Before the birth of Christ, God was silent for 400 years. And now, Luke tells us that silence is broken with the coming of a new prophet whose birth is being announced here in this episode. Imagine not hearing from God for four centuries.
That's the position Israel was in in the first century. But an angel was about to pay a special visit to an elderly priest named Zacharias. What was his message, and how does it pertain to the birth of our Savior?
That's what we're going to learn today on Renewing Your Mind in a sermon by Dr. R.C. Sproul from the Gospel of Luke. There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless.
But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. So it was that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said, Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. And he will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go also 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 a people prepared for the Lord. And Zacharias said to the angel, How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years. The angel answered and said to him, I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their own time. And the people waited for Zacharias and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.
And so it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. And now after these days, his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she hid herself five months, saying, Thus the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked on me to take away my reproach among the people. You've just heard Luke's account of the annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. And this, of course, is the inspired Word of God Himself.
Please receive it as such. Last week when we looked at the introductory words to the gospel of Luke, we read that Luke promised to give to us an orderly account of all of the things that came to pass with respect to the person and work of Christ. Now when one is giving an orderly account of things that take place, one has to make a decision as to where you begin.
What is the first matter in the order that you're going to look at? And in Luke's perception, he begins not with the birth of Jesus, not with the appearance of John the Baptist and his public ministry, but he begins with the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. And of all the gospel writers, Luke is the only one who starts at this point and gives us this information regarding the impending birth of John the Baptist. I've said many times that John the Baptist is the most underrated person in the whole New Testament. That is underrated by us, certainly not by the biblical writers, and above all, not by the Lord Jesus Himself, who said of John, none greater has ever appeared above John the Baptist than that the law and the prophets rule until John. But a new era, a new epoch breaks through with the birth of John the Baptist. Before we again, before we look at the text, let's remember that there had been 400 years since the last prophecy had been uttered in Israel, that after many prophets had come to speak God's Word to the people of Israel in the Old Testament, suddenly after Malachi, God became silent, not for a year, not for 10 years, but for 400 years. That's a long, long time for God to be silent.
And now Luke tells us that silence is broken with the coming of a new prophet whose birth is being announced here in this episode. It takes place, we are told by Luke, in the days of Herod, the king of Judea. That's not an incidental historical point that we should overlook because these were days of trial and days of darkness for the people of Israel. Herod was not a Jew. He was a puppet king of the oppressing Roman Empire, and he ruled for 36 years from 40 B.C. to 4 B.C. He was to the Jews what Nero was to the Romans.
And so these were dark days indeed when this episode that Luke records takes place. We are told in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias of the division of Abijah, his wife being one of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. It's interesting to me to look at the meaning of some of the names of people that appear in Scripture, and the name of Zacharias means God has remembered again. Remember David in the Old Testament in the Psalms, he says, bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all of His benefits. It is our habit to forget the things that God has done for us. And so David reminds us that our soul should bless the Lord and not be given to forgetfulness because God is a God who never forgets. And here after 400 years, the people were beginning to think that the Lord God omnipotent in His omniscience had laid that attribute aside and had suddenly become forgetful. Maybe He's forgotten the promises that He made to Abraham. Where is that Messiah He promised us centuries ago? Has He forgotten?
Did He forget the promises that He made to the people of antiquity? Now this priest comes along whose name means God has remembered again. And now in this 400 years of silence, Zacharias appears on the scene.
He's called a priest of the division of Abijah, and his wife was also from a priestly line, and her name was Elizabeth. And Zacharias and Elizabeth are described here as being both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, so that in God's sight they're righteous, not through the righteousness of Christ, but as I said, compared with other people. They kept the law. They loved the law. They were devoted to the things of God, and God was pleased with them.
But there was one unsolvable problem. They had no children. Elizabeth was barren, just as Sarah had been barren, Hannah had been barren, and the mother of Samson had been barren in their old age, and in those days, as Elizabeth mentions later, people would consider women who were barren with a sense of reproach. The assumption they made is there must be some dark secret that lurks in the souls of this couple, some hidden sin that nobody knows because God has shut up the womb of Elizabeth, and that expresses His divine displeasure. But the Scripture says otherwise. There was no hidden sin. They were godly, blameless.
Nevertheless, to their own surprise, they were old, and they were childless. And so it was, we're told, that while He was serving as a priest before God in the order of His division, according of the custom of the priesthood, His lot fell to burn incense when He went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of people was praying outside at the door, outside at the hour of incense. Now, what happened is the prayers were offered for the nation on these occasions, both in the morning and the evening, but the vast multitude would come in the afternoon, late afternoon, at dusk for the offering of these prayers, and they would gather outside the temple. And they would pray, and they would watch.
They would watch the smoke that came out of the temple because when the incense was made and burned, the smoke would spiral up out of the roof of the temple, and that was the signal for the people to fall on their faces in the courtyard in thanksgiving that the prayers of intercession in their behalf had been offered. The only thing I can think of that parallels that is in the Roman selection of a new pope. Recently, we were in Rome and on the square there of St. Peter's and looking at the Vatican at that chimney where hundreds of thousands of people gather when it's time for the election of a pope. And when the bishops are gathered, they write their names on ballots, secret ballots, and if there's not enough votes to elect a new pope, they burn the ballots in a fire and the smoke comes out of the chimney and it's black, and that means that a pope has not been selected and the people groan. But then when finally the College of Cardinals come to a consensus and they agree upon a selection for the papacy, they put a certain chemical in the fire with the ballots that are burned that turns the smoke from black to white, and when the people in St. Peter's Square see the white puff of smoke come out of the chimney, they are elated.
