Wednesday, December 6, 2006


First Advent Midweek Worship
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
Luke 1:5-25

We’re often so ready to jump to Christmas that we may forget all the preparation of God that preceded the birth of the Savior at Bethlehem. We hear so much about the baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph that we may forget about the other people God used to bring His plan of salvation into effect. Christmas is definitely a wonderful time of year. But if we step back a moment and share in the preparation that went into Christmas, how God brought His salvation and love into the world, bringing it to bear on the lives of specific individuals, then we might be better prepared for our celebration of Christmas and our joy of the love our God has given us in the Savior born at Bethlehem.

Zechariah had a part in the workings of the bringing about of the Savior. Although it was kind of a dubious one. Although he was a priest, when met with God’s messenger and his declaration of the coming about of the Old Testament promises of God, he was skeptical. This is from a man Luke describes this way: “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” This should serve as notice to us that even the most faithful saints among us stumble. We ourselves do not always trust the message God gives us.

Now we can probably cut Zechariah some slack, as Luke informs us that the reason he and his wife Elizabeth had no children was “because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” So it’s certainly understandable that he would doubt the words of the angel telling him he would have a son.

But we shouldn’t be so quick to defend him. This is what Luke says: “Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.” If anyone was aware of the promise of God of the Messiah, and that He would send ahead of the Savior a forerunner, it was a priest. Called to serve on behalf of the people. Called to carry out the rituals of God according to how God instituted them in His Word. And Zechariah knew that God had sent angels to His people before and had come to them at times in more than ordinary ways.

He was serving before the Lord. Called to do the bidding of the Lord. But when the Lord called him to a specific duty he trusted his own judgment rather than the Word of the Lord. It’s telling how all the signs were there for Zechariah, and yet he looked past the purpose for his service as priest and instead relied on his own experience. Luke tells us that “there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.” What was Zechariah doing? Offering up incense to God Almighty. In the confidence that God Almighty would hear the prayers of His people. In answer to these very prayers, God sent His angel, standing right there at the altar of incense.

You know how it is. We’re waiting for something so long, we wonder when it will ever come about. The people of God in the Old Testament had continued raise their cry out to God. How long? When will You send the Messiah? Now here in response to that prayer God was answering and Zechariah was doubting. Luke says it this way: “And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.” God’s messenger was ready for this, Luke says: “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.’” The angel even tells Zechariah that he has come in response to his prayers.

But he doesn’t stop there. He fills in the details. He not only gives specifics of the nature of the blessing of God Zechariah will receive, he also backs up His promise by showing how this is in fulfillment of Scripture: “and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.” At this point we might reasonably assume that Zechariah is thinking, yeah, right, how are my wife and I going to have a baby when we’re past child-bearing age? Perhaps he may not even have been listening as he should have while the angel continued: “And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”

Because it’s at this point that the angel showed how this promise was in fulfillment of Scripture, as we heard moments ago in the Old Testament reading: “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” We can certainly see how this was too surreal for Zechariah to accept. But shouldn’t we really be marveling at how Zechariah really didn’t know better? Did he believe the Word of God, or not? Did he serve the people of God while really just going through the motions?

He said to the angel, “‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’ And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.’” Gabriel doesn’t mince words. He stands in the stead of God, in the very temple of God to give to a man of God a promise that would bless him as well as multitudes. So he places upon Zechariah God’s punishment: “And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” If Zechariah did not believe it before, he will believe it now. He will pay the price for not believing the words of the messenger God sent.

And yet, even here, God’s mercy is abundant upon Zechariah. He still brings about His promise to him. He will not let Zechariah’s unbelief deter Him from the great things He has planned, the promises He will fulfill, the grace He will bestow. Zechariah will have nine months to ponder his unbelief of God’s Word in silence. But he will nevertheless be the recipient of the very promise of that Word.

On that day Zechariah wasn’t the only one wondering what was going on. Luke tells us what was going on outside the temple: “And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple.” Indeed he had. And instead of being able to have them share in the joy of it, he was unable to make it known to them. Luke says that “he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, ‘Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.’”

Now, granted, Elizabeth hadn’t been taken by surprise by the angel Gabriel, but what do you think her response was to Zechariah as he found a way to communicate to her what would come about? Do you think she readily accepted this amazing promise unlike him? Somehow I think she may have laughed at the prospect just as Sarah had done when she heard the Angel of the Lord telling her husband Abraham that she would give birth at age 90. But Scripture doesn’t tell us, so all we can do is enjoy the confession of faith she made that the Lord was gracious to her in her reproach of never having been able to have children.

And this is true for us, also. He has been gracious to us. He has taken away our reproach. But while it is never a promise of God that we will always have all the things we desire, whether it be children, or fame, or whatever, He has given us one who would point the way to the One who would take away the sins of the world on the cross of Calvary. When God blessed Elizabeth and Zechariah with John the Baptist, the world was also the recipient of a gift. For he was a messenger just like the angel Gabriel. He came to tell the world that there is a Savior, and He is Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.

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