Luke 1:5-25, 57-66
Is there any one day that stands out in your life?
For Zechariah, that day had arrived. Except that it would turn out to be far more outstanding than he can have ever imagined.
1. Ordinary people
A humble couple, from the Judean hill country. Of priestly stock, but did not belong to the corrupt aristocracy of Jerusalem.
Childless. Elizabeth’s ‘disgrace’, v25.
Getting on in years, v7, must have given up all hope
Faithful, v6, not bitter. “God did not bless us with children.” God’s people quite often carry for a long time – even for a life-time – some sadness, some disappointment, some unanswered prayer.
Jesus himself dismissed as ‘ordinary’. Mt 14:54-57 ‘”Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?…And they took offence at him.’
1 Cor 1:26ff ‘Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.’
It was to such ordinary people that something very extraordinary happened.
2. Extraordinary encounter
Zechariah was one of several thousand priests. He would be on duty in the Temple just two weeks of the year. But now came his one-in-a-lifetime experience. He was chosen by lot to burn incense in the Holy Place.
While Zechariah is fulfilling his service in the temple, he senses an other-worldly presence.
V12 He is filled with alarm.
V13 “Do not be afraid; your prayer has been heard” – what prayer?
V18 “How can I be sure of this? I am old.”
V19 “I am Gabriel.” Daniel 9.
Zechariah got a sign, but not the one he expected. V20 “You will not be able to speak until the day this happens.”
You don’t mess with an angel.
We cannot ‘clean’ up the biblical account to get rid of the supernatural aspects.
Not leave it to the New-Agers.
3. Ancient story
Antique style, as though the reader has slipped from a modern version to the AV.
Zechariah is fulfilling his role as a priest, and his wife the daughter of a priest.
Elizabeth’s very barrenness reminds us that God sometimes had something very special in mind for such women, as Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s mother, Hannah, 1 Sam 1–2.
This is centred on the Temple. Incense – prayer.
Like Simeon and Anna, they were looking for the ‘consolation of Israel’ and the ‘redemption of Jerusalem’ (2:25, 38).
Elijah, v17. Malachi
God is about to do a new thing, but it is deeply rooted in the past. The OT is not superceded or contradicted by the NT.
Gal 4:4 – ‘when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law.’
The Gospel of Thomas has no plot: it is just a collection of sayings. The Gospel of Judas contains just two ‘real’ names (Judas and Jesus); all the others being made-up names of heavenly figures (Barbelo, Nebro, Yaldbaoth, Saklas, and so on).
V24f ‘After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.”’
We can sense the celebration in vv58f. And the closure for Zechariah, as, in obedience to the angel’s word, and in agreement with his wife, he names the baby, “John”, v63.
Truly, God is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think. What this couple wanted was a child. In answering their prayer, God gave to them their long-for child, but also to the nation a prophet, and a herald, a forerunner, of one who was even greater.
Luke will not let us think of John without also think of the one to whom John pointed.
Comparison between John and Jesus
Many points of similarity.
But the contrast is inescapable.
John would be great in the sight of the Lord, v15, but Jesus greater, and is called ‘the Lord’, Lk 3:16.
John would be the herald, coming in the footsteps of Elijah; Jesus the one heralded, the Messiah.
John the Baptist comes in the footsteps of Elijah, Lk 1:17, as the herald of the Messiah, but Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord.
The account of John’s birth is interrupted by the announcement of Christ’s.
So here we have a further unfolding of God’s plan of redemption. Ordinary people, extraordinary encounter, ancient story.
God’s story is continuing to move forward. At this season of advent we are reminded that the story is hastening towards its conclusion.
2 Pet 3:4ff ‘”Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”…The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.’
God chose this particular couple, at this particular time, and did something remarkable for them, for their nation, for the world.
Will we point to Jesus, his miraculous conception, his joyful birth, his sinless life, his atoning death, his glorious resurrection, his triumphant ascension, his continuing rule, his promised return?
God’s story is cosmic in its reach, but personal in its touch.