It's a time of jubilation. Well, we don't participate in that sort of thing, but it was not un- or dissimilar to what the people were experiencing that day as they waited to see the smoke come out of the temple. And of course, they were accustomed after they saw the smoke that in a very short period of time, the priest who had offered the prayers would come out of the temple and they would all rejoice together.
But this day, something happened. Something went wrong, it seemed, to the watching multitude when an angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled and fear fell upon him. But Zacharias, in his service, is suddenly and dramatically interrupted by the appearance of an angel. Now, Luke tells us at the beginning that he's going to give us the facts. He's going to give us that which he has researched, the pure history of these things. In the very first chapter, here we are talking about angels.
And in our modern era, this seems to smack of the mythological and one of the supernatural elements of Scripture that the skeptics and the cynics repudiate. I remember when I was a young man, I can't remember whether I was in my late teens or early twenties, but there was a cave-in in one of the coal mines in the western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia coal fields. And several miners perished. They sent a shaft, a metal pipe down into the shaft, and they could detect faint tappings on this shaft, indicating that somebody, at least, had survived the cave-in and was left alive down in the underground mine. And so, the workers frantically went to the business of trying to dig down and rescue anyone who may have survived and one day passed and two days passed and three days passed. And the main news story every day was how much closer were they coming to whoever was trapped.
Was there still any tapping on this tube? They were not able to get food or water down to the survivors. And so, after a few days, when they were not able to get to the miners, and happened to be miners, people went to despair. I remember the families huddled around weeping for their lost loved ones.
And how the rescue operation now turned from a rescue operation to an attempt to simply recover the bodies. And about two weeks passed until finally they were able to get down to the place in the mine, and they discovered two miners alive. One of them's name was Felon and the other's name was Throne.
The joke went that one was thrown in and the other one fell in, you know. But that's how I remember their names. Well, I'll never forget the story on the front page of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette when these miners were saved. They came out of the mine shaft and they said that they were ministered to by angels while they were underground.
And the headlines. Miners saved by miracle. That was the word the newspaper chose to describe their rescue. Miners saved by miracle. And then in the article later on there was a subheading. Miners suffer hallucination while trapped underground. They considered it a miracle that they were saved, but it must have been a hallucination that they saw an angel.
Really? What is the function of angel? We think usually that the primary and only function of the angel, whose word ongolos means messenger, is to be someone who announces the tidings of God to various people. But later in the New Testament we're told that the primary function of the angel is to minister to the people of God in times of severe crisis. Luke the historian, in just a few sentences into his history, introduces the reality of the supernatural.
And he introduces the reality of the intrusion of heaven into earth by these heavenly beings called angels. You remember the story of Elisha in the Old Testament at Dothan when the armies were surrounding his cottage and his servant woke up in the morning and looked out and everywhere he looked, to the east, the west, the north, and the south, they were surrounded by these soldiers that had been sent out to capture and kill the prophet Elisha. And Elisha wasn't the least bit disturbed. And the servant said, my Lord, Elisha, we're surrounded with these chariots of the armies.
He said, don't worry about it. He said, those that are with us are more than those who are against us. And Elisha's servant, have you lost your mind?
Look at you and me, that's two. Look outside, you don't see thousands of these enemy soldiers surrounding us. And Elisha began to pray and he said, Lord, open his eyes.
Let him see what I see. And God opened the eyes of the servant and behold, myriads of chariots, the entire heavenly host, round about Elisha. And of course, the angelic host put the enemy soldiers to rout.
But Elisha saw through the veil, he saw reality that the servant could not see. Well, we live in a world that is owned by God and we're not the highest creatures in it, but the creatures above us are the angels that are sent by the Lord to minister to us in times of trouble. I remind you that in the New Testament, the word angelos, the word for angel occurs more often than the word for love. The word angel occurs in the New Testament more often than the word for sin. So, in a numeric sense, at least the New Testament, the Scriptures speak more about angels than it does about love, and more about angels than it does about sin. That's an integral part of this book, which is supernatural from beginning to end. But Zechariah was just like us.
He was just like those newspaper reporters in Pittsburgh. When that angel showed up, he was on his face in terror because in his whole life, he had never seen an angel. He probably forgot that there even were such things as angels, even though his name meant the Lord has remembered again. And so the angel comes, and he gives an astonishing message, a message that will change the course of Zechariah's life, of Elizabeth's life, of Israel's life, of our life. And God wrote.
We'll look at that next week. When the angel appeared to Zechariah, it demonstrated that God was no longer silent. He was going to announce the birth of John the Baptist.
And as we learned today from Dr. R.C. Sproul, John the Baptist's ministry would be critical, as he was going to prepare the way for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We'll learn more about that ministry next week as we continue Dr. Sproul's sermon series from Luke's Gospel. And as you study this Gospel account with us here on Renewing Your Mind, we'd like to send you the ideal companion resource.
It's R.C. 's commentary on Luke. It's based on his sermon series and features pastoral and theological insights on Jesus' life and ministry. And we'd like to send you the e-book version for your donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. Our offices are closed on the Lord's Day, so this is an online offer only. Just go to renewingyourmind.org to make your request. And in case you've missed any of our recent programs, we invite you to check out our audio archives on that website. Again, it's renewingyourmind.org. Well, after Zacharias was informed that his wife would have a baby, he was silenced by the angel. Why did that happen, and what other lessons can we learn from John the Baptist's birth? We'll find out as we continue Dr. R.C. Sproul's sermon series from the Gospel of Luke next Sunday here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-18 15:22:18 / 2023-09-18 15:30:10 / 8