Luke 1:5-25 - The Persevering Promise

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Today we have quite an interesting account and quite a few verses to cover. We are going to see a supernatural promise of God fulfilled. Our God is a God who keeps His promises my friends. There is no promise that He makes that does not come to fruition.
Numbers 23:19 states:
Numbers 23:19 ESV
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
We can always trust our God of promises.
As we move through this incredible account, we will spend some time reflecting on the promise that we have in Christ as well. We have been promised eternal life through the finished work of Christ Jesus on the cross. The promise that we are about to study directly correlates with our promise as we see the promise of the forerunner for Christ. We are going to see the promised coming of John the Baptist.
And as we study this section of Scripture, we are going to see four ways that God is always working in the midst of His promises. The first is…

I. God is Always Working in the Midst of… The Perseverance of the Promise (5-7)

Luke 1:5–7 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. 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.
We are told here from the start the setting of our account. We are looking at the days of Herod, King of Judea. This is Herod the Great who reigned from 37 BC- 4 BC. Without getting into the weeds, this man was a highly successful leader until later in his reign where he had many misfortunes and became a very paranoid and very dangerous man.
Next we are introduced to Zechariah. We are told that he is a priest - meaning that he was a Levite - and that he was of the division of Abijah. Abijah was of the 8th division of the Levites as seen in 1 Chronicles 24:1-19 (verse 10 specifically). These divisions were set up so that the work of caring of the temple would be evenly distributed. Zechariah would have been ministering in the temple during the 8th week or the 32nd week of the year because the divisions served one week at a time twice a year.
Zechariah is married to Elizabeth whose name means ‘oath of God.’ Levites could marry anyone who was a pure Jew but it was especially considered holy if they married another Levite. Elizabeth was a Levite as well.
So we see that this is a holy couple. They are both of the lineage of the priests - the Levites. And not only is their lineage holy but they are as well. We see that they were both walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. Now we know that doesn’t mean they were sinless. We know this because the Bible teaches us that all have sinned (Romans 3:23). Any time we read something that seems unclear then we use Scripture to interpret Scripture. What Luke is saying here is that they were continually right before God by being a people of holiness and quick repentance when they sinned. We should live in such a way as that as well.
Despite all of this great information that we are given about this wonderful and holy couple, there is something difficult in their lives as well. Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years.
It is at this point that something seems off in the account. You see, Isreal was under a covenant of works. Yes, there was most certainly grace and mercy involved as well. But simply put, Israel was told that if they obeyed, they would be blessed. Check out Deuteronomy 7:14:
Deuteronomy 7:14 ESV
You shall be blessed above all peoples. There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock.
In fact, this entire section in chapter 7 of Deuteronomy describes the blessings that Israel will receive if they are obedient with verse 14 seeming incongruent with what we are seeing in this righteous couple’s life. Although one could argue that Israel as a whole was not in great obedience to God and thus blessings were withheld as a whole because of this, we see a more clear answer to this predicament in John 9:3:
John 9:3 ESV
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
God is going to use this sad situation to glorify Himself. Before we get there, I want to be sure that we understand that we are not under this same covenant as Isreal. We are under a covenant of grace - meaning that we are not necessarily blessed financially because we are obedient. We are given grace and mercy even when we don’t deserve it. And, although we are blessed with closer intimacy in our relationship with God when we obey Him and walk with Him - we are not guaranteed an easy life and prosperity. This is an important distinction to remember as we go through this account.
But we can learn an important lesson from the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Just because we are living a holy life for the Lord does not mean that things are always going to go the way we want them. It doesn’t mean we will not have loss and struggles. Our obedience does give us blessings that are spiritual in nature and sometimes even tangible. But our best blessings are to come - they are eternal - and we should work and obey the Lord for treasures that are on the other side of eternity.
I pray that we persevere like Zechariah and Elizabeth did. That we persevere even before the promise is fully realized. They continued in faith and righteousness even when others might have scoffed at them - thinking that they must have had some form of sin due to Elizabeth’s barrenness.
May we also continue to persevere until we see the full realization of our promise of eternal life to come after our death!
Next we see that...
Scripture References: Numbers 23:19, 1 Chronicles 24:1-19, Romans 3:23, Deuteronomy 7:14, John 9:3

