Breaking God's Silence - Part 3
February 26, 2017 Speaker: Dr. Rick Gregory Series:
Topic: Walk By Faith Verse: Luke 1:5–1:25
“Breaking God’s Silence”
Theme: The Gospel results in the transformed lives of those redeemed through the work of Christ.
I. The Remnant Displaying God’s Faithfulness – Luke 1:5-7
A. The Resistance to the Remnant – Luke 1:5a
- The Gospel of Luke launches its account of the life and work of Jesus Christ with an understated reference to the tumultuous world into which Jesus was born.
- Luke simply states: “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest …”
- Paul, Luke’s mentor and partner in ministry declared that God sent His Son into this world at the “fullness of times” – cp. Galatians 4:4.
- Those times were indeed troubling – as the Roman Empire ruled with absolute sovereignty over the then known world; the Jews being governed specifically by a “king” endued with power by the Romans named “Herod.”
- “Herod” was an exceptional historical figure – with debauchery characterizing every area of his life.
- He is identified as a non-Jew, and “Idumean” by birth – meaning that he was a descendent of Edom or Esau and not Jacob, the “other” some of Isaac who sold the birthright to Jacob and had the blessing stolen by Jacob.
- He was appointed as the tetrarch of Galilee in 47 BC, but due to an invasion of Palestine by the Parthians in 40 BC, Herod fled to Rome where he convinced the Senate that since he was from the region and understood the people, he ought to be installed as the undisputed ruler.
- Rome agreed and made him the king of the Jews – giving him an army to secure his rule.
- It took him three years to consolidate his power, stamped out all rebellion, and established order under his authority – something that he ruthlessly maintained until the time of his death.
- He was very politically savvy – even marrying a woman named Mariamne, who was from a wealthy and influential Jewish family.
- He was renowned for a variety of public works and construction projects that notably improved the lives of the Jewish people – including a famous port in Caesarea, the Temple in Jerusalem, the fortress at Masada.
- He lowered taxes several times and instituted a social program to feed the poor during a severe famine prompted some within the religious community to ally with him, becoming known as the Herodians.
- Toward the end of his life, he turned very dark – believing that practically everyone was against him and threatened his rule: He murdered his wife Mariamne and several of their sons; Mariamne’s mother, brother and several others he felt were conspiring against him. This paranoia climaxed just before his death when he slaughtered all the children in Bethlehem due to the report of the Magi that they were there to visit the newborn “king of the Jews” – cp. Matthew 2:16. Herod’s obsessions prompted God to direct Joseph to take Jesus down to Egypt to avoid vulnerability to the hostility of Herod.
- Herod will die just after the fulfillment of the prophecies given in our text regarding the birth of Jesus.
- In addition, the religious environment in Israel was dominated by a corrupted High Priesthood who were likewise empowered by Rome.
- The Temple had become a place of entrepreneurial corruption by means of traders and money-changers.
- The Pharisees dominated the “blue-collar” religious environment with their hypocrisy and legalism.
- The Sadducees were the political class, the intellectuals, who repudiated the notion of the supernatural.
- The general population of Israel was disheartened, discouraged, and disillusioned as they hopelessly trudged through their lives under the fakery of faith and rapacious Romans.
- With all of this, the day was dark without hope – God allowing things to get bleak just prior to the dawning of grace through the gift of His Son.
- Righteousness was scarce as godliness was enveloped by a pagan Gentile world and a secularized religious community.
- All of this would be understood to those who originally read the opening words of this Gospel.
B. The Righteousness of the Remnant – Luke 1:5b-7
- It was not the result of privilege – Luke 1:5b
- Yet the faithfulness of God was displayed by the preservation of a very slight, yet profound remnant of righteous souls who feared God, relied upon His promise and anticipated the faithfulness of God to His Word to provide a Redeemer.
