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 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
"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."
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.
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
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
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.
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)
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
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
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.
"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.
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