This lesson looks briefly at the mission of John the Baptist as foretold by events in the lives of John’s parents and at the mission of Jesus Christ as revealed by the angel to Mary. The lessons below, from 1935, cover the same ground. Because so little is known of the biographies of Zacharias, Elisabeth, Joseph and Mary, both lessons are more or less basic commentary and questions about those few known biographical facts. (New Testament Sunday School Lessons, First quarter 1935. Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union, 1935.)
The Angel Promised Zacharias a Son; The Birth of John the Baptist.
“But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias; for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
“And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
“For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.” Luke 1:13-15.
Who was Zacharias? Who, other than a Savior, had the Jews been told to expect? What position did Zacharias hold? How often were the priests called upon to officiate at the altar of incense? Who was Elizabeth? What did the angel promise Zacharias? what should the baby be named? What sign was given to Zacharias because of his doubting the angel’s message?
Readings: (Luke, Chap. 1:1-25; 39-80.)
The same Jews who had received and accepted the prophecies and promises regarding a messiah, had also been told that a forerunner, an announcer, would come before the arrival of their King. This King, this Savior, this Messiah, was to be a truly great personality, and so important should his life and reign be, that another great man should come to prepare the way before him, and to prepare the hearts of the people to receive his message. This forerunner would have the responsibility of teaching such principles and truths as would prepare the minds and hearts of the people, so that they would be ready to understand and receive the more profound teachings of the Master when he should come. When would this forerunner come? Through whose family would he come? these and many other questions perplexed these wondering people. They were, in their way, quite religious, and many of them went regularly to the temple to worship.
At this time the power of the high priests had grown until they were the real rulers among the people, and the lesser priests were a part of princes. Many of these priests were conscientious men, but the majority of them were jealous of their power and were more interested in that power than in the spiritual welfare of the people. But despite their shortcomings they had succeeded in keeping the Jews separated from other peoples, and walled them in, as it were, and maintained their identity as a separate and distinct people.
These priests officiated in the temple, and were divided into twenty-four classes, or courses, for service in that holy place. there were scores of these priests appointed to labor in the holy places in their temple, and every priest longed for one particular honor. That was the honor of officiating in the Sanctuary, or Holy Place, which was just outside the Holy of Holies and which contained the altar where incense was burned in the daily worship. This incense was burned in connection with the prayers of the people, and was thought to help make the prayers more acceptable, by reason of the pleasant odor given off.
The first chapter of Luke explains why these priests got a turn at this honor but once in a life time, and how the selection was made. Among the priests was one Zacharias, who was a member of the course of Abia, or the eighth of the twenty-four classes of priests, the husband of a very worthy woman named Elizabeth. Zacharias was an old man, and had prayed very earnestly that the honor of officiating at the altar might come to him just once before he died.
Have you ever desired any special thing so much that you have thought about it, and dreamed about it, and prayed for it, and felt that it would be the grandest thing that could possibly come to you? What a thrill you had if that longed-for wish was granted to you! You can imagine how this holy man Zacharias felt when the presiding priests announced that his name, the name of Zacharias, had been drawn, and that he was the lucky man, for on this day he should go into the sanctuary and burn the incense, while the worshipers in the outer room prayed and watched for the smoke from the incense to rise toward heaven.
While Zacharias was by the altar, having nearly completed his holy task, he saw a personage standing at one end of the altar. The good man was surprised, for no person except the one priest who was selected to officiate was allowed in this part of the temple during this ceremony. it did not occur to Zacharias that it might be an angel, because the people, even the priests, had an idea that angels no longer came from the presence of God with messages for his children.
It was the angel Gabriel, come to this good man with a special and wonderful message. An honor? Why, the one honor just accorded him in the temple, for he, an old man, and Elizabeth, his wife, were to have a son. they had prayed for a son just as earnestly as had Zacharias prayed for the priestly honor, but they had become old and had long since given up all hope of having any children at all.
Zacharias was doubtful. He looked at the angel in astonishment. “And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.” (Luke 1:12-14.) What, old folks like us have a baby? We would surely like one, but I don’t believe it can be possible. The angel told him that he would see that God knew what he was promising, and in due time Elizabeth should have a baby boy and his name should be John, for “the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.’ (Luke 1:19.) “And behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.” (Luke 1:20.)
Dazed, bewildered, and actually unable to speak, Zacharias left the temple, and went home to tell Elizabeth this remarkable message brought to him direct from his heavenly Father by an angel.
One day this promised baby came to the home of this worthy and honored couple. Talk about happiness! This home was overflowing with it. All of the neighbors and friends came in to see this fine healthy baby boy. Even as now, they wanted to select his name. Of course, said they, this is the first son and must be named for his father, so his name must be Zacharias, and he too will probably become a priest like his father. But his mother said no, we want him named John. What? John? Why, who ever heard of such a thing! There never has been a John in your family, and what on earth has put such a foolish notion into your head? John, indeed! The mother said, True, it’s not a family name, but John it will be; ask his father.
