I. Natural Doubters
It is amazing to watch the development of a child. I have been blessed to have three children. And I love to watch them grow. John David is now getting to the point when he has become very opinionated. It is a sad day when your son starts to question whether what you say is right. He used to trust my word without question. If daddy said it, then it must be true. But as he has grown, he has started to doubt my words. He wants more and more verification in what I am telling him. He especially enjoys telling me that I am going the wrong way when we are in the car. I am not sure if you knew this, but 4 year old are excellent navigators. They may not know their right from their left, but they know what is the right and wrong way to go. So the days of the simple trust in my words have passed. We all get there. In this life as we grow we become doubters. We want more and more proof in the words that told to us.
Now it could be a sign of the times. We live in a world that is exploding with information. There are more books written, articles read and news programs developed in a single year than probably the entire 19th century combined. We live in an age of information. But I do not think our doubt is driven from our time, but our nature. Human Nature is one that doubts. We doubt what others say. We especially doubt those things that seem to be too good to be true or things that seem so awful that they must not be true. I believe we also doubt because we do not want to go against anything in our own heads. We like to come up with the right saying or the truth. We want to follow what we feel and what we believe. Our nature is often diametrically opposed to trust. We are doubters. As seen in the growth of my children, we all get to a point when we do not want to trust the words we are being told. We doubt others and trust ourselves. When we should doubt ourselves and trust God. God has given us his Word to trust and believe, but we often doubt his word. We doubt it because he promises things that seem too good to be true and he also reveals to us how desperately evil our hearts can actually be. So this morning, I pray that we turn from doubting God’s Word to gladly submitting to it.
We continue our study in the gospel of Luke this morning. Remember our time last week, we looked at how this Gospel could be trusted from the careful research and eyewitness accounts so that we may be certain in the things that we have been taught. Luke then starts to unfold God’s plan in the incarnation by showing the responses of two people when they hear about the promise of a child. One responds well and the other responds poorly. We look first at how Zechariah, a priest, who responds to the Word of the Lord poorly. First point,
II. Doubting the Word brings Displeasure to God (v 5-23)
We see the main characters of this section introduced. Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah and his wife Elizabeth who was also a descendant of Aaron, were both of priestly decent. A man and a wife that were both of a priestly lineage was a sign of blessing. Now, the line of Abijah was known as a wicked sect, but we know that is not true of Zechariah and Elizabeth, for we read in verse 6, “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statues of the Lord.” Zechariah and Elizabeth were a righteous couple. The word righteousness used here refers to a moral upright righteousness. They lived a godly and holy life. Still sinners, but tried to follow the commandments and statues of the Lord. But although they were righteous, their lives were not without trouble.
a. Suffering can lead to Doubt, but We Must Trust His Plan (v.5-10)
V.7 But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.” Barrenness in the Jewish world was always looked at as a judgment from God. Their barrenness caused them to suffer disgrace or disapproval from the people. We can clearly see from verse 24 that Elizabeth felt the disgrace from the community.
I am sure it would have been difficult for Elizabeth and Zechariah to understand why they were without a child. They lived upright lives. They served the Lord. They had good heritage. And yet, they were without a child. Their suffering was not a result of sin for Luke describes them as righteous. But the righteous still suffer. And suffering can lead to doubt. There may be some of you that are suffering. Maybe your suffering is leading you to ask similar questions, “Lord why can’t I conceive? Why can’t I find a spouse? Why does my spouse treat me this way? Why can’t I find a job? Why won’t this pain go away?
But I think what we can see from this text, is that God is working. Suffering can lead to doubt, but you must trust God’s plan. He knows what he is doing. As we will see, even Elizabeth’s barrenness and Zechariah’s age, were all under the Sovereign control of the Lord. Their suffering will become their glory.
