UNEXPECTED DIVINE INTERVENTION SETS IN MOTION THE COMING OF JOHN THE BAPTIST TO POINT SINNERS TO THE MESSIAH
The role of a forerunner is to point people to the more important individual who will follow. Such was the mission ordained for John the Baptist. His arrival had been promised centuries ago in the Old Testament. But God had been quiet for over 400 years and even the most righteous Jews were caught by surprise when the angelic messenger appeared to get the ball rolling. God is sovereignly working out His plan for history and moves according to His timetable. It might seem like not much is happening in response to our prayers; then all of a sudden God moves in a hurry and the pace of events intensifies. He is faithful to fulfill all of the detailed prophecies of both the First and Second Comings of the Messiah.
Our role is to point sinners to the Messiah as well. We have a testimony to offer of what Christ has already accomplished in our lives in bringing us joy and gladness and we are charged to call people to repentance and faith. Are we alert and expecting God to intervene in the end times and set in motion all of the events described in the Book of Revelation. Or will we be caught by surprise and asleep at the switch? What is exceptional and miraculous to us (e.g. activity of angels and conception of a child in old age) is just normal divine activity to our God who is able to do the impossible.
UNEXPECTED DIVINE INTERVENTION SETS IN MOTION THE COMING OF JOHN THE BAPTIST TO POINT SINNERS TO THE MESSIAH
I. (:5-17) ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
Luke’s account of the nativity is the fullest of the gospels
A. (:5-7) Sad Problem = Righteous Couple is Barren
“In the days of Herod, king of Judea,”
Herod the Great ruled from 37 to 34 BC – pressure of difficult times
Warren Wiersbe: It was indeed a dark day for the nation of Israel. The people had heard no prophetic Word from God for 400 years, not since Malachi had promised the coming of Elijah (Mal. 4:5–6+). The spiritual leaders were shackled by tradition and, in some instances, corruption; and their king, Herod the Great, was a tyrant. He had nine (some say ten) wives, one of whom he had executed for no apparent reason. But no matter how dark the day, God always has His devoted and obedient people.”
Gal. 4:4 “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,”
2. Zechariah and his Priestly Role
“there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah;”
“Yahweh has remembered”
3. Elizabeth and her Priestly Connections
“and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.”
4. Righteous Character
“And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.”
Faithful even in their old age – quite a track record of obeying God
5. Sad Burden = Childless and Beyond Child-Bearing Years
“And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren,and they were both advanced in years.”
Lesson: Don’t be surprised when troubles come – even if you are faithfully obeying the Lord.
Nobody is exempt from trials.
How do you respond to life’s disappointments?
Can make us bitter or make us better
Abraham and Sarah with promise of baby Isaac – Messianic typology
Bruce Hurt: Zacharias and Elizabeth, mentioned in Luke 1, are a model for anyone who is facing physical or spiritual barrenness. The aged couple had an impeccable reputation, having faithfully and obediently served the Lord for many years (Lk 1:6). They had prayed for children, but none came. Yet instead of becoming bitter, they kept serving and obeying the Lord. In His time, God honored Zacharias and Elizabeth with a son named John, the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah (Lk 1:13-17).
B. (:8-17) Startling Pronouncement
1. (:8-10) Appointment of Zechariah to Serve in the Temple
“Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.”
Donald Miller: There were as many as 20,000 priests altogether and so there were not far short of 1,000 in each section. Within the sections all the duties were allocated by lot. Every morning and evening sacrifice was made for the whole nation. A burnt offering of a male lamb, one year old, without spot or blemish was offered, together with a meat offering of flour and oil and a drink offering of wine. Before the morning sacrifice and after the evening sacrifice incense was burned on the altar of incense so that, as it were, the sacrifices might go up to God wrapped in an envelope of sweet-smelling incense. It was quite possible that many a priest would never have the privilege of burning incense all his life; but if the lot did fall on any priest, that day was the greatest day in all his life, the day he longed for and dreamed of. On this day the lot fell on Zacharias and he would be thrilled to the core of his being.