- We are immediately introduced to a sample of that remnant – “… there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah …” “Zacharias” [Ζαχαρίας] – means “The Lord remembers” – and adequately describes the faith of this godly man – that He believed that God had not forgotten His promise to redeem Israel. Such a faith is a description in the OT of saving faith – cp. Romans 4:3 a quote from Genesis 15:6. He was a man whose name aptly described his personal confidence in the Lord and his reliance was on the Lord and NOT on the fact that he was “a priest … of the division of Abijah.” Although being “a priest” was a sacred responsibility as well as a highly respected position, Zecharias did not rely upon his privileged role as what was a “claim to fame” in the eyes of the Lord. He was assigned the duty of fulfilling the priestly duties as part of the “division of Abijah” – one of 24 divisions of the priesthood that rotated in their performance of the temple duties, serving two weeks out of the year – cp. 1 Chronicles 24:3ff. The text doesn’t tell us that he was of the sons of “Abijah” – only of the “division of Abijah” since not all of the priestly families returned after the dispersion, and the four divisions that did return were redistributed in the original 24 divisions to resume the ministry as originally designed – cp. Ezra 2:36-38. The privilege of being a priest did not serve as the basis for his relationship with the Lord – even as many of the priests were corrupt and ultimately proved to be the enemies of Jesus Christ.
- Zacharias was married to a woman who equaled him as a follower of the Lord – “and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.” As we discovered with her husband, “Elizabeth” was also a godly follower devoted to the Lord. Her name “Elizabeth” [Ἐλισάβετ] – means “My God is an Oath” – relating the faithfulness of God’s Word. Her name likewise describes the quality of her faith and is explained by means of God’s faithfulness through grace and not by her privileges – either as a priest’s wife, or a priest’s daughter – “from the daughters of Aaron.”
- These two were a unique, bright light amid extreme decadence and darkness – being evidences of the grace of God that brings sinners into reconciliation with the holy God.
- Every person who has ever been saved today or yesterday, has been saved in the same way – through personal faith in the Deliverer provided by God for the forgiveness of our sins, enabled by the grace of a Sovereign Lord.
- It was not the result of performance – Luke 1:6
- Note that these two were both described with highest regard: “They were both righteous in the sight of God.”
- There is only one way that such a statement can be made – they were justified through faith in the One promised by God.
- Luke describes them as “righteous” [δίκαιοι] – a term that describes a state unknown apart from a work of grace – cp. Romans 3:10.
- The additional statement that it is “… in the sight of God” [ἐναντίον] - establishes that this is not the mere obligatory or external conformity to the requirements of the Law, but a state of being accomplished through the imputation of His own righteousness – cp. Romans 10:1-3.
- They realized that they fell far short of the expectations of the Lord established by the Law and were, by the grace of God, aware of their need for the cleansing mercy of God – Romans 3:20.
- Their confidence was not in their own performance, but on the provision of God through the promised Redeemer.
- It was not the result of perfection – Luke 1:7
- Luke further describes them: “… walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.”
- Their inner righteousness, imputed by the grace of God, resulted in external manifestation of genuine piety.
- The reference to their “walking …” [πορευόμενοι] – establishes their behavior as a manner of life – not merely incidental flashes of righteousness.
- It could just as easily have been translated – “conducting themselves blamelessly …” [ἄμεμπτοι] - describes a state where there were “no handles” or outstanding accusations that could be made about their violation of the law.
- Their conduct was consistently springing from the internal state of righteousness – not that their conduct made them righteous internally! “in all the commandments” [ἐντολαῖς] – a reference to the mandates of the Law. “… and requirements of the Lord” [δικαιώμασιν] – the additional expectations as to what is right or just.
- These qualities were demonstrations that God had worked in their lives and had quickened them to faith in the provisions of God for their salvation – their sanctified lives places the work of grace in their lives on display.
- This faithfulness was despite the reproach that their barrenness had produced – “But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.”
- This made their sanctification even more remarkable – having lived many years through hardship, heartache, and humiliation in their culture.
- Thus, their faithfulness was not the result of their having perfect, trouble-free lives; they were challenged and imperfect, yet completely devoted to the One who had given them everything by haven reconciled them to Himself.