Of course, Zacharias could not talk so they brought him writing table and paper and pencil, and he wrote, even as the angel had said, “His name is John.” Then, another saying of the angel was fulfilled, for Zacharias could speak; for had not the angel said that he should be dumb until the child should be born and his name declared. So, in accordance with the specific promise of the angel to this worthy priest, had come into the world the baby, who was to develop into one of the greatest men of all time, even the one to prepare the way for Christ, the one to teach the things that would prepare them for the greater message of the Savior. This is one of the outstanding incidents of our course for this year.
Many of the things promised for this remarkable child are contained in the inspired words of Zacharias, uttered under the power and direction of the Holy Ghost, and found in the last sixteen verses of the first chapter of Luke.
The Angel Visits Mary; His Message.
“And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of Heaven and Earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.” (Mosiah 3:8.)
Who was Gabriel? Who was Joseph? Who was Mary? How did Gabriel’s visit to Zacharias differ from the visit to Mary? From what King was Joseph descended? Of what king was Mary a descendant? What did Elizabeth say to Mary when Mary visited her? Read Mary’s answer.
Readings: Luke 1:26-56.
The prophets of the Old Testament who had predicted the coming of the Messiah, had all spoken of him as the “son of David.” They had all referred to him as the one whose right it would be to reign in Palestine in the royal house of Israel, the direct descendant of that mighty and illustrious King, David.
We have already learned that each of the daughters of Israel secretly hoped that she might be the one chosen to become the mother of the holy child.
At this time the Kingdom of David had been overthrown, and men appointed by the Roman emperor ruled over the people. But there was a man living in whose veins flowed the royal blood; one lived whose right it was to be King if the house of Israel had been in power. That man was Joseph, a righteous man and a direct descendant of the King David. How did he get this right? You can see his long list of royal ancestors in the first chapter of Matthew.
This good man Joseph was engaged to be married to one of the fine daughters of Israel, herself a direct descendant of David, and one of those young women who lived a clean, pure, righteous life, ever hoping that she might become the mother of the promised Messiah.
One day, about six months after the angel Gabriel had visited Zacharias in the inner sanctuary of the beautiful temple in Jerusalem and told him of the coming of a son, John the Baptist, this same angel appeared to Mary, but under much different circumstances. Mary lived in the city of Nazareth, no doubt in a humble cottage. there was no temple, no altar, no worshiping multitude; but just the humble precincts of a Nazarene home, but turned into a temple by the presence of this chosen young woman, and the visit of the holy messenger. Without warning, Gabriel came into the room where Mary was and greeted her with these significant words: ‘Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” Luke 1:28.
Mary was startled; she was troubled. Who was this personage? What did he mean? Then wondrous joy; he gave her that message which promised that for which many a Jewish maiden had hoped and prayed. Turn to Luke, first Chapter and read that thrilling answer in Gabriel’s words to Mary. They are found in the thirtieth to the thirty-third verses.
Mary did not doubt the angel, as had Zacharias doubted, but she was troubled, she did not understand just how this event promised by the angel could happen.
Then came to Mary that divine answer which explains so beautifully the divine lineage of Christ, how he, to be born of a human, mortal woman, could indeed be the son, the Son of God, our Heavenly father. Read the words of the angel to Mary in the thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth verses.
The angel also told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was going to give birth to a babe, and Mary, knowing that Elizabeth was very old, was assured by the angel that nothing was impossible with God. Mary felt the need to talk with somebody. She was thrilled with the promise of the angel, and had faith in the power of her Heavenly Father to such an extent that she knew that she really would become the mother of this long expected child. So she set out on a long journey to the home of Elizabeth, to tell her the happy secret. As soon as Mary had greeted Elizabeth, Elizabeth was inspired by the Holy Ghost, and received a testimony that Mary was to become the mother of our Lord, and said, “And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Have you read Mary’s answer? It is one of the most wonderful hymns of praise ever uttered, and has, in later years, been set to music and is used in Christian churches all over the world. Turn now to our New Testament, and read through this inspired response of this chosen daughter of the Lord. Luke 1.
Mary stayed about three months in the home of Elizabeth. Of these two women, one was elderly and experienced in the service of the church and her fellows, the other young, inexperienced and needing help. Can’t you imagine how they would talk of the great honor which had come to them, how they would try to imagine how those babies of theirs yet to come, would grow into manhood, and how one would go out to prepare the way, and the other bring salvation to the world.
At the end of this visit Mary went back to her home in Nazareth. She was somewhat alarmed, because up to now nobody in her home town knew her secret. What would her folks say when they learned her wonderful secret? What would her lover, Joseph, the man whose wife she had promised to be, say when she told him the secret.
When Joseph learned of her secret, that she was to become a mother, he was troubled. What should he do? he had not seen the angel, he had not been told by what power this was all to be. Should he put Mary aside and not marry her? He was a just man and loved Mary so much that he wanted to shield and protect her all that he could.
While Joseph pondered and worried about this new problem an angel came to him with a message. Said he, “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matt. 1:20-21.
After the visit of the angel to Joseph, he took Mary as his wife, and being a fine, good manly man, he cared for her tenderly, even as any good lovable husband would cherish and care for his wife who was expecting to become a mother. Then was fulfilled the sayings of some of the prophets with regard to the kind of a mother who should bring into the world the Saviour, the King, the Christ, so long promised to the Jews, and expected by them.