II. God is Always Working in the Midst of… The Preparation of the Promise (8-10)

Luke 1:8–10 ESV
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.
As we mentioned before, he was of the division of Abijah and now was his division’s week to serve at the temple. Part of this service was to continue burning incense to the Lord. This happened twice each day and there would be a lot cast amongst those in the division to see who would go. It is estimated that there were around 18,000 priests in Israel at this time and so this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to burn incense to the Lord. This was the closest that a priest would be able to get to the Holy of Holies unless he was the High Priest.
Here is a picture showing the temple in Jerusalem that Harod the Great had built.
If we zoom in you can see more clearly how close the Altar of Incense was to the veil of the Holy of Holies (The Most Holy Place).
So we see that Zechariah was an old man and had served many years. It is almost certain that he had never been blessed with the ability to burn incense to the Lord. Year after year he most likely wasn’t chosen to do this great act. But now was his time to burn incense to the Lord. Can you imagine how excited and nervous this man was? He had waited his whole life for this moment and now here it was!
We saw in our last point that God is always working as we persevere before the promise. Now we see God working as He prepares us for the promise. You see, this wasn’t just a luck thing. God was in charge of the lot. He had determined that it not fall unto Zechariah until this very day and this very time.
Proverbs 16:33 ESV
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.
My friends, you may be wondering what is going on in your life right now. You are trying to persevere but it just seems like nothing is coming through. Be mindful that God is preparing you for the fulfillment of the promise. He is making you more like His Son as he prepares you for eternal life through sanctification. Know that He is sovereignly working in each and every situation in your life - even when it seems by chance! Because He holds everything in His hands - rest in Him as you know He is always working.
And we can know that...
Scripture References: Proverbs 16:33

III. God is Always Working in the Midst of… The Proclamation of the Promise (11-23)

Luke 1:11–13 ESV
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.
Now comes the climax of this account. Any time a sentence starts off with ‘and there appeared an angel of the Lord’ - you can guarantee that is going to be a climactic point of any account in the Bible!
I feel like the word for troubled here is a little underwhelming to what it really was. This word can mean disturbed as well. And immediately fear fell upon him. I love the personification of fear here. Luke writes as if fear is a person that fell on Zechariah. That is how fear can feel though isn’t it? It can be quite a tangible feeling.
But just as soon as Zechariah has been paralyzed with fear the angel speaks. And these first words are so comforting aren’t they - Do not be afraid. We see this phrase often in the Scriptures. In fact, the phrases ‘fear not,’ ‘do not be afraid,’ and ‘have no fear’ occur 33 times in the Bible. Interestingly, many of these times where these phrases occur are related to the appearance of an angel or words from God Himself. Christ commonly spoke these phrases in the New Testament.
Our natural response to God should be a reverential fear. We should overwhelmed by even the thought of being in the Presence of God. But praise be to God - He tells us not to fear. We should still revere and be in awe of God - but if we are His children, we needn’t not fear his wrath. Christ bore that wrath of God on that on the cross my friends.
If you are not in Christ - yes you should fear. He is a mighty and powerful and wrathful God if you are His enemy. But for those in Christ - the wrath of God was appeased by Christ on the cross.
Then we get to the message from this angel. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth (remember they were a a veteran couple - I’m using that as code for old) - will have a son and his name shall be John - which means ‘God is gracious.”
The angel even reminds Zechariah about the prayer he had been offering. We are not sure whether this prayer was specifically that he would have a son if it was regarding his prayer as a priest that concerned the nation’s deliverance by the Messiah that was to come. Either way, John was an answer to both of these! He was a son for Zechariah and Elizabeth and he would prepare the way for the coming Messiah - Jesus Christ!
Either way, we can be sure that God hears our prayers! How long Zechariah must have prayed before this answer came! My friends, persist in prayer, for you can know that God hears you.
Now we are going to learn more about this special child of blessing in the next four verses:
Luke 1:14–17 ESV
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.”
Let’s break these down one by one:
1. Many will rejoice at his birth
2. He will be great before the Lord
3. He must not drink wine or strong drink
4. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even in Elizabeth’s womb
5. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God and turn the the hearts of the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just
6. He will go in the spirit and power of Elijah
7. He will make ready for the Lord a people prepared
1. Many will rejoice at his birth
They will see that God is sovereign and still performing miracles.
2. He will be great before the Lord
God has a special plan for this child. And He will have power given to Him from God.
3. He must not drink wine or strong drink
This child will be set apart. He is not to partake in anything that would dull his senses. His work is too important for that. He will not be controlled by any drink. He will be controlled by the Holy Spirit alone.
Some consider John a Nazarite as found in Numbers 6:3 which was a vow in the Old Testament. We are not entirely sure of this because we aren’t told all of the qualifications of this vow in the accounts regarding John. But we do know that he was set apart.
4. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even in Elizabeth’s womb
We see this amazingly fulfilled later in this same chapter!
Luke 1:44 ESV
For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit, leaps when Mary comes pregnant with the Messiah.
5. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God and turn the the hearts of the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just
This is quite a mouthful but all of this goes together to show that he will preach repentance and faith. Through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, relationships can be healed. Relationships between man and God and man and man. We can only truly love God through the power of the Holy Spirit. We can only truly love our fellow man by the power of the Holy Spirit.
6. He will go in the spirit and power of Elijah
We see in the book of Matthew, Jesus show that John is the Elijah that was to come.
Matthew 11:14 ESV
and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.
Obviously we know that he was not Elijah in person as he denies being Elijah in the flesh in John 1:21. But he is the fulfillment of the prophesy of the one who is to come (Malachi 4:5). And he comes filled with the same power of Holy Spirit that Elijah had as you can see the power in his preaching as was seen during Elijah’s ministry on earth.
And finally, we see that...
7. He will make ready for the Lord a people prepared
Malachi 3:1 ESV
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
John is the messenger who is to prepare the way for Christ. He is prepare them to encounter God-made-flesh.
Let’s not get lost in the weeds of all of these prophesies. But I pray that you praise God as you see the foreknowledge and sovereignty of God who knows what this man will do and who this man will be before he is even conceived!
After this great prophesy is given we see Zechariah’s response given:
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.” 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.”
After all of this, Zechariah puts his foot in his mouth. The angel of the Lord has not only promised a son to Zechariah and Elizabeth, but he has also let Zechariah know what the child was going to do and who the child would become. This child’s life was spoken of as it had already happened. Again, see the beautiful and majestic sovereignty of God!
Yet Zechariah goes very practical all of the sudden. He practically informs the angel that he and his wife are too old to have kids.
How this righteous priest forgot in a moment that His God was a God of miracles who gave Abraham and Sarah a baby in their old ages of 100 and 90 we may never know. But before we judge him too harshly - I think we can be just as nearsighted as well my friends. As I have preached even recently on this issue - we can see our circumstances and be quick to forget how big our God is!
In Zechariah’s situation of doubt and unbelief, we see that it doesn’t go too smoothly for him.
Gabriel names drops here. We aren’t told the names of angels of the Lord other than Gabriel and Michael. And Gabriel doesn’t have much patience regarding Zechariah’s doubting here and lets Zechariah know that he stands in the presence of God and was sent to speak to him and bring him this news.
Because of Zechariah’s questioning - specifically because Zechariah did not believe his words - Gabriel tells him in verse 20 that he will be mute until John is born. We are actually just told that Zechariah will be mute until these things take place - so it could have been even longer - but God was gracious and gave him his voice back after John was born (Luke 1:64).
Moving forward a little further we see Zechariah coming out to the people after this encounter:
Luke 1:21–23 ESV
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.
If you remember back in verse 10, there was a multitude of people praying as Zechariah went in. Now he comes out to this multitude and it is obvious to them that something supernatural just happened. However, because he is mute, he isn’t able to communicate what has just happened.
Church, you may have heard this whole account and be trying to figure out how we are to apply this information to our lives. We are to be proclaimers of the Gospel brothers and sisters. We have this promise given to us. We have recieved the promise of salvation proclaimed to us and have accepted the promise and placed our faith in our Savior Jesus Christ and repented of our sins. We are now children of the promise.
But there are so many who are not today. There are so many who need to hear the Word proclaimed. And although God can use angels to proclaim His messages as we see here, He has determined to use His people to reach the world with this wonderful promise of salvation.
God is working in the midst of this promise. He is working to proclaim it through His people. Be a people obedient and ready to proclaim His message of salvation to our world that is in desperate need for a Savior.
And finally, we get to our last point in this section...
Scripture References: Numbers 6:3, Luke 1:44, Matthew 11:14, John 1:21, Malachi 4:5, Malachi 3:1, Luke 1:64