- They were representatives of others who were part of the faithful remnant who looked for the coming of the Messiah as a Deliverer in fulfillment of the Promise of God.
II. The Revelation Declaring God’s Faithfulness – Luke 1:8-17
A. The Answer to Their Prayers – Luke 1:8-14
- The Discipline of Prayer – Luke 1:8-10
- Luke advances his presentation of the righteousness of these two representatives of the godly remnant of Israel by recounting the faithful ministry that Zacharias performed – “Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division …” As mentioned, these priestly “divisions” were twenty-four, taking turns twice a year for a week period. The “priestly service” describes the tasks associated with a variety of functions for which lots were cast: 1st lot – cast for the responsibility to cleanse the altar and preparing it for the sacrifice, 2nd lot – cast for the responsibility to offer the sacrifice, 3rd lot – considered the most important, cast for the responsibility of offering the incense; a man was eligible only once in his lifetime to fill this role, 4th lot – cast for the responsibility of performing the concluding portions of the service at the altar. “The incensing priest and his assistants now approached first the altar of burnt-offering. One filled with incense a golden censer held in a silver vessel, while another placed in a golden bowl burning coals from the altar. As they passed from the court into the Holy Place, they struck a large instrument (called the ‘Magrephah’), at sound of which the priests hastened from all parts to worship, and the Levites to occupy their places in the service of song; while the chief of the ‘stationary men’ ranged at the Gate of Nicanor such of the people as were to be purified that day. Slowly the incensing priest and his assistants ascended the steps to the Holy Place, preceded by the two priests who had formerly dressed the altar and the candlestick, and who now removed the vessels they had left behind, and, worshipping, withdrew. Next, one of the assistants reverently spread the coals on the golden altar; the other arranged the incense; and then the chief officiating priest was left alone within the Holy Place, to await the signal of the president before burning the incense. It was probably while thus expectant that the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias. As the president gave the word of command, which marked that ‘the time of incense had come,’ ‘the whole multitude of the people without’ withdrew from the inner court, and fell down before the Lord, spreading their hands in silent prayer.” Thus, our text states: “… according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.” How the lot was chosen was interesting – the priests gathered in a large circle around the “president” of the priests, and held up a random number of fingers (since it was forbidden to count Jews) – and the president would count the fingers raised until coming to the number of the lot. God sovereignly worked so that Zacharias was chosen, His plan to extend far beyond the normal rituals of the day to include the eternal benefits of redemption through the commencement of the plan of redemption.
- Zacharias was dutifully yet devoutly continuing in an official capacity what he and Elizabeth were personally and faithfully doing privately – praying, particularly as a priest he would be praying for the fulfillment of the Promise of God to send the Messiah and redeem Israel.
- The “burn[ing] incense” was symbolic of the prayers of the Jewish people – and were to be kept continually burning representing the “praying without ceasing” that the godly were to know in their lives – cp. Exodus 30:7-8
- Thus, this incense and the coals that burned them were refreshed twice a day – once in the early morning and again in early evening – around 3:00 PM –
- The reference to “the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering” indicates that it is most likely the early evening when these events took place as it knew a larger crowd.
- The Declaration by God – Luke 1:11-14
- After the other priests who had been deputized by Zechariah to assist him in preparations had performed their functions and departed, Zechariah was alone before the “altar of incense.”
- He would have been lying prostrate on his face before the Lord – “And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.”
- The regulations were that the priest chosen by lot would be alone in the Holy Place praying when suddenly, Zacharias was not alone and it significantly startled him – “Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him.” “troubled” [ἐταράχθη - Aor. Pass Ind.] – “to cause movement by shaking” – to “stir up, disturb, throw into confusion;” sometimes translated “intimidated.” “gripped” [ἐπέπεσεν – Aor. Act. Ind.] – to fall on him – he was overcome by fear.
- This was a complete shock – as no one for hundreds of years had experienced any revelation from God – no angels, voices, visions, dreams, etc … - God had been completely silent.
