Zoom Sunday School Classes – 4 December 2022, at 09:00 AM EST
Meeting ID: 848-9423-0612
Pass Code: 669872

God’s Promise
(Zacharias Hears from God)
Luke 1:8-23
Background: Luke 1:5-20
Devotional Reading: John 10:22-30

Daily Bible Readings

Monday – My Sheep Hear My Voice – John 10:22-30
Tuesday – Guided by the Spirit – John 16:1-15
Wednesday – God Will Rise Up with Mercy – Isaiah 30:18-26
Thursday – Recounting God’s Goodness – Psalm 103:1-12
Friday – God’s Everlasting Love – Psalm 103:13-22
Saturday – Zechariah’s Prayer Is Answered – Luke 1:5-17
Sunday – Hear and Believe – Luke 1:18-25

 

KEEP IN MIND

"But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John." (Luke 1:13, NRSV).

AIM FOR CHANGE

CONSIDER the story of God's miraculous gift to Zacharias and Elisabeth;
REFLECT on the difference between the responses given by Zacharias and Elisabeth; and
GIVE thanks for the miracles God has worked in our lives.

BACKGROUND

Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, are introduced in verses 5-7.  Zacharias and Elizabeth were elderly and without children.  There was a tremendous stigma attached to being without children, one which the woman probably felt most keenly. It may well have been thought that their predicament was the “judgment of God,” for some sin they had committed (cf. John 9:1, 2).  This fact would also have weighed very heavily against Zacharias and Elizabeth, if the choice of John’s parents were the decision of their peers, and not the sovereign choice of God.

Zacharias was a priest, and both he and his wife were of the tribe of Aaron (Luke 1:5).  It seems to have been important to God that John be of the priestly line, even though his function was largely prophetic.

More important than their physical lineage was their spiritual devotion.  Both Zacharias and Elizabeth were described by Luke as “righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord” (1:6).  Not only was this a priestly couple, but they were a pious couple as well.  Their lives were lived in obedience to the Law of Moses.  This would not have been perfect obedience, but an obedience which met the requirements of Judaism.  It did not save them any more than Paul’s religious piety was sufficient to save him (cf. Phil. 3:4-9).  It did, however, set them apart from their peers.  From a New Testament view (and O. T., too) their good works did not save them, but from the perspective of the Mosaic Covenant, their devotion to God expressed by their obedience to the Law, did make it possible for God to bless them through the birth of John.

 

LESSON COMMENTARY:

The Angelic Announcement (Luke 1:8-12, NRSV)

8Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty,
9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense.
10Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.
11Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.
12When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.

There are two aspects of importance about Zacharias's serving in the temple to burn incense.  First, he should have been prepared for this moment, and second, his service as priest was divinely ordained.  To have been chosen to serve as a priest in God's sanctuary was reason enough for Zacharias to have an attitude of expectation.

His "lot" was to burn incense.  Although the details are sketchy, God had clearly established a sacred lot as a means to discern His will.  In addition, lots were used to identify the apostle (see Acts 1:25-26) to replace the betrayer Judas.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime event for a priest of Zacharias's rank.  Chosen among a potential and capable number of priests, Zacharias had the honor of burning incense before the Lord.  Zacharias's soul should have been burning with expectation.  The burning of incense along with the burnt offering during this biannual event occurred twice a day—at sunrise and dusk.  The large multitude suggests this was the evening hour.

The text does not tell us if the angel appeared immediately after Zacharias entered the sanctuary or while he was burning incense or during the ritual prayers.  But it is clear that not long before, an angel, Gabriel, appeared before Zacharias standing on the right side of the altar of incense.  Clearly, Zacharias did not go into the temple looking to "experience" anything out of the ordinary.  Nevertheless, even though he was caught unaware, Zacharias should have known something was up when an angel appeared and stood on the right side of the altar.  Zacharias was troubled and fear fell upon him.  Could Zacharias have been wondering why he was having this experience?  Again, the context is our clue, at least with reference to Gabriel's response.

  1. How can a believer respond with joy rather than fear to God’s unexpected acts?  How does love serve as an antidote to fear? (see John 4:18).

