Hi All, I have been busy getting things done for my life here in Korea (phone connections, health insurance and the like). I apologize. Below is the manuscript for what I preached last Sunday. The MP3 can be found here. I apologize, I spoke long.
Luke 1:5-38 How to talk to Angels.
Last week we looked at the opening of the Gospel of Luke, and saw how the Gospel was written so that we might have certainty about the things we have been taught (v.4). This week, we will look at the example of two people in the Gospel, and what they can teach us; what their example can show us.
Many years ago, I attended a missions conference in the United States, where one of the speakers made the statement that: “The will of God is always far different from what we imagined, far bigger, far more difficult, but unspeakably more glorious." In a word, that is one of the main points of the text we face today.
God has a plan, and he is carrying it out. You may not always see it, in fact you will often NOT see it. It is not always in the way that you expect it, it is not always in the way that would be most comfortable for you, it may even be in a way that you believe is impossible, but that plan will go forward, and it will be greater in going forward than any other plan you could make.
The question we have is how that relates to our lives and our hearts as believers. While we live our lives here in Korea. The answer to that is found here in the examples of Zechariah and Mary. Both are examples for believers, but in different ways, and for different reasons.
Example 1: Zechariah
Zechariah was a faithful man. The text says so. Look at verse 6: “Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the laws, commandments and regulations blamelessly.” They were like super Christians, Zechariah was even a priest. These are the people that you would look to if you were looking for an example of a good believing person.
That said, Zechariah did not have a perfect life. He did not have children, and in 1st century Israel, that would be a bad thing. We are sure, though, that this was not a punishment from God, to the contrary, this couple was “upright in the sight of God”.
But God has a plan for Zechariah, a role that he was to fulfill in God’s plan for the world. It begins when we see him being chosen to offer incense before God (v.9). We already know that this is the work of God, because we remember that in Proverbs 16:33 that “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is of the Lord”.
While offering incense there at the temple, God sends an angel to visit him and give him the news of God’s plan for Zechariah’s little family:
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."
Notice here, God is not only giving Zechariah a son. He is giving Zechariah an amazing son. The son that would work to turn the people of Israel back to God; a son who will “go in the power and spirit of Elijah”, meaning that this would be the one who would go before the coming of the Messiah. In the face of the apparent reproach of childlessness (see Luke 1:25b), God was not punishing this couple, He was preparing something far greater for them. So how does Zechariah respond?
And Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years."
Now, if ever you are in this position, and want to know what NOT to say to an Angel of the Lord, you now have your answer. Why is this a bad way to respond? Simple: Zechariah is looking for confirmation that this is true. He wants to know how he can be sure of this (other than the fear inspiring apparition of an angel standing next to the altar of God in the temple telling him that this will happen). The angel obliges by striking him deaf and dumb until the child is born.
Note well, the angel does not say “never mind you faithless man, we’ll find another person”. No, the great plan of God’s salvation goes forward. The prophet who will be in the type of Elijah will be born and will come before the messiah. Indeed, part of the goodness of what will happen is that it will be unknown until the child is actually born. God chastises Zechariah, but in the way that a loving father chastises a child.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives."
That said, I really doubt that the next year would be much fun for Zechariah as he can neither hear nor speak until his son is born, and the text says next that it was after his time of service had ended that he went home and that his wife became pregnant.
So by the example of Zechariah we can see several things. 1) That God is at work when we don’t see it, or expect it 2) God is doing more than just blessing us in his answers to our prayers, 3) While God’s plan goes forward, how we experience that plan can be marred by the way we react to it. The Joy God plans for us can be through chastisement if we seek to disobey God and disbelieve his goodness and his plan. But this is not the only example we have.
Example 2 – Mary
Mary has found favor with God. While it is not clear from the text why that is, it is clear that she is loved by God. The angel says to her directly in verse 30 “you have found favor with God”.
That said, the part of God’s plan that is about to be done in Mary’s life is not a comfortable one. The angel promises her:
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
Now, while it is good to bear a child that will grow to be the messiah, this is not an easy role for Mary to play in God’s plan. Despite the fact that she is unmarried and a virgin, she will have to carry to term a child that is not from her husband, but from God. Since this is a miracle, few are going to believe her when she says that the baby is “of God”.
Matthew points out that when this news reached Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, he resolved to divorce her quietly, because even he didn’t quite believe her. It was only the intervention of God that kept that from happening. Despite this, any child is a blessing, and the blessing that would be in Mary’s life (though not easy) would be far greater than anything she could expect elsewhere. She would bear the Messiah.
So when faced by this news, how does Mary answer?
And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
Notice that this is a different answer than Zechariah’s. In the first place, Mary is assuming that this conception will happen before she is married. She is taking as a given that the thing being told her would be miraculous, and wants an explanation, not proof of the promise. Mary is believing what God says, despite the difficulty, nay the apparent impossibility of the promise. She only desires to know how God will do it. The answer that the angel gives accents this point.
And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God."
The angel affirms Mary’s understanding that this is going to be a miracle; that God is here acting in his plan supernaturally; that God’s promise is sure even when it seems impossible “for nothing will be impossible with God”.
Mary’s faith has a result, though, in the way that the plan of God progresses. When Mary responds in verse 38, she embraces what God is going to do in her life. Despite the difficulty involved, she will live as God calls her to. It is her desire to fulfill what God wills, and so as God’s will is done in her life, her only reaction will be one of Joy (a joy we will see bubble over into praise in the next section of scripture), even in the face of difficulty. Zechariah will face difficulty as a rebuke, Mary will face the difficulty in the joy of what is being fulfilled.
Mary therefore also shows that 1) God can be at work in ways we don’t expect, 2) that God’s plan has implications far beyond us and our own experience and 3) That God’s plan will go forward despite difficulty, and how we respond to that plan will have implications for how we experience that plan in the moment.
We too have a place in God’s plan. That is true regardless of where you are from, what you have done, or even whether you come to Christ. God has factored in all things, because as Romans 8:28 says, “all things work together for the good of those who love and serve the Lord and are called according to His purposes”. You cannot work together all things for someone’s good, unless you can indeed work together all things, and all things (including us) thus have a place in God’s work.
But as we live today there are many reasons to wonder at that. In our lives it can be hard to see God at work, to know His plan, even if we have the Bible to tell us His plans.
We suffer despite knowing that God says, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11)
We often struggle in our Christian walk despite the fact that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6)
It is here that the responses of Mary and Zechariah are instructive. I should mention first though, that both of these reactions are the reactions of disciples of Jesus Christ. People who seek to follow Him and are trusting in Him for righteousness. If you are not a disciple of Christ, you need to first come to God, repent of your sins, and ask for the mercy that Jesus made sure through His cross and resurrection. If you want some extra help with that, we can talk after the service.
As believers though, we can react to our situation either in the same way as Zechariah, or as Mary.
We can react to our situation as Zechariah did, we can ask God for more confirmation, so that we can “know this will be so”. The result will be that God will still fulfill His promises, but that we may need discipline along the way. We will be saved, but in the meantime, our focus on our own doubts rather than on God will probably sap our joy. Like Zechariah, we will be looking for confirmation.
Alternatively, we can react to our situation, and to God’s plan with joy, as Mary does. We can know that while there will be problems in this life, that there is a weight of glory being laid up for us. That God’s plan is carrying forward and that it is a good plan, so we can see our situation with joy, because it is God who is at work, and God loves us.
I pray that today, instead of looking only to our situation that we will instead look to God, to the good promises He has made and proven in Jesus Christ, and live this week in joy.