest and who knew Elizabeth well, almost certainly the women, started wondering. There's something about Elizabeth that seems different. She seems almost radiant. Is she… no she can't be… she is…. she's expecting a baby! How incredible after all this time! Then comes the naming ceremony and they name him John and suddenly Zechariah breaks forth in praise and prophecy. Wow! What is this? John? John is short for Jehohanan which means ‘God's gift'. Those really close had told the story that Elizabeth had shared. They met God, God gave them this child, "What then is this child going to be?"


So yes, there was awe. The people knew that God had turned up. After all this time with not a sound from heaven, God had spoken and acted. In my lifetime? That I should hear of such a thing? What might He do next? The sound barrier has been broken. God has come. There is a God-given child. This has echoes of the past to it. Back in their distant history there had been poor Hannah who could not conceive and then the Lord gave here Samuel. Have we got another Samuel here? What is going on?


And where was all this happening? the hill country of Judea. How vague is that! I wonder why Luke didn't bother to tell us where they actually lived? Presumably he knew but just didn't consider it important. All he knew was that the Lord's hand was with him, and the ‘him' is John. If God's hand is on someone the implication is that things are going to happen, and that was the sense that was among the people: God is here, something is going to happen. Now this is what followed these amazing events, the outcome of them if you like, but Luke hasn't finished with the events themselves yet; he returns to them.


Zechariah's tongue has been released and he has praised the Lord, and now he prophesies. The prophesy flows out of the praise. The praise flows: Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel.” Everything in him wants to praise the Lord, but there is a specific reason: because he has come and has redeemed his people.” What? He has redeemed his people? We don't seem to be redeemed; we're still under the oppression of Rome . What does this mean? Check it out; it's prophecy Luke says, and prophecy speaks of what will be as if it has already happened, because once God declares it, it is as good as if it has already happened. God is going to redeem His people and He's going to use John, quite obviously, and it's as good as done!


No wonder the people were talking, no wonder the word was spreading like wildfire. This dumb man, this man who had been silent for nine months, suddenly breaks forth with a declaration from heaven. It can be nothing less than a word from God. This is the first word to the people for over four hundred years. No wonder they are talking! God is coming, He's coming to deliver us; His word has come through a dumb priest who's just had a prophetic son. Expectation! Anticipation!


Unfortunately it would be thirty years before the saw the unfolding of God's plan of redemption and even then, those who were around, probably didn't realise what was happening. In thirty years, it's easy to forget what happened, but nevertheless, the truth is that God spoke and declared His intentions. You may have to wait a while, but if He's said it, it WILL happen. Don't be put off by long delays; try and hold on to the excitement of the day when the word came, because it will come to pass!








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Meditation No. 16

Meditation Title: Prophet of God


Lk 1:76-79       And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."


I don't know if you are like me but there are times when I give Scripture a casual glance and then do a double take on it. What seemed mundane suddenly took on great significance. I wasn't even going to cover these verses (there are too many to do all the verses unique to Luke), but suddenly these ones leapt at me to be included.


These verses fall into two parts, the first about John and the second about Jesus. Verses 69 to 75 are prophecy declaring what God has done for Israel generally, but at verse 76 the prophecy takes on a very personal nature as he speaks directly to his newly named son. Now this is interesting because of course John can't understand a word that his father is saying but this prophecy has two reasons for it (apart from the fact that the Holy Spirit is inspiring him). The first reason is that it is a declaration in the ears of the people; it is God speaking to His people. There will be some there, the younger ones, who will be around when John starts his ministry in thirty years time. But there is another reason why prophecy is spoken out loud; it is that God is declaring His will to all of Creation, including the onlookers, the powers and principalities of heaven and of the darkness. When God declares His will like this it is a statement of what WILL be and it comes to the angels of heaven as a means of seeing what God is doing and providing a source of praise and worship for them in their understanding of God. It also comes to the powers of darkness as a sharp warning: this is what I'm doing, don't mess with him!


So let's see what is said about John first. He will be known as a prophet of the Lord. His ministry will be clear and obvious and he will be seen to be God's mouthpiece in the years to come. Specifically he will prepare the way for the Lord to come and do what is on His heart to do. In chapter 3 Luke remembers this and identifies John with the Isaiah 40 prophecy of one in the desert preparing the way of the Lord. How is John going to prepare the way for God to come? He's going to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. In other words people will come to a knowledge of God's salvation because they have repented of their sins and received God's forgiveness. That is what John's ministry was, to get the people into a right place to meet God. Now we need to see that. John brought people into a right attitude before God so that they could then receive the Lord when He came to them in the form of His Son. The Isaiah prophecy and that quoted in Luke 3 is all about preparing the way, or preparing the people so that God's glory or God's salvation can come to them and be received by them. It is to enable God to come to His prepared people. Previously they were in a place of sin, having at the best a form of religion, but John will come, convict them of their sin so that they repent, come to him and be baptised by him as an outward sign of what has gone on inwardly. They are THEN in a state to meet with their God, encounter Him, walk with him and talk with him on the roads of Israel . That's John's role.


But then the prophecy takes on a more ‘picture-language' aspect that goes beyond John. He speaks about the rising sun will come to us from heaven. Notice the ‘from heaven' bit. The language and picture of the rising sun contrasts with the picture of darkness: to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death.” Earlier Isaiah had prophesied, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isa 9:2). The people of Israel at this time were living in spiritual darkness and the rising sun was the glory of Jesus being revealed. His coming was a tender mercy of our God. Mercy is undeserved compassion or kindness shown. If God gave them (and us) what they deserved they would have been destroyed, but instead He sent His own Son to bring them life or, as the prophecy here puts it, to guide our feet into the path of peace . Jesus brings us into a place of peace with his Father and peace becomes a primary characteristic of our lives.


John came to prepare the people, to clean them up before God, and then Jesus came to show them how they could live in a new harmonious relationship with the Lord through him. God doesn't just want our sins dealt with; He wants us to enter into an eternal relationship with Him. Our daily lives today are all about living in harmonious relationship with the Lord. that is what this prophecy is all about. How incredible!