Sermon: Your Prayer Has Been Heard (Luke 1:5-25)

Your Prayer has Been Heard

Luke 1:5-25 (ESV)

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.  [6] And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.  [7] But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

[8] Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty,  [9] according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  [10] And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.  [11] And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.  [12] And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.  [13] But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  [14] And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,  [15] for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.  [16] And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,  [17] and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

[18] And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”  [19] And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.  [20] And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”  [21] And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple.  [22] And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.  [23] And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

[24] After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying,  [25] “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Last week we discussed just how careful and how detailed Luke researched and wrote down his information.  As an historian, however, Luke writes down more than just historic events, he also is an infallible interpreter of those events.

He writes history on two levels.  First, he writes the history of the events on a human level.  In other words, he writes what you might see on the evening news.  Secondly, He writes history on another level.  This history has to do with God’s actions and how God is behind the scene working to bring about the first level events or the events that could be seen.

1. The Righteous Family in Troubled Times (1:5-7)

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.  [6] And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.  [7] But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Luke begins this narrative by showing us the time in which these events took place.  He says it was in the days when Herod ruled Judea.  We know a little about Herod the Great from Jewish historians.  We know something of Herod the Great from the Book of Matthew where he orders the murder of all the children two years old and under because he is paranoid over possibly of loosing his throne.  So paranoid was he, that he had three sons murdered, one of his ten wives murdered, and others murdered.  It was this Herod that one historian said it is better to be a pig in Herod’s barn than a son.  In other words, the pig had a better chance to live to an old age than a son did.

This was the political context of the time.

It was also seen as a time of God’s silence.  For four hundred years there had been no prophets raised up by God.  No brave men empowered by the Holy Spirit to call the people to repent and turn back to God.  No amazing miracles, signs or wonders…just silence.  Had God forgotten His people?  Had He abandoned them in frustration?  Looking back now we can see what was going on.  We can see that God was putting everything in place for the birth of the Messiah Jesus Christ.

Luke often writes in what is known as parallelism.  In this case, he wants to set up Zechariah and Elizabeth’s righteousness against the backdrop of Herod’s evil and abuse.

Herod was evil/they were righteous.  Herod was a King/Zechariah was a priest.

If we were to think about things apart from God’s sovereignty we would logically deduce that this next sentence should go with Herod and one of his wives…[7] But they had no child.

What Luke wants us to see right off is that this lack of children on the part of Zechariah and Elizabeth is not a result of sin or unfaithfulness to God.  It seems there is something more going on.

The reason they were childless on the human level was that:

-She was barren

-They were both very old

They weren’t always old or advanced in years.  Why was it that they had no children when they were younger?  God’s Word doesn’t tell us.

I’m sure there was talk among the neighbors.  Look, there goes Zechariah and Elizabeth, she would have made a wonderful mother.  I wonder why she never had children?

2. The Angel’s Announcement (1:8-17)

[8] Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty,  [9] according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  [10] And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.  [11] And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.  [12] And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.  [13] But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  [14] And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,  [15] for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.  [16] And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,  [17] and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to

turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

We have accounts of the number of priests in Israel during those days.  A high estimate is in the neighborhood of 85,000.  Others range from 12,000-15,000.  These priests were divided up into 24 divisions. Each division served in the temple twice a year.  If we take the low number of 12,000, then there would have been 500 on duty that day with Zechariah being one of them.

By casting of lots, the duty of burning incense fell to this aged priest named Zechariah.  It’s no mistake the Luke adds this bit of information because he wants us to see God’s hand involved in the selection of Zechariah that day.  Most priests would spend their lifetime serving never to be selected to burn incense in the temple.

All the other priests were praying outside and Zechariah and two assistants that Zechariah chose went into the temple.  One assistant carried the golden bowl which he filled with burning coals from the altar.  Zechariah had the incense.  The other assistant charged with cleaning the ashes from the worship of the day before.  The first assistant cleaned the ashes from the altar of incense, worshipped then backed away slowly.  The hot burning coals were then poured onto the altar of incense and the second assistant worshipped then backed away slowly and left the temple.  After they left and the door was shut the great pipes blasted announcing to the people that it was the time for prayer.

