Living in the Light of Hope
Our Scripture lesson this morning is Luke 1:5-25:
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. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 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. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 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. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 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.” And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 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.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 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. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
May God bless this the reading of His holy and infallible Word.
Some people love it, other people hate it; but no one can avoid it. Our pasts are rooted in history, our present is making history, and our future will be history someday. The Christian religion is a historical religion. The Old Testament is rooted in history. The very first words of the Bible teach this, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Advent (which we are celebrating today) is all about history. It reminds us of the First and Second Comings of Christ. The First Advent is history past. The Second Advent is history future.
This is why the Gospel According to Luke is so appropriate for Advent—Luke is a historian.
Luke the Historian
Luke the Historian
When you compare Luke to Mark and Matthew, you are immediately struck by how differently Luke presents his material. This is because Mark and Matthew were writing a “Life of Jesus” and Luke was writing a “History of the Jesus Movement”. All three writers followed the ancient norms of genre they were writing; but this begs the question, “Why did Luke write a history, rather than a biography?”
The answer to this question is found in the opening four verses:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Theophilus was most likely a high-ranking Roman official who was tasked with investigating the “Jesus Movement” in preparation for Paul’s first trial in Rome. It is also highly likely that he was a “God-fearing Gentile”, that is he had been instructed in and converted to the Jewish faith. It is also likely, as part of his investigation, he had some basic instruction into the Christian faith. Now, in “writing an orderly account” Luke is completing Theophilus’ instruction concerning the “Jesus Movement”.
Luke likely had two goals in writing this history. First, he wanted to demonstrate to Theophilus that Christianity posed no threat to the Roman Empire; remember, Paul was on trial for insurrection. Second, Luke wanted Theophilus to understand that Christianity was not a new religion, but the most pure and orthodox expression of Judaism. Judaism at this time enjoyed many privileges and protections under Roman law. If anyone should enjoy these privileges and protections it should be the Christians, not the apostate Jews who rejected Jesus as Messiah.
God, who inspired Luke to write this history, has His own goals—they are to give hope, joy, peace and love to His Church, not only in the first century, but in all centuries. It is these four goals we will focus on during these weeks of Advent. We begin our Advent journey with hope:
The History of Hope
The History of Hope
From the very beginning, the message of the Gospel has been a message of hope. After the Fall, God’s Word to Adam and Eve contained a word of hope in His curse of the Serpent:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
This is the first proclamation of the Gospel. It contains very little detail, but the promise is clear: from a woman will be born someone who will defeat sin and Satan!
As Old Testament revelation progresses this hope comes into sharper focus. In our text today, Luke goes to great lengths to connect the prophecy concerning John the Baptist with the past history of the Old Covenant. Throughout the Old Testament, major advancements in God’s redemptive plan centered around childless couples and miraculous conceptions. Sarah, Rachael and Hannah are all examples of this. In addition, in Second Temple Judaism, there are additional stories (the story of Elijah’s birth being the most notable) which further advanced the expectation that when there is a childless couple conceiving a child supernaturally, God is about to do something great.
Another connection to Old Testament history and Second Temple Judaism is angelic visitations. These too are associated with God advancing His redemptive plan. Taken together, Luke’s message is clear: This movement, which we call Christianity, is not something totally new, rather it is the culmination of Old Testament hopes; especially the hope of a Messiah.
You may be asking yourself at this point, “How does this give me hope today?” The hope Luke is writing about is over and done with. It is, pardon the pun—history!
The answer lays in the fact that Luke’s history is what I like to call 2 D history.
The Hope of 2 D History
The Hope of 2 D History
What do I mean by 2 D history?
Modern history is 1 D, that is it in one dimensional. The modern historian believes that history is solely the product of human activity. Ancient histories were 2 D, that is they believed history is also the product of spiritual activity. This is this very clearly seen in our text today. The driver of the action is not Zechariah, but God and the angel Gabriel. This is also the pattern we seen in the rest of Scripture and in pagan writings.
You were probably taught to believe as I was that what is modern is “advanced” and what is pre-modern is “backwards”. When it comes to the things that really matter, the pre-modern world-view is much more advanced than our primitive modern world-view. Up until the time of a man named William of Ockham, all humanity correctly believed that there is a spiritual realm and a physical realm; and that the physical realm derives its meaning from the spiritual. Notice that I said correctly, for Psalm 19:1 says:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Scripture is very clear; the physical realm derives its meaning and purpose from the Creator. Ockham was wrong, you cannot divorce the physical realm from the spiritual realm. God does not simply exist; He is actively working in this world to bring about His purposes. Moreover, there are other spiritual beings attempting to influence history, namely, the Devil and his angels.
I cannot stress how radical this is. To hold to a biblical world-view of reality is to literally go against every institution in the modern world. It goes against what is taught by our educational establishment, by the scientific community, by the media, and even in many churches.
Back in 2005, a sociologist by the name of Christian Smith, wanted to discover what teenage Americans who profess to be Christians really believed. What he discovered was they did not follow Christianity, but rather what he termed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. I do not have time to go into what he meant by moralism and therapeutic, but I do what to speak of deism. Deism believes that while God exists, He is not involved in the affairs of this world. God is often compared by deist to a watchmaker—God created the universe, winds it up and then steps back to watch it run.
In my catechism class last week, I taught the young people that revelation literally means, “the pulling back of a curtain”. In our text today, God was “pulling back the curtain” for Zechariah. From the human perspective, it looked as though he and his wife Elizabeth would die childless, but then the curtain is thrown back and he learns that he and his wife will conceive a son. Not any son, but the herald of the long hoped for Messiah!
Although you do not see them, God and his angels are working behind the scenes of your life. We know this is true, because of a book in the Bible called Revelation, or more literally, “The Pulling Back of the Curtain”. In the book of Revelation, we see the Devil at work behind the scenes of history, but more importantly we see God at work. The book of Revelation presents the Devil as a dog on lease—he has his evil designs, but God is turning the Devil’s evil plans towards a glorious and good purpose! As has been said by many before, the message of the book of Revelation can be summed up in two words—God Wins!
Because God wins, those who place their hope in Him will win as well! This is what I mean by the Hope of 2 D History. Let us Live in the Light of This Hope!