Verse 8, “Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.” So this was huge for Zechariah. This was his big day. With the size of the priesthood, man would only be able to perform this duty once in his lifetime. This was his BCS Bowl, his opportunity to meet the President, his time to be on Oprah’s Favorite Things, needless to say it was a big deal, once in a lifetime opportuntity. So although his wife is barren and he is looked at with disgrace, his big day has arrived.
b. Big Words can lead to Doubt, but We Must Trust His Promises (v.11-17)
In verse 11, “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.” Let’s remember that God is a Big and Powerful God. Every time you see people encounter Angels in the Bible, they don’t go, “awe…isn’t he cute.” Angels are not cute babies with wings or young girls. They are Awesome, Terrifying, Amazing, Powerful, Servants of God. Our God is Awesome and Terrifying, shouldn’t his servants be the same way. The cute angelic chubby baby angels or the serene teenage girl angel are nowhere in the Bible. God’s Angels strike fear in the hearts of those they encounter. Are world wants to domesticate God. Do not allow this world to domesticate God in your thinking. He is powerful. I am not saying you should go home and remove every cute angel from your house, but every time you look at them be reminded how this world likes to comfort themselves by domesticating God. And then encourage yourself with how great and powerful our God truly is!!
Verse 13, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
These are some big words. This Angel announces that God has heard Zechariah’s prayer. Zechariah your prayer is being answered. Now, we do not know exactly what his prayer was that was being answered. We can imagine that he often prayed for a child, but we also know that he was performing his priestly duties offering prayers to God for the salvation of Israel. The prayer was answered. God was going to save Israel by using Zechariah’s child as the one who is going to prepare the way. As a priest, Zechariah had to know that the Angel was quoting Malachi 4:5-6, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” Remember Malachi was one of the last prophetic voices in the nation of Israel before 300 years of silence. All priests would have been familiar with this prophecy. And this Angel says, “This prophecy is going to be fulfilled through the child of your old, barren wife.” Say what? For Real?
When the Promise is very big it is hard for us to believe. Some of you cannot believe that you are forgiven. You think about your past and the mistakes that you made. You think about how you have hurt people. You hear that if you trust in Jesus Christ that you are forgiven. Those are big words that can lead to doubt, but you must trust His Promises. God can give big words, because he is a Big God. Trust Him. Trust Him. Look at verse 24, “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” God keeps his Word.
c. Pride can lead to Doubt, but We Must Know Our Place (v.18-23)
Instead of receiving this great promise, Zechariah asks for more evidence. In verse 18, “Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Zechariah wants proof. How can I know? And look at the angel’s response, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true in their proper time.” Angel responds by telling Zechariah his name. You want a sign. I am Gabriel. I speak for the Lord. Gabriel is indignant with the pride and arrogance of Zechariah.
Luke says later in this gospel in Luke 11:29, “When the crowds were increasing, Jesus (he) began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Zechariah is rebuked for demanding evidence and Jesus calls this generation evil for seeking a sign. Now remember, Zechariah is a good man. He is referred to as righteous. But in this moment, he does not believe the Word of the Lord. He is acting like the world demanding a sign from God to prove that his Word is true.
Beloved, I think this is instructive for us. How often do we not trust God at this Word, but demand for signs? Or how often do we rationalize away God’s Word because it does not fit into our culture context? When you encounter something that does not fit with our culture, do you side with the culture or the Bible? How do you deal with 1 Tim 2:12 when Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” Or Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account?” Do you ask yourself how I can follow that teaching or how can I refute it? We do not want to respond to God’s Word like Zechariah did here. We do not want to demand a sign along with this evil generation. His doubting brought displeasure to the Lord. Pride can lead to doubt, we must know our place. We want to believe and trust God’s Word. For, second point.
