for Christ's Birth (e)
Imagine all the preparation
being made for the perfect Christmas morning. The hustle and bustle of
Christmas is something each of us experience. Crowded streets, packed malls
and long lines at the check out counters. Maybe we have been preparing
for months to make Christmas a special occasion. Sometimes, no matter how
much preparation we make ,it is inadequate and no matter how much preparation
you make, it is often hard to find the perfect gift for someone who has
everything. You may have heard what the wife said to the husband on Christmas
morning: "You angel! This is just what I need to exchange for just what
All the preparation
made on earth for Christmas morning is nothing compared to the preparation
God made for the birth of his Son. Through his preparation, he gave the
perfect gift. As we go to Luke's gospel, we begin to see the culmination
of God's prepared plan for God to become flesh. It was no last minute preparation
for a perfect Christmas. The birth of God's Son was planned before the
world began. The plan had been carefully and painstakingly advancing throughout
Earth's first hopeful
glimmer of the eternal Christ child is seen in the opening of the book
of Genesis in the words God spoke to Satan. "And I will put enmity between
you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your
head, and you will strike his heel." (Genesis 3:15 NIV) That first glimmer
of hope given at our mother's fall becomes even brighter as we trace the
hope of Satan's defeat through Adam, Shem, Noah, Abraham and David. The
last chapter of the Old Testament closes with the following statement,
which is a prelude to the birth of Christ.
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." (NIV)
The Silence of God
Malachi was speaking
these words in skeptical times. It was a time when almost everyone had
given up hope of ever realizing the coming of the Messiah. It was a time
of evil when people were speaking against God. Malachi writes, "You have
said harsh things against me," says the LORD. "Yet you ask, 'What have
we said against you?' "You have said, 'It is futile to serve God. What
did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners
before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly
the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.'" (Malachi
Apparently, the majority
ceased to listen to God's prophets. Those listening to God were speaking
evil of God because they thought life was unfair. When they did worship
God, they were mournful in his presence because they believed that the
arrogant evildoers and those who challenged God prospered. It was at this
point that the prophetic voices of the Old Testament became silent. Four
hundred years of silence followed.
Feelings of isolation
and confusion grew among the Jews during the 400 years of silence between
the closing of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament.
During those 400 years there had been anti-Christ who claimed to be the
Messiah, Jewish wars had been fought, doubt and despair were spread abroad,
religion had been corrupted and those who were faithful were precious few.
The silence of God had taken its toll. Yet, God's plan for Christ's birth
was very much alive.
Luke opens his book
shattering 400 years of silence. Luke begins his gospel precisely where
Malachi left off. The final words of the Old Testament speak of the coming
of one who would prepare the way for the Lord. Luke commences his gospel
with the angelic announcement of Gabriel to Zacharias, an elderly priest,
that he and his wife will have a son, a son who will come in the spirit
of Elijah the prophet, and who will turn the hearts of fathers to their
children, and will prepare the way of the Lord. He was to be the fulfillment
of Malachi's prophecy.
time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged
to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant
of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all
the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children,
because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years. 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. 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. But the angel said to him: "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 because of 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." (NIV)
In the years of silence
from the closing of the Old Testament to the opening of the New Testament,
is speaking through the silence. In a very real sense, God is never silent.
He speaks in nature; for we read, "The heavens declare the glory of God"
(Psalm 19:1). He also communicates with us through our conscience; for
in Romans 2:15 we read, " . . . their conscience also bearing witness."
The Lord speaks even more plainly in the Bible; for He says, "O earth,
earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord" (Jeremiah 22:29) The faithful
such as Zacharias and Elizabeth are listening. We know they were listening
because they were and faithful in service.
Luke reveals a continuity
of action from the closing of Malachi to the opening of his story about
John the Baptist. The continuity of Luke's gospel with the last verses
of Malachi also connect the story Luke is about to reveal to that first
glimmer of hope seen in Genesis 3:15. The Bright Morning Star is about
to burst forth in all its brilliance. The culmination of God's plan is
at hand. The birth of the Christ was planned in eternity, but now is only
a few months away.
God Breaks the Silence
A childless Jewish woman
was considered cursed by God. After conceiving Elizabeth says, "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." (Luke 1:25) How they
had prayed for a baby to carry on their lineage. The years of God's silence
concerning their personal desire for a son had taken its toll. The people
considered them disgraced by God. They had given up. The silence of those
barren years was broken by the angelic announcement. Zacharias prayer had
been heard. (1:13) The son's name will be John, which means, "gift of God."
What a perfect gift.
