In Luke’s Gospel chapter one, he introduces us to five people and one angel. We are giving details about Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, John the Baptist, Jesus and the angel Gabriel. Before we get into the details of these characters, Luke establishes the setting of chapter one with the opening words of verse five – “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea…” The Herod Luke had in mind was Herod the Great. He was an Idumean. An Idumean may not mean so much to us but would have meant a lot to the Jews. Idumeans came from Esau’s line and ever since the days of Esau (Genesis 27:41) there has been animosity between Esau’s and Jacob’s lineage. Esau’s lineage hated the Jews, their history and their God. The Edomiteslived in “active rebellion and hatred toward the God of Jacob -- so much so that in retrospect of Esau’s life in contrast to Jacob’s, God said, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Consider the importance of the setting. Israel was under Roman dominion, which they hated. The Romans placed Herod under the Judeans and gave him the title of king. Not only did they hate the Romans but the Romans put someone over them that had a history of hatred towards them and their God. Herod building the temple for the Jews had nothing to do with his love for the people but political expediency. The Israelites were living under a great dark cloud of doom and despair. If there ever was a time in Israel’s history where hope was needed, the time was now. Luke presents his gospel as a ray of light beaming through the dark clouds of doom and despair.
Understanding the setting is important to me because we are living under a dark cloud of doom and despair. Our society has gone nuts over their hatred towards God and His people. God is no longer honored or revered in this country. He has been kicked out of our schools, public venues, government and home. Several years ago, we had a missionary come to our church who had an opportunity to open the U. S. Congress up in prayer. He was told just before he prayed that he could not pray in the name of Jesus. Evidently, the name of Jesus was too divisive a name to use. By the way, this did not stop him from praying in the name of Jesus Christ. Plenty of other examples can be given on how far our country has left God that demonstrates how we have a dark cloud over our country. Evil and wickedness are everywhere. No matter where we turn, there is corruption and perversion. We need a ray of hope, to break through the darkness of sin that clouds our country. As it turns out, this chapter wasn't just for Luke's audience, it is for us this morning. Some have titled this portion of text, "Be careful what you ask for," based upon Zacharias asking for a sign to validate the true statements of the angel Gabriel, but that's a sidebar to the main theme of hope.
I want us to see three points this morning in the text so that we can get the fullness of hope Luke wanted Theophilus to see.
This description of Zacharias wasn’t what he wore, how his hairstyle, if he had a beard or what his nose looked like. Nor does the description detail any physical distinctive features about Zacharias. Instead, our focus will be on who he was on the inside. The very first thing we really get to know about Zacharias, about who he was on the inside, is how he and his wife were “both righteous before the Lord." We must take note that his righteousness before the Lord was not his own. Instead, his righteousness before the Lord was the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
There's a distinctive difference between the two. He wasn't worthy to stand in his own righteousness. Even though he was a faithful priest of God and faithfully executed the duties of a priest, his priestly duties could never earn or merit him any righteousness before God. God help us to never forget what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:23 - "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God," and before that, in verse 10 - "There's none righteous, no not one." This was not just a New Testament principle; this truth is also taught in the Old Testament.
Isaiah was a phenomenal prophet, a man who loved God and was devoted to Him and had one of the most dramatic callings in all of human history. Also, Isaiah has one of the most influential footprints in all the Bible. If you look at the original languages in which the bible was written, Isaiah has the sixth most words of all 66 books.Jesus would quote from Isaiah third most times than any of the 39 Old Testament books.His place in the Bible is nearly unmatched. Yet, notice what he wrote about himself and others in Isaiah 64:6 - "But we're all as an unclean thing and all our righteousness are as filthy rags. We do all fade as a leaf and our iniquities like the wind have taken us away." Even though Isaiah had accomplished so much in his life, he understood outside of God's grace he was unclean.
