Chapter # 1 Paragraph # 5 Study # 5
August 15, 2004
:The greatest single issue anyone ever has to face is this question: have I any value to God?
:In our consideration of the birth of John and the record of the debate about what his name should be, we have seen that Luke is bringing a major thesis to the front burner. That thesis is that there is a focal characteristic of God
that men must
have front and center in their heart/mind complex if they are to experience what the Bible calls life
. Everybody has a focus upon some aspect of God's character that dominates the way they approach life. It is Luke's contention that graciousness
is the focal characteristic that is necessary. In our last two studies we have seen that John's identity was highlighted by the recorded debate so that graciousness would be paramount and that the consequence of that focus was, initially, fear. Fear naturally arises from the focal characteristic of God called holiness
. And, as we saw last week, this is the focus that must be in place initially for one simple reason: men never come to grasp "grace" if they have not been deeply schooled in "justice". Grace cannot be known without a backdrop of demerit. Justice provides that backdrop. But, there are two major problems for men in this "process". The first is that they may never be sufficiently schooled in Justice to ever be able to come to Grace [this leads inexorably to self-righteousness and arrogance], and the second is that they may be so twisted by the schooling in Justice that they cannot "let it go" in favor of Grace [this leads inexorably to hopelessness and despair]. Now, this morning, as we continue looking into the text, we will discover that there is an "issue" that is dependent upon the successful operation of the process of God. There is, hovering over this thing called "life", a central "issue" that simply must be addressed at some point. This "issue" is the reason for "fear" and it is the basis for the insistence Luke is making for the fundamental focus-shift. This issue can be summarized with this question: Have I any value in the eyes of God? Clearly, if I have no value in the eyes of God, I have much to fear as I move toward the final declaration of my worthlessness to Him. On the other hand, just as clearly, if I have any value in the eyes of God, it cannot be rooted in His appreciation of my character and actions, for He knows that I have sinned, do sin, and will sin against Him. So, we are going to look into Luke's record to see how he handles this "hovering issue".
- I. The Issue in the Text.
- A. There are two references to "the place where the folks lived".
- 1. There is the reference to the "neighbors" (Luke 1:58, 65 -- same root word, handled differently by the translators).
- 2. There is the reference to the "hill country of Judaea".
- a. This "hill country" business...
- 1) Luke, alone in all of the New Testament, mentions "the hill country".
- 2) The other reference is 1:39 where we are told that Mary hastily went there.
- 3) There is a deliberate omission of the name of a town in every referece to Zacharias and Elizabeth that is remarkable in contrast to the very deliberate mention of Nazareth of Galilee in Mary's case (why didn't he write "...to Hebron in Judea...", or some such?).
- 4) There are two possibilities for the mention of "the hill country".
- a) It could be that Luke is simply identifying the geographical location -- which would boil down to meaning almost nothing.
- b) It could be that Luke is deliberately pulling up an Old Testament theme regarding the significance of "the hill country".
- i. In Psalm 121:1, there is a deliberate linkage between "the hill country" and Yahweh as the place/Person from whence my "help" shall come.
- ii. It is unlikely that it is mere coincidence that both the forerunner and the "Lord" before Whom he runs are from the "hill country" and that the name of the forerunner means "the Lord (before Whom I run) is Gracious" and that the name of the Lord before whom he runs means "Yahweh saves" (functions as my Helper).
- b. The sum of this theme is this: those whom the Gracious Helper helps are very valuable in His eyes.
- B. There is the matter of the connection between the hill country and Judaea.
- 1. In 1:39 Luke tells us Mary went to a "city of Judah".
- 2. In 1:65 Luke tells us that those most affected by the birth events were in the hill country of Judaea.
- 3. There is a deliberate switch here from the rarely used (in the New Testament) Judah and the often used (in the New Testament) Judaea. Why?
- a. The reference to Judah is a reference to the man after whom the Tribe of Judah is named.
- 1) The name means "Praise".
- 2) The name was given by a woman whose personal attitude development is traceable according to the births of her sons according to Genesis 29-30.
- 3) The man was officially identified as the progenitor of the Christ.
- b. The context of "Judah" is clear: the issue of the question of the value one has.
- 1) Leah had been struggling with her lack of value in the eyes of her husband.
- 2) She recognized Yahweh as the source of her sons in compensation for her lack of love from her husband -- i.e. Yahweh loved her even if her husband did not.
- c. The people of the Tribal lands of Judaea were the ones who had the words "noised abroad" so that they could ponder the meaning of the name "John".
- C. The Point in Summary: in both of the phrases "the hill country" and "of Judaea" have strong overtones of the question of "value".
- II. The Statement of the Text.
- A. The "words" Luke has recorded regarding the birth of "John" are disseminated throughout Judaea.
- 1. The theological controversy is introduced into the apostasy of Israel.
- a. John had been prophesied to be one who would "turn" many of Israel to the Lord their God -- indicating a vast apostasy in the nation.
- b. The controversy brings "fear" into the mix and, by that, reveals the depth of the apostasy -- one would think the "people of God" would have learned of His great love and willingness to help, but they had not...they were still living in fear.
- 2. The focus is upon the actual "words" (hramata) so that there is no escape from the point that "John" was ordained to be the finger that points to the chief focal issue of the character of God.
- B. Those "words" are "placed" by all those who hear them in Judaea into their "heart" so that they anticipate what is going to happen once "John" grows up.
- 1. There is a very long time span between the "words" and the realization of John's impact.
- 2. That the words are "placed in the heart" means that this "message" of "John" is going to dominate people for at least three decades.
- C. The question of "John's" ultimate impact was underwritten by "the hand of Yahweh".
- 1. There are two things going on here.
- a. John had been predicted to turn many to Yahweh and Yahweh was laying the foundation for the fulfillment in meticulous detail.
- b. The name "Judah" is linguistically attached to the Hebrew word "hand" so that God's "hand" is going to be extended in favor toward Judah in specific terms of exaltation (i.e. being "loved").
- 2. The textual transmission reveals an "indeed" in the actual text...i.e. making it a point to underscore the fact that people were not being allowed to miss the point of "John".
- III. The Significance of the Text to Us.
- A. The first prediction regarding "John" was his "greatness" in the eyes of the Lord.
- B. The first conclusion of the name "John" is that the Lord seeks to be gracious to men.
- C. The overall focus of the text is that God is taking great pains to make sure that His care for men is not to be overlooked.
- D. This boils down to one grand conclusion: men are of extreme value to God.
- E. There is only one matter that remains unresolved: are men going to believe that God values them this much?