The angelic announcement
was also an announcement to the world that God's plan of redemption was
about to be completed. The "gift of God" was not only for Zacharias and
Elizabeth; it was an announcement to the whole world that the birth of
Christ was about to take place. God's prepared plan was very much alive.
It is not hard to follow
when you can see and understand the work of God. The difficulty comes when
it is impossible to see the hand of God. It is in times like these that
you must trust the work of God.
Silence tests the faith
of each of us. In many ways the hardest part of Job's troubles was that
for a long time God would not answer him. Zacharias and Elizabeth had gone
through the silent barrenness with their faith in tact. According to God's
pronouncement they were faithful and obedient. I think, God wants us to
know how much confidence they had in him in spite of his silence concerning
a son. They kept persisting and knocking even when all hope had passed.
When the possibilities of a natural birth are long gone they continue their
faithfulness to God. They no longer believed they could have a son, but
they remained faithfully attentive through the silence.
There are times when
God wants to see how much confidence we have in Him--if we will persist
in knocking on the door until it opens. The silence of waiting is not easy,
but remember that God is working in the silence.
God's Work During
The Silent Years
It is helpful for us
to understand history from a divine perspective. Luke emphasizes what God
is doing in history. The individuals secular history consider great, such
as Herod, were only historical reference points to Luke. Luke teaches history
lessons so that we may be able to see the sovereignty of God bringing history
to its ultimate conclusion. From Luke's perspective of the life of Christ,
we see all of history as part of God's divine preparation for the coming
of the Messiah.
It is what God has done
and is doing in history that is important. Luke introduces us anew to the
sovereign hand of God in earthly matters. God isn't just intervening periodically
to redirect our steps. His direction is constant and deliberate, especially
in the silent times. During the 400 years of silence before this angelic
announcement, God is active in developing his plan to enter the world in
a personal living way.
Paul penned a passage
saying, "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a
woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive
the full rights of sons." (Galatians 4:4-5 NIV) This passage carries with
it the idea that when God's plan was fully developed, when the world stage
was set, he sent forth his Son into the world. During the 400 years of
silence between the closing of the Old Testament and the opening of the
New Testament, God was silently, but actively preparing the world stage
for the coming of the Messiah. In Old Testament history, from Genesis to
Malachi, God was preparing the Jews for the coming of the Messiah. In the
400 years of prophetic silence before Christ, God was setting the stage
of the Gentile world for coming of Christ. God was preparing the world
for the greatest gift of all time . . . the gift of his Son . . . it would
be the perfect gift.
In the late 7th century
B. C., the prophet Daniel gave a thumbnail sketch of God's plan for human
history as he interpreted the king of Babylon's dream. He told Nebuchadnezzar
that three successive kingdoms would follow the kingdom of Babylon. Daniel
told Nebuchadnezzar during the reign of the third successive kingdom the
God of heaven would set up his kingdom, which would never be destroyed.
Of course, that kingdom was to be set up by God's Son. (Matthew 16:18-19)
It was to be a spiritual kingdom. Daniel was seeing history from a divine
perspective as God moves men and nations to accomplish the fulfillment
of his redemptive plan. It was over the next 600 years that God was moving
men and nations in preparation for that first Christmas.
Much of that preparation
for Christ birth took place during the 400 years of prophetic silence between
the closing of the Old Testament and the New Testament. During the years
of 356-323 BC. Alexander the Great came on the world scene. As Alexander
moved his conquering troops throughout the world, he set up cities and
libraries for the express purpose of spreading the Greek culture and language.
By the time Rome came to power, the Greek language had become a universal
language. It was this influence that brought about the translation of the
Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language. That Greek translation is the
Septuagint. This Greek translation of Jewish Scriptures acquainted the
non-Jew with the principles of the Jewish faith, which played an important
role in fulfilling God's plan of redemption.
The apostles of the
New Testament were able to travel through the Greek-speaking world preaching
from the Greek Septuagint. As the New Testament was revealed it was disseminated
throughout the world in the universal language of Greek. As we view this
aspect of divine history, we see God moving men and nations through 400
silent years preparing for Christ birth and the reception of his teaching.
Alexander the Great believed his mission was divine, although he never
knew Jehovah God. He sought to become a son of the Sun god of Egypt. But
he never really knew how divine his mission was. God used him in preparation
for the birth of his Son.
When Rome, the third
successive kingdom of which Daniel prophesied, came to power, roads were
built to all parts of the world. There was a saying that "All roads led
to Rome." This fact, along with the personal freedom to move from one Roman
province to another without scrutiny, made it possible to freely spread
the gospel message throughout the world. Amazingly, during those troubled
years, although the Jewish nation had felt forsaken by God, God was very
much at work. God had spent 400 silent years making intense preparation
for that first Christmas. He was preparing for the coming of his Son as
he used the rise and fall of the nations to make the preparation complete.
