UNEXPECTED Answer | Zechariah | Luke 1
Topic: Gospel Passage: Luke 1:6–1:17
UNEXPECTED CHRISTMAS | PART I
UNEXPECTED ANSWER| Zechariah | Luke 1
Introduction | When God is quiet
Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we are starting a brief series during Advent (Arrival) where we are looking at “Unexpected Christmas” as we’ll see how God shows up in unexpected ways to unexpected people. In Jesus, God speaks to our Doubt (Zechariah), brings us Hope (Elizabeth), meets us in our Circumstances (Joseph), gives us Grace (Mary), and answers our Waiting (Simeon).
If we’re really honest this time of year is actually a lot harder than other times. At Christmas we have a lot of different emotions. Many of us feel the sense of anticipation of buying and exchanging gifts, the parties, the time with friends and family, the days off, decorating our houses. For others, Christmas is a time we don’t look forward too. It is a reminder of broken relationships, broken promises, hurt that we haven’t been able to get over and many of us simply feel exhausted as we think about all the parties, errands and things that have to get done. We have expectations placed on us and we place expectations on others. If don’t think you have expectations placed on you’re for sure not a parent. We work to meet others expectations of our presence or our presents and we are exhausted. You might have expectations for life and this is an annual reminder of what has not happened yet. We think there is something magical about this time of year but our expectations meet reality and we can easily become disillusioned. We see others with Joy or flourishing and we wonder….Why not me, us?
We grow skeptical, then we come into the church and hear this is a season of God meeting us and darkness and we start to question. One of the reasons we are skeptical about the idea of God meeting us in our doubt is because we know the pain of expectations not met. because we know the feeling of the Christmas letdown and what follows after all the hustle of the holiday season. Many of us are left with doubts. Doubts about our expectations, doubts about our abilities and really doubts about God. When we are in the places of greatest doubt, fear, discouragement, we are rally doubting God, His character, His Nature, His ability, His engagement. We’re really asking. Does God listen? Does He hear? Is he active? We wonder if we’ve been forgotten. Doubt hinders our ability to endure or continue in joy, hope, expectations. When we go through long seasons where it seems like God is silent, we think He’s not speaking, He’s not active.
The story of Christmas found in the gospel is unexpected. For the people of God, God had been silent for 400 years. Many of them felt forgotten and yet, in the quiet, dark countryside, God remembered and came to them. But not how they expected. He came in the form of a baby, not to the king or powerful leaders, but to the lowly, the poor, the young and the old. The gospels capture each person’s response when they encountered the angel or Jesus and those emotions capture our emotions at Christmas. In the same way, we will look at the Christmas story and see the many emotions we feel at Christmas and see that God is with us in all those places. How God shows up to unexpected people in unexpected ways.
Christmas is often remembered by a miraculous birth, yet before the “silent night” when baby Jesus was born to a virgin outside an inn and laid in a manger there was another birth as unlikely as it was necessary. Before the arrival of the Savior King, God tells the OT prophet Malachi He will send a messenger who will preach to the people and prepare the way for the Kings arrival. In Luke 1we begin to see this prophecy fulfilled. It is here we meet an aged, faithful, childless couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth.
PART I | God Speaks | Luke 1:6-17
Luke 1:5-16 |5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. 8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 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.”
Harod is in charge in Israel, the context is there are people who have been forgotten by God where He has not given them a prophetic voice to speak truth for 400 years and now they have a king over them who is legit evil. (Notre Dame had a relief art of him with a demon over his shoulder.) This is a hopeless time filled with doubt. This is not a time of flourishing. People felt forgotten by God. There is geopolitical discord and there is personal discouragement. There is a big and small context to this story.
Zechariah is the first person we encounter. Now, what is fascinating about Zechariah’s name is what it means, especially as we are looking for an unexpected miracle or battling the feeling of being forgotten. Zechariah means “The Lord has remembered.” You are not forgotten!! You feel forgotten! He is a preacher- pastor-priest. He’s spent his life devoted to God, serving God. Him and His wife are a lauded example of faithfulness. Yet their spiritual faithfulness has not seemed to be answered by material fruitfulness. Luke the doctor says Elizabeth was barren. Is there anymore discouraging diagnosis than “barren?” This is incredibly painful in any century, but in the first century, having children was considered a sign of God’s blessing. The would have been seen as unblessed. The gospel of Luke points out how Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous following God’s law so we don’t fall into the temptation of thinking their childlessness is a result of personal sin. They had resigned themselves to being childless. They had prayed, and asked, and nothing.
