Title: Breaking the Silence
Text: Luke 1.5-25
CIT: This passage is the introduction section to a greater section communicating the birth of the Messiah. John’s birth was fulfillment of prophecy and designed to prepare the people for the coming Messiah.
Introduction: Luke 1 & Malachi 4; We’re in Luke chapters 1-2 this month. Turn to Luke 1; Zechariah gives us a little insight into what’s going on at the end of his prophecy – his Magnificat, the Magnificat part 2; rd 1.76-79; Indeed, for the Israelites, it had been a long, silent night. They should have known what was coming. They should have been watching for it.
Malachi closes and there is silence for 400 years. Read Malachi 4. The next time you hear from God, it will be through Elijah, whom the Lord will send. Amos warned Judah about it this silence long before Malachi (8.11-12).
11 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.
Luke sits to write his Gospel and it’s been more than 700 years since Amos told of the silence and 400 years since Malachi put down his pen and the silence began. Israel was plunged into utter darkness and silence as they awaited the promised sun of righteousness to rise with healing in its wings and to hear the words of God once again.
Luke begins his story with a time period and a place. rd v 5a; the reign of Herod and in Judea; specifically, we’ll see where in Jerusalem multiple times in this passage: in the Temple; we see more in v 5-7; Zechariah and Elizabeth – the characters in our story, but not our main focus:
- Blameless according to the law
This doesn’t make sense to the Jewish mind – there is a contradiction in v 6-7; God blesses the righteous, the blameless with children! Here we see a holy woman forgotten by God? Can’t be! Either she isn’t really holy and blameless or God isn’t good. Here’s another contradiction. She barren and scorned, but God has chosen Zachariah for something incredible. Their fortunes appear to be up in that God has chosen Zachariah to serve as The priest to offer the incense in the holy place at the Temple.
There were so many priests, that they served in the Temple for on a rotating basis. Groups would serve from Sabbath to Sabbath and lots were casts for duties. From what I understand, 5 priest were selected during this time to offer incense. Actually, three worked outside and two inside. One actually offered the incense and the final priest served as his assistant when needed. We see that is what happens here to Zechariah in v. 8-9; the lot falls to Zechariah and he’s chosen (by God) to offer the Incense. V. 10 gives us a bit more information about the happenings in the Temple. Rd v 10; The people were praying. I saw this as a bit of a chiastic structure. Note verse 21-23; the structure looks like this then:
- Service to the Lord begins(8)
- In the Temple (9)
- People watching and praying (10)
- People waiting and wondering (21)
- Exits the Temple (22)
- In the Temple (9)
- Service to the Lord ends (23)
So, what’s in the middle? I’ve outlined this middle section, the section of focus into three parts:
- The Angel’s Appearance
- The Angel’s Announcement
- The Angel’s Answer
Transition: Let’s look closely;
1. The Angel’s Appearance (11-12)
exp.: read v 12; in the holy place; right side of the Altar of Incense; between the altar of incense and the lampstand; 5 pieces of furniture That named: (1) the brazen altar of burnt offering, and (2) the laver, in the court of the tabernacle; (3) bread on the table of presence, (4) the lampstand, and (5) the golden altar of incense, in the holy place; and (6) the ark of the testimony in the holy of holies or the most holy place.
The Bible Exposition Commentary lists the many responsibilities of the priests: Lighting the lamp, washing at the laver, offering sacrifices and Burning the incense (Exod. 30:7–9). There were two altars in God’s sanctuary, a brazen altar that stood at the door and was used for the blood sacrifices, and a golden altar that stood before the veil and was used for the burning of incense. The golden altar pictures the offering up of prayer to the Lord.
ill.: Ps. 141:1–3: O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! 2 Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! 3 Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!
Revelation 8.3-5: 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
I’m reminded of another man who saw an angel. This angel promised a son to a couple who was barren. Manoah and his wife, who had a son, Samson. They offered a burnt offering and when the flames went up before the Lord, the angel of the Lord when up in the flame.
app.: Do you think of your prayers like that? Consider this: when the priest was through with his offering, he would come out of the holy of holies and back to where the other priests were and then the people. As he left, the fragrance of Incense offering would be on him.
ill.: campfire; my clothes still have the smell. I wonder if this isn’t a great analogy for our prayers and presence with the master. Maybe others who encounter us would notice a spiritual fragrance about us, as having been with the Lord. Martin Luther is credited as saying, “We are all priests, and our praying is the burning of incense.”
Transition: Well, let’s look now at
– Zechariah’s Reaction: rd v 12; He was troubled – that is shaken or stirred up; and fear fell upon him; rightly so! Only one priest would be selected to do what Zechariah is doing here. You don’t get a lot of traffic in the holy of holies! The priest would never have to say, “Hey, you’re in my way!” So, to see someone else in there would have caught him of guard.