IV. God is Always Working in the Midst of… The Praise After the Promise (24-25)

Luke 1:24–25 ESV
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.”
Here we see the fulfillment of God’s promise through the angel Gabriel. Elizabeth is pregnant. Many have undertaken to figure out why she kept herself hidden for five months. All is speculation but the most logical appears to be that she made this a time of praise and rejoicing concerning her news. This praise and rejoicing may have been dampened by the criticisms of those around her who would obviously doubt the possibility of her being pregnant until it was obvious that she was showing and had a moving baby inside of her. From her final statement, we see that she had most certainly experienced some reproach among her people. As we stated in the first point, barrenness was seen as a form of judgment. But now she is pregnant, and her reproach has been removed.
How overjoyed Elizabeth must have been at this time?
My friends, one day we will be be able to spend eternity praising God in Heaven! We will be the recipients of eternal life and the promise of salvation will be fully realized. There will be no more pain and no more tears. How amazing it is to think of the fulfillment of this glorious promise of eternal life with Christ? It makes each day that we live in this difficult world more manageable. The reproach that we face in this world because we are different will be removed. We will be fully loved by those around us. There will be no more relationship struggles. No more gossip. No more harmful words or sharp stares and glances.
Revelation 21:4 ESV
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Scripture References: Revelation 21:4
The first three verses and the last two verses of this section provide personal bookends regarding the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth. We see the sad news of their barrenness although we see their holiness and obedience anyway. And then we see God’s blessing and mercy at the end by blessing them with a child.
As we close, I want us to see how we relate to Zechariah and Elizabeth. We may or may not be barren in this world. But I can look around and know that each of us has our own struggles. Things don’t always go well for us. Life can be hard for believers.
But in world that is difficult, we are called to persevere as God prepares us for the promise of eternal life with Him. And we are to proclaim the Gospel to others as we await our heavenly dwelling. And finally, we are to look forward to eternally praising God for His wondrous work.
Keep persevering for His promise never fails.
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