Because there were so many priests serving the temple, this was a once-in-a-life privilege for Zechariah – orchestrated by God to occur at just the right time in history;
Temple priesthood divided into 24 divisions; each division served twice a year for one week
Most priests never got the opportunity to burn the incense; limited to once in your life –
Incense was kept burning perpetually just in front of the veil that divided the holy place from the most holy place; the lone priest would offer the incense every morning and evening – rest of the priests and worshippers stood outside the holy place in prayer
2. (:11-12) Appearance of an Angel of the Lord
“And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear gripped him.”
Why is the first reaction of humans to the appearance of an angel always Fear?
3. (:13-17) Announcement of Birth of John = to Prepare the way for Christ
“But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’”
Your prayer has been heard – Was Zechariah still praying for a child? Probably not; Lord does not forget our past prayers – God’s delays are not necessarily denials
What was the significance of the 400 years of God’s prophetic silence before this word from God? Malachi 4:5-6
Constable: Elijah had led the people back to Yahweh after Ahab and Jezebel had pushed Israel’s apostasy farther than it had ever gone by instituting Baal worship as Israel’s official religion. John would possess the same spirit and power that Elijah had.
II. (:18-25) REACTIONS TO THE ANNOUNCED BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
A. (:18-20) Reaction of Zechariah = Cynicism
“And Zacharias said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’ 19 And the angel answered and said to him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I have been sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time.’”
Def. of cynicism = feeling of distrust or that something isn’t going to work out well
Look at the emphasis on “How can I be sure” – cf. vs. 4
Here you have someone involved in the most sacred of religious ministry in the most holy setting … and still he responds in unbelief and skepticism – despite receiving God’s word directly from an angel
Role of Gabriel – What type of obedience was Gabriel used to seeing among his angelic companions??
J. Ligon Duncan: Now it is no accident that Luke is telling you that it’s Gabriel now who’s talking to Zechariah, because Gabriel is now about to announcement the fulfillment of the message that he himself gave to Daniel (chap. 9) hundreds of years ago.
God has a role for old folks
Think of our role of proclaiming God’s Word today – we can speak with certainty and conviction; we have received the Word from God and have been sent to preach it to others – with authority and expecting results
Wiersbe: You would think that the presence of an angel and the announcement of God’s Word would encourage Zacharias’ faith, but they did not. Instead of looking to God by faith, the priest looked at himself and his wife and decided that the birth of a son was impossible. He wanted some assurance beyond the plain word of Gabriel, God’s messenger, perhaps a sign from God. This, of course, was unbelief, and unbelief is something God does not accept. Zacharias was really questioning God’s ability to fulfill His own Word! Had he forgotten what God did for Abraham and Sarah? (Gen. 18:9–15; Rom. 4:18–25) Did he think that his physical limitations would hinder Almighty God? But before we criticize Zacharias too much, we should examine ourselves and see how strong our own faith is. Faith is blessed, but unbelief is judged; and Zacharias was struck dumb (and possibly deaf, Luke 1:62) until the Word was fulfilled. “I believed, and therefore have I spoken” (2 Cor. 4:13). Zacharias did not believe; therefore he could not speak. When he left the holy place, he was unable to give the priestly benediction to the people (Num. 6:22–27) or even tell them what he had seen. Indeed, God had given him a very personal “sign” that he would have to live with for the next nine months.
B. (:21-23) Interaction with the People = Confusion
“And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. 23 And it came about, when the days of his priestly service were ended, that he went back home.”
Like playing charades – trying to act something out
Zechariah wants to testify to the good news … but cannot …
We have unrestricted mouths to proclaim the good news, why would we choose not to speak? We are the ones who lose out when we don’t trust God and speak out
Zechariah lost out on the opportunity to verbally shout out the good news of the coming forerunner that would pave the way for the long-awaited Messiah
C. (:24-25) Reaction of Elizabeth = Contemplation — Thanksgiving and Rejoicing
“And after these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant; and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 25 ‘This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.’”
Did Elizabeth take any credit for the Lord now showing her favor?
All of grace
David Guzik: Elizabeth did not go away to hide her pregnancy; she was gone for the first five months, the time when she would be least noticed as pregnant. She went away to spend time with the Lord, and to meditate on the destiny of the child within her.