III. Believing the Word brings Blessings from God (v. 24-56)
We don’t want to be like Zechariah, but we do want to be like Mary. In the first century, this would have been a terrible way to start a story. Women were not respected in the 1st century society. Luke is explaining, from his careful research and eyewitness interviews, what took place. Luke often highlights women through this gospel. But I do not think we can understand how shocking this comparison was: Do not be like the Highly-Respected Priest, be like a humble teenage girl. So let’s clarify two things. First,
a. Confusion is not Disbelief (v.24-33)
26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
She was great troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. There is no doubt in Mary, but rather confusion. She does not understand. The Angel simple gave her more information. And along similar lines:
b. Clarification is not Disbelief (v.34-37)
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[c] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary asked a very realistic question, “How will this be since I am a virgin? Mary wanted to know how, not if. Mary believed the Angel: Nothing is impossible with God.
It is ok to ask questions. It is ok to ask God for more understanding, but do it with a believing heart. So what does this believing heart look like?
c. Belief looks like:
i. Glad Submission (v.38)
Verse 38, “38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.” Mary shows a glad submission to the Word of the Lord. It is simple, but it is not easy. Remember Mary was a teenage girl who was engaged to be married. This would be a hard one to explain to her future husband. (Thankfully the Lord gave some Divine Dreams to Joseph). But this child would bring Mary disgrace. People would question her character. She could possibly bring down the reputation of her family. This was not easy, but Mary did not look at the negatives. Mary found favor with God. Glad Submission to His Word brings favor from God.
If you want to have the Lord’s favor, gladly submit to His Word. The world may not cheer you, but God will be pleased. And isn’t that what we want? As Christians, we our main motivations should be to please the Lord. We please him trusting and obeying him.
But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.
Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet.
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way.
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Mary trusted and obeyed. She may have been mocked and chided, but her glad submission brought her blessings. I pray it will be with us as well. Secondly, Belief looks like:
ii. Humble Adoration (v.39-45)
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
Elizabeth, another woman, humbly adores the incarnate Jesus. Elizabeth was so humble that she did not understand how she could experience the Lord’s favor. She was already with child and now she was in the presence of the mother of the Messiah. Elizabeth knew she did not deserve the Lord’s blessing, but humbly accepted them. Listen to verse 45, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” Luke highlights the believing of Mary while in the home of the silent Zechariah that did not believe. We can be blessed if we believe what the Lord has said is true. When we read the Christmas story, let us not lose our amazement. We see two miracles. The danger of over exposure is that we lose our wonder. God is preparing a way for salvation through an old barren couple and a virgin teenage girl. This is miraculous!!
And should result in:
iii. Joyful Praise (v.45-56)
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.” 56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
Our response to the Word should be joyful praise. Mary responded with the language of the Psalms. If you want to further study this Song, compare it to Hannah’s Prayer in 1 Samuel 2. Let me point out two things from this song. First, notice how it speaks to how close God is to the humble. Verse 48,” for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” Verse 51 and following, “51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” Luke is telling the most excellent Theophilus that God is not impressed with accolades of this world. He is not impressed with the rich for he sends them away empty. He is not impressed with rulers for he brought them down off their thrones. He is not impressed with the proud of heart for he has scattered them. The Lord is mindful of the humble state of his servants. For this whole story is about the humbling of True Servant, the Anointed One, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And this story is our story. God has come to be our Savior in Jesus Christ. Listen to verse 50, “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” And verse 54, “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever.” The Lord’s mercy extends to us from generation to generation. He has remembered to merciful to the descendants of Abraham which we are by faith. The Christmas story is our story. This story is about our salvation. Mary knew she needed a Savior. She knew Israel knew a Savior. She knew we would need a Savior. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So Jesus was born as the Savior. He lived in perfect submission to the Father’s will. He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. His death on the cross purchased our salvation. He died in our place. But God raised Him from the dead so that anyone who fears him, from generation to generation, will receive his mercy. Those who gladly submit to His Word will not receive punishment, but blessing. You will be forgiven by God and be saved from your sin. We receive this Word by turning from our pride and doubt to belief with glad submission, humble adoration and joyful praise.
Where are you this morning? Do you think of the Christmas story as your story? Are you believing or doubting? God’s Word is Trustworthy. Trust Him.