+ + +
This sermon is based on the outline of the Advent Midweek Sermon series from Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 20, Part 1, Series C
+ + +
The Bible is such a phenomenal revelation. Every time you read any part of it, there is always more for God to share with you. Because the Bible is so heavily packed with information, it is sometimes easy to skip over bits and pieces of it and not give it much thought. The account of Zechariah is like that.
We read that Zechariah was chosen by lot. A small detail that we might tend to overlook is that it was a tremendous honor simply to have your name in the drawing. It was an honor to merely be considered for this duty in the temple. To actually serve in this way would be a once in a lifetime experience. The actual ritual was simple enough. Sprinkle some incense in the right way and tend to some oil lamps. The only thing is that he would enter the temple - the Holy Place - near the presence of the Almighty. What an awesome and fearsome responsibility and honor. Each morning and evening, a priest would enter, trim the lamps, and burn incense before the curtain that separated him from the ark of the covenant—the presence of the Lord. It happened every day, but with twenty-four divisions of priests to share the duties and with many priests in each division, it was a rare honor. How he would love to tell his dear wife Elizabeth about it when he got home!
All was going as planned when God intervened. As Zechariah went about his duties he realized that someone else was in the room with him. As he looked to see who would enter this holy place, he saw an angel standing by the altar. He was terrified—a normal human reaction to a holy angel.
As happened so often when angels showed themselves to people, the first words out of his mouth were, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah." Angels often had to calm people's fears - to tell them that they were not there to punish, but to bring good news. In this case the good news was astonishing for the angel continued, "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." I wonder what was greater: Zechariah's astonishment at seeing the angel or the shock of Gabriel's words.
The shock of the angel's news was too much for Zechariah. His logical mind questioned it: How can this be? We're too old. How can I be sure? It's as if he's asking, "Give me a sign!" Poor Zechariah - faced with an unexpected blessing, he doubted. He wanted more evidence. The news was so shocking that for a moment, Zechariah forgot who he was talking to - an angel from God - God's supernatural messenger. What more of a sign does he need than an angel talking to him in the Holy Place of the temple of the living God?
Very well, if Zechariah needed another sign, then Gabriel would give him another sign. This sign was not as gracious as the presence of an angel and the promise of a son. Zechariah got what he asked for although it probably was not what he wanted. The angel spoke, "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." … When [Zechariah] came out, he was unable to speak to [the congregation], and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. Zechariah fell silent. He couldn't speak when he emerged from the holy place. He couldn't speak when he got home. He couldn't speak to tell Elizabeth what he had seen and heard. He couldn't speak for nine months, but all the while Elizabeth's swelling belly spoke the truth day after silent day.
I wonder what he was thinking when he first saw his son, but he was still silent. On the eighth day, the child was to be named and circumcised. Zechariah's relatives presumed to speak for him. They were going to follow tradition and name the boy Zechariah. But Zechariah had learned his lesson. He wrote on a tablet, "His name is John." John, meaning, "Yahweh is gracious." And in that moment, his voice returned. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah spoke the words that we know as the Benedictus: a song praising God for his faithfulness and salvation. And in time, just as Gabriel foretold, the boy grew up to become the man we call John the Baptizer—the prophet who prepared the way for the Messiah.
Zechariah had learned a truth the hard way - a truth that is still as valid today as it was long ago. When God speaks, believe it!
Have we become like Zechariah? Are we too busy about the things of our lives to listen to God? When God speaks, are we unwilling to believe what He has to say? Zechariah received the sign of silence. Do we need that sign as well?
The Bible is filled with examples of purposeful silence. Elijah heard God in "a low whisper," a still small voice (1 Ki 19:12). The psalmist tells us to be still and know that the Lord is God (Ps 46:10). Jesus took the disciples away to a quiet place to rest (Mk 6:31).
Our sinfulness rightly moves us to silence. The angel Gabriel stands in the presence of God and reflected God's holiness so that Zechariah was understandably terrified. The presence of true holiness terrifies all sinners. That means it terrifies all of us. We might try to explain our sin away, but the presence of God's holiness forces us into silence. There is nothing to say.
But God does not leave us in the despair of our guilty silence. He sends His servants to give us words of surprising grace and mercy: "Almighty God in his mercy has given his Son to die for you and for his sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." We are silent in the presence of holiness because we know we are wretched sinners. We know we deserve the condemnation of eternal punishment. Instead, God sent His only Begotten Son into this world to die for us on the cross and so earn the forgiveness of sins for all people. His gracious love should stun us to silence. We don't deserve this. How could I have expected such a thing? God gives us gifts that are truly undeserved. He gives to us the Word of life and salvation.
Like Zechariah, we have God's promise. In addition, we now have Zechariah's story to tell and help us as we hear God's word. God calls us to believe. The world has heard that call through the voice of the incarnate Son of the Father. The Holy Spirit has preserved that call for our learning. We have heard his promises again and again. And we know that he is reliable. God keeps his promises. We believe.
Zechariah was given two miraculous signs, and in time, he believed. But the miracles we've seen have been far greater. We know the message of Zechariah's son, John. We know the message and the work of Jesus. We have seen the greatest sign of all: the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah, whose way John prepared. We have seen our sins die with him. We have daily risen with him to new life. We hear his voice day after day. We eat his body and drink his blood and are forgiven. We are bound to him and He to us. In the silence of Advent, God calls us to remember, to believe.
This Advent, and each day, God calls us. He quiets the noise and chaos of our sinful nature, of the world, of temptation, of fear, of the devil, or of any other distraction. He calls us to silence so we can hear Him. As we hear Him, he works forgiveness, Life, and salvation in us as His Word works faith in us.
Then as His word works in us, we proclaim that word. As Zechariah spoke the Benedictus, we lift our voices in praise of God. As Zechariah proclaimed God's salvation to others, so we tell them of the Savior who has come and who will come again.
But as we speak those words, we never stop listening. Our Lord speaks to us so that we can speak to others. Therefore we join Samuel and say, [1 Samuel 3:10] "Speak, for your servant hears." Amen
Please quote from my sermons freely. I expect people to copy my sermons or I wouldn't put them on a site like this. I only ask that you quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Should you decide to contact me, I would be very interested in knowing where you are. Please include the name of your city, state or province, and country when contacting me.
Send James T. Batchelor an email.