Now, I have no idea if the angel looked human or massive or what? But whatever form this angel took, it must have been a pretty awesome sight to shake up Zechariah. Also, Do you remember what happened in Leviticus 10.1-3; Nadab and Abihu;
t.s.: We first see the angel’s appearing to Zechariah positioned between the Table with the Bread on it and the altar of incense. Then, the Angel of the Lord speaks:
2. The Angel’s Announcement (13-18)
exp.: This is why he’s come, to make an announcement; look w/ me at this announcement: rd v 13; There are two parts to this announcement. The 1st deals w/ ‘you’ – Zechariah; the 2nd deals w/ the one to be born to you, namely John.
- What God is going to do in answer to your prayer
- What God is going to do through the answer to your prayer (i.e.: what God is going to do through John)
What God is going to do in answer to your prayer
- Do not be afraid; a common theme in Luke and a common phrase used by the Angel of the Lord; μὴ φοβοῦ
- Your prayer has been heard; You’ve been praying for a son, well…
- Your wife will bear a son! And, as confirmation to this…
- You shall call his name John.
- You will have joy and gladness, and furthermore…
- Many will rejoice at his birth
What God is going to do through the answer to your prayer (i.e.: what God is going to do through John); v14
- For he will be great before the Lord; this word ‘before’ is often translated ‘in the presence’; in the face, lit.: he will grow up in the presence of the Lord. So, because of this…
- He must not drink wine or strong drink; that’s because he’s gonna be a Baptist! John, the Baptist! No, I’m just kidding; there is nothing that I can find in the Bible that speaks against wine and beer (i.e: strong drink) except when:
- The Priest is in service in the Temple
- The Nazarite Vow – which was only for a short period of time
- During pregnancy for certain women
- I think it would be fair to say that the Bible warns against those whose goal for the day is to drink wine or strong drink. I think the point here is that John is going to be in service to the Lord his whole life long. Rd v 16;
- He will be filled with the Holy Spirit – From his mother’s womb
- He will turn many to God; not everyone, but many; rd v 17;
- He will go before the Lord
- In the Spirit of Elijah; we see that in his clothes, his persona;
- With the purpose of:
- Turning the Fathers hearts to their children
- Turning the Disobedient to the Wisdom of the just
- Making ready for the Lord a people prepared; he is going to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.
exp.: wouldn’t it be nice if we could spend some time right here on these three objectives: repeat. Well, look at
Zechariah’s Response: rd v 18; It’s hard to notice at first, but Zechariah doesn’t believe the angel; Zechariah makes three statements to declare his unbelief:
- How shall I know this?: According to what shall I know this? Middle voice: for myself; Now, to be fair, Mary asks a question, too. But hers is much different. We’ll look at that later, and I’ll explain the difference then; however, here He shows his disbelief by his statements:
- I, myself, am an old man.
- My woman is late or really advanced in her days. Her child-bearing days are behind her. Evidently, You don’t know my situation!
ill.: What Zechariah failed to recognize is the Angel’s 1st statement: God has heard your prayers!
app.: This makes me think of my prayers. Do I pray to God for miracles and respond in disbelief, before he’s even answered!?!
t.s.: Hold that thought, because Gabe’s going to make Zechariah some promises:
3. The Angel’s Answer (19-20)
exp.: rd v 19-20; Be careful what you ask for!
I myself am Gabriel; the one who is standing in the presence of God; sent: to speak and to bring good news (evangelism); Gk is still one sentence: being silent, unable to speak; and being silent and not being able to speak; until the day these things take place. Why? Because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their day.
app.: I wonder if we too often miss out on the blessings of God – if we miss out on answered prayer because we never really believed God anyway.
t.s.: In this passage, we see Zechariah has been praying and so have the people. And in response, one answer is given answering both requests! Rd v 21-22;
The people, too, have been praying. And yet, they don’t know that God is answering their prayer.
Conclusion: How do I know this? Because, the people have been in darkness and have experienced silence from the Lord for a long time – some 400 years. And now, he is breaking his silence. And now, a light is beginning to dawn.
Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s what Christmas is really all about.
So, what are our take-a-ways?
- The Christmas story begins and ends at the Temple. What a great reminder for us to acknowledge the perfection and holiness of God. For in so doing, we see ourselves for whom we really are.
- The Christmas story is filled with prayer. Zechariah, Elizabeth, the people, the incense. What are your prayers for this Christmas? Are they filled with selfish wishes or are they seasoned with concerns for others? Can others tell you’ve been with the master? Is there a spiritual fragrance about you?
- The Christmas story is good news. Evangelism is our English Equivalent. Have you ever thought that Christmas just might be the best time to share Christ with those around you – with whom you work: your boss or your employees? What about with your neighbors? Why do we give gifts and decorate? It’s an opportunity to share!
- Finally, I’m amazed that John has been praying and Gabriel says – Good News, Dude! God has heard your prayers. And yet, when John is given this positive response – he doesn’t believe it. Do you pray believing? Isn’t that how this journey with God begins? You believe God for his forgiveness and you surrender yourself to his Lordship.
- It had been a long 400 years of silence from the Father for them. And they should have been watching and waiting. It has been 2000 years for us. When Jesus comes again, will we be ready? Are you watching and waiting?
Invitation: Maybe it’s time for us to break the silence – to begin sharing – to begin praying – to begin believing