Grace For The Journey
A few weeks ago, we began a series of studies through the Gospel of Luke. We have been reading about two miraculous birth announcements. We read how the Angel Gabriel spoke to two different persons in two different locations that two different sons would be born, one John the Baptist, and the other, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the first instance, the angel appeared to a man named Zacharias while he was serving in the temple. The angel told Zacharias, that his wife Elizabeth, also up in years and barren, and way past the age of childbearing, would conceive and have a son. Zacharias did not believe the angel and so the angel struck Zacharias with muteness. Zacharias’ inability to speak was likely coupled with an inability to hear. In either case, God judged Zacharias for failing to believe. This was a judgment to last until the baby was born. Now we read what happens nine months later.
When you look in your Bibles at the space Luke gives to recording the birth of John the Baptist as compared to the space given to his recording the birth of Jesus, you find that Luke gives far more space to Jesus than to John. This is as it should be. We recall the Angel Gabriel saying to Zacharias that his son John the Baptist would be “great in the sight of the Lord” (1:15) whereas the angel said to Mary that her son Jesus would be not just great “in the sight of the Lord,” but “great” period (1:32).
- The greatness of Jesus is without qualification.
- The greatness of Jesus is without limitation.
- Jesus is great because God is great.
- Jesus is great because He is God.
As we study these few verses today in our text it is important to remember that we are reading about the birth of John the Baptist, a great person, but not the greatest person. John’s role was to be the way maker for Jesus Christ.
John’s role and ministry was
To prepare people for Jesus
And point people to Jesus.
While we study this morning about the birth of a great person, John the Baptist, we must remember that John himself would say our study was fruitless if we somehow missed the fact that we should be far more interested in the One to whom John’s finger forever pointed, the Lord Jesus Christ. How great is our God!
We will study verses 57 to 66 a little more closely and afterwards I want to share with you a few points hat I hope will be helpful to you as you live out your faith in Christ this week.
With straightforward brevity Luke records in verse 57 that Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. So here come the neighbors and relatives now in verse 58 to join in this celebration of birth. They “heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her” and “rejoiced with her.” So far, so good, but then verse 59, “on the eight day they came to circumcise the child” and this is where the difficulty begins.
The problem is not circumcision. Circumcision was as old as Genesis 17 when God told Abraham that every child eight days old among his family should be circumcised as a sign of the covenant between God and His people.
This act of circumcision was
A perpetual reminder that
The people of God would find
Their strength not in their flesh,
But in the One True God
Who loved them and cared for them
And set them apart as a special people.
Circumcision on the eighth day is not the problem here in the text. The problem is all of these family members and friends who are gathered around.
Of course, family and friends are a blessing to a young couple as they prepare for the birth of a child and then bring that child into the world. Some family and friends are there to share in the celebration, some perhaps to help, and nearly all to offer their advice, even on what to name the new born baby. In verse 59 Luke records that “they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias.” The “they” in verse 59 are the family and friends. “They would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias.” But verse 60 tells us, “His mother answered and said, ‘No; he shall be called John.’”
Now that should settle it, right? I mean this woman has gone through nine long months of carrying this child and then the pain of delivering this child at a time before the help of contemporary doctors and epidurals and the like. It seems to me if anyone had the right to name this child it ought to be the mother. We would expect the family and friends to say, “Oh, John! What a lovely name! May God bless you richly, Elizabeth.” But what do we read instead? Verse 61, “But they said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.’” It is almost as though they have concluded that Elizabeth is beyond help and so they turn in exasperation to the father. Verse 62 tells us, “So they made signs to his father – what he would have him called.” Here is the reason that we noted earlier that God’s judgment upon Zacharias may have included deafness as well as his being mute. They made signs to him. Of course, to be sure, we do have a tendency to infer from one’s singular handicap that perhaps the unfortunate person is also challenged in other areas, as well.
Perhaps that is what is going on here in verse 62 with the people making signs to Zacharias. In either case, Zacharias is asked in some way or other what he would like to name the child. Verse 63, “And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, ‘His name is John.’ So they all marveled.” This tablet would have been a slate of wood covered with wax and it is as important to consider what Zacharias does not write as it is to consider what he does write. He does not write, “I think we should call him John.” He does not even write, “His name will be John,” but rather he writes, “His name is John.” I believe Zacharias had learned his lesson! He believed the Angel Gabriel now. He was not going to take any more chances of imposing his will upon the will of God. His name is John.
No surprise then that we should read in the next verse, verse 64, “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.” In response to Zacharias’ faith, God lifts His judgment and the first thing out of Zacharias’ mouth is a praise to God. This is a natural thing to say in response to a work of God or an answered prayer.
Then Luke records in brief, summary form the response to all of this about the birth of John the Baptist in verse 65. He writes, “Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea.” Good news travels fast! Luke concludes this account in verse 66 by saying, “And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, ‘What kind of child will this be?’ And the hand of the Lord was with him.” That last phrase, “the hand of the Lord was with him,” was a common Old Testament way of expressing the powerful presence of God in a person’s life. The hand of the Lord was with him. This should be the supreme blessing we would seek upon our children, not that they would grow to be popular, witty, famous, rich, or successful, but that “the hand of the Lord would be with them.”
