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Preparation for Christ's Birth (e)

Luke 1

Jim Davis

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 I wanted."

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 history.

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.

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." (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 3:13-15 NIV) 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. 

Luke 1:5-17
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. 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, God 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 for Us

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.

Luke 1:5-6
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. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. (NIV)

Luke 1:24-25
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 silent."

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.

Dumbfounded Response of Praise

Luke 1:19-22
And the 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.

Luke 1:68-80
"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)

Conclusion:

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.

Isaiah 64:1-4
Oh, that 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.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10
However, 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. 
 
 

 

 

 

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