The word “unclean” means” foul.” Sometime back. I had the unlucky privilege of opening up a gallon of spoiled milk thinking it was good. When I took the lid off, the enormously foul smell overwhelmed me. Isaiah’s point is when God takes off the lid of our righteousness, we reek before Him. His admission is outside of grace, all of my righteousness’s are unclean and foul smelling. Isaiah was not done, he went on to say that his righteousness is no better than filthy rags. The “filthy rags” Isaiah had in mind were menstrual rags a woman would use. A Graphic illustration to demonstrate how far off base his righteousness was from being accepted by God. Isaiah never thought he could stand before God in his own righteousness; nor thought he was clean before God because he was such a good person. If the great Apostle Paul said all have sinned and there's none righteous, and Isaiah said we are unclean and our righteousness is as filthy rags then how did Zacharias ever become righteous? The answer to this important question is discovered in Genesis 15. Early in the chapter, Abraham realizes that the Lord is his shield and his reward. Later in the chapter, God gives Abraham the plan for his people. A people that Abraham can't imagine having, and yet, Abraham “believed” God. That word “believed” in Genesis 15:6 means to be completely and totally dependent upon God.
Today, we have dismissed the strength of “believe.” “Believe,” today doesn't mean much of anything, other than some sort of intellectual understanding of Jesus Christ. Often times, when people say, "I believe Jesus," they are not meaning how completely and totally dependent upon Jesus Christ they are. However, the belief that's counted for righteousness, that Abraham had in Genesis 15:6 is a belief that says, "I'm completely and totally dependent on God."
Let us go back to Luke 1. Zacharias is righteous before the Lord. In order for Zacharias to be righteous before the Lord, he must have been completely and totally dependent upon God for everything, especially his redemption. Zacharias would have viewed the burnt, peace, sin, and trespass offerings, far different than the typical Jew of his day. He would have seen those offerings and sacrifices as representatives of his Messiah dying on the cross for his sins, whereas the typical Jew would have observed them as a right or privilege of being a Jew.
There was a contrast of righteousness between Zacharias and the religious leaders of his day. The religious leaders of his day, their righteous was before men. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, says, "That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Their righteousness was righteousness seen before men, not before God. Their focus wasn't to please God but men. Yet, there is an eternal and practical danger in having a man focused form of righteousness. A man focused form of righteousness will change as society changes. There's no absolutism with that righteousness and society becomes the final arbiter in what is or is not right.
Also, when we are focused on righteousness before men, the social values of our day become our god of pursuit. Our focus is not to be pleasing people. We're not to live under their standards, movements, or value system. The Pharisees lived by that kind of righteousness and those who died in that condition are sadly, in Hell today. Later in Luke’s Gospel Jesus would say to that group, "Woe unto you." On the other hand, Zacharias' righteousness was before God. He didn't care about people’s standards as much as he did God’s. His concern was with His God, Savior, Lord, and King. He lived his life in light of Him, not anyone else. Brothers and sisters, Zacharias righteousness was on the rock that never moves, but the righteousness of Pharisees was on shifting sand that one day will collapse on them and destroy them.
Secondly, we also find out, reading verse number six, that he was faithful. Notice how Luke records, "And they were both righteous before God, walking in all of the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." The word blameless doesn't mean they were perfect and sinless. It meant their hearts were in the right position as they walked in the ordinances and commands of the Lord, as opposed to the typical Jew of their day. In other words, they weren't just righteous inside. They manifest this righteousness inside by their faithfulness outside. They're faithful. Don't ever think that this would have been easy for Zacharias or Elizabeth to be faithful, to have the right heart.
Keep in mind, the society in which he lived in, the Jews, were zealously religious but hated and despised God. They wanted nothing to do with God. Even though they would worship Him, their worship was in vain, and though they would read his word, their reading was vain. They were more focused on the traditions of men then they were the truth of God's word. To be faithful to God in a society that puts faith in themselves and their own righteousness would have been hard. Not only that, Zacharias was a part of a profession of people, the priest, that despised Jesus Christ. It was the chief priest who condemned Jesus to the cross. Being faithful to God would have caused them to stick out like a sore thumb.