Now what I would like to do is give you just a few “take away” points for us to ponder and to live by. In some sense, we are asking a similar question, “What does John the Baptist teach us?” What may we come to understand about God even here as a result of our studying this birth account of the one whose finger pointed to Jesus Christ?
First . . .
1) We May Know Real Joy.
When Gabriel first appeared to Zacharias, he told him that his future son, John the Baptist, would bring joy to many people. We see it back in verse 14: “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.” What we read in our text today is a partial fulfillment of that promise. We read in verse 58 that when Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, “they rejoiced with her.” Joy.
The principal cause for joy in our hearts this morning does not have as much to do with the birth of John the Baptist, as it does the birth of the One far greater than John. John prepares the way for Jesus Christ. John’s birth account anticipates a greater birth to follow. John brings joy to many of God’s people but, Luke 2:10, Jesus Christ will bring “great joy which will be to all people.”
This text reminds us that we may know real joy. We can never remind ourselves too often that Christian joy is quite different from happiness. Happiness is an emotion that can be felt by all persons at some level at various times.
- You get a check in the mail and you are happy.
- You get a good report card and you are happy.
- The sun shines and you are happy.
- The Royals or Chiefs win and you are happy.
But this happiness is a happiness that depends upon positive outcomes, a happiness dependent upon the circumstances of life. If the check does not come, we are unhappy, we get a bad report card, we are unhappy, and so forth.
Christian joy, however, is constant no matter the circumstances. We may have bad times, but we continue to have joy. Joy is there no matter what happens.
- Joy of knowing God through faith in Jesus Christ,
- Joy in having our sins forgiven,
- Joy in knowing that there is no more guilt or shame before God,
These are truths that keep us looking confidently upward as we struggle through this fallen world. This text reminds us that we may know real joy.
Secondly, this text reminds us . . .
2) We May Know Real Praise.
Zacharias teaches us about real praise. He had been stricken mute for nine months. Imagine: nine months of being hopelessly unable to speak! And the last three months have only made matters worse for Zacharias as Mary comes to live with them and Zacharias silently watches Elizabeth and Mary constantly talking with one another and celebrating the expectant births.
What would you do if you could not speak for nine months? You would probably see more than you had previously seen and think more deeply about things than you had before. In our world we are constantly bombarded with noisy stimuli that rob us of our ability to reflect deeply about things. Few of us seem to have time for silence. Some people live with the constant noise of the radio or the TV on all the time in the living room as a sort of background ambience necessary for living. Do you take time each day to pause in spiritual reflection?
Zacharias had a lot of time to reflect spiritually upon the deeper matters of theology! Finally, God lifts the speaking ban and Zacharias can talk and the first thing Zacharias does is praise God. The fuller expression of that praise is found in Zacharias’ prophecy located next in the chapter. We will study that soon. It is full of praise and wonder and prophecy mostly concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. But it is interesting, isn’t it, that the first thing out of Zacharias’ mouth after nine months of silence is praise to God.
If placed in the shoes of Zacharias what would be the first thing we would have said after nine months? No doubt it would be very difficult for a number of us not to talk about ourselves: “Oh, you have no idea what I’ve been through these past nine months! I couldn’t talk and it was dreadful! You have no idea what it’s like to be me!”
A little affliction serves us well. Nine months of silence causes Zacharias to think deeply of his relationship with God. Isn’t that just like the blessing of suffering trials and tribulation? This is what Paul says later in Romans 5:3-4, “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope,” a hope that “does not disappoint,” but a hope that is the confidant expectation that all is well because of the love of God poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
God allows a little affliction to draw us closer to His side. God allows a little suffering so that we may think deeply about what really matters in this world and come to Him more frequently on our knees. When God finally moves at just the right time, in accordance to His perfect plan and perfect will, we know something of real praise. We cry, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!”
Thirdly, this text teaches . . .
3) We May Know Real Fear.
Verse 65 says that “fear came on all who dwelt around them.” Biblical fear of God has more to do with awe and reverence than it does with being afraid. Fear of God is to reflect upon the holiness of God, the power of God, and the incredibly surprising fact that God offers grace in the midst of such holiness and power. The reason “fear came upon all who dwelt around them” in verse 65 is because of what God did for Zacharias in verse 64: “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.” The word “immediately” suggests it is almost as if God could hardly wait to restore Zacharias’ voice. This is the work of a powerful and gracious God. God could have kept Zacharias from speaking for the rest of his life and we might even conclude that Zacharias deserved such a judgment. But God chooses to restore Zacharias’ voice freely, based upon nothing good in Zacharias, simply God’s sovereign gracious choice.
It is a bit like the father in the story Luke will tell us later, the father and the prodigal son. The son has his “forgiveness speech” all worked out. He knows what he is going to say to his father, begging for forgiveness for his sins, but before the son can get this out of his mouth, the father runs to the son, graciously forgives him, and blesses him with all kinds of blessings.
This is how God works. This is how this powerful, mighty, and wonderful God works!
Yes, He is holy.
Yes, He is omnipotent,
But, He is also
A gracious God,
Slow to anger, and
Abounding in mercy.
This is why we fear God – This is why we revere Him, respect Him, and bow before Him in awe, because in Christ Jesus we know something of what happened to the prodigal son. We know something of “Amazing Grace.” And if Zacharias could say, “I once was mute but now I speak,” we can say, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” How great is Our God? . . . Praise to our Almighty God!
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”