Many of us have been there. Many of us are there. We’ve prayed. We’ve begged God. We’ve shouted at the heavens and nothing. So, we resign ourselves to not being answered. We take God’s apparent silence as a form of rejection. We feel forgotten and give up on God showing up in a meaningful way.
Yet He is still serving, still carrying out His part in the grand story God is telling. He is leading God’s people in worship and sacrifice. He is approaching a time and place of worship and others are praying for and with him and this angel appears (specifically on the right side, detail to show authenticity) There is a message from God, this is fear inducing as we consider how small we are in light of God. I’m with Zechariah, this is unsettling, the silence and unanswered routine being broken would be unsettling. I would be terrified!
God knows what is in your heart, He knows what you’re thinking and feeling… He knows… and His answer for your fear, pain, unmet expectations, discouragement is… Do not be afraid! The messenger of God address Zechariah personally and says…. God heard your specific prayers… God listens… Don’t be afraid, why? Because God hears you! We’re told in Luke 1:13, “your prayer has been heard.” This is important because one miracle is that our prayers are heard. We don’t see that as a miracle because even the most cynical of us expect God to hear us but think for a moment, the God of the universe hears you! Moreover, God is actively for your Joy on His timing! God is working for your personal joy and gladness and for His glory to lead to worship by His people. Your small story will bring God great glory that will cause others to worship!
God is both listening and answering your personal prayers for your individual life circumstances AND He’s listening to the collective groanings of a world that is lost and fallen. He is active and working in your life on His timing and He’s active and working in the world for His Glory and the flourishing of His people. He is told, your son will be a prophet preacher to God’s people filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. You have been praying for a legacy, your son will be a better preacher of better news than any that have come before. God has heard God has answered and He is saying He will prepare His people for rescue.
PART II | God makes us Silent for our Good | Luke 1:18-25
Luke 1:18-25 | 18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 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.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And 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 when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. 24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
This is such Good news!! Zechariah is surely super excited! Thank you! Praise the Lord! No! Instead he reacts not with worship but with rejection. What you’re saying isn’t possible. I’ve been down this road before. My wife and I have been down it each month for a couple of decades only to have a clear “you’re not pregnant reminder like clockwork. Now that season has passed. God doesn’t understand the specifics of my situation. Let me give you all the reasons this cannot happen…. He’s just being realistic about his circumstances. However, sometimes we get so in to trusting our own sight more than God’s word. It’s the fast downward spiral of “reality” in the face of hope. This is common. Especially after a season of struggled or trial. When we’re tired. They have endured a few generations born… they have remained faithful but they have learned to temper their expectations. The have stopped believing that there can be anything that looks like significant changes. If you are waiting for God to act I am not telling you just wait longer and He’ll give you all you desire. What I tell you is He listens, He hears and He answers with yes, no, or later. If the answer is no then there is more to the story than we can easily understand. Yet we doubt.
Doubt isn’t a sin. God invites our doubts. I believe, help my unbelief. This is much of our life with God. We’ll in a few weeks when Mary questions the angel and asks “how can this be?” There is a difference between asking a question, and “questioning” he is not trusting in God’s ability to do the impossible. Zechariah was a person who struggled with doubt and felt forgotten. Like many in the nation of Israel, he felt like God had forgotten them. 400 years of silence, all those prophecies and nothing seemed to be happening, until he is visited by the angel, he doubts what he’s told. Why? What he’s been told seems impossible. At first, it seems like he’s been punished for it because he isn’t able to speak. Zechariah is silenced for the duration of pregnancy for his disbelief, but I believe Zechariah’s inability to speak till his son was born was a gift. There is a difference between punishment and discipline. One is punitive the other is corrective. It was a reminder of God’s power. God has said “what I have spoken brings life and peace, what you are saying cast doubt and discourages… so I’mma gonna shut you up. Stop talking… listen… listen long so my truth can sink in deeply. For Zechariah, he was left with his thoughts, he was left with his internal conversation with God because he couldn’t talk to anyone. It was a season of listening to God. God worked in his doubts to provide him the space necessary to stop talking and to listen to God in this season.