Remember, they weren't appealing to men but to the Lord. Adding to who they lived for, in verse number 13, we find that Zacharias was a prayer warrior of sorts. Notice verse 13, "But the angel said unto him, 'Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard.' " Now, the way that Luke wrote this and the angel Gabriel said this was, "A moment in time, you prayed this single prayer, and I want you to know that God has heard it." Some believe that this prayer took place as he was doing his priestly duties. I'm not so sure if that fits because, at this point in time, Zacharias was beyond that point in his life. He was probably in his 60s or possibly 70’s. It's not that Zacharias just prayed once. He would have probably prayed for decades.
The stigma for women who couldn't have children in ancient times was awful. No doubt, Zacharias would have wanted his wife to be well respected within the community, yet the community believed that she did some egregious act against God, and that's why He closed her womb. Zacharias would have prayed, not just once, but he would have prayed for weeks, and months, and years, and decades. Yet the lesson for us is, in the process of his faithful praying, one day God heard a prayer that he gave.
This speaks of us being steadfast in our prayers, not giving up, nor quitting. You may believe the Lord hasn't answered your prayer for the last six months. The answer is to keep praying. Even if He hasn't answered your prayer in three decades. Keep praying. Don't give up on prayer. It may be the prayer that you offer in the fourth decade that God hears, and is ready to answer. Don't give up. Some of us have children and grandchildren that are out in the world living wickedly. Don't quit praying for them. Or we have workmates that are wicked and vile. Don't forget to pray for them, don't quit, don’t give up. It could be health or financial issues, don't quit because it may be the next prayer God will answer. His timing is perfect and flawless. Even though He is sovereign, Gabriel says, "God heard you pray and he's ready to answer." We must never discount prayer.
One area we Christians struggle with is being faithful in our prayer life. We become super discouraged, it's really easy. Even though we may utter words, oftentimes we are just going through the motions because we're discouraged and defeated. When Sister Virginia fell down and hurt her hips, initially we weren't sure if she was going to leave the rehab facility for independent living because of her age, but from the get-go, several people began to faithfully pray. God heard our prayers and gave Sister Virginia strength and healing so she could go back to independent living.
God answers prayer! He does! We've been praying that God will increase the student population in our school this year. Our desire is for the school to be financially independent. Praise the Lord, He has added nine new students to our school. God answers prayer. Miss Bianca is working in the school. Who would've ever thought that four years ago with Bianca trapped in Catholicism? Yet, God opened her eyes to her lost condition and saved her. Now she is a faithful church member and volunteering in our school
DETAILS IN THE ANSWERED PRAYER
Notice the details of this answered prayer. Gabriel says in verse 13 says, "Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard.” This wonderful event of good news and glad tidings is birthed because of Zachariah's prayer. I do sometimes wonder how many good events we've missed out because we quit praying a week too soon. This entire episode is an answer to prayer. I would say to you, as Paul would say to the church at Thessalonica, "Pray without ceasing," or as he said to the church at Philippi, "Be careful for nothing, but in everything let your prayer and supplication be made known unto God." In the details of God answering Zacharias prayer, Gabriel gives the mission his son John would have. His mission brings hope to the whole story.
First, consider John's name means, "Jehovah is a gracious giver." His name is enormous hope in of itself? Jehovah is a gracious giver. We don't deserve any goodness from God, yet He gives anyways. The mission of John, even in his name, was hope. In order for John’s mission to bring hope, he would first have to live a separate life. In verse 15, "For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink, and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb." The best impact a Christian can have on this world is to live a separated life. Your words will fall flat if you're not living a separated life.