A Ministry Foretold (Luke 1:13-17, NRSV)

13But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.
14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,
15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
16He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.
17With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

Notice Gabriel did not address Zacharias's doubts, but his fears.  Fear is not necessarily an unspiritual emotion.  It is a proper response when mortality encounters immortality, whether it is the Divine, His representatives, or supernatural acts (see Exodus 15:16).  In many instances, fear is used to denote respect for God.  This cannot be its use in this context, however, because Gabriel commanded Zacharias not to fear. Your prayers are answered, Gabriel said, and your wife shall bear a son.

This was a crucial point for Zacharias.  The challenge to Zacharias was to step out in faith, to believe not in his situation but in His Savior.  Did you know that the Christian call to exercise faith is not an option?  "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).

John was called of God to a public ministry as defined not by outward accomplishments but by his relationship to the Lord.  Look at verse 15 carefully.  He will be great in the sight of the Lord.  This puts our call and response in perspective.  The size of the crowd around us, or even our ultimate fate in this life, does not qualify our usefulness or relationship with the Lord.  Rather, our legacy, or reward, is united to our faithfully fulfilling God's purposes.  Many of the religious leaders, who were John's peers, not only condemned his ministry, but they also condemned John to death.  However, Christ said among men there was no greater (Luke 7:28), and John faithfully fulfilled His call as a Nazarite, one consecrated to the Lord (see Numbers 6:1-4; 1 Samuel 1:11) until the last days of his ministry and life.

John's miraculous birth and ministry was not an afterthought in God's plan.  Therefore, Zacharias had only to trust the word of God to believe the message of God sent via His angel.  If John were ordained and empowered by God, he would be filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb.  The plan and the provision were all of His choosing and under His control.  The Good News is that when God is in control, all things are possible.

 

There is a perfect union between God's purposes and His promises.  What God says will happen, happens.  John will be used to turn many to the Lord by "the spirit and power of Elias."  The idea is the turning away from an improper relationship with someone or something (Luke 1:16; James 5:19-20) to a proper relationship.

The New Testament books of James and Luke emphasize the themes of belief (Luke 1:4) and faith (see James 1:3).  Having right relations with God and our apprehension of truth are irrevocable intertwined with having right relations with others and applying the godly wisdom of others.  Gabriel told Zacharias how this would happen.  The fathers' hearts would be turned toward their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.  Do you see it?  By looking at godly models, fathers would begin parenting and the people would begin practicing their faith in their daily living.  John's ministry would cause some to turn from sinful ways of living to ways consistent with God's character as manifested by godly examples.  

People turn to the Lord because they are made ready and are prepared for and by Him.  God starts it and will continue it and we participate in it, but God has already determined to finish it.  The predetermined, unconditional result of people turning to the Lord is that they are guaranteed fellowship with God.  Let's put it another way. God graciously takes us for a ride that does not end until we see Him as He is!

  1. How can believers remain faithful in prayer even if their prayers are not answered on their timetable?  How can Romans 5:1-5 and 8:18-27 provide encouragement to believers to exercise patience in this regard?

A Ministry Foretold (Luke 1:18-20, NRSV)

18Zechariah said to the angel, "How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years."
19The angel replied, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.
20But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur."

Zacharias could not believe God for a miracle in his life because He could not believe in a miracle-working God.  "Whereby shall I know this?" is Zacharias's question.  Zacharias was clearly questioning God's power to cause he and Elizabeth to conceive, which also implied disbelief in God's power to redeem and restore the nation.  What is significant is how he came to this conclusion.

As is too often the case, we have a distorted view of what God can do to and through us. Zacharias was older ("an old man") and his wife was "well stricken in years."  Disbelief was Zacharias's only option.  The promise of redemption is at the core of the Gospel and at the core of our faith.  When we cannot hear the Gospel, we listen to our personal limitations.  Zacharias missed the message; consequently, he could not believe the miracle.

Then, as if to rhetorically address Zacharias's response, the angel said in effect, "Zacharias, do you know this was a direct communication from God—the God that knew your limitations before sending the message?  He is the one that sent me to you to show you these glad tidings."  There is no doubt Zacharias had doubted the message.

