Sermon: The Strong Faith of a Doubting Priest (Luke 1:55-67)

The Strong Faith of a Doubting Priest

Introduction

In the passage before us today, Luke invites us in to the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth and shows us an amazing event.  Elizabeth had given birth to John the Baptist 8 days before.  Friends and family are gather in the house for the circumcision of John and for the announcement of his name.

This ceremony was very important in Jewish life and one which marked the child as a child of the covenant.

Genesis 17:9-12 (ESV)

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. [10] This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. [11] You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. [12] He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, (see also Leviticus 12:3)

That’s the setting for this great announcement by Zechariah.

We also remember that Zechariah had been struck speechless by God because of his unbelief.

Luke 1:18-20 (ESV)

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.”

As we look to the text for today, notice with me the Joy that surrounds this event.  Also, notice the Faith of Zechariah.  Finally, notice the Stirring of the hearts of the people in the region.

Luke 1:57-66 (ESV)

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.  [58] And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.  [59] And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father,  [60] but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.”  [61] And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.”  [62] And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.  [63] And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered.  [64] And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.  [65] And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea,  [66] and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

1. The Joy of the Community (Luke 1:57-58)

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.  [58] And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

It is always a time of great rejoicing when a child is born into a family of godly people.  It is a wonderful family event.  If you live in a small town such as Zechariah and Elizabeth a birth also becomes a community event, one in which neighbors and friends join in the celebration together.

Everyone wants to visit the mother and child.  Most folks, with common sense, refuse the urge to go and visit until an appropriate time has elapsed.

I love children and especially babies and so, as a pastor, I’m privileged to go and pray with the mother and father shortly after the birth.  Part of it is to ask God to bless the child and to save the child when the time is right, and also my other motive is to see the baby.

I can imagine a very large turn out eight days after the birth of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s child, especially given the miraculous events surrounding the pregnancy, namely, the mother and father’s age, (KJV stricken in years) and the fact that they could not have any children.  They had never had children even when they were younger.

Let’s read the verse again carefully.

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.  [58] And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

What does this verse say was the cause of their rejoicing?  And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her.

The community had come out to see the baby because this child was a miracle baby and they were in awe of the amazing hand of God at work.  The rejoicing came because the people knew this child in some way would be a benefit to all people.

This celebration took on an even deeper meaning as it is a celebration of God’s work on behalf of the nation.

They rejoiced at God’s mercy…loving action toward a barren couple who had no hope for a child.  God met their desire in a way that not only blessed them but others as well.

Notice one other part of this rejoicing: it was foreknown and predestined by God.

Luke 1:14 (ESV)

And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,

2. The Faith of Zechariah (1:59-64)

[59] And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father,  [60] but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.”  [61] And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.”  [62] And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.  [63] And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered.  [64] And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.

It seems that as Luke reports this event there was a sort of tug-o-war going on between the well-meaning relatives and neighbors and the parents of the baby.  It never fails that when a couple finds themselves pregnant that everybody and their brother wants to know what names have been picked out.  Most everyone has an opinion when the mother and father tell them.  Here, there is a similar encounter.

Everyone had discussed the matter, and since Zechariah could not engage in the conversation, they took it upon themselves to name the baby.  Zechariah junior, they said is a good name.  It’s a family name and it’s a sensible name.  Elizabeth, you should call him Zechariah.  Her answer is fairly clear.  I mean, you don’t need to do much exegetical interpretation here.  NO!

[60] but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.”

Elizabeth, that name makes no sense…“None of your relatives is called by this name.”

It’s been my experience that people in general do not like being told NO!  Children don’t like it and neither do adults.  So, they think, there is still hope in us getting our way.  They turn to mute Zechariah and ask him.  Surly, he will side with them and call the baby Zechariah after all, it’s in his honor.

[62] And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.  [63] And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.”

Notice here the change in Zechariah.  9 months before, he doubted God’s announcement made through Gabriel but now his faith is solid.

I’m sure those were very long months for Zechariah.  I’m sure that every time he saw Elizabeth with child, he repented of his lack of faith.  I’m sure he was tired of writing everything down.  There was so much to tell about the event in the temple and the angel’s declaration.  I’m also sure that he promised God that if he was ever allowed to speak again things would be very different.

What grace God showed Zechariah in those days that even in rebuke, God brought about the fruit of belief and trust in Zechariah’s heart.

Please understand that for a child of God, even God’s punishment works to bring about a stronger faith.

Romans 8:28 (ESV)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

ALL THINGS…even God’s discipline.

The last words uttered by Zechariah were words of unbelief.

“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

The very next things out of his mouth were words of belief and praise.

“His name is John.” And they all wondered.  [64] And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.

He didn’t say, his name will be John…his name IS JOHN!!

God had already named the child, John.

At that very instant, exactly as the angel had told his, he began speaking again.  All Zechariah could do is pour forth all the praise that had been bottled up inside for those 9 months and it came gushing out.  Blessing God, Praising God, and giving God all the glory.  The house that had been silent for months now had a crying baby and a praising husband.  God had answered and seen this elderly couple through these trying times.

Zechariah was not speaking of himself.  As I speak with some elderly people, about all they desire to talk about is their latest operation or illness.  The elderly Zechariah did not wish to tell everyone about how hard he’s had it for the last 9 months but was praising God.

What would we speak about if we were in his shoes?

Isn’t it amazing what God can do with a little old priest and his little old wife?

Luke 1:37 (ESV)

For nothing will be impossible with God.”

This is the attitude of the people…

3. The People are Turning to the Lord (Luke 1:65-66)

[65] And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea,  [66] and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

So what was the result of these amazing events?  The people finally have to leave the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth and they go speaking of the great miracle they had just took part in.  Their conversations were turned away from themselves and to the things God was doing.

If John is to be the forerunner of the Messiah then the Messiah must be close on the horizon.  If this miraculous event took place in the life on one who is to announce the Messiah, then what sort of miracle might we see when He’s born?

“What then will this child be?”

The hills in Judea were buzzing with wonder at this baby’s purpose.  Do you see that John was beginning his ministry by just being born?  The people knew that 90 year old women don’t have babies and 90 year old men don’t become fathers.  They knew that people don’t just stop speaking and then all of the sudden miraculously start again.

I’m sure that part of Zachariah’s praising the Lord came in the form of him telling everyone about the events in the temple and the angel’s message and what he said about the son he and Elizabeth were to have.  Also, what about Mary’s 3 month visit?  Did you hear what Elizabeth said about Mary’s baby, and how John jumped in her womb?

What then will this child be? They don’t ask who will he be but what or what role will this child have?

Luke adds a closing statement, For the hand of the Lord was with him.

Upon further reflection on the events that had come to pass in the life of John the Baptist, Luke concludes correctly that the hand of the Lord was with him.

The stir in Judea was the beginning of God getting the people ready for the day when John the Baptist would turn and point his finger and declare about Jesus,

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

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