Secondly, his mission of hope involves preaching. His mission of preaching involves repentance: Verse 16, "and many of the children of Israel shall return to the Lord their God." That turning is repentance. We've simplified the gospel message to the point where there isn’t repentance in the gospel message. Yet, the message in both testaments is “repent,” “repent,” and “repent.” Samuel preached on repentance, Jeremiah and Jonah preached on repentance, Jesus preached on repentance, John preached on repentance. Jesus says in Luke 13:3, "If you don't repent, you will perish." The message is repentance. Turn from you to God and then believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is, how that Jesus died on the cross, was buried and rose again from the grave to secure our salvation and victory.
After repentance, Gabriel moves on to describe certain aspects of John’s message. He says in verse number 17, "And he shall go before him- speaking of Jesus -in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the Lord, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Israel was dysfunctional, much like America, with fathers who did not have a heart for the children and children didn't have a heart for their fathers, for tutelage or listening. John's mission was to change the hearts of the family unit.
You may be wondering, "Where is hope in this?" Malachi 4:6 - "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite thee with a curse.” A Jew would understand the hope in this more so than us. When the Jews would go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, they would open up a portion of scripture and read. Typically, they would just go through the Old Testament in typical order of fashion. Eventually, they would make it to Malachi 4:6.
The Old Testament ends with judgment. "Lest I come and smite thee with a curse." The Jews, when they would read this passage completing the Old Testament in the synagogue, they wouldn’t stop at this. They didn’t want to end the Old Testament with judgment, so they would re-read the first half of verse 6. When they got to the verse 6, it would go something like this, "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite thee with a curse, and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers." That's how they would close the reading of Malachi because they viewed the first part of verse 6 as hope. He will come, transform and change people.
There is a lot of dysfunctional families. Even out of brokenness, God can bring families together, like Gus and Sammy. Danny and Danielle, Greg and Mallory, John and Dawn, and others. We're living testimonies of hope. We are rays of light and hope. Every person here, even if you have a broken home now, God has turned your heart to love the father of all fathers.
Our society does need a ray of light. We are the ray of hope our society desperately needs. We give America the best opportunities of hope. We're what gives Columbia County hope. Unfortunately, we are too much like Zacharias. Before we do anything for God we want a sign from Him. Why should not we ask for a sign? Here the angel Gabriel gives what he thought would be this awesome, wonderful, and glad message. The first thing out of Zacchaeus' mouth isn't, "Wow, God is good. He's answered my prayer, and my wife who's way up there in age, she's going to deliver our firstborn, and the reproach will be taken away from her, and he will be the forerunner of Jesus Christ. That's pretty awesome." Instead, he says, "Whereby shall I know this?" Give me some proof. Give me a sign." This is why many people have titled this text, "Be careful what you ask for."
Paul mentions how signs are for Jews, and it's typically for them because they're so unbelieving. Zacharias prayed, and he prayed, and he prayed. God was answering his prayer, but he didn't believe God was still answering his prayer. That's a default setting. The Jew's default setting was when God came on the scene, He needed to produce a sign because we won’t believe you without a sign. God granted him a sign. The sign to validate the announcement of Gabriel was he would not be able to speak. Imagine gentlemen, if you had to listen to your wives for nine months, and you couldn't respond.
Life wasn't easy in Zacchaeus' household, but he got what he wanted. Be careful what you ask for. Instead of being Zacharias, let's just believe God's word. We don't need signs. We have faith. Faith believes in the impossible. Let's not look for signs. Let's be people of faith, and take God's word as, "Thus saith the Lord." Let's be a ray of hope for our generation. Let's please stand as sister Edith comes and plays a piece on the piano.
The lineage of Esau is referred to as the Edomites
“Herod the Great,” All About..., accessed December 11, 2018, https://www.allaboutarchaeology.org/herod-the-great.htm.
Jeffrey Kranz, “What's the Longest Book of the Bible? Not Psalms,” Overview Bible, accessed December 8, 2018, https://overviewbible.com/longest-book-of-the-bible/
Jeffrey Kranz, “Which Old Testament Book Did Jesus Quote Most?,” Biblia Blog, April 30, 2014, http://blog.biblia.com/2014/04/which-old-testament-book-did-jesus-quote-most/.