Part 1 of 2

The Christmas story, when it is studied, ought to provide both a factual look at the events surrounding the nativity, and some insight into what those events should mean to us. This study (in two parts) will help you with both of those goals.

Four accounts of the earthly life of Christ are given to us in God's Word. For much of the detail regarding the birth of Christ, we are indebted to Luke's Gospel. Luke was a medical doctor (Col. 4:14), and a frequent traveling companion of the Apostle Paul's. The introduction to the book of Acts shows that Luke also authored that book. (Those sections where he uses "we" and "us," (e.g. Acts 16:10) indicate times he is with Paul.) In the book that has come to be known as The Gospel According to Luke, he shows himself to be a careful historian. He presents many details of the words and works of Christ, particularly emphasizing His humanity. (This book therefore complements John's Gospel, which focuses more on His deity.) Before he goes on to recount something of the birth and boyhood of Jesus, Luke begins with the birth of John the Baptist, the one who would be Christ's "forerunner," announcing His coming.

(Please read Luke 1:1-4)

1) Judging by how Luke addresses him, what seems to have been the relationship between him and the man named Theophilus (vs. 3)?

2) How would Luke's background prepare him to gather accurate data?

3) Where had Luke gathered his information about the life of Jesus (vs. 2)?

4) What was Luke's purpose in writing his Gospel (vs. 4)?

(Please read Luke 1:5-25)

5) What tribe in Israel were Zacharias and Elizabeth from (vs. 5)?

6) What was Zacharias's vocation?

7) How would you describe the spiritual character of this couple (vs. 6)?

8) Like Abraham and Sarah, many years before, they had a problem. What was it (vs. 7)?

9) Did they care about this? (How do you know? See vs. 13, 25)?

10) For what special duty had Zacharias been chosen (vs. 9)?

INSIGHT: King David had divided the priesthood into 24 shifts (I Chron. 24:10). Each shift was called upon to serve in the temple twice a year, one week at a time, from Sabbath to Sabbath. But there were so many priests that the great privilege of burning incense in the holy place came only once in a lifetime, if at all. The fragrant smoke of burning incense was symbolic of prayers ascending up to God (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8).

11) What happened that greatly frightened Zacharias, while he was burning incense on the altar (vs. 11-12)?

INSIGHT: The angel identifies himself in vs. 19 as Gabriel. Gabriel had the responsibility of carrying important messages from God to man. He appeared to Daniel (Dan. 8:16; 9:21), and to Mary, as well (Lk. 1:26-27).

12) What message did Gabriel have for Zacharias (vs. 13)?

13) Several things are specified about the son who was to be born. What was his name to be (vs. 13)? What would be the reaction to his birth (vs. 14)?

INSIGHT: Drinking neither wine nor strong drink (vs. 15) was a requirement for the priesthood (Lev. 10:9). But it may indicate that John was to be a life-long Nazirite, as well. The Nazirites took a special vow of self denial and holiness (Num. 6:2-4).

INSIGHT: It was prophesied John would be "great in the sight of the Lord" (vs. 15). He would be great in terms of the unique mission God would give him (vs. 17), and great in his humble obedience to God (cf. Jn. 3:29-30).

14) In contrast to this kind of greatness, what does it take to be great in the eyes of the world?

14b) Why is this kind of greatness inferior to being "great in the sight of the Lord"?

15) What unusual spiritual enablement was John given (vs. 15)?

15b) What would John's ministry be (vs. 16)?

15c) And what would be the purpose of this ministry (vs. 17)?

16) How did Zacharias respond to Gabriel's announcement (vs. 18, 20b)?

INSIGHT: It seemed too late for Elizabeth to have a child (vs. 18), and (in a sense) too early for Mary to have a child (vs. 34). Yet God overruled the natural order of things in each case.

17) What does this tell us about God's power? And about His timing (cf. Gal. 4:4)?

18) Gabriel says, "Your prayer is heard" (vs. 13). What does Zacharias's unbelief show about his prayer that may be like some of our own?

19) How was Zacharias disciplined for not accepting the angel's message (vs. 20)?

INSIGHT: Zacharias was so long at his work in the temple that people became concerned (vs. 21). But they were in for an even bigger surprise. When he emerged, Zacharias could not speak. By sign language he conveyed to them what he had seen (vs. 22). After his week of service, Zachariah returned home (vs. 23). There, in the course of time, Elizabeth conceived, and she remained in seclusion for five months (vs. 24). When Elizabeth was six months into her pregnancy, Gabriel was sent forth on another mission.

(Please read Luke 1:26-38)

INSIGHT: In a few words, Luke gives us quite a bit of information about Mary (vs. 26-27): That she lived in Nazareth; that she had never had physical relations with a man; that she was "betrothed" (a binding marriage contract, in those days) to a man named Joseph; that Joseph was a descendant of David (as Mary was herself).

20) Gabriel had a message for Mary that was cause for rejoicing. Why (vs. 28)?

21) How did Mary react to seeing an angel (vs. 29)?

22) Gabriel reassured her, and told her of a "high favour" God was granting to her. What was it (vs. 31)?

INSIGHT: The name of Mary's Son was to be "Jesus" (meaning Jehovah is Salvation, or by implication, simply Saviour).

23) What information is Mary given about who the Child is, and what He will do (vs. 32-33)?

24) How is it that a virgin was able to give birth to a Son (vs. 35; cf. Matt. 1:18)?

25) How did Mary's response to all of this (vs. 34) differ from that of Zacharias (vs. 20)?

26) What is the news about Elizabeth meant to do for Mary (vs. 36-37)?

27) What does Mary's final response to the angel (vs. 38) show about her attitude and her relationship with the Lord?

28) What does the information given about Zacharias and about Mary tell us about the kind of people God uses? (How does vs. 20 relate to this?)