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TEXT: Luke 1:5-25
SUBJECT: Luke #2: John's Birth Announced
Today, with the Lord's blessing, we'll continue our study of the Third Gospel. Last time, we looked at the Preface and learned that Luke's story is a studied and accurate history of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he got it from the men who knew Him best, and that he wrote it so that everyone who believes in Christ would
"Know the certainty of those things in which he was instructed".
The Christian faith is not built on hopes and wishes, superstitions and fairy tales. It is built on Truth-the things we believe really happened. Luke wrote his Gospel so we would know that.
That was the introduction to the story; now we move on the story itself-and what a story it is!
It begins "in the days of Herod, king of Judea". This is Herod the Great, who ruled from 40 to 4 B.C. He was a puppet of the Roman Empire and one of the bloodiest and most hated men of his age. He was the man who ordered the killing of the little boys in and around Bethlehem. He was such a scoundrel that no one mourned his death-not even his family!
ZACHARIAS AND ELISABETH
The story, though, is not about Herod or the other public men of the time, but of an obscure couple who lived in the hills of Judea. The man was Zacharias; his wife was named Elisabeth.
They were both from priestly families-she a descendant of Aaron and he "of the order of Abijah". Both were fine people,
"Righteous before God, walking in all the command- ments and ordinances of the Lord blameless".
They weren't sinless, of course-nobody is-but they did fear the Lord and do their best to keep His commandments. Where they failed, they confessed their sins and offered sacrifices for atonement.
Although they were devoted to God, they were not entirely happy because "They had no child, for Elisabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years".
To the Hebrew mind, having no child was more than a disappointment; it was a curse. It was one of the punishments God threatened in His Law; it also meant, one couldn't be in the descent of the Coming Messiah; and-worst of all-it meant your family would have no part in the Kingdom of Christ!
But the couple didn't whine and sulk and feel sorry for themselves; they soldiered on.
One day Zacharias came to the Temple to burn incense to the Lord. This was a high privilege, because a man would only do this once is his lifetime! And here he is-nearing fifty-doing what he's always wanted to do and would never do again.
Three o'clock comes, the incense is put on the altar, the smoke rises, the people, praying outside, await his return.
But not so fast! Someone has joined him in the Holy Place-it is the Angel of the Lord. Luke doesn't tell us what he looked like, but can be sure it was awesome. Years before, Daniel had seen him and the man who had long stood before great kings-fainted in the presence of the Angel.
Zacharias felt the same way. "He was troubled and fear fell upon him".
But what would you expect? This was an angel-an Archangel, no less. And when you consider how bad things were in Israel at the time, you know Zacharias must have expected a message of doom.
But that's not what he got. In fact, the angel says, "Fear not, Zacharias".
He's come with good news from God.
How precious this is! When devout men are expecting judgment, God sends salvation! "When people sit in darkness, God sends a great light". "Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound". The Lord is unpredictable. But unlike men of that sort, the Lord is unpredictably.good!
"What reason cannot comprehend, God by His grace to thee doth send".
What's the angel got to say?
He starts by saying, "Your prayer is heard".
What does this mean? If he had come to Zacharias at home, it would have meant his prayer for a child has been heard. But he didn't meet the man at home. He came to him in the Temple. There, as a priest, Zacharias was not praying for personal things, but for the People of God.
He was asking for ordinary blessings, of course, like rain and fruitful seasons and peace, and so on. But mainly, he was praying for Messiah-that God would fulfill His Word by sending the Savior.
That was the prayer that God has heard. And Zacharias would be the first to know-"The King is coming!"
But, befitting the King, He must have someone to announce His arrival. And that brings us to the second part of the Angel's announcement.
"Your wife Elisabeth will bear you a son and you shall call his name John.and he will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah.to make ready a people prepared for the Lord".
In other words, the old couple will have a son and he'll become the Morning Star of God's Kingdom. God is coming to save His people from their sin and misery-and Zacharias' son is going to introduce Him to the nation.
When the old man hears the good news, he is dissolved in tears and praises God at the top of his lungs! Right?
Wrong. In fact, he doesn't believe the message. After all, how can an old man and woman-who had never had a son before-expect to have a baby now? Fool! Hadn't he read his Bible? Isn't that exactly how God started the nation of Israel in the first place? With an old couple having a baby?
"Is anything too hard for the Lord?"
The angel is not sympathetic! In fact, the man would pay for his unbelief-and pay dearly, "You will be mute and unable to speak".