God's Personal Preparation
As Luke opens his gospel
he relates God's preparation for that first Christmas to God's personal
activity in Zacharias and Elizabeth's lives. We are able to see that God
was not only moving among the nations, he was active in the personal lives
of the faithful. Luke reveals the personal nature of God's work as it is
seen in the lives of Zacharias and Elizabeth. I want you to notice something
significant in the following verses.
In the time of Herod
king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly
division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.
of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments
and regulations blamelessly. (NIV)
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 favor and taken away my disgrace among the people." (NIV)
The two words that really
catch my attention are "blamelessly" and "disgrace". Why should someone
who is walking "blamelessly" before the Lord feel "disgraced" when they
have done all they can do? The trouble with our personal faith is that
we can see God moving men and nations in preparation for the birth of his
Son, but we cannot fathom the work of God in our personal lives directed
toward a deeper reception of his Son.
When missionary Dan
Crawford was trekking through South Africa, a villager inquired, "Are you
angry?" Astonished, Crawford responded, "No, why do you ask?" "Because
you're so silent," came the reply. "In our tribe, if a man is angry, he
doesn't speak. That's why we think God is displeased with us. He is so
We know from experience,
silence is not always golden. Being given the "silent treatment" by an
angry spouse leaves one feeling isolated and confused. When God doesn't
answer our prayers, we question God. Notice a blameless obedient person's
response when his prayer is heard: Zechariah asked the angel, "How can
I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
(Luke 1:18 NIV) I like God's preparation because it takes place in the
lives of real people and it is always complete. It gives all of us hope
as we identify with the struggles of real people. We have felt the same
way, but God continues his work in spite of our inability to believe.
The preparation God
made for Christ's birth is testimony to how God has prepared and is presently
preparing for our future. It is easy to go back and understand the prophecies
about our Savior. It is easy to see God preparing the Jewish nation for
the coming Messiah. It is easy to go back and understand Daniel's thumbnail
sketch of history. It is easy to see the fruition of a lifetime of silence
in Zechariah's and Elizabeth's life. But the difficult part is to see the
preparation God is making in my private life.
Note Paul's words: "No
temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful;
he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are
tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under
it." (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV) You don't have to look very far in these
verses to see God moving heaven, earth and all the demons in hell to prepare
a way of salvation for each of us in difficult times. But somehow it is
hard to believe on a personal level. Whether it is 400 years of silence
or a lifetime of silence or only a momentary silence, it is hard to believe
in mountain moving prayers when you are experiencing the silence of God.
angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence
of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.
And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that
these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which
shall be fulfilled in their season. And the people waited for Zacharias,
and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out,
he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision
in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
When John is born, Zacharias
speaks for the first time. Listen to the praise from the lips of a dumbfounded
believer. It is as if, now for the first time in his life, he sees the
preparation God has been making for the birth of John. Not too long ago
an unusual commercial recording came out. Each side of the disc has 20
minutes of absolute silence, followed by 30 seconds of thunderous applause.
How we need to listen in the silence today, then we would be able to applaud
God for his work in our lives. Listen to the applause of Zacharias' life
when his silence was ended. Listen to his song of praise.
be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed
his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of
his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation
from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us--to show mercy to
our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our
father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable
us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all
our days. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give
his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their
sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will
come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the
shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace." And the child
grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared
publicly to Israel. (NIV)
A tourist was staying
overnight in a little Vermont town. He joined a small group of men sitting
on the porch of the general store and attempted to strike up a conversation.
Getting no response, he asked, "Is there a law against talking in this
town?" "Nope," replied one seasoned old Vermonter. "Ain't no law against
it. We just like to make sure it's an improvement over silence." When God
broke the silence as he was preparing for the coming of his Son, it was
because the eternal was about to descend to the earth to reveal the gospel
of salvation. It was impossible to even imagine the beauty of what God
was preparing. But it was worth speaking about.
you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble
before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come
down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake
before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you
came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no
one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. (NIV)
Paul applied Isaiah's
teaching to Christ.
as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him"-- but God has revealed it
to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things
of God. (NIV)
The beauty of what God
prepared is seen in the birth of his Son for our salvation. His love is
only understood when we seek to understand the preparation eternity has
made for our lives.
In the Hebrew language,
names had meanings. "Zacharias" means "The Lord Remembers", "Elizabeth"
means "My God is An Absolutely Faithful One", and as we have mentioned
"John" means "Gift of God". What names to be found in one family? The names
convey the truth about God and it is this truth that helps us understand
God's preparation for Christ birth.