The consequence that Zacharias must endure is that he would be dumb, that is, silent. He would lack the capacity to communicate in a verbal way because he failed to believe. Again, belief is not optional; the call of the Christian is to believe.  "And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.  Believest thou this?" (John 11:26).  That question is for you too: "Believest thou this?"

There is a contrast between the faith Zacharias should have expressed and the almost blind faith expressed by the people. The people were amazed that he was in the temple so long. It was thought that a person could be in the presence of God for only a short amount of time and remain alive. However, the word "marveled" does not convey a sense of fear but rather one of amazement, implying that something of divine origin had taken place. Remember, the crowd had been praying. Nothing prepares us to experience the mighty works of God like prayer.

  1. Zacharias and Elisabeth were devout people who continued to serve the Lord, though their prayers for a child did not seem that they would ever be answered.  What does this say to us about continually serving God when we think our prayers have gone unanswered?

  2. Zacharias had doubts about the angel's prediction of a miraculous birth.  What questions does this passage raise about the physical manifestations of God's Word?

  3. How can believers prepare others for Jesus’ second coming, just as John prepared people for Jesus first coming?  What distractions do you need to remove so that you might better be able to prepare people for this news? 

Lesson in Our Society

Zacharias and Elisabeth received the answer to their prayers although the manifestation of the answer was not yet present. In the interim, they had prayed for years, and quite possibly had given up. While God's answers are not always "yes," there are many lessons that we can learn from this New Testament couple. As believers, our reaction to God's response to prayer is never passive. In some cases, we are amazed by God's power even when our request was made with the knowledge that God's power was beyond our understanding. At other times and despite our faith in God, circumstances and time render our reaction as weary and despondent.

Today's lesson reminds us that regardless of our degree of faith, we must always remember that God's sovereignty is at work on our behalf. Whether His answer is "yes" or "no," God will provide the answer that is best for our lives. When God requires us to wait for His response, we cannot look at that as a rejection or even as a sure assumption that a positive answer will come at a later time.

Like Zacharias and Elisabeth, our goal is to remain faithful regardless of God's response knowing that His will for our lives exceeds even our greatest desires.

 Next Week Lesson:  11 December 2022

Zacharias Redeemed
(Zacharias Speaks)
Luke 1:57-66, 76-79
Background: Luke 1:57-80
Devotional Reading: Malachi 57-80

Daily Bible Readings

Monday – God’s Messenger Is Coming – Malachi 10:1-6
Tuesday – God Calls Israel to Return – Malachi 3:7-18
Wednesday – The Prophet Elijah is Coming – 2 Peter 1:16-21
Thursday – Prophets Speak God’s Word – 2 Peter 1:16-21
Friday – God Will Preserve David’s House – Zechariah 12:1-10
Saturday – God Opens Zechariah’s Mouth – Luke 1:57-66
Sunday – Blessed Be the God of Israel – Luke 1:67-80

 

Sources:

Achtemeier, Paul J. Harper's Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.

Brown, Raymond E., S. S., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S. J.; Roland E. Murphy, O Carm. The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

Dummelow, J. R., M.A. Rev. The One Volume Bible Commentary. New York: The Macmillan Company Publishers, 1961.

Gaebelein, Frank E., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishers, 1984.

James Orr, M.A., D.D., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Electronic Edition, Parsons Technology, Inc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa 1998.

Keck, Leander E., The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary, Volume VIII: Luke, John, New York: Abingdon Press, 2015.

Morris, William, ed., Dictionary of the English Language, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981.

Nolland, John, Word Biblical Commentary, Luke 1:1-9:20, Volume 35a., Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1989.

Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Hrsg.): The Pulpit Commentary: Luke. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004

Stein, Robert H., New American Commentary: Luke, An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Volume 24. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993.

Strong, James, Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, Electronic Edition STEP Files, QuickVerse, a division of Findex.com, Inc., Omaha, Nebraska. 2003.

Vine, W.E. Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Edited by Merrill F. Unger and William White Jr., Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996.