Zechariah then, poured the incense out onto the hot coals, and the result was a large cloud of smoke that rose to the ceiling and left the temple, the large room was filled with the fragrance of the incense which stayed for hours.  This represented the prayers of God’s people.  The priest would then also offer up prayers.

These prayers were on behalf of Israel and her salvation through the coming of the Messiah.  Then, the priest would worship and slowly back away from the altar as each of his assistants had before.  Zechariah never got to this part.  As soon as his prayer was finished an angel appeared.

[11] And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.  [12] And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.

What is Zechariah’s response to the angel’s appearance?  Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.

Whenever angels appear to people, this is the normal response.  When the angel appeared to Mary, it says she was troubled.  When the angels appeared to those guarding the tomb of Jesus they fainted.  This is the normal human response to angelic beings.  The customary response to this is the angel’s first line…[13] But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid,

Today, many people are writing angel books and make very absurd claims.  I doubt whether these books are true because you don’t hang out with your guardian angel.  You fall down in fear when an angel appears.

Then, the messenger from God declares the truth of what is about to take place,

for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  [14] And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,  [15] for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.  [16] And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,  [17] and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to

turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

your prayer has been heard- There is no way to tell for sure what the angel is referring to here.  Is he referring to the prayer Zechariah and Elizabeth had no doubt prayed time and time again for a child or is the angel referring to the priestly prayer for the Messiah.  I believe first and foremost he was referring to the prayer for the Messiah.  However, isn’t just like God to really tie these together?

They were not kept from having children because of sin but it was a timing issue.  God was working to bring about the Messiah and He caused the lot to fall on Zechariah and He caused him to pray the priestly prayer and then God announces through Gabriel that John would be the great forerunner of the King Jesus.

The angel foretells of the greatness of John the Baptist…15] for he will be great before the Lord.

Matthew 11:11 (ESV)

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

The Angel Gabriel breaks the 400 year silence with the most glorious news.  You and your wife will be having a baby shortly, you will call him John, he will be great, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will cause many to repent.

[16] And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.

3. Zechariah’s Unbelief (1:18-23)

[18] And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”  [19] And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.  [20] And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”  [21] And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple.  [22] And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.  [23] And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

The priest’s unbelief is shown as he demands some sign from the angel. How shall I know this?

Zechariah says, I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.

The angel says, I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.

What was the sign given to Zechariah?  It was his punishment for unbelief?  you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words.

He was unable to tell his wife the good news of what God was planning to accomplish through them because he didn’t believe God.

God is faithful just the same and worked in the lives of these two elderly people.  God’s promise was fulfilled…

[24] After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying,  [25] “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

What are we to take away from this text of Scripture?

First, we learn that God is working to bring about amazing things for His people.  He will always work to that end.  God was bringing about new things in the lives of those who love Him.  He was bringing about the New Covenant that was foretold in Jeremiah.  He was setting things in place so that the people would be ready to repent.

He had everything set in place and in the history of redemption; Jesus would be the next great event.

So, God’s plan was unfolding perfectly as it always does.  This should give us confidence when we wait for God.  Even if at times He seems silent, He still is at work bringing about His perfect and loving plan.

Do you see God that way?

In every work of God there is great purpose, perfect timing, and a story being written.  God does not make mistakes; He is never too late; He loves to surprise and terrify and delight.  He pours out individual and very personal mercies and all the while He is actually molding and shaping nations and all of history.—Dave Hatcher

God does not just send Jesus.  He sends His prophets.  He sends His messengers.  He sends His Word.  God wants to come to a people prepared for Him, a people whose hearts have been turned to Him.  God’s grace is manifest in the work of His Word and Spirit preparing men and women – for Him.

The question for us is this: Are we ready for the next work of God?

What if the next work of God was to send Jesus back to earth the second time, are you ready?  What if the next work of God is to send some trial your way to strengthen your faith, are you ready?  What if the next work of God is to answer that prayer you’ve been praying now for what seems to be decades? for your prayer has been heard Are you ready?

A Theology of Prayer-

God sets in place all the pieces…

Zechariah in on duty…he is selected by lot to serve in the Temple…He prays the priestly prayer of peace and salvation…God responds to Zechariah’s prayer that He wanted him to pray.

What’s the prayer God wants you to pray?

Luke chapter one is the chapter to give us confidence in God and His plan for redemption.  Are you confident in God’s plan?  Are you praying?

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