Week commencing 3 February 2019

Notes for next Sunday’s sermon on Luke 1:5-25 – that John the Baptist was a gift from God.

With a PDF found here

Next Sunday will be the second in our Term 1 series: “Luke – you can be certain…”

Here is the outline:

03 Feb How? Luke 1:1-4
10 Feb …that John the Baptist was a gift from God Luke 1:5-25
17 Feb …that Jesus was miraculously conceived Luke 1:26-38
24 Feb …that God’s eternal promises were being fulfilled Part I Luke 1:39-56
03 Mar …that God’s eternal promises were being fulfilled Part II Luke 1:57-80
10 Mar …that a Saviour was born who is both Messiah and Lord Luke 2:1-21
17 Mar …that Jesus brought God’s salvation Luke 2:22-40
24 Mar …that Jesus grew in wisdom and favour Luke 2:41-52
31 Mar …that John preached a baptism of repentance Luke 3:1-20
07 Apr …that Jesus was God’s Son whom he loved Luke 3:31-37
14 Apr …that Jesus was tempted as we are, yet was without sin Luke 4:1-13

DAY 1: Read Luke 1:5-25 for the overview – but today we’ll concentrate just on vv5-10.

Recall what we saw about Luke’s opening. Luke claims that this work is biographical, historical, that it is fulfils previously published prophetic writings, and that it is personal – i.e., he tells us about Jesus, so that we might personally connect with him. JC Ryle (a significant Church of England Bishop, who lived and wrote 1816-1900), has this to say about Luke’s opening: Christianity is a religion built on facts. The first preachers did not go up and down the world proclaiming an elaborate, artificial system of abstruse doctrines and deep principles. They made it their first business to tell men great plain facts. They went about telling a sin-laden world, that the Son of God had come down to earth, and lived for us, and died for us and risen again. The Gospel, at its first publication, was far more simple than many make it now. It was neither more nor less than the history of Christ.

Luke is the only Gospel writer to tell us about the origin of John the Baptist. He will also give us some unique background regarding Jesus’ birth. God’s people had heard nothing from God since the prophet Micah 400 years earlier. However, God was now bringing his Messiah into the world and the prophetic word is heard once more. John played a very significant role as a forerunner to Jesus and Luke will ensure we don’t miss it.

Note that Luke ties his account of the background to John’s birth to this history of the time: this happened when Herod was king of Judea. This is not surprising, given what we saw in the opening verses. Again, we see that Luke is writing history, not fiction. John’s father was a priest who served at the Temple on a roster (yes, rosters have been around forever!). He would have served twice a year, for a week each time. His wife Elizabeth, herself a priest’s daughter, was not able to conceive. That would have been hard for them to wrestle with, as they served God faithfully. The description of them as righteous and blameless, does not mean sinless, but that together, they strove to honour God, serve him and love him. Reflect on this: their faithful service, did not exempt them from trial and sadness. Affliction, sickness and hardship, drive us nearer to our Lord and cause us to draw near to him through prayer and the reading his Word. The Lord will use such means to transform us unto the likeness of his Son Jesus.

There were many priests, and insufficient sacred duties for them all (what a problem to have!), so lots were cast to see who would perform each function. The offering of incense was regarded as a great privilege and a priest would not perform that honour more than once in his entire life. Hence, this was the most important moment in Zechariah’s service as a priest. He would offer the incense while the worshippers waited in the outer court. Of course, this was part of Old Testament ritual, and was not continued as a feature of New Testament worship despite the ritual you will find in some churches.

DAY 2: Read Luke 1:11-17

Luke doesn’t describe the angel for us! He simply tells us that the heavenly visitor stood on the right side of the altar of incense. Understandably, Zechariah is shocked! We don’t know a lot about angels, but their appearance is frequent during Jesus’ time on earth, and in particular, at the time of Jesus’ entrance into the world!

In v13, the angel announces that Zechariah’s prayer has been heard. Some have argued that he wasn’t actually using the time of offering incense to pray for a child – especially given his age and Elizabeth’s age – but that he was in fact praying for the redemption – the rescue – of Israel. Now he is told that his prayer has been granted! And along with that – and as part of God’s plan for the redemption of Israel – he will have a son!

Zechariah is told how to name the boy (i.e. John) and something of his unique role in preparing for the Messiah. He will not only bring joy to his parents, but to many! Significantly, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from before birth and bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  His ministry is linked to Elijah and the prophecy of Malachi 3:1 and 4:5 is invoked. (Take a moment to read those references.) So, we see something of this man’s greatness and yet we are also to be clear that he is no more than a forerunner, who would prepare people for the coming of the Lord by at least two means – turning the hearts of parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous. I’m not sure (yet!) what that first phrase means, but the second reminds us that disobedience is foolishness and that the beginning of wisdom is to fear God and flee evil.

Surely, we are all involved in a similar ministry today in a derivative sense? That is, we are to play our part in preparing people for the (second) coming of the Lord Jesus!! Please Lord, use us in any way you will, to turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous!

DAY 3: Read Luke 1:18-20

Zechariah refused to believe the angel! His question is identical to that asked centuries before by Abraham (Genesis 15:8), but it is asked in a different spirit. It amounts to a demand for a sign. Righteous and holy as Zechariah was, the announcement of the angel appears to him incredible. And he reminds the angel that he is “an old man and my wife is well along in years”. He would have been well acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures. He ought to have remembered the wonderful births of Isaac, Samson and Samuel. He ought to have remembered that what God has done once, he can do again and that with him, nothing is impossible. Here is a sober reminder, that any believer may be overtaken by unbelief! It is one of the first corruptions which came into the human heart on the day of the fall when Eve believed the evil one instead of God.

The angel replies by disclosing his name and position. Gabriel means ‘man of God’ and his place in the ‘presence of God’ shows something of his dignity. The news which Gabriel comes to bring the old man is good news – it is the news of the Gospel! For Zechariah to reject such news, was as significant as rejecting God – for Gabriel was his representative, with his news! There would be consequences! Zechariah would get his sign all right, though not the kind of sign he wanted. He would be silent, until such times as Gabriel’s words were fulfilled. The tongue that was not ready to speak the language of believing praise, was struck speechless. And meanwhile, Gabriel leaves no room for uncertainty. What God has said, will come to pass!

May the Lord protect us from the sin of unbelief and give us an ever-deepening trust in the Gospel!

DAY 4: Read Luke 1:21-25

Offering the incense was not a long or involved task and the priests would normally emerge quite quickly from the holy place. The people had no way of knowing what was taking Zechariah so long! When he finally appeared, his making of signs and his obvious inability to speak, made it evident that something unusual had happened in the sanctuary. They concluded he had seen a vision.

Zechariah evidently remained at the Temple until his week of service was completed. When Elizabeth became pregnant, he would, no doubt, have been chastised with the realisation that what Gabriel had told him was in fact the truth! What a personal blessing this must have been, as not being able to have children was seen at this time by many, to be God’s punishment!

The announcement of John’s birth was followed by another dramatic announcement: that of Jesus’ birth to the virgin Mary. What an amazing time in history this was!! May we hear these accounts with freshness and stand with both belief and praise at the beginnings of the Gospel!

Resources: Luke, Leon Morris in the Tyndale series, and JC Ryle