- Because the message that the angel had to deliver was to bless Israel generally and Zacharias personally, “the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard …” “your petition” [δέησίς] – always used to refer to an urgent request offered to God to meet a need - could refer to the prayer that he had just been offering – that the Lord would send the Deliverer and redeem Israel. It could also be a reference to the personal “petition” that Zacharias and Elizabeth had been praying – and perhaps had even stopped offering since they were so old.
- It seems that as only God can do, His answer to Zacharias’ prayers both for the redemption of Israel and the provision of a child combined in the promise to given Zacharias a son – “… and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.”
- God was essentially promising that He was ready to “be gracious” – the meaning of the name “John” [Ἰωάννην] – “God is gracious.”
- The “joy and gladness” referred to is not simply a reference to the parental delight at the breaking of their barrenness, but the fruit of a soul that becomes the beneficiary of John’s prophetic ministry that would cause reconciliation with God through introducing the Messiah – as would “many” who would respond to the announcement with “rejoic[ing].”
B. The Announcement of the Prophet – Luke 1:15-17
- His Devotion – Luke 1:15
- The angel then goes into detailing the nature of John’s life and ministry – how that it would be unique from the very beginning - “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord;” – cp. Matthew 11:11. The implications of this are significant – a person cannot be considered “great in the sight of the Lord” who is fast bound by sin and whose nature is unredeemed; hence, it means that John would be a genuine follower of God. It also implies that John was elect – chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be saved; a similar position enjoyed by all who believe; none of us took God by surprise when we called upon Him for redemption and reconciliation – as Matthew stated, the least in the kingdom will be greater than John.
- Throughout the Old Testament, it was common for the Holy Spirit to come upon saints and fill them for a particular task.
- However, the text here states that John will be a unique, choice vessel belonging to the Lord and the later part of this verse declares that “… he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.” The “fill[ing] with the Holy Spirit” is essential for holy living and effective service before the Lord – cp. Acts 1:8. This reality was demonstrated in that before John was even born, he provided proof that Jesus was the Promised One when coming into proximity to the pregnant Virgin Mary, he leaped within Elizabeth’s womb – cp. Luke 1:41
- This specially chosen and elect state was demonstrated by the extent to which John took His concern about sanctification – disallowing himself to be under the influence of any intoxicating beverages – “… and he will drink no wine or liquor …” “wine” [οἶνον] – refers to fermented juice from a grape, often diluted by water to be a drink that could be enjoyed without intoxication. “liquor” [σίκερα] – a term that referred to the more greatly intoxicating beverages, including wine that was undiluted by water.
- Because of the ministry of God’s Holy Spirit, John wouldn’t allow himself to partake of either – cp. Ephesians 5:18.
- The point that we find the angel making is that John would be a man who was chosen from the womb to be great in the service of God, wholly devoted to the Lord in every respect.
- His Duty – Luke 1:16-17
- The Priority of His Ministry (Conversion) – Luke 1:16. The angel provides Zacharias with a promise of the fruitfulness of John’s faithful ministry – “And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.” This demonstrates the priority that John would have – to call Israel back to the covenant and pronounce blessing upon all those who repent. The emphasis on “turn … back” [ἐπιστρέψει] - refers to the process of conversion – an event that requires repentance and faith. Specifically, they turn “to the Lord their God” – a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ as demonstrated in v. 17, cp. 1:76-77.
- The Purpose of His Ministry (forerunner) – Luke 1:17a, 17d. This is the purpose of John’s ministry – “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him …” If for no other reason, the reason that John will be great is that he will have the distinct privilege of being the final prophet proclaiming the arrival of the Christ. John’s role as the forerunner of Christ was clearly understood – as a man sent from God – cp. John 1:6; as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy – John 1:23; and, as proclaimer of Christ’s mission – John 1:29. His role was “… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” so that they would be able to receive the Lord – cp. John 1:12.