This would be bad for anyone at any time, but it was an even heavier blow for Zacharias. This was the only time he would ever perform his priestly duties. And only half of them were done. He needed to go out of the Temple and bless the people,
"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you And give you peace".
This was the high point of his life. But he wouldn't be able to do it. Because he did not believe.
But the man's unbelief did not nullify the promise of God. Though Zacharias was skeptical, the Lord was still faithful, "You will be mute and unable to speak until the day these things take place".
God is pleased with our faith, but He does not depend on it. The counsel of the Lord stands forever-whether we believe Him or not!
Zacharias has been in the Holy Place for a long time and the people are getting worried. They're afraid that God has not accepted his offering and struck him dead. This boded ill for the whole nation, for if the Lord doesn't take their sacrifices, then His judgment is near.
But their fears are relieved: the priest steps out of the Holy Place alive. The offering is accepted. But there's something wrong with the man-he's not giving the blessing. Has he forgotten; had a stroke; lost his mind? They don't know.
But he motions to them in some way and makes them understand that he has seen an angel. They're amazed, of course. And wonder what the angel said. They'll have to wait on that one.
With his job done in Jerusalem, the priest goes home. A few weeks later, he learns the good news. God's Word is true. His old wife is expecting a baby.
For five months, Elisabeth hides away somewhere to praise God, "Thus the Lord has dealt with me in the ways when He looked on me to take away my reproach Among people".
For now, her understanding is quite narrow. A few months later, she'll learn the rest of the story. She'll learn God is doing more than taking away her reproach but He's also taking away "the sin of the world".
That's the story.
Now what does it mean?
Many good moral lessons can be drawn from it. From the life of Zacharias and Elisabeth, for example, we can see (1) that outward circumstances don't always correspond to one's character. The couple pleased the Lord very much, but He still didn't give them the children they prayed for. (2) Older people are not useless to God and that no one should retire from His service. (3) Unbelief is both wrong-and dangerous. These are all lessons to learn from their lives.
But, of course, the story is not about Zacharias and Elisabeth. It's about Christ. Luke only brings them up as a background for what he's going to say about the Lord Jesus.
What's it say about Him?
It says Jesus Christ is supernatural, miraculous, and divine!
If you read good books, you know the best authors hint at their themes from page one. You don't know it at the time, but when you reach the end, you say, "Ah ha! That's why he brought it up in the first chapter!" This is what Luke is doing here. He hardly mentions the Lord at all, but, with the miraculous things that go on around the birth of John, he's suggesting that the Lord's life will be one long miracle.
And he's right! If John's birth is amazing, the Lord's is downright staggering! John was born of an old couple-but the Lord is "Conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin Mary".
If John is going to "Baptize with water", what's the Lord going to do? He's going to "Baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire".
If John is the Greatest Prophet who ever lived, then how great is the Man of Whom he says, "I am not worthy to loose His sandal strap".
Jesus Christ is supernatural, miraculous, and divine. Everyone in Israel said John was a prophet-if you said he wasn't, the people would stone you to death. And yet, even the people who respected him most, would leave him for the Lord Jesus Christ. And with John's approval!
"He must increase; I must decrease".
How does this apply to our lives?
First of all, it says, we cannot patronize the Lord Jesus Christ. Many say they respect Him as a great teacher and man, but they're not comfortable with His miracles-the virgin birth, the resurrection from the dead, and so on. But when you take the miraculous out of His life, you've got little to respect and nothing to worship! With Christ it is all or nothing. Worship Him. Or Crucify Him! That's the choice you must make. No, that's not quite so. It is the choice you are making, right now, you're choosing to worship Him or send Him to the cross. An un-miraculous Christ is no Christ at all. If He's miraculous, you need to believe in Him as Savior and serve Him as Lord.
Second of all, it says we can trust Him. Jesus Christ is able to do for us everything He has promised to do! He is able to save the worst sinner. He is able to conquer the most powerful lust in the believer's life. He is able to comfort us in the darkest hour. He is able to bring us to heaven when we die. He is able to make everything right when He comes again.
Men can make sincere promises, but fail to keep them. They want to do it, but they can't. But the Lord can. And will. The conception of a son to a couple way past the age of child-bearing proves it.
Thus, you can trust the Lord Jesus Christ. He's not only willing to do you good, but He's able to do it.
"With God, all things are possible".
We pay lip-service to Christ's almighty power, but when we're in a pinch, we're prone to forget it. And, even when reminded of it, we wonder if it's true. We know better, but our faith is weak. Let's pray then, with the dear man in the Bible,
"Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief".
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