Let’s be honest that we have great doubts even when God seems to have spoken clearly. Sometimes God is speaking giving us a clear message and we’re like “yeah… I don’t know about that…” The idea of God coming to earth and connecting to us, caring for us, pursuing us is too hard to believe. How could God find me? Care about me? Especially, if you feel rejected or unwanted in any relationship you have. God has spoken good news! Receive it, don’t reject it by continuing in doubt and despair. Don’t turn what God has given as Good News into Bad News when God has spoken clearly. God’s not silent, God’s not inactive, God is still working even when we don’t hear him speaking. Zechariah, comes out and everyone knows something has happens, he serves out his term, goes home and later Elizabeth, advanced in years, conceives.
PART III |God Delivers | Luke 1:57-66
Luke 1:57-66 |57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
Doubt is answered by great clarity as God acts in way that is undeniable. God acting has become self-evident. What God is doing will not stay contained. After five months it’s clear something is happening. News of God’s tender mercy to Elizabeth and Zechariah gets out and it leads to several near them praising God with them. God has spoken and promised. God delivers! The vision the received from God has been realized. A son is born! Everyone else has their own ideas about how they should experience God’s blessing but Elizabeth names him “John” which means “God is Gracious” God gives gifts that are undeserved. People keep persisting and Zechariah gets a tablet and say essentially “Listen to my wife!” And with that wisdom given, he can speak again!! ☺ When God has told you to be silent it’s to process who He is. God will let us speak again when the work has been done in our heart that transforms our doubt to worship.
PART IV | Expected Doubt to Unexpected Worship | Luke 1:57-66
Luke 1:67-80 |67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
John is dedicated to the Lord and Zechariah can speak. The first recorded words from Zechariah after nine mute months is a Holy Spirit inspired prophetic song. The opening notes of this song ring out with satisfying sound of doubt answered with the certainty of God acting.
God shows up so we know we are not alone. Visited means He’s shown up! You did not get abandoned or left behind. God is not absent, He has Shown up to the neighborhood for a reason to bless the world!
God redeems so we are not slaves. God is to be praised because He has come to His people with a purpose, their redemption. Where sin has separated people from God and enslaved us God buys us back!
God remembers and keeps His promises so we know we are not forgotten. Covenant is remembered and acted upon. “He remembers” His promises to redeem His people from the slavery of sin. Many prophets for generations have sung in anticipation of God intervention in history to provide their salvation. Those song aren’t empty legends they are now In Jesus, promises kept and prophecy fulfilled. Hope isn’t empty.
God speaks and has spoken so we are not left to wonder. God knows we doubt but He has also spoken what is true. We can and should have a posture of listening. John will be the prophet of the Most High who will prepare people for the arrival and ministry of Jesus, the divine Savoir-King (Christ)who will redeem His people FROM sin and fear, TO holy righteous service.
God saves us from our enemies so we don’t have to fear. With the presence of victory and absence of that which threatens us or brings us fear of fear we serve Him the way we were intended to, with confidence that God has, is, and will deliver us. So we serve and we are still before God. So we don’t serve out of fear but without fear. Loving the truth and justice of God all of our days….
God gives us Good News!! Our sins are forgiven – Why? Because of our awesomeness? No! Because of His tender mercy to His people. This is shown in Jesus living the perfect life for us, dying the death we deserve for sin, (forgiveness of our sin has a cost and it was all paid by Jesus on the Cross!) And we have hope of new life with God in Jesus because of the power of His resurrection!
God answers our darkness of doubt with light dawning. The arrival of Jesus is a dawning of Joy. Christmas is only joyful because of Easter! We still walk in the shadow of Death, but not without a sunrise of Light in Jesus (the Son who rose!) sent to guide us step by step through the darkness of doubt into the certain peace that comes when we Trust Jesus.