- Sermon Notes
Hope in a Promise
We now begin the third gospel, a journey through the life of Christ from the pen of Luke. From everything we know about Luke, he was a Gentile and therefore the only Gentile writer of the New Testament.
Luke was a physician, therefore a man of science, and likely trained at the medical university in Rome. Luke was a companion of the apostle Paul and had most likely met Paul as he was traveling through the Gentile cities speaking of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Luke, no doubt, heard Paul speak about Jesus, the Savior of the world and became a believer.
Luke then began to travel with Paul and Paul makes several references to him, at one point calling him the beloved physician. In fact, at one point near the end of Paul's life when he was in prison in Rome, he said, "Only Luke is with me."
At some point, Luke decided to write an account of the life and ministry of Jesus, which is the gospel we have before us. He also wrote an account of the early church and the missionary journeys of Paul, which we have as the book of Acts.
Both of these books were written to a man named Theophilus. No one is certain the exact identity of this man. His name means "friend of God" or "loved by God" or "one who loves God." Many believe he was a Roman official of some sort because Luke referred to him as "most excellent Theophilus."
There is a growing belief that perhaps he was Theophilus ben Ananus, high priest of the temple in Jerusalem from 37-41 AD.
From the first verses Luke writes he tells us that he has undertaken to compile an account from eyewitnesses and servants of the word, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out in consecutive order so that Theophilus might know, and we might know the exact truth about the things we have been taught.
In verse five, Luke tells us that these things took place during the days of Herod, King of Judea. This would have been the man known as Herod the Great, given the authority to rule as a King by the Roman government. The words, "the Great" were given to Herod by none other than Herod himself who wasn't great at all, but was rather described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis."
He was known for colossal building projects in Jerusalem and elsewhere, including the rebuilding and expanding of the second Temple in Jerusalem, which later became known as Herod's Temple. His stated purpose in these mammoth building projects was to make a name for himself in history.
Herod was a small man of stature, about 5 feet in height. He had a terrible temper and was extremely paranoid. He responded to any perceived threat, real or imagined, by execution. His cruelty became infamous when he had his wife murdered along with two of his sons. And of course we know that when he heard that a King had been born to the Jews in Bethlehem, he had every male child under the age of two years old executed.
All of that leads us now to Luke's account of the story of Jesus Christ, which actually begins with the birth of John the Baptist. The story begins with a certain priest named Zacharias who had a wife whose name was Elizabeth.
I. God is Not Slow about His Promises
- When you look at the timeline of history you see that God had not spoken to Israel in 400 years, since the time of the prophet Malachi.
- You can imagine the discouragement of Israel at that time; Rome was oppressing them, they had allowed this wicked man Herod, who was pretending to be a Jew to rule over them; and they had not heard from God for 400 years.
A. He makes the desert bloom
- What do you do when you're living in dark times and much seems to be wrong in the world? That's the lesson we learn from the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth, and you never know, we might need this information.
- In many ways, Zacharias and Elizabeth were a picture of the times; Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.
Illus – There’s different degrees of old-ness. You start feeling old when you turn 50 and get a welcome letter from the AARP. Then there is the senior citizen menu, etc. There’s old and then there’s stricken in years.
- But we also read that they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in the Word of the Lord.
- No doubt it would have been easy for them just to have thrown up their hands and say, "Well we haven't heard from God for 400 years anyway, so what does it matter? Maybe God's given up on us." But what you see instead is that they walked righteously in the sight of God.
Psalm 37:7-8, Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret--it leads only to evil. NIV
- They didn't get bitter, they just served faithfully. They kept praying; they kept serving; they kept walking steadfastly with a sincere heart.
2 Peter 3:9, The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
- God uses times of barrenness; He uses times of being in the desert, for it is He who makes the desert bloom.
Isaiah 43:19, "Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert."
B. The times, they are a changin’
- We have to look around us and see the condition of things in our time and have the same heart of longing, "How long, O Lord?"
- To quote from that famous American philosopher, Bob Dylan, "The times, they are a changin’."
Illus – Just look at the way our culture "celebrates" Christmas. At some point we have to step back and ask the question, "What has this turned into?"
We’ve all had the experience of following someone out of a store to claim their parking space, only to have somebody cut in and take it.
How about the woman at the mall, after a harried day of shopping, finally makes it to the elevator only to find a crowd in the car, she pushed her way in and drags her two kids and all her bags of stuff in with her. Finally she couldn't take it anymore and blurted out, "Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot." From the back of the car, a quiet voice calmly responded, "No worries… we've already crucified Him."
Illus – CNN’s Jack Cafferty said it well, "The holiday season is upon us - and by the looks of things we ought to be ashamed of ourselves… Here's my question, in light of stampedes, arrests, and fights on Black Friday, what has happened to us?
II. Turn Back Your Heart towards God
- God knows this is the answer; that is what is needed in dark times, so God will send John to turn back many to the Lord their God. (Verse 16)
- Many can become discouraged in dark times, but we need to know that God is doing something about it. The story here reveals the hand of God moving in power.
- Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was chosen by lot to enter the Temple and burn incense.
A. Bloom where you’re planted
- There were more than 20,000 priests at this time, 24 courses of priests, and so they used the casting of lots to determine who would go into the Temple and burn incense.
- This would be perhaps a once in a lifetime experience and it finally fell to Zacharias. But once again, we see that God is in it. This was one of those "divine coincidences" that show us that God is moving even in the details of our lives.
Proverbs 16:33, The lot is cast into the lap, but it's every decision is from the Lord.
- It would have been easy for Zacharias and Elizabeth to have become bitter with the lot they had received so far. Being without children, they would have been looked at as rejected by God.
- But you can see that they didn't allow bitterness in their hearts, they walked steadfastly before God.
Illus - I remember when I was 21 and I was very unhappy with my lot in life. It seemed to me that everyone had it better than I did, but God opened my eyes.
Illus – Joni Erikson Tada could certainly have complained about her lot in life, but she is a living example of trusting God without bitterness of heart or jealousy of others.
Psalm 139:9-10, If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.
B. Your prayer has been heard
- An angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias and said, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard…"
- How long had Zacharias and Elizabeth been praying this prayer? I can also imagine how this prayer changed over all the years of their marriage. By this time, they would have given up, Elizabeth was advanced in years.
- I think we need to understand more about how God looks at prayer. Clearly, it's what God wants to see in our lives.
1 Peter 3:12, For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer.
- We also know that is the one who prays who is spiritually effective.
James 4:2-3, You do not have because to do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
James 5:16-18, The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. NIV
- However, we also need to add faith to our prayers.
Illus - When Peter was arrested and spent the night in jail, the church was praying fervently for him. But when an angel came and rescued Peter and he knocked on the door, they refused to believe it was actually him.
James 1:6-7, But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,
C. God is turning lives even now
- The angel told Zacharias that his son, John, would be great in the sight of the Lord, would drink no wine or liquor, and would be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb.
- He also told him that John would turn many back to the Lord their God and that he would go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah.
- And then he quotes from the prophet Malachi where it says that the evidence of the Holy Spirit moving in people's lives would not only be that they turned their heart back toward God, but also that the hearts of the fathers would be turned back to their children.
Malachi 4:5-6, "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land a curse."
Illus - Gabriel gave Zacharias a sign to help his unbelief, but along with that came a correction… "because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time." Part of revival, clearly, is when faith is increased.
Luke 1:1-25 NASB