- The Power of His Ministry (spirit of Elijah) – Luke 1:17b. Luke records that John’s ministry would be marked with the power of God as demonstrated by “the spirit and power of Elijah.” This raises an issue that is somewhat complicated as to the nature of the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy concerning the Day of the Lord begin preceded by Elijah coming – cp. Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6. When asked whether John was Elijah, Jesus responded that John was conditionally the fulfillment of that prophecy IF they were willing to accept his message – cp. Matthew 11:13-14. “If the Jews had been willing to accept Jesus as their Messiah, the Day of the Lord and the kingdom would have come then, and John would have been the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy.” John adamantly denied that he was Elijah – John 1:21 Thus, the angel’s statement was that the same spirit and power of Elijah would characterize John’s ministry, but the literal fulfillment of the prophecy re: Elijah would await the future coming of the Day of the Lord. He boldly, fearlessly, and powerfully proclaimed the truth in the face of powerful opposition – cp. Matthew 3:7-11. The result of his ministry would be a revival through repentance – as was similarly accomplished in the days of Elijah when the prophets of Baal were embarrassed and rejected.
- The Proof of His Ministry – Luke 1:17c. Ultimately, we find that the ultimate proof of the ministry of John would be the spiritual impact that his message would bring. We are told that the result of his ministry, the proof of God’s work through him, would be “… to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous …” The concept of “attitude” [φρονήσει] – describes a mindset, a way of thinking or even “worldview.” The “disobedient” [ἀπειθεῖς] refers to the person who refuses to be persuaded, those who are obstinate in their rebellion. Yet, their “hearts” would be “turn[ed]” – converted so that they will become “righteous” – this is the same word as used in v. 16. Not only would this occur as families were reconciled through the revival that his message of repentance would bring, it also resulted in the establishment of a community of Jews who were revived in the passions and priorities consistent with the “fathers” of faith that predated them. The remnant of faithfulness that had all but shriveled to a few isolated righteous souls would be repopulated, causing the “fathers” to once again have an approving sentiment toward their posterity. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Daniel, and others would once again delight in the nation that had become so reprobate – cp. the concept found in Hebrews 12:1 following chapter 11. In this way, John would be instrumental in preparing the nation of Israel to be receptive to the Lord – “… so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
III. The Response Doubting God’s Faithfulness – Luke 1:18-25
A. The Forfeiture of Privilege– Luke 1:18-23
- The Struggle with Skepticism – Luke 1:18
- There are times that despite the faithfulness to the Lord that characterizes our faith, we can stumble when faced with complete trust in God’s ability to do what seems impossible.
- As soon as Zacharias hears from the angel, he immediately allows his skepticism because the message is “too good to be true.”
- We are told that “Zacharias said to the angel, ‘How will I know this for certain?’” – an expression of doubt that such things can happen.
- “Said” [εἶπεν] – a term that means to express a thought or opinion – “Was that my ‘out-loud’ voice?”
- The reason for his doubt was his circumstances – “For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”
- Interestingly, Abraham asked a similar question, but with a different motivation – Abraham asked for the purpose of seeing how God was going to do such a marvelous thing whereas Zacharias asked with incredulity – cp. Genesis 15:8 with Romans 4:18-21
- There are circumstances in our lives when in a state of confidence in God generally, we struggle with a specific promise; thinking that our circumstances are too grim or grave for God to answer our prayers.
- The Surety in Sovereignty – Luke 1:19
- The angel immediately responds and “answered and said to him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God’ ….” “Gabriel” [Γαβριὴλ] means “man of God” and describes the angel that is tasked by God to reveal the work of God to chosen servants of God – such as Daniel, Zacharias, Mary, and Joseph. The only other angel that is named is Michael – whose name means “Who Is Like God” and he seems to represent the protector of God’s people from the attacks of Satan. “Gabriel … stands in the presence of God” – a reference to the special tasks that Gabriel is privileged to do – standing at the ready before the Lord and deputized to communicate God’s Word when so dispatched – cp. Hebrews 1:14
- “Gabriel” specifically states that “I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” His point is that the promises that Zacharias has just received were beyond question given that they come directly at the command of God Himself. This angel was “sent” [ἀπεστάλην Aor. Pass. Ind. from ἀποστέλλω] with the specific message that he has faithfully spoken – “word by word.” He left the very “presence of God” having received a message from God to deliver directly to Zacharias. His task was to “bring this good news” [εὐαγγελίσασθαί Aor. Mid. Inf. from εὐαγγελίζω] – the first mention of the gospel in Luke’s writing – another reason that the birth of John is not the sole focus of this message, but the broader redemption of Israel that would be accomplished through what God was announcing to Zacharias.
- In secular Greek, this term was familiar to the people of the 1st Century as it was used “to express the joyous news, especially related to the accession of the Caesars to the throne, thus noting the inauguration of a new era.”
- Essentially Gabriel declares to Zacharias, “This is a whole lot bigger than you and your ability; this is about God working His purposes to accomplish redemption!”.
- The Sign of Silence – Luke 1:20-23
- Because Zacharias – through a lack of faith - questioned both the validity and veracity of the message of God regarding both the provision of the forerunner of the Messiah and the subsequent work of redemption through the Messiah, Gabriel pronounces a censure against Zacharias.
- He declares: “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 will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
- The great privilege of the priest chosen to intercede on behalf of Israel in the Holy Place before the altar of incense was to come out and pronounce the blessing from Numbers 6:23-27
- We are told that “the people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple.”
- What a glorious privilege would have been his to have been able to come out and proclaim that God had broken His silence and was initiating His purposes of redeeming Israel.
- However, “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.”
- It is likely that not only was he “mute,” but also deaf – having no ability to hear anything after the pronouncement of the censure by the angel until it was time to name his son, John – cp. Luke 1:62-63
- He was unable to complete his privileged task and was actually disqualified from any further service that week because of the “defect” imposed by the angel due to his lack of faith.
- “When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home” – with severely debilitated communicative abilities, one wonders what kind of reception and communication occurred with Elizabeth.
- It is apparent that doubting God does not thwart the plan of God or debilitate God in any way from accomplishing His purposes; it merely can cause the forfeiture of both the blessing and reward of participating in the glory of God as He works His purposes.
B. The Favor of Providence – Luke 1:24-25
- The Proof of God’s Faithfulness – Luke 1:24a
- After Zacharias returns to the village in the country around Jerusalem, he and Elizabeth rejoice at the faithfulness of the Lord – “After these days, Elizabeth his wife became pregnant …”
- This was a miracle as she was “advanced in years” – demonstrating that this was a sign given by God that this child was chosen and indeed introduce the “Hope of Israel” – the Messiah.
- There is no record of how Zacharias explained to Elizabeth that he had seen the angel and that a child had been promised to them; we do see him attempting to use a “tablet” to write messages – cp. v. 63.
- You would think that Zacharias would immediately recall the Scriptures where God declares that He will do what He says – cp. Isaiah 25:1; 46:10; 55:11.
- Such faithfulness is not incidental with God, not merely what He occasionally does, but it is Who He Is!
- The Praise for God’s Faithfulness – Luke 1:24b-25
- We are told that Elizabeth, following the example of her husband who was incapable of any kind of declaration or public communication – “… kept herself in seclusion for five months …”
- This seclusion lasted until two things occurred, first, until the announcement of her pregnancy could be delivered to Mary by Gabriel – cp. v. 26; and, second until her pregnancy began to be a matter that was verifiable.
- Her heart rejoiced in the Lord for His mercy toward both her and the Nation of Israel – “… saying, ‘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.’”
- She spent her time worshipping the Lord for His faithfulness and didn’t waste her time attempting to convince people that she was pregnant – as she would merely face further ridicule as a barren woman until such a time as it began to be obvious.
- Five months of seclusion for the purpose of private worship was not excessive given the decades of reproach and shame that she had encountered in the community who believed that her barrenness was a sign of God’s disfavor.